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

4 thoughts on “The Delight of Surprise

  1. Thoughtful words. When I was in my late teens I was a real “control freak.” Now at 36 I kind of enjoy going with the flow – not sure exactly where the change came. Rather than try and control the minute details I know I can generally deal with, I feel it’s more important to have a sense of overall awareness such that you can make gentle changes to avoid the big banana skins, while leaving capacity to respond to the little oversights!

    I also firmly believe that opportunity exists in every circumstance, so while at first it may seem that you’ve missed out or been given a bad hand, quiet often there is a some treasure of a moment, chance or experience about to happen provided you open yourself.

  2. Wait, the porcupine of control must have been visiting the prairie dogs of anxiety; everybody knows porcupines live in…um…well SOME people must know where porcupines live, and some others have this vague sort of idea that it’s not the prairie. Not to change the subject, but something has clearly kicked me right off the rocker of reason — must have been either the alpaca of absurdity or the burro of balderdash.

    —->I KNEW you were off your rocker! -Q

  3. Ah, of course. I think my perceptions were discombobulated, as usual, by the warthog of bewilderment who had been snacking on the cabbage of confusion.

    —–> That’s what I’m here for, showing the way from the marsupial mess of metaphors into the prairie of possibility, where, alas, the porcupine of control lives. -Q

  4. Does the porcupine of control scramble away when he spies the salt lick of procrastination? 🙂

    —-Nah, the porcupine of control will whine for you to go out of your way to carry him to the salt lick of procrastination, where both of you will linger, thinking about drinking the clear water of Break-Time. If you linger long enough, you will be distracted by the Playroom of the Percales. -Q

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