Surrendering to a Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi—Appreciation of the Imperfect and Impermanent
You are looking watching the big harvest moon rise in the September sky. You remember seeing this special moon–as big as your head–when you were a child and asking if this moon was the bigger brother of the regular moon. You smile at the recognition of the wonder of this moment.

MoonThat fragile moment of recognition is part of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi– the beauty of things impermanent or incomplete. It contains a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. As an aesthetic, it honors things imperfect and impermanent.

A Different Approach to Success and Abundance
Wabi-sabi is the release of control. It avoids beating up the creative soul for not achieving perfection. Recognizing and embracing our imperfections allows room for growth. The only result of demanding perfection is certain failure. Perfection is impossible, and while we live in a culture that loves people who are “passionate” and “give 110%,” we seldom feel passion for our daily lives, and it is impossible to give more than all. Perfection is a cruel boss. It leads to giving up, depression and anger rather than eagerness for growth and improvement.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie's Ink.

Standing up for yourself, from Annie’s Ink.

Living a wabi-sabi life means letting go of the stress of competition, relentless achievement, and replacing them with a willingness to let life find its own pace. It allows for space to trust that opportunities will appear, and a willingness to let the world unfurl without having full control over every activity. It is a life stripped down to what is valuable, rather than randomly acquired. It is not living without, but rather within.

In a wabi-sabi life, you recognize all things are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Once you open the door to imperfection, a creative force rushes into your life, making it possible to risk, to try different solutions, to explore your creativity fully. Which leads to living a creative life–work and business combine to create a full, rich and abundant life.

How to Live a Wabi-Sabi Life
One of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. We are always planning—what to have for dinner, what time to pick up the kids, what to do if that promotion doesn’t come through.

We live our lives in the past, reviewing our mistakes, and in the future, planning

From Lady Employed, in a post about standing up for yourself.

From Lady Employed, in a post about standing up for yourself.

on contingencies and how to handle what will happen next. The current moment is empty as we rush to control—ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children. We try to control our creativity, what we make, even our intuition.

Certainly planning helps organize our time and leads to action. But when we begin to plan for every possibility, guess at every motive, fill every second of the day with planned activities, meetings and obligations, we exhaust ourselves and our families.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Often we can’t influence the future. What we think of as failure is simply a lack of knowing. You don’t always have to know. And you don’t always have to be in control. Take off that heavy obligation of knowing and controlling and take three deep, slow breaths. Then decide right now. In this moment. To live and grow. And leave perfection behind. And let creativity take root in your life.

—Quinn McDonald is renewing her determination to live a wabi-sabi life.

Expressing Yourself with Tape

BlogTapeScotch® Brand Tape has a new kind of tape rolling off the reel. (I could not help myself, I had to say that). It’s meant, I think, to be a competitor to washi tape–the Japanese-made tape that uses thin but tough washi paper and sticky tape.

A package of three rolls of tape was sent to me to try out, and I was thrilled. I’m a fan of Scotch Tape, and this was the same smooth-finish tape  as the frosted tape, but in rich color. I was smiling. Until I opened it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The tape comes in several colors, in packs of three. You can use them in tape dispensers. The impression I got from the commercial is that it is tough, durable, opaque and strong.

My journal is a Strathmore Mixed Media Journal, with a black cover.

BlogJrnlThis seems like a nice canvas for bright tape, so I got started. First I put on a green piece of tape, top to bottom, then added a turquoise. So far so good.

blog.coverBut when i tried to remove a piece of the patterned tape, it tore off the roll unevenly. I carefully found a piece where it was whole, and tried again. Another piece sheared off to the edge. In the end, I cut triangles off the pieces because I hate wasting the nice pattern.

blogifcThe inside cover was much harder. The tape is not opaque. You can see the black through the tape. If you overlap the tape, you can see that part. The tape is re-positionable which means that it does not stick permanently. If you are decorating, this is not mixed media, it’s mixed messages.

While some of the patterned pieces stayed whole, it was only through very careful manipulation. Most of the pieces tore off at angles.

I was disappointed. Perhaps the tape I had was defective. But as long as the patterned tape doesn’t work as well as the solid colors, as long as the colors aren’t opaque and don’t stay permanently in place, I’m not going to use it.

Disclosure: I received the tape for free from Amazon Vine program. I write reviews for the products.

–Quinn McDonald likes the idea of decorating a plain journal. She just wished she could get a tape that works well and easily.

Write Your Own Manifesto

What’s a personal manifesto? A way for you to get back to what you are meant to do, to find your North Star, to re-align your compass. A personal manifesto is a call to action, a step forward, a no-excuses definition of your clearest, best self. After printing Jenna’s manifesto, I got some requests for instructions.

The-Holstee-Manifesto-e1321642060353If you are a word person, a personal manifesto is the writing equivalent of a vision board or a video statement. Use what resonates as true for you.

You can write and then design your own manifesto. The Holstee Manifesto is a very popular one that made the rounds last year. That’s it over on the upper left.

Long before they were popular, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote a manifesto for his apprentices. Mr. Wright (never call him Frank in Scottsdale) had a winter studio and school in Scottsdale, and although he himself had an enormous ego (and many, many mistresses, including the wife of a client), his manifesto was simple and clear. There are a lot of big, muscular ideas in this short list:

1. An honest ego in a healthy body.
2. An eye to see nature
3. A heart to feel nature
4. Courage to follow nature
5. The sense of proportion (humor)
6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work
7. Fertility of imagination
8. Capacity for faith and rebellion
9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance
10. Instinctive cooperation

How do you write a manifesto? There are as many ways as there are people, but here are some suggestions to get you going:


By Sandra Belegi from her website

1. Write down some statements about life that you know are true from experience. Here’s one of mine:  “Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. The other half is knowing what you are smart at and doing lots of that. Don’t confuse the two.”

2. Write down a list of things you believe (or know are true). Write down another list of things you don’t believe (or know are not true. At least for you.)

3. What do you want your life/world/work/studio/art to be? That question is hard to answer, so you may have to ask it another way: I want to live in a world where. . . .  or By the time I’m [fill in our age 10 or 20 years from now] I want to have [made /read/ created/ achieved / learned. . .

4. Pick a topic for your manifesto. It can be as focused as “how I want to manage my disappointment” to “I want to be an artist.” Distill the items in steps 1 to 3 and make them into simple, powerful statements. Don’t cut them short just to be short, but make them powerful.

5. Use speedy verbs and muscular nouns. No traveling to mamby-pamby land [ya jackwagon]. No “I’ll try” or “I’ll do my best.” Be strong about what you believe about yourself. Step up and step out.

6. Write it down. Use a pen and paper, it makes it stronger and requires more effort. What you write by hand travels there from your heart.

7. Post it where you can see it every day. Read it out loud if you feel scared or drifting.

Reading it isn’t enough. You may have to make a list of what you need to be that person, conquer that fear, take that risk. A list of what you need will give you another action step. Manifestos are not about calling yourself to action.We go where we look. Look at what you want every day and move toward it a little more.

What is one thing you would include in a manifesto?

–Quinn McDonald has written a total of 8,000 words today, for others and for herself. She is not as tired as she thought she might be.

Power in a Manifesto

Jenna*is one of those artists who surprise me time after time. She has a real grasp on the throat of her inner critic, and she has big plans. That’s always a good combination.

What surprises me is not that Jenna never stumbles, falls, makes mistakes, slides into the morass of crankiness or wraps herself around her axle–she does all of those things. What surprises me is that she doesn’t make up stuff. She keep her life and her place in it in focus.

personal-manifesto-240x300She does the three thing that makes coaching successful:

1. She gets up again, after every slip, trip, and stumble. People who stay down discover that others step over them on their way to their own plans.

2. She doesn’t make excuses for herself. She analyzes her situation and learns from it. That doesn’t mean she won’t do it again, but she will learn something different from it. The more you learn the more tools you have to move ahead to your goal.

3. She starts the fix with herself. “What do I need to do here to make my situation better?” “What do I need to do to move my plan forward?” No waiting for the magic wand. Choosing your own moves allows you to feel in charge of the direction and speed of travel. I’m pretty sure that’s a law of personal physics.

Here is her Personal Manifesto she wrote last week. Right underneath it is her

*   *   *   *   *

I want to be an artist.

I want to live somewhere so beautiful that even in the wind and rain I am drawn to go outside and revel in the sights, sounds and smells and take those into my studio to inspire what I do.



I want to have an abundance of time to sketch and refine and develop my own ideas so that I produce art that is meaningful to me.

I want to develop a discipline and a regular habit of creating art.

I want the company of a mentor or teacher who can help me improve and encourage my achievement.

I want my art to be good enough to sell in an upmarket gallery, not a market stall.

I will be confident and able to put myself amongst other artists whose work I admire.

I want to feel passion at the colors of a sunset and joy in the colors of pebbles.

I want to continue to explore and play, but I want to find my niche, my craft, my calling.  I want to develop my skills and get really, really good.

And I want to feel so caught up in the moment that the act of creating art is almost a spiritual experience.

I WANT TO BE AN ARTIST: This is my manifesto.

What do I need to get there?

  •  A space
  • Discipline
  • Practice
  • Encouragement
  • Financial support
  • Customers
  • Determination
  • Health
  • Belief
  • Persistence
  • Energy
  • Courage

The Result:

  •  Happy
  • Energized
  • Fulfilled
  • On purpose
  • Worthwhile

*   *   *   *   *

That’s a lot to want. And a lot to demand of oneself–to know what you need and what you have to do is a brave first step in getting it. But it takes courage to declare yourself. And even more courage to declare yourself to yourself.

What would you declare about yourself?

On Wednesday, I’ll give some pointers for writing a personal manifesto–and how to make it happen.

–Quinn McDonald needs to work on getting more sleep and choosing her commitments more carefully. That is what she is declaring.

* Not her real name. Coaching clients are promised anonymity. I have her permission to use her manifesto in this blog.

Your journal, your legacy

Are you afraid that someone will find out your journal secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? If this is keeping you from writing in a journal, could you reconsider? There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

journalsIf you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

Julia Cameron, the author of  The Artist’s Way, and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life such a secret, let me encourage you to let go. Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Sure, she had bright moments, but they were short and quickly dispensed with.



After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. She never talked about the events that   shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this other person. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal writing.
Her upcoming book helps people confront their inner critic by creating cards that capture the wisdom from their inner heroes. The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal will be released this December.

The Travel Journal

Travel journals are a great way to remember the details about your trip. To go to Madeline Island, I wanted to take something flexible so I could draw or paint in addition to writing. Because I was teaching, I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of time to create a journal. So I chose a Stonehenge 90-lb paper pad, wire bound. Easy to carry, because both covers are heavy chipboard.

The front cover was plain, so the tags from my suitcase and the name tag for the first evening’s welcome event made a good graphic design. The colorful spot indicates that my suitcase was searched, tested for explosives, and approved for travel.

Book1All my journals start the same way–the crossed arrows that indicate flexibility and love of change. In this case, it also showed the two destinations–Phoenix, where I live and Madeline Island, an incredible retreat location.


On the first spread, I always draw a map of the area I visited along with the sights that made the trip unique. In this case, I saw lots of corn fields, roads edged in cord grass, and a huge eagle sitting on a small tree, bending it over at the tip. The first night, I stayed on the mainland, and had a great coffee at the Black Cat coffee house in Ashland.


The way I decided to use the journal was to remember what we did in class each day. The first day we made Monsoon Papers, and we hung them on the clothes line to dry. It was a trip from the second floor studio, across the balcony and into the field. The weather was sunny and mild, and as long as we remembered the clothes pins, the trip was a plus for the view. There are two samples of Monsoon Papers, and of course, the clothespin.


One of the most amazing experiences was seeing the moon rise over Lake Superior. The lake and sky were shades of blue and the moon rose in a salmon slice of color, reflecting in the water. I had to remember it as we did tissue collage the next day.


On one day, we made mosaics from photographs. I used pieces of Monsoon Papers, some other paper pieces other people used, and the stamps that were used to ship the boxes back home.


There were other pages, including a map of the island and some other class projects, but these pages brought me back to that wonderful classroom overlooking the farm fields and the prairie.

A travel journal doesn’t have to be a detailed schedule or a report of each move. When I finished paging through the book, I was smiling and remembering a special week. For me, that’s what a travel journal should be!

–Quinn McDonald is packing for a different trips–in the next few weeks, she’ll be criss-crossing the U.S. to teach business writing courses.

Solving over Suffering

The last few days, Facebook has been full of health disasters, deflating art projects, and drama-packed emotional posts. People asking for healing prayers, for support, for an end to their suffering. I’m not sure if it’s a moon phase or a perspective.



In coaching school, when everyone’s path seemed to be that of a healer, I knew mine was not. “Healer” felt too imbued with magic, with an uneven balance between coach and client, in which the coach, with healing power, changed the past of the client to create a new identity. In my development, I cannot heal. I’m a mender. The past is real and what shaped us. Maybe wounded us. But the  turn can come right now, here in the present. That’s what the client can re-shape and step into with a different attitude. Developing the present can change the future.

So for all these disasters, all the suffering I’m seeing on Facebook, I see them as problems to be solved, work to be done, rips and frays to be mended. I’ve never been one to feel helpless, to wait for the magician to appear and wave a wand to solve my problems, then whisk me away on the white stallion.


From Blog52

Even when I was younger, and pretended the prince came to save me, I always wound up with the reins, riding the horse at breakneck speed, the prince hanging on behind.

Life can be about self-sabotage, the damage you create, the bad luck you stew in, the uncontrollable part of life that gets dumped on you.  Or the bad stuff can be looked at as a problem to be solved with creativity and your own power. How you show yourself to people is how they perceive you. Today’s world is tricky and not everyone will be your healer, your mentor or your supporter. Being able to count on yourself, to mend as you go along, is a great skill to have.

—Quinn McDonald is selecting needle and thread for some mending.


“What Should I Write In My Journal?”

It’s a good question. And there are lots of answers to the question, “What should I write in my journal?” To keep it easy, keep lists to get you started.

One of Arizona's many freeway decorations. This one is East of Tucson, on I-10.

One of Arizona’s many freeway decorations. This one is East of Tucson, on I-10.

 Sure, you can keep a list of books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, but it might be far more interesting to keep a list of where your buttons are (the ones that people push, not the ones that hold your clothes shut), the most outrageous outfit you see each day,  (where is the fashion police when you need them?), types of people you would like to fill your life with,  things you stopped to look at and loved, people you’ve kissed or hugged.

Add a list of food you’d like to eat and one of food you actually eat. Compare the lists and see if you are experimenting or if you prefer what you already know.

Overhead dialog makes a great journal entry. And you can re-use it later. On my way to Las Cruces last week, I overheard a woman on a cell phone outside a Trader Joe’s. In the seconds it took me to walk past her, I heard:

“We don’t know what’s wrong with her. All we know is she’s sick. Yeah, I’m at the hospital now, at the emergency room.” That kept my imagination in four-wheel drive for a few minutes. Can’t you see it worked into a short story about a couple who lie to each other, then run into each other in the produce aisle?

What the trucker wants you to know about what's in the truck.

What the trucker wants you to know about what’s in the truck.

You can also keep photos of interesting sites you saw throughout your day. Your journal doesn’t have to be just writing. Adding visuals–photographs you took–help you remember what you did, where you were, and what you were paying attention to.

Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write when you have something to say–but don’t be shy about what you have to say.

What do you like to write about in your journal?

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and an art journaler.

Helping Your Fat Friends (and Staying Friends)

Yesterday I posted three experiences I’ve had during my continuing weight-loss journey. Today, I’d like to help you stay friends with your fat friends while caring about them. Here are some tips:

img-thing1. Love them for what they are–kind, funny, smart, creative–rather than for what they are not–thin. You would not want to hear that you aren’t as pretty as you could be, have odd hair, or a birthmark. (Before you say, “but those are characteristics I was born with. . .” read #2.

2. Fat is not always a choice. Do you think Oprah Winfrey wanted to yo-yo up and down the scale? She had enough money to do whatever she wanted about her weight, and even with a cook and trainer, she still struggled. So it’s not just about self control. Don’t assume your fat friend has no self-control, is lazy, or doesn’t care.

Diabetes is an endocrine disease, not a punishment from a divine source for loving sweets. Grave’s Disease, and hypothyrodism are not diseases people want to have. Or worse, choose through “bad decisions you have to own.”

3. Don’t start. If your fat friend wants to talk about weight, you’ll know. Otherwise, don’t bring it up.

my-diet-doesnt-need-a-label-e13659982178694. Don’t offer opinions or advice. What works for you may not work for your friend. Do not offer diets, emails with links to dieting advice, or fashion suggestions.

5. Say, “You look great!” and mean it. Don’t say, “You’d be really pretty if you lost weight.” Don’t say, “That dress makes you look two sizes smaller.” Instead say, “That color looks great.” Or, “That’s a very flattering cut,” (don’t add, “on you.”)

6. Honor the mind/body connection. Making a decision depends on two separate steps. The first is the logical, rational understanding part. “To lose weight, you must expend more calories than you take in” is one of those statements. The next part of decision-making involves a strong emotional link. Emotion and decision making are both made on the right side of the brain, and without an emotional component, there is no lasting change. That’s why diets don’t work. They make sense, seem like a good idea, but there is no emotional commitment. And without emotional buy-in, change won’t last.

Nagging makes emotional agreement impossible. So leave your fat friend in peace. No pleading, nagging, or guilt-inducing drama. It won’t work. Save your energy for walking your own journey.

7. Don’t give “change back” messages. Losing weight is hard, lonely work. There is no easy, fun diet. Losing weight is a long-haul trek. When a fat person changes–eating habits, food choices, clothing sizes–friends and families have to change, too, in the way they relate to their friend. Often, family and friends don’t want to change, so they send “change-back” messages. “You shouldn’t lose any more weight,” or “you have to treat yourself sometime,” or “You’ve always loved this and I cooked it just for you.” Drop it. It’s hard enough for your friend to stay on a diet without you tenderly sabotaging the effort.

-Quinn McDonald is still losing weight. She has no answer for people who ask, “tell me your secret.” There is none. It’s tough decisions, every day. And walking five miles a day helps.

It’s Not Easy Being Fat

Now that I’ve lost 60 pounds and four dress sizes, I have something to say.

755I’m shocked at how much better I get treated now that I am thinner. No more sharp comments about my size when I’m on an airplane. Help offered in stores–and politely. Offers of help carrying items that are exactly as heavy as when I struggled with them six months ago. I am the same person, but the world I find myself in is not. It’s a big surprise. And not a pleasant one. We are a lot more judgmental than I had imagined.

* * *

Now, for the tougher love: Diets don’t work. I’ve been overweight for about 12 years. I’ve lost 400 pounds on diets. And gained back 405. So this time I did not go on a diet. I changed my relationship with food. It’s called behavior modification. What didn’t work on my diet was dealing with lost weight. Once I’d met my “goal,” I told myself I could handle an occasional “treat.”

Trouble is, I couldn’t. A once-a-month treat of french fries became a once-a-week scale1treat. Then I’d order fries anytime it was an option. Ice cream was a daily good-night send-off. It started with one-quarter cup. It ended with a cup a night, more if it was a flavor I liked. The list goes on.

I finally realized that I had to change my behavior with food. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. Food is my friend. My mom was an excellent French cook. My husband is a chef. I am a foodie. And in the long run it doesn’t matter. I was helpless in the grasp of  sugar and carbs. So, nothing for me to do but restructure my eating habits. For the rest of my life. There can’t be a “treat just this once” because it starts the battle with my will power over again. And eventually I will rationalize my way out of it. So, awful as it is, this is better. I know how to change my behavior one day at a time. I don’t try to outguess the future.

* * *

model_with_stuff_on_her_head_7-1_m-400x300When I mention how much weight I’ve lost (which I occasionally do in my goal-setting and time management class), I always get two replies. Two people will raise their hands. The first one will say that their weight loss was mine plus 10 pounds. The second one will claim to have lost as much as I did plus 20 pounds. No matter how much weight I say I’ve lost, the two hands will always go up and claim a weight loss 10- and 20- pounds more than mine.  Statistically, this is unlikely. Socially, it’s not surprising. We are a competitive culture, and being the best and first with the most is something we want to claim. No one has ever claimed a weight loss less than the one I claim. Interesting.

–Quinn McDonald fits into a medium size T-shirt. This makes packing a carry-on much easier. It now fits at least one more outfit.