Category Archives: Creativity

Ideas, thoughts, ‘Aha!’ moments

Compassion v. Boundaries

We all want to be compassionate. Unless, of course, the other person doesn’t deserve compassion. Oh, wait, isn’t that exactly when we are supposed to be even more compassionate? But what if the other person is a jerk? What if compassion isn’t working?

images

Boundaries can be beautiful and useful; you have to plan them that way.

That’s what boundaries are for. Boundaries are limits we set for ourselves and other people. It is completely unrealistic to think that you have unlimited compassion, patience, and ability to shift to please other people, even if they are family or friends.

Sometimes, people’s bad behavior, demands, or blame-game is theirs to own. Your job is not to fix, educate, or change them. Your job is to set a clear boundary and enforce it.

Boundaries are not a judgment of others. It is calling them to a higher level of discipline. If they can’t make it, or don’t want to, that’s fine. That’s why boundaries work so well. You can walk away cleanly from abusers. When they try to blame you, you point to the clear boundary.

When you set a boundary, make sure you can live with it.  Not enforcing

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it's up to you.

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it’s up to you.

the boundary is equal to not having a boundary and putting a doormat on your chest and saying, “please walk over me.”

Be clear about the boundary and enforcing it. No fair saying, “if you forget to put gas in the car one more time, I’m leaving you,” and then not leaving. Don’t create a threat you won’t carry through. Boundaries are not threats, they are reasonable lines that show the level of your discipline and self-care.

Saying “No” is your responsibility. When you set a boundary, you can expect your family and friends to think it doesn’t apply to them. When it does, learn to say “No” and mean it.

Steer clear of “If you loved me, you would. . . ” Don’t say it, don’t fall for it. It’s manipulative and untrue. People you love will disappoint you and you will still love them. That’s how you know you are compassionate. People who try to get around your boundaries will use it to push your people-pleasing button. Don’t fall for it. If you do, it will be the first in a long string of manipulative “if you love me. . .” demands. Be firm. “I love you, but . . no, I will not do this.” If their love is defined by how much you do for them that is against your values, you are learning about their definition of love. And it’s not yours.

Boundaries are healthy for your own well-being and help those around you be clear about what they can expect from you. Think them through and set them. Then enforce them. That is true compassion.

—Quinn McDonald is still learning the difference between “No” and wanting others to approve of her.

The Joy of a Trashy Novel

imagesPeople who work on airplanes are admirable. I watch them take out their laptops, open documents and work as if their lives depended on it. Maybe they do. Then there are the game players who hold their iPads like steering wheels and race through narrow lanes on their screens. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the people who are watching a movie on their iPhone. Seriously, I would not want to watch a movie that expanded across a big screen shrink down to the size of my phone. I’d keep wondering, “Which one is that? Was he the driving the getaway motorcycle or was he the guy who crashed through the window in France?”

On airplanes, I bring a book. The kind you don’t have to put away until you are at 10,000 feet. The kind the flight attendant doesn’t ask you to turn off until the Captain tells you it’s OK to read. The kind that makes you look like a matronly grammar teacher on her way to teach a class and . . . let’s leave her alone.

These airplane-reading books are a slice of heaven. I keep my eyes glued to the pages tPile-of-Bookshrough turbulence. Ignore the man in the next seat whose head is on my shoulder and he’s drooling. Ignore the squalling toddler who is kicking my seat.

For I have the trashy novel and am loving it. I pick them carefully. They have to be well-written and the plot has to capture my attention. I’m willing to suspend a lot of disbelief if the main character is flawed in a believable way and has to struggle to solve his problems.

When I say “trashy,” I don’t mean bodice-busters or Fifty Shades of Gray. I have standards. There are genres I don’t like (but not many).  Give me a good mystery with an interesting protagonist, and I’ll have to be pried off the plane like a dried-on diaper from a baby that’s been asleep since we passed over Cleveland.

pile-of-books-1During the work week I often read non-fiction books on writing, coaching, critical thinking. Art books and magazines for fun. But I do have a weakness for novels, and audiobooks have made many a car trip not just fun but deeply satisfying. Airplane books fall into that category. Yes, I’ve read Middlemarch and Moby Dick, Light in August and The Gulag Archipelago, but I don’t read classics on an airplane. I read books that hook my interest and my imagination. Some of them may even be literature. But all of them hold my attention.

My latest airplane novels:

Inferno by Dan Brown. More of the same, but if you love Italy or are a folklorist, there is a wealth of interesting information buried in the so-so plot.

A book of short stories by Neil Gaiman. That led me to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane and then onto American Gods and The Ananzi Boys. Not trashy, incredible. Some of the best story-telling I’ve read.See where a book of short stories can lead?

Several by Jodi Picoult. She writes page-turners with interesting characters and interesting plots.

Peter Robinson writes about an English detective, Inspector Banks, who is flawed and troubled and a very stubborn and a good detective. The books are always interesting because they weave the personal life of the characters into the crime plot.

J.A. Jance now lives in Seattle, but she’s from Tucson. She wrote a series that takes place in Tucson (Joanna Brady and another set featuring Diana Ladd Walker and Brandon Walker)  another in Seattle (J.P. Beaumont),  a few where the detectives from each town meet. Then there are some about a woman newsreader who gets bounced from TV because her face is starting to look old (Ali Reynolds). J.A. Jance is prolific and a kind and generous woman who once comforted me with a funny story that made a clever blog. And she writes page turners. If I finish one on a plane, I put a note in it recommending it and leave it in the airplane. Someone will be delighted.

You don’t have to get on an airplane to read an interesting novel you like. Good writers almost always are also voracious readers–of anything. Enjoy an old-fashioned book. You won’t be disappointed.

-Quinn McDonald reads books in bed. Her iPad hurts too much when it drops on her face as she falls asleep.

 

Kickstart Your Journal

Yesterday, my friend Marit said she was “waving from her journal page to mine,” and I thought, “what a great idea!” Need something to focus on? Need a jumpstart on writing?

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King's County (Washington)

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King’s County (Washington)

This is more than a journal prompt. It’s not a word to write about, it’s a whole technique. And it’s powerful. Let’s get started:

1. Warm up by focusing on your emotions: Right now, I feel [fill in the blank.] One word may be all you need.

2. The reason I feel [blank] in 20 words: [describe how you reached this emotion.]

3. Almost always, someone else is involved in this story about your emotion. Whether you are happy, anxious, excited, or skeptical, most of our emotions are connected to other people, often for reasons we don’t understand.

4. Use the next page to write a dialog between you and the other person. Writing dialog means you will make things up. That’s fine. You want to figure out a reason for the emotion and what your role is and what the other person’s role is. By putting words in someone else’s mouth (and you know you are doing this), you are resolving old issues, exploring new ways to happiness, or clarifying ideas.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. A friend has asked me to help her in a way that I feel uncomfortable with. I want to help my friend, but I want to hold onto my values.

Q: I’m not sure I can do this, Friend.

F: But it will help John and it will be a big favor to me, too.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

Q: I think speaking up at the Writers’ Club and supporting John as another member isn’t a good idea. The club rules say you have to be a published writer, and John isn’t.

F: It’s not about you, Quinn, it’s about getting John into a place where he can find business. And the club is great for that. You’ve gotten business that way. John is a good guy.

Q: I have gotten business from the club. But I was a published writer when I joined. And John isn’t.

F: He writes his own blog, and that’s publishing. You are just afraid he’s a better writer than you.

Q: A blog is not publishing. And I want what’s best for John. But getting him into the club is not in his best interest.

F: What’s wrong with you that you won’t help this friend? Haven’t you needed a hand before?

Q: I’ll be happy to help John in some way that helps John. Being dishonest doesn’t help anyone. Least of all John, if he gets a job he can’t handle.

. . . .the dialog can go on as long as you need it to. In this example, I see my own stubborn character, but also my clarity in not being dishonest. Yes, it’s a small thing, but I can see that if I vouch for John, and he doesn’t do well, the lie I told will be the reason John got in over his head. What I am understanding from this dialog is that my need for approval is pretty big, not not big enough to lie for someone.

Is this the dialog the way it really happened? No, but by making up the other half, I’m giving myself the opportunity to dig into my own emotions in ways that help me see my own motives clearly.

The dialog exercise is a good way to find out more about yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is an explorer in her journal

Journaling as Building Block

I’m working on the journaling process again. I’m focusing on writing and Commonplace Journaling for right now. I got a 5 x 8-inch journal in which I can’t draw (paper is too thin) so I would write more. I’m fond of doing mind maps, and I’m doing a lot of them, too. Why writing instead of art journaling? Right now, I have a lot of ideas to clear, a lot of inner critic arguing to do, and that (for me), is done by journaling.

Yes, I’m still working on my art. The latest piece is also about writing, though!

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

The collage uses an older idea I had, but the letters around the book actually are words that relate to writing. I often sit in front of a blank journal while my mind writes and my hands don’t. That’s what gave me the idea.

To make myself focus and write, I create a list of problems, worries, and ideas at night, right before bed.  (That goes in the journal, too). The next morning, I choose an item from the list and set the timer for three minutes. When the timer rings, I finish the sentence and shut the book. No re-reading. That comes later.

mindmapOn the left is a mind-map from Journaling from the Inside Out by Susan Borkin. I use mind maps to capture pieces of a big idea when I don’t know the connection yet.

The mind-map helps me grab all the pieces of the brain dump. Sorting them comes later. I’ve found that mind maps are still maps, another one of my favorite concepts.

When I’ve got a book filled, I can go back and distill ideas and save them. The books have cardboard covers and have about 50 pages. They aren’t attractive, but they allow me to be messy and not try to design a page. Sometimes, quantity is as important as quality.

It doesn’t matter how you tackle journaling, it always helps. It always heals. As long as you keep writing, your life will begin to make sense.

--Quinn McDonald keeps journals. In many different ways and styles.

 

It’s Random

Consider this: The Raptors, a baseball team, has won the last four games played on a Tuesday, but only if it rained. No rain, no win. Rain? They win. Today is Tuesday, and it is raining, and the Raptors are playing. Should you bet on them to win?

It's not rain, but a forest fire behind a high-school game in Colorado. I found it randomly.

It’s not rain, but a forest fire behind a high-school game in Colorado. I found it randomly.

Of course not. Winning and the rain are not related. It’s a coincidence. Correlation does not imply causation. Which is a compact way of saying that the rain, Tuesdays, and winning are not related to each other. Even if it happens four times in a row. It’s random.

Random is much easier to accept if it’s in your favor. When things go your way for a while, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back, tell yourself how much you deserved it, and how you are smarter than your idiot competitors.

When things go wrong, of course, we look for the idiot who screwed us up. Sometimes we blame ourselves and beat ourselves up.

This is a good time to make sure what went right and what went wrong wasn’t random. If you were involved, good to see how, admit it, fix it, take credit for it, or cheer.

© Scott Adams

© Scott Adams

If it was random, and it often is, don’t spend another second looking for secret reasons, lessons from the universe, a ghost in the machine, or divine retribution. Correlation does not imply causation. What’s your next best move? Time to get busy.

--Quinn McDonald knows that over-thinking “random” resulted in the Salem Witch Trials. They could have spent the time better overcoming fear of outsiders.

 

Emotional Food Poisoning

Last week, after surviving the flu, sinus-infection, ear-infection-thing I had, we

Watercolor on paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2013

Watercolor on paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2013

went out to eat because neither one of us felt like cooking. And . . . I got food poisoning. No, I will not describe what happened next. You can imagine. Or you can look it up, but I’m not getting into graphic details.

I was amazed at how smart my body was, though. It was not going to allow, not for one minute, anything that was so harmful to stay in my system. My job was to stay in the house and drink water to keep from drying out. I dried out so fast my eyes had trouble blinking. The cure for food poisoning is counter-intuitive. After the first wave of death is over, you begin to eat a lot of fiber–red peppers, nuts, apples, celery. No clear broth for three days. You also eat yogurt to replenish the bacteria your digestive tract needs.

Why am I writing about food poisoning? Because I wish my emotional self were as smart as my physical self. How often have I known a relationship, friendship, client, job were not good for me and kept up the pretense. Wouldn’t it be great if our heart and emotional self were as good as rejecting what is bad for us, what will harm us, as thoroughly as our gut?

10403549_10152701851191439_940404957215462235_nWhen we do, we feel just as bereft and drained as our physical body does with food poisoning. But emotional poisoning is just as damaging, and there is no reason to clutch it to us.

The difference between emotional poisoning and food poisoning is that we can’t control our body’s defenses, but oh, what a bad job we do of holding on to emotionally damaging relationships. We are afraid of being alone, of change, or what we don’t know yet. So we keep clutching onto the bad relationship, hoping we will change enough to make the relationship work. The job is killing us, but we keep trying to prove we can do it well, because we don’t know for sure what we would do next. Although, if we listen to ourselves, we would hear what we want next.

So what’s the emotional fiber that restores us to balance? What’s the spiritual yogurt that puts us together again? It’s just as counter-intuitive as the physical fiber: trust your gut. Trust yourself to know what is not good for you. Don’t look at all the reasons you need to stay–look instead at their foundation. If all your reasons are based in fear, rooted in lack, or imagined attack, they are not real.

Your gut knows what you want, what is good for you, what you need. Look for what feels like freedom, joy, like breathing easily. Head toward that. It will restore you to the person you want to be.

Quinn McDonald learned a lot in the bathroom last week. And she is over the food poisoning, happier for having learned something.

Why Breaking the Internet Doesn’t Matter

I’m writing my new website so hard, my eyes are bleeding. I keep bouncing from being clever to being simple and clear, from being baddass to being straightforward. I am making all the mistakes I warn my writing clients about: too many objectives, too big an audience and the worst–listening to too many people who are giving me advice. Not that I asked for any, but it doesn’t slow writers down. We love giving writing advice.

i-won-the-internetThe worst advice I’ve gotten is that I need to write copy that will “go viral,” or “win the internet,” or, best of all, “break the internet.” No. No, I don’t.

When an image or a blog post goes viral, it gets passed from hand to hand, eye to eye, quickly. Remember The Dress? The one that was either white and gold or blue and black? That was about a week ago, and in one two-hour segment, The Dress got 16 million views. It went humongously viral. But exactly what did those 16 million people do with the image? Passed it on, defending what color they saw.

There was only one dress, so it didn’t sell a million dresses. I’m sure a lot of people who didn’t know what Adobe Photoshop could do, found out. But Adobe didn’t have a huge increase in sales.

Views, discussions, explanations are great. But they do not translate into sales. Information no longer is power. Everyone had information about that dress. Attention span is power. And, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no “there, there” for attention span in the dress story. The wave went from what color you saw the dress to explanations of rods and cones in the eye, to polls on what colors you saw in the dress, to weird science and then. . . it vanished in the churn of the internet.

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By GaryKing and the Enablers, via Imgur.

What holds attention span? Caring. What makes readers care? When the writer gives a damn. (Now if I said “gives a shit” I could have had a cool acronym– GAS). See? I’m just not badass.  But I know a big mistake most writers make–and it’s the same one I’m working on avoiding. Most writers screw up when they write to prove how clever/smart/cool they are. The smart writers don’t write for themselves, they write for their audience. Because they give a damn about their audience.

Caring is always smart/cool/perfect. Caring about your audience, whether you are a writer, a teacher, an artist, or a social media expert, is how you get a bigger audience. A real audience. One that is interested in what you have to offer. And that audience does not care about the color of the dress today.

—Quinn McDonald is not listening to advice about going viral. She’s being her intuitive, introverted self who cares about her training and coaching clients. Because she knows they want to be understood. And she knows how to do that.

 

 

Creativity Echoes and Duplicates

If you do any creative work, you know that you will have a brilliant idea, fall in love with the idea, polish it, then release it to public view. As soon as you do that, you will see the same idea all over. You get angry. Who stole your idea? The answer is–nobody. There are several reasons this happens.

1. Heightened awareness. Once you begin to concentrate on an idea, and certain words, phrases, images begin to repeat in your head. Your heightened awareness makes you see those words “more often,” when you are really simply more aware of seeing them. This happens when you learn a new word–you suddenly see it three times in a day when you don’t recall seeing it before.

2. Mysterious parallel universes. OK, I made that up. Creativity duplicates in our world. If you were to ask a Russian who invented the telephone it’s unlikely they would credit Alexander Graham Bell. They would mention a Russian who invented the device roughly at the same time. Simultaneous invention, writing, advertising ideas do happen. Regularly. And has happened for years. Now, with the increasing speed of knowledge shared through the internet, more people come up with similar ideas more often.

images3. Your grass seed, my lawn. When we talk about our ideas to a friend, the friend often takes the next step with the idea. You talk about creating a journal page using a dictionary page, and suddenly your friend is teaching a class on altering dictionaries. And that’s when things get sticky.

This is the hard part. I know exactly how hard it is, because I have gone through it with one of the techniques in The Inner Hero Art Journal.  Yes, I was angry. Yes, I felt cheated. But I also know that ideas can’t be copyrighted, and that my idea doesn’t belong to me exclusively. What to do? Well, break that list into legal, ethical and generous steps.

Legally, I notified my publisher, so if any of the images I shared or the journal prompts I created and shared appear on another website, the publisher can handle the copyright violation.

Ethically, if my idea is similar to another artists, I have to follow the rules The Ethics Guy uses to judge actions as ethical. (Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. is the Ethic Guy). This isn’t that complicated in theory, but very hard to do with a complete heart.

  • Do no harm
  • Make things better
  • Be respectful
  • Be fair
  • Be compassionate

But the items may be hugely difficult to manage. If someone treats you unfairly, you don’t want to treat them (or anyone else) fairly. But you have to. The entire reason the world doesn’t collapse into savaging each other is that most of us want to be fair and even generous.

How do we act fairly and generously? We give credit. We say “Thank you.” It doesn’t detract from our work, it adds to it. Giving other people credit for helping you get to your own idea is a wonderful way to increase your creativity and your peace of mind.

Thanking and crediting others relieves you of guilt, makes you feel generous, expands your creativity. And that is your work to do.

-Quinn McDonald keeps a gratitude journal and another one for ideas on change. Sometimes she writes one idea in another, and then alchemy happens.

Seeing is Believing

In another part of my life, I’m a training developer. I create programs that teach business people how to write documents, presentations, even emails. Of all the topics I get asked to teach, the one I never would have guessed is at the top of the

A diagrammed sentence.

A diagrammed sentence.

list: grammar. Grammar is rarely taught in elementary or middle school anymore, so tomorrow’s leaders have to learn syntax and grammar quickly. And that’s what I do–invent creative ways to make grammar interesting.

When I call the Inner Hero book “my second book,” it’s with a touch of irony. In the last year, I’ve written half a dozen workbooks on technical writing, grammar, email communication and creative problem solving. But they aren’t sold in bookstores, so I rarely mention them.

Last week a client said something that made a lot of sense to me. “We offer a lot of classes, and we want people to take grammar, but they have to see the value in it. And grammar sounds boring.” Yes, yes, it does. She said, wistfully, “I wish you could do a cartoon instead of the outline of what’s in the class.” What a great idea my client had! So I sat down with the “boring” outline and made it visual.

begr_visualWe are visual people, and looking at something colorful and interesting makes grammar less threatening. Looking at a busy, colorful “map” of the course is a better way to sell it than an outline.

When I was done, I did one for Business Writing, too. I hope it helps the visual people see the benefit of the class. It doesn’t show everything we do in class, but it shows enough to pique interest.

biz_writing_visualUsing visual creative tools to explain everyday topics shows the utility in a new, fresh, appealing way. The client knows her audience. And now I have a new tool in my training tool box, too.

-–Quinn McDonald loves mixing different skills to solve old problems.

 

 

Book Review and Giveaway: Journalution

Cover

Cover

Sandy Grason wrote Journalution in 2005, and it still stands as one of the best books on deep-writing journaling. She writes in an easy-to-understand way, and combines the wisdom of Julia Cameron with the emotional nurturing of Shakti Gawain. (One of my favorite lessons from Gawain is, “to feel more love, you have to let go of more anger.”)

Grason handles journaling in a simple, direct way. If you have been swamped by the responsibility of art journaling, if you are tired of trying to think of something to journal about, if a sketchbook journal disappoints you because you can’t draw, you will enjoy this book.

The subtitle of the book says it all: “Journaling to Awaken Your Inner Voice, Heal Your Life, and Manifest Your Dreams.” That’s a lot of journaling, but it’s packed into 200 pages that you can dip into, study, or read from front to back.

Table of Contents, page 1.

Table of Contents, page 1. Click to enlarge the image.

If you haven’t been deep-writing journaling, start now. Grason helps you getstarted and answers some simple-sounding but meaningful questions like “Where do I start?” and “Why do I need to journal?”  The answer to that is in a quote from the introduction:

“You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” –Margaret Young

Grason gives you tips on writing when you don’t feel like it, figuring out what’s important to you, getting to your truth, and facing a blank page. There are tips for keeping track of your hopes, dreams and visions. There is an index to find all the exercises, from playing small to living large and how to set intentions and remain detached from the outcome.

The book is gently used, and from my book shelf. It’s time for it to bring ideas, clarity, and inspiration to someone else.

Table of Contents, page 2.

Table of Contents, page 2. Click to enlarge the image.

Quote from the book: “Inside, we are all just little children trying to heal, trying to do the best we can in this world. Many times it doesn’t look like that to others, though. Often, the child inside is angry and resentful; it may even want to hurt others.”

Giveaway: Leave a comment telling me why you want the book, and you’ll be in the drawing. There is just one book. The drawing is random, so you don’t have to be brilliant. International entries are welcome. I’ll announce the winner this coming Saturday, March 14, so stop back and check in!

Quinn McDonald is making room on her shelf for more books.