Letting 2010 Go

Yesterday, I went to a letting-go ceremony. It was held at Storm Wisdom in Phoenix, a store and learning center. We gathered in their meditation room and spent some time writing down what we wanted to let go.

The card I drew as my intention for 2011.

Letting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in hew air into our life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag us down. Things that hold us back.

We took our lists to a fire pit and one by one, threw them in. We watched the flame chew up our lists of discarded thoughts, emotions, loss.

We were then smudged with a sage bundled, blessed, and wanded with a crystal wand. When the cleansing was complete, we each drew a card to set an intention for next year. We chose the card without looking, knowing that this was the right one.

It was a kind and loving ceremony. I’ve never been cleansed or wanded, and it felt quiet and good.

I don’t know what kind of a year 2010 was for you, but I’m grateful to leave it behind. There are some lessons and people I will welcome into 2011, but frankly, 2010 was a year that I’m going to exhale from my system and be grateful that I can move ahead and away.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach.

Two New Classes from QuinnCreative

Two New In-Person Class Series

1. Creative Master Mind Group: Starts JaN. 10 2011         6 pm – 8 pm,   12 consecutive Monday evenings.

If you are working on a creative project and want both support and accountability, consider joining our Creative Master Mind group in Central Phoenix.

The group will be limited to 8 members. Each gathering will begin with an around-the table report of each members’ work in the past week. Members may show, read, or discuss their work.

No “fixing” or “help” may be offered unless the member specifically asks for suggestions or ideas.

After the reports, there will be a continuing creative activity that creates a continuing thread throughout the 12 sessions.

The gathering will end with each member setting an intention for the coming week.

Co-facilitated by Quinn McDonald and Bonnie Barnard, this small, close-knit class is designed to help you make meaning and move ahead in a specific creative project. No work will be done on the project during the meeting. Instead, the group holds a space for possibility, encouragement, and creative growth for each member.

Price: $35 per class. Price includes art supplies, although you are welcome to bring your own additions.

Questions? To register (or to sign up for the next class) contact Quinn McDonald.

Pitt Pen on Arches Text Wove. © Quinn McDonald, 2009

2. Art Journaling for Beginners and Others

Treat yourself (bring a friend!) to an art treat in 2011! Explore art journaling–whether you’ve done it before just want to find out about art journaling, this class will answer your questions and let you take home real journal pages to work on.

I’m a certified creativity coach, so you will experience coaching as well.

When: 4 Wednesday-morning sessions. January 12, 19, 26, February 2, 2011.

Time: 10 am to noon

Where: West Valley Arts Center in Surprise.13243 N. Founders Park, Surprise     AZ 85379

Phone the Center: 623-935-6384

January 12: Oh, The Possibilities!

  • What’s a journal, really?
  • You can buy, you can make, you can alter, you can explore!
  • Making room in your life for art and words
  • Getting over fear and getting started (Yes, you are going to be making pages right away!)
  • Developing a practice of words and art

January 19: Getting Messy

  • Create a pamphlet journal
  • Using collage in a journal
  • Solving sticky problems
  • Show and tell

January 26: The Haunted Perfectionist

  • Making mistakes, fixing mistakes
  • Exploring paint and gesso: acrylics, watercolor, inks
  • Using different wet media in a journal
  • Show and tell

February 2: Adding Pages Everywhere

  • Designing and using an accordion journal
  • Making meaning, making art
  • Adding and removing pages in any journal
  • Stand-alone and add-in accordion journal
  • Show and tell

To register, phone: 623-935-6384, the West Valley Art Center.

Price: $75 for all 4 classes, $65 if you are an Arts Council member. No supply fee, but there is a short supply list for you to bring to class.

Questions? Feel free to email me (Quinn) with questions. Want to know more about Quinn and raw art journaling? Go to my art website.

Permission to Do Art

Most artists have problems getting to work from time to time. It just seems too much to pick up the pencil, sit at the computer, go to the quilting frame. And there is a pile of laundry. And you are working today till 6 anyway. The difference between successful artists and “wishing” artists is ritual.

Running in circles

Running in circles

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you have a routine. And that routine is probably timed down to the exact second, either by time or by what’s on the TV or radio. It gets you out of the house and into the office on time.

Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you set the priority every day of your life.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also uncomfortable sometimes to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art. Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes beforehand to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses. Once you get in the habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. And as my mantra says, “you don’t find meaning in life, you make meaning in your life.” Give meaning a chance.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer. She is a life- and creativity coach who helps people create meaning in their life.

Throwing Your Life Away

“How could you let him throw his life away?” my neighbor asked. She was speaking of my son, who had recently announced he wanted to major in music, to switch from math and Russian.

“He could be an engineer or a lawyer, something important, but you are letting him major in music? How do you feel about wasting all that money?” My mother asked. “You are letting him throw his life away. Just like you did!” The anger in her voice was hard and sharp.

Your path is always there, waiting for you.

Maybe you’ve heard that phrase, too–“Throwing your life away.” It sounds dangerous, stupid, harmful. In my son’s case, and earlier, my case, it was what saved our lives.

My son had chosen a path that he had been encouraged to follow. Gifted in math and languages, majoring in them seemed like a good idea. But his love of music emerged when he was in high school, and he wanted to spend his life with the intricacies of melody. I knew from personal experience that unless you follow the path that beckons, the journey will be rocky, harsh, and may well lead you into a personal, barren wilderness.

So when he told me he was interested in music, I was pleased. It was good to know so clearly the path you wanted to follow. He turned in that direction. He threw away many possibilities–the wrong ones. The ones that would have left him unsatisfied, a drone at his work, uninspired. So many mothers told me that he could always have music as a hobby. It sounded like an echo from my childhood. What I had wanted was not important, I had been told. I was a child, and the ways of the world were harsh. I could do art and writing as a hobby.

Times were different then, and obedience to parents’ wishes was part of a good daughter’s life. Art and writing were a hobby, and I blundered down the path of success as my parents saw it for me. It was years till I could “throw my life away,” shed the burden of “should” and “hobby” and create the life I wanted. It was hard, but ahead of me was the steady light of life’s purpose, a sure knowledge that writing and art were where meaning lay.

So when my son knew early that his path was music, I was happy that he was throwing his life away early. The life of someone else’s expectations, of success, of bent and hobbled dreams. He’s doing well in his life, he is bright, has good friends, does satisfying work, makes meaning. What he threw away was a life defined by other peoples idea of success. What he found was his own success. (Oh, incidentally, he’s a success by anyone’s measure, including his mother’s pride.)

It took me longer to throw my life away. I wasn’t as sure of my own mind, my own direction. The compass was there, but I wasn’t as sure in my choices. I didn’t believe in myself as much as I believed that my parents knew best. When I figured out that their advice fit their lives and I would have to find my own path, I threw my old life away, too. And am happier for it.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. As a life and creativity coach, she helps others discover their life’s purpose, hard as it may be.

Word of the Year: Start Thinking.

Never a friend of New Year’s resolutions, I discovered another ritual that’s more powerful and more possible than New Year’s resolutions. A word of the year. You choose a word that will symbolize the year for you–set the intention or create a verbal amulet.

You can turn your word into a light poem or household accessory. http://tinyurl.com/nye37l

The word should be limber and supple, without any stiffness of punishment, or hashmarks to measure yourself with and find yourself coming up short.

I prefer verbs–because they are action words. And taking action is a favorite step of mine to get unstuck or move ahead.  Of course, there are also the state of being verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Small verbs, but powerful.

Other people prefer nouns–things or ideas: creativity, intuition, freedom. Nouns can be things you hold in your hands–paper, pen, seeds, feathers. Or they can be things you hold in your heart: wishes, wisdom, peace.

Now is a good time, at the end of the year, to think of a word you can hold and use for all of 2011. Choose a word that will last, that will build you up and support you. You can choose a word that is both a verb and a noun. The one I chose for 2010 was light. I could light a candle or a fire. I could help them discover the light hidden within them. I could make someone else’s load light. It was a good word for the year.

Your word can be any part of speech, and you can use it in as many ways as you want–present tense, active voice, transitive with an object or not. Use it as many ways as you can and see how you change it and how it changes you.

If you keep a journal, you can write it down and visit it every week or month and see how that word has shown up in your life at the end of every week and how you would like it to show up the next week. You can write it on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket and rediscover it every day. Write it on a key you use every day and remember it when you unlock the door.

Begin now to choose a word. It should be a good, chewy word that will last a whole year. I’ve narrowed my choice down to two. I wanted to continue with light, but that seemed a bit too easy. So I began the search. I dreamed up two words that I’m now choosing between.

What are the words you want to invite into your life for the year? Leave them in the comments, and tell us why.

FTC -required disclosure: I found the light poem link online. I’m not advertising it, I’ve never used the service, no money or good exchanged hands for my mentioning the product.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw art journaler who loves words. She throws them out so other people can get sprinkled with them, too. Maybe find inspiration or joy.

Christmas, 2010

In prison, he did not know what time it was, because the lights were always on. It could be any season, any year. Every hour looked the same from his cell.

No one waited for him, no friend, no relatives. His child didn’t want to know him or be like him. His parents were dead. So were most other people he had gone to high school with. Dead or gone on the other side of the wall.  He’s been in prison now for 30 years of his life. The crime that was half a lifetime a way was with him every day. Stupid. If he’d controlled his impulse. .  . but he hadn’t. This was his 30th years inside prison.

Three years ago, the last flicker of hope had gutted out. He’d placed an ad for a pen pal, just a voice on the other side of the wall. But no one had ever answered. Who would write to a prisoner? Who would care? People are put in prison to be punished, so who would think to extend a hand in friendship?

Sometime he had fantasies that there was no one alive on the outside world. Beyond the sweating gray block wall there was nothing. In his abandoned world, his life had shrunk to the routines of the prison. The one hour a day he was allowed to be outside, a roof over his head, so he couldn’t see sky. Standing in the steaming hot laundry room, loading and unloading uniforms. Eating meals scooped into the hollows of plastic trays.

There were days he went without talking. No need. He’d feel his teeth with his tongue to make sure they were still there, in case someone said something to him.

But no one did. The guards yelled, the bells shrilled, the door clanged. All on schedule. He had done something horrible 30 years ago. He knew his sentence would end when he died. He didn’t think he was innocent. He was just alone. Abandoned.  No lawyers to talk about appeal. No family to tell him he was missed. He deserved it. Except he would like to see a sky again. Know what it felt like to walk on grass. See a moon rise. To eat a meal someone who knew what he liked to eat had cooked for him.

A warden appeared at his door. “You got a letter.” He reached for the envelope. Who would write him? Who knew he was here? It was no one he knew. Someone who had seen the ad, which had been reprinted in a magazine. Someone who had written a stranger, knowing he was in prison. Just to offer some human communication. Someone who asked him about himself. Not what he had done wrong, but who he was, what he thought.

In that one instant, he had a life again. The outside world was not abandoned. Cars began to rush down streets in his silent imagination. People began to talk. Refrigerators opened and closed, factories roared to life.

And his heart beat in his chest, not as a countdown to his death, but knowing he could write back and know someone knew where he was. He was not abandoned.

It was a letter from a stranger who knew the loneliness of prison and wanted to make one spark of sudden light into the dark. Her description flooded light and color over him as he read. After three years, someone had seen the ad. He looked at the date on the letter. It was winter, December. He counted the days it would have taken for the letter to pass the censors. It was Christmas. And he was no longer alone.

–Quinn McDonald wrote this story after a friend began a correspondence with a prisoner who will spend the rest of his life abandoned in Pelican Bay, a maximum security prison. She began to think about the real meaning of loneliness, and admired her friend for the example of true compassion.

Longstitch Journal: Versatile, Easy to Make

The longstitch binding method on a journal creates a useful book that lies flat and is easy to construct.

The Creative Quest in Glendale, AZ has a class called “book of the month.” You go in on class day and two hours later, you’ll come out with a completed book. The class is fast-paced and fun, because the drudgery of book binding–the measuring and cutting–is largely done for you. One of the owners, Kathie Shephard, teaches the class and she doesn’t let you stare into space. In Kathie’s class, you pay attention. And you love it.

Longstitch journal. It has a boxy shape that's useful.

The last journal I made there was a longstitch journal. The books are wedge-shaped, like a binder. That might make it hard to chuck in your purse, but there are advantages to the longstitch journal.

The longstitch journal has a distinctive spine. Each column of stitches holds two signatures.

The biggest advantage is the room for fat pages. If you like your journal pages collaged and stuffed with memorabillia, this is the journal for you. The spine makes it roomy. When you make this journal, plan ahead and don’t pull the stitching as tight as I did. (It’s an old problem, I knit bullet-proof scarves, too.)

Making it is not hard. When you add the second (and the rest) of the signatures (groups of pages) you don’t have to force them in because there is enough room in the spine. The stitching is not difficult and goes the same way for all the signatures.

The inside pages are easily accessible for drawing and the whole thing lies flat. It doesn’t get much better then that.  I know you’ll want to make one, or a few.  Here are some easy instructions for doing your own longstitch journal, courtesy Teesha Moore. And here are more websites and videos to help you make that just-for-you journals.

The stitching helps the journal lie flat.

Have you made one of these? I’d love to see one that’s been filled in to see how it looks.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to fill up their journals.

Lunar Eclipse, Dec. 20-21 2010

Lunar eclipses are wonderful. No special glasses needed, just wonder. We had a cloud cover last night–odd how that creeps up when you don’t want it–but you could still see the moon glow getting dimmer. We didn’t have that spectacular orange glow, but it still happened. Of course, this morning, there were just cloud shreds left.

Journal page for Dec. 20, 2010. Paper, Sheer Heaven film, watercolor paint.

And now, the shortest night of the year is over. Slowly, the sun begins to move North again. It’s still cold, and we won’t notice the days getting longer till February, when we pick up 3 minutes a day of sunlight, but the dark has been weathered, and the sun will come back.

Quinn McDonald is an artist and naturalist.

35mm Slide Accorion Journal

When you make your own journal, you have an endless sense of possibility–you can work in different sizes, one palette or many, write a story or use quotes. That’s the joy of journaling–it’s definitely not the diary you kept in middle school.

Accordion folder made from 35 mm slide casing. © Quinn McDonald, 2010.

For “Zen Garden,”  this small accordion journal, I used cardboard 35 mm slide mounts. They are charmingly old-school, from a time you used a bulky camera, exposed slide film, then sent your film to be processed at a camera store. The developed film was inserted into cardboard mounts and sealed. Later, they used plastic, and for a while, glass. But these are cardboard.

First two pages of the slide-case accorion book. © Quinn McDonald

I pried each one open, removed the old film, and cut inserts from a catalog. I added some words. The joy was that the images might have come from a linen print or a portion of something larger. I then repeated the process on the back (not shown here) and the small accordion journal pages were completed.

View of the entire folder.

I hinged them with artists’ tape to keep the rustic cardboard look complete. Depending on the content, you could use washi or bookbinding tape as well. The instructions for assembling the slide is printed on each slide. I left those in place, although you could gesso and paint each slide.

I’ve started several others made with printed transparencies, tinted vellum and foil. Some were holiday cards, some just inspiration. Each creates a remarkably different effect.

–Quinn McDonald is a journal artist who experiments with size and scale, words and images. ©2010 All rights reserved.

Taming that Inner Critic

OK, yes, I’ve done a lot of posts about what to do with the inner critic, also called the gremlin, lizard, or reptilian brain. But Rita Ackerman of Tattered Past showed me the best idea yet.

Here's the inner critic, mouth open, criticizing.

She created the inner critic as a stuffed beast, with different eyes and stitched scowling eyebrows. He’s a mess, and he wants you to feel like a mess, too.

You don't have to listen. Zip his mouth shut.

So Rita gave him a zipper mouth. Your inner critic berating you? Zip his mouth shut and toss him aside. Need to hear if he has anything worthwhile? Unzip his mouth and listen. Then zip it shut when he’s annoying.

The beasts are about six inches high and come in different materials. She sells them on her Etsy site, Tattered Past.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She works with people around the world who are stuck in creative projects, or just stuck in life, not able to leave the past behind or feel joy in the present.