The Creative Omnivore

Michael Pollan's book is available in bookstores and at

Micahel Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, wrote Food Rules, an Eater’s Manual in 2009. It is a light, funny, serious, simple, wise book on how to eat well. “Eating has gotten complicated,” Pollan writes, “needlessly so.” As I was reading the book on feeding yourself so you will have a healthy body and agile mind, I began to realize that much of what Pollan said about eating—nurturing our bodies—was also true about creativity. The more I read, the more fascinating it was to see that what is true about food is true about creative work.

Pollan’s rule # 44: Pay more, eat less. Quinn’s creative corollary: Pay more for good art supplies if you use them often. Good watercolor or oil paint brushes don’t lose hairs, last a long time and give a better quality result.

Pollan’s rule #27: Eat animals that have themselves eaten well. Quinn’s creative corollary: Take classes from people who are good at what they do, who have been trained in how to teach. I’ve taken a lot of classes from people who are skilled, but have no idea how to teach. It’s hard to learn from someone who is impatient, speaks too fast, has favorites in class that get most of the attention.

Pollan’s rule #34: Sweeten and salt your food yourself. Quinn’s creative corollary: Don’t use so many kits. Create with what you have at hand, experiment with more and less details until you are satisfied with your own work.

Pollan’s rule #1: Eat food. Quinn’s creative corollary: Create what nourishes your soul. Don’t do what everyone else is doing because everyone else is doing it.

Pollan’s rule #43: Have a glass of wine with dinner. Quinn’s creative corollary: Have a glass of wine with dinner.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches business communications and runs workshops on creativity.

The Wisdom of Jars

Hellman's is sold under the brand name of "Best Food" in the West.

I didn’t realize how smart the contents of my fridge is. The shelves are stocked with jars and packages of good advice, cheerful philosophy and clever ideas.

From the mayonnaise jar: “Keep cool. Don’t freeze.” Exactly what you need to remember when going to a meeting with a difficult client.

Capers are flower buds packed in vinegar.

From a jar of capers: “Do not use if lid is popped.” Good advice. When I’ve built up a head of steam, I’m not much for being used either.  Followed by the advice on a bottle of  fizzy stuff: “Leave closed for 2 hours after agitating.” Wish I’d remembered that last week.

The container of spray whipped cream says, “Keep away from direct heat,” always good advice for those who have colleagues who are described by the other sentence on the can of whipped cream: “Contents under pressure.”

Contents under pressure. Aren't we all?

Moving into the pantry I find a box that reminds me that a little time to reflect is useful: “May settle in transit.”

On a beautifully packaged tin of cookies, some advice about hanging with those who are attractive, yummy and fun, but “not a significant source of nutrition.”

And finally, from the shampoo bottle: “Wash, rinse, repeat.”  Each day is new. We do not solve problems or create good habits in a day. But each day offers a fresh way of looking at life, from the label of my favorite jacket: “Wash gentle. Do not wring or spin.”

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life, and creativity coach. Her book, “Raw Art Journals: Making Meaning, Making Art,” will be published by North Light Books in June of 2011.

Supporting Your Boundaries

Warped fence, © Quinn McDonald

Boundaries. Not international lines, borders, or fences, but personal boundaries. The ones that define our privacy, and draw the emotional line on what we will and will not do.

Many reasons for the difficulty in holding up emotional boundaries are the same as maintaining physical boundaries–we want to defend our space and control it, we don’t like the people on the other side, and they want what we have. No wonder it feels like a struggle–it is.

I’d like to suggest another perspective on the emotional boundaries we set. One of compassion and kindness. Those two words aren’t generally associated with boundaries, are they?

Here’s how we set boundaries that don’t work:

  • We decide we don’t want to participate in some activity–ours or someone else.
  • We say “No” and make up a reason we believe the other person will accept.
  • The other person doesn’t accept the reason and tells us about their own frustration or anger.
  • We weaken because our first impulse is to fix everyone else.
  • We weaken more because our other first impulse is to be liked.
  • We move the boundaries and do what others want.
  • We are filled with rage and explode and someone who was not involved or someone helpless who won’t hurt us.

Any surprise we walk around in anger and guilt with no boundaries? It’s too hard to make them

Scroll fence © Quinn McDonald

work in the first place. Not is we come from the other perspective–that of kindness. When we set a boundary of compassion and kindness, we protect not only ourselves, but also the other person from being an abuser–the thing that makes us so angry, feeling abused.

Here is how boundary setting looks if we approach it from kindness:

1. Check if the request is a trigger to anger, guilt, sickness, or spreading sickness  (emotional, spiritual or physical pain). This includes everything from a temptation to gossip to an invitation to take support someone else’s problems–binge drinking, let’s say.

2. Say “no” or set the boundary with kindness but no explanation.

3. Offer no details. When asked to explain yourself, say, simply ‘That’s not possible for me right now.” Remember, no reason is good enough for the other person who is manipulating you to do what they want. You will have to repeat this step often, under incredible duress. Our culture has removed the right to privacy and you are replacing it. This is not considered normal.

Gate with flower petals. © Quinn McDonald

4. Be prepared for emotional attack. The other person will now load their emotional weapons with anything that will get you to change your mind. It may start small, but it escalates to the heavy stuff right away. “You are so selfish.” “I thought you loved me.” “All of us thought you were a team player.” “I always knew you were a bitch/bastard.” This part goes on until you meet their demands, no matter how unreasonable. No explanation on your part will change the other person’s mind. Their entire focus is to get you to remove the boundary. They use words of anger and guilt.

5. Remember the kindness of the boundary. You placed that boundary for a good reason. It stops the other person from abusing you. It removes the other person’s partner in the manipulation game, which requires two to play. Or it stops you from abusing yourself, from feeling anger and guilt. That is the kindness. That is the reason for the boundary. It is reason enough to keep it. Most people want to be accepted, loved, appreciated– to be part of the group, to go along to get along. Your boundary may have cut you off from what your group thinks is OK.

6. Offer something you can do that represents who you are, what is good and healthy for you. “I can’t come to babysit your kids tonight, but I can take them out for lunch tomorrow.” This may be rejected, and with anger. It’s OK to hold on to what you want.

7. Tell the other person you are ending the discussion. Do it kindly. “This isn’t getting anything productive done. I’m sorry I can’t do what you want. I’m going to leave/hangup/stop emailing/texting now.” Then do that. Expect some anger and backlash, maybe even a mutual friend being involved. The more people want you to participate in their story, the more they will try to break down the barrier. The more sure you are of your reasons, the more you can defend it.

I know I’m making this sound like a battle for your soul, when maybe your barrier was simply turning down an invitation to go shopping because you didn’t want to go the store right now. Didn’t have time. Don’t like the store or trying on clothing under fluorescent lights. It is good to explore your own motivation, but you are entitled to determine how to fill your time to suit your own emotional and spiritual growth. And stick with it.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who works with individuals, businesses and groups to help them set boundaries.

Book Review: Digital Expressions by Susan Tuttle

Susan Tuttle's book on digital art using Photoshop Elements

Book Title: Digital Expressions: Creating Digital Art with Adobe Photoshop Elements (includes a CD with Digital Design Elements)
Author: Susan Tuttle (See her blog)

Mixed media artist alert! If you have been wanting to use Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements) to do mixed media art, but haven’t found the right book, this is the right book. Photoshop sounded like a great idea to me years ago, but I took the course twice and each time, within a week of the course, I had forgotten most of it. Sure, that has a lot more to do with my learning style than the teaching style, but there is so much to learn with Photoshop, and our examples were, well, practical. It was a course for business, not art. This is the course for art.

If you are scared of technology, Photoshop or Elements, you’ll be fine with this book. Right in the beginning, you are told what you need–and a graphics tablet is preferred– how to create a blank file, how to set resolutions, and all those confusing icons are explained, with pictures of the icon right along with it. Tuttle has crawled into the mindset of the fearful and writes from there. It’s comforting.

It’s also encouraging. Photos used in the book are also on the CD, so you can work along, step by step. Didn’t understand? There is no one rushing you along. You can flip back to the section that described the project or what you will be doing and start over.

Tuttle is also logical. It goes from easy to hard, but never to boring or preachy. Each project has a list of technical skills you’ll learn and actual tools necessary for the project.

What will you learn? Here’s a list of project from the book:

Manipulating Images (using techniques to aler one or two photos). Here you’ll learn how to create vignettes with color fill layers, color adjustments, designing with type and overlaying textures.

Painting & Drawing (applying brushwork and filters to mimic traditional art). In this chapter, you’ll learn making drawing with artistic filters including colored pencil and dry brush, replicating the look of traditional paintings–abstract, paint-rich look; tinted daguerreotypes; painterly, transparent layers. You’ll also be introduced to color fill layers and working with a photo.

Pasting Pieces (layering elements to create digital collages.) This is the mixed media artists dream–you’ll be merging transpaent layers, working with photo and lighting effects, creating collages, using a color brush tool and working with scrapbook kits to achieve the faded, 3-D look of a real scrapbook page.

Seamlessly Blending (merging images to create montage art). Mixed media gets more attention here with creating custom brushes, showing movement with blur effects; creating shadows with the burn tool, replacing part of a photo and adding gradient fill layers.

Altering Art (incorporating traditional art into digital works.) In addition to enhancing original art, you’ll learn how to use art as a background, deconstruct and reconstruct art and blending multiple layers of art.

Whether or not you use Photoshop, this step-by-step book uses real art and real art projects to help you get better. Just looking at the book to look at the great projects is worthwhile. It will inspire you to get busy.

Disclosure: I paid for this book, which I ordered through North Light Craft Books, the publisher.  I received no money or compensation of any kind to write this review.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She is writing a book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. It will be published in June of 2011.

Hummingbird Update: 6.2.10

2 hummingbirds, beak to tail, in nest. One on left hatched May 24, one on right, May 26, 2010

Note: This is the third installment of the hummingbird nest in my fig tree. See the previous post.

Last night, around twilight, I heard a lot of bird chatter outside the office window. There is a hummingbird feeder and a ground-level birdbath, and bird-scolding is not unusual. This, however, was frantic. There was nothing specific, though, so I brushed it off.

As night fell, I checked on the mother hummingbird sitting on the nest in the fig tree. The nest was empty. Well, she could be late. Missed the bus. Out getting a tattoo. Something. But I know that hummingbirds don’t fly and don’t feed at night. It was almost dark, and I was concerned. I turned on the outside light. I checked again at 8 p.m, at 9 p.m., and at 10 p.m. I researched some wildlife rehabilitators, just in case.

the earlier ruckus might have been about a hummingbird attack. Maybe by a larger bird–we have grackles and crows. Maybe a cat caught the hummingbird unawares. I just didn’t know. All I knew was that the nest stayed empty. The nest stayed empty at 5 a.m. this morning, and at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. The hummingbird was often gone early in the morning, but not for this long. I began to call the list of rehabbers, but none of the phones worked, or they had moved. The internet is not always an up-to-date source. A dozen more calls got me within one call of a rehabber.

Before my first coaching client called, I took an eye dropper, filled it with room-temperature hummingbird food, climbed on a step-stool and fed the chicks. The eye dropper was too big, but I managed to get a drop down each beak. In between clients, I

On the way to rehab.

repeated the feeding and found a rehabber at Fallen Feathers. Jody Kieran runs the business. She’s federally- and state licensed and has rescued 1,000 birds in her life. “Cut the branch and bring them in,” she said. My eyes filled. What if the mother was still out there? And, the answer was, of course, what if she was not? The chicks had now been without gurgle (a mother’s regurgitated food) for 14 hours. They wouldn’t last much longer. They were progressing nicely, and it would be awful to let them die in the nest. I cut the branch, which allowed them to stay in their own nest.

Jody is a down-to-earth, practical rehabber. She doesn’t have enough volunteers, and there is no state or federal funding provided for rehabbers. And still, on her own, and with her own money, Jody feeds, houses, cleans, socializes, and adapts birds to their environment. Within two minutes of my walking into the door, she had the branch on the counter, produced a feeding syringe, and with the expertise of the mother, fed both birds.

At the moment, Jody has two baby Great Horned Owls, a flock of quail, a small hawk, a leucistic (white, not albino) hummingbird, a dove, a noisy bunch of  tropical birds that have been abandoned, several other birds,  and more than a few hummingbirds, some close to being moved to the gazebo so they will learn to eat flower nectar and insects.

I’m happy I found Jody. She could use some help–volunteers to do feeding and cleaning and cash to keep the place running. If you live in the Northwest Valley (West of Phoenix, AZ), and want to help a wildlife rehabilitator do a great job, contact her through her website,