Difference Between a Visual and Commonplace Journal

There’s been some interest lately for the Commonplace Journal. Yes! Nothing against visual journals, I wrote two books about using visual journals, and I love them both.

But after two books, I want to go back to the Commonplace Journal because it is my idea book. It’s not to show around the table, it’s not a sketchbook, it’s a book that helps me capture who I am today so I can see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. (Here’s a great post about Commonplace Journals from Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, sketcher, naturalist and journaler.)

And here’s an example of an ancient one, because the Commonplace Book has a long history–going back to how guild apprentices learned their craft.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from "Belly of the Whale," from the website Fierce and Nerdy.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from “Belly of the Whale,” from the website Fierce and Nerdy: http://bit.ly/1t1OXa8

A Commonplace Journal (or book) is a place for ideas and pieces of stories, quotes, classes I want to develop, and maps. I love maps and making them helps me put things in perspective or just remember where I’ve been–both geographically and emotionally.

A visual journal is more of a sketchbook, with planned pages. You may start with randomly applying layers of color, then going back and creating a page. But a visual journal is planned, often with an image on every page or every spread.

Not so the Commonplace Journal. It’s a way to capture what you may need in the future, and because you don’t know what that is, each book is a compendium of what you come across in your life–quotes, book titles (those you like and those you make up in case you want to write one), song lyrics, overhead conversations.

I’ve written about 10 ideas to use in your commonplace journal, but here are some not-so-private pages from mine. Warning: it’s not gorgeous, not sketches, and not layered. It’s about memory and ideas and development.

At the beginning or end of some months, I put in a calendar page. It helps me see what happened in that month at a glance. Each date is not filled in, and some days take up a lot of space. It varies a lot.

Here’s one from March, several years ago:

march_1

The first one generally mentions the sunrise and sunset times at the beginning of the month, because I am a naturalist, which means a lot of my journal is nature-based. Notice that there are just vague lines separating the days, and not every day is covered.

And here’s one from this past September:

jrnl1

More complete and more defined lines. This is the page in progress. You can see that I penciled in all the lines for the dates, and then inked in those I used. This page isn’t finished yet. I need to erase the lines and maybe add more detail. I can do this because there are other pages in the book that remind me of what I did. Here’s an example:

jrnl2We went to the Phoenix Art Museum and saw an exhibition on Antonio Berni. I didn’t take my journal to the museum, so I just put a quick note of the two exhibits we saw–Japanese pottery and an Antonio Berni exhibit.

I happened to have a piece of Asian-inspired paper that a friend had sent, so that got put on that page along with the ticket.

Another page (not shown) is a detailed report about the Antonio Berni art. Berni is an Argentinian artist who invented two characters who populated his assemblages. Berni was deeply distressed by the social issues of his day–how industrialization changed the opportunities for people to grow and advance, how poverty affected the lives of families, and how politics governed cultural changes.

Berni invented two characters, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, and created entire stories about them using assemblage. The work was mesmerizing and I have several pages describing the sculptures, assemblages, found objects and colors he used as well as interesting words–he called shantytowns “misery towns.”

I received a huge surprise gift from far away on my birthday. It was handmade, jrnl3which always means so much to me. The person who sent them (who is not mentioned because I didn’t ask for permission) uses some great quotes, which I wrote on the page.

Even the stamps delighted me, so I included those. The back of the page details the gift and what I know about its production.

Ideas for art, classes and articles are all hidden in the pages, waiting to be distilled out.

Then there are maps. Maps are how we connect locations, but they also work for emotional journeys we take.

map_phx-tucson2-2011The first few times I went to Tucson from Phoenix (about 2 hours) everything along the way seemed new. That’s the best time to write down what I saw and thought. Sometimes I just jot down notes and put them in when I have a chance to sketch a map. The maps are not meant to be in scale, just remind me about what caught my interest. This map was detailed weeks after I did the first sketch.

The one above is about a trip I took to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

map2It’s a beautiful drive, and it has inspired several poems. The map helped me remember what I saw and when. This map was done quickly at a rest stop. It was all I needed and I didn’t add more detail.

This is a lot and it’s long, but I think that there is a place in today’s world for Commonplace Books, and I’d like to help people get back to using them and creating them. By hand. From the brain and through the heart.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and a naturalist who keeps a Commonplace Journal.

 

 

Handmade Dreams

This is a re-run of an article I wrote several years ago. I’ve been having a lot of vivid dreams lately, and I remembered an older blog post. Thought you’d enjoy it again, too:

Dreams are important. They are more than just random processing of the day’s events. Sure,  some parts of dreams are recycled parts of experience. But dreams are also our very personal stories, given meaning by our deep personal connections.

In a dream, we recognize the yellow tricycle we passed on the sidewalk earlier in the day. That doesn’t strip it of meaning. To wrangle meaning out of dreams, we have to sit with the ideas our dreams give us and untangle the complicated links to ourselves.

Put down the book that “explains” dream images. You create the message and you can understand it. It’s yours to explore for meaning. A few nights ago I had a dream about a toaster cozy. Unlikely, yes. At first.

Sadly, this old-fashioned toaster cozy is no longer available on Etsy.

Sadly, this old-fashioned toaster cozy is no longer available on Etsy.

The Dream I was in a class of women, and we were all making kitchen-appliance cozies. You may remember those–covers for toasters, blenders, coffee grinders. Cozies were very popular in the 1950s and early 60s. I think the purpose was to

unify the look of the kitchen, although it’s possible women wanted to “hide” the machines that did the work for them while they wore pearls and shirtwaist dresses.  There was a lot of conflict in housewives’ minds about having “women’s work” made easier. It was more noble to do everything by hand, but a lot faster to use a machine to help.

In my dream, I was in a sewing class, learning to make a toaster cozy. The other  women in the class were making their cozies really fast, sewing machines humming. Most of the cozies in my dream were crayon-colored prints, with contrasting piping. (In my waking life I’m not attracted to crayon-colored prints and piping.) Some women were quilting theirs in traditional quilting patterns.

My toaster model was a vintage, rounded, 2-slicer with the big bakelite black handle. The instructor kept stopping by, fretting. I was making a cozy out of Tyvek,  the material FedEx envelopes are made from, and was adding a stuffed sculpture on top. The instructor was worried, and said, “This isn’t really the shape everyone is working with.” I nodded, but kept working.

The instructor, who in my dream was a home ec teacher, asked to see it on the toaster, but I shook my head. I didn’t speak, just kept working. Finally, when other women were putting their neat, tidy, perfectly sewn toaster cozies over their toasters, I put mine on the toaster–it used the toaster as a base, and the whole cozy was about two feet high.

On the top of the cozy was a tiger, rearing up on two hind feet, claws out, snarling. The teacher was horrified and asked me why I did that. I said, “Because I needed to.”

The interpretation: Here is what I knew but didn’t say to the teacher–the toaster was fear and the cozy was anger,  a reaction to fear. I was covering fear with a show of anger. Tyvek can’t be torn or ripped. It would stand up to a lot of angry treatment.

I did not feel a need to explain myself to someone who didn’t understand me. That’s a great feeling, to stand up for yourself without explanation.

Showing strength and anger keeps people from seeing we are just a toaster. Because being a toaster is not enough, in our heads. And yet, we buy toasters just for that ability–to toast bread.

The question: How do you need to appear in the world to keep your balance underneath? How do you stand up for yourself?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach.

Airport Art When You Are on the Run

Lately, I’ve been up in the air. A lot. Dallas. Denver. Houston. Change flights in Chicago (note to self: never do that again. Ever.)

Photo: Joel Kramer

Photo: Joel Kramer

There is amazing art in many airports. And then there is just weird art in some airports. Phoenix has a suspended bi-plane that looks like it might be crashing in Terminal 3. The plane is a SPAD XIII, one of the most successful fighting planes of World War I.

Above it is a stained glass window designed by Ken Toney. I thought it was related to Frank Lloyd Wright (whose winter home was in the area), but no. The colors reminded Toney of the Southwest.

Dallas-Fort Worth airport (which is a nightmare of navigation problems) has an ice castle in it. Well, it’s a sculpture of an ice mountain castle.

1917pwqgkq5upjpgI’m not sure, but I think Dallas has no mountains. Still, it’s fun to walk by it–or in my case, run by it.

Atlanta has a sculpture of a flying ear of corn. I haven’t been in Atlanta lately, so I borrowed this from the Gizmodo site. It’s too good not to share.

19190mkf0d9qajpgThe sculpture, part of the vegetable series by Craig Nutt, includes an air traffic control tower that’s a carrot. Sometimes an ear of corn is just an ear of corn.

Travel between the B and C Concourses at Chicago and you will be in a light show.  Luckily, you can hang onto the rail of the moving sidewalk while you gawk.

1917tw7zkp9lqjpg“Sky’s the Limit” has more than 450 neon tubes and there’s music playing. It’s overwhelming, but so is the Chicago airport.

Denver airport has a huge blue sculpture of a mustang in front. Not to put too

Photo: Len Borden

Photo: Len Borden

fine a point on it, but it is anatomically correct. Which I almost didn’t notice because the beast has glowing red eyes, too. Dubbed “Blucifer” by the locals, there are many dramatic photos of the beast. One of the best is here, complete with dramatic weather in the background.

A lot of scary stories surround “Blue Mustang”, too. The sculptor, Louis Jimenez, was killed when a section of the sculpture fell on him, severing an artery.

When I travel, I love to see the local art, especially if it’s in the airport. I don’t know how the art is selected, but you know that people argue over how to represent their city. Sometimes art wins. Sometimes the committee does.

And then, I’m happy to come home to some simply gorgeous gifts of nature. The clouds on the evening I came home:

Photo: Quinn McDonald

Photo: Quinn McDonald

And a cactus in bloom–more so this year than any I can remember in the last few years.

cactusflower

Quinn McDonald travels a lot. She is glad to see the world and always happy to come back home to the desert.

Anonymous Doesn’t Count

The age of anonymity is upon us. We lurk on the internet; we can be anybody or nobody. But the anonymity of the internet is not about privacy, it’s about cruelty.

Without having to identify ourselves, we can become emotional snipers. Under the guise of privacy, we become cruel, even vicious. If you have never experienced this, read any Yahoo “news” account, then read the comments. They vary from mildly hurtful to hate speech.

Anon-cruel

“Because none of us are are cruel as all of us.”

When I hand out evaluation blanks in my writing classes, the question always floats up, “Do we have to sign our name?” Well, why not? Have a complaint? Let me know and sign your name. Tell me your truth. Write in a conversational tone. Tell me what didn’t work for you. I can’t be the perfect instructor for everyone, and I’m always interested in hearing an opinion that helps improve the class. I’ve learned from many an eval.

I have no power of reprisal in your company. I am an outsider, a freelancer.

A signed comment makes you an adult with a comment worth reading. When I hear, “We can’t be honest unless it’s anonymous,” I wonder what kind of honesty requires anonymity. What kind of remark would you not say to my face but would be happy to repeat behind my back? Nothing helpful.

I’ve written my share of complaint letters, and I’ve signed every one of them. Adding my name made me careful of grammar, clarity, and asking for what I want. More often than not, I get what I asked for. Without a name, how will the person know how to respond, or to whom?

Be proud of your opinions. They are your experiences. They are your truth. But the word whispered behind the hand, the emotional sniper with venom and anger–that’s not something I’m going to care about or do anything about.

Take a stand for your own character. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

—Quinn McDonald can offer more help if she knows who to offer it to.

Wabi-Sabi and Your Journal

Wabi sabi is a Japanese esthetic most often associated with the history of the tea ceremony and a philosophy that not only accepts imperfection, but finds wonder in it.

Wabi sabi is exactly what your journal needs. Wabi sabi  honors the beauty of the impermanent or incomplete. Leave a page blank because you don’t know what comes next. Just like real life.

"When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something's suffered damage and has history it becomes more beautiful"- Billie Mobayed. Image and quote from http://freyahmfashion.blogspot.com

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has history it becomes more beautiful”- Billie Mobayed. Image and quote from http://freyahmfashion.blogspot.com

Wabi sabi is a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. Write exactly what you feel, be who you are in your journal. It will take your zero draft–those words not even worthy of being a first draft–without complaining.

As an aesthetic, wabi sabi honors things imperfect and impermanent. Get better in time and with practice. Give yourself time. Practice. Honor your journal by loving words.

Wabi sabi is also about connecting. With nature, with other people. We can write by ourselves in the dark, but we long to be heard. Journals listen, but they don’t tell. It may be time to consider telling others what you are writing about. That’s called publishing. Not ready to publish? OK. Just keep writing.

Wabi sabi is about treasuring your ability to connect what you experience and living to tell about it on a blank page.  If you are a writer. If you are a potter, you will tell about your experience through your hands and the clay. With fiber if you are a weaver.

Wabi sabi writing is the hardest work you’ll ever do and the most rewarding. If you’ve never kept a journal, it’s time.

Quinn McDonald keeps a commonplace journal. It just helped her realize that saving money by staying in an inexpensive hotel wastes time by contributing a bad night’s sleep and creating a lot more work functioning the next day.

Organization and Control

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days, much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door.

todolistI stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project. What I missed by socializing after work, I made up for by working once my son was asleep. My work was always on time or ahead of schedule. I was dependable and it had to stand in for social.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, ignore it, deny it, or rarely, work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was organization.

The trouble with organization, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It does allow for good problem solving, a regularly planned process and a good idea of what was going to happen in the future.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, of when or how our family members will die, when or if we will get the flu, or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results.

Control often runs off the tracks due to no ones fault. Instead of trying to force events by sheer will, see what happens if you look at the event in the light of “what works best here?” or “What can I do that works with what I have?”

-Quinn McDonald is beginning to enjoy the accidental and the flawed. It’s the gift of emotional wabi-sabi.

 

 

Writing is Visual

You are reading a mystery book or a thriller, and can’t put it down. It’s late at night and you begin to wonder if you locked all the doors. What you are reading is coming off the page and making you feel creeped out. Your imagination has turned words into video. Reading is a visual experience.

IMG_5581

Maude White is a paper carver–a visual storyteller who tells her fine, complicated, detailed stories in paper. See her work at http://bravebirdpaperart.com/home1/

If you read a wonderful, fat book about a family, you don’t want the book to end. You love the characters, you feel you know them. You could describe them and entertain them. Words are not only visual, but story-telling is emotional–it triggers emotions of compassion, anger, community, fear, love, friendship.

Some writers can create such vivid images that our brain not only translates them into our lives, but we believe we have experienced the events. Our heart pounds, our eyes well up with tears. A good book is an emotional experience. A sensory experience. A visual experience.

In the long battle of design v. writing, I’ve always been on the side of writing. Yes, of course, because I’m a writer. But also because I know that your imagination is so much bigger and stronger than the image someone interprets for you.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach

 

Decorating With Collections

Yes, it’s too early for winter holiday decorations. Unless, of course, you are hand-making them. In which case, it’s time to think about all the Autumn and Winter holidays (because some decorations can be combined or re-used).

On October 18 and 19, the Women’s Expo is at the Phoenix Convention Center. I’m volunteering for Arizona Art Supply. I’ll be making wreaths with paperback book pages. While prepping some books, I had another thought–most of us have collections–office supplies, sentimental collections and pieces we keep through all the de-stashings.

treebuttonsI had my mother and my mother-in-laws button collection. I also ran across a stash of push-pins. I rarely use them anymore because computers and smart phones have covered a lot of ground that bulletin boards used to cover.

treepushpinsWhile buying the wreath rounds I saw a  green styrofoam cone and picked it up, too. I regretted the green almost as soon as I took it out of the bag, so I used Dylusions Ink in white, and sprayed it, which gave it a nice textured color. No complete coverage needed, but when you spray, do it in a bag or cover a big area. The ink drifts and sticks.

treehalfSort the button collection to gather the same sizes and colors. I chose colors from black through gray to white. Start the project by putting three rows of push pins into the base area of the sprayed and dried cone.

Then pin a row of buttons in the darkest color in the space above the push pins. The buttons don’t have to touch the pins. Larger buttons will take up more space so the smaller buttons will seem to float. That’s fine. The pins that hold the buttons should be pushed in at an angle from top to bottom to keep the buttons in place more easily. You’ll also be able to carry the project around more easily.

Once the row of buttons is in place, put another row of push pins into the cone.

Then alternate buttons and push pins, using lighter buttons as you move up. You can see the black through gray here, but you could also use black and orange for Halloween, or yellow, red and brown for Thanksgiving.

You could choose extravagant buttons to show off your collection favorites, ortreetop coordinate them with your wedding colors. All white is also attractive.

My collection has a lot of white buttons, so the top third was all white.

The top of the cone is decorated in three pieces of trim shaped like white poinsettias. Put a push pin in the top center to support them, and then angle in straight pins to hold the flower in place. The gold circle is part of the photography background, not on the tree.

tree8When the tree was done, I decided I wanted to add a bit more glitz, so I bought dress trim in silver beads. The scale has to be right, but there are many choices–pearls, pre-strung sequins, or any other trim.  Put the pre-strung “garland” over the row of push pins and use the heads of straight pins to hold them in place.

You can use a glue gun for all this, but pins are adjustable and make much less of a mess for someone who is not used to glue guns. (I don’t own one.)

These trees would make great centerpieces or mantel decorations. Have fun!

Quinn McDonald has a big button collection. She’s thinking of doing a tree with all buttons, too.

This Little Journal Stayed Home

On my last business trip, I had to hand-carry corrected workbooks. That shrank suitcase space, so I thought, “this time, I’ll leave the journal at home.” I don’t journal every day, so a two-day trip, well, I really wouldn’t need it anyway. The journal stayed in the studio.

Here’s what didn’t make it into my journal the day it happened:

  • The full eclipse, around 3:00 a.m.,  the kind where the moon is red.
  • I ate dinner overlooking an indoor ice rink and noticed that the youngest class fell as often as the older class, but the younger kids laughed when they fell and did deliberate pratfalls, bounding back up again. No fear, no shame, just ready for more fun. Something about being young that acknowledges the purpose of life is learning. By the time you are eight, you feel embarrassed not to know it all.
  • I missed writing down a dream because it evaporated when I woke up without a way to write it down.
Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Traveling instant art kit: Neocolor II, water brush, pencil, Pitt Pen, eraser. The bare necessities.

Sure, I can write down the two events I remember, but it lacks the immediacy and insight of writing it down as soon as it happens. And the dream is gone.

What to do when there is really no room to take the journal? Here are four ideas:

1. Buy postcards at the airport when I arrive and tuck them into the folder that holds my schedule. There’s always room to take a few postcard stamps. Write down journal entries on the postcards and mail them at the hotel before I leave. Instant journal page!

2. Take photos of things I want to remember and print them out when I get home. Print it out to the size of the journal page, and write on it, or on the back and add it to the journal.

3. Take a few shipping tags to write on. Send them back as postcards (the larger ones) or tuck them into the journal when I get back. Or keep it simple and simply tuck blank index cards into my schedule.

4. Pick something else not to take. A journal is my idea bank, comfort source and being-bored preventer. And it doesn’t have an uncomfortable underwire. A woman’s got to have priorities.

—Quinn McDonald is leaving for Houston, and this time, her journal is coming along.

Listen to Your Journal

Note: Congratulations to Denise Huntington who won the book giveaway on my blog! Denise, send me your mailing address (to QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com) and Just My Typo will be on the way!  Many of you were generous and said April Lopez and her Dad should win the book. April, send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a book you and your Dad will enjoy!

*    *    *    *    *   *
listen1Listening to your journal is a skill  often neglected by the very people who would benefit from it. We write a lot in our journals, but then we close the covers, put them on the shelf and forget about the wisdom we just wrote. We are used to writing, asking to be heard–praying for answers. But we often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of  journaling.

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom of your Inner Hero.  You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth, courtesy of channeling your Inner Hero. Your Inner Hero gives you permission to dream up solutions.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were Quotation-Jonathan-Safran-Foer-music-love-listening-experience-Meetville-Quotes-59162something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Your pen may race on, while your mind chews on the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed before. Because you could not.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who has a lot to learn.