Old Hurt, New Reaction

First, the promised winners of the giveaway: Kelly Harms has won Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You. Winners of the coaching sessions are: Cynthia Pepper, Linda Marsh and Lynn Thompson. Congratulations to the winners! You’ll be hearing from me for details. *   *   *   *   * 

Emotional reactions (often called triggers) are familiar to every breathing human being.  Something from the past –a word, comment, reaction, song, even a smell–that snaps us back to a  bad memory in full, vivid color. The most common reaction is to behave as we did the first time–although we may be decades older.

Old tree trunk, with considerably damage, still beautiful. Beautiful because of the damage.

In mild cases, triggers cause us to cringe with the emotional strength of the memory. In severe cases, they cause us to behave forcefully, drop years of therapy, coaching, or conditioning. In the worst cases, they aren’t  just flashbacks, they are the symptoms of PTSD.

Let’s focus on those milder triggers: The relative who says something thoughtless, taking you back to childhood. You snap at them as you did when you were younger. A friend teases you and pushes an old trigger, you reply harshly, surprising your friend with your anger and hurt.

This afternoon, I was on the phone, talking to an acquaintance, and she pushed an old, almost forgotten trigger. It was a casual, teasing move on her part. But to my emotions, it felt like a slap, a reminder of a mistake I made that I’d rather not re-hash. I was at the point where my tongue already was sharpened to smack down the remark and devastate the speaker, when a thought flashed across my mind:

“You aren’t the same person as you were back then. Time has passed. You have changed. Circumstances have changed. Use a new reaction. You won’t be sorry.”

Just as fast as it came, it was gone, but the truth it left behind was huge. I paused, pushing away the hurt and embarrassment of the long-ago mistake I made. Instead, I stepped into the adult I have become, the different person I have grown into since that incident. In that instant, I could see the acquaintance meant no harm, I could see her remark from her perspective.

That shift in perspective allowed me to swallow my own hurtful remark, and say something light-hearted instead

The result surprised me. Instead of letting the trigger pull me back into the past, I brought the event into the present and saw that it had lost some of the power to shame and hurt. Time had made me capable of different behavior. Enough time has passed. I am different. It will always be a trigger, but I do not have to let it hurt me again

Quinn McDonald is surprised that old hurts can remain old.



Book Review: Live Your Life; Two Giveaways

OK, I’ll admit it—I like self-help books. Here’s why: I don’t expect them to change my life. Or even the next month. I do expect a good self-help book to have at least one solid idea that can help me see a situation, a habit, or a person in a different way.

A book that gives me a fresh perspective is a book that may move my decision-making machinery in a new direction, one that helps me make better decisions.

Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You, takes an interesting approach to self-help. In addition to taking a holistic approach, there is a lot of support, including a downloadable workbook (url is listed in the introduction, another reason to read those.)

In each of the 14 days of the book, you get stories from LeFevre’s own life (which makes the book seem human and the tasks seem achievable.  Each chapter has “Thinking Points,” and “Action Items” which allow you to take the lesson and make it yours, just for your goal.

Each chapter is a day, but it can be a week for you, or a month. The book (paperback) is a slim 130 pages, and you can set the pace that works for you. You might find some of it challenging, but that’s the point, right? If your life is not working now, reading a challenging book will seem like the perfect excuse to blow it off. Dig in instead.

Here’s a sampling of the chapters:

  • Silence the Voices (Yep, she believes in the inner critic, too!)
  • Stay the Course (Making a commitment isn’t hard, keeping it is.)
  • Start Somewhere, Anywhere (Dealing with the overwhelmed feeling.)
  • Just Breathe (Dealing with stress.)
  • Show Yourself Compassion (With  the imposter feeling, shame, or guilt)
  • Let it Go (Making space in your home and your life.)
  • Find Balance (in everything, from bad habits to good)
  • Look for Opportunities (you save yourself, no one comes to do it for you.)
  • Do it Anyway

Was there any part of this book I didn’t like? Sure. I ran across a few grammar errors and they always trip me up (because I teach grammar and am sensitized to it).  There are also a few thoughts that contradict each other, but not in the same chapter.
For example, in one chapter, a cruel professor berates LeFevre (as grad student) for “not being born brilliant . . . you are just a hard worker. . .” In that crushing blow, the professor defines brilliant as the ability to have abstract connections among ideas or emotions.  In another chapter, LeFevre advises ridding your space of items that are not necessary, vital, or have a specific purpose. Those are pretty concrete definitions, and don’t leave much room for emotional attachment and just plain liking, but not loving, an item. Those abstract ideas become important in this chapter.

None of those bring down the ability of the book to help. But if I’m reviewing a book, it’s a good balance to point to things I don’t like as well as those that do. These few small imbalances don’t tilt the scale. It’s firmly in the “helpful” category.

The Giveaway, Part 1: On Friday, February 23, 2018, I’ll give the book away. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog. You don’t have to give a reason, just let me know you want the book. I’ll do a random drawing. Winners will come from the continental U.S. for this drawing.

The Giveaway, Part 2: I’m a coach, both a life coach and a creativity coach. I’m giving away three, one-hour coaching sessions, one session to each of three people. There is no obligation, no pressure, no sales pitch and it’s free. Leave a comment. This is in addition to the book giveaway.
Let me know in the comments that you want to try a coaching session. I will do a separate drawing for the book and the coaching sessions, so if you want to try for both, you can do it all in one comment.

Common-sense stuff:

  • If you are a current or past coaching client of mine, please let someone new try out for the coaching.
  • Winner must be able to call me in Phoenix at an agreed-upon time.
  • Winners must have phone numbers from the continental U.S.
  • Winners must be able to speak to a reason they want coaching–not in the comment. If you are one of the winners, I’ll be asking you.

The book was given to me to review. I am not paid for the review or compensated for the free coaching sessions.

Winners of the giveaway: Kelly Harms has won Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You. Winners of the coaching sessions are: Cynthia Pepper, Linda Marsh and Lynn Thompson. Congratulations to the winners! You’ll be hearing from me for details.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing; she is a life- and creativity coach.

Daily Writing Routines: Sound Familiar?

How did famous writers spend their day? How did their organize their time? Sierra Delarosa, who works for an infographics company, sends me infographics she thinks my readers will be interested in. This one caught my attention.

Writing on a schedule works, but every writer has a schedule that works. It may not be yours, but it could be–take a look at these routines and see if any of them can become comfortable for you.

A regular writing practice demands regular writing. Technology certainly helps, but it also distracts. This infographic includes a wide variety of writers, from Flannery O’Connor (Southern Gothic writer who wrote books and short stories) to Emily Post (etiquette columnist, whose work is carried on into modern etiquette.)

Not every writer had an outside job, but those that did made their private time important. That’s a major tip: your writing time is precious. Laundry can wait.

You can find the entire blog and other interesting stories at GlobalEnglishEditing. The infographic is entertaining, particularly if you know the authors, but not how they worked.

I am not promoting Global English Editing, nor their infographic or website. I was not paid to post this, I do find it interesting.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach.

Reading Baby Wipes

No, no, this is not as dreadful as it sounds. Most artists use baby wipes in their art–to wipe up smears, to spread ink, to clean fingers. I use mine to read, to let my mind wander and come up with new ideas.

Sometimes when I sit down at the art table, I need a few minutes to move from what I was doing before to a creative mindset. The shift is not always automatic. This morning, I found a used baby wipe (no babies in the house, this was an alcohol ink wipe) and immediately began to see figures in the ready-to-discard wipe.

There are figures pressed into this baby wipe, and as the ink soaks into the grooves, allowing figures to stand out.  Here is a close-up of another wipe I played with.

Using a Tombow pen, I pulled up a little robot of inspiration. He’ll have to work hard to bring me new ideas, and with those friendly antenna, he should pick up ideas from far off.

Yes, you can see it as a demon, but I decided to befriend the abstract as a robot. You can even see the extension cord on this guy.

By the time the outline was done, I had an idea and was ready to work. Taking your mind off your work allows ideas to float to the top of your mind. And it’s kinder than sitting down and saying, “I need ideas, and I need them now!”

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who often needs to get to creative ideas by a long path and the back door.



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.




Pompeii Comes to Phoenix

The Pompeii exhibit is in Phoenix right now. (Science Center, November 18, 2017 to May 28, 2018). The story of Pompeii was the first chapter book I read when I was about eight years old, and for years I believed it was fiction. How could all those people not have escaped? How come did they find bread and artwork and dogs and people years later? After all that ash and fire?

This colander, carefully cleaned, showed the care taken to create utilitarian vessels and tools. The shadow shows the decorative pattern of the holes Photo: © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

Part of the story is no longer a mystery–the volcano explosion that happened on August 24, in the year 79 CE. It took 1700 years for Pompeii to be discovered. Vesuvius, the mountain that blew up, didn’t just spew ash, it blew its entire top off. The caldera is still active, and today is about 4,200 feet tall. It was twice that height when the volcano erupted.

The ash, pumice and dirt that fell buried Pompeii under 12 feet of debris. It sealed off the city, kept oxygen from deteriorating paintings and mosaics, and made the discovery surprising.

In the exhibit, you can see frescoes, perfectly preserved and in full color. Decorative and delicate, the frescoes show pomegranates (symbol of fertility and abundance) and various gods worshiped at the time. Mosaics, mostly from floors, are also shown. One of the signs said that mosaics were often created to use up marble from bed frames, tables and walls.

Plaster cast of a woman, shown on her back. Originally, she was lying over the child, shown trying to crawl away. © Photo: Quinn McDonald, 2017. All rights reserved.

The story that blew me away was this: As the city was being carefully dug up, archeologists discovered holes. Their irregular shape made it clear it wasn’t bubbles of gas. One of them had the idea that the holes might have once been something else. The holes were filled with plaster of Paris, left to dry, and then the plaster was dug out.

The casts were of people. A mother lying over her child, people climbing a staircase, dogs, a man hunched over, protecting his mouth and nose with his toga. The people had been covered in ash, but over hundreds of years has decomposed, leaving just their imprints in the ash.

Without the casts, it would have been too hard to see the negative space as people. Metaphor alert: Since this post is going up close to New Years Eve, what do we see and not understand as long as it is negative, but makes perfect sense, in fact, tells a story, when seen from the positive view?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She also teaches journal-keeping as a healing art.


Go With the Flow–Literally

Flow is a magazine I never heard of, and now that I’ve read one, I can’t stop loving it. Halfway through, I realized it was created in the Netherlands, but it is in English and is filled with ideas, stories, articles, photography, sketches, and poems. It is also printed on different kinds of paper, which brings joy to those who love the feel and touch of paper.

The magazine is divided into two content sections: “Feel Connected,” and “Live Mindfully.” The Connected section includes an article in which a designer, celebrity chef, and illustrator are interviewed about current projects and how they fell in love with their work.

There is a full-length article on Julia Cameron and what she is doing today. It’s not a puff-piece (which it could be, considering she’s the author of The Artist’s Way), but a harder look at how Cameron got her start as a writer (Washington Post and Rolling Stone, plus a lot of drinking and drug-taking) and how she grew into the creativity unblocker she is today, 40 books later.

“Meanwhile in New Zealand” is an article about an unconventional couple who live in a wilderness home and are content. (Not a minor thing in today’s world.)

On the Mindfulness side, there is an article about emotional confidence. Not an easy read, but an important one.

The complimentary journal tipped into the magazine is a big plus. And the tip paper used to hold it in place can be recycled in collage.

My favorite article was on my favorite topic–drawing in your journal when you don’t know how to draw.

I caught a fair amount of criticism in both my books on that topic because I am not an illustrator and dared to write about creative expression.

This article is real encouragement about the benefits of private art to capture memories. One of the ideas is that photography lessens our memory retention and blurs details. Drawing, even if we are not illustrators, helps memory recall of details that happened around the time of the drawing.

In this issue, there is a tip in–of a journal. Yep, a five-inch by eight-inch journal with  sturdy, white, unlined paper. And the paper used as the carrier (with removable glue) can be used in collage or card-making. The entire magazine can be recycled, cut up, used over again or kept and well-loved.

The issue shown is one of six published a year.  The Flow website has a subscription rate on it, or you can get it through Amazon. I received a copy of the magazine as a gift from a family member; I received no payment or incentive to write this article.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is also a creativity instigator.