Battling the Battle

The Phoenix newspaper probably has a higher share of obituaries than other papers in the U.S., because our population skews a bit older than some other cities. There are two striking facts that jump off the page:

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

1. Whatever you do, don’t call it “death” or “dying.” I have never seen so many euphemisms for dying. Passing on, passing over, going home, going to meet her maker, going to meet her husband, shuffling off the mortal coil (the writer must have been a Hamlet enthusiast), going to his just reward–the list is endless. But no one dies.

Death makes most people uncomfortable. We like our “stuff” and death means no more stuff. And as a culture, we see very few people die (except on TV). So I can understand we want to make it something else other than the very permanent death.

2. Everyone “battles” a disease. Usually it’s a heroic battle or a long battle.

When my time comes, I don’t want to have “battled” anything. It sets a bad precedent. It pits me against a disease, and I may not want to start a war with my own life. As no one came here to stay, “battling” is going to, at some point, be a losing proposition. And the idea that someone “loses the battle against disease” seems a little harsh. Eventually, it means we are all losers. Heroes that failed. That’s not how I want to look at my life. Or my death.

True,  I have a life-altering, non-curable disease. I am not “battling” it. I am adjusting to it, adapting my life and habits, accepting it, dealing with it, living with it. Diabetes is now a companion, something I check in with before I decide what to eat, how long to exercise, and how much stress I have going on in my life. But I am not battling it. That would be futile. Better to collaborate with diabetes that to struggle against it. I will live longer, feel better, be healthier and not exhaust myself in a “battle” that I can’t win.

-–Quinn McDonald knows her days are numbered. She just doesn’t know the number, and is making the most of every day she has. She thinks about death frequently, to get to know it without terror or resentment. And she hopes to live many interesting years to come.

 

The art of Lorem Ipsum

Unless you are a typesetter or graphic designer, the phrase “lorem ipsum” is Greek to you. In fact, that’s what it’s called—greeking. Lorem Ipsum is placeholder type, used to fill in for real words in ad design, book layout, magazine dummies and new websites.

Lorem_Ipsum_by_NeoSHBecause it mimics the length of English words and sentences,  it looks genuine, but because it has no meaning and isn’t repetitive, it doesn’t call attention to itself as clients look at design.

It’s so popular in design that Apple.com has a widget that lets you generate your own Lorem Ipsum.  Never heard of it? Here’s the first paragraph:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam vel turpis. Sed justo. Phasellus malesuada sem non sapien. Nunc feugiat nulla eu augue interdum vestibulum. Aliquam urna lorem, hendrerit vitae, fermentum ut, rutrum eu, massa. Maecenas nec sapien. Morbi ante ligula, dignissim vel, vulputate sed, ultrices vel, lorem. Nunc nulla nunc, tincidunt posuere, egestas eu, ultrices eget, diam. Nullam pharetra pretium mauris. Sed quam nibh, posuere eget, ultrices vitae, rhoncus ac, nisi.

I assumed that it was scrambled text, with no meaning. But I was wrong. It has a proud history, about 500 years of it, and it is one of the few print facsimiles that made the leap into the digital world with no damage.

Sometime around 1500, a typesetter wanted to display different fonts, so he

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

made a sample book by scrambling some type from a text he had printed. The book was “The Extremes of Good and Evil,” by Cicero, who wrote the ethics treatise around 45 BCE. Lorem Ipsum, more precisely,  has a 2,000 year history.

Yes, Cicero was a Roman, and Lorem Ipsum is called “greeking,” but it was Cicero who introduced Greek philosophy to Roman culture, and then developed a Latin vocabulary for Greek philosophical terms. And Cicero wrote much of his work in Greek.

Who discovered the link between greeking and Cicero? It’s attributed to a Latin scholar— Richard McClintock, from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He looked up keywords from the passage, and found a match in sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil).  The first line,  “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Entranced yet? Wear your love of lorem ipsum on your sleeve. Well, at least on your arm.

Quinn McDonald remembers how to spec type, hot lead type, and paste-up nights at the newspaper. Now she’s a writer, who helps others remember and helps them forget.

The Skill of Self-Soothing

My cat Buster misses Aretha. Before she died, they didn’t always get along, but they loved chasing each other or having a “surprise” stand-off, each of them backing around each other, lifting a paw as if to strike. Both would growl threateningly. And then, just as quickly as it started, they each pretended to find something more interesting and walk away. After the stand-off, Buster would find a patch of sun or an air conditioning draft and take a nap.

Now that Aretha is gone, Buster can no longer soothe himself. He is awake mostBustertub of the day, following me and meowing. When I ask him what he needs, he either runs to the tub for water, or to the door to be let out. But it’s not what he wants. He’s lost the ability to soothe himself.  I pick him up and talk to him, stroke him, but it’s not enough.

“Self soothing” is a term used for babies who manage to go to sleep using their own methods. They don’t fight sleep, they don’t cry themselves to sleep, they talk to themselves and just calm themselves down until they fall asleep.

My son was not one of those babies, and neither was I. My mother always said I was afraid I’d miss something by sleeping. My son needed a bath, a story, a song, another story and then maybe, just maybe he would stay in bed. He fought sleep with the best of them. No self soothers in our family.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

It took me years to learn self-soothing. To keep calm. To not choose “frantic.” To deliberately turn away from drama. It takes a lot of practice. I start by going silent and disconnecting from all electronic gear. While I’m still up, I go to the studio and write down all my worries. That way, they are captured and I don’t need to rewind and re-run them. The next morning, I tear them up, after reviewing them to make sure I still have them all.

After I write down the worries, it’s time to find either the prayer mala or my seed pod necklace and rub the surface. This simply motion, moving my fingers over a smooth surface, helps me focus on texture. I then think of calming scenes, of things that went well in the day, or, if I am fighting sleep, of a book, turning the pages. On each page, I “find” a word that is calming. Then I mentally turn the page. This exercise, which is a form of meditation or prayer, usually works. Sleep comes and finds me.

Buster’s anguish makes me sad for him. He hasn’t learned the skill, so I’m being a bit more patient with him. Because, God knows, self soothing is a life-long learning procedure.

Quinn McDonald finds traveling a barricade to self-soothing.

 

 

Moving Forward

Every morning when I slip into the pool to exercise, I do a lap (back and forth the length of the pool) to get my mind into a stillness so I can exercise without having my mind run ahead into the day.

One of my exercises is to run, lifting my knees very high and pumping my arms. Since I’m in water over my head, I do not race ahead. I move sluggishly, surrounded by water that holds me in place. Resists my progress, while it’s building up muscles.

1445800And as I ran, it occurred to me that frantic running–in or out of the water–doesn’t achieve anything except exercise. Frantic running is not productive. It doesn’t get work done faster, or with more accuracy. We’ve all raced around only to make the situation worse instead of better. And wasted time on top of everything else.

When I sit on airplanes, I see people who are frantically busy. They stay on their phones till the flight attendants ask them to shut them off–for the second time. They pull out their laptops and work the entire flight. As soon as the flight touches down, they are back on the phone. I asked the man next to me how much he had accomplished. “Not enough,” he said, “and I’m late.” He ran off, pushing down the aisle.

In the running of the bulls, people run, bulls run, and then the bulls are killed in the afternoon.© Washington Post

In the running of the bulls, people run, bulls run, and then the bulls are killed in the afternoon.© Washington Post

I saw him again a few minutes later, mopping up his suit with a coffee stain on it. He was furious. As he grabbed more napkins, he knocked over a ketchup container. It just got worse.

Moving forward is a deliberate act. It combines planning and thinking and often, not doing anything at all. And as I run in the pool in the morning, struggling to make headway, I know that when I get out of the pool, my actions need to be far more deliberate. Sometimes, when I get out, I deliberately move very slowly, feeling each exercised muscle do its work. And it feels like I’ve accomplished something.
–Quinn McDonald is moving ahead. Sometimes faster than others.

Before You Commit

Some wisdom I’ve known for a long time: Pay very close attention to the way people treat you before they hire you, marry you, work with you, or take a class from you. Everyone’s behavior changes with familiarity, but if your future mate, work partner, client, or boss doesn’t treat you well before you agree to the commitment, it is going to go downhill after you commit.

The door closes from both sides--you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

The door closes from both sides–you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

Often, when we want the job, the guy (or girl), the friend, we deny our own wants and goals and give them up in order to get that short-term goal. “So what if this deal has some thorns?” we think. “Even roses have thorns,” we reason. “And I sure want that armload of roses to carry down the runway.” And then comes the job offer or the class or the friendship, and we are so blinded with the short-term victory, we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves if this behavior is really OK with us. Most often, it isn’t OK. And it’s not a runway, it’s a long hard road and the petals fall off the roses and we are carrying an armful of thorns.

But that short-term victory is huge and ego-inflating.  And right after that, when we want respect, it’s not there. We’ve signed the contract, accepted the lower pay, given up what we really wanted and it’s not going to come your way now. Negotiations are over. Work has started. You have settled for less than you wanted, and you will not get that upgrade. Why should they? You voluntarily gave up your values to get the short-term rush of pleasure. When it fades, the rest of the duration will look bleak.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

Know your values and stick to them. Your values make up your character, your spine, your self-worth. Give it up to someone and they won’t give it back anytime soon.

Jim Rohn got it just right when he said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

If you read the blog regularly, a few weeks ago I had a post that asked “Is it a book?” the answer is it will be a book, but it will be someone else’s book. Not mine. And now that I’ve looked over the values I cherish, I’m just fine with it. No hard feelings on my part, wishing the author much success. My inner critic is screaming at me, “You lost the opportunity to go with a huge publishing company! Are you nuts?” But away from the closing door, the Holder of Deep Values (one of my inner heroes) is opening the window and saying, “Be glad. You did not give up what is important to you, and that is always up to you to choose, decide and protect.”

-–Quinn McDonald is seeing a door close and is waiting for the window to open. She trusts the wisdom of the Holder of Deep Values.

 

 

Saturday Prompts

It’s time for a switch. After years of posting links to art and artists, this Saturday I’m posting journal prompts. A lot of art journals are being painted and a lot of journals being bound, but not a lot are being written in. No surprise. Writer’s block strikes a lot of people. Stare at a blank page (no matter how many colors or layers it has) and your mind goes smooth and blank.

PromptsHere are some prompts to get you started filling your journals. Set a timer for three minutes and choose one of the prompts below. Write without editing your own thoughts or censoring yourself. Write down what shows up.

1. Lots of schools require some sort of uniform. Would you like it if your workplace made you wear uniforms? Supposing you got to design the uniform. What would it look like?

2.You’ve been mugged. You aren’t hurt, but you are shaken up. There is a cell phone on the ground, but it’s not yours. What would you do with it?

3. Is intelligence inherited? Which of your parents (or siblings) was the smartest? What criteria did you use to get to your answer?

If you use any of the prompts and come up with an interesting train of thought, leave it in the comments.

Happy exploring!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring the interior.

Five More Things Not to Say to a Diabetic

The first time I wrote “Five Things Never to Say to a Diabetic,” I thought it was a one-time thing. After five dumb things people say, they run out of dumb things to say. Oh, how I wish that had been true. Alas, it was not. So, five more things never to say to a diabetic.

51928726af28afada97d091a9a2ecfcb1. “You shouldn’t say you are diabetic. You have diabetes.”  Yes, it’s popular right now not to be “identified by” your disease. But deciding that is the option of the person with the disease. Not you. Even if you are also diabetic. I am a diabetic because in many ways, it does identify me: no drinking, no desserts, no birthday cake. And I’m fine with it. But it is an important part of how I think, eat and behave.

Reply:  “Thanks for pointing that out.” While I believe that setting people straight is a good idea, I do not believe that I can change everyone’s mind about their opinion. Choose your battles.

2. “You can’t stick to that diet all the time. It’s not healthy.” This is a switchback message. The speaker is not ready to accept that you have changed, and wants the old behavior back. That remark is not about you, it’s about the speaker. The speaker also doesn’t know what is or is not healthy.

Reply: Smile, then, “I’m pretty healthy, so I think I’ll stick with it.”

3. “How much weight have you lost?” This is a question no one should ask.306fedaa78da35dd31cf4a490d515086 But they do. If you answer, they will know someone who lost at least 10 pounds more, probably 20.

Reply: “Just enough to have the perfect BMI if I were three inches taller.” The topic will then switch to the irrelevance of BMI, and you will be off the hook.

4.  “So now that you’ve lost the weight, you aren’t diabetic any more, right?” In our culture, we like to be rewarded for hard work. So if you dieted, well, then, your diabetes must be gone. Whew, they don’t have to worry about that anymore. If you continue to be diabetic, you must have made bad choices.

Reply: “I will be diabetic the rest of my life.” It’s hard for some people to hear the truth, but sometimes it’s the best thing to tell them.

5. “So you eat Paleo, right?” People like categories, and they like to label. Once they know which diet you are on, they can try to compare or get you to switch to theirs.

Reply: “What diet are you on?” Most people who want to label your diet also want to talk about theirs. It’s a lot easier to talk to people about their diets because they will not like yours.

Diabetes is a tricky disease that is different for everyone. Each person has a private way to deal with their particular requirements. It’s a thin line between being curious and being intrusive. Your best bet is not to offer advice unless you are the physician for the diabetic. Offer support. That’s always the right thing to say.

Quinn McDonald occasionally runs out of patience.

Remembering Paper Bowls

Way back in the last century (really!), I made paper bowls. Most of them were made from paper I also handmade. In those years, I had a big garden and grew vegetables and after picking the summer’s bounty, I’d cook the stems down, beat the fiber into usable paper fiber and make handmade bowls.

Yesterday, a reader asked me if she could find instructions for how I made the bowls. Surprisingly, I’d never posted it. High time to help more people make handmade paper bowls! Here’s how I did it way back then:

Lotus bowl, layered.

Lotus bowl, layered. © Quinn McDonald

You can make or buy handmade paper. Some machine made papers will work, but nothing with a distinct print on it.  Rice paper, the kind with visible threads is very thin. You’ll need lots of layers to make it work, but it is beautiful.

Don’t use the really thick bark papers as you will have to soak them and the bowl will warp. It’s best to use the same kind of paper to make the whole bowl.

Chose a small bowl, about 3 inches in diameter and about 3-4 inches high.
Coat is lightly with Vaseline on the inside only. Lightly is the key word. Rub it on so there is a sheen of it on the bowl.
You will build your bowl on the inside of the bowl.

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Tear the handmade paper into small, round-ish pieces. Not strips. The pieces should be about 1.5 inches in diameter. You can use squarish pieces, too, but you don’t want any distinct corners.

Pour a tablespoon of white glue (I like PVA glue, bookbinders glue) into a container (like a clean, small yogurt dish) and add a teaspoon or two of filtered water. Mix so the resulting mixture is as thick as light cream.

Using a flat paintbrush (like you would use for painting acrylic paint) about 0.5 inch broad, dip the brush into glue, put a piece of paper at the bottom of the bowl, and paint over it with the glue. Overlap other pieces of paper over the first, working in a circle around the bottom, then up the sides. When you have one layer in the bowl, stop and let it dry completely. Add at least a total of three layers to form a substantial bowl. Tear the top edge so it appears to be deckled, but keep it even around the edge.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl. © Quinn McDonald

When the last layer is completely dry, slip a palette knife in between the bowl and paper and slide the knife around the edge like you do to release a cake from the cake form.

Gently remove the paper bowl from the ceramic bowl and put the paper bowl on the bottom, outside of the ceramic bowl. The paper bowl is now outside and the ceramic bowl inside. In most shape, it won’t be a tight fit, but you are looking to keep the rim stable. Now add another layer of paper and glue to the outside. Allow to dry completely.

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

You can coat the bowl with polyurethane, but bowls should not be used to hold wet or damp items. I don’t use them for food, either. They can hold soap, paper clips, and other small items. I like them empty, with the sun coming through them. When I still made them and people asked what they would hold, I’d say, “They hold your attention, not liquids or food.”

-–Quinn McDonald has wondered about Monsoon Papers and bowls. But she really doesn’t make bowls anymore. Lately.

Walking in Water

Yes, “in water,” not “on water.” I have doggedly tried going to the gym to exercise, and I cannot make myself like it. I spend all winter walking three to five miles a day, in morning meditation, under a blue sky and lacy mesquite trees. A gym just does not replicate that. The inside of the gym feels competitive, emotionally heated and high-pitched in a cheat-death kind of way. I can’t make myself meditate there, not even on the treadmill.

moonWalking in the summer is draining.  Monsoon brings humidity, and I can’t bring myself to walk three miles, sweating before I get to the end of the block, the sun already cooking my skin in 90-degree dawn.

The answer is, as a smart friend pointed out, the pool. The moon slides a sheen across the surface of the pool and I step into the undisturbed water. Some mornings, the Huntsman spider jumps across the surface of the water ahead of me, dimpling the surface but not breaking it. She spends the night hunting mosquitoes and heads back to the filter for safety.

First come the meditation laps. The water is dark and comfortable. Unhook thoughts and drift, on my back. Planes head for Sky Harbor, turning on their lights as they head for the airport 30 miles away. Birds begin to stir in the trees, rattling the palms and chirping. The constellations fade and a chalcedony blue sky takes shape. We are closing in on dawn.

dawnAs the sky begins to glow like a furnace the day will become, I start my serious laps. Leg and arm exercises, using water for resistance. Walking, running in the water. Concentrating on form, pushing thoughts out of my mind. Just the water and muscles flexing through it. The sky turns orange and the top layer of the water begins to warm.

Forty-five minutes later, I pull out of the pool. The breeze dries and chills me, the sun dries and warms me. Opposites, pulling at me before 6 a.m. The day starts.

-Quinn McDonald swims through life.

Books for a Creative Life

wimd-34If you want to live a creative life, you’re going to need some help. Books are my first place to start. Here are some books I’m reading now that are a great help for your creativity.

Writing is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor. Simon and Schuster, 2013. Love this book that helps you discover who you are through writing. A good story by a woman who knew she was a writer, but just couldn’t write. Till she took some risks.  Each chapter has writing suggestions at the end.

Become a Life Change Artist by Fred Mandell, Ph.D. and Kathleen Jordan, bookPh.D. Penguin Group, 2010. These two Ph.D.s teach you seven creative skills to reinvent yourself at any stage in life. And they do it by breaking down how creative people do their work and then applying it to your life. The seven skills are:

  • Peparation
  • Seeing
  • Using Context
  • Embracing Uncertainty
  • Risk Taking
  • Collaboration
  • Discipline

Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way, by Jennifer Lee, New World Library, 2014.  OK, I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my desk. I love the idea that right-brain strengths can be applied to a traditionally left-brain activity–building a business.  Again, business is considered an art (good idea if you are an entrepreneur), and you need some of the same skills to be successful as left-brained people. You’ll learn about taking a stand and making an impact and attracting clients–the right ones.

The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee, New World Library, 2011. art-books-highlight-261x199This was Lee’s first book, and it shares a lot of design elements with the second book: tips, success stories, worksheets, and a friendly, approachable format.

I bought all these books in the paper-book format. I do love ebooks, but when I’m reading for research (and all of these books are for becoming a better coach), I like to take notes on paper. In this case, I’ve put those convenient #8 shipping tags in the books as bookmarks. I take notes on the tags, keep them together with colorful binder rings, and can flip through them to find the notes I need. And yes, I do color-code them.

Now, here’s a question for you: If you were to take a week-long creativity course, one that focuses on writing, but not on one style or genre of writing, what would you want included? List as many items as you want. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Comments can include topics you want covered (memoir, poetry, fiction, non-fiction)
  • How you want to spend the day (traditional teaching lessons, writing and reading your work, critique,)
  • How important it is to write in class and get personal feedback
  • How much you want to read your own work or hear the work of others
  • Special topics you want covered (why write a book? Collaborative writing)

And yeah, I’m creating a class. Might as well get feedback from the smartest people I know. My idea right now is that the class will have an online component and an in-person component. You can form community and start working on a project online, then meet for the in-person class. You can also experience each part separately. Don’t ask me how I will do this yet. I’m just thinking.

—Quinn McDonald is creating a new kind of class.