2018 Sinks Below the Horizon

How was 2018 for you? Probably a mix of tough and good.  Either way, in a few hours, it will be 2019. And you can choose what to take with you and what to leave behind. Yes, you can. This is not up to your partner, or your parents, or what happened in 1994. It’s your choice.

Sunrise, New Year. © Quinn McDonald, alcohol ink on Yupo, 2017.

Letting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in new air into your life and lungs.

In their book, Writing—The Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice, Rami and Aaron Shapiro explain (my paraphrase): The story you tell is your story. Your parents may have told you a story about yourself and you may have believed it, or felt you had to believe it. But, in the end, it is your story. We are not born to be one, specific thing. We can create different selves, but it is hard.

So we often take on the story that someone else made up for us and decide this is who we are, rather than the person we have chosen to be. We are what we create. If I am the story I tell, and the story isn’t right, I am free to invent another story.

Invent a story that lets you breathe. Invent a story that lets you step into the person you want to be. Let go the images of you that drag you down. Leave to 2018 the ideas, the anger, the resentment  that aren’t useful. Leave behind thoughts that drag you down. Resentments that hold you back.

You get to choose priorities. You get to name what it important to you. No one can decide for you. You can’t claim it is important and then turn your back on it. Then it wasn’t important enough.

One year from now, you will not remember if you started the year with a fresh bullet planner or clean floors, a smaller waist, or a put-away tree. You bring it all with you, but you don’t have to. You can put down those resentments, that anger, and write a new you into being.

You may be afraid that without your anger, your control, your resentment, you won’t remember who you are. That may be a good thing. Be someone new. Someone with wonder. Someone who laughs at mistakes–your own, mostly. Learn. Grow.  Start to let go of what doesn’t make you eager, alive, wonderful and awake. You have a few hours to start.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches writing, creative problem solving, and working with difficult people.

Variety Adds Interest

A new fence went up in my neighborhood. Everyone in Phoenix has a fence around their side or back yards. (Largely to keep kids and pets out of pools, but also because housing is close together here.)

The fence is different from all the other fences in the neighborhood. Instead of being made out of wood cut to the same width and height, it uses a variety of widths, a variety of lengths. The result is a far more interesting fence.

Instead of looking at the fence to see where there might be a mistake, where one slat is a tiny bit higher than the rest, I look at the fence as a whole, pleasing in its effect–a functional piece made from different sizes of lumber. And functionally, it would be harder to jump this fence than one that’s the same height.

This fence. Just like real life. A lot of metaphor happening there.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who helps people ask for what they want.

Go For Fresh

By 4:00 p.m. I was hungry. Dinner is later these days, we aren’t both home until about 7:00 p.m. But by later in the afternoon, even with a good lunch, I’m  sure I will waste away without a snack. But it has to be healthy, too.  I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.

As I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowly exhaling its sweet aroma and crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.

Automatically, I reach for the sadder pepper. Training from long ago. In my family, we were not allowed to eat the fresh, new, crisp fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. We did not waste in our house. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years. Waste was not a choice, it was a way to stay alive. A habit once learned is hard to break.

The result? We rarely ate tasty, just-picked fruits or vegetables. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost gross, and saved it from the trash by eating it, cooking it, or burying it in a casserole or soup.

I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner, is meant to be eaten now. While it is fresh and juicy. While it is “now” perfect. That is when I will appreciate it most, honor it best.

The older pepper can benefit from another technique, but this one? I’m celebrating it (and my taste buds) for its perfect combination of temperature, color, and happiness.

Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh. We can’t control much, but we can control the choices we do have.

–Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.

The Art Bully

This collage was created on a shopping bag, using a black, printed stripe on the bag as well as the kraft-colored bag. A #2 pencil was used to sketch the bird. The feathers were found in the street. The printed pieces, cut from a newspaper, read, “We tend to forget we are animals, until we become prey.”

Making your way as an artist has never been easy. For most artists, it can at least be interesting. During the Renaissance art patronage shifted from bishops and cardinals (that’s how all those lovely European cathedrals were built), to wealthy merchants and bankers with political interests, who supported artists and offered them a livelihood, but were often not the kindest, most ethical, or generous people.

The Medicis  supported Leonardo da Vinci, Boticcelli,  and Michelangelo. Luckily, the Medicis had excellent taste and a gift for choosing the right artist for the job. It is not outrageous to say that the Medicis, by investing in art, laundered a lot of money by hiding it in art. The entire city of Florence (Italy), home to the Medicis, is alive with commissioned art.

Now that there are fewer Medicis (and art patrons), artists have to look to the American business model for a patron and a path to fame.

I began to pay attention to just how hard an artist has to work to become well-known. Roughly, here’s how it works: an artist develops a niche, a specialty, and focuses on that to attract an audience. The artist teaches this specialty, using favorite products. She (could be a he, too, but for this article, I’m using “she”) contacts a number of companies that produce the products she uses, hoping to get onto the company’s marketing or demo team.

Once that happens, the artist gets free products, but has to promote those products on social media, podcasts, blogs, on-line and in-person classes, books, and videos. Traditional book publishers shucked their marketing departments, using artists to market for them instead. It was a gamble, and for some publishers, it worked.

And effortless piece of art (butterfly, dog nose print, more) is no more than a piece of gum on a sidewalk.

Now the celebrity artists are often bound to art- or craft-supply companies, required to promote the products. If an artist is especially lucky, they work with their supply company to develop a new color line, maybe even a new product, and travel to promote that company.  For some, it’s a symbiosis that works. Artists develop classes to teach and books to write, and companies provide product and name recognition.

Sometimes, the supply companies unwittingly train art bullies. What’s an art bully? Someone who insists on specific name brand products being purchased for class use. Someone who insists that when they praise a product, their followers must like it, too. And if a celebrity artist/art bully doesn’t like a product, well, their friends, audience, and class participants shouldn’t use it, either. It’s the “cool kids table,” all grown up, now with art products.

Sure, I understand that not every ink, watercolor, paper, or tool is interchangeable. But a list of specific brand names in a supply list makes me suspicious. Is this brand the only one that will have a favorable result?  Is putting an art celebrity’s name and face on a product line a guarantee of art success?  (Short answer: Never. Success is 90 percent artist effort and 10 percent supply perfection.)

Some time ago, I said (in the thread of an art celebrity’s Facebook comments) that I had no luck with washi tape. It doesn’t stay stuck for me.  I joked it must be the art equivalent of kale. (I’m not a fan.)

The celebrity was not amused. She told me I must be using the washi tape wrong. Surprised, I said I was pretty sure I was doing it right, and had even tried several brand names. Out came the art bully. She disliked people contradicting her when she recommended her preferred products, she said.  She was pretty sure, she insisted, I didn’t know how to use the tape correctly, and certainly was not using her recommended brand. (Yeah, I was.)

Let’s get real: art skill never comes from buying a magic product. Art skill comes from experimenting, from failing, from trying more and different approaches until the practice begins to take hold. I thought of how asking questions to learn was so easily squashed by art bullying.  Like the worst of grade schools, you have to color the sky blue (with a specific product) and stay in the lines.

But I remained quiet. I did not clap back. Why? I don’t feel better when I make someone feel worse. Because I knew her fear of not supporting her money source, and I really can figure out how to use (or not use) washi tape. I made a mental note never to take a class from the art bully, though. There’s a price for bully-hood.

Those who protect the product they are hired to market, who care about the source of money more than spreading creative ideas, may do well. But they can’t do good.

I’m not at all sure that the art bully ensures the success of creative work. That work is always private, soulful, and revealing. And not stuck with a brand name.

—Quinn McDonald’s blog has, in 18 years, never been monetized. I want to keep it that way, so I can like and dislike, recommend or share what works for me and what doesn’t,  with freedom.

New Tree, Old Tree

Trees have it tough in Arizona. The wind blows dust around them, wind gusts are high, the ground is hard, roots are fragile. Trees often topple in our monsoon season. Often, they are left to dry out before they are cut flat and removed.

This tree was left to die, but still had a life to live. You can see the cut end in the right of the photo. But the tree had other ideas. It started growing again.  Created a new tree right out of the old one, using what was available to create a whole new tree.

It was a lesson for me: Yes, I have fragile parts, and yes, I’ve been felled before. But giving up is a choice, and it doesn’t have to be the only choice.

It’s what I teach my coaching clients: you get to decide. You have a choice. Even when it doesn’t look like it, you have a choice. Build on the answer you want.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and is working on a book: The Invisible, Visible World.

Blessing for the Autumn Equinox

Relief from the burning sun is a blessing.
A blessing, too, is the bounty from the garden, the plants that bloom as proof that life is generous.
Bless the food that grows and stores the sun and makes the light delicious.

The balance in your life as night equals day, then slowly lengthens the shadows, that is a blessing to you.

To understand that your time walking on this earth is limited is a blessing;
as is your chance to be kind for another day.

Bless this night for everything that leaves us, that grows dark, that we can release into the mystery of the moon, the stars, and the sun that will rise into another day.

Bless the cooling pavement, the sidewalks that do not radiate heat to the knees.
Bless the waning heat–no longer hot enough to stand on your skin like a knife.

May you harvest the heat and use it in the darker months to brighten life,
to shine your goodness onto the world,
to let it be a dot of light in the dark night to comfort the wanderer
who sees it in his distance.

The wheel of life has moved through a year to this point,
and you are here again.
Blessed is this sacred time we walk on the face of the earth,
knowing there is a dawn to come.
–Q. McDonald, © 2018

Dust You Are

You see something, and your brain doesn’t quite understand it. Your brain, trying to be helpful, makes up information for you to believe. You not only believe it, you will defend what you are sure you saw.

About a dozen people have seen the photo above. Most of them guessed it was some sort of archeological dig, showing a partial skeleton. Some decided it was a sketch of a skeleton using pastels. I can see that.

But this is much more commonplace. It’s truck tire tracks into a construction site. The dirt mixed with rain to create the look.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on The Invisible, Visible World. It takes a look at commonplace things that have a more interesting story to tell.

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.

The Useful Operculum

Yes, I know that the SEO for this post will be terrible. Who searches for “operculum” anyway? Who even knows what an “operculum” is? One of the joys of keeping a creative blog is knowing that there are ups and downs of attention spans, keywords, ideas, and results. Some will work better than others. Let’s hope this one works for you.

An operculum is a door. It can occur in plants or animals, but the one I’m talking about is the door that closes the opening in mollusks–snails.

The snail builds it for protection. When threatened, the mollusk retreats deep into the spiral of its shell, and closes the world out with the operculum.

The beauty of that spiral, the perfect geometry of the sea creature reminds me that utility does not have to be ugly just because it is practical. Even practical  objects should have a beauty that speak to its use. The operculum is smooth and polished, perfect enough to be a talisman, let alone a door.

The necessity of doors is important, too. For the mollusk, the operculum is protection from being eaten, from being forced from its shell.  From having sand heaved into the shell in a riptide.

I’m often jealous of that mollusk. I’d like to have a beautiful barrier against pain and abuse, against people who think that privacy is a sign of anger and unwillingness to mingle. Everything, from mollusk to human, needs time to be alone, to hear the soundless sky settling onto the earth. To hear the seed of an idea roll over and start to sprout. To weigh choices and decisions, consequences and risk. Because creativity is always about risk, and being certain is not.

The operculum is not a guard against the unknown, but a choice to increase growth. We all need an operculum.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach, to help people put their creativity to work in their lives. She is writing a book about The Invisible, Visible World.

Art on the Corner

When I first saw the house, I thought a sculpture was in front of it. Nope, the corner was painted. In a really interesting way. Someone had a great idea, and it looked like this:The painting looks almost three-dimensional, and standing on the sidewalk, I could not see the detail. My rule, when I’m out for a walk, is to never step on private property. By staying on public property, I can take photographs without asking for signed permission.

Lucky for me, the other corner of the house was easier to get closer to. What surprised me is the detail and care whoever painted this took to make it work so well.

I often think that when we dig up civilizations, we don’t look for spreadsheets, we look for artifacts. Someday, this will make a wonderful artwork that someone drew on two corners of four apartment buildings.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing as a healing process.