Sprouting Plant

One of the things I enjoy is watch plants work busily on keeping the line going. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s incredible book that affirms that we are what we eat, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I became even more interested in how plant life in the desert protects and keeps itself going.

I’d gather seed pods, draw them, put in some comments about the mechanism of the seed pod–if it popped when it got wet or twisted in the heat until the next generation of plants sprayed over the landscape.

Sometimes the seed pod would trigger on my drawing table. When that happened, I’d carefully gather the seeds and put them in a vacant lot to try for another generation. One day I came across a stray seed from some plant while I wasn’t on my way out the door. Looking at the shiny potential plant, I didn’t have the heart to throw it in the trash. I absently stuck it in a potted plant.

Neither had much of a chance. A friend gave me the plant, thinking I had a window in my apartment. The window is there, but it faces North, so it doesn’t get direct light. To make it wose, I live on a well-traveled sidewalk section of my complex, so for privacy’s sake, I keep the blinds drawn when I’m out or not in the mood to be on public display.

I stick the plant outside my door every night, and bring it in after my morning walk, assuring it a little early morning sun. It has to make do with that. It’s a dracena, so a little light goes a long way.

After being gone for 10 days, I came back to find the potted plant dried to the core. And leaning toward the closed blinds searching for a bit of light. I watered it with filtered water, and was plunking it outside for a bit of shaded light, when I noticed the sprout.

It doesn’t look like the rest of the plant. It looks like a long blade of thick grass. You can see it in the center of the picture–the green part that doesn’t look like the rest.

Remembering the seed, I began to plow my memory for what, exactly, I’d stuck into that pot. I can’t remember. It could be an aloe, or a tamarind. If it grows fast, I’ll have to add another pot to my plant-hostile apartment. Or just let them slug it out and see what happens. The one thing I did not think would happen was that a desert plant would find a pot that gets occasional watering and almost no light the right place to sprout. Maybe it was taking a chance. Let’s see what happens as it gets bigger. It may have been a worthwhile chance.

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

Copyright: Orphan Works Act Update

I’ve posted information on the Orphan Works Act before. This time, I am posting something that Art Calendar has because it is complete already. I copied it verbatim from Art Calendar, rather than simply provide a link, so you wouldn’t have to click again. And because I think it’s important.

Here is the article on the Orphan Works Act Update:

UPDATE: As of May 28, creative professionals across the country have joined together to travel to Washington DC June 3, 4 and 5 to share their concerns about the Orphan Works Act with legislators. You can find more information about this and other ways to help at the new Orphan Works Opposition Headquarters site, www.owoh.org .

On April 24, Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced legislation (S.2913, HR 5889), which is now being referred to as the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. It is virtually the same bill that was presented in 2006, and subsequently rejected by Congress. But now, they are trying again.

If passed, the Act would radically alter copyright laws, taking away the automatic copyright now guaranteed to artists of all types who create any type of work. Right now, under U.S. law, you are automatically guaranteed copyright on everything you create, from the sketches in your sketchpad to your best paintings and sculptures. Under the Orphan Works Act, every creator will be required to register everything he or she creates in a private registry system, requiring a fee of course, and supposedly to make it easier for the “public” to search for works and contact the creators if they want to use the works for some purpose. Everything created in the last 30 years will need to be registered through this as-yet nonexistent system, including those works already registered via additional fees with the copyright office. If they aren’t, and some member of the public makes “due diligence” to find the creator of a work and can’t find him or her, that member of the public is entitled to use the work without any limitations, and artists will have no legal recourse. That means every piece of work you have out there, especially online, would be open season for use by major publishing houses and businesses (Microsoft — who owns one of the largest online image databases — and Google have already voiced support for the bill and indicated they will use thousands of images) and everyone in between.

Proponents of the bill say it will assist the public in identifying and contacting creators of works and going through the proper channels to contact them to ask for permission. While we understand the need for an organized system of search, there are MAJOR FLAWS in the proposed bill that need to be addressed before any such proposal should take place. Here are a few points:
∑ Under this law, you would need to register every piece of work you create, including those works that you have already registered with the Copyright Office officially, in some system that does not exist and would likely require you to pay to do so. The time and cost to do this is going to be prohibitive for visual artists.
∑ While this is meant to apply to all types of creative works, including music and literary, visual artists will be impacted the most because of the sheer volume of work we create, making it very expensive to register everything you have ever created or will create.
∑ For the visual arts, there would still be little protection for you and your work, even if it is registered, because search tools would rely on names of artists or titles of work, and not image recognition tools, which are still in their infancy of development.
∑ Under this law, if you register your work, you would have to respond to EVERY inquiry sent to you for use of the work. So in other words, if you have a work out there in a registry system, and some person contacts you and says he wants to use your work for free on his Web site or in his new catalog, you would need to take the time to officially respond to every inquiry within a specified time limit, letting him know if you do not want to have him publish your work for free. This will take a lot of time and effort that we, as professional artists, do not have.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, and yesterday, May 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee did as well. This means the bill will be presented to Congress, likely before the end of May.

We need you to write to your representatives ASAP and let them know that you do NOT want this bill to be expedited, as it is now. Tell them we need a better solution, or tell them you don’t want it at all: Just be sure to tell them something soon. Click the links below to get more information on the bill, including a video that gives you a great overview of the artists’ concerns:


Click below for several options of pre-written and editable letters that you can fill out, and that will automatically identify and send it to your representatives when you enter your address:


Fish Plays Ball

Someone I know from a web board posted the story below. I attributed it to the sender and then Pam Driver (see her comment, below) said that the pictures are hers and so is the story. Instead of happening recently, it happened in 2004.   Always wise to check out Snopes.com for urban legends. I hadn’t checked it because it didn’t seem ummm, fishy, just a great story. Here’s the story, abbreviated:

A man fishing  saw a ball bouncing around kind of strange in the lake and went to investigate. It turned out to be a flathead catfish who had obvioucly tried to swallow a basketball which became stuck in its mouth.

catfish with ballThe fish was totally exhausted from trying to dive, but unable to because the ball would always bring him up to the surface. The guy tried several times to get the ball out, but was unsuccessful. His wife finally cut the ball, deflated it and the man released the hungry catfish.”

I don’t know much about catfish, but his one sure seems huge.

catfish swims with ball

catfish release

Justifying Books

When you take a drubbing on the price of the house you are selling, you have to make compromises. The one we decided on was to save money on the move by doing it ourselves. There are a lot of places that will let you do part of the move yourself. If you let them pack, load, drive, unload, you will may the most. For everything you do, the cost drops.

I’ve sworn I’d no longer move myself, but that was when the house held my equity. Now that it vanished, I’m back to packing our stuff. We are looking into having someone else load it for us.

There is an additional expense to move the cats. It will be August, and too hot to ship them via air. If it’s higher than 95 in the destination city, the airlines won’t take them. And it will be around 120, so that’s out. We have three, so I can’t take them on the airline with me, I could take one, but that leaves two more.

With all these unanswered questions, I’m getting a lot of advice. The one that startled me the most was the suggestion that I get rid of all my books. Yes, I have a lot of them. Some are my husband’s cookbooks, some are the books I have because I am a coach and trainer, and some are reference books for my art–making books and drawing with colored pencils. Those are my references, my answers, my source books. I can’t just get rid of them.

What about those fiction books? I’ve already culled them down. And the rest are my refuge, my big green field to play in, my warm comfort that makes me feel at home. I decorate with books. People who still own hundreds of beanie babies do not get to tell me to get rid of my books “because they just sit there.” I know they need to be dusted, but so do your Gameboys and DVDs. It’s a hard thing to explain–books aren’t an investment, they don’t do anything, but they hold dreams, wisdom, lessons hard learned, laughter, and simple joy. The bring me smiles, tears, heart-pounding fear and the nods of recognized emotion. And yes, when I don’t dust, they bring me sneezes.

I’ll shed old files, clothes, shoes, even my giant stash of beads, all 100 pounds of them. (Write it you are interested, I’m selling them by the pound), but I am keeping the books. They made me who I am, and they make a house a home.

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

Image: vedantam.com

Riding into Creativity

The book I’m working on is about creativity. And motorcycle riding. Two things I indulge in, love, and find closely related.

After more than half a year without riding, I threw my leg over Suzie Lightning, my motorcycle, and powered her up. I was a little concerned–a lot can be forgotten in eight months, and the feel of familiarity is surely one of them.

Honda Shadow SpiritThe previous chapters of the book linked creativity to riding the bike. There are the general concepts, and a few specifics, even a Zen koan to seal the creative practice. This time it was different. Would I remember the intricate balance of clutch (left hand), shift (left foot), front brake (right hand), throttle (also right hand) back brake ( right foot)? What if I forgot? What if that intricate meshing didn’t happen and I rotated myself over the handlebars?

None of that happened. Previous posts had linked creativity to bike riding. This was bike riding linked to creativity. You don’t forget. It comes back. I rolled the bike backwards down the driveway, straightened it out, pushed my left foot down till I heard the “thunk” that let me know I was in first gear, and headed out.

Yes, there was traffic. But even in traffic, even on a hot day, it was worth the drive to the parkway where it curves along the Potomac, where the trees are impossibly green, where the air is wet and smells of mimosa, wet cement, construction, and the river. There is a sense of freedom and openness. There is a sense of concentration and being in the moment. And there is a sense of joy and fearlessness that is the same when creativity washes over you and when you take the corner, leaning and accelerating so the bike and the rider are the same thing.

—Quinn McDonald rides a motorcycle in Washington DC, and on the Sonoran desert floor in the Southwest. She is a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com  (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Leaving it Behind

St. Joseph did his work. Not in the time limit I’d asked for, but he did the job. Eight weeks after the statue was buried, head down, as directed by the Santerista, the house sold. Yes, for much less than we wanted, but after weighing the choices, we decided to take the offer and move on.

There are big choices to make–should we save money and move ourselves or hire a mover; there are smaller choices to make–exactly how many of the books will fit in the new house? The one we don’t own yet.

Now, as I wander through the house, I see the things that will stay behind. A few I’m happy to pass on. Several people have asked for the statue of St. Joseph. After all, he’s a proven seller. But what I’m looking at is the memory-makers that may not travel with us. Having survived one floor and one fire, I’ve gotten used to giving up the physical part of the memories, but this is a bit different.

I’m a gardener. Amateur, and certainly not good at creating well-composed spaces. I call myself a “cardiac gardener”–it does my heart good to garden. I like fooling with plants, creating spaces where the unexpected pops up. I’ve learned, time and time again, that once you sell a house, the new owners will want their own garden. What is beloved to me is not to them. And that is at it should be. They will make the house their own.

So I took a few pictures to remember the incredible lilies that came up and up and up. The pear tree, with crisp, firm pears with a faintly floral flavor that taste like nothing I’ve ever purchased at a store. The pears are now the size of apricots, it will be September before they are ready to can and eat.

The hydrangea that almost drowned the first year, and scorched the next. It finally settled down and puffed up this year.

Of course there will be new plants and places in the new home. I’ll probably inherit someone else’s garden or landscaping and make changes. But for now, it is bittersweet to gather memories and get ready for the move across country.

–Quinn McDonald has been living in Arizona 7 months. Her husband will join her next month in a house they haven’t purchased yet. Quinn took the pictures, but she’s also a writer and certified creativity coach.

(c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Travel Troubles

It wasn’t that hard a trip. Frontier Airlines from Phoenix to Denver, United Airlines from Denver to DC. I’m running a training program tomorrow and the books are in the carry-on, along with notes. I arrive in Denver and switch carriers and concourses.

That creates some trouble, as I don’t have a boarding pass for the second part of the trip, although I have an itinerary from Orbitz. The gate attendant tells me there are no more seats, so I have to stay in the middle.

We board the plane, and the gate agent decides that my purse, my laptop and my carry-on is one item too many. The man ahead of me got through, and so did several others, but I was in trouble. I tried the carbon-exchange program, brightly pointing out that there are several people who only have one bag, and mine could make up for that. No dice.

suitcase with wingsI plead that all my class materials are in this suitcase, but the heart of the gate agent is hard. I have to give up the suitcase. I double check that it will be on the same plane. Sure. I give up the suitcase.

My suitcase is still traveling, although I arrived in DC seven hours ago. There are no clear answers, although I do know it went to Chicago when I did not. I’ve talked to automated voices, a heavily-accented woman who told me I should never send materials in a suitcase, I should have them with me, and another person who said that “they were doing their best” –obviously not quite enough, as I have nothing to wear except what I have on. The idea of teaching in slacks, a T-shirt and sneakers is not at the top of my favorites list.

But that’s where I stand. At the mercy of those who have a tiny bit of power and can use it all up on one suitcase.

Image: http://www.novaworks.org

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

Learning to Write, Teaching Writing

How fast can you learn? Depends on the topic, your interest, and how you learn–reading, doing, practicing. I teach business communication classes–writing largely, with a big dose of giving presentations and how to do a decent PowerPoint presentation. (Hint: Get rid of the bullets and tell a story.)pencil

Most businesses value good writing, and know when their employees need a course. So far, so good. Then things get messy. They want me to teach a dozen or more people how to write . . .in half a day. In a lecture format.

I thought my writing class was ambitious as a two-day class. This is writing. And while it doesn’t include grammar, it does include knowing your audience and goal, how to do a topic brain dump, figuring out how to present the material, writing a good lead, following up with an interesting and useful middle, and writing a conclusion that will lead to action. There are about eight exercises in the class–and exercises mean writing something. If each exercise takes just 20 minutes, just writing the exercises will take two hours and 40 minutes.

If I ask 5 people to read their work and discuss the answers for 5 minutes each, that’s about half an hour for each feedback session, or a total of four hours of feedback for eight exercises. So teaching it in half a day is not in the program. “Take out the exercises,” is always the first suggestion.

But would you want your doctor to have listened to someone lecture on how to perform your surgery, and be doing it for the first time on you? I know what happens when I have the trainee wait-staff or the trainee checker at the grocery store. They are slow and have questions. They should. Trainee writers should have the same opportunity.

Writing is a skill that improves with exercise. In fact, writing often is the only way to become a good writer. Giving participants time to try out a skill, see how it works, ask questions and see/hear others’ writing is the key to a good class. The comment I get most often on the evaluations is, “I wish this were a three-day class.” I have never gotten an evaluation that said, “this class should be shorter, we should have fewer exercises.”

We are a nation in a hurry. A corn plant, from the day it is put into the ground, until the day you pick the ear of corn, takes about 90 days. It will take 90 days if you yell at it, or send it urgent emails, too. Some things can’t be rushed.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Image: pencil on index card. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

The Danger of “Should”

It’s been a hectic few days. Things are not going as planned. It’s been up and down. Clients are changing dates, appointments are piling up. Friends are “helping” by saying obvious things with great authority. As my astrologer friend says, “Mercury is in retrograde.” I can’t wait for Mercury to get out of retrograde and get into the passing lane and leave me alone.

DC arboretum wallAs I get grumpy, I start to add “should” to my vocabulary more and more. “I should have seen that coming.” “I should have not booked so many appointments into one day.” “I should have been more assertive.” The list goes on and on. Often, friends add to the “should” list. These shoulds fall into two categories–things that are blindingly obvious that I’ve done weeks ago or thing they wouldn’t take on themselves but will ask others to do.

In the first category, I hear, “Having trouble with that new CD player? You should read the directions first.” “Have you checked your air conditioning filter? You should do that every month, on the 1st or 15th.” That gets a secret smile. If I did all the thing I was supposed to do on the 1st or 15th of the month, I’d have to take two vacation days a month to get them done. I can store that list right next to all the original boxes I “should” keep to return defective appliances.

In the second category, I hear, “Have you gotten the check from the client yet? You should call the CEO and tell him you are going to sit in his office till he hands over the check.” This from someone who hasn’t confronted a client in 10 years. Or, “The loaf of bread grew mold? You should threaten to sue and then take a big cash settlement.” It’s a head-shaker.

“Should” is a dangerous word. Slippery. Demanding. Posturing. It turns empathy into passive-aggressive pushing and motivation into negative self-talk. Someone once said, “Stop should-ing all over yourself.” And it was Yoda who wisely counceled, “Do or don’t do. But don’t ‘try’.” The best view of all.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Image: DC arboretum wall, photograph by Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Listen, no really. . .LISTEN!

When I was growing up, silence was an important part of the family. My father studied every night, adding to his prodigious knowledge by reading, researching and taking notes. There was no internet, so there was a pile of books. It was our job to be quiet.

At dinner, we were allowed to contribute to the conversation if we could quote facts. Our opinions were not valued. My mother’s favorite instructive quote from from Eleanor Roosevelt: Great minds discuss idea, average mind discuss events, small minds discuss people. Whether or not Eleanor borrowed it from Hyman Rickover was inconsequential. If you couldn’t discuss ideas, you remained silent.

I often wonder what to make of the cacophony of cell phones, endless yakking, and noise as part of everyday life. In the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, VA there are now flat screen TVs in every hallway. They are always on, in case the noise of the crowd and the noise of business is not enough. CNN plays every second my bank is open. I’m beginning to feel like I live in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Silence is not only no longer golden, it’s intimidating. Cell phones ring, and are answered in movies, symphonies, plays and meetings. Silence is suspect. If someone asks a question, the first thing that comes to mind is tossed into the waiting space. I rarely see people without a phone or white earplugs anymore. We can’t stand quiet. People in supermarkets describe cereals and vegetables to unseen callers. We hate the sound of our own minds and hearts.
cell phones
We not only multi-task, we multi-listen. Except, of course, we don’t. We don’t listen to a thing. We are just waiting our turn to talk.

Televised funerals of the famous pan over the audience while an announcer identifies the the A-list attendees. We don’t even know when silence is appropriate anymore.

Here’s a clue: when someone else is speaking, performing, or there is a screen with information on it, it is appropriate to be quiet.

Look around your house. How many TVs are on right now? What other noisemakers are running in your vicinity–music? Coffee grinder? Radio? Silence reduces stress. Silence opens the door to ideas, solves problems, allows forgiveness, yields the floor to joy. Enjoy it. Try it. For five minutes at a time. See how quickly you like it.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She loves silence for long stretches of time when writing, creating alternative books or listening to others. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 QuinnCreative.com