The Happiness Burden

Mezzegra_alleyway_1We love the pursuit of happiness, we love seeing it disappear around the corner, down an ally. That chase is everything.

But much like a dog chasing a car, if we catch happiness, we don’t know what to do with it.

Happiness is work. If we admit to being happy, we have a responsibility to stay happy. Maybe even admit we deserve to be happy. And then, even harder, make others happy. It’s too much work to sustain happiness.

So we don’t want to be happy. We just want to chase it. For all the competitiveness of our culture, we never claim to be happier than someone else. Or know more about how to be happy. Or how to stay happy. Nope. We’ll deny it. As if it were bad luck.

So maybe it’s the pursuit we love. The chase. The just-out-of-reach-ness of happiness. It’s the best when it’s the one that got away. Owning happiness is a burden. Chasing it is an adventure.

–Quinn McDonald loves the pursuit of happiness.

Image: Ally in Mezzegra, photo by Aconcagua, Wiki Commons GFDL, Cc-by-sa-3.0

Natural Rain

There’s an odd thing that happens in the desert–the landscape reacts completely differently to natural rain than to hose watering. Hose watering keeps plants alive, not much more. Leaves curl on the trees, the fruit trees develop a yellow tinge.

Pencil cactus, showing new growth, which is orange.

Pencil cactus, showing new growth, which is orange.

But once the Monsoon starts, you can practically hear the plants sigh and relax. Maybe even grow.

The Ocotillo, bare since early May, suddenly leafs out again. Watering can’t make that happen. The fig leaves uncurl. The pencil cactus pulls itself upright and looks full.

It’s magical. Surprising. It’s not the amount of rain, a hose can provide that. I don’t know what it is–the different quality of rain water, the fact it falls from the sky–I don’t know.

Looking for metaphors, the rain reminds me that we all need our own kind of nurturing. What works for one person doesn’t for the other. The teacher who inspires one person, doesn’t work for another. The parents that help one child thrive, suffocate another’s spirit.

Walking rainstorm in the desert. Photo: Erin and Lance Willett Flickr/Creative Commons License

Walking rainstorm in the desert. Photo: Erin and Lance Willett Flickr/Creative Commons License

We all need to find our natural rain. We need to find the refreshing, nurturing environment that helps us thrive. Don’t be satisfied with the hose water that keeps you alive. Look for the rain that helps you thrive.

—Quinn McDonald didn’t thrive in the 46F-degree rain in Northern Wisconsin, but she loves it when the desert smells like rain.

Creating Our Character

Sometime in our life, we take on a character–just like in a novel. “I’m the black sheep of the family,” we explain. Or, “Yeah, I’m the family historian,” or even, “We’d never have family reunions without me. I love organizing them.” Those descriptions are true, in the moment. It gets a bit stickier if we believe them too much ourselves.

labelsIt’s a small step from having done some daring things in the past to thinking of ourselves as the black sheep of the family who will never amount to anything.

In the novel of our lives, the hero will come around and fix us and save us, generally just in time to live happily ever after.  In real life, we keep choosing ways to not amount to anything so we can continue to be the black sheep and. . . keep repeating the same mistakes, bad choices, and foiling anyone who wants to help us.

The trouble with living life as a novel is that a novel ends because everything is resolved. If we resolve our lives, there is nothing left to do. So we avoid resolving or changing, often waiting for the hero to do the job that is ours to do.

DesertbookAnd should the hero show up, well, we go to the beginning of the novel and start over, proving we are the black sheep. When the real life hero decides that life needs more balance than a one-way struggle to re-engineer a dedicated black sheep, it’s easy to decide it’s the wrong hero.

We can live an entire life making everyone else wrong while we dedicate ourselves to the label we don’t need. We all have a choice of the reality we want to live. We can create the reality that sheds labels and makes us. . .responsible for who we want to be. Yep. The hero you are waiting for is you.

It’s a big world. You don’t have to live the old reality. You can walk out of that novel and look where you want to go. Then head in that direction.

What if others try to stick that label back on you? That’s their reality. You are just walking through it. Choose your own reality. Live it to the fullest.

–Quinn McDonald is cheered by what she experienced last week on Madeline Island. She’s looking where she wants to go.

Back from Madeline Island

Thanks to all of you who stayed and chatted while I was on the Island. It was absolutely magical. A wonderful class, amazing participants, and surroundings that I could not get enough of.  The staff of the school, artists themselves, spoiled us with help getting what we needed (an extra tarp? No problem. More paper towels? Sure. Fresh apples, water, soda? Of course–in the fridge in the classroom.) We had a light and airy classroom, open 24 hours a day.  We had beautiful weather until the end, and the rain and cold were perfect for leaving with a tinge of sorrow.

Here are some images so you can have a peek at the week:

MISA Ferry_SmOn the ferry from Bayfield, WI to Madeline Island. Another ferry is still at the dock. The ferry held about a dozen cars.

MISA_Reflect_smA color-corrected version of the sunset reflected in the window of the hotel in Ashland, the night before I took the ferry.

MISABarn_smThe classroom was in this barn, on the top floor. You can see lights on in the room. The room was bright and airy and big. On the ground floor was the hall where we shared meals with everyone at the school–writers, painters, journalers, all of us. Good food, too!

MISALandscape_smLooks like a painting, but it’s a photograph of the view from the South balcony. Yes, our classroom had two balconies. On the second and third day, a pilot flying an ultra-light airplane buzzed this field about eight feet off the ground. As he roared past the balcony, we could see the top of the plane. My jaw was hanging open, so I didn’t get a photograph.

MISAClouds_SmAt the other end of the island is a town park. I went to watch the moonrise. Before that, there was this amazing view of clouds moving in, reflected in the estuary.

Moonrise over Lake Superior

Moonrise over Lake Superior.  Just like that.

MISATurtles_sm Because you want to give them a chance to get to the other side. And you aren’t in a hurry anyway.

MISACemetery_smMadeline Cadotte (who gave Madeline Island its name) is buried here. She is the daughter of Ojibwe (Chippewa) Chief White Crane and wife of fur trader Michael Cadotte.

12715657_133952560724The cemetery is closed to the public, so this is a photo of Madeline Cadotte’s headstone  by historian Paul Wilcox. Madeline died on August  17, 1887 at age 35. Must have been a hard life in those years.

MISAHands_smMonsoon Papers with inked hands. As Lindsay said, “I don’t want to wear gloves. I want proof of life.”

MISA_TableArt_smA table full of art made by meaning-making hearts and busy hands.

MISAARtists_smThe willing artists, each with some of their art. After class some would stay, often till after midnight, working on what pleased them and what called to them. It was a magical week, for sure.

Quinn McDonald is back from a week at Madeline Island School of the Arts, making meaning and exploring the island.

New Territory

imageSometimes when you are traveling, you know you aren’t anywhere close to home.   The landscape doesn’t just look different, it looks foreign. In my case it was in a good way. Broadleaf trees, green fields, acres of corn. An eagle in a tree.

I remembered all these images as if they were a long time the past, almost like a reflection in a window that you just walked by.

Waking up to cold, fresh air surprised me. Wearing a jacket in July feels odd. Like all new things, I am waiting to see if it fits. Tomorrow morning, when I step into a classroom on Madeline Island, I think it will fit and feel just fine


Managing the Future

A few days ago, I talked about a to-do list as a way of focusing on what needs doing now and not letting the rest of your work make you feel overwhelmed.

5-Tips-for-Speeding-up-Site-Loading-Time-without-Pricier-Hosting-650x365I discovered another tip as I was racing around the last two days before I left for Madeline Island. I had an impressive to-do list that needed to be done before I left. The harder I worked, the longer it got. Overwhelmed was coming back for a visit, when I took another look at the list and cut its head off.

A good slice of the list didn’t really have to be done before I left. So I started a page in my work journal called “things to do when I get back” and everything that wasn’t pressing went on that list. Pay bills? Do it before I leave. Send in the contract for a class I’m teaching next February? That can wait. Do laundry? Has to be done so I can pack. Those approved article for the blogs I ghost? Well, the approval had to be done, but sending them to the client could confuse the issue. So it can wait.

At the end of the long, hot day, I had a lot accomplished so I can enjoy the retreat, and a to-do list ready to go when I come back. No more overwhelm.

–Quinn McDonald is looking forward to deep writing of her own.




Saturday Link Hop

Kerry Miller re-imagines books. She imagines them without words. Using just the illustrations already in the book, Miller removes the type and then re-arranged the carefully removed illustrations to re-create a different book.


She may add color if it is needed, but the rest of the impressive work comes from careful cutting and arranging the book’s illustrations.

Remember the Oliver Sachs books on synesthesia? It was called Musicophilia. Synesthesia is a disease in which the brain is rewired to allow one sense to be interpreted by another. Numbers appears as colors. Conversations as smells. You can see how fast it gets interesting.


Designer Raphaël Pluvinage turns synesthesia into an art form. He makes jellies that create electronic noise. And yes, he calls them Noisy Jellies.

You mold jelly with certain salts in them. You then place them on a board attached to a computer and touch the jelly and it makes noise. Vary the ingredients, vary the sound. You can also vary the song by how you touch the jelly. So the kit comes with powders labeled “bass” and “scratch.”

I’d love to spend a day in his brain and see what the world looks like through his eyes.

In 1612, Pendle Hill in England was not a safe place. A witch trial took place and 10 people were hanged as witches. Phillippe Handford became interested in the area not just because of the witches, but because the trees in the area were illegally cut down.

Philippe-Handford-installation7Phillippe decided that the trees needed healing. Using wood from similar trees, he creates metal frames that hold wood slices to look as if they have been re-attached to the trunks. The trees seem to be resting rather than uprooted.

–Quinn McDonald is on her way to Madeline Island. She hopes you are having a creatively fascinating weekend.

Friends In Your Life

When we have friends we say, “I have X in my life.” It’s an interesting phrase. We often assume friends will be in our life forever. Oddly enough, we don’t expect the same from a spouse. Marriages break up, dissolve, or suffer from “irreconcilable differences,” but we expect friendships to go on forever.

BFFThey don’t. Sometimes we become friends over a specific project, problem, or event. We work closely together. The glue that holds us together is the work we share. Long hours of work, and we share personal stories. It’s a friendship. Then the project or event is over or the problem is solved. The bond is gone. The friendship drifts. And that’s fine. Friendships aren’t necessarily meant to last forever, and when they do, it’s a wonderful thing. When they don’t, there are great memories and shared skills and accomplishments.

Friendships at work can also be difficult. People to whom we’ve told our darkest fears and shared our dysfunctional family stories with are suddenly no longer our co-workers, they are the boss. Or the needy friend is suddenly a direct report.

It takes a strong heart and mind to know when a friendship is working. It takes a lot of spine to end a friendship that is draining you dry and not supporting your dreams and ideas. A friendship is a balance. That means sometimes you won’t be on the receiving end, but if you are never on the receiving end, then you may want to re-evaluate the relationship. Which is no longer a friendship.

It’s hard to reconsider, and it’s easy to claim loyalty as a part of friendship, but a real friendship is a bond that is stretchable, not brittle. It floats, it doesn’t hold either party down. And it grows and changes as both of you grow and change.

Walking away is a hard road, but sometimes it’s necessary to your health, soul, and heart.

-Quinn McDonald is deeply happy that her friends put up with her.

The Joy of Paste

PasteJarDid you eat paste when you were in elementary school and paste came in little plastic tubs with a bright yellow spreader?

Paste smelled clean and tasty, but I never ate it. I squished it through my fingers and rubbed it on paper because I liked the way it looked.

Paste paper is an ancient art that honors the paste-loving kid in all of us. You cook wheat-paste, add color and then spread it on sheets of paper. Before it dries, you drag a design into it with various tools.

Wheat paste is a bit of a problem because bugs like to eat it. I’ve fiddled with the recipe and came up with something that is traditional and doesn’t attract bugs.

Paste_Sm_goldThen I created more modern versions of paste and applied them to different kinds of papers.

This is gold paste paper applied to black paper. You don’t get the full effect in this image, but it’s wonderful. I love the three-dimensional effect

You can layer paste paper designs, too, as well as layer colors. Below is a blue and purple paste on white paper.


This technique in this color blending is the old-school heavy-body paste mix, which makes for interesting color blending results.

You can also use a thinner paste-coat technique. It makes for interesting uses for stencils. Another use for stencils!

Paste_Sml_NmbersLayering colors and stencils makes great collage papers or background papers.

One of the real reasons paste paper is the tools–you already have them. Almost anything can be used or modified–spatulas, paintbrushes, string, palette knives, old credit cards, cans, plastic spoons and forks, chopsticks, sponges, and yes, your fingers.

Using odd writing instruments sometimes improves your handwriting, and creates an interesting repetitive graphic design across a page. That can be used for both cards and wrapping paper.


I’ll be teaching Not Your Grandma’s Paste Paper at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix on August 10. Class will begin at 10 a.m. and go till 3 p.m. If you are interested, drop me an email at QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com. I’ll send you details. You can also register here.

—Quinn McDonald loves playing with new and old paste papers.