Personal Alchemy: Layer, Mix, Blend Your Way to Joy

Much of my life is not about single elements. It’s about choosing, combining, mixing, blending. Whether it’s clothing, or meals, life is about blending individual, separate elements to suit your taste. My husband is a personal chef–he cooks for people who don’t have time or the talent to cook.  He cooks for us, too, healthy, fresh meals. After a few days of original meals, I tackle leftovers, combining vegetables, starches, and meats into new combinations. They never taste anything like the original, but carry the memory of the original dish into the new one. It doesn’t taste like leftovers, it tastes new.

A new poem from found words

When I start a collage, I combine paints and glazes into different colors than those in the original tube. I use sponges and cheesecloth and tape to create a mix of textures. I cover parts in gesso, then repaint it.

Collage takes scraps and snatches of words and images and transforms them to a personal vision of the world or an idea. Different colors, and combinations create a new whole–a whole new piece of art. And it doesn’t stop there. I also create Found Poetry–new poetry made from words and phrases cut from magazines and catalogs. (You can see a tutorial and read the poem here.)

Perfumes hold special magic for me. I am a lover of niche fragrances–the scents not found in department stores, and often scents that are unusual, different, and not popular. They are not related to the fragrance fad of the moment (fruity-floral is the current rage), instead they are created by “noses” (a perfume designer) who want to recreate a memory, emotion, or sense of time and place. Even these scents, however, are often not complete. Serge Lutens may have built the perfect winter fragrance in Arabie, but it leans toserge lutens arabie the sweet side, and while I love dates and figs, I wish there were a bit more edge to it. No problem. Simply put on the edgy, gingery body lotion by DSH, Gingember, and there is a perfect blend.

It’s not that one thing isn’t enough, it is the joy of something new, something beyond what is offered, something that you create yourself. Whether it is art, food, or fragrance, the joy of layering, blending and mixing is a delightful alchemy that creates imaginative gold from the ordinary parts of life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Image:  Serge Lutens Arabie:   (c) 2007 -10 All rights reserved.

Living in the Lost and Found

Many years ago, when the earth and I were young,  I was reading a magazine and a poem stopped me. It’s a rare moment that you read a poem and can’t take your eyes from it. It was perfect in its mystery and appeal. I tore it out of the magazine and kept it. I was working for an ad agency; I took it to work and typeset it. Framed it. Copied it into my journal. Over the next weeks, I memorized it. The poem was alive to me. I’ve had several poems speak to me that way. But this was so vivid, I remember it all these years later. I hung the poem over my typewriter, but kept the original.

Cover of CD by the bluegrass group "The Lost and Found" Link at the bottom of the blog post.

Years passed. I moved. The poem moved with me, and stayed when the framed version broke.  I’d forget about it, find it, love it all over again. I would read in on those lonely nights when I wondered if I had learned that lesson about trust yet. Or that lesson about learning to be alone. Between Boston and California, I never found it, but it turned up in New York and stayed in my desk drawer for 14 years.I left it on the bed when I walked out, by way of explanation. Another time, with another man, I put it under his coffee cup to let him know I was more than he thought.

When the internet became a searchable place, I searched for the author. Nothing. There was a movie star by the same name, so it was hard to sort it out. In 2007, I wrote a blog about it, but then moved from Typepad to WordPress, and the blog post didn’t make it. So I wrote another blog post about the poem in October of 2008.

This morning, three years after the original post, and a year and a half after the re-post, after searching on the web and in library card catalogs for 25 years with no results,  there was a comment on the post. “Hi Quinn. I’m Jane Greer. . . my poem The Hunter. . . ” After all those years and moves and tears and wondering. There she was. I had to know, so I wrote her. She lives a long way away from me, but our lives have been remarkably the same. We are roughly the same age. We are both writers—non-fiction articles and PR. We both have one son. Oddly enough, they are different people.

There are circles we want to close and can’t. There are circles in our lives that close sooner than we want them to. And then, there is a circle or two that shines through the dark and we notice it, and one day we discover it within our reach and slip it on, and it fits.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach. Jane Greer is a poet who wrote The Hunter. Until today, they had never met.

Image: Cover of the March, 2009 release of the bluegrass DC Lost and Found.

Freelancing: It’s Not for Everybody

If you just got laid off, don’t think of yourself as a freelancer by force. In fact, if you don’t want to be a freelancer, immediately begin a job search.Call all your friends, contacts and acquaintances, use LinkedIn and Twitter, post your resume, and do something every day to look for a job. Just don’t call yourself a freelancer.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
(c) Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Calling yourself a freelancer or consultant because you got laid off helps no one. You will not do good work, you won’t have your heart in it, and you will damage the reputation of those of us who freelance or consult full time.

Freelancing is not the place to be for 3 months till you find something better. Printing business cards identifying yourself as a consultant when you don’t know exactly what you are consulting on is not fair to your career or your potential client’s business.

Freelancing is a full-time job of searching for, and working for, a number of clients. Freelancing springs you from the job of commuting, the pressure of pleasing a boss, the worry of promotions or office politics. Freelancing also lets you worry about steady work, increases your stress as you take on multiple clients, all with different priorities, and lets you figure out how to find and keep health insurance. Freelance writing is not for the confused, the weak or the unsure.

For those of us who own our business, who write every day, who make meaning when we write, even if it is for someone else, can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. The risks are not as important as the amazing rewards of tackling new work, completing it and growing with each writing assignment.

There are organizations every freelancer should know about. They can help you find jobs, untangle contracts and provide some help getting the right kind of jobs, jobs that pay well in an age of “everything on the Web should be free.”

The  National Writer’s Union is available for freelancers who make money writing. The fee is a sliding scale, from $120 to $420, depending on your income. Benefits include a job hotline, members’ discussion groups, a press pass, and access to their resources.

The Author’s Guild offers its members free book contract reviews from experienced legal staff, discounted health insurance rates in some states, low-cost website services including website-building, e-mail, and domain name registration, plus some other benefits. First year dues are $90. If you live in New York, Florida or Massachusettes, you can subscribe to health insurance.

You might also want to check out other resources for freelancers.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars training others in business communications.

Creativity and Anger

Most artists know Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Many creative people who enjoyed that book will enjoy Walking In This World as well. I’m running an on-line reading group for the book, and this week is Chapter 3. Having struggled through Chapter 2, I was a little weary and more than a little wary.

Chapter 3 is worth the whole book. It’s on anger, and using anger as a creative impulse. Cameron says,

“Anger is a profoundly powerful fuel that we can use to make art and to make more artful lives. When we deny our anger or fritter it away in complaints, we are wasting precious fuel and precious clarity.”

Who knew? I’ve been trying to be less angry lately, more compassionate.

I was at a business meeting yesterday, and another participant was condescending and patronizing to me. I made myself feel patience and gratitude. Yes I did. But a teeny portion of me wanted to grab her super-hot skinny caramel freakychino and pour it over her bleached head. I felt bad about that emotion. I said something kind to her.  She then insulted me. I struggled to tell myself this was about her, not me, and feel gratitude. I did not feel gratitude. I felt rage. I wanted to walk toward her with my arms open wide to hug her and then just hug her neck a little hard till she turned blue. I did not feel compassion.

Julia Cameron didn’t scold me. Right there, on p. 66, she says, “Rage at a bully or at a bullying situation is actually a wonderful sign. Once we own it, it is our own rage at allowing ourselves and others to be bullied. If it is our own, we can use it. Yes, this rage feel murderous and distorting, but is is actually a needed corrective. If our rage is that large, so are we.”

That idea—that our huge rage indicates our size, our talent—is revolutionary. When I came home, I was exhausted from all that suppressed anger. I wanted to go to bed, but that doesn’t help my anger, so I worked on the book I’m writing. I charged through almost a whole chapter, creating a draft of strong emotion and power, none of it anger. I was amazed.

Again, here’s what Cameron says:
“Anger is a call to action. It is challenging and important to let our light shine. It is important to name ourselves rather than wait for someone else to do it, or pretend that we can continue to bear it when we can’t. When we complain that others do not take ourselves and our values seriously, we are actually saying that we don’t. If our aesthetics matter so much to us, we must act on them in a concrete and specific form.”

Anger is a creative urge and a power to be harnessed in service to our creativity. Once the anger fuels the creativity, it also fuels the creative solution. And that brings us back to the place where we can feel calm, compassion and even humor.  Without the release of writing, I might still be replaying that scene from yesterday in anger and humiliation. When I wrote this post, I felt not a shred of anger or resentment. It was gone, vanished like rain on a hot rock. There is power in anger and it is fuel of creativity.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She is the author of the 2011 book, Raw-Art Journaling; Making Meaning, Making Art.

Social Network as Family Substitute

Every time I read a post that says, “Goodnight tweeps. See you in the morning,” I wince. It seems unspeakably sad to think that people who are strangers, connected by 140 characters of communication, think it creates a family connection, and feel obligated to tell all those connections goodnight, to assure them they will be back the next day.

What would happen if they weren’t back the next day? Would anyone notice? If you follow 10,000 people—or even a fraction of that amount— and have as many follow you, how long does it take you to check up on them all in the morning? And is that really how you start your day–by seeing who checks in and who doesn’t?

Do the people who sign off so tenderly do the same for the people they share a house with? Or do they use Twitter (or Facebook)  because they are lonely? And if we can have a Second Life can we also have a pretend family?

There is no judgment here, just curiosity. When I was a teenager, we listened to the radio—to our favorite DJs, and to the songs they played on dedication hour. It was a community of strangers, much like Twitter, but it was run by one personality day after day, and the main purpose was to listen to popular music. We listened for dedications we had made and those that mentioned friends we saw every day at school.

The people on Twitter don’t know their thousands of contacts personally, so isn’t the connection an imaginary one? Like the imaginary friend my son had when he was five years old?

It’s a new meaning for social networking. It’s a new definition for social. And perhaps its connected with our willingness to give up privacy  for security.

Someone will point out that blog posts are no different, but I think they are. (Of course I think they are, I’m writing them.) But while I’ve gotten to know many of the people who leave comments, there are a handful of regular posters, and I don’t think they are my family. If no one read the blog, I’d still write it. I write it for writing practice, to think things through, to settle my logic.

But it’s an interesting thought: as we get drawn closer to strangers we will never meet, we still feel a huge need for connection in the most personal way.

–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach as well as a writer and writing trainer.

Newspapers: Refusing to let go

More and more newspapers are disappearing. Not enough young readers. Not enough middle-aged readers. Not enough advertisers. “We can read it on line,” I hear. And, “I’ve given up reading newspapers, they just overwhelm me with bad news.”


Would you give up going to the grocery store because cinnamon rolls make you fat? Didn’t think so.

Reading on the Web takes 25 percent longer than reading on the newspaper, so it’s not the time it takes to read a newspaper. It’s the depth of the news. We don’t want to know the details, we want the overview or the bottom line, the stuff in the middle is too hard to figure out.

Oddly enough, it is not too hard to figure out the complexity of celebrity coupling, uncoupling and sniping–in 2009, according to Google, “Michael Jackson” was the most searched name, followed by “Susan Boyle.”  Swine flu was a meager third. (I know, it’s not a name, but it is an interesting progression.)

What about the bad news accusation? We can’t read the newspaper because of all the bad news? Then why are we scooping up magazines that overflow with celebrity scandal, rehab and failure? Why are reality shows–the worst of the bad news–so popular? It’s not the bad news we fear. It’s the lack of control over our lives.

In the end, the “Sad Jen,” “Bad Kanye,”  “NBC Comedy slugfest” triangle is worse than our lives, and we can walk away from it, but we can’t walk away from rampant disease, political treachery, and endless, groundless wars. We are part of them. We voted, we didn’t vote. Either way, we had a hand in it. And we can’t control it all. We can’t even control some of it. So we don’t want to know about it.

Our need for control works when we over-schedule our own time, our kids time, our pet’s time. But we turn away from the news because we feel we have to fix this mess and don’t know where to start and don’t want it on our desks. Or worse, our conscience.

I’m in full agreement that if you are too plugged in to news, reading headlines, catching up on reports on your cell phone or PDA, a break is necessary. No would blame you for turning off the TV, radio, CD and DVD players and crawing into bed. A little rest is good for everyone.

The next day, however, it’s time to start thinking. Maybe you can’t solve the world’s problems, but not knowing is different from not wanting to know. Being informed keeps you from blaming yourself, but it helps you make better choices, better votes, and a better environment. And while you can’t solve the world problems, you can do tiny things with enthusiasm. They add up. If we all do it, we can save the world.

In this super-connected world, wouldn’t you pay to have the latest news brought to your doorstep, complete with interesting photos, summaries in the first paragraph, readers leaving comments, and gossip? It’s not out of your reach, a daily paper delivered is less than $5 a month in most cities. Before they become extinct, before you lose control, grab a newspaper. Read it. Do one thing.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and life coach. She reads newspapers at the kitchen table every morning, then reads a few more online.

Copic Marker Journal Pages

This weekend I found a new love. Always dangerous for an artist, and so hard to resist temptation. I fell in love with Copic markers. There are several kind, but the ones we used in class at the Creative Quest (in Glendale, AZ)  were Sketch markers–double sided, with a chisel tip at one end and a brush tip at the other. Sketch makers can be refilled and the tips changed. You can even buy empty markers and blend your own inks.

Mountains. Copic marker on Bristol Board © Quinn McDonald, 2010

Sketch markers are alcohol-based, can be blended, layered and used tip to tip, like double-loading a tole paint brush. You touch the tip of the lighter marker to the darker marker, then put down the two colors by touching the lighter marker on paper.

Copic markers give smooth, even color. Layered color take on depth. You can layer the same color on top of each other and get a richer tone of the same color. In the image, the three gray areas on the bottom center are layered with the same color, the inner ring is one layer, the middle ring is two layers, the outer ring is three layers.

You can also layer different colors without ruining the markers and create different colors. In the image, you’ll see a putty color next to the green, right below the black mountain line. Below it is a salmon color. The color below that is a combination of both with a yellow overlay.

Copic markers, like most alcohol markers, will bleed through most journal pages. They don’t work well with watercolor paper as the ink soaks into the paper too fast and can’t be blended. The best papers for Copic markers (good application, won’t bleed through) are

  • Bristol board (I like the smooth, although the vellum finish works well, too)
  • Copic Manga illustration paper–my favorite is Canson Fanboy Comic paper
  • Cooking parchment gives good results–it looks different from both sides.
  • Canson Acrylic (with the shiny linen finish on one side)
  • Canson tracing paper
  • Co-Mo Watercolor (which looks hot pressed because it has a smooth, non-porous finish) works well but does bleed through
  • Vellum–Strathmore and Canson make types I like

To use markers in your journal, create the work, then tip it into your journal or create a page slightly smaller than your journal page and glue it over a page. The richness and the depth of the color is something you will want in your journal. Markers travel well (you’ll want to loosen the caps on long airplane flights) and you can use them anywhere without water. They are also useful in outlining or coloring in letters in your journal. And if they do bleed through, don’t worry. You can either cover the back of the page with gesso, or glue it to the next page.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and artist. She teaches raw-art journaling to people who can’t draw but would like to keep an art journal.  © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.