Kurt Vonnegut: So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut is dead.220px-vonnegut12.jpg

He and his writing shocked most of America, but he was a master of contemporary American literature. His dark humor, biting satire, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959. He didn’t get a lot of attention until the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. birdcage Vonnegut

His most widely read and distributed book is the 1969 classic, Slaughterhouse Five, the life of Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time after his abduction by aliens by Tralfamadore. But the book, which is an easy read, was discovered to be a giant of anti-war sentiments. Its plot describes Vonnegut’s time as a German prisoner of war, when he witnessed the bombing of Dresden.

Vonnegut wrote a number of novels, short stories and picture books from 1952 to 2005. He was considered a science fiction writer, but he was more of a modern Mark Twain.

In 1970, Neil Young released “After The Goldrush,” and the words always reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five. Perhaps unrelated, the themes of understanding and longing seem similar.

After The Goldrushlyrics by Neil Young

“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights
In armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and
Drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing
To the sun
That was floating on the breeze.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature’s
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.”

Vonnegut’s phrase, “So it goes. . .” was a catchphrase picked up by millions and is rumored to be his epitaph. The image above was taken from his website.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and reader of Vonnegut’s works. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Falcon v. Pigeon

It’s a busy part of town I live in; we share it with a peregrine falcon. Peregrines are more commonly found in high, lonely parts of the landscape, not in the middle of a 145,000 people with stores, buses, metros, and the noise of a city. But he lives around here, probably because this neighborhood is also home to a large number of pigeons. And peregrines love pigeons–for dinner. Peregrinefalcon3

Peregrines are small birds of prey–about 15-21 inches long with a wingspan of about 40 inches. About the size of a big crow. But they come with those big wings–twice the size of their length. The better to catch pigeons with.

The peregrine starts at birth to pump his wings, practicing the stoop–the method of catching prey. They soar high, see lunch on the wing below them, then zero in, dropping at 185 mph. They hit their prey at the wing. They have excellent aim, they use the wing catch so they don’t hurt themselves at impact. 185 mph is too fast to hit a slow moving pigeon’s body; luckily the pigeon won’t remember a thing, the falcon snaps the neck on impact as well. (That’s a peregrine inviting a pigeon to lunch, below.)
Austperegrine_1When I do see the peregrine, I almost always notice it by the sudden absence of pigeons. They fly in large, noisy, monotonous groups. Swooping, soaring, swooping again. All of a sudden, they scatter into the trees. Almost always, they are a trifle slow on getting the word out.

Feathers1 One morning, there was proof of a peregrine (picture on right). In the middle of my lawn was a pile of pigeon feathers. A pile of fluff, with a distinct pigeon color. Not being fond of pigeons and what they do to my car, the walk, or the bird lice they carry, I’m rooting for the falcon. Hope he hangs around for dinner.

–Quinn McDonald understands it’s tough to be a pigeon. Or a peregrine for that matter. They were once on the endangered species list. Quinn is an artist and a writer. She knows about endangered species. See her work at QuinnCreative.

Photos: Top, right. Peregrine by declan mcCullagh.org
Middle, left. Falconry.ca
Bottom, right. Quinn McDonald

Weird Stats Journal Prompts

Tired of normal journal prompts? Want something different? Here you are–odd statistics that lead to interesting journal entries. You supply the imagination, shock your journal!

–Percentage of those who leave their spouses that then go on to marry the person they were having an affair with : 10.       [Source: Care2.com]

–Your chances of dying by getting struck by lightning in any given year (statistics from 2001-2010) is 1 in 775,000.  Your lifetime odds of getting struck by lightning and dying are much smaller: 10,000. [Source:LighningSafety.Noaa]

–If you roll two dice the probability of rolling a combination that results in the sum of 5  is 1 in 9. [Source: http://mathforum.org] 

— If you combine those Christians who think torture is either never or only rarely acceptable, you have 42 percent of Catholics and 49 percent of white Protestants. The comparable statistic of those who are described as “secular,” which I presume means agnostic or atheist, is 57 percent opposition. In other words, if you are an American Christian, you are more likely to support torture than if you are an atheist or agnostic. [Source: Bellum et Mores]

–For every human born, there are 7 cats and dogs born. One female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in 7 years; one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in 6 years.  [Source: animalworldnetwork.com]

–The fastest insect is the dragonfly, which can buzz around at 36 mph. Lucky for the dragonfly, it is not the meal of choice for the peregrine falcon, which can dive at speeds up to 200 mph. The peregrine falcon likes to eat pigeons. The peregrine is the only bird that catches its prey in mid-air. To avoid breaking its legs at that 200 mph impact, the peregrine catches pigeons in mid-flap. Now that’s eye-talon coordination.  [Source: worldalmanacforkid.com]

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Happy 50th, Helvetica

Once upon a time, there was a typeface called Helvetica. It was sans-serif, clean, beautiful, and used in all places where clean, easy-to-read typefaces were needed.

When Microsoft wanted to create a universal typeface, it could not take Helvetica, so they “invented” a similar typeface, called Arial, for their operating system. Those of us who grew up with Helvetica still prefer it, and can tell the difference. The real Helvetica comes with all Apple computers.

Can you tell the difference between Helvetical and Arial? Take the test to find out.

Helvetica’s half-century mark is being celebrated by the release of a documentary on typeface design and use, as well as a special exhibit at the Mueseum of Modern Art in New York. The show opened on April 7 and will continue till early 2008.”Helvetica is one of those typefaces that everybody knows, everybody sees, but they don’t really see it at the same time because it’s so good at its job. It communicates efficiently and quickly without imposing itself,” said Christian Larsen, curator of the MoMA show.

Helvetica is the typeface used by the New York Subway system, and Harley-
Davidson motorcycles
. How did the typeface come to be so universally loved?

In 1957 Edouard Hoffmann and Max Miedinger, two designers in Muenchenstein (near Basel, Switzerland) were searching for a way to create an easy-to-read typeface.

According to a story in the Washington Post, “Miedinger, who once wanted to become an artist before training as a typesetter, came up with a design based on Hoffmann’s instructions, and by the summer, a clean sans-serif script had been born, which was given the name ‘Neue Haas Grotesk.’

“The company’s marketing department soon realized the name would have to be changed to something more pronounceable for an international market. So, to reflect its origins, they called it “Helvetica” — Latin for ‘Swiss.'”

So celebrate in an appropriate typographical way–cake and candles are fine, and be glad that we have Helvetica so we don’t all have to use Comic Sans and Papyrus.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved.

Journal Page, April 5, 07

Journal Page, April 5, 07

There are days when I don’t have enough brain cells to create a journal entry, but I don’t want to forget the beginning of an idea, either. On those days, I’ll play with the emotion and then leave it alone. It’s a great tool to fight perfection– leaving something unfinished, imperfect.  It honors the beginning of wabi-sabi as well. For me, that’s what a journal is for. Catching an idea, not completing it. I’ll come back to this some other time and it will inspire me.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach, writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Life hack tips

When you live a portfolio life, you depend on life hack. Huh?

Let’s rephrase that–when you do several things to make a living, you need all the helpful shortcuts you can get. Business, leisure, family–clever hints give you back precious time.

Here are two I developed. Use them if they help you.

I carry one calendar/notebook for client notes, appointments, and a personal journal. It’s a rollabind journal with a leather cover. (See journals I’ve made with rollabind rings). The great thing about rollabind journals is that you can take out, replace, or reposition the pages. All the holes are spaced evenly, you can punch holes in index cards, business cards, and keep them all in a big journal or several smaller ones. The disks that hold them together are all the same thickness, but of varying diameters. Small disks hold a few pages, larger disks hold a lot. Both practical and versatile, rollabind journals are the only thing I use.

When I put it in my briefcase and added a checkbook, pen, sunglasses and other take- along pieces, they would get jammed in the journal, bending the pages. The trick was to keep the journal closed.

For years, I simply snapped a ponytail holder around the journal. Not beautiful, but it worked. But I wanted a leather cover to hold the rollabind journal. MacClay leather said they’d do it. leather cover

I asked for a way to close it and showed them my design: two tubes of leather, one on the front and one on the back cover. When a pen is inserted in both of them, the cover is closed. Mac suggested using three tubes. Two would allow for pen movement and weaken the attachment over time. Three gave a firmer grip and helped the cover last longer. MacClay uses the best leather, and the book shows no wear after two years of constant use.coverclosed.jpg

The other idea is something you can make yourself. I keep my to-do list and notes from client meetings on 4X6 index cards. I also use the cards to develop ideas and keep a business plan. To keep job progress (and the to-do list) in front of me while I’m in the studio, I needed a holder. I bought a 3/4 inch diameter dowel, cut even 12-inch lengths, tied a plastic band (like rubber bands, but plastic. They last longer and don’t deteriorate in heat) around each end, and presto! A holder for the cards. When I go to a meeting, I simply pull them out. When I get back, I put cards I need to act on on the left, and ones farther down the priority list toward the right. What I need to do stays in front of me.cardholder.jpg

The racks don’t take up much space. I sanded and varnished mine, but you don’t have to go that far.

And yes, I have both one-foot and six-inch ones (for photographs or just a to-do list) for sale. A few anyway. They are sanded and varnished.

I also teach a journaling course using a rollabind journal. The next one will be in Alexandria, VA in May. After the May course, I’ll be teaching it on the Web. Let me know if you want me to notify you by sending an email to QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com and letting me know which course–in person or on the Web you prefer.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach, seminar leader and writer. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

I surf so you don’t have to. . .

There are now 100 million websites, and almost as many blogs. You can’t see them all, and shouldn’t try. Most are not worth exhaling over. But there are some that you shouldn’t miss, either.

I’ve scoured Blog-dom so you don’t have to. Site not to miss:

Paul Lagasse’s interesting, fast read, “Thoreau and the Economics of Adjectives and Adverbs.” You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate it. If you are a writer, it’s a must-read. Link: http://www.avwrites.com/wordpress/?p=20rollabind journal

Paul and I share a love of rollabind disks–the circles that hold together journals while allowing for pages to be removed, replaced and repositioned. You can see my journal here (yes, that’s a real library pocket, I amassed a boxful from a bookseller) and Paul’s idea for storing the disks easily in Rollabind disk dispenser. It is a thing of beauty.

If you are a map lover, or a Jack Kerouac fan, check out Kerouac’s trip across the US on this map blog. There are many different maps on different subjects.

There is an architect who takes some incredible building and nature photographs. His blog, Bldg Blog is about environmental and urban building issues, but the photos are worth the trip.

Want to build your own website (or customize your blog?) but don’t know HTML? Don’t fret, Create It 101 will give you a fast, understandable crash course in HTML.

Photoshop(TM) can be used to create your own rubber-stamp images, or you can buy a CD of them to use yourself. Same for fabrics and paper images. Cre8it! has an occasional newsletter, too.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Freelance Frustration

The meeting had been postponed from Tuesday to Thursday to now, Friday afternoon. My client looked at me and said, “I need this piece on Monday.” I’d waltzed over those green fields before–and with this client. Her chronic disorganization resulted in many emergencies.

My weekend was fully planned by then, and I said, “Tuesday is the earliest I can get this to you.”

The client looked at me and said, “You are a freelancer. You work nights and weekends. That’s why we hire you. Monday.”

I looked her directly in the eye and replied, “I’m a freelancer because I own my business. And this weekend I’m booked.”

She didn’t blink, “What are you doing this weekend that’s so important–more important than this job?”

“Not part of this discussion,” I said. “Let’s continue to focus on the due date of the project. After a few more tart responses we agreed on Tuesday.

I’m sure clients have a long list of the trespasses of freelancers. But it’s my blog, and today it’s my turn to wake up clients to behavior that gets the best response from freelancers.images1.jpeg

1. Just because you put off facing a project, does not give you permission to set the freelancer’s hair on fire. If you like working under pressure, if you enjoy saving the day by causing emergencies so you can ‘solve’ them, please do it in your own office with the door closed and the phone firmly on the hook. Diva-like behavior is not appealing to anyone else, least of all a freelancer. And you aren’t the boss, you are a client, and there is a world of difference there.

2. Please know what the project is about. You should be capable of summarizing the main point in under 60 seconds. You should be able to tell the freelancer what the end product should be in the same time. When you start with the history of the project, we don’t know what to listen for or what the important details are. So you’ll be repeating that part anyway.

3. Freelancers have lives, just like you do. We may work on weekends on occasion, but most of us have plans on weekends, evenings, and early in the morning. Don’t assume that time is available for you.

4. Client meetings take up at least part of every day. That means we don’t check our emails every two minutes. When I am with a client, she has my full attention. I won’t take phone calls or check my emails. I will do the same with you.

5. Please do not send me every email you have ever received and sent on a project and expect me to read them “for background.” If the project is due in three days, don’t send 12 files totaling 600 Megs of data. I won’t have time to read them.

There are other tips, too. Scope creep, paying on time (and including my invoice number on your check), honesty about the job (if I’m the fourth writer and you’ve fired the other three, I should know), and the names and phone number of subject matter experts you want me to contact is all part of building a good relationship.

Freelancers will almost always jump through some hoops, even ones that are on fire, to please a client. We sympathize with your emergencies, unless we sense you don’t care. Which brings me to the last plea–if you care about quality, please don’t expect a 24-hour turnaround. When you insist on an impossible deadline and we meet it, no fair complaining about lack of quality.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who works with companies to create a corporate culture of cooperation and understanding. She is perfecting other miracles as well. See her work at QuinnCreative.com You’ll find her artwork there, too.

Creative Identity

Today, I’m welcoming James Navé to my blog. James , who runs The Writing Salon in Taos, New Mexico, and I share the belief that writing, while a solitary practice, creates a global community. “Whenever a writer lifts a pen, ” James says, “to invent or reinvent, to speak truth or tell a story, to collaborate, to dream, to make it messy then clean it up, to communicate–the world is a better place.”

Recently, James wrote a newsletter on Creative Identity. I thought you’d like to see it, too.

* * * “How do you find your creative identity? We ask all kinds of questions, but could it be that you actually find your creative identity by just showing up and doing the work? When we engage the work, often with great joy, that engagement inspires different perspectives. Then, as artists, we translate what we perceive into some kind of form. . . for example, music.”

“I bring this up because my father was an Appalachian fiddler who also played guitar, mandolin, accordion, and piano. As a boy growing up in Western North Carolina during the sixties, I learned how to play guitar while sitting in a circle with other great musicians like Tommy Bell, who bowed Listen to the Mocking Bird so beautifully that his fiddle became the bird’s song.images.jpeg

Never in all that time do I recall anyone ever wondering about creative identities. Whatever they did for a living–tobacco farmers, nurses, lawyers, mechanics, truck drivers, plumbers–if you asked any one of them what they did, the response would always be, “I play music.” Even now I still get a thrill when I hear old songs like Sweet Georgia Brown, Bill Bailey . . . and Alabama Jubilee. Years later, even though I’ve happily wandered far afield to become a poet, a writer, and a traveler, I still identify myself as a musician. And when I return to Western North Carolina, which I often do, the music is joyfully alive and well, perhaps now more than ever.

If you’d like to see what I mean, and happen to be driving I-40 through Asheville on any Thursday evening and you have a little time to spare, take the Brevard Road exit and drive south about a mile past the farmers’ market until you see the cars lining both sides of the road and musician walking up the driveway beside the large oak trees that surround a small frame house. You’ll hear music rising from backyard doors of the garage. Everyone calls it Mrs. Hyatt’s Opera House.

For the past fifty years Mrs. Hyatt–along with her husband, Wayne, until his death in 1984–has hosted a traditional music jam every week. When her health allows, Mrs. Hyatt, now 89, welcomes everyone. . . .playing the old tunes as if for the first time, their joy of making music unbroken like the circle in the song.

Because they’re doing the work of playing, music has become the artistic essence of who they are, what they’re about, what they make. In short, it has become their creative identity, which grows with every tune they play. Happily, this idea applies all of us, regardless of our art form or level of mastery. When we do the work, the work rewards us with a creative identity. To anyone who asks, we can tell, with great joy and confidence, who we are as artists. ”

–Image by romanticasheville.com

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com