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.

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Smiling Over Spilled Milk

During my morning walk, I came across some spilled ice cream on a sidewalk. In another city, or in another time, a rain may have washed the spilled milk away. In Phoenix, it dries in place. Fast. Which made it the perfect image to photograph.

While the lines and dots in the sidewalk were beautiful in their own right, I loved the way the melted ice cream ran into the safety portion of the sidewalk.

It seems that when we spill out our life, it can create art for people to see hours later. But only in the Invisible, Visible World.

–Quinn McDonald sees accidental art on her morning walks through Phoenix. She calls this temporary art part of the Invisible, Visible World. She’s working on a book about it.

The Sparkle Tree

It’s Spring in Phoenix, a tiny slice of time wedged between bare-tree winter and sweat-soaked summer. It’s a wonderful time, a time to savor, to hear bird’s singing day and night, to see huge flowers on trees, to walk in the early morning and feel a cool, refreshing breeze walking with you.

I turned the corner on my morning walk (you may want to read this first) and saw a bare tree. The bark was smooth and dark, and mixed in with leafing and blooming trees, it looked like a sketch on a blank sheet of paper.

Hanging from the branches were lead-crystal beads and pendants. I recognized them as pieces from an old chandelier. The graceful pieces sparkled in the sun, sending shards of light into the air and across the sidewalk. It was other-worldly. Beautiful.

Because I look for symbols to inspire me when I walk, I saw more than an eccentric decoration on a tree in a stranger’s front lawn. I saw the care someone had taken to string the beads and pendants together. I recognized the need to add something to a bare tree to make it winter-beautiful. It was wonderful to feel another person’s need for beauty, for their boldness of hanging up chandelier parts in their front yard, knowing their neighbors might find it strange, or “different,” or “weird.” Instead, the chandelier came to life in a tree, flashing messages of light across a quiet neighborhood. It was, for a second, magic.

And I got to see it. I could have walked on another street, but I hadn’t. I could have been staring straight ahead, but I wasn’t. I got to experience this surprise light show and appreciate it.

I don’t assign meaning immediately to these incidents. I do write down how it made me feel, and what details I remember in a journal. I let the connections happen on their own. Maybe later in the day I will experience a bright idea that is eccentric, or one I am not sure to follow. Then I’ll make the connection.

Meanwhile, I have another symbol to hold on to, in the world of kairomancy. (See the link above for more about the word.)

-Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist and kairomancer who walks five miles a day through areas of Phoenix, where she lives. She is also a writer and a creativity coach who helps people find meaning in their lives.

Tapping Into The Universe

Every had a feeling that made the hair on your arms rise up–in a good way? A dream that seemed important, and then chunks of it started happening in waking life? A coincidence that you knew was a special moment? Yeah, me, too.

A sundial seen on my morning walk. It’s fastened onto a tree stump, and fastened in such a way that it can’t tell the time correctly. What does that tell you about how you see time?

You and I are kairomancers–people who recognize special moments and make the most of them. Kairos, in Greek, is an opening that allows for something special to happen. If you remember Homer’s Odyssey, the hero fires his flaming arrow through a dozen ax handle holes to prove his skill.

Today’s kairomancer sees small openings and opportunities and makes the most of them.  What kind of opportunity?  Here’s an example: I was teaching in Washington, D.C., and had just gotten off the metro.

At the top of the escalator stood a man who was clearly lost. I used to live in the area, so I asked if I could help. Worst case scenario, I could sympathize.

The man was looking for an office in the building I was teaching in that day. Lucky guess, I thought. We walked to the building and I walked him through a maze of hallways and showed him the office. I then taught my scheduled class. At the end of the day, as I was packing up and ready to head for the airport, when Mr. Lost walked back into the class. He was friends with someone who had enjoyed the class. He wanted to know if I could create a custom class for his team. I could. I did. And I would never have had the opportunity if I had not stopped to ask if he was lost. That’s kairomancy in action.

I didn’t ask him if he was lost because I was hoping for a job. I asked because it was likely I could help. The rest unspooled on its own. Worth the risk of being helpful.

Sure, you can call it synchronicity, but I don’t think it’s random. I think we get tiny threads of opportunity and if we pull the thread, we may discover meanings that work out to our advantage. You can call it responding to the universe, living life awake, or even praying for success. I call it kairomancy because the man I learned it from calls it that.

This is the cover of the Robert Moss book that started my work in kairomancy.

Robert Moss is the author of several books (and workshops) on dream work, coincidences, and, well, kairomancy. One of my favorites is Sidewalk Oracles, Playing with Signs, Symbols, and Synchronicity in Everyday Life. The book is a series of stories, games, and experiments that you can do every day to enhance your intuition and help make yourself more aware of signs and symbols in your life. “Instead of walking through life tuned in to an unproductive inner soundtrack, the kairomancer feels the sidewalk she treads, hears the messages awaiting receipt, and sees the extraordinary in the ordinary,” Moss says.

Moss tells us to “marry our field,”–to look for ways to work deeply in the area that interests us. For me, that is working with words and symbols, helping other people to speak and write clearly enough to be heard. We all long to be heard and understood, but we often can’t do it because we don’t have the tools or we don’t understand the rules.

Here’s how I learned to “marry my field.” Every morning, I walk three to five miles. I do it for medical reasons, but somewhere along the line, I realize that distance walking every morning made me feel more alive, more calm, more ready to deal with the problems that life brings people who teach what they do. Ready to face the to-do list of the day.

While walking, I saw symbols. I listened to my intuition. And slowly, because I paid attention,  I created ways to become a pass-through for my coaching clients. They became more attuned to their own power, their own strength.

In the next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about what happens on my morning walk. Come along, if you’d like to. It’s never boring. And if you keep a journal, you might find some new ways to write about your life, too. Let’s go!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She helps people discover the deep longing inside and connect it to a life’s work.

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.

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.