Pimp my Moleskine

Note: Quinn McDonald is teaching at the GASC Convention in Arlington, TX. This is a blog post from 2010. A new blog post will appear on Saturday.

Moleskine makes a variety of journals and notebooks: different sizes, uses, colors, and page designs–lined, plain, grid. They have a soft notebook sold in a double pack–two coordinated colors–that I use as a to-do list and to take notes

To-do list Moleskine in acid green and melon orange.

on when I’m on the phone or online. The 5″ x 8″cover is coated cardboard in a variety of bright colors, the inside paper is cream-colored and there is no ribbon marker or inside back pocket.

I use them because they are clever and useful for remembering what you did when. Sure, I could check my electronic calendar, but my notebook had additional information—as a to-do list with a date on each page it shows activities, phone numbers, shortcuts or alternative routes. There are interesting quotes from blogs and books and floor plans of grocery stores so I know where favorite products are. You get the idea.

In four to five months, I fill up the 60-page notebook and store it. Great for tax-time and memory jogs. If I’m ever asked “Where were you on the night of October 19, 2007?” I can pull out the to-do list notebook and  give the correct answer.

But the problem with the soft cover Moleskine is it doesn’t have a back pocket.

Index card, taped into place, on inside back cover of the Moleskine.

Where to put the receipts, business cards and gift cards?

The pimp is incredibly easy. Take a 4 x 6-inch index cards (I’ve loved index cards since the second grade and keep finding more uses for them), turn it the long way and and cut it diagonally. (See the image).

Tape it to the inside back cover, so the shorter side of the cut faces toward the inside of the book. If anything should slip out, it will be held in place by the rest of the pages.

Tape is more useful than glue because you get the full use of the index card size and the tape allows the card to bend slightly, giving you more flexibility.

That’s all there is to it. You now have a pocket in the back of your moleskine. Total time: under three minutes. That includes finding the 4 x 6 inch index cards.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and ultimate practical person who helps other people adjust to change through creativity coaching.

The “Slash” Career

Maybe you have a “Slash” career. I’ve had one for 10 years. A “slash” career is a life that is made up of more than one job, or related careers. For example, I am a writer/creativity coach/training designer/workshop leader/speaker. That’s a lot of slashes, but it makes sense to me.

From e-how.com in an article titled, “Is it Legal to Work Two Full-Time Jobs?”

Having a slash-career means that one skill doesn’t get used every day and exhaust you. It also means that if you have a part of your career that needs nurturing and building, you can do that, because the other parts are floating your boat, not sinking your ship.

In many ways, we are all slash-characters in our own lives: we are employees or employers, parents, spouses, children, cooks, story-tellers, mentors, members, and also exhausted, brave, over-committed, tired, cheerful, and grateful. It may not be much of a leap to a slash-career, unless you are trying to turn each segment into a full-time career.

Ten years ago, having a slash-career was suspect. Now, it’s common. What’s interesting is the way people explain it. I find myself not saying I do more than one thing, because people want to know what it is I do, not listen for a long list to choose from. So to people who are in the corporate world, I would say I’m a training developer. To another writer, of course, I’m a writer, too. That need for connection is strong.

The slash life is interesting and varied. When I was in the corporate world it was called “wearing different hats,” or “multitasking,” and was valued, but only up to a certain point. The point was the paycheck. It seems you got paid according to the lowest-valued of the jobs you did. The administrative assistants who did part of the job of their supervisors, did not get supervisor pay, they got admin pay.

According to the Department of Labor, 7.8 million people work more than one job, and about 300,000 people work full time at two different jobs. Severn percent of all Americans work more than 60 hours a week. We are turning into a slash-job nation. In more than one way.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach who is in Dallas teaching One-Sentence Journaling.

What Else Do I Write in My Journal?

You’ve gotten a prompt a day email for the last two years. You write about that every day. You are getting a little bored. You’ve written morning pages. You’ve written lists. Now what?

We fall in love with journals because they are filled with hope and potential. With how they look, with heavy leather bindings and wraps.  We bring them home, write on the first page, and then store them on the shelf. We become scared of our journals because they are empty, and to fill them means writing every day.

You do not have to write in your journal every day. You may want to, and then you may not. If you want to make a habit of writing, you should push yourself (gently) to write every day. Writing every day makes you better at writing every day. When you have written every day for a month, you can decide how often you want to write. It takes a month to break in a new habit.

But what should you write about? Journal pages are a way of thinking out loud–and often not in words. Journals help you create your outlook on life, they are the GPS system of your soul. Write what is important today. The price of a gallon of milk. About your car and what it feels like to drive it. Tomorrow it may be something different–which do you prefer, cotton shirts or those “high performance” ones?

When I was in graduate school, I read the journals of hundreds of women who had come to this country. These women came with very little in the way of possessions but carried a lot of traditions and new ideas. Many of the women were poor and overworked. But they wrote. Writing was their way out of their physical reality into a better world. And once they wrote about that better world, they created it.

Journal page by Patty Van Dorine

In those journals lived the culture and the history of their day. They were not famous writers, they were women who worked or stayed at home with children. They took in washing. They wrote at night. In those journals I found the cost of a pair of children’s shoes in 1895, and a dozen eggs in 1897,  and a pencil.

In those journals I found out what women thought about politics, and religion, and their bodies and the clothes they wore. I read as they changed their minds and the way they celebrated events that were important to them.

I read the journals of the women pioneers who walked behind covered wagons in the 1850s and 60s. They did not think of themselves as brave or changers of history. They were scared and tired. They wrote about the sounds they heard at night, and about the joy they would feel when they slept in a real bed.

What each of these journals had in common was a reality described in great detail. The pages contained the smells and tastes of a dinner, the sight of a field of waving grass, the sound of a tired sigh, the touch of hair and skin. The pages were full of history and culture.

The only thing you need to write in a journal is curiosity. What is happening? What do you feel about it? Discover yourself in your journal. Date the pages, so you will know how you and your world changed as you wrote it down.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a certified creativity coach.

Knowing When It’s Enough

When are you done? When is the art complete? When do you quit? All good questions, and all with similar answers.

This weekend, I was working with ink on watercolor paper. It’s a new technique I’m puzzling out, and the most critical element is knowing when to stop working. It’s incredibly easy to overwork the ink, and once it’s overworked the piece simply looks like a clean-up towel.

Here’s the first step:

Which actually can be left alone. But I wanted to add another layer. The next step promptly overworked it.

So why didn’t I know that? Because I was willing to see what would happen if I tried another layer of ink. So the first reason you don’t quit is curiosity–seeing what will happen if you continue. When the urge to continue is  more interesting or compelling than the need to quit, you push on. If I had been perfectly satisfied with the results, I could have quit.

Another way to know you are finished is when the elements of design you had in mind are all in place. On this paper, I worked  in three stages. When working with ink pieces, it’s important to let one layer dry completely before the next one is started, or the ink will blur. Waiting allows time to make the decision to continue or decide the design is fine the way it is.

In the case of this piece, the black and gray sections were complete, but there was not enough contrast in the overall page. I added the yellow, which was interesting, but still not enough of a contrast. So I added the orange-red over the yellow, allowing both colors to show.

I knew I wasn’t done when the yellow didn’t achieve the purpose of contrast. I knew I was done when the branching edges completed a pleasing design. In other cases, you would continue when you cannot explain how your work is complete.

Ink on watercolor is a fairly tricky medium. You have to balance not being in control as well as controlling color choice and water amount. The medium doesn’t allow erasing, covering with gesso or not clicking “accept” and starting over, as you can with digital work in steps.

It was a mistake to add gold to this page. Not only was the choice in the yellow-green-gold color range, of which there was already too much,  but the eye can’t find a resting place, a catch with everything in one tone. The ink on the upper left looks like a three-legged blowfish sticking out its tongue. The lesson: knowing what you are doing and why. Here I knew why, but the what was a bad choice. Had I given the choice of shimmering ink more thought, I would have realized that I should have stopped after the background was still wet when I applied the second layer.

In this case, the shimmer worked far better.

It was right to choose the shimmer because there was a large, dark center that needed more definition. I left the lower right hand corner (which I love) alone, but did not expect it to carry the entire piece. Adding the shimmer ink gave the middle section texture and made both colors–the blue/gray and the violet, more visible. Knowing how strong (and how much space) the strongest part of a visual piece can carry is a way of knowing when the piece is complete.

These same decision-making questions work for other “should I quit?” questions, too. If one small and excellent part of a relationship can’t carry the rest of it, it may be time to add something to the relationship. But you have to know what and why.

Discovering that art answers are a bigger part of life is one of the reasons I do creative work. Because (you already know what’s coming) it makes meaning out of part of my life.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is exploring the relationship between ink, water and paper, along with the rest of her life.

Extracting Honey from the Wax Comb

Honey is a complicated thing. I don’t much want to think about how it’s made, because it will destroy my fantasy of happy bees making liquid sunshine while clover and wildflowers wave nearby in a fragrant breeze.

Honey comb in plastic clamshell containers. I brought it home from Wisconsin. Security did not tell me it was a liquid and confiscate it. I am grateful.

I purchased two squares of honeycomb from a beekeeper. The honey that’s taken from a honeycomb tastes better (to me) than honey that’s been strained, boiled, and pasteurized. When we were both younger, my brother concocted a taste test, and both of us could easily detect the comb honey taste. I remember saying it tastes like wax candles.

Use a sharp, clean knife and do not press, but slice, the honey comb.

Honey may taste better fresh from the comb, but you have to get it out of the comb first. Eating the comb along with the honey is not a joy for me. But how to get the honey out? First, cut the comb in half so you have two flat squares. That opens all the compartments.

Pieces of comb in strainer, in pot.

Next, place the compartments, face down, in a strainer and put the strainer in a deep enough cooking pot to allow the honey to drip through the strainer. The room should be about 80 degrees to let the honey flow freely. Do not put the honey outside in the summer to warm it up faster. The phrase “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” was invented by someone who tried that.

You can turn the oven on “warm” for 10 minutes and then slide the pot and strainer in. Do not leave the kitchen while the honey is in the oven. Your spouse will come along and turn the oven on 350 degrees. This will melt the wax into the honey where it was before, and also the plastic handle of the strainer onto the pizza stone you keep in the oven.

Burned strainer handle melted onto pizza stone.

If this does happen, leave the strainer in the pot and place the pot on a trivet until the whole mess cools down, about two hours. Once the pot is no longer hot to the touch, put in the the fridge, complete with strainer, for an hour.

Do not roll your eyes or say, “I told you the pot was in the oven,” because this will not un-ruin the pizza stone. One of the secrets to a long marriage is not saying everything you think.

Removing what’s left of the strainer will leave a bottom-of-the-strainer size hole in the wax.

When the wax is cool, but before the honey hardens in the fridge, pull the strainer containing the was impurities out of the pot, skim the wax off the honey (if the honey is stiff, this won’t work) and rinse off the wax to make a candle.


Decant the honey into a small container and enjoy it on hot toast, cold yogurt, or in tea.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and still married to KentCooks, whose pizza stone got ruined in the process of extracting the honey from the wax. The link to his website will take you to a yummy recipe for salmon with fruit salsa.

Simplifying a Complicated World

The world is not easy to navigate. It’s complex and drains a lot of energy from you. Complicated connections. Pull one thing and a whole lot of others come apart, too.

Lots of tangled wires, all connected.

Sometimes, when we don’t do anything except witness–watch and wait, take notes before acting or jumping to conclusions–we get more information. That step–being a witness instead of a fixer–holds the space for learning.

Choosing to be a fixer means we rush in with an answer, a suggestion, a solution as soon as we sense the connection is complicated. We want to simplify it, cut it apart, all before we are sure what  the problem really is. Because solving problems gives us a shot at being a hero. If we are a witness, and wait for information, well, time could be lost.

It’s a twisted fence, ugly from this view. Complicated, too.

Time doesn’t get lost. We do, but time does not. Time knows exactly where it is. When we stand still, stay calm, witness, take notes, don’t give advice till we know what we are doing, we catch up with time. We gather information. We don’t take on work that isn’t ours to do. We see what is ready to resolve itself without our help.

A simple pattern evolves.

And then, in the sharp shadow of understanding, the information becomes not only clear, but beautiful. Sometimes without our getting involved at all. The shadow of the fence on the sidewalk shows, not the complicated twisted pattern, but a simple light and dark outline of connections.

The other side of complicated is not simple, it’s waiting. So we can learn more.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who learns on her walks every day.

Less Abundance is Enough

The negative self-talk gremlin was in full voice before dawn. I got up because the animals needed out, and my first thought was “It’s 4:45 a.m., and I did not get enough sleep.” Feeling sorry for myself before 5 a.m. isn’t a sign of a full-energy day. I fed the beasts and let them out, and while I waited for them to come back in, I staggered to the computer. it was not quite 5 a.m. and after looking at my to-do list for today, I thought, “I don’t have enough time to get all this done today.”

Agave blossoms on a stem . . .

And then I stopped. I had been up less than half an hour and I was already focusing on what wasn’t there, what I didn’t have, what wasn’t enough. The gremlin was in full voice, singing opera.

One of the emails on my laptop was a seminar on abundance. It promised increased money, respect, happiness, sexual pleasure and satisfaction in life. Not a lot was left out. They were targeting people like me, who wake up and are unhappy before they get dressed. And the word “abundance” seems like the answer to everything you lack.

“Abundance” has become a commodity–something we need to buy and own to make a good life. It’s dangled in front of us like a sale on shoes. Abundance is the new bag or car or something you are missing and you have to pay a speaker so you can get your abundance from someone else.

. . . can be too abundant, too much of a good thing.

And although I am not the sharpest tool in the shed at that hour of the morning, I had two really sharp ideas.

First: No one can sell me abundance. I have to make my own abundance. All by my ownself, as my boy used to say when he was three.

Second: Abundance isn’t a fixed amount of money, or a set salary. It’s not measured in cups, pounds, or bushels. If you ask just about anyone what amount of money it would take to make them feel they have “abundance,” they will pick a number far above the amount they have. Because “having abundance” translates to “more than I have now,” or “I don’t have enough.” Abundance is now seen as lack. And that’s the gremlin’s territory.

I looked at my to-do list. “I have enough time to do what I need if I choose the most important things to do,” I said. Then I made a list of all the things I needed to do so it was clear. Next, I made a list of the three most important things to do. That was my new to-do-now list. Until they were complete, no other work would get done.

And about that lack of sleep? The beasts had come back in, I closed the door, re-set the alarm clock and got another hour of sleep. Still plenty of time to take the morning walk and then get down to work.

When we allow ourselves to classify abundance as what we lack, what we don’t have, what we are missing, we will never have it. We strive for what we don’t have, measure ourselves by what we lack. The gremlin owns us, we are miserable.

When we define abundance as what we already have, and thrive in that standard, then the world shifts. We don’t strive for what we can’t reach, we suddenly have the time we thought we didn’t. When I woke up again at 6:30 a.m., I felt better. I had enough time to achieve the high-priority items. I felt better, calmer, and grateful that I’d had another chance at abundance. Because this time I had it.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who has enough and is enough. At least for this one day.

Book Review: It’s About Time

Marney Makridakis invented the land of Artella in 2002, both as a magazine as as cyber-destination for creativity. She’s been working creatively ever since, inventing creative trips and explorations for her loyal and enthusiastic tribe.

Now she is tackling the tricky topic of time and tipping it on its ear through her new book, Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life.

The first thing I notice about a book is the organization, and Creating Time gets high marks for excellent organization–three sections, 16 chapters, with titles that explain in depth what the section contains.

The material is followed by notes, acknowledgements, contributors’ and Marney’s bio. The foreword is in back, too, because the content begins and ends from the same point, Marney explains.

I read the book front to back, but that doesn’t always happen with creatively-written books, and this one is prepared. If you read it section by section, the excellent table of contents will help you re-find what you need it when you want it again. There is also an index, an all-but-abandoned but highly useful tool for finding specific references or sub-topics. For all of you who are too young to know how to use an index—heavy sigh—it’s what we used before there was a search engine in every blog.

You will not wind up with 28 hours in a day by reading the book, but you will discover any number of new ways to see time, feel time, experience time and tell time.

Reading the book is like visiting with Marney herself. She chats about her life, using events in her and her family’s life to illustrate points. You get to know her struggles with a genetic bone disorder (when a foot surgery takes a year to heal, your sense of time has to become uncomfortable) and many example of her wonder of her son’s experiencing life. She uses stories and artwork from the coaches she trains, and she invents words like Wellativity and Artsignment. The book is pure, authentic Marney from first page to last. Her voice and language are on every page of the book.

You can use the book as a workbook–there are step-by-step how-tos and assignments to help put to use what you have just read. I have a big weakness for books written for kinesthetic readers, and this is fully one of them. You learn by doing. She doesn’t tell, she shows. And when Marney shows,  you can’t avoid participating. The book is a personal tour through her vision of time, through her experience of time. You are presented with new ideas and new ways to manipulate the time you want to repeat. (Not having a good time? There are ways to speed up the experience of time, too.) Reading the book is a workout in a mental gym.

The book is richly illustrated and designed to keep you moving, reading, empathizing and making time bend to your will. Marney wouldn’t have it any other way.

Disclosure: Marney sent me a review copy at no cost to me.  My curiosity (and need for more time) would have driven me to pay for it,  but I’m thankful for the generosity.

–Quinn McDonald  is a creativity coach and writer who is a kinesthetic learner.

Filling Those Empty Journal Pages

Open an art journal, and you are likely to see beautiful art–collage, mixed media, watercolor sketches. But few words. It always makes me a little sad when people are so fast to turn to images in their journals, but often leave out words.

Masu box with magic words made by Suzanne Ourth.

Most people fear writing down what they are thinking. The same people who are cheerfully transparent on Facebook, become shy in a journal. I get that. It’s a throwback to the times when we believed what we saw on a page–and the responsibility is huge. At least in your mind.

In a few weeks, I’m going to be at the Great American Scrapbooking Convention in both Arlington, TX and Chantilly VA. And the scrapbookers who want to experiment creatively with intuitive writing, well, I hope they show up.  We are going to open a creative door that will let in words and ideas and sunlight and joy. The door will open, and a path of merry footprints will run across your journal pages.

You won’t ever have to wonder “What should I write in my journal?” You’ll have a small masu box at hand (we’re making it at the convention), and it’s packed with your own ideas. Ready to use. Any time.

No long essays are necessary. After class, and with your box, you will have access to ideas that will braid their way through your book.

I’m teaching the new One-Sentence Journaling. We will make a masu-box of magic words. You will learn several different ways to use them. Your intuitive talent will be set free. Some of the exercises are funny, some are thoughtful.

And then, just because you can, you are going to make a folder out of braille paper, to hold your new pages.

If you want to explore your scrapbook pages, your art journal pages and explore the words that hold memories, inspire you, comfort you, please join us in Arlington, Texas on May 31 through June 2, or in Chantilly, VA June 22 and 23. I designed this class just for scrapbookers who want to step into a new area of creativity–into Raw Art Journaling, or into intuitive writing. You’ll discover that making meaning in your scrapbooks and journals will feel new and exciting. There are fewer rules, and while you might still want to be perfect, you can put it down at the door if you want.

I’m looking forward to seeing new faces!

-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a raw art journaler who believes that meaning-making is fundamental to art making.

No-Drama Life

One of the joys of being an artist is that the slow life is appealing. Yes, I am a workaholic and spend more hours at the computer than I’d like. But I also know how to go slow. The morning walk, the turning around and backtracking when something interesting catches my eye. Going slow allows surprise to catch up with you, allows you to confirm something you thought you almost saw.

This morning, I dragged the hose across the pool and set the sprinkler to water the potted plants at the edge of the pool. The shadow made by the random drops that fell in the pool sent me back for my camera.

I would have missed it, if I hadn’t looked over my shoulder.

A few weeks ago, a caring, thoughtful person steamed asparagus for dinner, and I was enchanted by the color. She pulled one out of the steaming pot, and I caught it with a drop of water near the top.

The color alone was worth asking someone I had just met to let me photograph dinner in the making. We both laughed, surprised, I think, that the other didn’t mind asking to slow down and notice.

I have a growing cactus in the front yard. A few weeks ago, on my way out the door for a walk, the shape of one of the cactus pads caught my eye. Yep, it was heart shaped. I hadn’t noticed it before.

My life would be poorer had I missed these opportunities. It’s more than the glance. It’s a certain vulnerability that allows for permission to take the time to enjoy such an accident of nature and pull out the camera to catch it. In my case, it’s an iPhone, but I had to allow myself to be all right with not racing off, not staying on schedule. And allow myself the vulnerability of being amazed at nature time and time again.

There were many years in my life when I would have noticed but pretended not to. It wasn’t important enough. It wasn’t worth my time. But at night, before I fell asleep, I always regretted not allowing myself the simple permission of time to be slow. It was a hard lesson to learn, to give up speed for enjoyment.

I still work fast and hard, I’m sure I miss a lot. But I’m grateful for every second I catch and enjoy. I’m happy to give up the drama that made up a lot of my life many years ago. It was a considered decision. Frankly, the drama had a crackle to it that was tempting. In the end, I’m happier choosing to steer clear of drama and noticed the smaller, slower things. At least occasionally.

–Quinn McDonald is a naturalist for at least the first two hours of every day. Then she’s a creativity coach with a memory for beauty.