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The Past (Tense?) of The Word of the Year

Note: Congratulations to snicklefritzen43! She’s the winner of the Natalie Goldberg book. I hope your word of the year brighten with the book! Contact me at quinncreative [at] yahoo [dot] com with a mailing address and the book will be on the way!

Many of you have chosen your Word for 2015. Some of you are trying out the last cull from the ones you thought of. This is excellent work, thinking about the word or phrase that will serve you well for 2015. How it will fit you, how you will have to make room for it in your life.

2014-calendarBefore we leave 2014, let’s think about the year that is quickly coming to a close. What word would you use to describe 2014? Did the word you chose for 2014 match your experience?

Was it close? It doesn’t have to be, after all. You could have had a big intention word and constantly worked on it, while 2014 plotted against you.

Or maybe your word was not big enough and it was an easy word, but not a challenge. Not everything has to be a challenge. Some things can be a treat.

How would you describe 2014 if you thought of it in an overall sense? Was it a year that pushed you to grow? One that you negotiated with a bit of stress but made it through? I like to pit my chosen Word of 2014 against the word (phrase) I’d use to describe 2014 and see how thy line up. Then see if that balance is reflected in my Word for 2015.

Here’s my own example. I started 2014 with the word Scatter, with the Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 2.22.31 PMintention of broadcasting ideas like seeds–in big, joyous arcs. Halfway through the year, I felt too scattered. I was doing too much, too little, not doing enough well enough and feeling confused. I switched the word to Distill, which I loved doing for the rest of the year.

The year 2014 had some tough challenges for me. There were a few big, crushing disappointments, and a few pleasant, unexpected developments. If I had to choose a phrase for 2014, I’d choose “Give up control.” Every time I try to control the future, the path is too narrow, too paved, too engineered. And every time I think I want that, I experience a big tear in my plans that shows just how foolish that idea is in my life.

Summary: My words for 2014 were both Scatter and Distill and the year was a year of Giving Up Control. The words were a good match for what I experienced, but it felt a bit removed from digging in.

Moving Ahead: My Word for 2015 is Heart.  Yes, I am the one who hates heart shapes, I have no talismans shaped as hearts (to my view), I don’t use them in my artwork. So why choose that word? Because I am working on a book, and I have slowly discovered that I need to write it with Heart, because that will make it come alive, while writing it with brain will just make it accurate. Because passing ideas through my heart will show me what my work really is, not what I think it should be. In a world where I give up control, when I do not compete, or become attached to winning, Heart will help me find balance at the point where I so often fail–going with what is soul-satifying instead of career building. Because soul-satifying will attract the participants who build career. And it’s time for the Tribe. You know, the one you are part of on this blog.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a Commonplace Journal.

Thanksgiving With a Crowd

You will be having a houseful of people for Thanksgiving. You think you will all get along, be nice, and have a happy time that you will preserve forever in a scrapbook filled with pumpkin-colored paper. What a nice thought. And for some people, that may happen. But for people I know–not so much.

Many people’s family’s run more along the lines of the characters in  Rachel 92819182_XSGetting Married. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good glimpse at a just-like-real-life wedding. Everyone acts out, wants attention, brings up old hurts, needs, and faults. Sound familiar?

Here are some tips to make it through:

1. People say the first thing that comes to mind. You know better. So think before you speak, and let go of the thoughtless comments you are asked. Your Uncle Harvey with the hearing aid has perfect hearing, he just uses it as an excuse to ignore people. You can do this, too.

2. Be literal. Do not assume that being asked “Are you seeing anyone?” is a mean nudge from your step-mother to make her a grandmother, or the question, “How is your job?” is the reminder that you haven’t held a job for more than nine months in the last six years. See them as ways to fill dead air space, which is probably what it is. Answer the question simply and directly, just as it was asked. Even if you doubt the intention.

3. Avoid fixing old hurts. With all the cooking, kids, pets, travel stress, there is little time to be introspective and contemplative. Old hurts require both for healing. To get to the hurt, you will have to bring up some background for context, and you will look like you are digging up past history to “win.” Even with good intentions, repairing old wounds is a complex task, best handled one-on-one and alone between February and May–not at Thanksgiving.

n-BABY-FOOD-MESS-large5704. Act ‘as if.’ Act as if everyone is nice. Act as if you are everyone’s friend. Act as if you are having a good time. Act as if you care about other people’s feelings. When you act “as if” you are a nice person who cares about others, you will choose behavior that demonstrates that. And you will become that. What a nice transformation!

5. Stay in the present. Kiss your difficult aunt and tell her that you are glad she is here. Tell your step sister that you are happy to spend some time with her. By staying in the present, you will not be tempted to dig up old hurts and display them for everyone to see and help you fix. The present is a nice place for Thanksgiving. Enjoy it.

6. Listen and nod. People tell stories at Thanksgiving, and they tell them the way they remember them. In your stories, you are the hero. In theirs, they are. Let them. Suppress the urge to “correct” people so their memories match yours. It’s not important. It’s just a story. Listen and nod. Smile. Let it go. Even if you are made to be the villain. “Oh, I’m so sorry you have that unpleasant memory,” is a nice bland answer. If someone asks you if that really happened, you can say, “Well, for June, this is how it happened. Everyone has her own memory of an event.” Resist the urge to tell your side.

7. Beware bad news dumps. Not everyone at your table may be at a happy time in their life. They may spill it in your lap. Or out loud at the table. You do not have to fix everyone’s misery. Acknowledge that it sounds like a tough spot to be in, but you don’t have to offer a solution. Bring it back to the present moment. “I know you are having a tough time, but I’m so glad we could be together today,” takes the responsibility off your shoulders.

8. Bring a book, music, or other activity that will help keep you in a safe space. You may have to take a walk, sit in the bathroom, or run a fake errand to get out of the press of too many people. Having something that keeps you grounded during someone’s argument, or general tumult is important.  Just make sure you do it without drama. No storming from the table, yelling, “I have to get out of here,” or other attention-grabbers.

9. Be prepared. Thanksgiving has some traditional chores–photographs, toasts, prayers and going around the table giving thanks for special events. Prepare a simple prayer appropriate for the group. If the guests are of different religions, offer a prayer of thanks that doesn’t mention a specific deity. Dress up for pictures. Bring a change of clothes if you want, but be prepared for pictures. Have a simple toast prepared, so you don’t find yourself caught off guard. Same thing for having something to be thankful for. Keep it short, under 30 seconds.

10. Take the big view. It’s easy to get wrapped around your own axle and not be able to see Thanksgiving as a holiday that has an end. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s OK if some things go wrong. The big picture is that you have family and friends to fill your house, and no one expects you to do everything all by yourself. Ask for help, and know that everyone goes home soon.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and wrestle it into their lives.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving for One

Today’s post is for people who are going to be alone on Thanksgiving. Dealing with a huge family fest will be posted tomorrow.

Going to be alone this Thanksgiving? No problem, unless you are dreading it. There is a cultural press to partake in some sort of perfect Norman-Rockwell-fantasy dinner, with food magically prepared and shared by a big, friendly, supportive, charming, happy family. The fact that this fantasy is exactly that–a figment of someone’s imagination–does not ease your pain. In your head, it is what you deserve, and you are feeling bad because you don’t have it.

first_thanksgivingSome years ago, I was alone at Thanksgiving. I’d moved to the Southwest ahead of my husband and was house-sitting for a friend. I didn’t want to mess up someone else’s stove, and part of me didn’t want to admit I hated being alone. But I also didn’t want to be at someone else’s table, feeling like the fifth wheel. I created a fun day for myself, and still remember it fondly. It makes me smile to think that there are many people around me who do not remember last Thanksgiving fondly, or can’t remember exactly what happened at all. And I can remember Thanksgiving 2007 with great joy.

Here are some suggestions to help make Thanksgiving a good day for you:

1. Plan ahead. Decide the kind of day you want to have and work on creating it. No Thanksgiving comes together without planning, and you don’t want to wind up standing in the grocery store aisle half an hour before the store closes.

2. You don’t have to cook an elaborate meal for 10 and eat it all by yourself. Kent McDonald, a personal chef in the Phoenix area, has some suggestions for an easy, special Thanksgiving meal you can make without a lot of fuss. Yes, Kent is my husband and he’s cooking this year.

3. Ignore it in style. Stay out of the kitchen–or the entire house–during the dinner hour. Go to the movies, take a bubble bath and give yourself a pedicure, plan that big art or craft project, take a walk with your camera, go to the library now and check out a book or DVD, and spend the time doing something appealing to you. Time to spend on yourself or your favorite pastime is precious and rare, use it with delight.

4. Plan a project. Paint the kitchen, or your bedroom. Organize your closet, your desk, your attic, your garage. Tackling a big project will make you feel organized and satisfied. Not a bad plan.

5. Make the turkey dinner happen. Let friends know you’ll be alone. Make it sound like you are available rather than desperate. Offer to help cook, clean up, bring a dish, or take the dog for a walk. Make yourself useful and you’ll be eating with a big, noisy, arguing dysfunctional family before you can say ‘turkey.’

The secret to having the Thanksgiving is to decide what you want and create it. Don’t let others define your joy.  Decide what you want, and make it happen, traditional or not. Celebrate yourself and allow yourself to enjoy.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who has celebrated a lot of different Thanksgivings.

–Image: The First Thanksgiving, reproduction of an oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris, early 20th century. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZC4-4961)

 

Healing the World, One Star at a Time

Over the table in my studio hangs a hand-lettered sign. Sometimes it hangs up there for a day, sometimes for a month. It’s not an affirmation, it’s a question. It helps me think while I work. My studio is my Place Without Noise–no music, no TV, just silence. The question right over my head is sort of  mental chewing gum.

The most recent question is “How Will You Heal the World?” No doubt the world needs healing–Ferguson, Missouri is just one town in a big country with its share of injustice, unfairness, and social imbalance. My own state, just 100 years into statehood, wants to shut down its borders and pretend that Arizona was not part of Mexico or that native tribes did not have a different idea of land ownership.

There is no shortage of damage in the world–in every town, city, country.  Isn’t is ridiculous to think I can help? Me, with no skills in sociology or law?

orionMy mind was a smooth blank as I pulled a piece of paper toward me to cut into shapes for a collage. The paper was a map of the night sky, and there, on one side, was Orion. The hunter himself didn’t have an auspicious, happy beginning among the gods. Orion was born from an ox-skin that various male gods had urinated in. He was blinded by his father-in-law, revived by the goddess Artemis, and then angered the Earth goddess Gaia, who sent a scorpion to kill him. Gaia then placed both Artemis and Orion in the sky as a warning to others not to harm the earth.

Not much healing there, and I don’t want to think about our punishment for all the plastic bottles we put in Gaia’s earth, either.

What I did notice was Orion’s sword. You can see a pinkish star in the knife at his waist. That’s not really a star, it is a whole nebula–an incubator for new stars. The young, forming stars are hot, and heat up the gas around them, causing it to fluoresce–so what we are seeing as a star is a cloud of gas and tiny hot stars 1,500 light-years away.

Maybe a small kindness, a prayer offered when someone asks for one, a small, unexpected orion_nebulagenerous act, maybe all that is the equivalent of a tiny hot star that helps light up the nebula. Without the star, and others like it, there would be no fluorescing nebula, no sword in Orion’s belt. And of course, if you are a star in a nebula, you don’t see all of Orion. You see something else when you look into the universe–dark sky with distance points of lights.

As my hands smooth over the paper, looking for a spot to cut into the paper, I wonder if the way you heal the world is one tiny, glowing act at a time. They add up over time, and eventually you have a constellation of healing put into the sky as a lesson to everyone else to help out, too.

Here is an excellent article about 12 actions anyone can take to reduce injustice.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and artist who thinks art heals by scattering stars into the sky, one at a time.

Thanksgiving Week

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Free of gifts, religious strife, or guilt, it is a holiday to give thanks and share meals. Oh, wait, that was 20 years ago. We have now managed to crank up even this holiday with angst, fear, and stress.

thanksgiving-turkey-prozacThe whole Black Friday thing? I avoid it entirely. I don’t shop at any mall on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Reduces stress. When I do go (during the week), I am determinately cheerful, greet strangers, and help people carry packages. The look on their faces are worth the effort. Sometimes I need a nap when I get home.

I refuse to pick fights. I let people cut in front of me in line, take that parking spot I had in mind, and refuse to engage in any hate speech. Which means when I say “Happy Holidays,” and someone snaps at me, “It’s ‘Merry Christmas’ and NOT Happy Holidays,” I tell myself that this is their problem and not mine. I’ve told myself that three times already and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

What stuns me is how much people complain about Thanksgiving and Christmas. How much they claim to hate it, while decorating up a storm and baking themselves into a frenzy.

The food we eat, the diet we follow is both personal and public. I struggle between being an advocate for a healthy diabetic diet and not making anyone change their way of eating for my sake. Which means I bring my own food if I am invited to dinner. I love eating and I don’t want to offend a hostess–and who doesn’t have at least one delicious carb-fest dish on a Thanksgiving table?

A former acquaintance used to “prove” how silly people’s diets were by putting sugar in dishes for diabetics and serving pork to religious Jews and Muslims and insisting it was veal. I no longer visit her. In fact, I don’t speak to her anymore.

This is the week that we choose how much stress we want to handle. You don’t have to be a hero; you can be quiet, change the subject, laugh along, stand up for yourself, set boundaries, don’t take crap from anyone, or go on the attack. It’s all up to you. Just remember what the holiday is for and keep an eye on that.

—Quinn McDonald is looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner and the amazing sandwiches afterwards. Without the bread.

 

Check That Progress

To-do lists are my saving grace. I love them. I keep them, work them, check them off and grin. Occasionally, I am guilty of putting things on my to-do list that I have already done, just so I can check it off and feel like I’ve started doing something.

strugglequoteThe trouble with that, of course, is you are never satisfied, always living in the next step, and striving ahead without a break. It’s exhausting. And I still love them.

Which is why I started a to-don’t list, often before I travel, so give myself permission to put some work on hold so I can actually live in the present and do the work at hand–traveling.

Now I’ve come up with something almost as fun as a to-do list: a “it’s done” list. Research shows that a real boost to meaningful work is keeping track of progress. What went right. What you did that was smart. What worked well. Most of us don’t do that. If things work out, we just keep going. There’s no learning in that.

True, I learn a lot by making mistakes. The reason? When things go right, I just workInProgress-150x150breeze ahead. When I stumble and fall, I have to figure out what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to notice it early enough next time not to do it again.

Imagine if you did that for getting it right. Progress is an important step in meaning-making. Knowing you have made progress and admitting it, even taking satisfaction in it, is another thing entirely. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to keep track of what went right. Your good decisions. Your progress. See if more of them don’t start showing up.

—Quinn McDonald is moving forward on several projects.

 

 

Creating Heart While Traveling

Being on the road is tough. Not whining, but opening the door of yet another anonymous hotel room, eating by yourself in another restaurant where the only thing on the menu that fits the diet and the budget is yet another Cesar Salad, and the reward after a day of teaching is driving two hours to the next venue–it makes you reach in deep and suck it up.

“Eating Bitter” is a Chinese expression of working hard for what you want, sucking it up and knowing that you chose this life and you are making meaning even if it is a lot more effort than you want.

One of the ways I get through the chore of eating bitter and find a bit of sweetness is creating routines–I make an effort to walk every morning, even if I am a thousand miles from home. When the world shrinks to classroom-restaurant-car, it’s important to have a camera. I photograph small moment that seem important and use them in my Commonplace Book. The photo is something that makes me smile, or that serves as a metaphor. I love doing this for many reasons–it connects me to a strange place and it is comforting to find some small shred of beauty in an everyday place.

From my most recent trip: photos and notes that I put in the Commonplace Book for further development.

cactus1Heart on a cactus. Look at that backlighting! Thorns make a halo. Combination of thorns and love.  Being tough can still work as soft. Being uncommon can attract the right thoughts.

cactusDamaged heart. Look at that texture! Damage is dramatic, but can be beautiful, if you look at it the right way. Even nature makes a collage of color and texture. A cactus will root months after the piece breaks off. Life after damage exists, can even thrive.

light1Love the texture on the mid-century lamp. It warms up the whole photo. The flatness of the photograph makes the cactus in the background look like it’s outside, but it is really painted on the window. Illusion of paint–make it work and you believe in it.

window1Even the very ordinary items in a hotel room can be given a new perspective. This is the bathroom window over the shower. The “grass” is a palm tree, and the light is from a passing car. The moment was fleeting, but perfect. Glad I was there to see it and catch it.

A lot of comfort on a trip is creating a piece of life that is comforting and interesting, no matter where you are.

–Quinn McDonald has made friends with the road.

 

 

Not Hanging On So Hard

An article in The New York Times reports, “Most girls won’t admit this, but they’d rather you hit on their significant other than their best friend.” (New York Times, ST-2, October 26, 2014).  The article says the advice columnist Julie Klam says  (via the magazine Dame) “When she introduces two friends to each other who she thinks will bond, she says, ‘Now, you may not go off and be friends without me.’ And they laugh . . . and I say, ‘I’m not kidding. No shoppng trips or going out for a drink after work.'”

I read the story twice without believing it. And then I did. Of course, this is Screen-Shot-2013-03-26-at-12.41.36-PMfear-based thinking, which is driven by control. And if we lose control of our friends, no telling what will happen. We might be alone. Someone might have a better time than we are. Control is not the best foundation for friendship.

Friends come and go. Some last many years, some a few weeks. Friends are not obligated to check in with anyone to make sure they get approval of their lunch companions.

We don’t own our friends anymore than we own the trees in our yard. And that’s a great way to think of our friendship–like trees. Trees protect us from too much heat, and they require some care to thrive. They put down roots and allow us to stand on them to see the future. Trees change, and require work. So do friends. But we don’t own people anymore than we own the trees that other people see, enjoy and share the shade of.

Patrol your friends and you’ll spend your whole life watching for infractions, keeping spreadsheets on time spent and what it means. Friends don’t thrive all that well with rules, time-enforcing and feelings of ownership. They do better with understanding and introductions to other people in your life. Of course we all need to set boundaries, but a good friend will help you and understand you.

And that sounds like thriving all the way around.

—Quinn McDonald loves the trees in her yard as well as her friends, who have lots of other friends she doesn’t know. And that’s fine with her.

 

Gallery

Book Page Wreaths

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Book lovers, avert your eyes. I’m about to rip up books (again) and turn them into something else. But first, a note to all of us for whom books are sacred and for whom the thought of damaging one is … Continue reading

Gallery

Difference Between a Visual and Commonplace Journal

This gallery contains 7 photos.

There’s been some interest lately for the Commonplace Journal. Yes! Nothing against visual journals, I wrote two books about using visual journals, and I love them both. But after two books, I want to go back to the Commonplace Journal … Continue reading