The Power of “Again”

Maybe you’ve seen this incredible video of a woman making calla lily images using an inked string. It’s amazing. Looks easy. She does it perfectly time after time. She then moves on to decorating jeans.

How hard could it be to do that? It’s mostly pulling string.  Ahhh, that’s the problem. Is she using ink or paint? How thin is the ink or paint? Do you have to have a weight on the cover of the  pad of paper?

Without having any answers, I cut a piece of cooking twine and soaked it in thinned walnut ink. The ink was too wet. (That’s the brown attempt on the left.) The next try was still too wet. That’s the blur on the right. But it is heading in the right direction.

When you have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers, you experiment. When you experiment, you generally fail in the early attempts. If you quit then, you will also quit learning. Every time we make a mistake, fail, don’t get it right, we can change something to get better, to work toward getting it right. That’s what success is–trying often enough to finally get it right.

Doing it again (also called practice) gives us a lot of information.  We can change our technique. The second time, I chose a thicker ink and dragged the string more slowly.

Trying again gave a better result.  It didn’t look as wonderful as the  one in the video, but she has probably done hundreds of them.

On the next one, I used a thinner paper. Watercolor paper absorbs paint and water quickly, creating the streaks. This try was with watercolor.

Getting better. Now I was tempted to make two changes. Better to do one change at a time. If it works well (or if it doesn’t), you’ll know exactly what change didn’t work.

The joy of doing it again is that you can see yourself getting better. Whether it’s an art technique, writing, sports, dancing or singing, practice does make perfect. Or at least closer to perfect.

Quinn McDonald values the learning that lies in failure, experimentation, and repetition.

 

 

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Smiling Over Spilled Milk

During my morning walk, I came across some spilled ice cream on a sidewalk. In another city, or in another time, a rain may have washed the spilled milk away. In Phoenix, it dries in place. Fast. Which made it the perfect image to photograph.

While the lines and dots in the sidewalk were beautiful in their own right, I loved the way the melted ice cream ran into the safety portion of the sidewalk.

It seems that when we spill out our life, it can create art for people to see hours later. But only in the Invisible, Visible World.

–Quinn McDonald sees accidental art on her morning walks through Phoenix. She calls this temporary art part of the Invisible, Visible World. She’s working on a book about it.

The Thorn in Mother’s Day

Once social media falls in love with a holiday, the variations of wishes can drown you. And social media loves Mother’s Day.  And not just Mothers, but Bonus Moms,  Grandmothers, Great-Grand Mothers, and those who acted like Mom when mom could not. I’m glad for the love and the gratitude in the hearts of those who had great moms.

If you had a mother who had your back, and no card is sweet enough, today’s blog is not for you. And most likely, you are with your mom, being happy.

But maybe your childhood was not the kind that brings images of flowers and dappled ponies. Or your adulthood, either.

Maybe you never had the mother you needed. The one who comforted you and praised you and loved you when you were unlovable and  helped without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice.

Maybe you chose not to be a mother and everyone asks you why, or you wanted to be a mother and it didn’t happen for you and you are still pretending that’s just fine.

It’s complicated. Whether your mother was cruel or uncaring or clueless, the pain is there. If your mother is still alive, you probably won’t be able to have the big sudden whoosh! of understanding pouring into a happy ending, like your friends keep promising you. It may never happen. Not even on your mother’s deathbed. And that may have to be OK, too.

If your mother is dead, you may replay scenes, wondering if you had acted differently, if the results would have been different. You’ll never know, but a wild guess tells me No. Some things can’t be changed, fixed, or healed. And never by one person. Two people, a mother and her child, might be able to cobble together a relationship, but it’s hard.

The relationship between mothers and daughters is always hard. There is unwritten jealousy between age and experience and youth and naivete. There is anger in lost opportunities and unmet expectations.  For some, the fact that you were a daughter was enough of a disappointment to fill a lifetime. I ran across this quote yesterday, whose poignancy was hard to read:

“Remember that every son had a mother whose beloved son he was, and every woman had a mother whose beloved son she wasn’t. ” – Marge Piercy

But here is a truth you might want to hear right now, today, on Mother’s Day. You cannot be anyone else except the person you are today, with all your faults, experiences, hardships, joys, stumbles, successes, talents, glories and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. Maybe not with your mother, but with the women who surround you. The ones who work with you and don’t meet your expectations. The pretty ones who get promoted ahead of you.  The ones who don’t take the opportunities you wanted and they have the freedom to turn down. All those women you meet on your path during the day. You can swallow the angry remark. You can wish them well. You can choose not to judge. That is your choice now. And choosing that freedom instead of choosing retribution is worth celebrating. Today and every day.

-Quinn McDonald’s mother has been dead for almost 15 years, and the shadow still falls across the path on some days.

Seeds and History

Seeds hold the history of the plant. Because a plant’s growth depends on favorable conditions, a seed will also reveal the amount of water, nourishment, sunlight, and care the plant received. Seeds from one area will be smaller, harder, and tougher if their lives were harder.

And sometimes, just because the sun is at the right angle, because I looked up, because the seed pods had light shining through them, sometimes I can see the future.

—-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She walks the emotional path with people in pain, and the dusty streets of Phoenix because she loves the invisible, visible world.

Asking for What You Need

We all need basics: air, water, food, friends. Once we acquire those, we have to start asking for what we need. Our friends are not mind-readers, no matter how much we wish they were. They may offer help,  but it’s up to us to ask for the kind of help we need. We aren’t very good with that.

“You’ve known me for 10 years! How can you think I’d do that?” or “Why didn’t it occur to you that I needed a babysitter?” Each of us has enough on our plates. And yes, you have to risk being told “no.” Asking for what we need is half of the solution. Handling “no” is the other half. It’s not easy being a friend and an adult at the same time.

This cactus cannot ask for what it needs. It needs water. It’s growing by a canal–all the water it could ever need is no more than 15 feet from its roots. But it can’t move and it can’t ask, and the canal is a concrete channel, so the water won’t leak over to it. Like most cacti, this one is hardy. It hasn’t rained significantly in three months. There are limits to hardy, too. Nature is not always soft and gentle. The cactus may well die, the soft parts dry, leaving a beautiful skeleton.

Note: these photos and brief essays are a prompt to help you think about the changes you might want to make in your life. I photograph the Invisible, Visible World to help us all become aware of what is around us. To think deeply about what we care about.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people in emotional and psychological pain. She also helps people finish that book, painting, music, or dance. Or get started. But you have to ask for what you need!

 

Urban Naturalist at Night

Night walking is very different from day walking, particularly in the city. Most people are home, so the porch lights are on, and most windows are dark, or lit by the light of screens. There is the literal feeling of being an “outsider” because no one sits on their front porch at night.

Moonplant: walking at night. © Quinn McDonald, 2018

Surrounded by people, you feel totally alone, but not necessarily lonely. There is much that connects us in the night.

The day’s work is done, the family is together. Or maybe that’s just what we would like to think. As I walk down streets, I have no idea what happens behind those doors. I am free to make up what I want to think. For now.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She walks every day, sometimes at night, in the invisible, visible world.

Look Up, Half the World Is Over Your Head

One of the secrets of finding amazing sights and ideas is to look back over your shoulder, the way you came. When every photographer is focusing on the trail ahead to the mountains, turn around and see what is behind you. Besides being a smart hiker’s trick (trails look different hiking out than hiking home), it is a smart photographer’s trick. The breath-taking view is often behind you.

As a metaphor, enjoy the work you have already done. Check to see how far you have come since you made that change.

Tree house above my head. I almost missed it. What wonderful daydreaming must take place there!

Another secret to seeing more is to look up. The Invisible Visible World™is all around you, but we seldom look up. The lighting is different up high. Birds and clouds decorate the view. And so does this tree house.

I almost missed it walking and keeping my focus ahead of me. Great for safety, but daydreaming lives above our head.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. She teaches writing as a healing art.