Creating Reality

split-rail12The split rail fence that surrounds the house is about three feet tall. When I walk by it, I feel very tall. It’s decorative; too short to keep in an animal. The rails are about a foot apart. So it’s purely decorative.

Or so I thought. Last year the family that lives in the house adopted a Rottweiler, and shortly afterwards, a Rottweiler puppy. Rottweilers are big dogs, an adult male weighs more than 100 pounds. These two dogs were friendly–when I walked ,by they stood on the fence and wagged their tails so hard each  body imagesswayed. When I approached, the larger one put his paws on my shoulders, licked my face and pulled my earphones out of my ears–accidentally. Getting them back was not easy–the big guy thought it was a game and the little one stuck his head under the fence and untied my shoelaces.

Finally untangled, shoes tied, earphones in place, I continued on my walk. Both dogs could easily have ignored the fence and followed me, but neither did. For them, it was the end of their property and the puny split rail fence might as well have been 10-feet tall and made of iron sheets. The owner confirmed that neither dog had ever jumped the fence, no matter how tempting the running cat, the escaped ball, the newsboy on his bike.

OrangesWestMy own yard is surrounded by a block fence six feet tall. The first day Buster (my 10-pound tuxedo cat) encountered it, he thought it marked the end of the known world.

Then he watched a bird fly from the orange tree over the fence.

Without taking a running jump, he hopped up the fence as if it were a sidewalk, making it to the top in two leaps. From there, he could see the rest of the world, and as the fence runs the length of the block, he began to explore.

Buster, the always-curious tuxedo cat.

Buster, the always-curious tuxedo cat.

He’s had many adventures, and a few misadventures from the top of that fence, but he has never treated it as a boundary. As a step, yes; a walkway, sure; a jumping off point, certainly.

It took me two years to train him not to leave the edges of the yard, and he no longer jumps off the fence into anyone else’s yard (largely because one neighbor has a pit bull and the other a Doberman) but I never could master keeping him off the wall altogether. It’s his window seat to the world.

We create our own reality as surely as those dogs and cats do. The dogs refuse to jump over a fence that comes up to their chests;  the cat scales a fence that’s six times his height–without a second thought. To the dogs, the fence is the end of their permitted world; to the cat, the fence is a way to see the world.

If we think we can’t get over something, we surely won’t. If we think of an obstacle as insurmountable, it will be.  If we want to run up a fence to see over the top, we can do that, too. We can have obedient dog mind and stay with the reminder of a few sticks. We can create mischievous cat mind and hurtle ourselves into the unknown. The decision is always yours. You create your own reality.

-Quinn McDonald tries to be an obedient rule-follower, but occasionally, the block wall needs to be hurdled.

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Together

Almost every year, I write a Thanksgiving post for those who are alone, forgotten, left out. Or in family crisis because of the holiday. (You can read them all, from 2012, 201120102009, 2008, and 2007.) This year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fall together, which is enough reason for hackles to rise. I for one, decided to defuse a hackle-raising conversation. I love both holidays.

Into my local huge grocery store I went, in search of Hanukkah candles. Couldn’t find any.

Customer service: “We won’t get them till December 10th”

Me: “That’s five days after Hanukkah is over.”

Customer Service: “Why do you people keep moving that holiday around anyway?”

Me: “For the same reason you people keep moving Easter around. Neither of those holidays is a fixed date, it’s set by a lunar calendar.”

Customer Service [gets on phone, talks, frowns, looks at me] “We aren’t carrying them this year. Last year, you people didn’t buy enough, so we aren’t going to carry them any more.”

candlesNow I felt sad and dispirited. One of my worst feelings is one of being exiled into a forgotten corner because I’m not [fill in mainstream-related word here.] I thanked the customer service person, ignored the “you people” and drooped toward the exit. And then I had a thought–I could make this about lack and attack (the Inner Critic’s favorite emotions). Or I could find a way around it. We don’t have young kids who are scandalized in our household, and Cooking Man is Christian, so we celebrate anything that feels like fun.

Back I went, and picked up two packages of tea lights. At home, I placed them on an old family blue serving plate, cut rosemary from the hedge, placed it around the base of the tea lights and lit up.

Traditionally, you light one candle the first night, two the next, and so on. I decided to light all of the candles the first night, then one less each night. The night after the last Hanukkah candle burns out, we decorate for Christmas.

Because that’s how my people roll.

–Quinn McDonald loves celebrating almost anything.

Don’t Make Your Worries Archival

When I was a child, my problems were child-size, which means as big as I was. But with two older brothers and parents who had their own problems, sharing mine didn’t seem like a good solution. So I would write my worries on strips of blue-lined, rough, tablet paper, tear them up and “hide” them–bury them under a tree. I learned that paper is plant material and rots. I was fascinated at the decomposition of the paper–and, I was sure, my worries. Mother Earth took them back and made them go away. Perfect.

Strips of archival paper, resistant to deterioration, even in the Phoenix sun.

Strips of archival paper, resistant to deterioration, even in the Phoenix sun.

As I got older, I developed a ritual of handling worries–always with writing, always with strips. Some paper strips got burned, some got pulped and put into handmade papers, some woven into journal covers. I then switched to ripping the strips from newspapers and magazines and letting nature take care of the paper. I’d write worries down, pull a thread through the top and hang them outside to bleach and fade in the sun and rain. By the time the strips disintegrated, I was done worrying.

Skip forward several decades: I still have worries. One afternoon, I remember the strip method,  grab some paper from the studio, write, sew through the top, hang them from the orange tree in the backyard. In the Phoenix heat. Days go by, 110 degrees, 116 degrees, 108 degrees, never below 90 at night. I hit the papers with a stream from the hose. Nothing deteriorates. The strips stay readable. My worries don’t fade. My brow furrows over this.

And then I realize. . .I have used archival materials. Archival pens, archival,

Worries, fading in the tree.

Worries, fading in the tree.

acid-free, lignin-free paper. My worries are preserved. Possibly forever. Only then comes the wabi-sabi moment.

The revelation comes with a blast–isn’t this what I do (however unintentionally) with worries–preserve them, hang on to them, refuse to let them deteriorate?  And so they’ll stay with me, until I am willing to write them on cheap paper–the paper the worries are worth, and no more. Archival papers are for art, worries get cheap support to let them deteriorate, bleach out in the sun, fade in the passage of time.

–Quinn McDonald is still writing. And helping others write as well.

Positive and Negative Perspectives

When I do monoprints, I have to think carefully and plan the negative and positive aspects of the print slowly. Negative space is still something I have trouble with. Looking at what isn’t there is a lot harder than seeing what is there.

Negative tag

The negative space of a gift-tag cutout–the part left after the tags are removed. It also looks like a box with a bow on top.

A stencil can be positive or negative–it can leave an imprint or it can create a shape through an empty space–the negative. What you see is a matter of your perspective. And for me, it can be confusing, particularly if the image itself is open to interpretation.

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive pieces look like gift tags–all I need to do is punch a hole in them and they are ready to go. Except, of course, I want them to have color and design, so I will punch them out of painted papers.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

But while I struggle with the visual aspects of positive and negative space, I also realize that the same is true in real life–what I think of as a negative isn’t necessarily bad or depressing. Sometimes there is a positive twist to a negative event.

Now the tags look like a children's book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

Now the tags look like a children’s book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

This past weekend I was scheduled to see the Sandhill crane migration and was too exhausted to drive the 10 hours to see it. I was bummed out until a storm moved through, dumping a lot of rain on the entire length of the trip–except for the elevation in which blowing snow and ice closed the interstate. It was worse at the site–fog, high winds and blowing snow blocked a lot of the visibility.

I was suddenly grateful not to be standing in a cold wind and driving snow pre-dawn. In fact, having stayed home and gotten enough sleep and a lot of backed-up work cleared off my desk seemed like a better outcome.

Maybe my next accomplishment will be getting better at understanding how to work with negative space in my monoprints.

–Quinn McDonald knows that life imitates art.

Pilot’s New MR Animal Collection

Pilot has come out with a new line of pens.  The only Pilot pens I knew so far were the disposable Varsity Pens and the parallel calligraphy pens–both of which I like to use.

The new pens come in five interesting colors, each with an animal print band. The pens, called Metropolitan, or MR, depending on the location (international or U.S.)  come as fountain pens, roller balls and ballpoint pens.

pen2The one I’m reviewing is the fountain pen–matte gold with a lizard-print band. The shape is elegant and the color stylish. My favorite part is that the cap is removable without unscrewing it–it snaps on and off, which means that I can use it with one hand, always a plus.

The pen comes in fine and medium nibs. Mine has a medium, which writes like a fine.

pen1I was amazed at the smooth feel of the steel nib. It doesn’t have the stiff feel of a Lamy  Safari, or the slightly scratchy feel of the Pelikan student pens, both of which I also like and use.

This one came with a cartridge and a converter. I filled it with Pelikan blue ink and grabbed my favorite journal. The writing is smooth, effortless and easy. I”m an admitted fountain pen geek, and this one is a real find.

The fountain pen (as well as the roller ball and ballpoint) comes in five different colors and styles: Crocodile (black), leopard (dark purple),  python (silver),  white tiger (white), and lizard (matte gold).

The fountain pen does not bleed through regular paper. And there is no show-through either, even on the fairly thin paper. Those are two more big pluses for me.

The biggest plus is the price–about $15. For that price, it’s easy to put it on the holiday list for a lot of people. I had to dig around for the price, and it surprised me.

Now if only it came in a pressurized cartridge that didn’t leak on an airplane it would be amazing.

Note: I received the pen for free because I am an Amazon Vine reviewer.

—Quinn McDonald loves fountain pens. She favors demonstrator fountain pens and won’t write with a pen she doesn’t like.

The Creative Compass: a Giveaway

Not too long ago, I reviewed The Creative Compass by Dan Millman and his daughter Sierra Prasada. I liked the book, enough to want to hold on to it a bit longer. The publisher kindly sent me another book to give away.

BookWho would like this book? Writers who are doubtful, don’t understand self-publishing and want a thorough, thoughful book that guides writers from Dream through Draft, Develop, Refine to Share. Those are the five steps the father-daughter team use to help writers (and other creators) from idea to promotion.

The book helps you look at, listen to and evaluate research and think clearly about content. The book helps you become more self-aware, pay attention to your audience, and develop the habits of a writer.

There are old truths that will lead you to new wisdom. The balance of the father-daughter team is both analytical and intuitive. It will help you gather the story you want to write and transform it into the book you will be proud of.

Tell me why you need the book in the comments. I’ll chose (at random) someone who needs this book to fulfill a dream of writing.

And thanks to New World Library for giving me two copies–one to keep and one to give away. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, November 26, 2013.

Note: Congratulations to Jody Lund, who won the book!

—Quinn McDonald is a reader and writer. She is also a creativity coach who helps people finish their creative work. And while she welcomes new clients, she does not make the decision for writers whether to self-publish or go a traditional route. That’s the writer’s choice, always.

Back to Self Care

Back home now, for the rest of November. The last 21 days have seen me home only three days.  The rest of the time I’ve been in Los Angeles, Dallas, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. and Detroit. Teaching business writing, grammar, editing, proofreading. And that’s great.


Rosehips in stone base over the fireplace. It feels happy and homey.

Teaching is who I am, and it’s a rush, no matter where you are. Which, this month, was a question I occasionally asked myself. “Which airport is this?”

Last week was the hardest. I taught seven days in a row, and in one case, left one class, drove to the airport, flew to the next location, arrived at midnight and got up at 6 a.m. to teach again. This week my body began to tell me it had enough of travel, teaching, and staying alert. Next was spending a few days watching Sandhill cranes migrate. And then, suddenly, I didn’t have enough energy anymore. I just wanted to go home.

When the airplane landed in Phoenix, after a four-hour flight, I was tired of being cold. It’s a sign of being worn out, and for me worn-out always has a tinge of lazy accusation. But this wasn’t lazy. This was lost-four-pound-in-three-weeks due to skipping meals tired. This was run-yoursef-down-to-prove-heaven-knows-what tired. It was how I was brought up. No whining. No excuses.

And when I got home, I canceled the bird-watching trip. Yes, I would have liked to go. But there wasn’t a reasonable way I could teach a full day, fly four hours, sleep six hours and drive another 10 hours to see birds migrate. Instead, I dropped into bed and slept.

And today, instead of driving,  I caught up on emails, clients, and classes. I ate homemade food and drank home-brewed coffee. And I stopped by Trader Joe’s and bought Clementines and a branch of rose hips because they were beautiful.

Yes, I have work to do the next three days. But it will be folded into stopping work promptly, spending time in the studio, and listening to the predicted rain. Self-care is vital to maintaining a good pace. Pushing yourself over the edge is not a recommended way to get more from yourself.

What’s your favorite self-care practice?

Quinn McDonald is glad to be home and not wearing heels. Or running through airports in them.

Experience v. Photo

The sunset was magnificent. It spread out against the sky in six shades of orange, coral and gold. The sky, in contrast, was almost turquoise. Half the sky was painted with the sunset. I looked up, and my eyes filled with color.

On another day, I did take the photo.

On another day, I did take the photo.

It was a busy street, and almost everyone pulled out their phones and began to photograph the site. At first I thought they were phoning friends to describe the colors, but no, they were photographing for the next post on Facebook or Instagram. It’s a natural decision, now that we are all armed with cameras and video cameras that come with our phones.

I stared at the sky, experiencing the hugeness of it. I didn’t want to photograph it. I didn’t want to experience it through a viewfinder. I wanted to feel the colors with my whole body. Of course, I have no photo of that sunset (the photo in this post is of another sunset). I might forget it. I can’t show it to anyone else.

But I experienced the sunset as a full-body experience, powerful and beautiful. And it’s OK that I didn’t record it and that it is gone. It was a pure, clear moment of wabi sabi, and I am grateful.

-Quinn McDonald lives a life that is sometimes unrecorded, but never unfelt.

The Joy of Being Wrong

“Sometimes it hits me that I’m wrong about most things. About time. About my place in space. About the nature of the body. About the nature of the divine. About human nature. About what death is. About who I am and who my kids are. And about what the creek needs to support the salmon and all its visitors.

This journal page is made from pieces of journal art that didn't work--until it became a mosaic. Then it worked just fine.

This journal page is made from pieces of journal art that didn’t work–until it became a mosaic. Then it worked just fine.

But heavens, let’s not worry about being wrong! I’m gradually learning that, paradoxically, it’s the foolsgold–the blunderings, giving ups, breakdowns, in spite ofs, chance encounters, shatterings, letting gos, and mess-ups, that has led to most of the creativity in my life, not the sweet making of something beautiful, or “enlightened” inspiration, and certainly not feeling in control. It’s the opposites, listenings, buzz hums,  the falling (leaping) down the rabbit hole, the stepping through the looking glass, barefoot, with no suitcase, in new territory.”

–Susan G. Wooldridge, Foolsgold, p. 88.

After reading that, I began to wonder why it is that when we notice we are wrong, we are so concerned with having been wrong, instead of pleased and delighted in our ability to detect a mistake and fix or change it. Of course, it’s not great to be wrong at work, or make a decision that causes harm, but for many of our decisions, it’s not a matter of life or death, but a matter of learning.

-Quinn McDonald learns from being wrong. It’s not always fun, but it’s always a step forward. Which she loves.

Good News Round Up

During all that travel I’ve been doing, good news has been rolling in. While I’ve tried to keep up, I thought I’d share it all in one post.

Ghost print, "Three houses in another city," acrylic monoprint on mixed media paper.

Ghost print, “Three houses in another city,” acrylic monoprint on mixed media paper.

1. Inner Hero Art Journal is coming out on December 13. It was printed in the U.S., at some expense to my publisher, who thought it was worth it to print it locally to get it out earlier. You can now look inside the book on amazon. The book launch will be at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, in January, to combine a new year with a new way of handling your inner critic!

2. I’ve been invited to go to CHA–the Craft and Hobby Association, January 10-14 in Anaheim. I’ll be doing signings and maybe a demo from the book! If you are in the area, please come visit the North Light booth!

"Old Moon, New Sky,' Monoprint, acrylic paint on scapbooking paper.

“Old Moon, New Sky,’ Monoprint, acrylic paint on scapbooking paper.

3. Madeline Island School of the Arts has officially invited me back for 2014–this coming summer. I’ll be at MISA the week of June 2 through 6. We are going to experiment and explore writing, poetry, monoprinting and journaling. Then, we’ll pick the pages we like the most and create a book of memories for the week. Last year, I started marketing this way too late. It’s time to start saving your pennies, ask for a holiday gift, and checking out the air fares for deals. Help fill up this class with YOU!

4. I’ll be at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts April 25-27 for a class. The class description will be up in about 10 days, but this is another opportunity to start asking for a class for a holiday gift or to save your change to travel to Minneapolis. We’ll be doing magical things with Gelli plates and gathering our pages and binding them into a cool book. And for fun, I’ll be giving away a Gelli plate in class!

It will be a busy year, and with the new book, I’d love to come visit some places where you are and teach in your city!

–Quinn McDonald is looking ahead to a busy year!