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.

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What I Learned From Failure

My artwork didn’t get accepted into a juried competition. It’s an experience every writer and artist knows as rejection. It’s not a question of  if, it’s a question of  when.

Over the years, I’ve let rejections destroy my confidence and make me wonder if a skilled PhotoShop user has a better chance of success than I do.  I’ve let the inner critic out of the cage to gnaw on my soul, leaving it half-eaten in the rain of self-doubt.

This is the accordion book I made with alcohol inks. It represents the five seasons in Arizona–spring, early summer, monsoon, autumn, and winter. The length of time the sun is above the horizon is reflected in the length of each piece of art. © Quinn McDonald, 2018.

This time, having worked on a skill that separates creative self-expression from outside judgment, I was disappointed, but only for 10 minutes. And it was disappointment, not crushing self-defeat. I can talk about it without shame. I’m writing about it to see if what I learned (over time) helps other artists who put their work on display to be judged by strangers.

Every artist (I’m including writers, musicians, dancers, performers and every other art form) takes their creative work, tosses it in the air and risks judgment, ridicule, and being ignored.  We are hoping for delight, engagement and maybe a sale.

The skill that I learned, the one that helped me survive rejection, is called non-attachment. I developed it through practice.  Like every other skill, it takes practice to get comfortable with, and then good at, non-attachment. First, non-attachment does not mean not caring, not investing yourself, or ignoring your emotions.

The accordion book laid flat. The white numbers under each panel is the length of time the sun is above the horizon on the 21st of the month in the middle of the season. © Quinn McDonald, 2018. All rights reserved.

Non-attachment is rooted in a simple idea: creators create for self-expression. In my creativity coaching practice, I’ll ask “Why are you writing this book?” (Or painting, composing, singing–engaging in expressing creativity.) Most often, the answer is, “I want to get it published and make money.” That’s where the problem festers.

Yes, artists have to sell their work to pay the grocery, plumber, and mortgage. If that is the primary reason they create, all creative decisions  will be made through the marketing plan and all success will me measured in sales. I’ve been there, and it is a dry, lifeless place of relentless competition and incremental failure.

The reason to create, to practice, to struggle with your creative urge is to express creativity. That’s it. That’s the prime directive of the creative soul–express your creativity. It is the process of creating that lifts the soul, not the price tag.

When you create work that requires your concentration, full attention, joy, fear, satisfaction–that is the reward.

What others think of it is their opinion. You might grow from another opinion, but if you let random opinions steer your creative expression,  you will forever be chasing approval. Your creative expression will no longer be tethered to your idea, it will be tied to someone else’s preferences. That’s an impossible space in which to create.

Here are 10 clear steps to get to non-attachment:

1. Work regularly. Creative work builds endurance and creative muscle.

2. Work relentlessly. Self-doubt? Keep working. Not sure the piece is good? Keep working. Tired? Get some rest, then keep working.

(This stage includes re-writing, editing, overpainting, noodling with those six bars in the refrain, anything that is improving the work.)

3. Work until you are satisfied.  Don’t know if you are done? How satisfied are you? Not sure? Not done. Don’t ask Facebook, Instagram, your mom or best friend if you are done. They are related to your inner critic, not your creative expression.

4. When you have worked hard and made meaning for yourself, you will feel satisfied. Happy, if you give yourself permission.

5. Give your piece a name or title. It’s an ancient tradition that naming something gives you power over it and distance from it.

6. Send it out into the world. Enter a juried competition, put it up for sale, go to a gallery. Because your creative work brought you joy in creation, what someone else says is an opinion, not absolute Truth with a capital T.

7. If you are turned down (the term I prefer instead of “rejected,”) you will still have your hard work, your idea, and your satisfaction. The rest is someone else’s opinion.

8. You cannot live in the judge’s head. They might not like your kind of art. (That’s their opinion.) They may know what price-point sells in their gallery and choose that kind of work. (Their marketing decision.) They may choose a piece that fits a certain space, one that reminds them of the curtains in their childhood home, or something that their dog wagged his tail at–all decisions that have nothing to do with you. Your artistic decisions are complete. What happens next is not yours to control.

9. If you are turned down, you still have your joy and satisfaction. You may feel disappointed that all the unknown decisions didn’t line up right for you, but those decisions were not yours to control. The ones you do control were ones that you were satisfied with. That’s the core of creative self-expression. Once you are satisfied with the quality of your effort and your result, no one can take it from you.

10. Go to the show that didn’t accept you. Enjoy the work, congratulate the artists. Feeling happy for others is a skill that stretches your soul to make it fit more easily.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach, writer, and artist. She helps artists learn non-attachment.

 

 

 

Ballpoint for Travel and Office

Maybe you don’t care what you write with–anything at all will do. Chewed wood pencil, give-away ballpoint. If you aren’t fussy, you probably always have a pen with you. I’m fussy.  Fountain pen? Perfect for note-taking and some sketching, but not always good on airplanes. (Yes, I have a ballpoint with a valve for air travel.)

Ballpoint? Reliable and easy. Except I’m not a gel pen fan, want a fine point that doesn’t skid across the page, can cross-hatch without creating a mess, and doesn’t glob and smear.

What I was looking for (this time; I am a pen hoarder collector.) What I really wanted was one pen that worked in the office, and can be tossed in my bag and travel with me. It needs to be light, dependable, easy to use and have refills. Because I am a collector, it also needs to be aesthetically pleasing and feel good while writing.

On Jetpens (an addictive site I will choose over Pinterest any day), I found a Midori ballpoint.

It has a brass cover, a stainless steel end that allows you to post the top of the pen, and a place for a keyring or a lanyard, if you like to wear your pen.

On the aesthetic side, the pen itself is wood, which will darken with age. It’s small, but light, which makes it comfortable to write with. And yes, it is refillable. The refill comes in fine (only, so far) and in black (only, so far.)

The clip holds it in my Travelers Notebook, so it doesn’t get lost in my bag, and the quality of both the pen and the ink is wonderful. No smearing, no globbing.

It’s an inexpensive pen ($19.90) with an inexpensive refill ($1.60). How does it write?

It puts down a smooth, even line and can be used for cross-hatching and tiny lettering. It’s a crisp ink and holds up well. You can see the sample that shows other pens and a pencil for comparison.

Are you a Travelers’ Notebook fan? So are millions of others. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, writing program developer, and creativity coach

Praying to St. Paraphernalia

Looks like a piece of marbled paper, but it’s a rock. If I could have carried it off, I would have, but it was about the weight of my car.

Collage involves paper hoarding. In fact, often collage is just an excuse to make hoarding seem virtuous.  Working with a friend, I had piles of collage papers piled up and so did my friend. Completely different piles. Different colors, sources and looks.

My friend’s work looks sacred and regal. “I pray to St. Paraphernalia,” she said, by way of explanation.

“I’m not Catholic,” I answered, unsure of what she meant.

“Oh, I’m not either, I just love the beautifully illustrated lives of the saints, and the candles, and gilt-edge books,” she added.

I smiled, having misunderstood her to say that she loved Saint Paraphernalia, and assuming I misunderstood one of the names in the panoply of Catholic saints.

Now I’m thinking that Saint Paraphernalia needs to be the patron saint of multi-media and collage artists.

"Wisdom," by Jane DeRosier. I love the collage presentation; and wisdom is needed for a Saint Paraphernalia. Image link below.

“Wisdom,” by Jane DeRosier. I love the collage presentation; and wisdom is needed for a Saint Paraphernalia. Image link below.

We pray to her to help us sort through the boxes to find that little corner with that color or design that fits right here, that we need now, that can’t be found.

Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things really isn’t what we need. We need someone who loves color and texture, little found pieces of art. She values order but knows that order isn’t the answer to storage problems. Remembering what the order we chose to use is the important thing.

And then there is remembering what we finally threw out last week and need now. Followed by leading us out of despair. A perfect saint for those who deal in small, treasured objects.

—Quinn McDonald thinks she needs all the divine help, of any kind, she can get.

Image link to Jane DeRosier’s original artwork on Juxtapost.

Pressing Matters

© Quinn McDonald, 2016

© Quinn McDonald, 2016

We sit pressed close
breathing each other’s air
Knees and thighs touching
arms exploring, nudging, shyly avoiding eye contact.

In another world, we’d be lovers
canoodling up some turbulence.
Here we are strangers
Wordlessly skirmishing over arm rests at 35,000 feet.

Quinn McDonald is a practitioner of poetic medicine.

The Grant that Wasn’t

This past January, I applied for a small grant to work with veterans, helping them come to grips with their lives through journaling. The exercises were going to be from the book I’m writing, Write Yourself Whole.

Writing a grant is an art and a science, one with which I have little experience. A kind person who had recommended that I apply read my drafts and made suggestions. It was helpful.

This flower is persistent, climbing up a fence every spring. I love this backlit vision.

This flower is persistent, climbing up a fence every spring. I love this backlit vision.

Today was the day Kosmos Journal announced the receivers of the grants. I did not receive one. I am not disappointed. Yes, of course I would have loved to be a winner, but I do not feel like a loser. I worked hard on the proposal, I was proud of the idea, and that brought a great deal of satisfaction. After the application was sent in, I had a feeling of non-attachment. I did not mark the announcement day in my calendar.

The winners were organizations with a lot of experience in community work and activism. A lot of good will come from these projects. People will be helped. How can I not be thrilled for all the help being offered?

I do not believe in “this was meant to be,” predestination, or the phrase, “This is all part of God’s plan.” I’m not good at sitting around waiting for a deity to take care of me.

I’m glad I applied. The work I am doing will continue. Nothing is lost. One of the things I have learned over my life is that resilience is an important component of creativity. Mistakes, loss, missing the mark, failing–all are part of a rich life, deeply explored. They don’t always feel good, but they always teach us something–even if it is the energy to get up again and try again.

-Quinn McDonald has a lot of work to do. New plans are already in the works.

 

 

Starting Over

freshpaintsigncroped

The gallery is in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts

Starting over. Starting fresh. It sounds like a new coat of paint over a tired life. The messy slate of the past is wiped clean, and ahead is a shiny new start. We can put on a new face, a new attitude, a new effort. It seems like we can create a whole new identity with as little effort as a new website.

Soon enough, that new effort is overwhelmed by the old ideas, old habits, old behavior–the old us. Alcoholics Anonymous figured this out years ago when they said, “If you are a drunk in Cleveland, moving to Peoria for a fresh start isn’t the answer. You’ll be a drunk in Peoria, too.” It’s a wise saying, although a tough one. (AA never pretended to have easy answers.)

When I went to Catholic school (I’m not a Catholic, but that’s another story), I loved seeing my friends go to confession. They’d say their prayers and their sins were wiped away. Poof! Just like that, they were brand new and sin free. Unfortunately, the old habits didn’t vanish, and my guess is that the same sins got repeated in the confessional time after time. And since there were different priests, no one really noticed or cared, and little personal growth resulted.

Teresa Jennings Robinson read this post and sent me the gorgeous hand-lettered quote she made for her art journal. See more of her work at rightbrainplanner.com

Teresa Jennings Robinson read this post and sent me the gorgeous hand-lettered quote she made for her art journal. See more of her work at rightbrainplanner.com

And that’s the danger of new projects. They seem free of the past baggage, but they are not free of us. We show up with our past, and relive it because it’s familiar. In a few days that new project takes on the fingerprints of the old us. If we don’t like the old us, we’ll hate the new project, too.

I have friends who are start-up junkies. Addicted to new beginnings, these eager people will start up a company with the fervor of Ron Popeil selling the Veg-O-Matic. But they aren’t good at running a company, which seems tedious and boring, so they dash off to do another start-up, leaving the clean-up team to handle the rest.

Any beginning feels like the creative part. And it is. But the road-test of creativity is showing up every day to do the hard work. The book I am writing is hard work. It’s satisfying, and I enjoy it, but it’s not riding rainbow unicorns. It involves saying “I can’t go to the movies with you, I’m writing,” or thinking, “I need to re-write this chapter, it’s not working, even if it is the fourth re-write.”

Creative work is hard. We want to give up, we get bored,  we want to do something fun and new. Yet what gets the work done is moving steadily ahead, when it’s not fun and not new.  Learning from your mistakes and getting up every time you fall is what the real work of creativity. And it pays off.

—Quinn McDonald is working on a re-write of a trio of chapters. She has done it before, and she may well do it again.