Category Archives: Opinion

Making Space

First, some good news: A few weeks ago, I saw that Niji Art, owned by Yasutomo, had an open call for a Design Team. Having demo’d their Splash Inks and liked them, I applied. And I was one of the designers chosen! For the next six months, I’ll be asked to use their products to design and create projects, then do the tutorial. It’s exciting–this is something totally new for me.

Second, poetry news: There are still places open for Jungle Gym for Monkey Mind, the online poetry class. It starts this Sunday and is not a traditional class. You’ll be writing poetry from emotions, experience, and your imagination.

Making Space: This afternoon and evening, I cleaned my workspace. I’ve let paperwork pile up. I’m a piler not a filer, but the piles were starting to mutter and threaten me. One of the benefits of being a piler is that when you sift through the piles, you can often throw out most of the material that other people would have neatly put in filing cabinets.


Art from discarded papers, from

As I sorted and threw papers our, put other papers in folders, I realized that my creativity needs a good sorting, too. I had ideas I wanted to follow up on, ideas that were half-baked, the beginning of the poetry class notes (it sure has changed in the six months I’ve been working on it!) ideas that had no legs and no motion. And like the papers I threw out, I cleaned those idea out of my mind.

The ideas might come back as something else, or they might stay gone. But not every idea is worth nurturing, and not every bright idea will light the way to completion. I carried an armload of papers to the recycling bin, with the idea of starting in the studio tomorrow.

This wasn’t some sad, “I have to let go of this” good-bye, there are six new ideas on index cards in my “development” slot. They are the best of what I’ve been planning, broken down into steps along the way. Cleaning up is also cleaning out, and it feels great. Almost like summer’s oppressive heat is blowing out.

--Quinn McDonald has designing ideas.

Past and Future

Yesterday, four boxes of materials came back. Two from Madeline Island (one more to go) and two from the publisher, with materials I haven’t seen since the photo shoot in February, and not for about six months before that.

VICTOR BREGEDA - Past, Present, and Future - 20 x 28 inches Giclee on Canvas

VICTOR BREGEDA – Past, Present, and Future – 20 x 28 inches Giclee on Canvas

It’s odd to look at materials that link the past to the future. The book will be out in about four months, and I’m holding the artwork that I did a year ago. It still has the tags on it from the photography session. (I’m leaving those on for a while). It feels like I’m being pulled through a time warp.

The materials from Madeline Island need to be divided and repacked for the Monsoon Paper class in Tucson and the rest stored. The studio has been entirely too tidy. A week ago today I came back from an experience that I had been worried about a week before and now wanted back again.

Odd how time moves at different rates at different times. It will probably fall back into place when I clean up the studio and the desk space. But for right now, I’m hanging on to the past and holding the future at the same time. And that’s just fine.

—Quinn McDonald has a lot of cleaning to do. Tomorrow.

Clutching Unhappiness

Yesterday, I wondered why we chase happiness, but don’t want to catch it. Perhaps we are clutching a big bundle of unhappiness and don’t want to put it down.

eckhart-tolle-unhappinessWe are comfortable with unhappiness. Often, we think we deserve it. “Deserve” is one of those words I see a lot of on Facebook and wonder how people know who “deserves” and who doesn’t. Deserving is a way of giving people permission to feel an emotion they are going to feel anyway.

Back to why we clutch unhappiness. It fills up the empty space in our heart that happiness has avoided. It fills up time. We watch others have what we want, do what we would like to do, get the promotion we drooled after. Unhappiness is familiar. We confuse ‘familiar’ with ‘comfortable.’ And we live comfortably with unhappiness.

There’s one more reason why we hold unhappiness instead of letting it go. It gets more results.  Share some joy on Facebook, and you get a few kind “likes.” Put up a tear-stained, painful post and people stand in line to comfort, advise, share their story or top your tale. Unhappiness gets results.

We’re an interesting folk. Chasing what we can’t catch and clutching what makes us miserable.

–Quinn McDonald wonders why people know that you can tell a joke just once and get people to laugh–the second time, it’s no longer funny. But an unhappy story makes us cry time and time again, without changing the situation.

Friends In Your Life

When we have friends we say, “I have X in my life.” It’s an interesting phrase. We often assume friends will be in our life forever. Oddly enough, we don’t expect the same from a spouse. Marriages break up, dissolve, or suffer from “irreconcilable differences,” but we expect friendships to go on forever.

BFFThey don’t. Sometimes we become friends over a specific project, problem, or event. We work closely together. The glue that holds us together is the work we share. Long hours of work, and we share personal stories. It’s a friendship. Then the project or event is over or the problem is solved. The bond is gone. The friendship drifts. And that’s fine. Friendships aren’t necessarily meant to last forever, and when they do, it’s a wonderful thing. When they don’t, there are great memories and shared skills and accomplishments.

Friendships at work can also be difficult. People to whom we’ve told our darkest fears and shared our dysfunctional family stories with are suddenly no longer our co-workers, they are the boss. Or the needy friend is suddenly a direct report.

It takes a strong heart and mind to know when a friendship is working. It takes a lot of spine to end a friendship that is draining you dry and not supporting your dreams and ideas. A friendship is a balance. That means sometimes you won’t be on the receiving end, but if you are never on the receiving end, then you may want to re-evaluate the relationship. Which is no longer a friendship.

It’s hard to reconsider, and it’s easy to claim loyalty as a part of friendship, but a real friendship is a bond that is stretchable, not brittle. It floats, it doesn’t hold either party down. And it grows and changes as both of you grow and change.

Walking away is a hard road, but sometimes it’s necessary to your health, soul, and heart.

--Quinn McDonald is deeply happy that her friends put up with her.

Undermining Overwhelming

To-do lists are my energizing principle. Where there is a to-do list, there is a path of action. This week is lining up to be busy. With a class last Saturday, and class coming up in Madeline Island, the to-do list was getting long. The class on Saturday was the same one that kicks off the week-long retreat, so I couldn’t sent the packages ahead. They needed to be packed on Sunday and shipped on Monday. Today, as you read it.

Meanwhile, I’m teaching all day on Tuesday, and have to create two flyers foroverwhelmed upcoming in-person classes, put the finishing touches on the poetry class, write the ad for that, too. There are coaching clients this week, a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription I need for the trip, I have eight articles due this week, nine if you count the new one for Somerset Studio.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And for a while, it looked like I would. That’s the job of a to-do list, too. It’s not just what you has to happen, it also helps me know when each step has to be done. What looks overwhelming when you see the length of the list can look different from another perspective.

The other end of my logo.

The other end of my logo.

The key to not panicking is to do one thing at a time, and focus on that. Today’s task was creating the final schedule for the class, day by day. From that, I created a packing list, then put all the items on the kitchen table, checking them off as I go, and packing them. It did take six hours, and every time I began to wonder how I’d get through writing the articles, I reminded myself to focus on what I was doing right now. Tomorrow I will tackle what needs to be done tomorrow.

No worrying about what isn’t done tomorrow while I still have work to do today. Tomorrow is set up, and I need to work through the list. Feeling overwhelmed comes from thinking I have to do everything at once. As long as my focus is on the task at hand, I can stay in action and move ahead.

True, there is not much wiggle room. But then again, if I move in a straight line, it should work. And that makes me feel . . .not overwhelmed.

-–Quinn McDonald needs to cook hummingbird food and then she can go to bed.

Having Your Cake and Being Slammed for Eating It

We are a crazy, schizophrenic, confused culture. We talk out of both sides of our mouths, and need a simultaneous translator into nonsense while we do it.

We criticize fat people we see in the mall, but the food court is packed with choices of fried, sugar-loaded, and crispy-salty calories.

A cronut is croissant dough, fried like a donut, filled with sweet, flavored cream, and iced.

A cronut is croissant dough, fried like a donut, filled with sweet, flavored cream, and iced.

Gluten-free diets are touted, restaurants highlight menu items; the same restaurant will have nothing safe for a diabetic to eat. Point it out, and the waiter may well say, “Gluten free is much healthier, you should try that.”

The news stories decry the horrors of our sugary, fat-laden diet, and the infotainment section segues into an article about the popularity of the cronut.

I’m really surprised at how many restaurants have one or two menu items that are safe for diabetics, in a menu that runs six pages. Salad dressings contain honey, maple syrup or simple syrups, or, “just a touch of sugar.” When I asked how much a “touch” was, it turned out to be two tablespoons in a cup of vinaigrette. Yep, vinaigrette. That’s about 26 grams of carbs in the salad dressing–roughly your whole carb intake for a meal. yes, I know, I’m not drinking a cup of it all at once. It’s still way too much sugar for a salad dressing.

Tomato sauces are loaded with sugar, and almost every meal comes with a carb-heavy side–rice, polenta, pasta, potatoes, bread. It’s possible to make a diabetic-safe dessert, but you’ll never find it in a restaurant. And yet, 25.8 million adults in America are diabetic and 79 million more are pre-diabetic.

We love our frozen margaritas, nachos, pasta and pies. But realistically speaking, with almost 2 million new diabetics being diagnosed each year, we need to start offering sensible food choices to at least provide an alternative to pancakes for breakfast, french fries with lunch and pizza for dinner.

–Quinn McDonald no longer eats food with added sugar or more than 25 grams of carbs per meal. She’s surprised how hard it is to eat a healthy, low-carb meal while traveling. KentCooks stocks a diabetic friendly fridge in their house.

The Inner Critic’s Martyr Mask

No matter how long you have been working creatively, it’s tempting to take the hook of possibility.

It's well-designed, but it's still a hook.

It’s well-designed, but it’s still a hook.

Sometimes that hook lands a big opportunity. Sometimes it pulls up a discarded, decomposing piece of junk. Almost always, it’s hard to tell the difference.

I’ve written about those “great exposure for you” false opportunities. A promoter wants you to donate your time, energy, artwork, writing and dresses it up like an opportunity. Choose carefully, make sure it is a real opportunity for you.

So when the woman called from a town three hours away and asked me to teach a class in her town rather than have her drive to Phoenix for the class, it was understandable. When she promised she would bring her friends to fill up the class, the warning bell clanged in my head. But my Inner Critic stepped up and whispered “opportunity” sweetly and seductively. The Inner Critic pointed out that asking someone to drive three hours was too much for them (but not for me), and I needed exposure, and getting in that market would help the new book sales.

Instead of pointing out that exposure is what kills people if they go out unprotected, or listening to Pema Chodron’s wisdom that we keep learning the same lesson until we understand what we need to learn, I took the hook. And the line and sinker while I was swallowing.

Yes, I did. Instead of calling on my “You are Enough” Inner Hero, I chose the Martyr Mask of the Inner Critic. Two hours and five phone calls later, I had arranged a class and a demo, rented a hotel room, spoken to the marketing manager and created the to-do list for the class. After hotel, gas, demo time there was no profit, but who cares? It was an “opportunity.” (You may now start to snicker).

From the website:

From the website:

I proudly emailed the woman who wanted to take the class–it was scheduled. I sent her the date and time, and gave her registration details. (You may now slap my forehead and ask, “What were you thinking?”)

No reply. You already know what happened. You are smarter than I am. The next day I got an email telling me the day really wasn’t good for her or any of her friends, and I should email her next time I was in town. You see, she had good resistance to the hook.

Learning from my mistake (again), step-by-step:

1. When talking to a prospect, find out exactly what they want–a class close to their location? Attention? Conversation? Mention a price range to see if it changes their interest level. If they mention friends who will be brought along, ignore it. That phrase is very similar to “I’ll call you” after a first date or “How are you today?” when your boss comes into your office. It’s something polite to say. No offers or interest are implied.

2. Compare what they want to what you have to offer and what you need. Travel is expensive, so your class price might have to increase. Would you go to that town to teach without the call? What real opportunity exists for you? Is there interest? Is there a client base? Consider this before taking any action.

An excellent counter-offer on my part would have been to ask her to gather her friends, agree to a location, and have me come to teach a custom class at a price that made me a modest profit. Don’t take the hook until you have something you need, too.

3. Do not make a commitment to please a prospect. A prospect is an unknown quantity. A prospect is not yet a client. Every company, business, and freelancer has to weigh the conversion cost of prospect to client. If you lose money occasionally, it’s part of doing business. If you lose money frequently, you need to look at how you are doing business.

4. Avoid needy puppy behavior. Needy puppies don’t get the business.

From the WordPress blog The Transfer

From the WordPress blog The Transfer

Worse, they don’t get respect. Think about what you have to offer. That’s enough. Do not offer to jump through burning hoops to prove your worth. That will just get you burned.

5. Create a marketing plan and stick to it. Set a time in the future to evaluate it. Changing it based on the last thing you heard (“Squirrel!”) is not a good business plan.

—Quinn McDonald wishes she had stopped, looked and listened to herself before lighting the hoop on fire and jumping through it.

Other people’s happy

You’re on the interwebs. You’ve just bought something. Or posted about a book you read. Or signed up for a class. You are happy. You stay on the computer and see a post about a different purchase, book, or class. Someone else is describing their choice in glorious terms. And just like that, you are unhappy with your decision.

hindenburg-wideYou should have done more research, you think. The other choice was better. Smarter. The joy goes out of your emotional sails like hydrogen out of the Hindenburg.

How can it be that your satisfaction and joy could be deflated so fast? How did you get left with dust in your mouth and heart?

Comparison is a natural inclination. But the conclusion that the other choice was better is not a natural inclination. It’s a mindset that makes unhappiness the norm. And it’s a short, straight road to competitive happiness. It’s a tough game, and you can’t win it. Because there are always other choices, bigger choices, better decisions.

If you aren’t sure about what makes you happy, it may be time to spend some time with yourself, discovering more about what lights your heart, what brings you joy. It’s not about what others are doing. Where is your center? Where is your balance? Your joy is uniquely yours. Be proud of it. Satisfaction feels like a ripe tomato–warm and heavy for its size. Your joy is yours to have. Nurture it.

-–Quinn McDonald knows the Inner Critic doesn’t want you to be happy. He’s just jealous.

The Mother You Didn’t Have

If you spent more than 15 minutes looking for a Mother’s Day card because reading the sentimental ones made you feel like a hypocrite, sad, or guilty, welcome to today’s blog.

Prickly plant seedhead.

Prickly plant seedhead.

If your childhood was happy and you had a mother who gave you everything you needed and no card is sweet enough, today’s blog is not for you. And most likely, you are with your mom, being happy.

Anna Jarvis, who invented American Mother’s Day in 1908 was angered by the commercialization by the early 1920s. So you are not alone if you think the holiday is a lot of hype for cards and candy. Most likely, that’s not your heartache. You never had the mother you wanted. The one who comforted you and praised you and loved you when you were unlovable and  helped without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice.

Maybe you chose not to be a mother and everyone asks you why, or you wanted to be a mother and it didn’t happen for you and you are still pretending that’s just fine.

It’s complicated. Whether your mother was cruel or uncaring or clueless, the pain is there. If your mother is still alive, you probably won’t be able to have the big turnaround, awakening and happy ending your friends keep promising you. If your mother is dead, you may replay scenes, wondering if you had acted differently, if the results would have been different. You’ll never know, but a wild guess tells me No. Some things can’t be changed, fixed, or healed. And never by one person. Two people, a mother and her child, might be able to cobble together a relationship, but it’s hard.

The relationships between mothers and daughters is always hard. There is unwritten jealousy between age and experience and youth and naivete. There is anger in lost opportunities and unmet expectations.  For some, the fact that you were a daughter was enough of a disappointment to fill a lifetime. I ran across this quote yesterday, whose poignancy was hard to read:

“Remember that every son had a mother whose beloved son he was, and every woman had a mother whose beloved son she wasn’t. ” – Marge Piercy

But here is a truth you might want to hear right now, today, on Mother’s Day. You cannot be anyone else except the person you are today, with all your faults, experiences, hardships, joys, stumbles, successes and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. Maybe

The long shadow doesn't have to haunt you.

The long shadow doesn’t have to haunt you.

not with your mother, but with the women who surround you. The ones who work with you and don’t meet your expectations. The pretty ones who get promoted ahead of you.  The ones who don’t take the opportunities you wanted and they have the freedom to turn down. All those women you meet on your path during the day. You can swallow the angry remark. You can wish them well. You can choose not to judge. That is your choice now. And choosing that freedom instead of choosing retribution is worth celebrating. Today and every day.

-Quinn McDonald’s mother has been dead for almost 10 years, and the shadow still falls across the path on some days.


Time for another book review. No giveaway this time, while reading the book, I began writing in it, but more on that in a minute. Title: Kicking In the Wall: A year of writing exercises, prompts, and quotes to help … Continue reading