Slip of the Brain

Occasionally, I dream of opening a home for abused PowerPoint presentations. You know the ones–200 white words on a red background; a different design for every slide; bulleted lists that are topic headings and belong in the ‘notes’ section. No one knows how to tell a story. But story telling is the only way to change minds, to get agreement.

Eric Vortschatz, who has worked with me on several projects, knows the problems in getting people to tell a story. He has a client who knows that creating images in writing is a good way to keep the reader’s attention. But if one image is great, many are better. He showed me the following, which I am sure I will see in a PowerPoint presentation one day:

“…we professionals are aware that there is a challenging junction
where the accumulated puzzle pieces of all your important parts …
meet the question, “What is the best fit for me?” This silent grand
canyon is the greatest deterrent to [people] taking their most
important step toward their “aha” moment. It’s the missing bridge
to … what is the very best fit …”

Eric and I tried to figure this out–Where, exactly, is the junction where puzzle pieces meet questions? And how is this junction is a ‘silent canyon’? How can a silent canyon be both a junction and a deterrent? How can a person take a step toward a moment? And how can a canyon (silent or otherwise) be a bridge? And how can it be a ‘missing’ bridge if they’re taking steps toward it?

If you know any of the answers, oh, please, let me know. Eric and I are stunned into silence. Possibly that means we are in the canyon approaching the moment of the silent bridge.

If words were terror suspects, this would cause international outrage. When writers do this to words, it causes marketing copy.

–Quinn McDonald teaches writing, how to give a good presentation, and how to tell stories with Powerpoint. Eric Vortschatz is an editor and writer for well-meaning clients. (c) 2007 All rights reserved by Quinn McDonald.

Haiku Experience

Haikus are wonderful, color-saturated snapshots of life. They can be quite complicated, but when I’m running a writing class, I stick to the simple rule of 3 lines, with 5, 7 and 5 syllables in the lines. The point is to use few words to create a powerful image for yourself and your readers.

Here are some haikus from my most recent journal-writing class:

Kitty winks at me
in secret code. I wink back.
former life: a cat.
—–Vicky Ferguson

Open the journal
Stories unfolding within
Movie frame pages.
—–Paul Lagasse

Asphalt whizzes by
Spokes sparkling in the sunlight
View from handlebars.

A clap of thunder
Whisper of falling raindrops
A summer cloudburst.
——H.P. Clamann

No wonder I write
No one expects it perfect
The first time around
——Paul Lagasse

Sensing through a fog
A gnawing anger lurking
My job pays the bills.
——Donna McGonigle

Restful summer day
There is no need for talking
My friends around me.
—–Donna McGonigle

Off to work I go
Toiling to keep our health plan
On me they depend
—–Mindy Heindl

I pause to give thanks
Fortune has smiled upon me
Don’t let me forget
—–Mindy Heindl

Not herself lately
Her world circles around her
and tightens the knot.
—–Vicky F

Art makes me happy
I do it when I have time
I wish I had more
—--Mindy Heindl


We live in a big country and one coast looks nothing like the other. On the East side, we are heading into that time of the year when it’s like living in a dog’s mouth. The humidity rises, the haze settles in. But all that humidity has the advantage of turning our world green.

Below is the run close to my house last winter. And on the right is the same run five months later, with the humidity turning vines and trees green. Holmes Run, SummerHolmes Run, Winter

Below is a front yard in

Phoenix, taken at the same times. Winter is on the left, summer on the right.






front yard PHXThe joke about Phoenix is that it’s hot, but “it’s a dry heat.”But there is a huge difference when thePhoenix front yard2 humidity is low. You can breathe. Sweat works–you perspire and it evaporates, cooling you. Dry heat makes a great museum setting–things don’t rot. OK, they fade, but there are many days I’ll trade that high humidity for the dry heat from a pizza oven.

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

Ten Zen Seconds on the Bike

Yesterday, the new bike came home. It’s been on order since March 3–almost three months. The odd thing is that this is a standard Honda motorcycle, not some incredible custom piece. It just wasn’t available in plain black. I could have had it a lot sooner had I wanted it in red, white, black with red flames or black with silver frames. But I wanted it plain black. I’m a minimalist.Honda Shadow Spirit

I’ve been keeping notes about what I learn from the bike. I’ve written about the basics of creativity Rhonda (my previous bike) taught me. The same bike taught me about staying in the moment, important for both motorcycles and creativity. But I was surprised when Suzie Lightning taught me a Zen lesson within the first 15 minutes. (The new bike is named after a line in the Warren Zevon song. ) I drove the bike off the lot and noticed it was a lot heavier than Rhonda. Braking at a stoplight requires that you shift into first gear. I could do this really well on Rhonda. I’d come to a stop, snick the bike into first gear and accelerate away without ever taking my feet off the footpegs. Balancing on Rhonda was an acquired talent, one that Suzie Lightning didn’t allow me. I wiggled back and forth and, to use a bike rider’s phrase, in order to keep the rubber side down, I had to plant both feet on the ground to steady myself.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Eric Maisel for my blog. He was on his blog tour for his book, Ten Zen Seconds. One of the incantations Eric talks about is “I am completely stopping.” I’ve been using the incantations since I read the book, and I automatically thought, “I am completely stopping,” as I put both feet on the ground to steady the heavier bike.

And there was the lesson–in meditation you completely stop planning, thinking, listening–you come to a complete stop. The image of stopping the bike, and planting both feet on the ground does the same–it helps you stop, and it reminds you to stay grounded. In fact, the best meditation stopping is done exactly so you can be grounded and centered. And for that matter, like on the bike–balanced.

–(c) 2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. Ask if you want to use it. See the rest of my work on my website,

“You’re Fired” Stories

After the post “You’re Gone” appeared, I began to get email from people who wanted to tell their own getting fired story. Seemed like a good idea to let people tell their stories. Now, WordPress makes you put in your name, so you might want to not mention the name of the company (if you care), but here are the simple rules:

1. Keep it to about 100 words–no more than 10 lines of copy in a Comment space.
2. Don’t type it in Microsoft Word first. Word is loaded with code and it will bloat the Comments section, and limit the number of posts. Type directly into the Comment section or write it as an email, then cut and paste.
3. You can be funny, sad, angry, poignant or amazing–getting fired is a personal experience and that can change over time. You can also write about being let go, stars in the sky

laid off, RIF’d, anything that separated you from your job.

Why do this? Because there are a million horrible, weird, head-shaking, forehead slapping stories about getting fired, and it will be great to read them all.

A week from today, June 2, I’ll hold a drawing for a pack of my sympathy cards. That’s the illustration over on the left. The cover says: The stars are always in the sky, but they are visible only in the dark of night.

I’ll start: The new boss was a perky woman 30 years younger than I. At her first staff meeting, she said her promotion proved our young company wanted young leadership. The five older people at the table, VPs all, suddenly heard the countdown of our numbered days.

My next evaluation was pointed: ” You are different and seem to enjoy it”
It was not a compliment. “Would it be better if I were devastated?” I asked. She nodded. “Different doesn’t work; there is no ‘I’ in team.”
“But there is a ‘me’ in team,” I volunteered.
Poof! One less VP at the company.
I’m grateful; I opened my own business and will live longer.

Now, let’s hear YOUR story.

Added June 13: Becki and Barb, you are the winners of the pack of cards! Thanks for playing along.

Moving Away. .

Last night, in one of the groups I belong to, a group member posted an interesting question about moving: what do you take with you and what do you leave behind?  Do you take the daily items you need or the sentimental items that fill your life with color and joy? In many cases, you can’t do both.

It’s hard to move and harder still to choose what gets left behind to fade in memory, and what goes with you to define your new life.journal, open

Whenever I’ve had to move, I’ve had to pay for it myself. So many times, I’ve left things behind because I didn’t use them everyday and couldn’t afford to move them. Much of my life trickles to an end, marked only by the tread of a moving van.  I sometimes feel my past is in other people’s homes, given away when I had to move.

All the more reason to keep a journal. They don’t take up much room, they keep the memories in a small space, and they can cheer you or bring back a time you have left behind. Writing a journal isn’t hard, although it may seem like a giant problem.

And yes, truth in journaling: I’m teaching three journaling classes this summer in Alexandria, VA. The first is One-Take Journaling–writing a journal using one sentence day. It’s going to be held on June 10, 2007. If you are interested in this one or others, contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com

Motivation Isn’t Art

They were on the wall of the training room. They hang in the corridors of most offices. You’ve undoubtedly seen them: Big, colorful posters of portent–vivid photographs of kitschy landscapes, sports figures, weather patterns. They are rimmed in black to make the color seem even more intense. Underneath the image a single word: Attitude, Teamwork, Competition and, in smaller type still, an inspirational message. For example, “Winners don’t wait for chances, they take them.” (See below for the complete poster.)chance poster

The first time I saw them, they immediately reminded me of the business equivalent of the big-eyed children in the 1960s illustrations by Keane.

(I didn’t say Walter Keane, because they were most likely painted by one of Walter’s ex-wives, Margaret. In a copyright trial against her, the judge ordered them both to paint one of the big-eyed waifs in front of the jury. Margaret completed hers in 54 minutes, Walter said he has a sore shoulder and couldn’t work.)big eyed waif

The images are not at all alike, but they both have the same purpose–push emotional buttons to get a hyper-emotional reaction, preferably agreement.

I guess companies use them because they are relatively inexpensive (less than $120) and no one can really argue with either the statement or the beauty of the image. It has the same “can’t be real” attraction of a heavily altered postcard.

What I want to know is: Does anyone feel motivated by these ? Do you look at a picture of an eagle and a statement on leadership and think, “I want to be a good leader”? If they don’t work, why are they so popular? If they do work, why? Or are they the artistic equivalent of inoffensive background music–something we can look at but not feel challenged by, not feel pushed to think?

Motivation isn’t art, and neither are these. But I don’t know what they are, either. I just wish I wouldn’t see them so often.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and creativity coach. See her work at

Helmet, Ladle, Action!

The cats had been quiet for a long time. Unusual. So I went on a search. They were all by the front door, heads moving as if connected, ears tipped forward, occasionally make little stuttering sounds. Well, better than trying to chew open the Oreo wrapper or unrolling the toilet paper and then dashing around the house with it. These are not kittens. They range in age from 7 to 5, which was once considered senior citizen, and now is young middle age. If they could purchase red muscle cars and race around in them, they would.3-birdcats.jpg

Soon I’m looking out the door with them, and see the object of their attention–a young blue jay, out of the nest. It’s heading toward evening, and there are other cats in the neighborhood. Unlike mine, they do not have a screen in front of their faces. I decide to hoist the little one into a nearby holly bush. Urban legend aside, blue jays have a terrible sense of smell, and they won’t abandon the bird if I touch it. I’ve done this often before. But I don’t want to transfer my germs to him so I put on a pair of yellow kitchen gloves and head out.

The little one, pointy with new feathers, some of them already identifying him as a jay, sets up a horrible screeching. I haven’t even touched him yet. No matter. Mom and dad arrive out of nowhere and attack. I’m shocked. These are small birds, compared to a human, and are showing no fear. One of them wrenches my glasses from my face, and as I focus on catching them before they fall onto the sidewalk, the other swoops in to peck me. Their sharp, seed-eating bill could crack open an acorn. My head is softer. As I scoop up my glasses, a drop of blood smacks on the jay in grass

A little too Tippy Hedren for me. (She starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and is the mother of Melanie Griffith). I go back inside and try to figure out what to do. Protect my head seems good. The only hats I have are soft and warm for winter. Won’t deter these guys. Ah, of course. My motorcycle helmet. Hard, protects the eyes, great idea. I pull on the helmet and buckle it for good measure. Don’t want it crashing to the ground.

What about my neck? Want to protect it from those rascals, too. A long winter scarf will do nicely. I wrap it around my neck, exchange the spatula for a shallow ladle (the little guy might skid off the spatula), put on the bright yellow rubber gloves and head back out.

Directly in front of me is the neighbor’s cat. The bird is frozen a foot in front of him. He’s a big cat, and the bird doesn’t stand a chance. “Back, Simba!” I say, voice filled with authority to break the cat’s focus. I hear birds screaming in the trees. I bend down, scoop up the fledgling in the ladle just as the cat leans forward and then retreats.

I ignore this odd motion, and carefully deposit the bird into the holly bush where both parents dive and vanish, doing whatever scolding or comforting birds do.

Now I have time to look at Simba, and notice he is trailing a leash. His cat sitter is standing on the other end of the leash. She may or may not have seen what just took place. Probably not. She is looking at me, clearly alarmed. She takes a step back.

“Sorry you missed supper, Simba” I say conversationally, and, out of habit, push up my face shield so I can speak clearly and hear better. Suddenly I see how the cat stitter sees me: a large, older woman, a bright blue winter scarf wrapped around her neck. It is mid-May, and the scarf is long out of season. The outfit is completed with a motorcycle helmet. I am barefoot, but my hands are covered in yellow rubber gloves and I’m holding a ladle. And I’ve  just said the word “supper” to Simba. She probably thought I was going to seize and cook the cat.

There are some explanations that don’t work well. It would take too long. It wouldn’t reassure her at all. “Didn’t see he was on a leash,” I say, waving the ladle, “I was about to cook supper.” And then I turn and go back into the house.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at
Blue Jay Image:

More Creative Play

Sure, studying creativity is important. But playing is even more important. Johnathan Feinstein does both, but you will enjoy noodling with his geometric elements to make abstract collages with your keyboard.

Read a lot? Make a multi-strand bookmark to keep track of all the parts of a book you love.

“Illustration Friday is a weekly creative outlet/participatory art exhibit for illustrators and artists of all skill levels. It was designed to challenge participants creatively. We believe that every person has a little creative bone in their body. Illustration Friday just gives a no-pressure, fun excuse to use it. It’s a chance to experiment and explore and play with visual art. So welcome, novices and pros alike” –From the website.

Love fabric art? Check out this blog. Scroll down to see the fabric teapots!

Wabi-Sabi is a fascination for me. The Japanese aesthetic of honoring the old, worn, and incomplete lead to quiet creativity and simplicity. Some resources for those who want to explore wabi-sabi.

Remember your prom? These kids will. They went to “Stuck at the Prom” and they made their prom clothes entirely of duct tape. Dresses, tuxes, shoes, purses, wraps (pun intended) all made of duct tape. Who knew it came in so many colors? Sponsored by Duck brand duct tape.

Wish you could find a website dedicated to Photo Shop techniques for artists? Get busy, you have lots to look at!

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

Journal Page, May17.07

You catch a phrase you like. . .maybe not enough to work with it, but you want to remember it. When I found this quote, I knew I’d forget it. So I gave myself 10 minutes to put it in a format I’d remember. It didn’t have to be perfect, just expressive. The idea was to make it unplanned, and accept what came out.wildgeese.jpg

–Quinn McDonald is an artist who teaches journal-keeping. See her website at