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Beyond Art Journaling

Nothing against art journaling. I still love it. But I need a break from it. So many people have piled on so many products, paints, stamps, stencils, embossers, hole-punchers that I got dizzy and had to sit down.

A page of William Blake's Commonplace Journal

A page of William Blake’s Commonplace Journal

I’m back to using my Commonplace Journal. The one that holds all the facts, ideas, quotes that pile up in my days. It’s so comfortable, like a pair of shoes that are soft and still can be worn to a teaching gig. My Commonplace Journal doesn’t demand painted pages, drying time, or planning. It holds whatever shows up. For me, that includes meaning-making.

Two deep loves for journaling (for me) is watching time pass on a big scale and nature. This time of year (fall for the Northern hemisphere) the days begin to get noticeably shorter. For Arizona, it is a huge relief, as the sun simply doesn’t pack the punch to crisp your skin in five minutes. The pool starts to get cool again. By the end of September, you will need hot water when you shower (in summer, the water comes hot out of the cold water tap.

Because my memory is keyed to weather, its hard for me to remember what happens when. It was easier on the East Coast–my memories were tied to cool weather or a coat I had on. Or mud season and black flies. But here, there is a giant blue bowl of sky above us 322 days a year, so I have to keep track of what happened, and when.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

In the Commonplace Journal, I draw a rough outline for the month on a page that starts the month. I use a pencil to do this. Then I use a pen and box in days in which something is caught. On the first and last days of the month, I notice the length of the day.  In September, the day of the Harvest (full) Moon, the autumnal equinox, and the progress of my plants. Maybe I add sketches, maybe not. Depends on what happens.

At the end of the month, I add color (if I want) and erase the lines on days that I didn’t fill in.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Keeping this calendar doesn’t replace writing, I do that, too. But it shows at a glance what happened outside for that month. It’s great for gardeners, nature lovers, and hikers.

You can, of course, track anything. Birthdays, school milestones, heights of your kids, grandkids or how long you walked the dog.

Calendars keep track of items we want to remember but not use up brain power remembering. A simple, hand-drawn calendar is an excellent journal page.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journaling in ways that make meaning, whatever they are.

 

 

Time Is On Your Side–If You Put it There

Freelancers know a lot about time. About not having enough of it. About deadlines. About approaching deadlines. (Sometimes about missed deadlines.)

unique-clock-1For some reason, I’ve fallen into bad time management habits, so I decided to figure out why.  The first business day in September seems like a good time to share it.

Nothing takes “only five minutes.”
My clients say it all the time, “How long could it take to write that headline? Can’t take more than five minutes?” “Answering an email takes just a minute. You can write five emails in five minutes.”

Nothing called “work” takes just five minutes. Even if you don’t count prep time. To answer an email, I have to read it carefully and figure out what the person wants. (Often it’s hidden in the middle of a paragraph, behind the background and details). Then I have to decide how to best answer it. Then write the email and store the draft while I answer others, then re-read it for dumb errors.

weirdClocks-9Lesson #1: Do not let the client push you into a time frame that doesn’t work.    Set a time frame that is reasonable for the speed at which you work. You may lose clients that way, but better to lose a client by smart time management than through stupid mistakes caused by rushing.

Stop believing the travel time on Google Maps. People who made the maps don’t dash back into the house because they forgot a folder or a water bottle. They don’t have the same traffic and road construction I do. They don’t go to the bathroom when they get to an appointment to make sure there isn’t something stuck in their teeth.

Lesson #2: Add at least 30 minutes to commuting time. This sounds like it will waste time, but it can be a big deal. One client location is 31 minutes away by Google Maps. I have never been able to make the trip in under 45 minutes. Doesn’t matter why–if I don’t want to be late, I have to leave more time for the longer drive.

webpark-clockWhat if I am too early? I bring a nonfiction book that I’m reading. Something I don’t mind if the client sees. Example: Wabi Sabi for Writers rather than The Joy Diet. Love Martha Beck, but I don’t want to explain it’s not really a diet book or discuss diets with my client. E-readers are excellent for reading without broadcasting the title.

Time moves at different rates. Some days I can race through work, other days I have to drag and kick myself through the same work. I don’t know why it is, but on dragging days, time needs to be adjusted–it will take longer to do ordinary tasks.

Lesson #3: Stop over-scheduling yourself. You can’t keep up the pace. Leave a half day every week to catch up. I don’t book coaching or training clients on Fridays. I’m never bored on Fridays, and frequently finishing projects that got delayed, needed more research, got pushed aside. And if the week has gone well, and I have to find a coaching slot, Friday can work for that, too.

-Quinn McDonald still thinks time moves differently on different days, but at least she knows what time it is.

Fordite and Smoke

“You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Henry Ford is supposed to have said that about the Model T. And until 1908 it was true.  The first cars were all black. It was inexpensive and most machinery was black or gray, why not cars? Henry Ford then developed a paint that dried fast. It, too, was black. But in 1908, red and green became available. After that, colors became the norm.

Fordite ready for jewelry.

Fordite ready for jewelry.

Fast forward into the 1900’s. Cars were painted in special rooms that were dust free and allowed for spray painting. The walls became layered with paint. When the paint got too thick, it was broken off in chunks.

Some brilliant person saw the value in this old paint. It was hard and layered. It was waterproof and tough. It looked like agate. It became used in design and jewelry and was known as Detroit Agate or Fordite.

721cfd82201eb03e28e95c45387dc718Today it is used in making carvings, rings, pendants, fountain pen barrels, containers and design objects. It isn’t as hard as carved stone, and is prone to scratches, but it is hard enough to be beautiful.

*   *   *  *
Smoke is ephemeral–it doesn’t last and you can’t hold it. Unless you photograph it, like Thomas Herbrich. This German photographer took 100,000 photos of smoke before he saw beautiful patterns that he could publish.

smoke1821Our brains want to see patterns and order, and Herbrich kept refining his skills until these amazing photographs emerged and made sense.

You can see all of the exhibition photos for the exhibition Smoke here. SMOKE_1909_HD

—Quinn McDonald has a weakness for the clever and ingenious.

 

Five Ways to Stay Organized

It’s Monday, and organizational skills might be running thin.  If you are at work, you may envy the CEO or agency head for their organizational skills. (And the help they have.) Even without administrative assistants, you can use the ideas and organize your day. Maybe even your week. Here are some tips.

1. Write everything down on one to-do list. Not one for personal items and one for work, but just one list. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse.  You don’t need the stress.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
  • Drop it

Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that long-ago President. He  is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:

Eisenhower-urgent-important3. Don’t read emails first. I know, that is not at all what you have been trained to do. When you read emails, you begin to answer them. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.

Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.

Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.

4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with what other people consider urgent but not important. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent but not important. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.

If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.

Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and you won’t do enough for the boss anyway. Otherwise, your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)

d02bd27c2f315917f42326435dd12f805. Use your phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.

Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.

There. Now you’ve done something worthwhile on Monday morning. And I have to get to work.

—Quinn McDonald makes her to-do list every night before she goes to bed. That keeps her worries written down so she can sleep well at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distilling the Journal

Small words and short sentences are powerful. Half a thought can pack a lifetime into a few words. Your mind fills in the rest, and that can be more color, action and more imagination than a long line of words.

I’ve been playing with distilling journal entries. (Distill is my word for the year, I switched to it halfway through the year.) Yesterday, I talked about using lists of words to journal. Today, they wind up in a tiny journal.

Trader Joe has tiny, cute metal boxes that hold mints. Re-purposing them into tiny journals is fun. I found some cardboard 35 mm slide mounts, and they fit perfectly into the box. (35 mm slides were pieces of film projected onto a screen before the digital age.)

Box7Empty, the slide mounts are just, well, cardboard. Using small pieces of paper, I created a front and a back for each slide. One side has words, the other a small image taken from a larger image–distilled.

Box2First I painted the slide mounts with Neocolor II. Then I took the words from journal entries, and let them be their own possibilities.

Box3

For some of them, I use pressed petals or pieces of fern. When you look closely, you see a lot more than if your eyes just pan the horizon looking for something new.

Box6After the paper is cut, I write a phrase on it, which may become a story on its own, or just a way to get me started thinking more imaginatively.

Box5Some papers are handmade, some printed. In each case, choosing just a few words or a small piece of beauty. It is both a way to focus and a way to let go of seeking perfection in the whole.

Box1The box holds five or six of the slides. They can tell a story on their own or be taken out and used as journal prompts. For right now, they are simply fine the way they are. They don’t have any more work to do.

How is your word of the year doing?

–Quinn McDonald is a distiller of words. She’s glad she changed her word of the year half way through this year.

 

 

Plan B is Not Negative Thinking

“If you plan for success, you’ll succeed, if you plan for failure, you will fail.” I’m a big believer in thinking positively, planning for success, and not feeding the inner critic.

I also believe that having a Plan B–what to do in the worst-case scenario–is an excellent idea. Those thoughts, which seem to be opposite, can be held at the same time quite successfully.

Aren’t they opposites? And if I have a Plan B, am I not planning for failure? I used to think that, too, until I had a really clear understanding of planning.

Plan B is a way of looking ahead, of seeing where the obstacles might be. This is exactly what I do when I’m on the motorcycle–I keep an eye out for an escape route. Can I stop if that car cuts in front of me? What will I do if that one brakes or swerves? It’s a moment-to-moment adjustment that has saved my life more than once. It’s not negative thinking. It’s planning a way through and then out.

mapBy thinking ahead, I am solving problems to avoid them. I am also making myself aware that I can face problems. And because I believe in learning by making mistakes, even by failing, planning the next step becomes a positive action. Studying what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it increases not only knowledge, but problem-solving skills.

And once I have a Plan B, I can turn toward the goal. Looking ahead to the goal is the best way to make steps to get there. If you constantly have to fight back the fear and refuse to face it, you aren’t being positive, you are wasting time chasing fear. Plan B is the realization that you are past the fear block, and are moving ahead to the goal.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote:

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Fear prevents you from leaping. And not leaping prevents you from the full adventure that is your life. Planning and training for leaps keeps you prepared for whatever shows up.

--Quinn McDonald is re-thinking some of the tropes she’s lived with for a long time. It keeps her ready to leap.

Time to Clean Up Your Office

stack_of_paperSome days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to. Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Donald Trump shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike to me.  Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionist stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.

Begging The Question: Getting it Right

Ahem.

[tap, tap, tap].

Can everyone hear me? Thank you.

Today’s aggrieved English phrase is “begging the question.” First, what this phrase does not mean. Begging the question isn’t the same as “raising the question,” “asking the question,” or “brings up the question.” No. It is completely different.

“Begging the question” is an example of faulty logic. It actually has nothing to do

with asking a question. Another name for it is “begging the claim,” which makes the working parts easier to understand.

When someone begs the question, the speaker draws a conclusion, not from facts, but from something else stated in the sentence. For example:  Mean and ignorant people like John should never become department heads.

While “mean and ignorant people should not become department heads” is  logical, the very thing that needs to be proven—why John is not good leadership material—is assumed in the sentence.

log4p6Another example: She is a slob because she is unattractive.  Maybe the woman is unattractive, but that does not immediately make her a slob. More proof is needed. The sentence relies on proof that is assumed and not proven.

One more: Pollution-spouting monster trucks should be banned. The very conclusion that needs to be proven–that monster trucks create a lot of pollution—is missing. It’s just assumed.

Saturday bonus: Confusing words explained

Staunch means loyal or committed in support. “She was a staunch supporter of civil rights.” (It rhymes with paunch.)

Stanch means to stop or restrict, like a flow of blood. (It rhymes with blanch.)

Both words come from the same Old English (via Old French) word meaning “watertight.” While there is a strong trend to let both words mean both things, part of the beauty of the language is in the subtle differences in words that give specific, shaded and nuanced meanings to sentences.

Thank you.

Have a nice day.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language in all it’s maddening confusion.

 

 

How to Succeed

Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it.

One of my favorite sayings. It’s helped me tremendously.

The impossible art of Li Wei.

The impossible art of Li Wei.

Almost every time I say that someone replies that if I really want something, I will be able to do it. All it takes is dedication and effort. I love the courage of that statement, but it’s not true. Supposing I wanted to be the prima ballerina of the Phoenix Ballet—not going to happen. Even if I practiced every day for the next 10 years. I took three years of ballet when I was seven, and did not continue. I don’t have the talent or the body type. I am too old to be a professional dancer. (Most retire around age 40.) I have arthritis. All the dedication in the world would not change that.

But the main point of the statement is slightly different and entirely positive. Instead of chasing after impossible dreams, take a look at your skills, talents, experience. Build on those. Thrive.

Don’t focus on your failures, shortcomings and try to ignore them to create a foundation that won’t support your dreams. It’s a waste of your life.

There’s a second half to that saying: The other half of being smart is knowing what you are good at and doing a lot more of it.

It’s always surprising to me how many people want to struggle when they don’t need to.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teachers writing. She wrote that saying in her journal when she was 27 years old.

Journaling Experience

Lisa Sonora is running a 30-day journaling challenge. The challenge is free and she posts about the prompts every day.  It’s been years since I journaled on someone else’s prompts. Seemed like an interesting idea. And so far (this is day nine) is has been.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. The “click here” doesn’t work in this photo. Use the link in the first line.

Something I’ve noticed–when you have a lot of life’s experiences under your belt, you see journal prompts in ways that life has shaped you. (Or that you have shaped yourself in reaction to your life).

While this journaling experience is an art journal, I’m not doing it that way. I find it too easy to slap down some color or use a stencil and then create a facile reason in my head. Because I have a big imagination, I’m also really good at rationalization, and that’s the wrong direction for this journaling trip.

This is a written journal for me. But I’m allowing myself to think and write visually, as I usually do when I take notes. So it’s part written, part sketch notes.

One of the questions this week was about our life’s purpose. I realized with a bit

My journal entry considering your life's purpose

My journal entry considering your life’s purpose

of a shock that I better have that figured out by now. I’m well past the time when I have the steak portion of my life ahead of me, ready to slice and serve.

So I drew what appeared in my head: a closely fit puzzle, in which your purpose trickles through layers and connections, changing and remaining the same. Arrows show that you move in more than one direction at once, that experience shapes decisions, and that the goal is often pushed off into a corner, forgotten for the rush of the experience. And those two empty blocks? Well, they come at the beginning and the end.  There is always room for growth and not knowing.

-–Quinn McDonald held the door open for someone at the bank yesterday. She felt the cool air rush over her as the other person slowly moved inside. And she knew it was her purpose in life. To hold the door open without expectation, and to feel the cool rush push away the stinging heat in delight.