Sometimes it’s Just Weird

Sometimes creativity is a spark to brilliance; sometimes it’s just weird. This week may be fashion week in New York, but I was looking at furniture online. All of these pieces are actual chairs and for sale. (No links, I just can’t bring myself to include links.)

somethingsafootThe “Something’s afoot” chair from Anthropologie. I want to be in the marketing meeting where this thing was approved.

weird-furniture-2_thumbWhat’s the point? I want comfort. Of course I love pencils, but not poking me in the . . . everywhere.

strange-furniture-odd-couches-weird-beds-unique-tables27Someone put the lampshade on their head at the office party–and then froze that way. And if this lady-lamp is naked, why is she wearing pumps and lights?

weird-furnitureThe woman who got eaten by a plastic hose chair. It just doesn’t look comfortable, sort of like putting your panties on the wrong way.  And, does it come in another color?

Quinn McDonald thinks it’s OK to be weird, as long as you don’t have to pay to be uncomfortable.


Too Much Explaining

If you grew up and had a classical education, you didn’t learn how to do a job, you learned how to think. You were introduced to a lot of ideas, people, concepts, books, and philosophies. You weren’t told which were “right” (in some ways, they all were), you learned how to have an opinion and discuss it. There, I’ve said it.

ulyss1_1703249c_2236465cSometimes, when I’m teaching, I realize that classical education is not only old-fashioned, it’s frowned upon. So, a checklist: simplify vocabulary and most of all, simplify references to ideas, people, and philosophies.

Me [to class]: OK, time for a 15-minute break. Be back at 10:15 or we’ll be here till the rosy-fingered dawn appears tomorrow. [Immediately regrets reference to Homer’s Odyssey.]

Student: Is that, like, a song lyric?

Me: Sort of. It’s from a Greek epic poem.

Student: Say what?

Me: [Feeling lost about how much to explain.] It’s one of the long poems from ancient Greece. About a man who leaves home to fight in a war and takes a long, interesting road trip back.

Student: Oh. Who wrote it?

Me: Homer.

Student: [Looking puzzled.]  Simpson?HO_Close_display-1

Me: [Tries not to break down crying.]

I just don’t know when to shut up explaining myself and my now, too-long-ago references that make sense to me, but not to anyone who was born in the last 30 years. OK, 40 years, maybe 45.


Mamie Eisenhower, wife of the 34th President of the U.S.

To a beautician: My bangs are waaaay too long. I’d like something more Natalie Wood but not Mamie Eisenhower.

Beautician: I think I heard of Natalie Wood is, but who is Mamie Eisenhower?

Me: The wife of Dwight Eisenhower.

Beautician: [crickets]

Me: The 34th President of the United State.

Beautician: Oh. Was she, like, famous? For her hair?

And once more, I’m stuck. How much do I explain? How do I not feel like I just fell out from the pages of a yellowed history book? It got worse.


Natalie Wood, movie star. Married to Robert. . . never mind.

Me: Mamie Eisenhower was the First Lady right before Jackie Kennedy.

Beautician: [crickets]

Me: Jackie O?

Beautician: Wasn’t  Jackie O. a famous model–like for sunglasses?

Me: She was beautiful and she wore sunglasses, but she was married to Jack Kennedy. After he was assassinated. . . [slowly starting to cut short the explanation], she married a rich guy in Greece.

Beautician: [Saves the day] So how do you want your bangs?

Next checklist:  Can’t afford a face lift, but can update all references to people, places and things prior to 1990.

—Quinn McDonald is determined not to sound as old as she looks.





Beyond Art Journaling

Nothing against art journaling. I still love it. But I need a break from it. So many people have piled on so many products, paints, stamps, stencils, embossers, hole-punchers that I got dizzy and had to sit down.

A page of William Blake's Commonplace Journal

A page of William Blake’s Commonplace Journal

I’m back to using my Commonplace Journal. The one that holds all the facts, ideas, quotes that pile up in my days. It’s so comfortable, like a pair of shoes that are soft and still can be worn to a teaching gig. My Commonplace Journal doesn’t demand painted pages, drying time, or planning. It holds whatever shows up. For me, that includes meaning-making.

Two deep loves for journaling (for me) is watching time pass on a big scale and nature. This time of year (fall for the Northern hemisphere) the days begin to get noticeably shorter. For Arizona, it is a huge relief, as the sun simply doesn’t pack the punch to crisp your skin in five minutes. The pool starts to get cool again. By the end of September, you will need hot water when you shower (in summer, the water comes hot out of the cold water tap.

Because my memory is keyed to weather, its hard for me to remember what happens when. It was easier on the East Coast–my memories were tied to cool weather or a coat I had on. Or mud season and black flies. But here, there is a giant blue bowl of sky above us 322 days a year, so I have to keep track of what happened, and when.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

In the Commonplace Journal, I draw a rough outline for the month on a page that starts the month. I use a pencil to do this. Then I use a pen and box in days in which something is caught. On the first and last days of the month, I notice the length of the day.  In September, the day of the Harvest (full) Moon, the autumnal equinox, and the progress of my plants. Maybe I add sketches, maybe not. Depends on what happens.

At the end of the month, I add color (if I want) and erase the lines on days that I didn’t fill in.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Keeping this calendar doesn’t replace writing, I do that, too. But it shows at a glance what happened outside for that month. It’s great for gardeners, nature lovers, and hikers.

You can, of course, track anything. Birthdays, school milestones, heights of your kids, grandkids or how long you walked the dog.

Calendars keep track of items we want to remember but not use up brain power remembering. A simple, hand-drawn calendar is an excellent journal page.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journaling in ways that make meaning, whatever they are.



Inner Hero Blog Class Starts Sept. 13

We all need inner heroes. Not all of us know how to find them. We are far more familiar with our inner critics. I want to help people find their inner heroes, even though it is not always easy. The class is about Writing Yourself Whole, gathering up the parts that don’t fit, that may be broken and finding a way to get to your strength through your journal.

Starting on this coming Saturday, I’ll be teaching a week-long class on this blog. YehudaBergQuoteIt’s about finding yourself in your inner hero, claiming your strength, knowing when you run off the rails by listening to your inner critic and all the people who mimic him. Naming your inner heroes help make them real, usable.

Each day you will be introduced to an inner critic you are probably familiar with.  Some you may recognize, some are facing you daily at work or at home, in your family or friends. You’ll then be given several prompts to use in your journal. The prompts will help you explore different ways to climb over the obstructions that block happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

This is not an art journaling class. It’s a bone-deep writing class. You can make it into an art journaling class if you want, but this time, it’s about the writing. The connection to yourself and your strength. Through your fears and doubts. Doing some hard writing, deep writing.

The class is free. Some people will want to pay anyway. Some will find value and want to account for that. I am leaving it up to you–if you want to pay, you can. If you want to take the class for free, you are welcome to it. Here is the link to my site that allows you to donate any amount or get a gift for donating certain amounts. Again, the class is free; you don’t have to pay unless you want to.

(If, for any reason the buttons don’t work, please contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com. They have been cranky today.)

I’m hoping that you will want to take the class and that it will help you find out the wonderful parts of you that are your inner heroes.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal


Letting Ideas Ripen

Impatient. That’s a word I’d use to describe myself. I am also a Myers-Briggs “J” which means I like things settled, decided, and organized. I make decisions quickly, and if one of them doesn’t work out, I’d rather make another than spend hours weighing pros and cons.

Most of the time this works well. I choose a path and act. It keeps the business going and the artwork progressing. But sometimes acting isn’t the best choice.

banana_ripeningchartA few months ago I submitted a book proposal to my agent. It was a book I had decided to write because I could, because I had some previous research. The outline came together smoothly, but a small voice in the back of my head said, “I really want to get to Chapter 10, that’s going to be a great chapter.”

My agent was on an extended trip, and I noticed an interesting drift in her absence: I didn’t start the book. Instead, I began to see a huge structural flaw. At first I thought it was my inner critic showing up. In a moment of clarity, I put the outline away. It needed some time to ripen. To develop. I needed to wait for another vision, or as I call it, a re-vision.

Two busy weeks later, I opened the outline again. It had time to ripen, and I 0628sp_tomatocould see clearly that the flaw was real. It wasn’t the inner critic. The flaw was small, but crucial. It shifted the book away from the point I had been working toward.

But Chapter 10 was still the best part. The idea that had ripened was the idea that Chapter 10 could be a book on its own. This time, I didn’t rush to re-write the outline. What I did write was a note to the agent. I told her about the flaw and that I wanted to consider scrapping the idea for another, smaller idea.

Ideas need time to ripen. This one is not yet ready for an outline, but it is ready for some back-burner-ing. Letting it develop. Because writing borrows some great techniques from cooking–choosing and chopping and careful preparation. And choosing the perfect, ripe ingredients when the time is right.

—Quinn McDonald is waiting for an idea to ripen before she starts working with it.


Getting Water into the Ground

Not long ago, New River (Arizona) got hit with a horrible Monsoon storm. The area got five inches of rain in six hours. Five inches of rain is 40 percent of the desert’s annual rainfall.

rainOur ground is so baked by the sun, that a hard rain cannot be absorbed. The water rolls off the ground, downhill. Our landscape is crisscrossed with arroyos–dry river beds–and they fill up quickly, often racing across roadways.

On my way to a teaching assignment, the intersection that I normally use to get on the freeway was flooded. A car was submerged up to the driver’s window. The woman was being winched to safety by a police officer and a tow truck driver.

When I know rain that hard is bearing down on us, I go out and water the xeriscaping (gravel). Watering the front and back helps soften the hardpack and it absorbs water better. I get less gravel sluicing down the road that way.

Nature has a way of showing me lessons. I finally figured out that those idea

Jake Bacon, for the Arizona Sun:

Jake Bacon, for the Arizona Sun:

storms I get, where a whole bunch of ideas show up at the same time, often too many to sort and write down, aren’t that much different. A regular practice of creative work–writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing–keeps you ready to absorb a sudden rush of ideas that come pouring down on you.

A regular creative practice keeps your mind ready to handle bigger creative experiments and explorations. Makes you less fearful, more nimble and a bit more ready to believe in your capacity to handle the big, powerful moments in your life. So, keep your dry imagination watered and your creative projects in use. You never know when the Monsoon of all ideas will arrive.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer with a creative life. It’s not always the one she planned, though.

Worry, the Creativity Killer

Worry is an addiction. Without worry, we’d try out ideas and fail, get up and try some more. Till we succeed beyond our plans, beyond our dreams.

Worry gives us an excuse not to do anything. Instead of taking action, we substitute worry, which looks like consideration, but instead is just wrapping ourselves around our own axle.

worry1We worry about what will fail. We worry about who will not support us. And that takes up all our time. So we no longer have time to figure out how to make our idea work and how to overcome opposition. Nope, we splat! Sit down like a toddler taking the first steps and refusing to get up. When someone shows up to help, we wail and slap the outstretched hand. Because it might have germs and we don’t know where it’s been.

The best way to fight worry is to take action. Probably the action you are worrying about. Instead of  “what could go wrong next?” try out “what can I do next?”

Worry grinds you down. It makes you susceptible to powerful authority figures who look like protectors but will drain you of your ideas, your joy, and your strength. Worry makes you seek safety over anything else.

There is no guarantee of safety. Ever. Don’t trade in your creativity for safety. You won’t have enough of yourself left to survive. Worry is a warning sign. Don’t get sucked in.

—Quinn McDonald can be overwhelmed and head toward worry. She stays in action to outrun it.

Time Is On Your Side–If You Put it There

Freelancers know a lot about time. About not having enough of it. About deadlines. About approaching deadlines. (Sometimes about missed deadlines.)

unique-clock-1For some reason, I’ve fallen into bad time management habits, so I decided to figure out why.  The first business day in September seems like a good time to share it.

Nothing takes “only five minutes.”
My clients say it all the time, “How long could it take to write that headline? Can’t take more than five minutes?” “Answering an email takes just a minute. You can write five emails in five minutes.”

Nothing called “work” takes just five minutes. Even if you don’t count prep time. To answer an email, I have to read it carefully and figure out what the person wants. (Often it’s hidden in the middle of a paragraph, behind the background and details). Then I have to decide how to best answer it. Then write the email and store the draft while I answer others, then re-read it for dumb errors.

weirdClocks-9Lesson #1: Do not let the client push you into a time frame that doesn’t work.    Set a time frame that is reasonable for the speed at which you work. You may lose clients that way, but better to lose a client by smart time management than through stupid mistakes caused by rushing.

Stop believing the travel time on Google Maps. People who made the maps don’t dash back into the house because they forgot a folder or a water bottle. They don’t have the same traffic and road construction I do. They don’t go to the bathroom when they get to an appointment to make sure there isn’t something stuck in their teeth.

Lesson #2: Add at least 30 minutes to commuting time. This sounds like it will waste time, but it can be a big deal. One client location is 31 minutes away by Google Maps. I have never been able to make the trip in under 45 minutes. Doesn’t matter why–if I don’t want to be late, I have to leave more time for the longer drive.

webpark-clockWhat if I am too early? I bring a nonfiction book that I’m reading. Something I don’t mind if the client sees. Example: Wabi Sabi for Writers rather than The Joy Diet. Love Martha Beck, but I don’t want to explain it’s not really a diet book or discuss diets with my client. E-readers are excellent for reading without broadcasting the title.

Time moves at different rates. Some days I can race through work, other days I have to drag and kick myself through the same work. I don’t know why it is, but on dragging days, time needs to be adjusted–it will take longer to do ordinary tasks.

Lesson #3: Stop over-scheduling yourself. You can’t keep up the pace. Leave a half day every week to catch up. I don’t book coaching or training clients on Fridays. I’m never bored on Fridays, and frequently finishing projects that got delayed, needed more research, got pushed aside. And if the week has gone well, and I have to find a coaching slot, Friday can work for that, too.

-Quinn McDonald still thinks time moves differently on different days, but at least she knows what time it is.

Pruning Your Ideas

On Saturday, the tree people arrived. Their job was to trim my two 30-ft. tall Palo Verde trees. The trees recover fast from pruning, and the last time the job was done wrong. The trees were overgrown and dangerous.

Palo Verdes before trimming.

Palo Verdes before trimming.

Here in Phoenix, we build our houses close together. My neighbor’s house is about 16 feet from mine, wall to wall. That means we share the trees, even though they are on my property. He gets shade, he can see the blossoms, and he gets the seed pods, tiny leaf dust and the things that look like pine needles. Sometimes he dumps the stuff in my yard. He’s very tidy.

I’m less concerned with the trees’ untidy habits than I am with the chance that a Monsoon storm would knock a branch off and crash into the neighbor’s roof–or mine. I loved the shade, but it was time to trim the trees.

The crew showed up and three hours later, the trees were shaped, thinned, and a lot smaller. My chimney was free of branches. My solar panel is now in the direct sun, and yes, the house is hotter.

After pruning.

After pruning. The chimney and solar panel is suddenly visible.

The noise during the trimming was loud. Several crashes as tree branches fell. The constant noise of the chipper. But then it was done. The trees have plenty of branches left and they will fill in again. This time a bit more evenly.

All that pruning makes for a healthier tree. Works the same with your ideas, too. Or your business plan. Overloaded with ideas, work, and plans, we aren’t efficient. A big wind of change could cause some damage.

Every now and then it’s smart to prune–your possessions, your plans, your work, your diet. It doesn’t damage you. It helps keep what is important to healthy growth.

We can get attached to a lot of possessions and comfortable with a lot of ideas. Taking a look at what we really need to thrive can help us be more careful of how we grow. And keep us from breaking during the storms of change.

—Quinn McDonald has just pruned her work list considerably. And planted some new ideas.