The Control Issue

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days,

They never really get shorter, just change content, over a day, over a life.

much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door. But I stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, ignore it, deny it, or rarely, work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was organization.

The trouble with organization, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It does allow for good problem solving, a regularly planned process and a good idea of what was going to happen in the future.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, of when or how our family members will die, when or if we will get the flu, or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

On Monday, I was coaching a client when my teeth began to chatter. I felt OK, but my teeth were knocking together. The chattering got so violent, I had to end the call. I began to shake uncontrollably and feel cold–an odd feeling in August, when the house is 85 degrees and the outside temperature is just over 100 degrees. I found a quilt, piled it on the bed and crawled in. I shook so hard, I cracked a tooth filling. Within an hour, I had a temperature of 104 degrees.

The next day, I was scheduled to teach. Years ago, I would have said nothing, gotten up, and staggered to work, done poorly, checked it off my list and heard about it at the next performance review. This time, I notified everyone that I was ill, and was amazed to find that my clients were concerned for my health and agreed to postpone the training. Not hire another trainer. Wait for me to get better. I was stunned. Happily surprised, but stunned.

For 24 hours I slept. When I woke up, I drank water. I had a pain in my left leg, which I ignored. The next day I discovered 3 small puncture wounds on my left shin. The skin around it–most of my shin–was hot and tender and swollen. Spider bites are rare–and I hadn’t been in places where spiders hang out. I don’t know and I’m not in control.

That is what surprised me the most. Not in control meant I didn’t post a blog, didn’t change the kitty litter, didn’t water the plants, didn’t change the hummingbird feeders, didn’t cook supper, put gas in the car, pay bills, call clients. The world went on without me while I slept and sweated. I gave up control and lived to tell about it.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results.

I don’t know what bit me, it’s unlikely I’ll ever know. I’m not in control of what bit me. I’m catching up and grateful for my immune system that took control without asking me. Now, to get back on schedule.

-Quinn McDonald is beginning to believe in alien abductions by secret poisonous spiders.

Media Ready? Ten Steps to “Sure!”

Are you an artist? Writer? Are you media ready? With the profusion of podcasts, video blogs, community and internet radio, being media ready is as important to your creative career as having an answer to the question, “What do you do?”

The biggest disaster to career is deciding to “be loose and  wing it.” There is no excuse for being unprepared for an interview.  Deciding to speak without preparing can put a big dent in your credibility. Even worse, it can make people decide your product or service is not worth their attention, much less their money.

Some tips on preparing for a radio, TV, or podcast interview:

1. Ask the date, time and location of the show. Then watch it or  listen to previously recorded broadcasts. Is it humorous or serious? Do people get to talk about their books, products, services, or is that not allowed? Is it a panel discussion? How are the participants introduced? Are they required to be experts or casual commentators? Do listeners call in? Knowing how the program is structured helps you choose what to say and how to say it.

 2. How long you will be on the air?  Just because the podcast/show is an hour long, doesn’t mean you have an hour of talk time. You may be on for only 10 minutes at the end of the show. You may headline the show. It makes a big difference in what you have time to say, demonstrate or preview.  Ask who else is on the show, and find out what their area of expertise is.  Ask in what order the other presenters will speak.

3. Ask the name of the program, the content, the name of previous popular guests. You’ll be more comfortable being on a program that plays to your expertise. Some programs vary their content depending on the day of the week.  What sounds like a great show suddenly becomes a political panel once a week–and that’s your day. Sure, it might sound interesting to be on a hot political program, but if the host thinks interviewing means firing non-stop questions and accusations about your point of view, you have a lot more preparing to do. Even more so if politics isn’t your area of experience.

4. Two questions you must ask the producer or interviewer:
Who is your audience?
What’s the objective?
You’ll need to gear your comments to the popular culture reference of the audience–I once spoke about the family gathering around the kitchen table for activities and the host replied, “I never ate at the kitchen table. Breakfast was in the car on the way to school, and dinner came from the drive-through on the way to soccer.” He lost interest in my field of expertise because I didn’t sound credible to his demographic.

Image: Phrenology, from The Boomer Chronicles

You need to know the objective, because everything you say needs to be geared to meeting the objective. Are you persuading, being the local expert? Is your purpose to rally around a cause? Contribute money? Have people show up somewhere? Unless you know the purpose, you don’t know what to say.

5. Ask for a list of questions. It’s fine to do that. Again, there are few investigative reporters left. Most likely, you are being asked because you have information. If the host says, “We’ll just talk,” then it’s your job to create a list of questions you want to be asked. Prepare a list of talking points that you can comfortably talk about. (See #6).

6. Prepare a list of points you want to make. Put them in the order of most important to least important. Make the points interesting to your audience. “Writing in a journal is fun,” is not nearly as interesting to college-age listeners as “Journals aren’t just on paper anymore. You can keep a video journal and create your own mashups, too.” A well-written point keeps you on topic and makes a great sound bite.

7. Have some information to back up what you are saying. Your opinion is great, but having several studies that prove your point is better. Tell the host a link to the study is posted on your site, offer to send the information to the host. Even better, summarize the study on a page of your website, and post a link to the whole study.

8. Gear your style to the objective. Are you asking for agreement or contributions? Be vivid, inject stories, use emotions. You don’t need to break into tears or laughter. Logic is on the left side of the brain, but judgment is on the right, along with emotion and creativity. Facts are necessary, but if you don’t bring the audience from understanding what you are saying to agreeing with you, you missed the objective.

9. Be prepared, even if things go wrong. A few weeks ago, I was a guest on a radio show. I was asked for talking points, which I provided. The host never mentioned them. Instead, he asked about his favorite parts of the book. Luckily, I had the book with me, and could make some of the points I had prepared.

10. Preparing and practicing for a show actually calms you down and makes you a better presenter. A good presenter becomes a popular guest, and that opens the door to being invited back. Being a good presenter makes the host feel smart to have invited you. And a host who feels smart will remember you with enthusiasm.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer who helps artists and writers (and artists who write books) become media savvy.

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Ink?

Ink is a fun medium to play with. There’s India ink, an opaque medium that comes in several colors. (Koh-i-Noor is a popular brand). There is transparent ink (Higgins and Dr. Ph. Martin are popular). But my favorite ink of the moment are stamp-pad re-inkers. The ink comes in small squeeze bottles with a dropper tip and the ink is incredibly saturated–one drop can be diluted with a Tablespoon of water for writing ink, or with a teaspoon for a good ink spray. Re-inkers come in a huge variety of colors and brands. The big difference is between alcohol and dye. I prefer the dye, it’s made for papers.

First, I used re-inkers to dye two rectangles of watercolor paper, each about 4 x 6 inches. I attached one of them on the left side of a journal spread, and the other on the right. The one on the left (show above) was left uncoated.

The one on the right was coated with three coats of gel mediums, creating a faux-encaustic look.

In each layer, a different color was added to the gel medium–either gold, or yellow or red. The intense colors created a vivid glossy effect. The piece of paper embedded into the middle layer says, “Losing–and finding–his voice.”

On the left side, I drew a rooster, making the most of the red portion of the paper. I love the effect of the chicken-behind-a-screen. This tied in to the “loosing–and finding–his voice” on the opposite page.

The glossy encaustic look also gives a hint of the rooster’s thoughts of what his future may hold. While many people are using bird images in their work, it is easier to make a raven, crow, or silhouette bird look sinister, and slightly harder to cast a chicken as a noir image. I liked the contrast here, as well as the contradiction and tension between the pages.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler who is experimenting with slightly darker ideas.

No Such Thing as Too Many Cherries

Cherries. Sweet, wonderful cherries. Suddenly, in front of me at the store. Inexplicably inexpensive. What to do with them?

Besides cherry pie and the puff pastry recipe I still love, there are some delightful ways to make the cherries last for a while.

Chocolate-dipped fresh cherries
Chocolate-dipped fresh cherries

1. Wash them, and leaving their stems and seeds in place, freeze them individually. Looks lovely and the cherries don’t break down as they melt, unless you put them in the microwave. Let them defrost naturally and use them to top desserts, ice cream and parfaits. Just tell your diners that the pits are still there.

2. Wash, pit, and pull off the stems and freeze the pitted cherries individually in ice cube trays. Reserve the juice for color and flavor in fruit smoothies.

3. Dip them in chocolate. To do this, leave on the stems and do not pit. Wash the cherries, let them dry, then dip them in melted chocolate and place on parchment on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer. You can also carefully pit the cherries, using a tip from a pastry bag.

4. Simmer them gently in a bit of orange juice and sugar, pour them into small, sealable bags and freeze them. Use in pies, tarts, smoothies, on top of yogurt, ice cream, or angel food cake. Also yummy on cottage cheese.

5. Simmer them in water, until they are soft but not collapsed. Drain any juice. Pack the cherries into canning jars. Mix the juice in equal quantities with Cointreau, an orange liquer. You can also use good brandy. Pour the juice/liquor mixture to cover all the berries. Seal and store in the fridge. Because you are not boiling away the alcohol, this is not suitable for children or those avoiding alcohol. Do not use Triple Sec, the quality and taste are completely different from Cointreau and not suitable for this recipie.

6. Dry them. Wash, dry, pit and stem the cherries. Cut the cherries in half, top to bottom. Place them skin side down on a dehydrator tray and dry at 140 degrees F for 6 to 12 hours, or until they are still sticky and leathery. Do not over-dry. Pack them in plastic bags and keep them in a cool, dry place. (I like the fridge.) Use instead of raisins or cranberries as snacks or in breads, cakes, stuffings. Put in rice or pilaf to serve with fowl.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has discovered cherry juice as an interesting stain and possible use for ink. To experiment, she is sacrificing many cherries. She smiles as she eats them, they taste of summer memories.

Choose Your Word, Give it a Color: Challenge 54

Michelle Ward's Crusade Challenge

Some people are addicted to Sudoku, I cannot keep my virtual fingers away from Michelle Ward’s Crusade challenges. We’ve done some neat color challenges–from color evolution to naming your own colors,  which brought Michelle (and her street team) to this color challenge: Think of a phrase or a word, then pick a color for it.

For someone who loves words and plays with colors, I reacted to this challenge like the dog who loves bacon.

My first choice was a verb: To blend. The color above reminds me of smooth, easy colors. So I chose this mix of cream and Naples yellow.

Could be a map, but it's a color called Passport

My second word was Passport. I thought of the first time I got on an airplane as a child and was horrified that I couldn’t see the state outlines like they had on maps. Passports remind me of borders and change. So this change of color seemed right.

A good color for a hard emotion.

Next was Retribution. I thought of it when I used the quote “Retribution is like stabbing yourself in the heart 1,000 times to hurt the other person.” This seemed just about right. It’s an experiment using clear tar gel and Quin Orange acrylic with glass beads for texture. It seemed the right color for pain and anger. And those glass beads could stand in for salt to rub in the wound.

Works even upside down.

The last two are just goofy. I had a series of yellow paint samples. On a brown background, the staircase could go either way. So this is called Staircase.

And finally, in honor of the summer that would not quit in Phoenix, I have Landscape. It’s a piece of handmade paper with grass inclusions. There are also paper inclusions that look like money. Which, of course, I would pay to make it cooler. Too obvious, maybe, but I couldn’t help myself.

Want to play with words and colors, but don’t have a studio full of paint and paper scraps? Here’s The Color Of: a website that will help you create colors. You type in a word, and it accesses images on Flickr that contain your word in the title or tags, then layers the main colors until it creates a blend. It’s fun.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who is thinking about her next book. Her first, Raw Art Journaling, has just been released on Kindle, after making it to the top of three categories at

Best Art Tool: Patience

My studio is full. Full of pieces of paper in various stages of project-becoming. Drying. One of them is coated with Golden’s Clear Tar Gel, the only substance I know that flouts the Arizona atmosphere and takes more than a day to dry.

First layer of faux encaustic collage. At least five more to go. This one is drying.

Earlier today I became fascinated with the faux encaustic lesson in Surface Treatment Workshop: Explore 45 Mixed-Media Techniques by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sanra Duran-Wilson. Surface Treatment and Raw Art Journaling have been swapping places as #1 on Amazon’s Mixed Media list. The book looked fascinating, so I ordered it. It is a wonderful, useful book on many surface design treatments that work on paper, board, and fabric.

I love encaustic, but a lot of it uses beeswax, and when the inside temperature is about 85, and the outside is 115, as it was today, I just don’t see myself working with beeswax a lot until November. So I was interested in the faux encaustic.

Covered in a flat gel, this ink spray is waiting for a 24-hour dry time. I have no idea what will happen with it, but it's clearly a work in progress. So am I.

The faux work involves using gel medium, maybe with a drop of paint added to look more like wax. It requires long hours of drying, to make the layers distinct. I am not a patient person. but patience is perhaps the most important tool in art.

You need patience to try a thousand ideas. Patience to choose one you want to explore deeply, setting others aside. Patience to not make art simply to photograph it for your blog (I know whereof I speak). Patience to get it wrong and do it over. Again. Patience to get it right and push harder to make it better. Patience is fueled by dedication and polished with repetition, each layer teaching a bit more, taking on a secret glow.

Patience is not easy. It doesn’t come in a kit. You can’t mix it up  at the sink. The worst thing (for me) is that patience come with practice. And practice takes time and effort. But when you work on creative projects, nothing replaces patience. Rushing won’t make art come together faster. Skipping steps won’t create a more integrated project.

Nothing replaces patience, and it is hard to master. I have to pull myself back from stopping too soon, from racing off in another direction when the right path is slow and tedious. I may have to work on patience my whole life. But then again, what else do I have? And what else really works as well?

-Quinn McDonald is still practicing patience. It is possible she is incrementally getting better at it, although the word “practice” seems to be the point.

Product Review: Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist

My first bottle of Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist, which I purchased in 2008, was a huge disappointment. The 2-oz. spray bottle delivered a mist of coffee-colored paint mixed with a hint of shimmer. It did it twice. Then the spritz top got clogged. I like the product well enough, but I kept having to shake, decant into a tiny mister bottle, use, clean, pour back. I gave up pretty quickly. I tried again with Pearl, same result.

New formlation of Glimmer Mist

The salesperson warned me not to shake the bottle as that would “force the glitter” into the spray tube and up to the top. I was supposed to “rock the bottle back and forth.” The spray-clog ideas was unlikely (OK, so she wasn’t a fluid mechanics major) and the “rocking” part was just plain not going to happen in my studio.

Three weeks ago, when I saw the new delicious colors in a store, I wasn’t tempted. Not one bit. I’d used the coffee and pearl by pouring them in small, deep containers (like pill bottles) and painting them on with a brush. Not again.

I noticed the new bottles had a label on them that said “New formula: EZ Mix, EZ Mist.”  I decided to try. I bought a bottle. In the studio it sprayed consistently 3 times. I left the cap off and waited an hour. It sprayed perfectly. I left the cap off overnight. It still worked.

Glacier sprayed on black paper.

Even better, the glitter was softer, finer and more elegant looking. The next day I bought three more bottles for a project I had in mind. Within a week I had eight new bottles in total. Three shades of blue (Glacier, Waterslide, and Delphinium),  Lemon Zest, Olive Vine, a dark chocolate with red (Chocolate Covered Cherries), Black Magic (black with gold glimmer) and Oriental Poppy (an orange red).

Within another week, they were put to the test–I taught a class of 50 people in two sections, with a waiting time between sections. The spray is water-based and non-toxic. It works fine on paper and over watercolors, acrylics, watercolor pencil, and ink. It works on some fabrics better than others. (The shimmer is less on cottons and canvas). It doesn’t work on plastics (because it’s water-based) unless you coat it with watercolor ground.

In class, the bottles were left uncapped, shaken, sprayed, and shaken again. At the end of class, I capped them all and took them back to the studio, and, without rinsing out the spritzer, packed them away. A week later, I unpacked them again. Shook them up and down. Each one sprayed perfectly.

Top: Left, lemon zest. Right, Chocolate Covered Cherries. Bottom: Left, Oriental Poppy. Right: Black MagicThe only thing I’m not pleased with is the sample of sprays shown here. It’s impossible to catch the subtle glimmer with a camera. But it’s there. Along with a good spritz of color.

I use them as a top spray on handmade cards, as a color or top spray on spray-ink maps, as a background on journal pages (you can write over the glitter smoothly–no bumps), on appliques, particularly if I use black paper.

Cost: About $7.00 for a 2-oz. bottle.

FTC-required disclosure: I purchased all eight bottles myself, from a local craft store.

The Vanishing “Off” Switch

The fan finally died. As this weeks temperatures will hover around 115 degrees, the fan’s failure is disappointing. Of course I have air conditioning, but my desk is next to single-pane windows, and the area heats up even with the AC on–which for me means 84 degrees.

I don't want to always be on.

The fan was quiet, efficient, put out a lot of air, and it lasted two years. About average for small appliances. It would cost more to fix than to throw out, so reluctantly I replaced it while seeing landfills fill up with cheap, but necessary, appliances.

The new one has a timer, four speed settings, an oscillating switch. . . and no “off” switch. I could unplug it to turn it off, but the plug is in an awkward place, difficult to reach. Sure, I can click down the timer, but wouldn’t an off switch be simpler?

The digital light showing it’s sucking up electricity is always on, so it’s sucking up electricity day and night.

Which made me think–our appliances reflect our needs and culture. The first microwave could cook turkeys and came with special browning sauces and powders. Now they have pre-set buttons for heating coffee, warming pizza, popping corn and baking potatoes—because that’s what we use microwaves for. Heating. Re-heating. Not cooking turkeys.

Our lives no longer have off switches, either. My friends and clients expect me to be available at all times. They are sure I am checking their Facebook posts, Tweets, and fan pages. They no longer leave voice mails, I’m supposed to notice I missed a call and phone back. Most of my clients don’t want to email me, that isn’t fast enough, they text me. The idea that I may be in a meeting, teaching or in bed means nothing. I have to be available. I should point out that I’m not an emergency-room physician or the holder of the other key for the doomsday machine. I’m a life coach, a writer, and a communication trainer.

The millennials–the group of adults who are now between 18 and 25–have never existed in a time when they could be alone. They can’t take more than 30 seconds of silence before resorting to a call, text, or game. Thirty-five percent of babies between the age of six weeks and three years have a TV in their room that is on more than two hours a day. We now live in a culture that is always accompanied by sound–my bank has a TV that is always on, as does the gas pump at the gas station, and, to my great disappointment, my favorite sushi bar. There is always noise. Most people find it comforting, it’s a sign that they are not alone. (I’m not sure how much we’re listening. That’s another post.)

In order for me to be fully functional, I need down time. To sleep deeply, to create, to listen deeply, to refresh. I have an off switch and I’m willing to use it, even if my fan can’t.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and certified creativity coach.

Perfectionist Seeking Happiness

Browsing in an art store, I found someone who picked up my book, Raw Art Journaling. I watched, not knowing if I should say “thank you for looking at my book,” or just not say anything. Deciding that saying something might make her feel pressured to buy it, I decided to say nothing unless she put it in the shopping basket. Which she did. So I stepped up and said, “Thanks for buying my book. If you want, I’ll sign it for you once you are through the checkout line.” She looked at me and said, “This is a joke, right?”

“Nope, I’m the author. I can show you my driver’s license.”

“So, did this book make you happy?” She asked

“Well, I was already happy, but this book makes me happy, yes.”

“Do you have the perfect job being a writer?”

Ahh, someone in search of the perfect. “I do. I own my business and I do more than write, but I love it all.”

She looked doubtful. “So you don’t have problems? Or days you hate?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “I hate administrative work, and I hate when I feel overwhelmed from time to time. I also hate it when it looks like there won’t be enough work. But as a recovering perfectionist, I realize that if it comes down to the day when I have completed it all, and done it all perfectly, there will be no challenges left, nothing to look forward to. I think perfection would be, well, boring.”

She looked at me for a long time. “So if your life is not perfect, how can you think it is?”

I smiled. “There is a Zen saying, ‘Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” The difference is what you think of the work, and how you approach it. If everything is a drudgery, my life is drudgery. If everything is a chance, an opportunity, a fresh approach, well, then, I’m more enthusiastic. It’s not life. It’s how I tackle it.”

She looked at the book. “Write that in the book, about enlightenment.

And so I did.

–Quinn McDonald is the happy author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. You can buy the book on this page of her website and get the code (way at the bottom of the page) for free shipping in the U.S. through December, 2011.


Feeding Your Inner Critic

You’ve heard the story of the two wolves–the one you feed is the one that thrives within you. The inner critic (I often call it the gremlin) works the same way. The diet for the gremlin is tied to a timeline that starts in childhood.

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the gremlin the “you can’t

You might have been trapped once. . .

be enough because you weren’t nurtured” food.

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, giving the gremlin the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the gremlin a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.

The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. So I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical.”

Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.

You can dance, even if you are dancing in the mud.

Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They do cause damage. The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live.

You can hold onto that pain from the past, you can brandish it like an accusatory weapon, making it the magic wand that transforms your every tomorrow into the same sad yesterday. “Well, of course I keep choosing the wrong partner. . .my parents fought all the time, and I took that as my pattern.” “I can’t commit because my Dad cheated on my Mom; I don’t want to repeat that.”

Maybe it’s time to put down the past. Hugging the hurt to you, shaping the pain into your heart and making it beat in time to the sad rhythm of  the past will not repair either the past or your heart.  Waiting for your parents to come back and help you re-live your childhood and create a different outcome–well, it’s not going to happen.

Reliving your past over and over creates too much spinning and not enough weaving. The harder work is to take your present day skills, your present day image of what you want for yourself and building your own future. Give up the idea of making someone else wrong for your present by blaming it on the past. It’s so vastly overrated. Instead, be bold. Be risky. Be the person you wish you were and forge yourself into the person you want to be. It is hard to step away from the past. It is also wonderful to step away from the past. The past and the future are the two wolves within you. The one you feed is the one that stays.

–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who did not have an ideal childhood either. But she has the strong belief that if she had had adoring parents who lavished attention on her, she would never have grown a backbone and a colorful soul.