Is there closure?

The teary-eyed woman on the news with the microphone thrust in front of her said, “I just want to get closure on my daughter’s murder.” The reporter nodded solemnly, understanding. Being farther down life’s road than she is, I want to leave a signpost–There is no such thing as closure.

As a culture, Americans are big on closure.
Something awful happens to us, and we look for a ritual that allows us to tie it up neatly, claim we are “just fine,” and go back to work.

Last year, when Gary’s wife died, he asked me when he should stop wearing his wedding ring.
“When you are ready to take it off,” I replied.
Gary looked at me warily. “I thought you were a life coach. Well, you should know the rules.”

Life doesn’t come with instructions for grief. We have to write our own. And there is no closure, no sign that we get that mourning is over and we can go back to our regular lives.
When we lose someone we love, when a medical problem blows up our routine, lives do not get glued back together.sorrow

Instead, there’s a different life. And we become a different person by coping with it.
Over time, we stitch together broken hearts, shattered expectations, overturned plans, and figure out how to proceed. And the change forges for us a new heart and a new spirit that we use to cope with our new life.

As almost anyone who has lost a loved one or gone through a life-changing disease, friends pull away after awhile. In the beginning, we are showered with questions, with suggestions, with directions. And when we don’t respond as expected, our circle of friends backs away, leaving us alone.

Disaster brings a new character. We slowly quit crying so hard and so long. We fashion a new life. There is no closure. There is just courage to face another day until we get strong enough to recognize our new life. And then we live it, one day at a time, until we make a new role for ourselves.

Theodore Roethke had it right in The Waking, when he said,

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. Her website it
Image: Sorrow, courtesy

Choosing Transformation

The caterpillar is programmed by destiny to spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly. No one knows if the caterpillar is aware of what happens during the process.

People are different. We don’t know how to spin a cocoon, and we would be scared if we could. Yet we can choose transformation. It is hard, making the choice to change. It means we deliberately give up one thing to choose another. It means we risk losing friends who don’t want to get to know us all over again in our new forms.But some of us do choose. We choose to move to a new place and start a life over. We choose to forgive bad parenting, and accept what we did get, and thrive despite of it.

That transformation is as amazing as a caterpillar’s. For all of us who have surivived, who have chosen to heal ourselves, to mother ourselves, to keep going no matter how hard, we have chosen a life of growth and transformation. We know change is possible and sustainable. Sometimes it’s a secret. Sometimes we reinvent ourselves several times. We can be more than one person.
We have a choice.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and an artist. See her work at

The ABC/XYZ Theory

Ever gone on a date and thought you both really clicked, and then the promised phone call never came? Or had the perfect job interview, accept the job and find yourself looking for a new job within a year? Have the perfect solution for a client, only to have the client hate it right after delivery? What’s happening? Why do situations that seem perfect suddenly go bad?

It’s the ABC/XYZ theory at work. When faced with something new–a date, an applicant, a solution–it’s easy to slip into the ideal world. Your date behaves in the ideal way, mirroring your fondest characteristics. The HR person describes the ideal company with big vision and lots of creativity, exactly what she has always wanted the company to be. The client hears a good solution and is relieved. It fixes part of the problem, and the client approves it. In each of these cases, you have your hopes raised. Your date is perfect, the job the HR person is describing matches your expertise, and the client seems pleased with your idea. You feel accepted and perfect.

At the next step, reality sets in. The date realizes that it is too hard to keep up this ideal. He loved your snort/giggle on the first date, now it seems to embarrass him. The human resource person does not want someone who thinks outside the box. With the box open, there is too much yakking, too many choices, too much money being spent on ideas instead of results. The closed box is looking better. One with the lid nailed shut. Reality is XYZ. And it doesn’t ever match the ABC.
The client who at first liked the solution realizes that it doesn’t mesh with the corporate culture. It won’t solve every problem in the company. It’s not a Superman solution, just an ordinary one. Another XYZ.

The shadow of the tree was lovelier than the tree itself. Shadows don’t need to be watered, or trimmed, or repotted. The shadow, which looked so lovely in the glow of artificial light, fades when the sun moves away.

ABC and XYZ are at opposite ends of reality. ABC is the ideal, the hope for what might be. XYZ is what works, the reality of daily life. What seemed to be perfect in the ideal sense isn’t a good fit in the real, ordinary, scruffy world. It may be just what the client asked for, your resume might be a perfect match with the description HR sent the headhunter, you may match every request in the online dating search engine.

But the ideal will fade and reality will set in, and ABC will never be XYZ. No matter how much you’d like it to. It’s a good idea to learn the whole alphabet and use it, so you won’t be stuck at either end.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach and artist. See her work at

Writer’s Dilemma

You are a contract writer. You freelance for a living. One of your clients asks you for help with a project, and you agree to a meeting. When you get to the meeting, your client tells you about her client–a company that needs some help organizing their website, creating a site that’s easier to navigate. You ask a few questions, and the job seems like a good fit. The pay is in line with what you ask. You agree.

And then you find out your client’s client is a company whose goals you disagree with. Not just a little. A lot. There’s a wide breach between your beliefs and the company’s. What do you do? Refuse to take on the job? Tell your original client that you disagree with the viewpoints and turn down the job? Take the job, send a big invoice, and run?pencil.jpg

Here are a few things to think about while you are struggling with your authenticity and the money.

–If the client’s values are repugnant to you, if you find the company unethical or immoral, don’t take the job. No amount of money will make you feel right about it, and you can’t do a good job. While you are speaking with your client, ask who the organization is. If you recognize the name, you can turn it down right away. If your client can’t reveal the name of the organization, you might want to reserve the right to withdraw once you research them. Give a deadline–24 hours.

–If the client represents a different viewpoint from yours, even one you strongly disagree with, consider taking the job. Every writer should be exposed to views they don’t agree with. It’s good for you–it helps you question your assumptions, see facts from a different perspective, and open your mind.

–If you take the job, you are required to do your best work. Every web reader deserves to read clear, concise, well-written copy. Your calling as a writer is your priority. You deliver well-written, well-organized, logical and precise writing. This is what every organization should be required to put on the web.

There are more than 100 million websites in cyberspace. Almost all of them are badly reasoned, horribly written and cramped with confusing and irritating navigation. A few stand out as beacons of clarity. You can contribute to the small number of sites filled with intelligent writing and good explanations. You can help others understand what the client wants to say, what they stand for. Every company deserves to have their cause clearly spelled out to let the readers understand and choose.

It’s your choice to contribute or step away. Think before you do.

Examples of badly organized and hard to navigate websites.

Studies, articles, and common sense from Jakob Nielsen, information design guru.

Examples and help on writing, everything from columns to budgets.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach and artist. See her work at

Who Said. . .?

While reading an article, I ran across a wonderful quote. When I read the author’s name, I was surprised–it was so unlikely.

And it makes a great game! See if you can match up the numbered quotes with the lettered authors. Answers at the bottom of the blog. Have fun!

1. “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story.”

2. “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?

3. “I loved fairy tales when I was a kid. Grimm. The grimmer the better. I loved gruesome gothic tales and, in that respect, I liked Bible stories, because to me they were very gothic.”

4. “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

5. ‘Life is like a movie-since there aren’t any commercial breaks, you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of it.

6. “Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

A. Amy Tan (Author, The Kitchen God’s Wife)

B. Ronald Reagan (40th President of the United States.)

C. Neil Armstrong (Astronaut)

D. Ernest Hemingway (Author, For Whom the Bell Tolls)

E. Stephen King (Author, The Stand)

F. Garry Trudeau (Cartoonist, Doonesbury)

Answers are below the camera-toss photo of lights on a bridge in Switzerland by H-Peter Clamann (c) 2006.


A. (3) B. (1) C. (4) D. (2) E. (6) F. (5)

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and certified creativity coach. See her work at

More Doubt

This past weekend, I participated in a retail art/craft show. I’ve done them for a living for almost 20 years. Some shows are good, some not. This one, run by a respected promoter, was dim. At best.

A good sign that show doesn’t have a good turnout is not having to wait in the ladies room. I never had to wait. No once. And my sales showed the lowered attendance. For the first time in ten years, I didn’t make my show fees back in sales. I planned to sell my outdoor tent, and it sold, which boosted sales, but that doesn’t count, really.journal

Not doing well at a show is an invitation to doubt. Doubt shows up as negative self-talk, gremlins that chatter unceasingly while there is no one in the booth. That was a long time this weekend. Negative self talk starts small, with the idea that my work is slipping. Then the chorus of “what else are you bad at?” starts in, and by early afternoon of the first day of a three-day show, my gremlins were yelling that the quality of my work is horrible, that I was foolish to think my product had value, and no one would ever, purchase another

It took effort to pull myself away from those voices that I hate, but will listen to. I’ll bet you have the same problem when self-doubt begins to nag at you, don’t you?

In the middle of all that noise in my head, I pulled myself up out of it and began to look at the audience. Not only was attendance light, the audience was all wrong for my product. These weren’t people interested in handmade paper, journals, or notecards. These were people looking for bargains. These were people strolling and shopping. Many were on their cell phones. A number of people didn’t believe me when I said I make paper from plants. One told me it was impossible.

Another said “no one cares about art anymore.” That phrase may have been true for her, but sweeping statements generally are more telling about the speaker than the product.

As hard as it was to focus on the real issue, I forced myself to. First, the checklist–my product is made with attention to quality and creativity. I have had success with it when in front of the right audience. The audience was not right for my product at this show. That meant that I was on the right track but at the wrong station. Handmade, quality work doesn’t come at bargain prices. It was as if I were selling flowers at the butcher shop. The wrong product at the wrong place. But that left me with three days of failure.

I needed a way to focus on what would work. I made notes on exercises to include in the journaling classes I’m starting. I thought of some items I could add to the website–another size of journal cover, and then add some covers that I make for those people who don’t want to make their own.

The show has been over for six hours now. I was not the only one whose show didn’t work well, but I am a person who has a list of improvements, ideas and plans for moving forward with the product. No one promised me a life of ease as an artist. And doubt is still waiting for me to look its way to nip my ankles. But knowing that self-doubt will chew a hole in your soul if you listen, I chose to focus on next steps. It wasn’t easy, but I left the show with my head up and excited about tomorrow.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at

Red Bag

Spring arrived punctually, surprised out of the ground by an ice storm. She lined up the setting sun so it set precisely on the West compass point, brushed the snow off a crocus, so the yellow cup looked like an egg yolk peeled out of its shell.

Then she busied off, popping early buds out of their protective hulls and softening the earth with her step.

When Emily walked by an hour or so later, she noticed that the creek still looked brown and dark. The wash of builders’ sand left by last June’s flood lightened the scene, but there was not the slightest hint of green here.late winter river

She turned her head, but her eye jerked back to the scenery. A tiny flash of red. A Cardinal? No. It was. . .she had no idea. Hovering in the middle distance, behind a skeleton tangle of ivy fingers was a red bag. It was swinging from a branch. Just a little larger than a tea bag, it glowed like an ember in the still life of the trees.

Emily wondered what it could be. She came closer, but suddenly wondered if it was such a good idea to touch the bag. She laughed at herself.
“Right, it’s a magic potion bag in the forest. More likely, it’s some sort of bird feeder. Maybe suet.”

But as she got closer, there was no seed visible, no suet stain on the red cloth bag. The bag was light, swinging and shifting in the breath of air.

It was growing dark and Emily wanted to walk back home, to the cozy street where yellow lights behind windows assured you that someone was home, cooking supper, living a normal family bag But the red bag was a moving question. She squinted, trying to see it as jolly, but it didn’t work.

Maybe a child had left it. Unlikely. It was a good five feet off the ground, too high for a child to have tied.

Well, it was an international neighborhood, maybe it was some kind of ritual object. The instant she thought “magic” Emily knew that’s exactly what it was. It had to be. That made the most sense. Maybe it contained herbs, or a spell to bring back a lover, or a memory of something long lost and forgotten.

She couldn’t stand it anymore. She stepped carefully into the woods, making sure her footing was steady. Then she stretched and held the bag. It was light, but felt firm and warm. She shuddered as she considered alternatives. But she could not stop. She tugged at the strings and the bag was in her hand. Really warm now.

Her shaking fingers untied the bag. In the next instant she was blinded by the light and pushed back by the force with which it escaped the bag. She stumbled and fell, groping for a handhold, which she couldn’t find. There had not been an explosion, and she felt confused and scared. She stood, her eyes open but unseeing, but feeling a wave of light wash over her.

She heard a distant, resonant voice. It was female and rich with promise and warmth.

“We always want to know where that hour of daylight goes at Daylight Savings Time,” the voice said. “Din’t your mother ever tell you that Spring puts it in a bag and hangs it in the forest till Autumn comes and steals it back?”

“Ma’am?” A voice was calling her. A lab licked her face enthusiastically.
“Are you OK? ”
Emily nodded her head and sat up. She still was seeing light spots, but her vision was coming back.
“Did you see anything?” she asked
The couple walking their dog answered, “Well, it looked like a bold of lightning, but the sky is clear.”
Emily looked down at her hands. The red bag wasn’t there.
“Do you want us to take you to the emergency room?” the couple asked.
“No, I’m. . .uh, fine. . .OK, really,” Emily said.
“It must have been some kind of ball lightning.”
She knew they would never believe her if she said it had been an hour of daylight, left hanging in the woods in a small red bag. And she wanted to get home. It was turning dark, and that was fine with her.

–(c) 2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. Photograhs by Quinn McDonald. See her journals, handmade paper bowls and notecards at

Pimp My Journal

I finally took the leap—all of my journals are now made with Rollabind disks. Once you buy one, the pages are interchangeable from one journal to another. That’s the joy of Rollabind–you can take out and put in pages, and because the disks are all spaced the same, you can move pages from one journal to the next.

The first step was to use the images from the cards as journal fronts. Backs are coordinated with handmade papers. And you can order them using any printed card I have. (Previous editions of the notecards are also available.) journal.wings

On the left, the front of the “wings” journal. On the right, the back shown with batiked brown paper.back.wings

Then come the journals that are truly pimped. I have journals with bark covers, large and small papers (yes, that one comes with a large and small cover together), a journal that can be used vertically or horizontally, and one that contains art papers and envelopes for you to store circle.journalkeepsakes. It’s shown on the left with amazing paper that’s been marbled in a special technique that pushed color away in a pattern reminiscent of rain running down a window.

Below, left: a journal that has large, lined pages for writing and smaller, unlined pages for sketching. Divider page is Native American-made bark paper.different size cover jrnl

Below, right: this journal is filled with lined pages. The paper on frontcoral paper jrnl is hand-printed by a French papermaker. The inside front cover is lined in a gilt-edged ivory.

(c) images and copy, 2007, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Creative Play

Keep your nose to the grindstone. Keep your shoulder to the wheel.

How is anyone supposed to get work done in that dumb position?underwater

Instead, get involved in some creative play.

Make yourself a virtual kaleidoscope.

Cut out a virtual snowflake.

Make some (real) chocolate-rose petal soup.

Fold up paper into origami shapes.

Write a haiku

Make a romantic apple souffle for two

Paint (virually) like Jackson Pollock. (Hint: the faster you mouse, the thinner the line. Click to change colors)

Write your own freeform haiku (no instructions necessary)

Make a satisfying paint mess. (no instructions necessary either.)

Add your own fun. Tell me what you’ve done!

New one-of-a-kind Notecards

card weavingAnother day in the studio, this time having fun making notecards. Paper mosaic, paper weaving, an interesting studies of circles, and a wonderful handmade paper–made by someone else–entirely out of beets. I mounted it on lokta paper, a shrub that grows in Tibet. It seemed to make a good background. And the overlapping beets form a delightfully detailed pattern.

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved.beet card

mosaic notecard3circles