The Discipline of Sleep

When I”m overloaded with work, the first thing I do is cut my sleep short. Waking doesn’t require an alarm clock, I have cats who believe that first light means food, so lacking opposable thumbs, they wake me. The earlier the sun comes up, the earlier I get up.

Getting to the heart. © Quinn McDonald, watercolor pencil on paper. 2012, All rights reserved.

Trouble is, I’m a night person. I can easily work till past midnight, but not if I am up at first light, now happening around 5 a.m.

I cannot burn the candle at both ends any more. Sure, it makes a lovely light, but a lovely light is no longer enough. I need combustion to fuel the day. So, I’m forcing the discipline of an earlier bed time. It rarely works, but it’s necessary.

Self-discipline is rarely amusing or fun. But it is the heart of success, whatever your success might be. Without a good rest, without rich and complex dreams, we become shaky and weak. It’s harder to think, to plan, to appreciate, to imagine the future. It’s impossible to concentrate, do good work.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those splendid people who can live on five hours of sleep. I need seven, and eight is welcome.

Knowing what you need and giving it to yourself is not self-indulgence. It is a discipline.

What discipline do you need to nurture yourself with?

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach whose energy drains without enough sleep. There is always a well that needs filling, isn’t there?

And a Tiny Burst of Joy

Yesterday, I wrote about the tiny, noticed, death of a dove. Today, I am doing something I love to do and hardly ever write about–I’m an ordained celebrant and I’m celebrating a wedding.

Devil's Bridge--the destination of a rocky hike in Sedona, AZ

Weddings are expressions of hope and courage. We give up being just ourselves, and look to another as part of our lives. There is one paragraph in the service I particularly love:

“Remember that your relationship itself has a destiny, that your marriage is alive and needs care and feeding and support. Keep it young and fresh by bringing yourself fresh to your marriage over and over again.”

That’s a hard task–to keep yourself fresh and bring yourself fresh to someone you know well, and may not see in the same rosy glow as you did a few years ago. It’s the real challenge of a marriage–to create a fresh day and another chance.

This is the view the bride and groom saw at their ceremony.

Best of all, to perform this ceremony, I’ll have to hike up into the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona, to a small and secluded spot about a mile from the trailhead. Hiking into a marriage, hiking out again. It’s such a rich metaphor.

The bride and groom, in their natural chapel, grounded and happy. The couple is Tonia and David Jenny, and I have permission to use their names. Tonia is the editor of my first book, Raw Art Journaling.

Of all the things I do—write, develop and run communication courses, create and teach journaling classes, coach clients in life changes and creativity—officiating at ceremonies feels most like a combination of all the others. It’s full of creation and energy and imagination, love and powerful growth.

Natural chapel walls in the Red Rocks of Sedona.

The wedding involved a car ride, a jeep ride, and a hike. After the ceremony, we hiked back down the mile-long trail, enchanted at every corner by another breath-taking view.

I wish for Tonia and David the same trek through life–sometimes uphill, sometimes down, but always with a breathtaking realization that ther is something bigger in their view to focus on.

-Quinn McDonald is a celebrant of weddings, a creator of rituals, and a participant in the sacred moments of other people’s lives.

A Tiny Death

During rush hour, while running errands, I saw a flock of doves touch down on the street ahead of me. This is a chronically busy street, and doves are usually good with their timing.

"Flight" reductive drawing, charcoal on paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2008.

As I got closer, most of the doves flew across the street. One of them turned toward my speeding car and lifted off. I felt the thump under my car and winced.

It was a small death, unavoidable (slamming on my brakes would have caused an accident, no way I could change lanes) but sad.

When I came back from my first errand, a group of people stood in front of the car. The dove had flown directly into my grill, and was dead, but stuck. The small crowd took photos with their cell phones. They asked me what I was going to do. I asked for volunteers to remove the bird. The crowd dispersed quickly.

I felt sick. Over the death of a bird. I also could not bring myself to touch the firmly lodged bird in my grill. I finished errands and drove home. I could not bring myself to clear the bird from the grill. I’m pretty tough. I’ve come across some pretty messy auto accidents and stopped to help. I’ve broken bones in Taikwondo and continued to the end of the match. I’ve had pets run over and taken them to the vet. But this one small life, these fragile wings stopped in mid flight undid me.

I still don’t know why. I’m not exploring why. I called my car mechanic, who not only removed the bird, but didn’t charge me for doing it. Afterwards, I sat in the car and cried. I had the car washed.

Every day in my city, in every big city, people are made homeless, are shot, are falsely accused, are beaten, suffer and die. And I’m crying about a bird with a bad sense of direction.

At the end of every blog post, I try to write a summary, draw a conclusion, explain a lesson. Today there is none. Not that I can see or know. So there it is–just a vignette. Sometimes we don’t understand it all.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She doesn’t understand much, but that which she understands, she is sure of.

How to Clean Your Office

Some days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to. Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Donald Trump shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike to me.  Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.

Ethics: Write and Wrong

A creativity coaching client of mine bought me an interesting ethics question. I asked if I could tap into my super-smart  readers/commentors for help, and got the green light.

Brilliant idea. Except I didn't have the idea first. As far as I know, here is the first place to use this idea:

Background: You are asked to review a book on your blog and on amazon. The author is someone you have known for several years, largely through websites and occasional emails,  but is not a friend. You feel you owe her (for a favor received) and agree. After reading the book, you realize that there are large parts of the book that seem to be more about marketing the author’s services than dealing strictly with the book topic.

Question: Do you review the book or decline, because you don’t agree with all that marketing?

Options discussed:
Praise what works in the book, ignore the rest. You aren’t a professional critic, you are just offering some help here for a favor received. (Will this damage your reputation?)

Give your opinion, exactly as you believe it. After all, a review is just that, not a promise of blog love. (Will this damage your relationship?)

Write the author, and say you can’t review the book, blame it on your schedule. (Are you OK with this story as a social lie?)

Write the author, and say you can’t review the book because you don’t agree with it, but assure her that her opinion is just different than yours. (Will this damage your relationhsip?)

Leave a comment:
What would you advise? You don’t have to choose any of the above, it’s just a way to give you some ideas about topics that have been discussed. The only request is to suggest only the course of action you would be willing to take yourself.

Quinn McDonald teaches ethics and loves listening to ideas about right and wrong. She believes there is very little black and white, and a whole lot of gray in real life.

Imagine That. . .

It’s a phrase you hear often: Imagine that. It’s usually said in disbelief or astonishment. But it can just as well be used to create the path to success.

It's popular in the rural areas of The Valley to make fences out of ocotillo branches. The thorns keep pets in and coyotes out. Most of the time, the branches are dried and dead. Take a closer look at that one in the center. . . .

When we imagine a project, we often immediately think of the worst that could happen, or all the things that go wrong. That line of thinking can be useful for avoiding pitfalls, making mistakes, or building a Plan B.

Imagining success is also a way to start breaking in the path to success. When we imagine the end, the success, the satisfaction, it’s easier to put up with the wear-and-tear of change and progress. We know what success looks, tastes, and feels like, and engaging our senses also engages our imagination to solve problems, overcome bumps, and keep to the path we imagined.

Imagining success keeps us from running around in circles in the snowy woods

A close up of the center fence post shows that new growth is possible from an old branch. Imagination can spark your boundaries into new growth , too.

of “what if.” Imagining success keeps us from trudging along on the path, hoping a squirrel will run across the path, creating a diversion. Imagination helps the North Star of our goal stay in sharp focus, even when the harsh light of reality fades out the sky.

When you engage your imagination, engage all five senses. Include smell and touch. When you have fixed sense experiences as part of success, you will recognize when you are getting close. Sense imagination is fun, satisfying, and best of all, we can experience the thrill of success often along the way. Imagine that!

—Quinn McDonald has a vivid imagination and knows how to steer it. Most of the time.

Feed the Inner Critic and it Will Stay

You’ve heard the story of the two wolves–the one you feed is the one that thrives within you. The inner critic (also your gremlin or inner lizard) works the same way. The diet for the gremlin is tied to a lifetime diet that starts in childhood.

You can stay in your prison. . .

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the gremlin the “you can’t be enough because you weren’t nurtured” gruel.

“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.”

. . . or you can dance, even if it is in the mud. Or maybe because it is the mud.

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

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 build 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.

Finding Poetry on Book Spines

I’ve written a lot on found poetry. It’s a whole chapter in my book, Raw Art Journaling, and I love doing it as part of my artwork. It combines collage and creative accident, which is an irresistible combination for me.

One of my bookcases screamed for order yesterday. I have a horrible habit of storing books in the order I read them. This is not a well-thought out organization, although something that works for me in year-long segments.

After a year, the relationship of my life, the books, and creative activity begins to sift out only important ideas and I have to shelve books by topic.

So, to organizing. I picked up two books and looked at the titles and laughed. Smart books! Reading it from left to right it said, “The story of your life, solved by sunset.” My disorganization had created a type of found poetry on the spines of book. Book Spine Poetry. It was love at first read.

You have to use a dollop of imagination, because the titles don’t often start with words that tie sentences together. No matter. I scooped up another handful and shuffled them into another order. Mixing non-fiction and fiction creates even more interest, and before I knew it, an hour had flown by. No regret. Some books get used more than others. Some books have the names spelled out vertically on their spines. No matter. It’s still words.

Clearly this works best if you have a huge collection of books, but it also works fine in the library (a librarian will ask you what you are doing photographing books, make sure you have the answer prepared).

Here is some Book Spine Poetry, with the poem written out beneath each photo, each title starting with a capital letter, so you don’t have to squint.

“I could do anything: Distant healing, Beyond words. Shamans of the world.”

“The story of your life. Art from intuition, The 1,000 journal project.
Places left unfinished at the time of creation.”

“The Zen of seeing Signs of life. The desert smells like rain. Wabi-sabi simple.”

The dry grass of August, After the fire. The brief history of the dead? Saint Maybe.”

The odd woman, Wild mind. Resonate: Creating time, Courageous dreaming.

Want to play along? Photograph the books, put them on your website or blog, link to this blog, and send me the link in the comment section. Please don’t send titles you’ve made up, or ones without photos. The photo makes it come to life.  The fun is in using what is at hand. Have a big CD collection? Use those instead.

Oh, and even without checking,  I’m sure I’m not the first to discover this. So please, send links to other sites only if they show clever book spine poetry. Deflating proof that I’m not first or school-marmish declarations that you used this idea with your kids 30 years ago are acknowledged and not disputed, but will be deleted.  I’m looking for more book spine poetry, that’s the fun.

Final note that no one will notice:  The photograph that delights me the most (multiple delights will create a random choosing) will receive a copy of my book, Raw Art Journaling, but the link has to be your site. Links to someone else’s site gets too complicated. I’ll splurge for shipping to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, UK, and Europe if it’s necessary.

WINNER! There were too many that delighted me–so I wrote the names of 10 wonderful entries on index cards and let my cat walk across them. The first and last ones he stepped on were the winners–Andria of DrawingNear blogspot and Paula in Buenos Aires, you won a copy of my book Raw Art Journaling! Books will ship when I get back from  teaching at Valley Ridge, the week of May 7.

–Quinn McDonald is easily delighted with found poetry of any kind. It makes being awake more interesting, more alive, more aware.

Class shock

This is not about class warfare, or even the one percent or the 99 percent. This is about taking scrapbooking classes. To be honest, my experience at the class I took yesterday.

I have to say right up front, that I am not a cropper or scrapbooker. I loved the original idea of scrapbooking as a gateway to creativity, but left the arena when I began to notice an alarming number of items, supplies, equipment and tools that were one-thing specific. A tool to punch a hole. Another tool to punch a larger hole. A tool to cut a 12-inch sheet. A tool to cut a 10-inch sheet. I began to see the scrapbooking arena as being consumed by retailers who want to sell you more and more equipment because you believe that your next purchase will make you an artist. This is a hard idea to overcome.

The products and tools being turned out for scrapbookers are lovely and tempting, but so many of them don’t encourage creativity, they chase it out of the room and replace it with accuracy and project completion.

In that way, scrapbooking mimicks office life. You had to be fast and accurate, and if you followed directions, you got a project that looked just like the one on the cover of the kit. Good job!

It had nothing to do with creativity, it had nothing to do with meaning-making. It had a lot to do with peer pressure. Scrapbookers became brand loyal. If you had the blue one, you needed next year’s pink model. You bought the pink model although the blue one still works just fine? Good job! We love you! And like getting a nod from the boss, it is deeply satisfying. And has nothing to do with creativity. Or with meaning making.

Why do I say all this? Because I took a scrapbooking class.  I was the  only one who did not arrive wheeling a suitcase of equipment. The instructor came in, put five plastic boxes, one in front of each small group, and returned to the front of the room. I’m not pretending she represents all scrapbooking instructors. She did mention the brands she represents. And then, to my amazement, she recited the assembly instructions for all five kits, one after another. She moved smoothly from box to box, picking up the completed piece and describing how we were to peel this sticker and apply it to that transfer sheet and then transfer it again, noting sheet colors and decorations by brand name. I began to take notes and she told me not to. “Just follow what I say. As soon as you know what to do, start.”

Women (there were no men in class) jumped, snatched kits out of the plastic boxes and applied themselves with a fervor and concentration. Tools flashed. A woman next to me asked me where my tools were. I held up my journaling bundle. She shook her head. “You’ll never keep up with just that.” It seemed the goal was keeping up and completing. It was not a technique class by my definition, it was a multi-project class.

One of the coloring steps was interesting. I applied a color I like. The instructor was suddenly over me, tapping my transferred sticker and saying, “Pink. This is not supposed to be indigo, it’s supposed to be petal. Start over.”  I nodded, and waited for her to leave. I’m not a fan of pink. I continued on the indigo. The woman on my right looked at my work and shook her head. “That’s not right,” she said kindly, “You are doing it wrong. You’ll be here till midnight.”

I am not criticizing the women or the instructor. Many women left with completed project that looked just like the completed kits at the front of the class. I felt I’d spent two hours in a factory, failing at lining up the chocolates.

For me, this is not creative work, it is assembly work. It fosters perfectionism and obedience. It doesn’t allow for variation, play, or exploring.  For me, there was no meaning making.

Maybe a few people who are scrapbookers want more play, more exploring, less dependence on tools, more on intuition. Maybe they want a way to discover who they are, and what skills they have and how those skills can be important to them. If so, I’m interested in you. I’d like to know what your next step to creativity is. I’d like to know what you love about scrapbooking and what you don’t. I’m interested in meaning making and how we experience it.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, a book for people who want to make meaning but don’t know how to draw.

Testing Resists

Resists are pencils, pens or liquids like rubber cement that prevent color from soaking into paper. I love using resists on my art journaling pages because it gives a type of texture to the page.

Tonight I tried three different resists, to completely different results and a big surprise to me. It seems the traditional resists I’ve used for a long time don’t always work the same way.

The first one I tried is white Uniball Signo gel pen from Jet Pens. I’ve used it to write on top of color and like the effect. It puts down a nice smooth, even line. I thought writing on Strathmore Ready-cut watercolor paper first, then using color, it would give me a nice resist. Not at all.  The gel ink soaks into the watercolor paper and the color goes on over it. I was surprised.

You can see the white faintly on the right side of the page.

I then tried Sharpie Poster Paint pens, which I did not expect to work well, but did, although it’s faint.  I used watercolor pencils and a wet brush. I painted the wet brush across the pencil and used it as paint. You can see the dots as well as the flower on the middle of the page, right side.

Colored grease pencils with wrap-sharpening showing. Image from

Next I tried grease pencil, also called tile marker or china marker, is a white waxy pencil that is supported by a wrap of paper that you peel off to expose more pencil. I thought this would work; it’s my go-to resist pencil.

You can see a faint diagonal line at the upper right corner and a few dots.

It didn’t work as well as I thought. I’ll admit, it worked a lot better with an ink wash, but I was using watercolor pencils, so it’s quite pale, but visible.

What worked best? Utrecht liquid frisket. I applied it with a brush. Use a cheap brush and be prepared to throw it out. The bottle says you can rinse the brush with soap and water, but after I do that, I throw it out. It’s just not the same anymore.

Frisket works best, but I can't get even, straight lines.

The dots are clear because the frisket goes down wet, dries, and you rub it off like rubber cement. There are no straight lines, but I like the clear effect, even if the watercolor is pale.

So, there are three variables: paper, resist, and the watercolor. I need to try ink washes to see if I get better results than watercolor pencils.

–Quinn McDonald likes the word “resist” because that’s what we do when we face ourselves in our art.