A Poem for Your Journey

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Counting down to New Year, choosing who you will be in 2014, trying to find that special word to be your amulet–it can all be a bit confusing. “I want to be a better me” is hard to define in specific terms. We can’t shed our skins like a snake and become someone new. Even the snake stays a snake. A bigger, stronger snake once the skin is shed, but still a snake.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even want to create a whole new me.  I like the dinged, battered, missing-perfect-by-a-mile me I’ve become, because working on what you are with what you’ve got makes you more interesting. And more honest. And certainly more sturdy and vulnerable.  I’d rather be a Watts Tower than the Dubai Building (the tallest building in Qatar).

Being who you are is hard work. No pretense, no hiding behind a new model, a new name, a new location, just recognizing what you can and can’t do is more than a year’s worth of work.


The Dubai building in Qatar.

I’m still working on the final draft, but one of my big recognitions in 2013 is that I am not a healer. Don’t want to be one. Most likely I am a teacher. Even that seems too big a burden sometimes–to claim expertise in something. It’s also possible I am a witness to other people’s stories. At best, I help them edit them, keeping what is useful, and culling out the misery and pain that holds them back from knowing who they want to be. That’s why I wrote the Inner Hero book.

So while you are figuring out who you are, too, here is a poem by Mary Oliver struck me as being perfect for the work behind and the work to come.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Quinn McDonald is still figuring out who she is.

22 thoughts on “A Poem for Your Journey

  1. As of Dec. 29th I have not received anything from you. I really enjoy and look forward to Quinn Creative. Could you please check this out and let me know if I need subscribe again? Thank you for your time. Dee

  2. Thought provoking post. The Watts Tower reminds me of the outsider art I so love – art from the heart of dedicated people who create because they must, for themselves, to complete their vision. I do love the Watts Tower. And isn’t that poem a wonder. Saw it recently and I had to copy it in my journal, too. I think of it often.

    I love this post for so many reasons. I’ve been working on a re-structuring of Bo, a re-invention?, for years. It was necessary, and much needed. And I have gone through periods of exploration, trying on different hats, developing skills and following passions. I was once drawn to the idea of healer, but that isn’t me either. I think I may best be a curator, one who takes photographs and writes, and documents, and then gathers more information, and considers the pieces and the whole, and the meaning of it all. I tried to be who I wasn’t, who I thought I wanted to be, but that skin wasn’t a fit. I had to return to my own skin, and do more accepting and re-adjusting, and learning. And I am still learning and re adjusting and will be for the rest of my life.

    I thought I had a good fit of a word for the year 2014 also. Wisdom. A strong word. And I am still drawn to that word. But a another word keeps dancing around the fringes, and though it is a smaller word, it is such a challenging word. So challenging, I am rather afraid to accept it as my own. But I do want to step up to that challenge. The word is kindness – a simple word at first glance but a huge word when carefully considered. But, then I think, what if it was a universal word, if everyone worked from the spirit of kindness, my, what a world of change there would be. And though I can;t change the world, I can change a bit of the world, a tiny bit at a time. Still pondering the power of that word.

    Thanks for another year of insightful, thought provoking posts. Best to you in 2014.

    • Finding a skin that fits and that is big enough to stretch and comfortable enough to inhabit is truly a life-long practice. “Kindness” is a really tricky word. Because it can only happen one person at a time. But as you said, when it does. . .it is powerful!

      • Hmm. Unless I include myself in the practice of kindness, as in self acceptance, Then the practice would be all encompassing, kindnesses to self and others. A very big challenge.

  3. I´ve been choosing my word for eight years and it is so much part of my own process that it surprises me when people ask about it. I wrote some tips on how to do it as a blog post for a friend and of course I had to quote you yet again with the “amulet” concept today. 🙂

  4. Quinn, I get your posts every day both at work and at home, and have been for more than a few years. I am inspired and renewed and I always learn something from you. But I rarely comment. (I think this might be my second or third time. Just not that chatty.)
    As this year comes to an end, I’d like to say: thank you for another year and another great post. This poem is the perfect way to say “Goodbye” to the old year and “Hello!” new one. Cheers from the “far north” (which to us is even further north, in the Northwest and YukonTerritories!)
    Blessings and much love for you and your family in 2014!

    • I’m grateful that anyone at all reads and comments. And I’m glad to be helpful. Wasn’t that a great find? I get a poem a day from the Writer’s Almanac, and I keep the ones that I love. God bless you for inhabiting an area that these bones (though they lived in Connecticut for most of my life) can’t imagine. And much joy in 2014!

  5. My copy of your new book should be here any day now! It has been shipped. J I am interested to learn the correct edit to this line in this description of your book:

    And yes, the vulnerable ones that hold great wisdom that you may know want to live up to

    Is it you may “now” ? Or you may know “that you” want to

    Is it the imperative present or a process toward a perhaps distant future?

    • I’m sure you’ll find typos in the book, the book description and my blog. Although I proof my blog, I don’t catch all the homonym mistakes. I also type “not” for “now” quite often and “our” for “out.” While I always do the universal search for “it’s” and “its,” which for me is not a grammar mistake, but a typing one, they still slip through my fingers.

      The curse of typing 103 words a minute is that you speed right into (and out of) typos that you don’t catch. Let me know exactly where that typo is and if I can fix it, great. If not, well, I can keep it for the second printing (huge smile). And you can use the address in the “contact” for pointing out typos. You don’t have to leave them in the comment section. That way I can keep them all in the same place.

  6. This poem is already in my journal. I heard it on the Writer’s Almanac a week or so ago. It really struck a chord for me and in me. I hope other readers will think so, too. Happy New Year, Quinn, and thanks for your wonderful, thoughtful and refreshing blog. I look forward to it every day.


  7. Thank you Quinn for the perfect post. I shared it on my blog. As usual you and I think alike! and I love the Mary Oliver. Have you ever seen the Watts Towers in person? They are SO worth the visit.

    • Yep, I’ve seen the Watts Towers in person. Moved me greatly, which is why I think of them often. They are also part of my journaling over my difficult word for 2014. Yes, I’ll talk about what it is when I have finished processing it. Which reminds me, I should do a book signin/workshop in New Mexico.

  8. What a lovely poem. I really like it a lot. I’ve never heard of the Watts Towers before, so thanks for sharing that. What a wonderful place that must be to visit. Every broken piece telling a small story. 🙂

  9. Inner Hero has not made its appearance on my doorstep but north light says it is en route. Question: do you have anything scheduled for Tempe or Phoenix in the spring? My daughter is orchestrating a visit for me and I thought I would see if I could coordinate a class with you. I would love to meet and greet after being so connected all these years. Happy New Year!

  10. I’m just curious why you picked the tallest building in Qatar as an example. It’s nearly an Empire-state-building shorter than the Burj Khalifa, which is in Dubai…oh, wait, I see what happened!

    • I wanted to find a sleek, well-designed, elegant, successful, business building. The opposite of the towers, designed from trash. I ran across an article about architecture and saw the building and said, “Good example of what I was looking for.” Then there was the name thing that amused me. That made it a winner.

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