Positive and Negative

Without  sunshine, there is no shadow. Without sadness, happiness cannot be recognized. We live with our own shadow–the negative side of our personality, we could not choose to see the positive, to decide not to give in to fear, but be courageous instead.

The Japanese art of notan (rhymes with so-wan) uses black paper on a white background to create positive and negative spaces. But it does more than that. The figure above shows a zig-zag cut-out, and while the spaces where white meets black look like they are intact, they are not. The illusion is created by leaving the corners intact. Our eyes fill in the rest.

Each section is cut out, then turned down, edges matching. The effect is mesmerizing. The process is simple, the result is complex. Just like the decisions we make in our lives, the ones that change the shape of the future.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and set it free to play in their lives. She also delights in seeing the invisible, visible world, where creativity holds the oracles that make our lives interesting.

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Blown By The Wind

Haboobs, or dust storms, roll into Phoenix regularly during monsoon. High winds push balcony furniture back and forth across the balcony, roll potted plants down the street, push birds into trees, and dirt into just about anything.

One of the nice parts of the storms is seeing the unusual places trash comes to rest. I’ve seen a Coke can in a tree, a hat stuck on a cactus, and a cat collar with no cat, hanging on a street sign.

This morning, I saw a vinca blossom, stripped from the plant, and stuck in a fan palm. This delights me for the unusual combination of color and shape. I also found the delicate palm fiber almost calligraphic as it held the blossom in place. Art is in front of us. All we need to do is enjoy it. My art to draw in my journal to remind me that I’m safe from the storm. This time.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who helps people get unstuck and dare to be happy.

The Useful Operculum

Yes, I know that the SEO for this post will be terrible. Who searches for “operculum” anyway? Who even knows what an “operculum” is? One of the joys of keeping a creative blog is knowing that there are ups and downs of attention spans, keywords, ideas, and results. Some will work better than others. Let’s hope this one works for you.

An operculum is a door. It can occur in plants or animals, but the one I’m talking about is the door that closes the opening in mollusks–snails.

The snail builds it for protection. When threatened, the mollusk retreats deep into the spiral of its shell, and closes the world out with the operculum.

The beauty of that spiral, the perfect geometry of the sea creature reminds me that utility does not have to be ugly just because it is practical. Even practical  objects should have a beauty that speak to its use. The operculum is smooth and polished, perfect enough to be a talisman, let alone a door.

The necessity of doors is important, too. For the mollusk, the operculum is protection from being eaten, from being forced from its shell.  From having sand heaved into the shell in a riptide.

I’m often jealous of that mollusk. I’d like to have a beautiful barrier against pain and abuse, against people who think that privacy is a sign of anger and unwillingness to mingle. Everything, from mollusk to human, needs time to be alone, to hear the soundless sky settling onto the earth. To hear the seed of an idea roll over and start to sprout. To weigh choices and decisions, consequences and risk. Because creativity is always about risk, and being certain is not.

The operculum is not a guard against the unknown, but a choice to increase growth. We all need an operculum.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach, to help people put their creativity to work in their lives. She is writing a book about The Invisible, Visible World.

Art on the Corner

When I first saw the house, I thought a sculpture was in front of it. Nope, the corner was painted. In a really interesting way. Someone had a great idea, and it looked like this:The painting looks almost three-dimensional, and standing on the sidewalk, I could not see the detail. My rule, when I’m out for a walk, is to never step on private property. By staying on public property, I can take photographs without asking for signed permission.

Lucky for me, the other corner of the house was easier to get closer to. What surprised me is the detail and care whoever painted this took to make it work so well.

I often think that when we dig up civilizations, we don’t look for spreadsheets, we look for artifacts. Someday, this will make a wonderful artwork that someone drew on two corners of four apartment buildings.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing as a healing process.

As Above, So Below

“As above, so below,” is a phrase with a long mystical history. Believers in magic and mysticism believe that the words were found on the Emerald Tablet, and kabbalists (Jewish mystics) believe that because we are made in the image of God, our lives are microcosms on the divine.

This image is a bit simpler, but no less beautiful in meaning. We don’t get rain often in Phoenix, and when we do, puddles are their own microcosm of the world.

In this one, you can see both the road and brickwork and the sky and trees. So, “as above, so below,” there is beauty wherever you stand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing and helps people put their own creativity to work. She is writing a book, The Invisible, Visible World.

The Shadow Side

Shadows play an important part in our lives. They depend on sun to exist. Without sun, there is no shadow. And a lack of shadow indicates a lack of sun. Simple enough.

But shadows have another meaning. Our “shadow” side is our darker side. The side that we don’t like as much, because it is mean, and shallow, and possibly dark. Without our shadow side, we could not be alert enough to compare one emotion to another. Sadness to joy, kindness to meanness. Without our shadow we would not be able to stay in balance.

Most shadows depend on a bit of dark blocking out light to create a shape. This shadow of a fence blocks out most of the light, but it is the light through the fence that defines the fence.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and coach. She is writing a book on the Invisible, Visible World.

The Answer is Near

Strange, I thought. In a huge xeriscaped space, there was a plant coming up. Looking healthy, too, even though it is July in Phoenix and nothing looks sprightly and green after a week of 110º+ days. This little plant did.

Xeriscaping is landscaping with rocks, gravel and native plants. The Greek word for “dry” is xero, and the word was coined within the last 40 years to encourage landscaping without lush lawns.

Back to the plant. It surely didn’t have deep roots, it was too young and small. I didn’t see any drip irrigation tubes around. But then I heard a faint “drip.” I looked up to the trees. Nothing. Then to the nearby roof line. And there it was.

A pipe drain from an air conditioner. Many of them are placed on roofs in Arizona, for easier access. Our houses are put close together and fenced in, for the most part.

As the humidity rises in summer (no, there is no “dry heat” during monsoon), air conditioners start to drip water regularly. Somewhere beneath the rocks, a plant seed knew it was time to make the big dash to sprouting, getting water and sun, and setting another generation of seeds.

And opportunistic seed. Ready to take advantage when the time is right. A great example for those who are afraid of risk. Of taking a chance. The time will never be perfect, but when enough circumstances line up, it’s time to go!

Quinn McDonald is working on a book about the intersection of chance and time. It’s called The Invisible, Visible World. The experiences that happen if we are aware and awake and present to opportunity. She is a creativity coach and writer.