Ear Worms: Music Stuck in Your Head

The other day I had a snippet of song stuck in my head. I couldn’t remember where it came from, and I couldn’t sing it well enough to have my husband help me. Much later, I remembered it was from a movie preview we had seen the night before. Those snippets of music are called ear worms. They can make you


Image from: darthgateau.blogspot.com

crazy or inspire you. Because music is not something I understand well, I’m turning this post over to my husband, a personal chef and a great lover of music. He has experienced the joy and annoyance of ear worms. Here’s his take on that music scrap that sticks in your brain:

“…Someone saved my life tonight, sugabearrrrrrrr…”

Ear worms. I get them, often. Daily sometimes. They can drive me and those around me nuts. Or, on a day when I can roll down the car windows, turn the volume up to an absurdly high level, and let loose with the worm du jour, phrasing the lyrics just so and bending that note in the middle exactly the way it should be bent, provide me with intense satisfaction.

“…I knowwwwwwwwww we’ll love aggggainnnnnnnnnn….maybe tomorrrrrrrow, maybe tomorrrrrrrrrrrrrrroowwwwwwwww…”

It’s not noise, it’s sound. It stands up as a whole. Four short, perfect notes from a lap steel, the break in “Something in the Way She Moves”, or the sound of change in a vending machine in Joni Mitchell’s “Empty, Try Another”, having no other reason to be in my head except for the unique staying power of each.

“…You’d better commmmme in my kitchen, cuz it’s boun’ to be rainin’ outsiiiiiiiiiiiiide…”

My love my ear worms. I own ‘em. I’ll wake and sit on the side of my bed trying to focus, to find the voice of a Gwen Stefani or a Ry Cooder in my head, already up and raring to go. Or, the opening to “Cracked Actor” on David Bowie’s “Live at the Tower”, the one with David Sanborn on sax and Earl Slick on lead, doing its damnedest to get me to go vocal, even in a crowded room. Dwayne Allman’s classic opening to “Statesboro Blues” makes me whistle every time. Literally. Including in the elevator and grocery market. Location doesn’t matter, only the sound matters. (Ok, if I’m in say, a stairwell or a men’s room with tiled walls, both of which offer perfect acoustics, I’m letting it fly for certain). It’s in and it’s coming out.

“…Fair Mexican maidens play gitarrres and sing, songs about Billy, their boyyyyy-bandit king…”

Anything could be the source. My folks are Sinatra and big band fans, so it’s the music of my childhood. “Fly Me To The Moon” is just as likely to make an appearance as “I Wanna Be Sedated”. The soundtrack to the TV show “ER” has been known to stay with me for days. Background noise, rhythms, squawks, clanks – seemingly, if it has a beat, it’s there. Or can be.

“….Paaaaaaaaperback Writerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…”
If I’m lucky, those around me will be kind or at least tolerant, amused even. I’m no fun to be around on an afternoon drive when I’m in the clutches of a worm, I admit that. Still, I have to think that someone listening might wonder what the connection from one worm to the next might be, and where it came from; that I can’t be the only one enjoying the affliction.

“…I’m gonn dooo bad thaaangs with yoooooooooooooooouuuu…”

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and life- and creativity coach. She owns QuinnCreative, a company that offers training seminars and workshops in journal writing.

Managing Phone Time

“Call me anytime.”
“Use my cell, I always have it with me.”
“I’ll be home, give me a call.”
Phrases I hear all the time, but know aren’t true. The phone has become a casual piece of entertainment to most people, but it’s the chief way I communicate with clients. I finally purchased an unlimited minutes cellphone plan, not because I love yakking, but because my cellphone is my business phone.

images-1.jpegIf you own your business your phone is your marketing system, lifeline, communication tool. If you are like me, at the end of the day, you don’t want to talk anymore. Your ear hurts. But other people have a different view. Many people believe that if you own your business you have lots of free time. So it doesn’t matter when they call.

As a writer, and a developer of writing training programs, I have deadlines. And I need to schedule. Because I am also a life- and creativity coach, I have to set times and guidelines. When someone says, “give me a call anytime tonight,” my reply is never “OK,” my reply is “How about 7?”

Often the answer is “Whenever,” but that won’t do. I have a West Coast conference call at 6:30 p.m. It has a firm beginning and end. At 7:30, I have a coaching call, for a client that doesn’t want to talk at work. So my available time is 7 to 7:30. It’s hard to explain this to people who go to work and come home at regular times, and once they are home they are free to choose their schedule.

“Sure, call me at 7” they answer, but when I call, they are on the phone. I leave a message and start to prepare for my next call. That means taking care of physical needs (drinking water or putting it back), or standing up and stretching, looking up something, making a note so I won’t forget.

The phone rings and it’s my friend. “Geez, you are so prompt. I was talking to. . .” I look at the clock. Five minutes to the coaching call.
“What’s up?” I interrupt.
“I thought we’d talk about that meeting we’re going to.” I know this is a long talk, involving content planning and who will drive and where we’ll eat.
“I can drive, and you can choose the restaurant,” I say, now at 3 minutes left.
“What do you want to do your presentation on?”
“I thought I’d do it on communicating with people you like and know, but don’t have time for,” I say, thinking this is a topic I’m an expert at.
“OK, so let’s talk.”
“I can’t. I have a call. I can talk tomorrow at 2 or at 5. Which is better?”
“Oh, call me anytime tomorrow. I’ll be home all day.”

When you own your own business, time is a currency that needs to be budgeted and counted. To those who see time as a space to be filled, the geometry of talking doesn’t match with the neatly packed rolls of quarter-hours to be doled out.

–Image: http://www.infowit.com

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She watches the clock, and tries to explain the measurement system to others, often without success. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

Tutorial: Mixed Media Ideaglyph

Many people are scared to draw, so they never do.

I find that sad. I’ve invented a new kind of class to help overcome the lack of drawing ability. I promise you will never have to draw if you don’t want to. You will make marks, however, and discover symbols that are personal and meaningful for you. There are many ways to do this. Today we are going to discover a way of seeing ideaglyphs using photography, colored pencils, and a good quality paper.

“Ideaglyph” is a word I made up. A ‘glyph’ is a meaningful symbol or mark. Here in Arizona, we see ancient symbols carved into canyons and stones by the peoples of the First Nation. They are called petroglyphs. I thought that each person needs to have private and personal symbols for their own ideas, thoughts, feelings. You can share them, you can keep them private. I call them ideaglyphs.

Here is how to start: look around you. Find a pattern, a texture, a color splash that appeals to you. I’ve taken pictures of hard-water stains on sidewalks (that’s it, below), tree bark, clouds–that all have something in common. And that is that I see something in them. Maybe a figure, maybe an idea, but I see it. The photographs are simple, not color altered or changed in any way.



Here’s an example: I was in a coffee house the other day. The walls had been painted many times-sponged, splashed, glazed. One of the marks was a red splash of paint. It was right above the chair rail. But to me, that splash of paint made an image. I took a picture and printed it out.

wall before

Ideaglyph: wall, before

That red splash looked like an animal to me. It’s important to note that I didn’t see a bear or a cat, just an animal. A figure. Using colored pencils, I darkened some areas and lightened others. I didn’t draw a new picture on it. I used only the color already in the picture, just deepened them or lightened them.

wall, after

ideaglyph: wall, after

And right in front of me, the animal appeared in the forest. What difference does this make? I didn’t draw anything, I just applied color. It is mark making in its simplest form. But it is my mark, and it is meaningful to me. And now you can do this, too, without knowing how to draw at all. If I gave you the same print out, you could see something different. That’s OK, too.

Have fun exploring your own private symbols, create an ideaglyph of your own. If you want, I’ll post it. Just let me know in the comments that you have one you want to add to this blog post.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars in ideaglyphs and other forms of communication.

Arizona–It’s not all desert

On a perfect fall day, we took the motorcycles along the Apache Trail, paved for more than 100 years, but used for centuries before that. We drove past Weaver’s Needle, which is a landmark for the Lost Dutchman Mine, still lost after more than 200 years.

Superstition Mountain, AZ

Superstition Mountain, AZ

Then, up the mountains, tucked into a canyon, is Apache Lake. The road between the Mine and the Lake is slow going as you negotiate switchbacks, narrow roads with steep drops, and two, one-lane bridges.

Apache Lake, AZ

Apache Lake, AZ

About 17 miles and 2,200 feet up from Apache Junction is Tortilla Flat. The view is terrific, and the only restaurant has good iced tea, a welcome drink after a lot of dry driving. But coming here for the food is not the point. The painted canyons and cliffs is the breathtaking part.

butte in Tortilla Flat, AZ

butte in Tortilla Flat, AZ

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and motorcycle rider. She is also a life- and creativity coach.

Fall Days. Time to Plant Tomatoes

Ahh, the nights are cooler, the sky is big and blue and fall is here. That means. . .it’s time to plant tomatoes! Our seedlings went into pots today and got lined up on the South side of the house. Just in time for New Year’s–we’ll have fresh tomatoes!

Planting tomatoes in October
Planting tomatoes in October

OK, even I will admit that it feels odd to be planting tomatoes in October. But I can’t wait for the taste of fresh tomatoes for New Years Day!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches workshops in writing, presentations, and journaling.

Mindful Chocolate

One of my great pleasures in life is the mixture of hot spice and sweet. Not melt-your-mascara hot, but spicy-kick hot, mixed with sweet. Chewy is a big plus in this mix.

This combination has the benefit of slowing me down. Somewhere in my youth, I learned to bolt my food, and I still do it. More often than I’d like to admit. But give me something that’s chewy and sweet and spicy, and I’m in heaven.

Chocolate covered mango with a kick

Chocolate covered mango with a kick

When I saw the dark-chocolate covered mango in Trader Joe’s, I was a goner. When I took a closer look and saw that it was not only dark chocolate covered mango, but sprinkled with hot pepper bits and salt, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

The picture isn’t attractive, it looks like bad doggie. In fact, the real thing looks a bit like bad doggie, too. But the taste is heaven. No bolting this for me. I notice the texture first, then the heat

Mango, thick with chocolate, glowing with heat

Mango, thick with chocolate, glowing with heat

comes up with the creamy chocolate. Finally the gritty salt heightens the sweet and the texture.

Eating dark chocolate covered mango is a mindful experience. I eat it slowly. I linger over each part of the experience. I delight in the chocolate melting, my tongue surprised by the salt. These aren’t pieces to woof down, these are slow, lingering, mindful, zen-meditation chocolates. Who knew eating could feel like praying?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach and postivie choco-holic.

Fear of Art, or, “I CAN’T Draw”

When I begin any of my journaling classes, I explain that we will be doing more than writing. Before I explain what it is we will do, someone will say, “This better not be about drawing. I can’t draw.” There is a lot of fear about drawing. Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade.

They are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. Instead, art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

My big fear is that to be considered acceptable as a teacher, I better have a lot of “stuff.” Stamps and UTEE and templates; cutters and vinyl and foam; printed paper squares and ribbons and stamp pads in pigment and dye and chalk. But I don’t. I don’t have all that stuff. I have colored pencils and inks and some handmade papers and great drawing paper.

I believe you can make art without a lot of stuff. Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

Preternatural Breakup by Justine Ashbee, (c) 2006

Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

Justine Ashbee uses nothing except Sharpie pens and good paper. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Charlie Kratzer, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. He decorated his entire basement with a black Sharpie. OK, it was more than one. It was $10 worth. The rest was his creativity, his ideas, his desire to decorate his life.

Kratzer is a lawyer, and started with one line in the basement–a line that began a mural around his basement wall. The mural is not just furniture and columns and wainscoting, although it is all that.

The art spans literature and popular culture, Picasso and Churchill. I could list all the things on the wall, but there is a wonderful video and article that does a much better job.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. Right now there it’s popular to have artists’ studios in magazines, along with descriptions about how this big, airy, wonderful space is exactly what every artist needs. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of space and storage, but thinking you need 150 square feet with special furniture before you can create is the same as thinking you aren’t an artist until you have six shelves of stuff. Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who helps people discover they can make meaning in many ways. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Walking Meditation (Variation)

My morning walks are a kind of walking meditation. I start early in the morning. No power walk, no running–my knees are shot. This is a 3-mile steady walk. I think of it as a walking meditation. A way of doing,  not “morning pages,” but morning thinking.

Knurdles, also called packing peanuts, crossing the street.

Knurdles, also called packing peanuts, crossing the street.

I get great ideas, I get mental rest, I get a quiet peaceful feeling that doesn’t exist anywhere else in my life.

The point of these walks is to just be. I concentrate on seeing things in detail, paying attention to sunlight, shadow, how the wind moves through the streets.

This is not the walking meditation of Buddhists. This is being aware of everything, not a shutting out of thoughts.

I listen for sound details. A hiss of car tires, the spitting of drip irrigation coming on, a dog barking in the distance, a sigh of wind down a straight stretch of street.

Smells, too, keep me grounded. The drip irrigation working in the park smells like a rain approaching–wet dust. When the water runs off hard-packed dirt, and onto the pavement, it smells like cement and oil.

So I walked down the street, aware that it was big-trash day. That happens once a month, with big rumbling trash trucks, followed by front loaders that pick up items too big for weekly trash pickup. I heard the two different engines, smelled diesel fuel, saw the shadows as the trucks moved out of sight. I then heard the crush of cardboard and a rattle I didn’t recognize. It was a light, hollow sound, like tiny hooves running on a hollow bridge deck.

Curious, I looked around and saw knurdles (you may call them packing peanuts) coming down the street. They were being blown by a gentle wind, and they were hopping in a line, like a small herd of kids running for the school bus. They swept down the street, turned the corner, and scattered. Then is was quiet again.

A tiny moment, early in the morning, that creates a new window into the day. A forgettable moment that gains importance through walking meditation.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her company, QuinnCreative.

Fooled Again!

A few weeks ago, I saw what I thought was a cactus fruit and it turned out to be a green rubber ball. You can see the picture below. A few people wrote and said that it looked just like a rubber ball and they would have never been fooled. Fair enough.

Looks like a cactus fruit, but it's a green rubber ball

Green ball looks like a cactus fruit

This morning, I saw this in a cactus and decided it was a red rubber ball. Wrong again! This time it IS a cactus fruit. I have no idea if it’s edible, it wasn’t mine to pick. But except for the color, they look a lot alike to me.

Looks like a red rubber ball, but it's a cactus fruit

Cactus fruit looks like a red ball

Here is a closer view.

Close up of cactus fruit

Close up of cactus fruit

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She runs workshops, seminars, and brown-bag lunches through her company, QuinnCreative.

Unknown in a Generation

My parents were immigrants to this country. They came with very few possessions, so the things they brought had to be the most important. Their possessions fell into three categories:

  • Useful items for a household
  • Books
  • Clothing

It was pretty lean, but it was all the important stuff. I often play the game in my head, “If I had only three wooden crates to fill with important possessions, what would I take?” For my parents, it was no game. It was real life.

They took things that would last. There are still linens in my closet, real linen, with the initials of my father’s mother. They are soft with age, but still ready for use. I should point out that those still-used linens are more than a hundred years old.

And then there is this item, below. It’s solid wood, inlaid, not painted. About the size of a goose egg. Much larger than a chicken egg, about the length of a navel orange. It’s beautiful and not only did my mother use it, I did, too.

Inlaid wood darning egg

Inlaid wood darning egg

I showed it to a friend about a month ago and she had no idea what it was. She thought it was decorative. My parents brought nothing decorative unless it was functional, and this piece was functional.

It’s a darning egg. You used it to darn socks. Socks developed holes from use, but you didn’t throw them out when they did. You got a thick cotton thread, dropped the darning egg into the sock, pulled either the long side or the rounded end into location to mimic the curve of the sock and darned the hole. Darning the hole consisted of stitching long supporting threads across the hole, then weaving back and forth to create a patch. You could also use it to fix holes in the knees and elbows of sweaters and jackets. We wore a lot of darned clothing when I was a child.

This beautiful piece of mosaic wood now has no use. We throw things out when they wear out, socks are not meant to be darned. In just the span of one lifetime, the darning egg is forgotten. It’s not a tragedy, change happens. I’m not demanding to bring back darning as a money-saving method. Most clothing materials today aren’t built to take darning well.

I’m simply glad that this utilitarian device, which could have been made of glass or steel, was made with care and still delights the eye and hand. In my world, this carefully made piece is a piece of art that holds memories along with function.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her business, QuinnCreative.