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.

Taxi Story 516

From airport to hotel
it’s 45 minutes of dark freeway.
I’m hoping for one memorable taxi story.

One time the driver was drunk
and screaming.
I screamed louder and he
set me out in the middle of the road
and left me there.

But not tonight.
Tonight the driver wrapped me in his easy smile
and used his musical voice to stash my bag
confidently into his cab’s back seat.

Five minutes later, my taxi story started
with him telling me about his life
driving strangers
through rain and fog and life uncertain.

His dream, he sighed, was med school, “But it’s so expensive,”
so he works a double shift on weekends,
stoking his mojo to clear the path ahead.

He asked me what I did for work.
“I”m a writer,” I said,
speaking my big truth into the dark,
hoping it was still true.

He had a book in him, he said,
and I thought, “More than one, for sure.”
He asked if I wrote poetry,
and I held my breath before I said,
“I do.”
It sounded like a vow.

“I do not understand poetry so much,” he said,
and when I asked, “What poets do you read?” he said,
“Rabelais and Rimbaud,” I thought, “Well, no wonder.”
“Try Billy Collins,” I suggested,
and wrote it down for him.

“Tonight is like an adventure with you,” he said,
handing me my bag and receipt.
“What’s your name?” I asked
and was not surprised when he replied,
with solemn, formal, introduction,
“Call me Ishmael.”

— © Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved. 2016

Learning to Laugh at Yourself

Yes, the old site is being put back into service. It makes sense to post my poetry and artwork here. I wanted to have one site, but I cover a lot of ground, from art to poetry, to business writing and development. It’s a lot to expect people to understand. I needed a home for poetry, and as I move toward becoming a practitioner of poetic medicine, a place to talk about the power of poetry.

I’m also making my alcohol ink artwork available for sale, on the Art Gallery page.

For today, a poem about love and the importance of laughing at yourself instead of focusing on your love’s shortcomings.

Life Skating
It’s easier to fall in love than stay in love.
Much like skating requires learning to fall
Before you master gliding steadily ahead;
Easily, without windmilling arms
And grasping fingers.

Fall-in-love behaviors, (labeled dreamily, “exotic,”)
Slowly morph to “just annoying.”
The trick, just like in skating,
Is adjusting my Center of Gravity.

Squinting to find a polished patch of long-term love
under all those randomly-strewn shortcomings,
heading for that, jumping over unstable, glistening failures,
finding the direction by listening for
The really rich, full-throated laughing at myself.

© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.

 

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.

 

 

When Authentic Isn’t Enough

One image of a Gordian knot. There are many interpretations. I like this one for its art value.

One image of a Gordian knot. There are many interpretations. I like this one for its art value. Image from http://www.sangsunbae.com Check out the other imaginative images from this artist, too.

 

Digging through my journals, I came across a story I want to include in the book I’m working on. (For now, the content of the book is not important.) The story is about my mom’s struggle with authenticity. She stewed in the perpetual heat of anger. One day, I asked her, “What is it that makes you so angry all the time?” I asked it in the softest voice possible. I really wanted to know; it was a key to our Gordian-knot relationship.

She looked at me and explained, “This is who I am. You always say it is good to be authentic. This is me, authentic. If you can’t deal with it, it is your fault. I am being true to myself.” The fable of the lady and the asp flashed through my head, but I remained quiet.

how-to-stop-your-anger

To this day, I still feel anxious when I hear anger–even if it is not directed at me.

She had a point. Except her anger was so damaging, so painful. But most of her friends–those whom she liked–didn’t feel the sting of her anger. She did have another side. I rarely saw it.

Fast forward to now, when we encourage people not to change, to be happy as they are. What makes me think this? Listen to the language we use:

  • It is what it is
  • That’s you being you
  • Be yourself, everyone else is taken (attributed to so many people I’m not even trying to be sure, although I like Oscar Wilde.)
  • Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” –Bernard Baruch

We love being ourselves without excuse. “Don’t judge!” we warn. But somewhere there has to be a difference, a line, a distinction between back-stabbing gossip and being authentic.

When we say, “it is what it is,” or “haters gonna hate,” we are not excusing others, we are justifying ourselves and writing everyone else off as envious–lesser. There is then no cause or reason for criticism. We win. And so does everyone else, in their mind.

I beg to differ.  Language shifts our culture, so let’s be clear about the definition of “authentic.”  It is your deepest best self, not the shallow way we behave without thinking. Being authentic takes some reflection, asking, “Who would I like to be seen as? My character is my reputation, how do I want to present it?”

That’s the person we want to be. The person who builds a reputation; the person who is loved by dogs.

–Quinn McDonald spends a lot of time watching how language and culture influence each other.

 

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.

What To Put on the Last Page of Your Journal

You already know what to put on the  first page of that new journal. No more staring at blank pages for you!  Once you get past the middle, you can decide how to end your journal.

How do you  end a journal so you don’t have to continue a thought, a project, or a story into another journal?

Create a table of contents of favorite pages.  I like to come to the end of a project or idea flow in my journals. I don’t mind having a few blank pages in the back. Over time, I’ll fill those blank pages with dates of pages I keep looking up or those with favorite quotes or poems.  I don’t number my journal pages, but I date each page, so sometimes I write the start and end date at the end of the journal. It becomes a useful index to the contents.

Three pages at the end of a journal, cut decoratively. Do not cut the last page that is glued onto the cover.

Three pages at the end of a journal, cut decoratively. Do not cut the last page that is glued onto the cover.

Decorate the end pages. If there are a few blank pages left, I also cut steps into them. I trim the last page about an inch from the end, the next one two inches, and the third one three or four inches in from the book edge. Using a craft knife, I cut a wavy line and create a three-page landscape. Remember to put a cutting mat under the page you are cutting.

Tinting the page edges gives it a nice finish. I use a water color wash to keep the color pale. You could tear the pages straight down or give them a deckled-edge look. I like the curved look better.

Use stickers or postcards. Daniel Smith, the art supply house, puts a sticker dont-throwmeon small or lightweight packages in larger deliveries. The sticker is bright orange, about 4 x 6 inches and says “Don’t throw me away.” It strikes a chord, so I often use one on the final page of a journal. It seems about right. You might be done with it, but there is lots of meaning to be made.

Add a photo of yourself, your children, your pets.  That way, when you look back over them in the years to come, you’ll have an evolving view of what you looked like. Adding a photo of your house shows how it changes over the years. A photo of the kitchen is always fun with advancing technologies changing what our appliances look like.

The last page of a journal doesn’t have to be an ending. For a powerful last page, flip back to the beginning, and read the first post or two. End the book with a recognition of how far you’ve come.

Quinn McDonald keeps a journal and helps others do, too.