Office Politics

Some of us are good at office politics, some not. When I was a careerist, I often said that I refused to play that game, that office politics were not for me. In truth, if there are more than two people in an office, there will be office politics, and you’d better figure out how to play.

Office politics characters courtesy

In the best of circumstances, office politics is a specialized form of communication, something you can get good at. It is a way of communicating fairly about projects, giving (rather than withholding) information, building consensus to get work done rather than backbiting, and playing nicely  with others (often called working in teams).

In real life, we aren’t always loving, generous, and open-minded. We want to have our way, we want to take the credit, we want to win and get the raise.

In the worst of circumstances, office politics is forgetting ethical restraints, putting our wants ahead of our needs, and the needs of others. In the worst of office politics we forget one of the basic rules of office behavior–we can hate someone, we can wish them ill, as long as we keep all those thoughts to ourselves. Out loud, in the office and out, we have to treat everyone with respect. Treating people we don’t like with respect is actually a brilliant move. You never know whose team you will wind up on, or who will become your boss. Treating people with respect gives you a bigger field of colleagues who will recommend you for a better job when you need it.

Not everyone is cut out for corporate life. Entrepreneurs, visionaries, and highly creative people can often do better on their own, may prefer to carry all the responsibility and get all the glory. There’s no shame in owning your own business and doing well. You’ll still need communication skills, but that comes with every career.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach and trainer who teaches people communication skills.

Art Lesson from Life

Note: I was looking for an older post and ran across this one. It ran in March of 2008, but seems just as applicable now as then. I’m posting it today because I don’t expect people to read my blog every day and memorize it. Really. So enjoy, or enjoy again!

It was my first night in colored pencil class. This sounds a bit like coloring class for grown-ups. The lesson was drawing an apple. As I looked at the apple in front of me, I noticed it was irregular and had an interesting stem–and that made for a great outline drawing.

The lesson was to apply color from light to dark, so the first step was to cover the inside of the drawing with a nicely applied layer of cream. You dont’ want a lot of white spots on the paper. A layer of a light color modifies the image nicely.

red appleAs I applied layer after layer, it occurred to me how complicated the outside of an apple is. And how easy it is to make the apple look three -dimensional with the addition of a darker color. And how the highlight, where the ceiling light shines off the peel, is not really white, but reflective.

While I sat an applied color, I learned that a wash of yellow over the curve in the front brightens the entire image. That using the opposite of the red color of the apple–green–makes the shadows look deeper. That another layer of color can change the color entirely.

And I smiled because this sounded more like a life lesson than an art lesson. That steadily applying a cheerful face to life makes you more cheerful. That knowing the opposites in life–happiness and sorrow, failure and success, patience and impetuousness–adds richness to the texture of life. And that adding another perspective can change your outlook. Not only that, but that a lot of work and a willingness to keep layering color makes for a better depth of experience.

When I was done, I had used 15 colors on the apple. It had taken two hours. And I know that if I show it to someone, they’ll shrug and say, “Well, what will you DO with that? Can you sell it?” And I’ll smile and say, “It’s art,” and think, “Just like life.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at  Apple drawing by Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008-9 All rights reservd.

Magazine for Paper-, Collage Artists

I love magazines. I love them printed on paper,  online as ‘zines, I love the ‘zines artists make, I love unusual magazines on unusual topics. No surprise I love Found magazine.  It’s exactly what it says—a magazine of found letters, notes, announcements, slightly off-kilter grocery- and to-do lists.

Found magazine #7, cover.

Their are no articles, simply groupings of notes, photos and scraps. A few sentences help to understand the grouping.

If ever you needed a justification for keeping a journal, creating collages or being a paper artist, this magazine is it. No, it does not print fake paper you can use, have rubber stamps or artificial ephemera, it’s the real thing that sets your mind racing with questions, sparks plots and fills your imagination. It’s a wonderful resource for your unfettered imagination.

The pages are not artfully arranged, they are practically arranged to make the reading easier. It’s frank and open and without artifice. It’s refreshing.

Found Magazine comes out about once a year, for the last two years in December. Available at big book store, independent bookstores or from their website.

Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer, who teaches people who can’t draw and hate to write how to keep art journals.

Not So Merry Christmas

The phone has been ringing a lot today. I’m a life coach and I know this will happen. I took the day off to bake and make chocolate covered orange peels and reflect. But people I know are sad. Some are desperate. They call to tell me life is not what it is supposed to be. Some are angry at their lot in life, some are unspeakably sad. I cannot

Image by peachfizzy

fix those lives, but I listen and nod. I do not respond with a story from my life. I do not offer advice. I do not tell them I know how they feel.  They have enough trouble dealing with their own life. And I don’t know how they feel, not really.

There is a lot of fear around that Christmas tree. A lot of disappointment in those presents. A lot of inadequacy in the stockings. You didn’t get what you wanted. It wasn’t under the tree, it’s not in your life. Your relatives make mean remarks, and you wish you were alone. Or you are alone and wish you had a loud noisy family to keep you company.

Christmas is not merry for all. For those of you for whom it is merry, you probably aren’t reading blogs on Christmas Day. For those of you who are sad or alone, gather here and know someone in cyberspace is listening to your loneliness. I am sitting with you in silence, making a space on the bench for you. I don’t have an answer, a good solution to your problem, a way to cheer you up. But for right this minute, I will sit with you and keep you company in your silence.

–Quinn McDonald remembers what her mother said in anger, but turned out to be true: “You’d better learn to love being alone, you’ll spend the unhappiest hours of your life there.”

“It’s Not Personal”

That odd little pharse. . .”It’s not personal”

Of course it’s personal. If it weren’t personal, you wouldn’t need to say it, would you? Everything you say is personal if you are saying it to another person. And as you are a person (I’m just guessing here) it is your

Mr. Yuk

own personal remark. Step up and take some responsibility for what you say. Think before you speak. That’s hard, isnt’ it? So much easier to say, “Nothing personal, but. . .” I’m seeing those three words a lot more lately. And I’m not liking them much.

When I first moved to the South, I first heard, “Bless your heart.”

“How nice!” I thought, getting my heart blessed. Then I began to listen to the whole phrase. “You’ve put on some weight, haven’t you? Bless your heart!” “Your husband is looking for a job? Bless his heart!” Slowly I got it–Bless Your Heart was code for You Loser, You. Oh. Not so nice.

Ya can't be mad!

A few years down the road we started using punctuation as directions for what we wanted people to feel.  They were replaced with little smiley faces of infinite variety. The first one—  ; ) –winked at us so we wouldn’t be angry. People began to use it to tell us how we were supposed to feel after reading their words, sort of “You can’t be angry at that sentence, I’m winking at you.”

The emoticons were being used because writing the thing we wanted to say in a tactful way was too hard. A lot of snark was excused by people raising their eyebrows and insisting, “Didn’t you see the winking smiley face? I was being funny. It’s you who don’t have a sense of humor.”  Sense of humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. We were back to a visual version of “Bless your heart,”–passive aggressiveness hidden behind smiley-face cheer.

Smiley faces aren’t appropriate for business situations, so it’s back to spelling it out. “It’s not personal, but this writing is a piece of drek.” Well, of course it’s personal. Ask the person who wrote the drek if it’s personal. Or the one I heard the other night, “Nothing personal, but should you be drinking a beer?” (Not directed at me, at a woman who could have been considered pregnant-looking. I should not have to explain further.) How is that not personal?

We all want to look non-judgmental while still having the fun of snarking. We want it both ways–virtuous and the thrill of being mean.  It doesn’t work that way. Even if the internet makes it ever-so-much easier to be anonymous. Passive aggressive is as passive aggressive does. Own up to your emotions and opinions. They are yours. Say what you mean, or keep your mouth shut. But emoticons and “It’s not personal” do not free you of accountability.

To avoid confusion, let’s be clear about using “It’s not personal.”
—Back to basics: If you wouldn’t want the phrase that contains INP said to you, don’t say it to the other person.
—If it’s about anything the other person said, did, drew, wrote,  or created in any way, don’t use INP.
—If you can’t replace  INP with “In my opinion. . .” don’t use INP.
—If you want to point to a flaw, mistake, or gaffe, make sure you speak to the person in private. Ask for permission to point out the flaw. Have a suggestion ready for how you would fix it, but don’t offer it till you are asked.

“It’s not personal” almost always warns the listener about the slap that’s coming. Put it down. You have better phrases then that.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach who is also a business communication trainer.

No-Mess Snowflakes

Let’s start off my clearing out junk

Get rid of unwanted Direct Mail (and save some trees.)

Stop unwanted catalogs. This site requires that you know the name of the catalog (or company), but it is incredibly detailed, so you can get rid of only the ones you don’t like.

Drooling for a pair of ultra-cool Christian Louboutin shoes–the ones with the red sole? Of course, you can’t stand the idea of the red sole wearing off–those shoes would look like the rest of  us in the common ruck wear. Arty’s Shoes in Manhattan will replace the sole in a nice bright red for $40. Call Arty’s at 212-255-1451.

Or just stop worrying and make a virtual snowflake with virtual scissors and paper. It takes a bit of practice, but they all wind up looking wonderful.

Or laugh at do-it yourself projects gone oh, so wrong.


–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and seminar leader.

Thank-You Card Tutorial, Raw-Art Style

By the end of this week, you’ll be writing thank-you cards for all those gifts. Here is an easy, foolproof way to write them.

Step One: have someone take a picture of you holding each gift in front of the tree, menorah, wreath or other decoration. If the item is clothing, wear it. Alternative: if the item is practical, show it in use. Print out a small copy of the picture to include in the card.

Step Two: make a handmade card, write a short, heart-felt note like, “Thanks for the X, you can see from the picture I’m enjoying it already!” If the present was a check or giftcard, this technique still works–make sure you are smiling in the photo.

Six windows make an interesting card, three windows need varied colors.

Step Three: Make the handmade card below. They are simple enough so even a young child can make them with some help from an adult. Add your own touches and techniques to make them uniquely yours. Include the picture in the card, address, stamp and mail, and you will bring the giver great joy.

Raw-art Thank-You Cards

Materials: card stock or pre-made cards and envelopes, available at art  and craft stores. Colored pencils or watercolor pencils, Pitt pens, ruler. That’s all you need. You can add more materials, but you can also make these cards with nothing more than a Sharpie. That’s what raw art is about–making art with you heart, not with a lot of equipment.

Steps: 1. Choose the size of your card. Do you want to make it vertical or horizontal?

2. Choose how many window you want on the card and their placement. You might want to sketch them lightly in pencil. This looks a lot better if you freehand the squares than if you measure and try to make the squares or rectangles perfect. A little imperfection adds charm.

3. Draw the frames using dark pencil, Pitt Pen, or colored pencil. Don’t use watercolor pencil if you are doing the inside in watercolor pencil; it will smear.

4. Draw one line in the first box without breaking any edges. You’ll get a more interesting image if you stay out of the middle of the box.

5. Draw a parallel line either above or below the first line to

Four windows allow a wrapped design. Uneven squares guide the eye down.

complete the first ribbon. Visually, this ribbon will be on top so use the brightest color. Since you are using three colors, you can use a bright, medium and dark hue of the same color. You can also use two similar and one different color. Use a color wheel to find the opposite color and make the first ribbon the opposite color and the next two different values of another color.

6. Draw the first line of the second ribbon, skipping the blank spaces. To cross the first ribbon, simply skip over the previously drawn part. Plan if the second line will go over and under. Look to see how it will fit on the page before you draw. This is very forgiving, so you can pretend the ribbon loops outside the box.

7. Complete the 3rd. ribbon. Write words on the ribbons–Thank you, Danke, Merci, Gracias or any “Thanks” in any other language you or the give speaks.  Use gold or poster pens for dramatic results.

-Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler, as well as teaching it. © 2009, All rights reserved.

Online Group: Julia Cameron’s “Walking In This World”

You’ve almost survived the holidays. In just over two weeks you will be putting away the lights and wondering if it’s time for you now. Maybe now is the time to decide what you want to be when you grow up.

Julia Cameron's book is available on my website. Use the link on the right.

Time to make some meaning in your life. To do something creative. Creative work is nothing unless you start it. What’s important in creative work is that you start. And start means change.

Changing your routine is tough. Change alone is even harder. So here’s my plan:

1. Do something to explore your creativity. Something focused. Something you can do by yourself but still have group support.

2. If you’ve heard of Julia Cameron, you know that she wrote a book called The Artist’s Way–the beginning of creativity coaching. Cameron also wrote a book called Walking in This World–The Practical Art of Creativity. Like The Artist’s Way, it is a support guide for creativity. You don’t need to have read one to get something from the other.

3. I’m going to run an online reading group on Walking In This World. The book has 12 chapters. We will cover one chapter a week, starting on January 12. We’ll read the chapter, do the exercise at the end, and discuss what happened, what we thought, how we progressed each week. As a creativity coach, I can also tell you that it’s a good way to experience group coaching and support for change. You don’t have to be an artist, simply want to explore your creativity. Or your fear of your own creativity.

4. I’ll form a Yahoo Group for the class and open a PayPal window so you can pay on my website. The class will meet through the Yahoo Group. You’ll be able to discuss, post images, ask questions. The class will cost $30, but I’m donating $10 of each registration to the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a fund for artists who have met with some disaster and need help getting back on their feet. Everyone benefits.

5. After you pay, I’ll send you an invitation to join the group. Be prepared for 13 weeks of work. If your first reaction is that you don’t have time, it’s a perfectly normal. We don’t want to do things for ourselves. We don’t want to commit. But this is not about a grinding class. This is about your creativity and finding some support for it.

The only thing you need to do is buy the book–there is a link to on my website. (Or borrow it from the library, but you’ll want to write in it.) Still think it’s too hard? It’s your gremlin or negative self-talk. Gremlins kick up and tell you what not to do for yourself. You’ll come up with a thousand reasons not to do this for yourself. There is only one reason to do it: it will help you make meaning in your life.

This class also makes an excellent holiday gift. Combined with the purchase of the book, it’s a wonderful jump start gift for a friend’s creativity. (To keep it simple, give them the check or cash and the link to join.)

Please join us starting January 12 for this exciting, meaningful work that honors and supports your creativity.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who trains businesses how to communicate effectively with their clients and helps people who don’t draw or write to keep art journals.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

The fight is still raging–angry, defensive people snarling about the “right” greeting for the winter holidays. Christians insisting on “Merry Christmas” in defense of their holidays, everyone else wanting to feel included with “Happy Holidays.”Angry accusations on all sides.  Could we all just take a deep breath, here? Perhaps put down the idea that this is even worth being angry about, that everyone who doesn’t say the thing you want to hear is personally against your non-obvious preference?

Meat counter in a Texas market. Unknown photographer.

Just for the sake of opening up perspctives, let’s take a look at how the winter holiday is celebrated in different times.  I know you like your own, and are rockin’ primal anger at everyone else, but just while you are doing the deep breathing, let’s take a look:

1. The bible–any copy or translation (and there are many)–doesn’t tell us how to celebrate Christmas. Nowhere is the word “Christmas” used, nor is the greeting “Merry Christmas,” so let’s put down the idea that there is a divine directive for any greeting.

In fact, in Jeremiah 10: 2-4 there is a directive against having a tree: “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, for the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

2. Pagan  Solstice celebrations existed a long time before Christians invented themselves. Chinese, Semites, Druids and Egyptians all celebrated the Solstice. Pagans are not atheists or heathens–pagans celebrate nature as holding the wisdom of life.  The Julian calendar named December 25 as the winter solstice in 45 BCE and celebrated it as the shortest day. After that, the days got longer, but the time from January to April were called famine months. More people died during that time than any other. On the shortest day there were celebrations that each day following would be longer. Food animals (cattle, sheep, hogs) were slaughtered because the meat would freeze (at least in Northern climates) and the animals would not have to be fed and protected during the long winter. These were the people who cut down trees for big, warm fires (Yule logs were the remnants of decorated trees and were used to end one year and brighten the next.)

3. The bible doesn’t mention the date of the birth of Jesus. Most biblical scholars set it sometime in Spring. Using a major Pagan holiday and time of year to put a stake in for their own holiday was a smart marketing move, and started the whole “who’s right here?” mess.

4. I might be totally wrong here, and I am not speaking for any Christian, just setting out an idea–that the birth of someone very important to your religious beliefs should probably not be celebrated with anger and insisting on the right happy, cheerful seasonal greeting.

5. In the big view of things, perhaps what we say is not as important as what we think and how we act. Getting angry at a greeting meant to be inclusive (Happy Holidays) or at one meant to celebrate Christians (Merry Christmas) is contrary to the whole idea of Peace on Earth. I’m quoting Gandhi, here, who was neither Christian nor Jewish:  “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Want more acceptance? Be accepting.

So, I have a suggestion–say whichever warm, loving greeting you want to use and accept what is said back with the same enthusiasm. All animosity ends right there.

Personally, I don’t believe there is a magic man in the sky who frowns on, and punishes, people for eating bacon and ham, or smiles on people who want to display plastic people and animals standing around a  lit-up baby. I think there is something much bigger at stake here–how we treat people who don’t think the same way we do. I think that counts. In fact, I think that’s why we are on earth. To learn how to do that.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who works hard and understanding different perspectives.

Holiday Cards

OK, so the holiday cards are a bit behind. I figure if they get there before New Year’s, it counts. Below are two images I took of ornaments in the orange tree. One of them will wind up on my holiday cards. And I will not have to shovel a white anything this year. Excellent.

Snowflake in the orange tree © Quinn McDonald, 200

I like the snowflake idea, but I also tried a striped ornament to see what it looked like.

Red stripe in an orange tree.

Did you send cards this year? What did you choose?