Build Your Day

Some days need just a poem to get you started.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Quinn McDonald loves the spare power of poetry.

Parts of a Whole

No plan comes together all at once. Plans get put together piece by piece. Each piece gives you more information for the next step. It’s good to have a big picture to know where you are going, but over-planning can bring disappointment that you don’t need.

Some parts don't fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

Some parts don’t fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

If you love control, you think that planning every inch, every second will bring you what you want. Life doesn’t work that way. Life is messy, but messy is interesting if you let it be.

Keep the big plan in mind. Keep the goal in sight. But here’s the real secret. Stay flexible. Not every piece has to drop into the pre-determined box to make the final piece complete.

Leave yourself room to shift, change, and grow. Your problem-solving skills will not drop away. You always have the skills necessary to make the plan move forward. There will be many times the final plan didn’t come together the way you want, but if you keep problem-solving skills working, the final plan may be better then the first plan.

Control is not everything. Sometimes determination, patience, flexibility, creativity, and ingenuity trump control. Sometimes you have to dump the plan and start over. You can choose.

-Quinn McDonald knows the charm of asymmetry.

The Past Is Not Your Future

Love the past? Have tons of photos of your childhood, high school and college days? Photos are great reminders of who we were, but so many times, we mire ourselves in the past like an old station wagon with its wheels dug into a snowbank.

Who still holds the strings that allow you to move?

Who still holds the strings that allow you to move into a free world?

Yes, the past shaped you. Maybe even hurt you, distorted you, and damaged you. But that does not mean you have to stay stuck there. You can turn your back on the past and face forward. Look ahead. Plan ahead.

Getting Rid of the Past by Cleaning Out
One way to help you let go is by cleaning out the stuff that is holding you back. There is a difference between old photos and photos that zap tears into your eyes–tears of regret, shame, and anger. Take a look around your living space. What are you hanging on to that is not supporting the you that you want to become?

This is particularly true if you are suddenly living alone, about to move in with someone, an empty nester or simply still hanging on to painful memories and memorabilia.

Pile everything that’s painful on the bed. Throw out all items you won’t need for taxes or legal reasons. There will still be a big pile left–memorabilia, some of which you feel guilty about. “I can’t throw out my wedding album,” I hear you wail. OK, you can use one old suitcase or Rubbermaid container to hold those items you feel have historical or genealogical value.

What holds you back needs to be given away, burned, donated, or trashed.

What holds you back needs to be given away, burned, donated, or trashed.

Be ruthless. Toss out, give away, transfer ownership, donate, but get those painful objects out of your house. Do not stack them in the garage. Do not rent a storage locker for them. Paying to hold on to your painful memories is worse than having them underfoot in the house. Under all those pieces of your past your are clinging to are the basic values you need to start over. The big dream. The enthusiasm. All that stuff is crushing those values. Making them small. Making you sure that you don’t deserve a big, happy, interesting, creative future.

The next thing is an exercise from my upcoming book. I’ve found it to work in many cases:

Re-write the future as you are living it now to what you would like to do. Do not allow yourself to stay stuck in old patterns. Instead of “I always wanted to be a writer, but because my mother told me to get a career, I became a teacher. Maybe when I retire in ten years, I can do some art,” write down, “I want to live my life out loud as an artist. I want to [paint, write, sing, dance] and do it out loud and in public. In five years, I can see myself [having a solo show, singing in a musical, publishing a book]. When I do that, here are the friends that will celebrate with me [list]. Here is how we will celebrate [describe it in detail.]

You don’t have to worry exactly how to move from A to B yet. You have to have a clear vision before you can walk toward it. Carrying around the blame and shame will not lighten your walk, it will barricade it. Take the first step and clean the past out of your home. You will feel lighter and more prepared for the future you want.

[There are many steps to creating the life you want. Small ones, big ones. But facing what you are holding on to and what is holding you back is an excellent place to start discarding the unneeded, unnecessary, and unlovely. ]

-Quinn McDonald helps coaching clients leave their past behind and walk toward a lighter, brighter future.

Creative Hop Saturday: Feb.28, 2015

Matt Emmett photographs abandoned places. For some reason, I find his work hauntingly beautiful.

 

© Matthew Emmett

© Matthew Emmett

They are in the UK, and his website, Forgotten Heritage, is filled with shadow, light and dark, and the breath-holding way that abandoned building surprise us.

©Matt Emmett

©Matt Emmett

From Emmett’s website: ““It’s an often quoted cliché but there really is a strong sense of palpable history present in abandoned buildings, the items left behind like paperwork in a drawer or plaques or signs in an industrial plant, allow you a glimpse into the past. I consider experiencing these places to be a great privilege.

Kevin Dowd, also from the UK, creates photo collages that are both spare and rich in meaning. He uses a lot of images from childhood, but a childhood free of connection, allowing the reader to feel both loneliness and nostalgia.

© Kevin Dowd

© Kevin Dowd

Dowd has several collections on ghosts and the meaning of what we see and what we understand.

© Kevin Dowd

© Kevin Dowd

From Dowd’s website: “From this, I questioned the ephemeral notion of identity, as observed by the artist. These individuals were captured in a moment, their appearance just one minor aspect of themselves.”

Because today’s theme seems to be abandonment, it’s perfect to mention Herbert Baglione, who paints a different kind of ghosts on the walls of abandoned psychiatric hospitals.

© Herbert Baglione

© Herbert Baglione

These are shadow-ghosts, haunting what was and depicting memories that no one can honor any longer.

© Herbert Baglione

© Herbert Baglione

This project was created and photographed in Parma, Italy in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. The exhibition is entitled, 1000 Shadows.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who is always astonished at the imagination of artists.

The Creative Slump

While I’ve been sick (yeah, I’m real tired about writing about it, too),  I haven’t stepped foot in the studio. No interest. This is so unusual for me, I took a closer

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

look. I’ve been spending spare time doing my taxes, a chore I absolutely loathe. But the dumb repetition of finding dates on receipts (why in Bastet’s name do they not put the date in the same place on all receipts?) and putting the amount on a spreadsheet is something I can manage to do.

Normally, I keep a list of ideas I want to work on, but I can’t think of anything that interests me at the moment. There is work on the desk, ready to go. Not interested.

There’s clearly a connection about a stuffed head and an empty brain. And I’m not rushing it. True, I haven’t written in my journal in two weeks. Unusual. And it’s Spring, and usually I want to make note of the day the fig started leafing out. Nope.

Instead of worrying about this, I’m shrugging it off. When I feel ready, I’ll go back. I think it’s odd, but then again, I’ve learned a lot about my body and when my body is ready to pull itself together, it will. Meanwhile, I’ll drift, read, and celebrate the fact that the taxes are done about two weeks earlier than ever!

Quinn McDonald is getting it together, piece by piece.

The Patience of Grass

I’m not a patient person. As this cold/flu/bronchitis crawls on into its 12th day, I’m discovering just how impatient I can be. It’s not something I’m proud of. But I hate being sick. Not walking. Not really wanting to eat. And worse still, doing taxes because it’s something I can do.

Nature provides me with lessons on life all the time. Here’s a recent favorite. This sign is well over eight feet tall.

grass2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I love is that coming out of the top is fresh, growing grass. In our searing heat last summer, that grass, crawled up, inch by inch, in 110-degree heat in a metal tube. Grass that does not grow that tall. It just kept climbing. Now it’s reached the top.

grass

And now it’s found the sun and recent rain. That is patience. Patience with not idea of a result. Just patience.

A lesson well-taken.

-Quinn McDonald is still coughing and sneezing herself through tax season.

The Sweeping Gesture

Because I am a woman of a certain age, I am having fun startling people. Frankly, I am currently invisible. Neither fat nor thin, long past attractive, I have decided to draw attention to the fast-fading art of being polite.

A doorway at Tohono Chul--"a corner of the desert" in Tucson.

A doorway at Tohono Chul–“a corner of the desert” in Tucson.

My favorite trick is to open a door then step to the side and with one arm, sweep my hand toward the inside of the building and say, in a voice with a smile, “After you!” I’ve brought people to a dead stop in front of me. They think it’s a trick. I’ll add, “Please,” while I incline my head toward the inside of the building.

It works well with automatic sliding doors, because I step aside and let the people who are inside step out. It makes sense to do this anyway, but when done with the arm sweep and a smile, it freezes people in their tracks.

On the other hand, if a man gestures that I should step out of the elevator first, I’ll reward him with a smile and a “You just made my day. Thank you.” I’ve seen men grow several inches, just from that small kindness.

Occasionally a woman will say, “Letting me out the door first doesn’t make up for being treated like a second-class citizen.” Well, no, of course not. But at that moment, no one is treating me like anything except a dignified woman who is being let through the door first. I don’t think it means any more than that. And I am enjoying it tremendously.

The busier the escalator, the TSA line, the bank, the more a slight sign of politeness brings on a smile. And secretly, it makes me feel generous, too. It’s a small shift in the fragile fabric of our culture, and I’m secretly happy to have the power to make something gentle happen.

-–Quinn McDonald loves surprising people who do not expect or remember the art of being polite.

 

Meaning-Making and Validation

It’s not enough to make meaning anymore. Because we aren’t sure it really is meaning. Unless, of course, we photograph it, put it on social media, and get approval. Then we’ve made meaning.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Popular culture shifts and changes–that’s what defines pop culture. But the biggest change in our lives (from my observation), is that something has to be photographed (or videod) and put online for it to matter. Somehow, we can’t have private meaning anymore. In fact, we can’t really be alone any more.

Without “likes” and comments, even negative ones, what we do doesn’t feel real,  doesn’t matter.

That’s why, when we see something surprising, beautiful, alarming, horrifying, we immediately grab out camera and experience it though our phones. Then post it. We crowd-source our emotions, our experiences, and eventually, our meaning-making. If people object, we change our minds. Maybe we didn’t have as much fun as we thought. Maybe we didn’t like that movie as much. Or maybe it was much more, depending on what reactions we get.

Some people I know Tweet all their reactions to watching TV. They post 20-60 tweets while watching Downton Abbey or the Oscars, waiting for friends to react to the show and the other tweets, to create an emotional background they cannot seem to create alone.

In a recent study, published by the Journal Science (and reviewed here in Time magazine) 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would rather receive electric shocks (which they administer themselves) than be alone with their own thoughts.

We no longer trust our own emotions. We don’t even want to have them. We want approval so much more, that we are willing to put the most intimate parts of our life online and get a reaction to them, to validate ourselves. This weekend, I watched people post the following events online:

  • the death of a relative (with photos of the dead person)
  • a selfie of a crying woman (“I’m so sad right now.”)
  • the birth of a baby at home (with a photo of the emerging head)
  • new tattoos (complete with blood still flowing)
  • two FB posts from different emergency rooms
  • one FB post from an ambulance

oversharing1-300x210At some time, each of these events would have been thought of as too private to share. In fact, years ago, most people would have preferred to process the comlex emotions of these events with family (or alone) and not mention them to others until some time has passed. Not anymore. We aren’t real unless we are online.

I’m amazed (and will admit to being the right demographic for amazement) that we are so willing to give up every shred of privacy to validate our emotions. I’m not there yet.

Is it really so bad to have something happen unshared? Unphotographed? Undocumented? Do we not know what to feel until our FB friends tell us? I’ve quit posting my Sketchbook homework not because I don’t want to share, but because I want to experience what I feel about it before others tell me. It’s OK not to like something and not say anything. Or to enjoy it without sharing. Sometimes, it’s wonderful to not share your thoughts.

-–Quinn McDonald feels completely OK making meaning on her own and not sharing it.

 

 

The Seedling of Patience

Patience–wish I had it. At least more than I do now.  Impatience is my strong suit. The last time I was discussing a problem I wanted to resolve, my coach rootnsproutsuggested just letting it ripen for a while. For a Myers-Briggs “J” –the one who checks things off a list, who is always working toward a goal, who makes decisions and even if they are wrong, who cares, it’s better than not doing anything–well, letting a problem stew didn’t seem like a good solution.

My coach, wise woman that she is, said–“think of the solution as a seedling. It’s just broken out of the ground and is searching for some light. If you come along and pull it out to get a closer look, then stick it in the ground, then do that every day, the seedling won’t survive.”

I could see that poor seedling getting pulled up every day, examined, and stuck back in the earth. I could see my impatience doing just that.  And how quickly fatal that would be. Some things do better when left to grow roots and shoots.

The story reminded me of another gardening metaphor on patience. Sweet corn zea_mays_-_kocc88hlere28093s_medizinal-pflanzen-283takes about 75 days to go from seed to picking an ear. Yelling at it to hurry up has no effect on the length of time. It doesn’t make the corn sweeter, either.

Some problems, some answers just need time to ripen. Even if we want answers and solutions right now. Knowing when to turn things over, as another wise woman I know says, “to the operating system of the universe,” is good wisdom.

-Quinn McDonald is a gardener at heart. She is learning to be a gardener of the heart.

Timing, Timing

dandelionThere are days that I am in top form, ready to go, loving what shows up. And then there are days when I have a cold. It’s been a week now and the snot fairy has moved into my head with a long-term lease and the cactus is firmly ensconced in my throat.

Feeling sick is a normal part of life–no one is healthy all the time. I am tremendously lucky that I haven’t been seriously sick in many years. And a cold–even a bad cold–is just that. It’s not life-threatening. But there is something that does happen when I don’t feel well, and I bet it happens to other people, too.

I catastrophize. Small upheavals become giant, and small efforts don’t work. Everything requires huge effort. And yesterday, my Plan B because my only option. Because I let it look like my only choice. Although I know “you look where you go,” feeling sick made me look more closely at failure, at not making it, at playing small, crushed and defeated. And headed right into that direction.

So I stoked up on cold medicine and went to see the client. Ready to be defeated and go home and eat worms.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.05.58 PMThank goodness for smart clients. This one turned me away from Plan B and steered me right back to Plan A. The Big Game. Some sense seeped into my stuffy brain. I pushed back the highly polished Plan B and pulled out the A Game. And it worked. The client was pleased. Encouraged me. And way against my expectations, Plan A glowed and Plan B (what to do if I fail) crumbled.

So, one more time: when you aren’t feeling well, don’t let that define you. Don’t go for the worst scenario. Intense self-care, even if you think you don’t deserve it, if vital if you own the business, stand up for yourself or represent your work.

Don’t brush off your self-care. It will always reward you. I learned to ignore self-care from years of working in businesses where being sick was not an excuse to stay home. Now it’s my business. And self-care comes first.

—Quinn McDonald will be getting better any moment now. Please.