Jump to “Set the Page on Fire” Giveaway

While I generally put only my art on this blog, I am running a book giveaway on my professional website, and thought you might find the interesting enough to enter the giveaway. (I’ll announce the winner on July 12, 2019.)

The book, Steve O’Keefe’s Set the Page on Fire: Secrets of Successful Writers, is a short book with big advice. He interviewed hundreds of authors to compile the tips.

Read the review here and enter the giveaway.

For the Others on Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Sunday. Mother’s Day. Maybe you feel guilty, or sad, or just wonder what other people were so sentimental about. Mother’s Day. The day when no praise is extravagant enough, no card kitschy enough, no sentiment sweet enough. And you aren’t feeling it. At all.

Collage: “Flight” ©Quinn McDonald, 2014

If your childhood was happy and you had a mother who gave you everything you needed and no card can express the love and admiration you feel,  today’s blog is not for you.

It’s for the others. You know who you are.

This is for those who  never really had the mother you needed. The one you wished would comfort you and praise you and love you when you were unlovable and  help without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice. The one you so wanted to show up with comfort and forgiveness, but it didn’t happen. Not in your life.

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, but you don’t know how to act on Mother’s Day.

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 turnaround your friends keep promising you. Or blaming you for not working harder to make happen.

I have a horrible secret: Reconciliation may never happen. Not even on her deathbed.  And that may have to be OK, too, because that may be a hope you still have outstanding. It is not up to you alone to make it happen. You may do the work and it will still come to nothing.

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 fix old wounds,  but it’s hard. And if your mom is a believer in the old parent rules school, it is harder still.

The relationships 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.

“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 and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today. With or without her approval.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. To be a different person than the one who taught you to hate whoever you were at that moment.

Maybe you cannot be generous and kind to your mother, but you can be all those things 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 is a mother who did her best with what she knew at the time. She was not the perfect mom, either.

Selling Doesn’t Make You an Artist

When I saw the Sephora bag being packed in the store, I thought, “this could be a journal.” (This is what happened when I got too eager and didn’t plan enough.) Accidentally, I spoke that out loud. The sales associate lit up. “How would you do that?” she asked. I folded the bag to show her.

hand-paited bollard

Photograph © Quinn McDonald, 2018

“That would be so cute!” she gushed. “And you could sell them on Etsy and make a lot of money and be a real artist!” There was so much in that comment to understand and come to grips with. In real life, I smiled, took my purchase and left the store.

In my head, I began to wonder how we got from being an artist, to being defined as an artist if we sell our work. Make a living. Get rich. That’s the American business model–develop an idea, monetize it, get rich. Success!

Years ago, I wrote a book called Raw Art Journaling. It was for people who wanted to do art for themselves. To heal. To making meaning in life, instead of chasing meaning. I believed every word of it then, and still do. Art is a way to express yourself creatively, and it has nothing to do with selling and making money.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great if you are a working artist and successful. For years, I did support myself with my art. I found it hard work and the joy of art left me. So I left the field of money-making artist. And I became a meaning-making artist.  It is not mutually exclusive–making art and making money. But for me, I chose the making art–making meaning path. I’m happy with it.

Much of my art is weird. Much of my life is weird. It becomes clearer to me, makes more sense, when I make art out of it.

I can start a piece and not have to choose what frame I’ll use first.

I can decide to use a paper that is not archival, simply because I like it.

I can experiment without wondering how much I can charge for it.

I can make mistakes and take a long time to decide how to change the work without worrying about time management.  In fact, I can make mistakes and decide to leave it just the way it is because I understand more about it now.

Art and money are not necessarily linked. I do other work to take care of my family. Work I love, but different from art. Being an artist is exploring the dark, interesting, funny, odd, hard, difficult parts of your life and seeing what you can discover about it. For me, that’s valuable.

When people ask me if I’m an artist, I generally say, “I do creative expression.” Sometimes I’m asked if I make money, and all I say is, “I decided not to sell my work any more.” It’s all I need to explain about my deeply important art.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people cope with the creativity they don’t know they have.

Start With What You Know–Now

When I saw the Sephora bag, I knew that it would make a cute hand-made journal.  The bump in the road—I haven’t hand made a journal in more than a year—didn’t bother me. Hey, I knew how.

The secret to producing anything decent is practice. But psssssh, I’ve made dozens of journals. Sure, I can still do it. Easily. Right? Maybe not. Without practice, the skill dulls. It doesn’t vanish, and I may know the steps, but the skill element dulls.

The Sephora bag, ready to be worked on. Until I cut my finger.

So does the knife blade. After I decided how to cut the bag, I pulled out my cutting knife, did not put in a new blade, and drew the knife down the edge of a ruler. The blade stuttered, the ruler jumped, and I cut my finger tip. Not a big cut, but enough to bleed onto the bag. And soak into the paper surface. Wiping it off made it worse. And my finger was still bleeding, so there was not one drop, but three. Then five. I stopped to get a bandaid.

Yes, the bag was ruined. It didn’t have to be. What I should have done was not start with building a book. As far as creative work, there were many creative exercises that would have made a great beginning. But I didn’t do that. I started with something I had not practiced for a long time. And I failed.

hand-paited bollard

Photograph © Quinn McDonald, 2018

Not because I’m a bad artist, not because I’m not creative, but because I started where I’d left off years ago. Instead of where I was now.

I learn by failing. And my figuring out how I failed and working from there. It’s a good method. It helps you grow better with practice. And that works.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and writing instructor. She is working on a book about putting down your screens and getting out to listen to the Speaking World in the Invisible, Visible World.

Being Creative, Being Different

Is being creative the same as being different? In a world of “there are many ways, but only one right way,” and “it’s either wrong or right,” the word “creative” has taken a beating.

There were the go-getters who tried to make “disruptive” a synonym for “creative.” The connotation of disruptive is often negative–an idea barging in, taking over, crashing the status quo.  But the disrupters were mostly being different, and not necessarily creative, which has the connotation of being visually interesting, but not necessarily practical.

Being different means daring to be creative.

Being different can mean standing alone. Being creative means being colorful while doing standing alone. Photo: ©Hans-Peter Clamann

Creativity carries the burden of explaining ourselves. Creativity is not necessarily a new invention, a new method, although creativity is required to create. Most of us really don’t want to be too creative. We want to think we are different, but not actually be different. Being called “creative” feels a lot better than being labeled “different.” We prefer being different enough to still be interesting, maybe eccentric, but accepted, rather than stand-alone different. There is fear in having to explain ourselves—and failing.

Creativity is often thought of as self-expression—visual art, singing, dancing, writing, are examples. But often creativity is thought of only in terms of monetary gain. “Will this add to the bottom line?” But that’s not the point of creativity.

We live in a world of image, driven by consumer values. Creativity includes pressure to be accepted, to fit in, to have supporters, successful Instagram “likes”, re-tweets. To hold back on wilder ideas in order to gather acceptance and “likes.” Building an audience can be a goal, but the goal of creativity isn’t building an audience.

Creative self-expression is more therapy for the soul than it is a tool for personal financial advancement. Of course you can sell your work, but if you want to be creative without selling you work, that is a  clear choice you have.  And a limitless one.

Once you turn creative self-expression into a business, you are trading creative limits for financial gain. It’s not a one-on-one trade, but it changes how you think of your creativity.

I’ve sold my work and made a living doing it. Right now, I’m working on creative self expression to reduce anxiety (there’s fuel for that fire in every minute of the day), self-growth, and self-care. I’ll never sell what I make, because it is not geared to popular taste. But I love this work, and I love not having to explain it to anyone. And I love the feeling of getting better at solving problems–in my art and in life. For me, at least, creativity is problem solving. Sometimes practical, sometimes imagined, but it clears a path ahead.

Quinn McDonald is working on a book, The Invisible, Visible World, on creative self-expression. She teaches creative thinking and problem solving. She also teaches writing.

 

Advice From the Sidewalk

We’d had a nice dinner, my friend and I. She had offered to help me with videos for a class I’m developing for the Invisible, Visible World book. She is a generous soul— something we all need more of in our life—generosity. Giving and getting.

I’m combining my creative site with my professional site for a new look and new ideas. (This site will remain right here.) But I want people who hire me to train their employees in writing or critical thinking or problem solving to know that I’m not the “read the PowerPoint” kind of instructor, that in my class, everyone speaks, everyone questions, everyone is invited to engage and participate.

It’s a risky step–there are a lot of companies that don’t want to hear a class laughing. I do. When adults laugh, they are ready to learn. They are eager to try out something new. And that’s the place I want to stand when I teach.

Possible @Quinn McDonald, 2019

I was leaving the restaurant when I noticed writing on another restaurant across the street. It was a great idea, almost glowing in the evening light. It made me smile. And ready to learn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing, thinking, and creative expression.

Be an Expert, Be a Learner

Artists and writers are always pushing ahead–pushing their boundaries, pushing themselves to learn a new technique. That’s growth. But there is also a time for being an expert and sticking to what you know.

First, sketch the raven. Then, cut out words and letters about ravens and glue them in place, using tweezers. Tiny, fiddly steps. There is no worthwhile project that doesn’t require time, attention, and practice. © Quinn McDonald, 2018

I’m learning how to create and run an online class. I’ve been teaching for many years,but it’s always been face-to-face. Online is a new medium for me, and a new medium always brings a learning curve. I don’t always love steep learning curves.

While creating a course (The Invisible, Visible World will be an online class as well as a book), I began with a brain dump of all the things I wanted to do in a four-week class. I had so many great ideas! But then I began to cram them into the modules. Either just a taste of an idea, or too many to finish in one class. Stop!

I backed up and looked at what I had a lot of experience in. I narrowed down the content, because too much information is just passing on my feeling of being overwhelmed.  The modules are simple and leave time for practice. Practice bring out expertise.

With less to learn and more time to practice, I see a better course emerging.  I hope so.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer in business writing topics. The Invisible, Visible World is a book on what we miss.