Positive and Negative

Without  sunshine, there is no shadow. Without sadness, happiness cannot be recognized. We live with our own shadow–the negative side of our personality, we could not choose to see the positive, to decide not to give in to fear, but be courageous instead.

The Japanese art of notan (rhymes with so-wan) uses black paper on a white background to create positive and negative spaces. But it does more than that. The figure above shows a zig-zag cut-out, and while the spaces where white meets black look like they are intact, they are not. The illusion is created by leaving the corners intact. Our eyes fill in the rest.

Each section is cut out, then turned down, edges matching. The effect is mesmerizing. The process is simple, the result is complex. Just like the decisions we make in our lives, the ones that change the shape of the future.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and set it free to play in their lives. She also delights in seeing the invisible, visible world, where creativity holds the oracles that make our lives interesting.

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As Above, So Below

“As above, so below,” is a phrase with a long mystical history. Believers in magic and mysticism believe that the words were found on the Emerald Tablet, and kabbalists (Jewish mystics) believe that because we are made in the image of God, our lives are microcosms on the divine.

This image is a bit simpler, but no less beautiful in meaning. We don’t get rain often in Phoenix, and when we do, puddles are their own microcosm of the world.

In this one, you can see both the road and brickwork and the sky and trees. So, “as above, so below,” there is beauty wherever you stand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing and helps people put their own creativity to work. She is writing a book, The Invisible, Visible World.

The Shadow Side

Shadows play an important part in our lives. They depend on sun to exist. Without sun, there is no shadow. And a lack of shadow indicates a lack of sun. Simple enough.

But shadows have another meaning. Our “shadow” side is our darker side. The side that we don’t like as much, because it is mean, and shallow, and possibly dark. Without our shadow side, we could not be alert enough to compare one emotion to another. Sadness to joy, kindness to meanness. Without our shadow we would not be able to stay in balance.

Most shadows depend on a bit of dark blocking out light to create a shape. This shadow of a fence blocks out most of the light, but it is the light through the fence that defines the fence.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and coach. She is writing a book on the Invisible, Visible World.

The Answer is Near

Strange, I thought. In a huge xeriscaped space, there was a plant coming up. Looking healthy, too, even though it is July in Phoenix and nothing looks sprightly and green after a week of 110º+ days. This little plant did.

Xeriscaping is landscaping with rocks, gravel and native plants. The Greek word for “dry” is xero, and the word was coined within the last 40 years to encourage landscaping without lush lawns.

Back to the plant. It surely didn’t have deep roots, it was too young and small. I didn’t see any drip irrigation tubes around. But then I heard a faint “drip.” I looked up to the trees. Nothing. Then to the nearby roof line. And there it was.

A pipe drain from an air conditioner. Many of them are placed on roofs in Arizona, for easier access. Our houses are put close together and fenced in, for the most part.

As the humidity rises in summer (no, there is no “dry heat” during monsoon), air conditioners start to drip water regularly. Somewhere beneath the rocks, a plant seed knew it was time to make the big dash to sprouting, getting water and sun, and setting another generation of seeds.

And opportunistic seed. Ready to take advantage when the time is right. A great example for those who are afraid of risk. Of taking a chance. The time will never be perfect, but when enough circumstances line up, it’s time to go!

Quinn McDonald is working on a book about the intersection of chance and time. It’s called The Invisible, Visible World. The experiences that happen if we are aware and awake and present to opportunity. She is a creativity coach and writer.

That One Moment

In that one moment, when I turned the corner and noticed a breeze in the canyon the streets make, I noticed a flash of color.  A fabric flower, discarded, was picked up by the breeze and tossed down the city street.

It was incongruous all on its own–a piece of pink fabric in a sleepy downtown city street. The pink petals lost the lift of the breeze and settled on a eucalyptus tree branch.  It was a perfect moment–a flower on a green tree against a white block fence.

I took the photo knowing that I was caught in a special moment. In another minute, the flower would be shaken out of the tree by another breeze. It might be blown into a pool, or run over by a car. But in that one instant in time, I could witness this temporary tree in fantasy bloom. We all need such moments.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who teaches creative problem solving and healing trauma through poetry. She also takes photos of the Invisible, Visible World.

The Thorn in Mother’s Day

Once social media falls in love with a holiday, the variations of wishes can drown you. And social media loves Mother’s Day.  And not just Mothers, but Bonus Moms,  Grandmothers, Great-Grand Mothers, and those who acted like Mom when mom could not. I’m glad for the love and the gratitude in the hearts of those who had great moms.

If you had a mother who had your back, and no card is sweet enough, today’s blog is not for you. And most likely, you are with your mom, being happy.

But maybe your childhood was not the kind that brings images of flowers and dappled ponies. Or your adulthood, either.

Maybe you never had the mother you needed. The one who comforted you and praised you and loved you when you were unlovable and  helped without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice.

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.

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 sudden whoosh! of understanding pouring into a happy ending, like your friends keep promising you. It may never happen. Not even on your mother’s deathbed. And that may have to be OK, too.

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 cobble together a relationship, but it’s hard.

The relationship 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. I ran across this quote yesterday, whose poignancy was hard to read:

“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, talents, glories and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. Maybe not with your mother, but 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’s mother has been dead for almost 15 years, and the shadow still falls across the path on some days.

Asking for What You Need

We all need basics: air, water, food, friends. Once we acquire those, we have to start asking for what we need. Our friends are not mind-readers, no matter how much we wish they were. They may offer help,  but it’s up to us to ask for the kind of help we need. We aren’t very good with that.

“You’ve known me for 10 years! How can you think I’d do that?” or “Why didn’t it occur to you that I needed a babysitter?” Each of us has enough on our plates. And yes, you have to risk being told “no.” Asking for what we need is half of the solution. Handling “no” is the other half. It’s not easy being a friend and an adult at the same time.

This cactus cannot ask for what it needs. It needs water. It’s growing by a canal–all the water it could ever need is no more than 15 feet from its roots. But it can’t move and it can’t ask, and the canal is a concrete channel, so the water won’t leak over to it. Like most cacti, this one is hardy. It hasn’t rained significantly in three months. There are limits to hardy, too. Nature is not always soft and gentle. The cactus may well die, the soft parts dry, leaving a beautiful skeleton.

Note: these photos and brief essays are a prompt to help you think about the changes you might want to make in your life. I photograph the Invisible, Visible World to help us all become aware of what is around us. To think deeply about what we care about.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people in emotional and psychological pain. She also helps people finish that book, painting, music, or dance. Or get started. But you have to ask for what you need!