A (tiny) space of your own

No matter how small and cramped your living quarters, you need a space to call all your own. It’s a sacred space you keep for your dreams, your hopes, the tending of your creativity.

That space becomes your spiritual and mental safe space, a place where you can feel what you need to feel, have bold dreams, write, doodle, hum, sing, or just be. It’s the place where you safely are a human being, not a human doing. That space becomes the place where you simply are. With yourself and your dreams.

Woven light

Woven light

This space doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. It can be a comfortable chair, a desk, a card table, a pillow on the floor. It can be by a window, in a cool dark room, in a corner of the kitchen. The important thing is that it has to be yours and yours alone.

To this space you bring your problems to think them over, your projects to daydream about, your mind to clear out. And you use the space in a ritual way. You never approach it without mindful consideration–this is where my soul rests, this is where my energy is stored, this is where I can have whatever thought I want, or no thoughts at all.

When you come to your space, you come with hope. You might be troubled or angry, but when you come to your space, you come with the realization that anything can happen, that you can be healed or inspired, quieted or charged. Your space can be all that and more.

In my apartment, my sacred space was a chair with a footstool and reading light. It was not my desk, where there was always work to be done. It was not my bed into which I dropped in exhaustion. My chair was where I chose to sit and dream, read, or just be.

In my new house, there is a premium on space. My art spot is a place in the guest room; I do my business work in the dining room filled with bookcases and a desk. But even though I have two places that allow me to express myself, I still have a sacred space–a chair with a footstool and a good reading light next to a window that will let in direct light in winter. It’s a place without a way for people to contact me–no computer, no phone. But a way for me to contact other worlds–read books, sink into meditation. It doesn’t look like anyone else’s sacred space. To one of our cats, it looks like a good place to sleep uninterrupted. But to me, it is the place where all peace starts, where I can let go of all the things I have to be and do, and where, for a small part of every day, I can just be.

–Quinn McDonald is a daydreamer and night-dreamer, and who captures her dreams in a chair by a window. She is a writer and certified creativity coach. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Don: Everyday Hero in our Lives

We meet people in our lives who are extraordinary in ordinary ways. If we are lucky, they stay in our lives long enough for us to know we should thank them. If our hearts are in the right place, we remember to thank them and tell others about them.

This is an acknowledgment of Don, who has struggled against so much, I can’t believe how often I hear his big, full-meant laugh at the silliness of ordinary life.

Don in the old house

Don in the old house

Don is a friend of my husband’s. They met in a transformational seminar, both in search of a new way of looking at their lives. Don has enough health challenges in his life to make most people quit. The shortcut to the real point of the story is that Don will not quit. Pills, monitoring, adjusting is simply part of his day. He never complains, he never pulls out the health trump card. It’s that very issue that gets him in trouble occasionally. He overreaches what his body can provide.

Don was going to ride across the country on the passenger side of the moving van, with Kent driving. We all assumed he was too frail to drive. When he offered to drive part way, it sounded like a good idea–carefully monitored, of course.

When the truck turned out too be too small to hold the motorcycles, and we rented an additional truck, Don quietly volunteered to drive the second truck. We accepted. With lots of rules to protect his health the way we thought it should be protected. Don carefully steered us to the idea that he was in charge of his health and in charge of knowing how much he could manage. And he would manage it. He did this so carefully that it sounded like a good idea.

I was relieved, as my job was to fly to Phoenix, pick up the cats that had been shipped already, keep them in my apartment, complete the purchase of the new house, and move as much as I could into the new house from my apartment. I’ve seen corporate board meetings with less logistics than this move.

So Kent climbed into one van, and Don into the other (after kissing Judy and telling her he’d see her soon) and headed West. A 26-foot rental van hauling a trailer on which sits our personal van, followed by another van carrying three motorcycles, a large ficus, and random leftover household goods is a caravan of two that can’t back up. So they only drove forward. For 2,400 forward miles–through the rolling hills of Virginia, the mountains of Tennessee, across the Mississippi river, the plains of Oklahoma and Texas, into the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona and then South onto the Sonoran desert floor. It took the better part of six days.

In the following week, Don helped unpack, cut down overgrown trees and vines, installed electric outlets on the kitchen islands, removed a chandelier from the ceiling of my office, and exchanged it for a ceiling fan, replaced toilets, fixed faucets, hung shelving in the laundry room. And to the joy of my heart, he and my husband got the motorcycles out of the van (after the effort it took to get them into the same van), put the handlebars into place, and made them road-worthy. I never heard him complain of the heat. I never heard him complain at all.

Don worked every day. Hard work in hot weather. Every night the three of us spent time in the pool, looking up at stars, grateful that all the logistics had worked, that the whole move was coming together. Don can make you laugh, and laugh hard. He can also make you think and explain how mysterious household devices work.

You may be holding your breath for a disaster here. But there is none. Only good news. In the truck, along with our motorcycles, we had brought Don’s. And after being with us a week and a day, Don fulfilled a dream that had driven him to climb in the van in the first place: he drove his motorcycle back across country. I was hugely worried, but Don, along with Dirty Harry, knows his limitations. He drove through sun, and unfortunately, through a good deal of hurricane-spawned rain. But he drove. Don lives riding a motorcycle like no one else I know. 2,400 miles back across the country. He arrived back to Judy in good health.

Everyone should be as lucky as to have a Don in their lives. He is an inspiration for everyone who has a life-threatening disease and a bigger inspiration for those of us who are healthy. It takes a big friend to do what Don did, and a big dream to ride a motorcycle across the country in sun and rain, wind and sand. And Don did what most of us put off till it’s too late: he went after his big dream, and he completed it.

So thanks, Don, for making the move possible. Not just for doing hours of work to make the house great, but just for being in our lives and serving as inspiration and a role model of what friendship looks like. And it looks great from here.

–Quinn McDonald is proud to know Don, and to call him her friend. She’s a writer and certified creativity coach who helps people dream big and follow the dream. She can take no credit for Don’s dream or his work. That was all Don’s character. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Use it Now

Growing up in an immigrant family meant constant saving, eating everything on your plate, and being grateful for everything you had. My parents had fled massive deprivation, arriving in this country undernourished and fearful. By the time I was born (in the U.S.) were saving and carefully accumulating “good” dishes and everyday dishes, “good” silverware and everyday flatware. The “good” items were brought out on very special occasions.

Birthdays and celebrations weren’t “good” enough for the special dishes. Most of the use came at serious achievements or life milestones. So rare were these occasions that I my eyes would tear up when I saw the “good dishes” being washed because I was certain someone had died and we were using the dishes for a memorial service.

Hope-chest towel, hand embroidered and crocheted.

Hope-chest towel, hand embroidered and crocheted.

When I was 6 years old, my mother set me on the path of making “good” items for a hope chest. A hope chest was a cedar chest, purchased for a young girl and filled with items to be used when she got married. Many parents purchased items for their daughters hope chest; I hand made all of mine. In those days you could buy towel linen, which you then stamped with a pattern and embroidered. I didn’t like the tiny, detailed flowers that required small, delicate stitches, so I often drew my own, simple patterns.

I learned to embroider and crochet, make tatted lace and do hemstitching. I was not clever at this, and many tears went into the projects. Often I pulled out what had taken hours to complete. Of course, the thread had to be used again. My mother supervised my work, and I longed to be away from it.

The hope chest was full when I left my parents’ house, and I never used the towels. They were heavy linen, needed to be ironed, and I cringed when I looked at them.

Yesterday I found the towels in the bottom of the hope chest. It’s been many years since I made them and I’ve decided to use them now. Often. Every day. I don’t want them displayed at my funeral. I want them worn down with loving use. I won’t iron them, simply wash, dry and use them. If you save them for good, they will never get the use they were meant to take.

I no longer have “good” dishes. I use what I have every day. My embroidered tablecloths have stains and small burns from blown-out candles. Birthday, anniversary, holidays. My tablecloths, and now my towels, will be used for good–everyday good. Because when I put them on the table, it becomes a good day.

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

Feeling Like Home

Boxes are getting unpacked, more each day. The plastic walkways I put down to protect the rug are up, and each day looks a little more like home. My studio is the last to be unpacked, but I’ve got enough of the office equipment in place to run my business.

Last night it rained. Maybe the best way to know you are in a new home is the first rain. It sounds different than in the last home, and you look out windows to learn how to measure it. There isn’t a street light here that lights up the night rain. It drums on the skylight in the bathroom and sounds like more rain than I think. I feel new and inexperienced.

Aretha likes the sink

Aretha likes the sink

The bed is the same, but the dark is different. I wake up at 3:15 a.m. and walk slowly on the unfamiliar carpet, down the hallway that is longer, into the dim kitchen. There is work to be done; I am awake but exhausted. There is always tomorrow. I walk past the sleeping computer, its light dimming and brightening, calling me to write. I’ve ignored the blog for more than a week, too tired to think. Now it’s dark, and I’m not alone any more. We are our empty-nest family again. I have a life to rebuild, a career to re-start. I wonder if I was stupid or crazy to think I should start over at my age. Outside it’s lighter than I remember. Not close to sunrise, just the moon shining on the xeriscaping–crushed light desert granite. This is the desert at night.

The cats are adjusting, finding their favorite places. One likes to lie in the bathroom sink, another under the ceiling fan in the kitchen. There is always one on the tile in the entrance, none of them are used to the heat.

It’s dark and I go back to bed in the desert, to sleep a few hours so I can see what a new life looks like tomorrow.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach. She is making a new life in the Phoenix area. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Reinvention Needes Renewal

So the unloaders came and unloaded our household goods. The house is full of boxes, we can’t find the screws that hold the bed together (yes, we taped them to the bed frame and they came loose). Lots of work, many changes, floorplans that didn’t fit, things that went missing. A typical move.

Every artist, writer, coach, instructor hits that wall at some time or another. After weeks of packing a house and then an apartment, I hit the wall the day we moved into the house. But the work needs to get done, and it is. But every evening and 7 p.m. we knock of work and jump into the pool. Tonight, after the sun set, I saw a nearly full moon rise above our two palm trees. The tension of the day began to slip behind me.

Our culture doesn’t approve of having fun. We like to spend long hours at work. Work makes us feel important.Lacking friends who are not connected to work, we get validation from people who are much like us. That’s not a groove we’re in, it’s a rut.

Everyone who works hard needs to have fun. To play. To take time away from clients, memos, emails and orders. The Germans, French, Spanish and Swiss get far more vacation than we do. And before you jump up and snort, “Well, they are lazy,” now is a good time to note that our country is ranked behind all of those countries in ability to read, do math, infant mortality, successful marriages and perceived satisfaction with life.

For me, renewal is important, both for my soul and my mind. I moved West to change my life, and part of it is floating in a pool at the end of a hard day’s work. I might not be able to afford a vacation for the next few years, but I’m living it part of every day. If I notice and appreciate it.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She recently moved to the Phoenix area and is making the most of every hot day. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Recommendation: Pet Moves

You won’t find a lot of specific recommendations in my blogs. I’m not much for pushing products and services, but when I find something that is great, I will pass it along. And I found one.

We had to move our cats from once coast to another. There are several ways to do this: take them in the car, take them with you in the airplane, or ship them commercially.

All three of those were out for various reasons. The car was being towed behind the van; airlines will let you take one cat on the airplane, and not more than two on a flight; commercial airlines won’t take an animal in the hold if the landing temperature is 95 degrees or above.

It used to be my art desk, now it's a cat perch.

It used to be my art desk, now it's a cat perch.

After asking (sigh) for advice and receiving an interesting mix of distasteful (“there are a lot of cats in Arizona, just dump them in Virginia”), impossibly complicated (“Post on Craig’s list for people leaving for Phoenix the same day you are, arrange to have them each carry one cat and you meet them all at the Phoenix airport and collect the cats”) and absurd, (“I’ll take one, just bring it to New York,”) we got a really good piece of advice–use a pet travel service. I didn’t even know they existed.

There are several, we used All Pet Travel. They arrange to place cats on climate-controlled, pressurized airplane compartments, using various airlines. The cats are watched as they make connections, collected at the destination and kenneled until you pick them up.

We took the cat to the airport to save a little money. The service isn’t cheap, but it is worth every dime. At the airport, the cats were taken by hand, not dumped on a baggage belt. We got a text message when they successfully made their connection in Houston. Then they ran into a bit of trouble.

There were monsoon storms in Phoenix and the plane was diverted to Tucson. This is where it gets

Staying cool in August

Staying cool in August

good. A representative from All Pet took care of them in Tucson till the cats could continue the flight to Phoenix. They arrived in Phoenix, were taken to a vet, who called me to tell me all three had arrived safely. Because the Tucson flight had required many cages to be close together, our cats were given a flea treatment and inoculated (all with my permission) against the upper respiratory infection that had nearly killed Buster a month ago.

I had been told that when they arrived in my apartment, they would stay under the bed for days. Not so. They cheerfully inspected the premises, tried out the tub for instant cooling, and learned about traction on the wall-to-wall carpet. These cats have lived with hardwood floors for the last seven years, this new experience was like having a full-length toy.

I might add that I purchased a tightly-woven sisal doormat and put it in the apartment for scratching purposes, and they took to it immediately. No scratching the rug.

On Wednesday, they will have one more move, but this one relatively short. They will be loaded back into their airline crates, put in the car and driven to the new house. They will have a lot more room, three sliders to look out of, and a hallway of carpet to race down.

While Aretha, originally feral, seems to have been spooked the most, she is eating and staying close to me. Other than that, they all three had a successful and healthy trip. And I’m happy to recommend the kind and helpful people at All Pet Travel. It was worth the expense to have healthy animals loving Arizona.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who successfully relocated to the Phoenix area. She runs workshops in business and creative writing. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Suck it up and drive

Life is hard on the art show circuit. When a customer came into my booth and looked at my art and said, “I wish I had your life. You get to make your art all the time. What a wonderful, easy life!” I’d smile and say, “It’s wonderful to work on what you love for a living.” While that was true, it was not always what I wanted to say.
I didn’t say, “Try standing on your feet on cement floors for three days in a row, 10 hours a day, then make sure you find healthy food.”
I never said, “If you haven’t done 21 shows in 52 weeks, eaten Thanksgiving dinner with strangers, loaded your art and the booth into your van during a snowstorm, thunderstorm or in 95-degree heat, while the regulations make you park half a mile away, you don’t get to talk.”
I thought it all, but I never said it. I chose the life of an artist, and that means I chose all the consequences with it. Including “Suck it up and drive.”

Maybe your family had a similar saying. It means, “Stop complaining and get on with what needs to be done.” It means you have to do what needs to be done, even if you don’t feel like it, are tired, sick, or have a broken bone. I’ve loaded my booth and art into a van, a four-hour strenuous job, after standing up for three days. Then, exhausted and sweaty, I’ve driven four hours to get closer to the next show before I look for a hotel. I’ve set up with duct tape covering a cut that needed two stitches, with a 102-degree fever, with an arm in a cast.

Suck it up and drive. It’s serious. It’s your life and your work. When you work for yourself, there are perks and there are tough spots.

Honda VLX

Honda VLX

During our move, I saw my husband do a “suck it up and drive” that astonished me. At 4 p.m. we realized that all our possessions might fit in the truck, but not the motorcycles. We couldn’t leave them behind, having a company trailer them out is prohibitively expensive, and the closing was the next day, so we couldn’t leave them overnight. Nothing to do but rent another truck, one with a ramp.

A rental truck van has a ramp, but it’s about 3 feet wide, angles up at about 45 degrees and is tough to walk up, let alone push a 500-pound bike up. My husband and his friend Don considered the situation, then angled the truck so the ramp sat on the sidewalk, reducing the angle to about 35 percent. Before you think this sounds easy, remember that the steepest hill you’ve ever driven over on a paved road is not more than 16 degrees.

Honda Shadow Spirit

Honda Shadow Spirit

My husband’s job was to drive three motorcycles (our two and Don’s) up that ramp. At 11 o’clock at night. Because it was parked on our walkway, there was no run-up. My husband had to gun the engine, drive it up a swaying, 3-foot wide ramp, and then brake. The truck was not the big 26-footer, it was considerably smaller. I saw him start to sweat. On the first run, the engine died. A bike that’s moving forward stays upright. A bike that stops wants to lie down. This was my bike, at 504 pounds dry, and the way you steady it is to put your feet down on the ground. Except the ramp was narrow, and his feet missed. He has an amazing body-mind connection, so he let the bike roll backward until his feet touched the ground. I could see his heart pounding through his soaking T-shirt.

Moving via rental truck

Moving via rental truck

But he did it. Not once, but three times. He did not complain. The second and third bikes had a lot less space to maneuver, because there were already bikes in the way. He loaded all three bikes without a scratch to any of them. It was the best “Suck it up and drive” I’ve ever seen.

Don locked them into the rack he’d built, and strapped them in so they wouldn’t move. He loosened the handlebars so they wouldn’t hit each other on the trip.

My husband didn’t brag, didn’t complain, didn’t tell me I owed him. In a marriage that survived the decision to start over more than once, made it through each of our decisions to leave the corporate life and open a business, undergo a cross-country move, live apart for 10 months, have me go ahead and start my business, support him when he gets here and has to start up his business, there is too much “owe me” for either one to tally. The next day, he climbed in the 26-foot van, Don into the bike van, and they headed West. As I write this, they are in Oklahoma, still driving West, four days later. They have another three days ahead of them.

We made the decision to move to have a better life. To enjoy the years we have left. To enjoy creativity in very different ways. And to do that, you have to suck it up and drive.

Grace Under Pressure

The hard part of the move is over. The van is loaded, the extra van is loaded too and the gift of lessons has been presented.

What’s a “gift of lessons”? Life often takes interesting, unexpected twists. They are generally not fun. If we learn quickly from them, we can adjust and move ahead. If we fight the lesson, refuse to see it, insist it isn’t there, demand it to go away, it will still be there, but we will be exhausted and miserable.

Figuring out how to navigate those life lessons to get the nourishment and leave the stress is a rare gift. I had one of those gifts yesterday, during the height of the move. We had rented the largest van available. The plan was to load it and use the extra space to move the motorcycles. A friend built a special rack.

When you figure out how much of a van you need, you use calculators that ask for room size, special furniture (gym equipment, big screen TVs) and other bulky items. No calculator ever asks if you have books. They simply assume you have about 10 pounds of books. After giving away hundreds of books, I had hundreds more. Books that make good reading, art books, instruction books. The van filled quickly.

At first I thought it was a matter of deciding what to take and what to leave behind. But it wasn’t. The only choice was to rent another van. That wasn’t in the plan. It was more than I’d budgeted for. In a wonderful flash of understanding, I realized that it didn’t matter what I had planned, the reality was right in front of me–rent another van. The van in the driveway was full, the motorcycles weren’t in it yet, and there was still furniture in the house.

Much as I hated the option, it was the only really workable one. Even after careful pruning, there was too much I owned already loaded in the van. No use beating myself up, no beating myself up for not knowing (how could I have known?), simply quick and direct action–finding an available van and bringing it back. I did it.

And my reward? Less stress. A feeling of making a necessary decision. A feeling of mastery over my emotions. (Want to feel a lack of control? Do a cross-country move.) We can not control the occasional smelly fish-head life tosses at us. But we are in total control of the decision-making process and the reaction we have. We can choose to be angry, yell, make unreasonable demands, engage in attention-grabbing drama.

Or, we can cut the drama, control our emotions and move on. Doesn’t get as much attention, but gets the job done. The American author Ernest Hemingway (whose books are in the van), defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Choosing to make the best decision at hand now is not always easy, but it opens the road ahead for smoother travel.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is moving cross country with more than 500 books, a husband and three cats. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

First Books by Unknown Authors

Sure, you know about summer reading. Light books with slamming plots, maybe a bodice-buster or two. Easy to read, sort of like potato chips for the mind.

May I make another suggestion? I’ve had enormous luck reading the first books of authors I’ve never heard of. It started with Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner. As a first novel, it was a stunner on a topic I usually don’t read in fiction–war. But it wasn’t about war, it was about painful personal growth and understanding, told in an irresistible way.

Cover, The God of Animal by Aryn Kyle

Cover, The God of Animal by Aryn Kyle

After that, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. There is something about the truth of first-time novelists. This is, somehow, their story. The second novel is the one they feel they have to write. The first one is the one that has to be written. And it makes it incredibly powerful, raw, real.

The Secret Life of Bees is the first novel from non-fiction writer Sue Monk Kidd, so I’m not sure it counts, but it has that same compelling quality of reality and breath-taking writing.

Some first novels are incredible, they stand alone. Can you name anything Margaret Mitchell wrote after Gone With the Wind? Or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

My latest find is The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. A powerful book on love, horses, poverty, marriage gone awry, and coming of age. I’m not a horse lover, but this book still held me captive. Well written and timed, the ending was perfect for a first novel. In my mind, it would make a great movie, which I won’t go see for reasons that would spoil the plot line. I did see the movie of Kite Runner and enjoyed it. I needed to learn that many movies based on books are wonderful if you go to see them as movies, and don’t expect the book.

If this good luck streak of first novel continues, my summer reading may run well into fall.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer of non-fiction and a reader of fiction. She is a certified creativity coach who is moving to Arizona.

Riding the Freecycle Away From the Landfill

The large burly man looked doubtful.
“We can’t take those shelves, ma’am,” he said mournfully, “they are used.”
My eyebrows shot up to my hairline. “They are bookcases, and I’ve used them for years. I just don’t want to move them,” I replied.
He shook his head. “We don’t have no use for them, not used. They been painted.”
“They haven’t been painted. I bought them that white color.”
He shook his head. “No. They been painted. We don’t take painted, old bookcases.”



I wasn’t going to argue. He wasn’t taking the bookcases. Maybe because they were in my studio in the basement, maybe because his charity would never be able to use bookcases, even though they could hold video games or toys or clothing.

He left with the things his charity did not deem “used,” or “old.” I was beginning to feel both.

I dragged the collection of unloved items to the curb. Bookcases, several sets of roll-around drawers, two plants that won’t survive the trip, a laundry rack complete with hamper, a wood stand, some smaller items. I attached a sign that said, “FREE,” and went inside.

The city of Alexandria will take anything you can put at the curb, amazingly large items, but they come once a week. They will not come back, even if you are moving.

Within an hour, there was a swarm of activity on my block. About a dozen people milled around the “used” bookcases, and then, to my astonishment, things began to disappear. Within two hours the only thing left was the “FREE” sign.

The freecycling worked. I put out things in good repair, but not new. They were clean. Other people saw something they needed and wanted. It was a good exchange. I don’t have to move it, they can use it. Nothing goes to the landfill.

No, I don’t make money. But I’m OK with it. I want these usable items to continue to serve someone, to give them a new home with someone who needs them. And now I’m leaving a little bit of memory behind in a middle-class, thrifty neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s my idea of the new American Dream–Freecycle, reuse, keep it green and out of the landfill.

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