Dream Learning: The Toaster Cozy

We learn from our dreams. Yes, there are some dreams that are recycled parts of experience. They are also our very personal stories, woven into a tapestry of deep personal meaning. Just because we recognize the yellow tricycle we passed on the sidewalk earlier in the day, doesn’t strip it of meaning. Dreams are meaningful. To untangle them, we have to sit with their ideas and untangle the connections to ourselves. Put down the book that “explains” dream images. You create the message and you can understand it. Some how-tos in another post. First, here’s a dream I had and my interpretation of what it means:

This toaster cozy is for sale at Etsy by StylinRecyclin’

The Dream I was in a class of women, and we were all making kitchen-appliance cozies. You may remember those–covers for toasters, blenders, coffee grinders. Cozies were very popular in the 1950s and early 60s. I think the purpose was to unify the look of the kitchen, although it’s possible women wanted to “hide” the machines that did the work for them while they wore pearls and shirtwaist dresses.  There was a lot of conflict in housewives’ minds about having “women’s work” made easier. It was more noble to do everything by hand, but a lot faster to use a machine to help.

In my dream, I was in a sewing class, learning to make a toaster cozy. The other  women in the class were making them really fast, sewing machines humming. Most of the cozies in my dream were crayon-colored prints, with contrasting piping. (In my waking life I’m not attracted to crayon-colored prints and piping.) Some women were quilting theirs in traditional quilting patterns.

My toaster model was a vintage, rounded, 2-slicer with the big bakelite black handle. The instructor kept stopping by, fretting. I was making mine out of Tyvek,  the material FedEx envelopes are made from. I was busy creating a stuffed sculpture on top. The instructor was worried, and said, “This isn’t really the shape everyone is working with.” I nodded, but kept working. She asked to see it on the toaster, but I shook my head. I didn’t speak, just kept working. Finally, when other women were putting their neat, tidy, perfectly sewn toaster cozies over their toasters, I put mine on the toaster–it used the toaster as a base, and the whole cozy was about 2 feet high.

The Interpretation The top of it was a tiger, rearing up on two hind feet, claws out, snarling. The teacher was horrified and asked me why I did that. I said, “Because I needed to.”  Here is what I knew but didn’t say to the teacher–the toaster was fear and the cozy was anger,  a reaction to fear. I was covering fear with a show of anger.

Showing strength and anger keeps people from seeing we are just a toaster. Because being a toaster is not enough, in our heads. And yet, we buy toasters just for that ability–to toast bread.

The question: What cozy do you put on to appear to be something else? What are you hiding from the world?

-Quinn McDonald is a life and certified creativity coach. She teaches dream workshops.

Muse-Swap Results #1

The muse swap has gone through the full moon and the  muses started showing up last night with their journals. Not all of them are back yet, so if you still have yours, please send her to the studio soon. They might have spent 10 days working, but they also had a lot of fun, and these muses can EAT!

Take some time and enjoy the reports from people who swapped muses.

Water Lilies © Bo Mackison, on her Seeded Earth blog. A link is on the right.

Maddie’s muse was a slave driver and Bo’s did nothing but giggle. It seemed logical. Turns out that Giggles had a lot to say when she got started. You can read Maddie’s report here–don’t miss the part about the laughing goat. That’s right, goat, not cow. No cheesy report for Maddie!

Maddie’s muse was busy at Bo’s photography studio. Her slave-driving tendencies went into a whole different mode. She spent days at various arboretums, holding flowers for Bo to see in a new way. The image on the left is from a series Bo took of water lilies. Bo is currently working with a Dahlia named “Esther” –don’t miss those amazing photos at Bo’s blog, Seeded Earth.

Deborah G/ Pete
Pete didn’t think he had a muse, and Deborah’s flogged her relentlessly to learn more, do more, and pay attention to Photoshop perfection. Deb wanted to try something new. Turns out Pete does have a muse, and her name is Stella. Deb worked with Stella, and then the full moon came along. . . . Well, you can see the results as a video on Deborah’s site, Paper ‘n’ Soul.

Meanwhile, Pete, who is amazingly creative in many ways, sat Deborah’s muse down and had a talk with her. Pete can draw, but he has trouble feeling like an artist because he lives in his head. I’ve seen parts of Pete’s creative mind, I’ve had lunch with Pete’s creative mind. . .here’s an example of something he found–people who made up stories about objects they placed for sale on ebay, to see if the value increased with storytelling. I have no idea how Pete found it, but I’m glad he sent it to me.

Carol/Carina Carol over at Swallowcliff has a muse that’s lazy, so she got to spend time with the ADD-muse of Carina. Carol decided to get her out of Swallowcliff and take her on a road trip. That must have been incredible. Carol mentioned some new art supplies–a set of Cafe sharpies that I immediately began to covet. C’s muse revealed nothing to me, so I’m waiting till she goes to sleep tonight.

Meanwhile, Carina of frostgiantpostcardstudios.  took her muse off to a journal-making class. Here’s Carina’s report:

Carol’s muse has been dragging her feet about leaving, she wanted to meet my Art Camp buddies on Sunday. Finally I convinced/enticed her to head on out by telling her about Carol’s new art supplies. I hope it wasn’t supposed to be a surprise.
Fortunately, unlike my muse Carol’s did not sign me up for any yahoo internet swaps and she was pretty quiet on the 7 plus hour ride up to Cleveland, but afterwards she was really jazzed, a total chatterbox. Carol’s muse adored Tracy Moore’s laid back teaching style and reveled in the fact there were 3 class days to work on projects. (We went to a Small Studio Productions Workshop)
I think Carol’s muse is a natural traveler. While I do not have any sort of a navigation system in my vehicle because of my better than average sense of direction, everything was incredibly easy to find this trip with the help of Carol’s muse. Carol needs to know about that talent, if she doesn’t already.

Kate/Debbie Kate’s muse just thinks and Debbie’s muse is not a morning muse, although Debbie is a morning person.

Kate working with Debbie's muse.

Debbie’s muse is also an aficionada of the local farmer’s market scene, and has a taste for cherries.  An interesting mix, I thought. Kate was pretty mum about the experience, but sent a lot of art work, which I found fascinating the more I looked at it.

Kate’s muse was stuck thinking, but Debbie didn’t let that go on for too long. Debbie is an expert in collaborative work, and set about finding ways to get Olivia (Kate’s muse) out of her head and into action. You can read the whole story on Debbie’s blog (and see an adorable photo of her snoozing cat, who was not interested in staying in action.)

Lynn/Quinn Lynn said her muse was lazy, so I decided to swap her with my busy, but

Lynn's muse made this great postcard showing "morning, noon, and sunset" using cut up watercolor papers.

non-productive muse. I really love Lynn’s muse, who loves to play. She taught me to not look for an answer all the time, but to just let things happen. She did a great watercolor postcard, then another, which she cut up and combined to make a wonderful postcard to send to Lynn. Oh, and the calm, easy must taught me how to use exclamation points! I don’t like using them, but that an a sparkly gel pen (so unlike me!) is really fun.


Fear and the Photograph

Check out your rights as a photographer: http://tinyurl.com/4neyed

Washington, D.C. in the summer. The humidity is a given. So are the tourists, camera clicking away. But times are changing. While the public is getting used to less privacy as video cameras watch them from street corners, parking lots and store security stations, the police and security guards and chasing photographers away, telling them that photographs taken in public places, while standing on public property, is illegal.

It isn’t, of course, but who wants to argue with an official with a gun? Jerome Vorus, a 19-year-old college student was detained by police after he took a photograph of a traffic stop in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. Although he stood 20 feet away from the scene, the police accused him of photographing the inside of a cruiser, and claimed this was illegal. (It’s not, according to the police guidelines.)

The Washington Post recently ran an article citing a number of cases where ordinary citizens were prevented from taking photos in public places. Often, the photos were of federal buildings, and images of those buildings were posted on the governments website.

This is another case of fear. Once fear is set lose, the reaction is more fear. Tourists are seen as terrorists, citizens as threats. Non-citizens are seen as bigger threats. Courts have ruled that anyone standing in a public area have no expectation of privacy, but it’s hard to carry around a court ruling and reason with someone who has seized your camera and is deleting your photos.

Fear of strangers, fear of your neighbor, and fear of people and ideas we don’t understand have risen considerably since 9/11. We create our own reality—if we see harm and malice in every photographer, we become a nation that makes decisions out of fear, that reacts in fear. That leads us to a nation that abandons the First Amendment or allows security guards to define the law as they see fit, and enforce it in any way they choose. Let’s put down the fear and settle for a little thinking, instead.

Hand-Made Journal: Mutant 3

Mutant journal #3 is a nature journal about the acacia tree.

Making your own journals can bring up a lot of fear is you are a perfectionist,  but it doesn’t need it to be. Put aside your perfectionist tendencies, decide to make journals as an experiment and fill them with content that delights you, and a lot of the fear drops away.

The cover of Mutant 3 is watercolor paper on which I wrote in white grease pencil (also called china marker and tile marker). I wrote the phrase from one of  Wendell Berry’s poems: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” After I wrote it, I dropped brown and black ink on the page, lifted the page to let it run, and spritzed it with distilled water to allow it to soak into the watercolor paper cover.

When I was finished, the ink, which saturated the paper, would run when wet. I painted the cover with Golden’s Matte Medium to seal it and give the paper a little more strength.

For the inside, I used Arches Text Wove, and finished it with a pamphlet stitch. There is an excellent tutorial on pamphlet stitch on Sarah Nielsen’s website if you want to know how it’s done.

Acacia tree in Arizona. The seed pods are edible, coyotes use them as part of their diets. Gum arabic is made from acacia trees.

This journal is going to be on the acacia tree–a very specialized nature journal on a tree that thrives in Arizona and produces gum arabic. I love the twisted way the trees look, and how the trunks have marks on them that show the direction of their twist to help artists draw them more easily. OK, maybe that’s not why they have the marks, but they are wonderful to look at.

You can see Mutants 1 and 2 here.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and journal-keeper. She is also a life- and creativity coach for people who are coping with change or re-inventing themselves.

You and Art: Poem by William Stafford

Sometimes poems say everything that needs to be said. After a long discussion yesterday with someone who believed that the only things schools should teach is “what you need to do in life,” I realized how awful that would be. Most of what I do today didn’t exist when I was in school. I certainly would not have taught people how to handle communication problems in the workplace. There were no blogs, no Twitter and no websites. There were no computers, cell phones, faxes. Women who were in the workforce and got pregnant either “retired” voluntarily or were fired when their pregnancy became obvious. What I still use today is the problem solving I learned. How to think, not what to think. And, of course, that art is the benchmark of a culture.

You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

—William Stafford, from You Must Revise Your Life

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches workshops and seminars on business and personal writing. She owns QuinnCreative, and is a creativity coach.

Making Glue Work for You

Whether you use PVA glue, acrylic medium, or methyl cellulose, wet glues have their own problems and their own great uses. If you want to find out a lot about gel medium, a previous post may be useful.

I always wanted to use glue sticks, but I just don’t have luck with them. They aren’t precise enough, and for some reason, they don’t hold well over time. If they work for you, great.

So, here’s what I’ve found out about using wet glues.
Buy them in big bottles and transfer them to smaller squeeze bottles. Label them by writing on a piece of tape and putting the tape on the bottle. Wipe the rim of the big bottle carefully with a wet cloth so you can open it again.methyl cellulose

Invest in parchment paper. The kind cooks use in the kitchen. Not waxed paper, not plastic wrap, or freezer paper. Not parchment from an art store. Kitchen parchment paper. I bought a giant stack and use it in pieces about 5 inches x 8 inches, or, if I am working on larger pieces, enough to leave a one-inch margin around the piece I’m working on. I tear up an entire stack, and work on top of the stack. More on that in a minute.

The trouble with glue is. . .well, it’s wet and sticks to everything. Including your clothes and skin. Wear an apron, and have a wet cloth handy. Once most glue gets on your clothing, you’ve got a piece of work clothing. If you jump up and wet down the clothing right away, you might save it, but it’s a hell of a way to spend an afternoon. Wipe your hands on the wet cloth frequently. Pulling glue off your skin is painful, wrecks a manicure, and may not come off in one piece. Walking around looking like a leprosy victim is not priceless, it’s creepy.

acrylic mediumPVA, acrylic mediums, and methyl cellulose can be thinned with water. I use distilled water in a spray bottle. Rather than thinning the whole bottle, I thin small amounts–about as much as I’ll use in 10 minutes.

Use the parchment paper as a glue palette. I squeeze a puddle of glue about the size of a quarter on a small piece of parchment. To thin it, I spray distilled water on it. I quit using tap water when I sprayed the water into the glue and a week later, there was mold on the glue. I quit using boiled water when I lived in hard water areas and the minerals in the water streaked the medium and showed when it dried. Distilled water avoids all sorts of problems.

images6.jpegDon’t scrimp on parchment. I use a 1-inch brush to cover a large area, and run the brush over the edges to get a good seal or to serve as a base coat on paper. I do one side, and pick up the parchment and move it aside. Most paper won’t stick to parchment and you can let it dry. Do NOT try to pick up the paper you are working on and use the parchment again. Wait till both are dry. You can re-use the parchment then. But while it’s wet, you will just transfer glue to the wrong wide, smear your work or mess up your surface. I’ve read the tip about using a phone book, but phone book ink smears and transfers, almost always on my hands, which I then accidentally touch to the page I’m working on and smear. ARRGHH!

Most lighter papers will curl if you apply glue to one side. Particularly if the grain is running long. Use acrylic medium on one side, let it dry, then flatten it with your hands and coat the other side. After that, you can use watercolors, acrylics, and more glue and the paper won’t curl and ruin your project.

Acrylic mediums can be used as a base coat, a top coat, an isolator (coat the piece to be glued down on both sides, let it dry, then glue down), and a glue. You can coat isolated areas in matte and others in gloss for wonderful effects. If you want a gloss finish, don’t apply gloss over matte. You can apply matte over gloss to take the shine down.

If you are a collage artist, and have windows in the image, coat the glass part of the window image with gloss medium, then use matte or satin on the back for glue. The glass in the windows will shine, giving it a real effect.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer. See her work at RawArtJournaling.com (c) 2007-10. All rights reserved. Images: parchment paper, http://www.baar.com. Glues, http://www.dickblick.com.

An Order of Discipline on the Side, Please

Dali-clock from techabob.com

The class for yesterday didn’t make, so there was a whole day to my benefit. Wow! I really needed this gift of time (although the gift of money from teaching the class would have been nice, too.)

And then it was 8 p.m. and I had not accomplished a thing. How could that have happened? I did important stuff–answered lots of emails, kept up on social media. I found that great blog on, ummm, that thing. And then there was that great website that showed, ummmm, a video on something important. And before I noticed it, it was 2 p.m. and I hadn’t showered yet.

You get the idea. I filled the day with important-feeling, sounding and looking items that I didn’t remember. Each blog I read, each video I watched was important at the moment, but there was no connection between what I needed to know and the information that was pouring over me. We feel smart, but when we remember nothing because we take in too much, we are no smarter than a colander is full of water.

Here’s how today is different: I’m adding a small touch of discipline on the side.

I did not start the day reading emails. I started the day by taking a walk and doing walking meditation. I felt energized when I came back. Showered. Took out my 3-item to-do listThen I checked my email.

I didn’t answer all my email. I read it first. Chose the ones that had a direct link to the to-do list. Got those out of the way. Left some others for later.

Social media is important. Many of my clients come to me through Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In, so I have to pay attention. I checked

A mayan calendar won't make more sense than yours if you don't use it.

through Twitter, and clicked on some interesting-looking blogs and articles. If they were interesting, but not immediately related to my to-do list, I bookmarked them in my “check back later” file–a file I created for just this purpose.

Create bookmark categories that work for you today. You can change the categories later. I file most of the bookmarked sites to review when I actually need them instead of piling up information I can’t remember now. Information gathering is similar to going grocery shopping–you put what you need in the cart, but you do not sit down and eat everything right after you buy it.

For example, I am giving a speech in September. From a Twitter link, I found Prezi, a tool that is more useful to me than Powerpoint. But today, I am not writing that speech. So I bookmarked the article and moved on. Today I need to organize a class I’m teaching in about two weeks, and most of that will happen with a piece of paper and a pencil, figuring out timelines and outlines and when to do the exercises. (Yes, I do this with a pencil and paper.) And I need to pay bills.

Use the computer in ways you need to use the computer. I pay bills online. I ignored the emails coming in during that time, because they weren’t related to the items on my to-do list. I did not go back to check on Twitter right then. I needed to move ahead with my class.

Turn off the computer. One of the reasons I bought a laptop is that I can close it and ignore it. I worked on the class for an hour. Then I came back and answered emails for an hour, checked in with Twitter and bookmarked more great blogs. Next came the RSS feed list, checked and bookmarked them.  Turned off the computer again to run errands.

Run errands during off hours. As a freelancer, I save hours of time by not buying office supplies or running errands on weekends. I do that at 2 p.m. on weekdays. I plot a course that starts me at the farthest point out and works back home. It wastes less gas. I take a bottle of iced tea to drink to help prevent a swing through a drive-in that packs on the calories I walked off in the morning.

And so I moved through the day, looking at my to-do list, and keeping an eye on the clock. Tonight, I will review the blogs and links and see which ones I can delete. We save things for odd reasons, and one of them is that they please our brain chemistry like chocolate pleases the taste buds. Generally, when I review the articles, I can delete most of them. They were interesting, but not worth keeping.

Many days, I don’t succeed in all my discipline,  but on the days I do succeed, it’s not harsh discipline, but a light helping of sweeping away what I don’t need right now. What’s your favorite efficiency tip?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and training developer on business communication. She teaches what she knows and practices what she learns. Oh, and I’m teaching at Art Unraveled, an art retreat in Phoenix in two weeks.

Archival Papers: Not Always The Best

Newspaper, magazine strips, fading out in the rain and sun.

When I was a child, I had a method for handling problems. With two older brothers and parents who had their own problems, sharing mine didn’t seem like a smart choice. So I would write my worries on strips of blue-lined, rough, tablet paper, tear them up and “hide” them–bury them under a tree. Doing that taught me that paper is plant material and rots. I was fascinated at the decomposition of the paper–and, I was sure, my worries. Mother Earth took them back and made them go away.

As I got older, I developed a ritual of handling worries–always with writing, always with strips. Some paper strips got burned, some got pulped and put into handmade papers, some woven into journal covers. I then switched to ripping the strips from newspapers and magazines and letting nature take care of the paper. I’d write worries down, pull a thread through the top and hang them outside to bleach and fade in the sun and rain. By the time the strips disintegrated, I was done worrying.

Skip forward several decades: I’m a raw-art journaler, but still have worries. One afternoon, I remember the strip method,  grab some paper from the studio, write, sew through the top, hang them from the orange tree in the backyard. In the Phoenix heat. Days go by, 110 degrees, 111 degrees, 108 degrees, never below 90 at night. I hit the papers with a stream from the hose. Nothing deteriorates. The strips stay readable. My worries don’t

Archival strips--still tidy, unbleached or faded. You know, archival.

fade. My brow furrows over this.

And then I realize. . .I have used archival materials. Archival pens, archival,  acid-free, lignin-free paper. My worries are preserved. Possibly forever. Only then comes the wabi-sabi moment.

The revelation comes with a blast–isn’t this what I do (however unintentionally) with worries–preserve them, hang on to them, refuse to let them deteriorate?  And so they’ll stay with me, until I am willing to let them deteriorate, bleach out in the sun, fade in the passage of time.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and chief learning officer of QuinnCreative. She teaches others what she’s learned. Sometimes they are interested.

Create Where You Are Now

Wishing for what isn’t is not way to boost your creativity. Wishing that it were cooler (if you live here, in the Sonoran Desert) makes it seem hotter. Wishing you were richer makes you feel poorer.

Used to be green with tons of yellow flowers. Not any more.

In July, the serious heat sets in. July is the hottest month for most Northern Hemisphere areas, and we often have 30 days of more than 110 degrees–they aren’t consecutive,  but most of them happen in July and August. Each year, I buy plants that say “full sun” on their needs. Now, “full sun” may mean 6 to 8 hours of sunshine, but it doesn’t mean the broiler we have here. And each year I struggle to keep those plants alive. That makes as much sense as trying to keep the leaves on the trees in October in Vermont. It’s just not going to happen.

This morning I quit watering the straw those plants turned into and decided to put

Not going to make it, no matter how much care I give it.

my efforts into the ones that could survive without a lot of extra work.

And that’s exactly what happens with your creativity, too. Put it in a place where it can’t possibly survive, and the struggle is ugly and non-productive.

Whether that’s a bad relationship, bad conference you feel you should have loved, bad project you thought would be great, or bad book you are reading, there are some efforts that won’t be rewarded. Goethe, the German thinker and poet, said “Die Arbeit ist nicht immer mit Erfolg gekrönt,” —Your work is not always guaranteed success. (I know it’s not the literal translation, the interpretation was called for here.)

So why not eliminate all those dead places that aren’t worth saving? Flogging a dead horse is not always noble or even what’s called for. Sometimes it’s far more worthwhile to be very honest, determine that you do not have the stamina, strength, materials, smarts or spirit to make this project succeed, or even move forward. The smart thing to do is to stop pouring your effort into a bottomless pit and spend more of your effort doing something that will give you a better result.

This is the one that will make it. This is the place to put the effort.

Yes, this is different from stopping because you are bored or tired, or walking away from your marriage because there is something more appealing to go after.  You know the projects. You’ve been there. Spend the precious water you have in the Sonoran desert to nurture the plant that can adapt to the desert. Put your energy behind the projects that will work. You will be better off for it.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life coach. She has a website at QuinnCreative.com