Getting Through Tough Days

I’m packing to move.
I’m applying for a mortgage.
I am applying for medical insurance, because my old insurer doesn’t insure in Arizona.
Had enough? Me, too.
All day long, people tell me ‘no,’ make me do useless paperwork, and push me into a corner. I haven’t seen a doctor in a year, so I must be hiding something. If you have seen a doctor in the last year, you must be sick, so we’ll deny you coverage. The last doctor I saw retired, and I have to track him and my records down. I have to lose 10 pounds by Wednesday.
In short, getting health insurance is hard if you own your own business.

Frustration, from

Frustration, from

So what’s this about?
I’m amazed at how many people are giving me advice I didn’t ask for.
And worse, I’m amazed at how I’m letting them engage me.
Need to lose 10 pounds in a week? One person told me to take laxatives and diuretics. Another told me to “just not eat.” These are not stupid people. These are people who want to be helpful.
So they say the first thing that comes to their heads. The idea that these suggestions are not safe, and could wind me up having to see a doctor doesn’t occur to them.

So my answer can’t be “Are you STUPID? I’m trying to get HEALTH insurance here!”
One friend told me that I had chosen everything I put into my mouth, so I could not complain that I was overweight. She, of course, is whippet thin.

How am I getting through the day without strangling all these helpful people? By realizing that they are just saying anything at all. This is not advice, even if it sounds like it. And it’s not helpful. If I yell, I will just offend them. So I’m acting “as if,” an old coping trick I learned years ago from a friend in AA. I’m acting as if they are helpful.
“I could try that,” I say, knowing I won’t. But it makes them feel as if they are helping, which is really what they want to do.

If I yell, I’ll feel bad afterwards. Not like me. So that isn’t an option for me.

I’m receiving unwanted advice on how to pack, how to carry boxes, how to manage my time. And instead of being angry, I’m saying, “Thanks for the advice.” This is not what I want to say. I want to ask them if they think I’m an idiot, that I don’t need their advice, that a real friend would bring me supper and keep their mouth shut. But that is not what they have to offer. What they have to offer is glib words that will make them feel better.

And what I have to offer is not yelling or taking it personally. It’s just yakking. So I’m steering through these dangerous, emotionally difficult times by remembering that these people are trying to be helpful. This is not about me. I won’t take it personally. No, I willlll not.

If you are stressed, try remembering that all that advice is not about you. It’s about the fixers in the world who must fix your problem at any cost, even if it isn’t a real fix. Even if it is what they wish they would have done. It sounds good to them. And it is not about you.

And if you are dealing with someone who is stressed, before you offer one word of advice, ask. Go ahead, ask, “Do you want my advice?” And if the person says, “No,” or even “Sure, go ahead,” laugh and say, “You’ve had too much advice already. How about I’ll bring you take-out Chinese tonight? Here’s a take out menu. Circle what you want, and tell me what time you want it.” If you can’t manage that, simply say, “This hard part will pass.”

–Quinn McDonald is stressed over her move and the amazingly Byzantine twists and turns of the medical insurance world. She wants the move to be over soon. (c) 2008. All rights reserved

Moving Sale–Beads and Books

Packing up to move means that a lot of things get cleared out to keep the moving van light.

I’m selling a lot of art books, mostly those on jewelry. There are bead books, Precious Metal Clay books and Jewelry design books. There are hardbacks and softcovers, and the books are on the website with prices. The entire list is on the site–there won’t be more.

The beads are still in process. I’ll be selling them in Lots by size and color. The first set are up, all size 11s.  I’ll be putting new pictures and more beads up every day until they are all sold, so check back from time to time. Bead Lots are available on the website. All beads will be sent in plastic bags, even if they are shown in jars. All packages will be sent US Priority Mail.

Contact information is on each page of the website.

Creative Fun and Resources

Tired of reading the same old lines from poets who died a hundred years ago? Check out poems, a contemporary poetry site.

Information, support and guidance for creative writers (fiction and poetry).

Sharpen your wit, enter the Washington Post’s Style Invitational. Not for the timid or tired.

Optical illusions, different and interesting, a different one every day. Check out the list on the right for those interesting sidewalk art illusions.

The spinning silhouette--is she spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? Squint long enough and she will swing to and fro.

A great tutorial on how to draw a face. It’s fun and no one is around to judge you.

Build a virtual kaleidoscope. Erase. Repeat.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and artist. She teaches journal-writing courses. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Perspective: What Are You Looking At?

My coaching clients and I do a lot of perspective work. We all see things our way, and often think it is the best, right, or only way. But look at your point of view from another perspective, and you often run into a real “Aha!’ moment.

Doing perspective work isn’t easy. It requires you to imagine what someone else believes or thinks. Often, a good way to get there is to use images. It makes it easier to imagine.

Clouds on Lake Michigan

Clouds on Lake Michigan

I flew to the East Coast today, through Chicago. I love Chicago–it has friendly people, great restaurants, and I love Centennial Park. But the site that always amazes me is the flight over Lake Michigan. I think of the people who stood at the edge of what looks like an ocean, and decided to cross it, not having any idea of what they would discover or encounter on the crossing. And did it anyway.

The other amazing thing is that the city of Chicago presses on the edge of Lake Michigan, busy and crowded. On the other side, are small cities, much more pastoral. Why isn’t it as busy on the other side?

It’s a perspective issue. Flying over Lake Michigan, I was struck at the luminosity of the water. Last time I saw it, in November, it was gray and dark. Today it looked turquoise and serene. Over the water were shadows, and at first I thought they were some kind of wave effect. After studying them a few minutes, I saw they were rows of clouds between the airplane and the water. It suddenly “clicked” in my head, and then I couldn’t see it any other way.

Perspective work in coaching is like that. You see one thing, then, with some thinking, it suddenly “clicks” and you can see it another way. It frequently is followed by a rush of understanding and

Chicago coastline

Chicago coastline


The two images are both of Lake Michigan. In the smaller image, you can see the edge of Chicago. The light-colored rectangle on the middle left edge  is the wing of the airplane.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See more about coaching at (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

Distant Storm

Storm clouds at sunset

Storm clouds at sunset

The odd thing about monsoon storms is you can often see them, but never experience them. Last night, a big one rolled through the area. My street got no rain, a bit of wind, but a spectacular view. About eight miles away, they got two inches of rain, winds up to 60 mph, and instant night.

People in two cars and a bus got trapped when a powerline ripped off the pole and fell sparking into the street.

Here’s the storm cloud view from my house.  The pink view, above, is the setting sun on storm clouds.

Below are the same clouds, but closer now. The yellow color is caused by both the dust in the clouds and the angle of the sun.

– (c) 2008 All rights reserved.  Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who works via phone with people all over the US. When storm clouds like this approach, she reschedules calls. See more about coaching and her work at

Approaching storm

Approaching storm

Looking Left (Handed) to Creativity

Our next President will be left-handed. Both Barak Obama and John McCain are left-handed, although only about 10 percent of the general population is, give or take 3 percent, depending on the study you check.

Most of us left-handers have some degree of ambidexterity, and some people (full disclosure: I’m one of these) write right-handed. Our group is generally a bit older, and would have been left-handed writers, but were changed in school.

Two custom-made left-hand pendants

Two custom-made left-hand pendants

Here’s a tip to tell if you are classified as left-handed: what hand do you brush your teeth with? How about comb your hair? (That was for men, for women, the question is more often, “What hand holds the hair dryer?) Other, more private functions, can also determine if you are left- or right-handed.

What made you left handed? It happened in the womb. LRRTM1 is the gene thought to be responsible, but there is even more involved. According to neurologist Norman Geschwind (for whom the theory is named), some women have higher testosterone levels in the womb, whether or not they have girls or boys. (Want to check if your mom did? Look at your second toe, the one next to the big toe. If it is equal in length (or longer) than the big toe, your mom had higher testosterone levels while she was pregnant, and you are probably left-handed.

How does that work? According to Geschwind’s research, the testosterone levels suppress the growth of the left side of the brain, and the ambitious neurons go over to the right brain and do their growing over there. The more developed right side of the brain, which controls language skills, also controls hand-preference.

The dominant right side can also make you susceptible to dyslexia, stuttering, and some auto-immune diseases. Before I go on, please note that not all of these will happen to you, and you can be firmly right-handed and have that longer toe. These are based on huge samples across demographic lines.

Left-handers are generally more adaptable, because they have to get used to living in a right-handed world. Problem-solving skills are higher among creative people than the general population, and it might come from trying to figure things out.

A few companies have created tools for left-handers. For years, scissors that claimed to be for left-handers, simply reversed the grips, making left-handers “cut blind”, in other words, the part of the scissors that did the work was still on the original side, and you couldn’t see the part you were cutting. Friskars actually reverses the blade, and I’m grateful to them for thinking this through.

If you are left-handed, there are resources for you. If you are a right-handed parent of a left-handed child, there are also resources for you.

–Quinn McDonald is left-handed and a certified creativity coach. She helps people navigate change in their lives. See her work at Image: two pendants from the collection of Quinn’s left-handed jewelry. (c) 2008, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

The Delight of Surprise

Control. We love it. We control our schedules and to-do lists, and those of our kids. You know that in three weeks you’ll be driving to a soccer/softball/dance recital and you know what you’ll have in the car to amuse/distract/keep busy all the team/screaming kids/weepy ballerinas. You know what you’ll wear and who will call to congratulate/console you and who will not.

We clutch the porcupine of control to our chest and march forward, hating the pain, but loving the  order we think it  puts in our lives. At some time, we come to realize that there is no control, that much of our lives happens with no regard to our wants. A child throws up in the car on the way to the soccer game, and no one has a clean uniform anymore. One week later, everyone in the car comes down with the same virus. We feel like failures when we can’t control what we can’t control.

The Storm of Revelation

The Storm of Revelation

There is some joy in the element of surprise, but only if we allow it to happen. I noticed it again today while teaching. Showing the “rule of thirds” to a collage class, i quickly sponged a dark portion over a light portion, demonstrating that the light area could take up two-thirds and look like a huge field of wheat against a small sky, but when I sponged in dark to take up half the field, the image lost interest. I continued dabbing, until the dark covered two-thirds of the image and was now a dramatic storm approaching. The students went on to work on their own collages, and I decided to play with the sample.

I’ve been watching the weather now that it’s monsoon season in Arizona, so I thought the image would work well if the storm revealed the power of nature over humans. Or if the storm revealed something in its wake. I set out to add a tiny human about to be caught in the storm.

The image I found had the word “revelation” under it. Ah, perfect. What would the storm reveal? While wondering, I cut out the letters for the word “storm.” I found the letters ‘a’ and ‘s’ and was preparing to glue down “the storm as revelation” when I noticed that the oncoming storm wasn’t revealing anything. It left too much unexplained. And then I had a thought. If I changed the “as” to “of” it would read, “The storm of revelation.” Now it made sense. The understanding that suddenly drenches us, leaves us feeling exhausted, yet refreshed is the ‘storm of revelation.’ We know what we did not before. It catches us by surprise, but if we let it drench us and we sway in the wind of change, we grow, become stronger. It is revealed and we know. One tiny word of change, and a whole change of meaning. All because I didn’t control the creative journey.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who lets the world surprise her, and finds it teaches her more than if she spends her effort controlling the world. See her work at

Yes, it Rains in Arizona’s Desert

July and August are monsoon season in Arizona. And I’m so sorry I laughed at the concept when I first heard it. At about 11 in the morning, you can start to hear distant thunder. It moves closer as the afternoon progresses, and then rain drops from the sky as if a swimming pool had been emptied.

Here’s the parking lot at the Changing Hands bookstore and Trader Joe’s in Tempe right after it stopped raining  on last Sunday.

Monsoon parking lot

Monsoon parking lot

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Make the Most of What’s Available

The “machine in the garden” is the metaphor used to describe how the Industrial Revolution changed America’s agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy. But in a large lot in Mesa, it has a completely different meaning.

Just South of US-60, at the intersection of Country Club and Grove, across from the Home Depot, is a large parking facility for road-fixing equipment. It must be a small boys dream to see these machines– road graders, front-loaders, back-hoes, steamrollers, and every big-wheeled, bright yellow machine that ever put down a new road or fixed a buckled one.

cactus fence

cactus fence

The machines are valuable and a favorite of thieves and lowlifes who like to destroy things without a real reason. How to protect these machines? Dogs? Possibly. A big fence? Sure, but every fence will have a gate.

So, here comes the machine in the garden. Let the desert take its course. Big-paddled prickly pears form a four-foot fence around the machines. Anyone who has ever experienced the pain of the long thorns, or the unrelenting sting of the short thorns won’t go near these again. Too tall to jump over, too thick to step through, the fence blooms with bright red blossoms that look great against the yellow machines.

The entire scene is perfect–desert plants, road-creating equipment, and a firm stand on privacy and hands-off attitude.

–Quinn McDonald enjoys the contrasts brought on by desert-urban living. See her writing and read about creativity coaching at her website,

Adapting to Change: Creativity in Action

The desert is an interesting place to live. The plants, animals and humans that adapt to shifting weather do well and thrive. Those that resist, don’t.

Meanwhile, the native plants adapted to the heat, rain, wind and ground-granite dirt. Yesterday, I noticed the saguaro cactus make the most of the monsoon rains. Today, I noticed the ocotillo (Oh-Ko-TEE-Oh) or

Ocotillo leaves

Ocotillo leaves

monkey-tail cactus adapt to the climate. The ocotillo sends up long branches from the ground. As the summer heat soars, the ocotillo drops all its leaves to conserve water,  exposing long thorns. It looks dangerous and wild. Give it a monsoon rain, and within hours, leave pop out along the “trunk” and soak up the humidity. Within days, if it doesn’t rain, the leaves drop off.

The same works for people. Those who see change as a challenge to their creativity thrive. Those that resist all change have a hard, unhappy life. Adapting isn’t giving up or caving in. It’s sending out new green leaves to soak up the life-sustaining force from what surrounds you, then dropping the leaves again before the atmosphere sucks you dry. There’s a lot to be said for the ocotillo.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who is astonished each day by the vibrancy of the desert landscape. See her workshops and read about coaching at her website,