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.

The Pigeon and the Peregrine

Phoenix has peregrine falcons. They have adapted, using our high-rises as aeries and our pigeons as food. There is no shortage of pigeons in Phoenix.

Peregrine falcon, audubon website free download.

Peregrines are compact and fast. A stooping (diving for attack) peregrine can reach speeds of 200 mph. Females are considerably larger than males.

Yesterday, I was driving from one place to another, stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light rail to pass. There was a blur above me and I saw a pigeon working hard and above it, a stooping peregrine. The pigeon didn’t stand a chance, I thought.

But the pigeon was not ready to be dinner. He flew directly in front of the light rail. I flinched, certain he was crushed. Then my eyes jerked up to watch the peregrine. He had vanished. Had he hit the light rail? Nope. The pigeon was safe in a nearby palo verde tree. The peregrine pulled up in a move that must have filled his imaginary Pilates teacher with core pride, and flew along the light rail, and then up toward a tall building. Both birds were safe. Both had survived another day in the city without being killed by the Machine in the Garden.

The car behind me honked. The light was green. I moved on, part of the machine in the city garden.

Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist, a writer and creativity coach who helps people heal from trauma through writing.

 

Letters and Visuals

Combining words and images is the idea I’ve been chasing for about two years. I didn’t want to be middling-good with calligraphy. Hand-lettering is a better idea for me. Quotes from others are wonderful, but many other artists have done that, and done it better.

While scrolling through the images on my phone, I came across the photos I take of graffiti and marks put on the street by utility workers. Those interesting hieroglyphics make me think of alien alphabets. Alphabets that can be written, but not read. Suddenly, it came together. How we struggle to say what we mean and be understood. How we long to be heard and understood.

Here are the first three works in progress.

The abstract landscape is easy enough to understand, but what do the three lines at the top mean? It’s not a code; it is deliberately not explained. Just like much of what we say and write.

This night landscape can be calm or eerie, depending on what you interpret the letters to be. Meaning-making, the purpose of creativity, is always up to the viewer.

Is this an explanation for the abstract? Is that a waterfall? Is the sun rising over the left part of the landscape, or is it burning? All up to the viewer. All left to your imagination. Because I believe we all are imaginative beings.

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

The Black-and-White Photo Challenge

If you’ve been on Facebook anytime in the last two months, you’ve seen the black-and-white photo challenge. The rules are simple: once a day, post a black-and-white photo, no people and no explanation.  I got tagged, but wanted to do something different. (To those who know me–no surprise, right?)

I’m a writer, so the idea of not making any comment on the image seemed like too much constriction for me. As a fan of black-and-white imagery, I wanted to join, but not bore people, who have seen enough desaturated images to last a while. Here they all are, with the thoughts I had when I took the photo.

Melrose bridge. ©Quinn McDonald, 2017

Here’s an image of a portion of the Melrose (Phoenix) welcome sign. It is carved, rusted, and reaches from one side of  7th Ave. (just north of Indian School Road) to the other. It’s bold and daring and makes a commentary on the Melrose Curve.

Most streets in Phoenix are on a grid. Occasionally, there is a curve, which becomes noteworthy. On the front side of this portal (not shown here) is a bright pink line with a curve in it.

I walk about five miles every morning about dawn. (It’s a kind of walking meditation combined with Robert Moss’s idea of setting up a day with Sidewalk Oracles.) Here are some items from my walk through Melrose.

Metal fence in Melrose, PHX. © Quinn McDonald, 2017

Phoenix still has alleys. They contain big trash barrels and yes, odd and weird views into the neighborhood. I encounter homeless people finding refuge from the busy dawn world, dogs, cats, an occasional coyote, and what I think was a bobcat. It was too fast for me.

One person put up a metal fence. On the side facing the house are attachments. I don’t know what they are, but they are held in place by things that are almost wing nuts on the alley side. No one unscrews them, which I find particularly interesting. In fact, it’s the entire reason I took the photo.

Tar Leaf. ©Quinn McDonald 2017

Further down the street, I saw an imprint of a leaf. But wait, it wasn’t an imprint after all. It was a glob of tar. I had to work to continue to see it as beautiful.

Right there was what I wanted to learn. We see something and label it, and it becomes that.  Which, in turn, reminds me of the beginning of a poem by Walt Whitman: “There was a child went forth every day, / And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became, / And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Plants, not the beautiful, arching, graceful ones, but the ratty, street-level ones,

Going to seed. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

fascinate me. They are graceful and wonderful. At this time of year (end of October), some are going to seed. That’s an even more graceful time. How I wish this were true for humans. Sadly, we never look at old people. They are closer to death, and we are afraid. So we don’t look. And miss the story of creation and destruction.

Coming out of Melrose, I stop by my favorite coffee shop. Urban Beans is not in Melrose, it’s in Mid-Town, at 7th Street (not Avenue) north of Osborn. I order coffee and watch the forks cast shadows.

Forks in tines. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

Then it’s time to get on an airplane for a business trip. The brand name “Airbus” describes exactly what flying is like today. It’s a crowded bus and it’s hard to keep my equanimity.

Not your father’s airline seat, but wait, maybe it is! © Quinn McDonald, 2017

But then again, if I am lucky, I get to hear someone’s story. Those stories are tiny windows into someone else’s life. I am witness to them and am grateful.

This sign makes me believe the seats are recycled from a much older plane. I haven’t seen a “no smoking” on the back of a seat in a long time. Although we are still told not to smoke or vape in the emergency instruction portion of the bus trip.

Changing planes in Charlotte, N.C. has some surprises. If you have time, and have to change concourses, make sure you sit in one of the big rocking chairs–if there is one free. It’s a nice touch.

Ceiling, unfinished in Concourse B in Charlotte.© Quinn McDonald, 2017.

So is the layout of the airport. It’s easy to find food, which is in a central location in addition to in each concourse. The airport is under construction. You walk from a beautiful, bright, naturally-lit concourse into an area that has a rough, unfinished floor, creating a roaring sound of roll-aboards, and hollow announcements. There is no finished ceiling. Lighting is hanging down, air ducts are unfinished, but the gates are labeled, and the TV screens lit. Use it till it’s built. It will all change again later.  If you think this looks like a grate, you are right. I turned the photo upside down. We assume the light source is always from the top of an image, and changing that, changes what we think we are seeing.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a collage artist who combines letters and papers to make meaning.

 

Ballpoint for Travel and Office

Maybe you don’t care what you write with–anything at all will do. Chewed wood pencil, give-away ballpoint. If you aren’t fussy, you probably always have a pen with you. I’m fussy.  Fountain pen? Perfect for note-taking and some sketching, but not always good on airplanes. (Yes, I have a ballpoint with a valve for air travel.)

Ballpoint? Reliable and easy. Except I’m not a gel pen fan, want a fine point that doesn’t skid across the page, can cross-hatch without creating a mess, and doesn’t glob and smear.

What I was looking for (this time; I am a pen hoarder collector.) What I really wanted was one pen that worked in the office, and can be tossed in my bag and travel with me. It needs to be light, dependable, easy to use and have refills. Because I am a collector, it also needs to be aesthetically pleasing and feel good while writing.

On Jetpens (an addictive site I will choose over Pinterest any day), I found a Midori ballpoint.

It has a brass cover, a stainless steel end that allows you to post the top of the pen, and a place for a keyring or a lanyard, if you like to wear your pen.

On the aesthetic side, the pen itself is wood, which will darken with age. It’s small, but light, which makes it comfortable to write with. And yes, it is refillable. The refill comes in fine (only, so far) and in black (only, so far.)

The clip holds it in my Travelers Notebook, so it doesn’t get lost in my bag, and the quality of both the pen and the ink is wonderful. No smearing, no globbing.

It’s an inexpensive pen ($19.90) with an inexpensive refill ($1.60). How does it write?

It puts down a smooth, even line and can be used for cross-hatching and tiny lettering. It’s a crisp ink and holds up well. You can see the sample that shows other pens and a pencil for comparison.

Are you a Travelers’ Notebook fan? So are millions of others. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, writing program developer, and creativity coach

Stress and Fear Relief in Your Inbox

An example of the poem-by-email you’ll get. © Laurie Blackwell, 2017

Been stewing in fear and stress for a while? Scared to go online for fear of what you will find? Need some good news? My friend Laurie, who runs LoneBlackBird, is starting a month of daily mail that will relieve your stress and put a smile on your face. And yes, this is a giveaway post!

Laurie is a teacher who helps kids who have difficulty learning how to read. Now she’s helping anyone who wants to open their email anticipating good news.

Every day in April, Laurie is sending out a hand-drawn email with a short, encouraging poem from well-known and lesser-known writers. April is National Poetry Month, and Laurie wants to introduce people to poetry who have never thought about it, those who don’t know what to think about poetry, and those who love poetry.

There will be a link to the entire poem, or the poem in an anthology of similar poems. Best of all, you can print out the entire image.

What can you do with the printed piece?

These poems beg to be colored and put into your journal. © Laurie Blackwell, 2017.

Well, if you are among the huge group of coloring fans, you can print out the pieces, color them, and create a journal with them.

Or you can simply print them out and put them in your journal the way they are.

You can share them with your kids and have a real conversation about what the words mean, who the poet was (or is), and, if you are home schooling parent or teacher, use them as a prompt for poetry writing.

There is a perfectly good reason to open your email every day in April and know there is a smile waiting for you.  It’s an excellent way to anticipate the best every morning and be rewarded for it!

What a way to start your morning–coffee and coloring! © Laurie Blackwell, 2017

How to win a month worth of smiles: Laurie is giving away three free subscriptions to the poem-a-day for the month of April. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and keep your fingers crossed.

Three winners will be drawn at random on Wednesday, April 5, after 6 p.m. in Phoenix and announced on Thursday’s blog.

You can also follow Laurie on Instagram and see what she is up to. She teaches online and in-person courses that are kind, gentle, and a welcome relief from our frenetic world.

Quinn McDonald is a poet and non-fiction writer who is delighted to support the positive poetry posting.