Quote Game

While reading an article, I ran across a wonderful quote. When I read the author’s name, I was surprised–it was so unlikely.

And it makes a great game! See if you can match up the numbered quotes with the lettered authors. Answers at the bottom of the blog. Have fun!

A. Amy Tan (Author, The Kitchen God’s Wife)
B. Ronald Reagan (40th President of the United States.)
C. Neil Armstrong (Astronaut)
D. Ernest Hemingway (Author, For Whom the Bell Tolls)
E. Stephen King (Author, The Stand)
F. Garry Trudeau (Cartoonist, Doonesbury)

1. “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story.”

2. “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

3. “I loved fairy tales when I was a kid. Grimm. The grimmer the better. I loved gruesome Gothic tales and, in that respect, I liked Bible stories, because to me they were very Gothic.”

4. “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ”

5. ‘Life is like a movie-since there aren’t any commercial breaks, you have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of it.”

6. “Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ”

Answers are below the camera-toss photo of lights on a bridge in Switzerland by H-Peter Clamann (c) 2006.


A. (3) B. (1) C. (4) D. (2) E. (6) F. (5)

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Holiday Cards

Yep, holiday cards.  Not Christmas. If I’m making the cards, they have to cover Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Chanukkah, Kwanza, and Solstice and be OK to send to my Buddhist, atheist and Islamic friends. It would have been easier, I guess, to make friends only among my religion. But I didn’t. I don’t weed ’em out that way. So, what design for the cards? Lucky for me, my Australian friends are visiting the Northern Hemisphere, so I can make winter cards and still be inclusive. This is not the battle about “Merry Christmas” v. “Happy Holidays,” I’ve covered that before. This is about the cards I’ll be making this year.

I have to have the ability to make them, and make them in quantity, without too much drying time, or too much detail. It’s easy to get caught up in detail and make three perfect ones, when I need a lot more than that.

Then there is the problem about production work. I can’t do it. I want to make each one a little different, just to please my creative heart. I could just go out and buy some. It’s less work. But I want to make them. So, I think I’ll make these:

Snow cards, adaptable and festive. Photography by Jessica Marcotte.

I’m Angry, Whose Fault Is It?

Josephine Parr is tall. She has trouble when she’s traveling via airplane. Not because of the full-body scanner, she doesn’t mind those, or the annoying engines that keep falling off  airplanes–she doesn’t even mention those–but because the seats are jammed together. In a recent article in the Regional section of the New York Times, Ms. Parr noted that overweight people have to pay extra for seat belt extenders, and they can diet, but the overtall are penalized and they

Buckle up, it's going to be a grumpy ride.

can’t do anything about their height.

Before I read the comments, I knew what would happen. Yep, it was free-for-all on fat people.  “Sara J” started by protecting the overweight by saying, in part, “Your smug slam of those who are overweight is unappreciated & shows your true lack of compassion for others.”

“Craig” wrote, “#2: It’s neither smug nor a slam. It’s a fact, so grow up and eat a little less”

“Doug” spoke up with, “As a frequent traveler, I have sometimes had to sit next to an obese person and suffer the overflow of humid flesh into my space . . . While I normally consider myself a compassionate person, I have no sympathy for overweight flyers.”

There were additional cruel remarks and very few solutions.

I sympathize with Ms. Parr. There are times when it’s tough to be tall. It’s also true that when you are X, it is easy to turn on those who are Y–especially on an airplane. It’s easy to point to the villain–Parents with children, the passenger who sneaks the pet on board and inevitably sits next to the allergic one. The people with peanut allergies who sit in terror of people opening their peanut packs and imperiling their ability to finish the flight alive. There is plenty of misery to go around.

A friend of mine takes a life-sustaining medication which has the unfortunate side effect of weight gain. Under the glare and careless comments of her fellow humans, she is now considering discontinuing the medication–because she can’t bear attracting so much hate while she is struggling to stay alive.

Another friend has lost 100 pounds, but is still overweight. Does she get applause for her effort? Nope, until she hits some magic size, she will still be the target of “eat less” comments from strangers, who feel compelled to insert themselves into her unknown (to them) life.

If you are overweight, you are familiar with the litany of blame–you break furniture, you dent the floor or lawn with your stilettos, you smell sweaty. That is, only if you are a woman. If you are a 350-pound linebacker, you smell manly and you should have another helping of mashed potatoes and gravy.

As long as we need to find a target for our anger,  someone else to blame, deride or diminish so we can feel more worthy, we will remain angry, frustrated and contemptuous of those not exactly like us.  And bigger airline seats can’t fix that.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and certified creativity coach. She is certain there are a lot of people who will find some reason to criticize her for something.

How to be a GrownUp at the Office Party

Every year, hundreds of well-meaning people jump off the career ladder and don’t know it. They attend the office holiday party and in one, epic-fail moment of misguided relaxation, kill their career. When the company dumps them right after New Year, they don’t remember that the problem started at the holiday party.

So let me be plain: Holiday parties are not for having fun. They are for proving you can behave well in public and know how to dress appropriately (Hint:  no flip-flops). Here, for those who may have trouble navigating the office party scene, some hints:

Don't play with the office ornaments.

1. Even if there is an open bar, do not have more than two drinks. Don’t drink often? One is plenty. A holiday party is not for losing your head or being the “real” you. At best it is a networking opportunity, at worst it is a chance to prove you can behave in public. Slurred speech, bleary eyes and loudly insisting you are “fine to drive” doesn’t fool anyone.

2. Crying, vomiting, or taking off any portion of your clothing is not part of a holiday party. It might have been fine at college. Work isn’t college. Stick to club soda or juice when you start to feel frisky and funny.

3. Unless you are a professional, do not give in to the urge to sing or dance on stage, with a microphone or in a spotlight. Cell phone cameras will have you on YouTube tomorrow, just when that company you submitted your resume to is checking your profile and finding the link.

4. Stay away from the copy machine. You don’t need to be there at an office party and the temptation to photocopy body parts increases with liquor consumption.

5. No matter how hot your boss’s spouse looks, not matter how

If you spill your drink, it's time to stop refilling it.

flirty the CEOs date, do not, under any circumstances, reply in kind. The bigger the age difference, the less you should engage them in any conversation. If you think I’m not serious, rent and watch an old movie called The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman.

6. Do not discuss your promotion or engage in self-promotion at the party. Of any kind. No bragging, no self-inflating. Do not take the opportunity to snark on anyone who isn’t there. No one likes to keep someone else’s ego inflated at the holiday part. Slimy behavior engages the karma wheel, which grinds exceeding fine.

7. This is not the time to pull off your glasses, fluff up your hair and be the inner animal you’ve always wanted to be. This is also not the time to wear anything that flashes, jingles, or glows in the dark. That’s for your own party, at another time. Wear party clothes that are appropriate for your age and figure. Spandex is tricky to wear and still be thought of as chic. The same is true for pink stretch fleece.

8. Avoid the person holding the camera or video equipment. If they ask you to do the solo from “Billy Elliot,” the full-body spelling of Y.M.C.A., or the hysterical imitation of the guy in accounting, feign ignorance, even if you have left people in the kitchen in stitches with the routine. (See warning in #3, above.)

9. Don’t be the last one to leave. Do not be the first one to leave either. If figuring this out causes you a headache, put your drink down, switch to club soda.

10. Learn to enjoy yourself with all the restrictions. Sometimes that’s as good at is gets.

Quinn McDonald has been to many holiday parties, some of which she would prefer not to remember. She is a writer and certified creativity coach who teaches Workplace Communication.

Alone at Thanksgiving–Not All Bad

If sundown makes you sad, don't go out around sundown to think how sad you are.

This year, the cooking man and I are sitting down at a Thanksgiving table for two. There is still a big turkey, because I so love turkey leftovers. But a few years ago, I was alone–no family, no friends around on turkey day.

Now, I’m one of those people who can have fun by myself in a phone booth in North Dakota, provided they still have phone booths there. You may not be. In that case, please take a peek at my Alone-at-Thanksgiving post from a few years ago. There are pointers for being alone, ignoring the holiday entirely, or celebrating your own way.

You can also read this article by eHow–it’s not anything new, but they use the word treacly, one of my favorites for this time of year. I think PyschCentral’s list is a little more interesting. And don’t forget bowling–duckpin or regular. Lanes will be open and you can learn a new skill, particularly if you think it’s geeky. It’s fun.

There is the other side to Thanksgiving, the big, messy family side. I have a post for you in that situation, too. Just in case.

One more thing–there is a certain time of day you feel moody. For some people it’s early morning. Others hate when the sun dims at twilight. Know which day part is your saddest time and plan–be at a movie, at the mall, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage. Don’t allow yourself to have a pity party. OK, if you do have a pity party, stand in front of the mirror and talk out loud about the sadness of your life to yourself. I’ll bet you can’t keep it up long.

Finally, if all else fails, the day you are alone on Thanksgiving may be the best time of all to start a gratitude journal. Yeah, I heard that. So ready my snarky post, and think it over.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who has spent happy Thanksgivings alone. She is also a certified creativity coach.

Review: The Principles of Uncertainty

Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty is worth owning

Maira Kalman’s vision of the world is by turns, quirky, wonderful, intriguing and absurd. Her 2007 book, The Principles of Uncertainty is her diary of one year in her life. It covers the absurdity of life– p. 122 reads, “Which leads me to my candy collection. The JEWEL of the collection is the CRATCH bar, purchased in Cuba. It sounds like a disease more than a candy trat, and I like to imagine the naming session.”

There are several pages of her collections–egg slicers, suitcases, sponges. She draws them all. The book is really an art journal-each page a full color illustration of some aspect of the day. Some of the pages relate to each other, others do not. Kalman is interested in whether or not people know who they are, an always interesting question.

I wanted to respect her copyright, so I went to Google images to see if one or another of the pages of the book were there. They were almost all there. If you go to Google Images and type in her name, you will find dozens of Kalman’s illustrations. The book is both an inspiration and a journal prompt all it’s own. It’s an autobiography and a diary. Kalman may be the best emotional multi-tasker I know.

What I love most about the book is that she was not afraid to write and illustrate an odd, fascinating, philosophical, funny book that doesn’t fit into a common genre, and, I imagine, defended it to an editor or agent. Still, quirky and odd, the book is 5,293 on the amazon.com list. Compared say, to Kitty Kelly’s book on Oprah, which is 8,409. Or Stephen King’s The Shining, which is ranked at 7,196.

Why, that gives hope to all of us art journalers.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler.

Teachers to Avoid

Last week I wrote two posts on how instructors can handle difficult students. (You can read the first one here and the second one here.) In all fairness, I should add a post about less-than-idea instructors and what students can do to get some help when they are in a class with an instructor whose class feels like

Not every instructor will be calm and grounded.

cruel and unusual punishment.

1. The class is way beyond your expertise. The best way to avoid a class you don’t understand is to read the catalog description carefully and don’t reach beyond your ability. If the class says “participants should have completed at least three art journals” and you’ve done one, don’t think, “Well, I’ve done one, so I know what I need to know. After all, it’s just more of the same.” You learn techniques and skills over time. Read the equipment list carefully. If you aren’t completely comfortable with all the equipment, the class is over your head.

2. The teacher works too fast, talks too fast, or demos too fast. Instructors who have taught a class several times may talk fast because they are familiar with the material. Look around the class. Does anyone else look confused? Are they all frantically taking notes? Raise your hand and say, “This is a little fast for me, could you repeat that last sentence, please?” If other people agree with you, you did everyone a favor. If you are the only one who is constantly lost, speak to the instructor at the break. Find out if there is a basic class you missed. Maybe you can ask for a refund or to re-take the same class later. This is harder at a retreat. Ask to exchange seats so you can sit next to people who are keeping up and follow their lead.

3. You have special needs. Come early and talk to the instructor if your request is simple–you need to sit up front or you have to leave at a certain time. The instructor cannot drop everything to help you, s/he is setting up the class. Do not ask the instructor to carry in your equipment, borrow her supplies, or make demands of the class that don’t take everyone into consideration. For example, if you are highly allergic to peanuts, do not expect the instructor to stop all other students and ask if they have eaten peanuts in the last day, then forbid them from coming into class. If you have special needs that require pre-planning, contact the instructor ahead of time. Come prepared with a plan. An instructor can’t know what to do for medical emergencies, or even what constitutes an emergency for you. Explain and ask for what you need weeks ahead of the class, not the morning of the class.

4. You want feedback on your project. If the instructor says she’ll come by everyone’s table, make sure you are at your place when the instructor comes by. If she skips you, raise your hand and ask her to take a look at your work.

5. The instructor seems to hate you. It’s easy to assign emotions and motives to other people. Often, we make up what we expect to see, then follow through as if it were true. Ask for what you need. Do you need something repeated? Ask. Don’t assume the instructor is purposefully skipping information to confound you. Do you have a question? Ask. If the instructor says that’s the next step, make sure you know what this one is.

6. The instructor insults you, tells racist jokes, or behaves inappropriately. Express your concern to the instructor first. If no help is offered, no explanation given, then go to the promoter, or office manager and explain the situation calmly and ask to take the course from another instructor or ask for a refund. Do not wait till the class is half over to do this. You may have to represent justice for a whole class.

Communication is the culprit in most cases. An instructor has a class with a wide range of talent, skill, patience, and ability. She has to try to keep everyone going at the same pace without knowing their preferred learning style or processing time. Asking for what you need and being patient is a big plus in a student. Without clear communication on both sides, no teaching takes place.

-Quinn McDonald is an instructor, writer, and certified creativity coach. She has been a student and an instructor and knows there are two sides to every encounter.

Different Uses for Everyday Things

When my son was little, I used to encourage him to use things for what they were designed to do. This sounds terribly non-imaginative, or as if I were stifling his creativity, but children need to be limited. He’d use a piece of meatloaf as a

Image from puppy-pee-pads.com

bookmark, or a pair of scissors as a pancake cutting tool. Particularly if he’d just used them to trim pyracantha plants (which are poisonous.)

Luckily, my son lived to become an adult and is leading a happy life in his own house. One of my joys in life is finding multiple, rational uses for tools or products. In this case, the product is something called a Pee Pad, which is a training aid for puppies. I have a cat who’s paper trained. Don’t ask.

I found a big box of the 20-inch plastic-backed pads for an amazing price, and have found great uses for them that do not involve cats or pee. These pads don’t smell, and aren’t treated in any way.

1. Put them in your lap to protect your pants/skirt/dress from glue, paint, or glitter. Tiny bits seem to adhere to the fabric-like surface.

2. Clip them around your kid’s necks with a clothespin (if you are older) or binder clip (if you are younger) to keep them clean during art projects or messy meals, depending on their age.

3. Just scrubbed the counters? Unpack your wet chicken packages, drippy berries, or leaking milk onto these to keep the counter clean.

4. Use as a big napkin for breakfast in bed. Catches drips, saves the percales. Also good for eating cookies or popcorn in bed. Just fold and put on the floor, you can shake it out and re-use the next day. No more crumbs in bed!

5. Use them for a lobster feast! The plastic backing keeps your clothes from getting buttered better than a napkin.

6. Take a few on trips. Budget hotel doesn’t have a bathmat? Use this. Eating at a park picnic table that hasn’t been scrubbed in a while? Use them as placemats. Going to eat in the car? Use as lapkins (napkins in your lap).

7. Wearing black this season? Pin one around your neck when you are dressed, but still need to put on your makeup. All that powdery foundation, eye shadow and blush won’t have to be brushed from your bosom.

You never know how useful something is until you have a lot of them.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. She has a cat who is paper-trained.


It’s Just a Game, So Vote

Red herring from TribalPundit.com

You’ve had it happen frequently–a friend asks you to vote for his dog, song, design, story, or dance  so he can win a prize. You go to vote, because your friend is, well, your friend. When you arrive at the voting place, your friend’s entry is clearly not the best. Do you still support your friend?

Well, that’s what friends are for, right? I’m having some trouble with this. If the competition is for talent or skill, is it fair to turn it into a popularity contest? Wouldn’t it be easier to call it that, and eliminate the red herring of a talent contest?

A few months ago, the Desert Botanical Garden sponsored a free wedding, much like the Today show does. And, just as happens on the Today show, the bride and groom enlisted their friends who have time and can vote multiple times. The public vote was supposed to choose the “deserving” couple, but we know from the beginning that the couple with the most friend and family members are going to enlist the gang to vote for them. Even a simple switch to make it possible to vote only once would help even the odds.

To me is seems like a wink and a nod at cheating, at encouraging people to enlist their friends to help them win something that may not be theirs–and while I don’t mind the weddings, it does bother me when talent is involved. What do you think? Is enlisting your friends to swing the vote the American way, or is it unethical?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and creativity coach who spends a lot of time wondering about ethical dilemmas when two right choices are involved–it’s fine to support your friends, but it’s also fine to want your vote to go to the top talent.

Six Tips: How To Handle the Problem Student (Part 2)

Yesterday, we covered the Whiner, the Know-it-All, and the Downer. Today we round it out with four more (I added an extra) disruptive characters in your class. We are talking about people who can hijack your class, sink all hopes of learning, and destroy any collegiality that you are working so hard to promote.

Troublemakers, a record by Tony Roots

A note on pronouns: I have used “he” and “she” randomly, by flipping a coin. Disruptive people come in both genders.

1. The Gotcha. This student will ask you impossible to answer questions, ask if you’ve read “definitive” but obscure books on your topic . When you say no, he acts shocked, says that it’s a must-read for anyone in the field. Watch for a tone of kindness just short of condescending.

The solution: Be honest, admit what you don’t know or didn’t read. Don’t bluff–it’s a recipe for disaster. Ask what three things he learned from the book that the class could use immediately. That turns his expertise into your good fortune and keeps a positive vibe. If you don’t know the answer to his questions, let him answer. If he knows, you have more knowledge. If he doesn’t, steer the class back to the topic.  Write down the book title and use break times to search it and vet for mention. If he becomes obnoxious, ask him to hold his questions for break. Without an audience, he’s lost his reason for speaking and most likely, won’t show up.

2. The Passive-Aggressive. A tough customer. Seemingly nice mentions or innocent questions to your face are used as snarky remarks to table mates, just out of earshot. The passive-aggressive student’s friendly exterior hides a seething interior. She may be kind in class and rip you on Facebook or Twitter. Passive-aggressives are wicked gossips, and in today’s culture, gossip is often encouraged.  First: you are not the cause of her anger. Do not try to fix her. Do not give her any extra attention, make her a part of class by giving her assignments with limited authority–the scribe in her group, for example. The class as a whole is your biggest help to keep her online. Keep a cool, professional and slightly distant attitude. Answer questions with facts, not opinions. Be polite, but do not engage. It’s hard, as she appears charming. Promptly cut off gossip or criticism. If you are asking for feedback from some students, skip her. She may well rip into you (or worse, a student) and when asked for a reason, she will back off, cry, or invent an excuse so pitiful that the damaged student is left confused and angry. Another control is to give clear, simple and very definite rules for activities and enforce them equally and cheerfully. One more thing: you cannot control the passive-aggressive outside your class. Do not try to please her or make her a star, she will still say nasty things about you. It’s her nature.

3. The Sulker. A cross between the Downer and the Whiner, the sulker needs a lot of attention and will act damaged or ill to get it. In the worst scenario, the Sulker creates an “emergency” to get attention. This is a tricky situation because you don’t want to ignore health emergencies, but you also want to do what you are paid to do–teach. The Sulker triggers the “fixers” in the class–helpful people who want to console, support, heal, encourage and be around people in distress. You can lose half the class to one person who puts her head on her desk, suddenly leaps up and runs out of class, or wears three sweaters and rocks herself in a stuffy classroom.

Solution: Before class, scan for people who appear to be sick and not engaged. Quietly ask them if they should be in class today. Universally, the sulker will insist on staying. “I have to be here,” is usually followed by, “I have no choice.” Everyone has a choice, and the sulker’s is to stay with no regard for the rest of the class. This is the time for you to say, “If you feel sick, you need to be at home, not in class. You can’t learn when you are ill.” Mention your refund/replace policy and give them a way to come back or switch classes.  As a last resort, ask for their supervisor’s phone number, and offer to call and explain. This solves many Sulker problems immediately.

When class starts, establish a policy for leaving the classroom. “All of you are adults, if you feel ill, need medication, or need to take a phone call,  please leave class. You don’t need my permission to take care of your personal needs.” If the Sulker doesn’t leave and no one cares, you don’t have to do more. If the Sulker  acts to attract attention, you can disperse the fixers by saying, “X is an adult, and is making her own choices for her needs. Let’s trust her to know what’s best for her.” You may want to call the supervisor and express your concern.

Extra: The Fixer. Fixers are people who are compelled to take control of other people’s problems and fix them. Related to Know-It-Alls, Fixers vary widely from the people who respond to a simple “It’s hot today” with a wide variety of natural cures for fevers, to people who insert themselves into every conversation with their own experiences and solutions. There are proliferating because they have less control at work. Many are also honestly concerned helpers.

Solution: I often start with an exercise showing the difference between fixing and witnessing, to show how effective good listening is. This works in classes on many topics. If a person starts fixing, I ask, “What kind of attention is necessary here, listening or fixing?” Many times, it’s a revelation for people to see what they are doing. Sometimes it’s a relief for them to let go of this task.

-Quinn McDonald is an instructor, writer, and workshop leader with 15 years experience.  She knows whereof she speaks.