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.

Taking a Compliment

“What a nice blouse!”

“This old rag? I just wear it to clean house.”
screen-shot-2014-02-27-at-10-13-14If you are a woman, you are familiar with this. (Men take compliments more easily). But for women, a compliment has to be denied, shoved back, or minimized.

At an art show, I complimented an artist on her work. “It’s really easy,” she replied, “I just threw some paint on the canvas.” I’ll bet she didn’t, and once she diminished her own work, I found the price a bit high. After all, if she really “just threw paint” on the canvas, it took no planning or thought.

Of course she worked hard on the canvas. Of course she worried about it. But the 3632-What-Happens-When-A-Girl-Refuses-A-Compliment-Funny-SMS-Conversation-Picturesecond a compliment floats her way, she had to pretend to be someone with no talent, who happens to make a living painting. Why? Because it hurts to admit one has talent, skills, beauty, intelligence, or even good taste. If you own your attributes, you are responsible for them. All the time.

All that may seem like too much work. So we bat away compliments. We don’t want to own them. Most women have also been trained to be humble–particularly older women. We don’t want to seem “full of ourselves,” or risk a “swelled head.” So we deny, deny, deny.

Eventually we believe that we are talentless shlubs who can barely breathe and cross the street at the same time. That doesn’t serve anyone.

First, when you get a compliment, all you need to do is smile, and say, “Thank you!” It’s not hard to do this is you immediately think that you are making the person who paid you the complement happy.

Then, there’s a bit of work to do on yourself. Why don’t you want to be talented, smart, loving, or whatever you got a compliment for? What meaning do you attach to a compliment that makes you shrink from it? Pretend, for the next hour, the compliment is true. Just for an hour. Then you can give it up. If you still want to.

P.S. It helps to give a compliment if you make it about you instead.  “Seeing you in that blouse will make me happy all day,” is a compliment that’s hard to turn down.

I read a great quote  the other day. It wasn’t attributed, so I can’t send a compliment to anyone for writing it: “It took me a long time to discover who I was not, only then did I discover who I was.”

P.S. For language lovers. “Compliment” (with an i) means a kind expression or praise. You can remember that it’s spelled with an “i” because it’s nice to receive one and nice also has an i in it.

Complement (with an e) is something that fills up or completes something else. “The book cover art was a perfect complement to the chilling story inside.” It means to complete.

--Quinn McDonald has some problems with complements herself. That’s why she writes about it.

Daily Practice

Practice is necessary to learn anything. Practicing art is another word for getting better.

Practice can take a lot of different shapes. Right now, I’m working on minimalist collage. I was finding it difficult to be as minimal as I wanted to be, so I gave myself permission to do a very busy, color-jammed collage.

When you give yourself permission, your inner critic will show up and tell you that you’ll never sell this “trial and error” pieces. That’s right. You won’t. But I’m not experimenting to sell, I’m experimenting to get better. And unless I try one thing, I won’t know if it works, if I want to do more, or where I need to do some more work.

Here’s the busy piece I did, using a lot of color and largely rectangular or square shapes. Of course, there was a piece of map that didn’t “belong.”

page1

And here’s the piece I did after that. I found three pieces of paper buried at the bottom of my stash–a highly textured blue and green and a sheet printed with stars. I decided to add a fourth color–the orange Monsoon Paper piece. The moon is cut out of the same Monsoon Paper piece, but flipped over, so the color blending on the back shows up.

page2

Both pieces are very different. And because I gave myself permission to play with the first piece and was very strict with myself that I had to “get some minimal work done” with the second piece, it turns out that I like the first piece better.

Sometimes, in our need for perfection, we forget to play. When we allow ourselves to play, our creative work is better, looser, and more free than the one we put all the constrictions on.

Play is a part of getting better at what you do. Don’t push it out of your life.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves collage.

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.

The Magic Ocotillo

Ocotillo (Oh-koh-TEE-oh) is a desert plant. It’s adaptable and visually interesting. It looks like a bunch of thorny sticks stuck in the ground. In the summer, it drops its leaves.

Ocotillo_in_Joshua_Tree_National_Park

When it rains or the weather is mild, it develops leaves.

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In the Spring, it blooms with extravagant orange-red flowers. (Can’t resist the close-up below).

Ocotillo-flower-PD

Here is what amazes me about these plants–when it rains, they grow leaves—fast. In hours. I have an ocotillo in my front yard. We are in the Monsoon right now, and this afternoon and evening we had huge rainstorms. Below is my ocotillo one hour after the rain started. You can see the big thorns and some tiny leaves developing.

ocotillo1

An hour later, it looked like the photo below. The leaves are a lot bigger.

ocotillo2

And this evening, about two hours after the rain started, the leaves has become full size. It’s sort of like an instant, fast-motion chia pet.

ocotillo3

The leaves will stay and absorb water from the atmosphere as long as it stays humid. Once the humidity drops, so will the leaves. This happens as fast as they developed.

When I look at the ocotillo I think of characteristics I’d like to borrow: adaptable, resilient, OK with change, thriving under challenging conditions, sturdy, grounded and amazing. So the next Inner Hero I want to add is Ocotillo.

—Quinn McDonald has no trouble finding Inner Heroes wherever they show up.

 

The Fisher King’s Question

It’s happened again. Another suicide, fueled by depression, that pitiless stone in the soul. This time, depression claimed Robin Williams, a stand-up comic who would risk anything for the outrageous, full-force belly laugh.

Right after the shock wore off, the line people say about suicide started to float10583833_10152179250246637_4647984638744432526_n up: suicide is selfish. It is anything but. Suicide is a choice, the hardest choice of all–to end a pain without bottom, without limits. Suicide crushes families, fans, friends. An easy connection to selfish—the lives plundered of joy and left behind. Still, it’s not selfish. It is the way to make pain give up its grip. No doubt it causes pain for those left behind, but it is a choice that requires some courage to choose. Harder still to commit to because there is no other choice that ends the soul-deep suffering.

Robin Williams was brilliant in a lot of movies–Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society,  Popeye, Moscow on the Hudson, The World According to Garp, Good Will Hunting, The Birdcage, Hook, Insomnia, and the one that may have perfectly captured his mercurial and boundless acting ability, Aladdin.

I loved them all, but the one that sticks in my memory is The Fisher King. In it, Williams play a former professor, driven mad by the memory of his wife’s murder, committed by a man who was spurred on by a shock jock’s comment.

What struck me this afternoon was the fit of The Fisher King story and Williams’ robin-williams1life. The story is ancient, because it is a Holy Grail story, part of the Arthurian legend. In the tale, the Fisher King is a wounded man, alive but unable to continue the dynasty, either through impotence or a groin wound.  His castle is home to the Holy Grail, although no  one knows where the king keeps it. The King’s job is to protect the Grail, but wounded, he cannot protect or defend his home, his family, or the Grail. He spends his day fishing–the only way he can survive the blow of his unfulfilled life or provide for his family.

He is visited by Percival, once as a child, and once as an adult. When the adult Percival comes to the castle, he asks the question that will heal the Fisher King. In heroic quests there is always a question that has to be asked, an impossible task performed, an action on which the entire outcome of the story depends.

In the  German epic poet Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Perzival, the question is: “Sir, why do you suffer so?”

None of us knew Robin William’s suffering, but we know that silence is a killer. Our culture doesn’t approve of any perceived mental weakness, and the more the secret of depression is kept, the bigger the horror of it grows.

Allow the pain in your life to speak. Give your friend, your relative, your lover, your partner the gift of the question that heals: Why do you suffer so?

If you know someone who needs to talk, or if you do, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255). The group is a series of 163 crisis centers in 49 states. Your call is confidential.

-–Quinn McDonald cherishes the laughter that Robin Williams brought to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Travel

Time moves on whether we use it or not. We can’t speed it up or slow it down, but we are experts at ignoring it.

It's not time, it's a tattoo.

It’s not time, it’s a tattoo.

Reading through Facebook this morning, I had no desire to post anything. Some days Facebook is like a statue and we are pigeons–swoop in, deposit something, and fly off.  I was not connecting to anything.  Cute videos, tragic abandoned dogs and car accidents . . .I forget them as soon as they move off the screen. Really, it was just floating in a half-world of unreal experience, none of it memorable.

I got up early this morning to get work done. But first, check Facebook and emails and Pinterest and stop by Twitter. Because, no kidding, I feel guilty if I don’t check in on my. . . what, exactly? My displaced feeling of connection is what. Bumper-sticker philosophy passing as thoughtfulness. Beautiful photographs, funny cartoons. This is not connection.  This is not friendship. This is also not doing nothing. It is fueling a low-grade irritation about ideas I have already considered.   Still, I can do this because on the internet you can do nothing and rationalize it as social networking, and call it working.

By 7 a.m. when I’d been up for ovr two hours, I has spent the entire time sitting at my desk, staring at my laptop.

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

I was not relaxing. I was not doing anything, either. I was in some sort of half-awake world of semi-attention, hoping that something would inspire me.

What would really inspire me was rest. It came up like a huge bubble from under a deep pool–if I wanted to rest, I should rest. Stop fooling myself. So I got up, closed the computer, and went back to bed.

I lay on my back, wondering if I should be working. No, I was tired, so I closed my eyes. It felt. . .good. I fell asleep quickly. Slept for two hours. Woke up rested.

When I returned to the computer, I did not check in on Facebook. It ran just fine without me. Instead, I wrote down what I needed to do, set the timer on a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it, and started writing. It worked. Because I was rested.

Lying down is resting. Lying down and opening your iPad is not resting.
I like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But it’s not work and it’s not research. It needs to fit into my goofing-off time. So if I don’t have time to goof-off, I will not call posting on Facebook “working,” and spend 45 minutes reading what semi-strangers are doing.

Rest when I’m tired. Work when I need to work. Goof off when i am done working. That feels better.

Quinn McDonald had a good nights sleep. Finally.

Experience the World

Every action you take sends ripples out and changes the world. That sounds pretty grandiose, particularly if we live isolated lives. But we don’t.

ContractA client who doesn’t pay on time causes me to use the experience to write up a stricter contract with a clause that charges interest. Maybe a potential client, one who pays well, avoids me because of that.

A relationship that falls apart through a breaking of trust causes the hurt person in the relationship to be more guarded in the next relationship.

The pain you experience in life gets passed on to the next, often innocent,  party. The person who has shown every reason to be trusted gets the brunt of the previous relationship–the one that broke down. Is that what experience is?

Questions I wonder about:

1. Does this happen with good experiences, too? Do I remove the interest clause when a client pays on time? (Probably not. I’ll see that as an aberration, still believe in the “norm” of the non-paying client set.)

2. How does experience change how we see the world–and does it always have to be protective or negative?

3. Is there a personal statute of limitations on a bad experience? How many people in our lives have to pay for the one who hurt us?

-–Quinn McDonald wonders about the emotional experience of how we expect the world to treat us.