Buried Treasure

Seth Apter invited bloggers to Dig for Gold on his Buried Treasure Hunt. The idea is to return to an old blog that has meaning, but has long been buried. I wondered about tutorials or projects, but decided to go with a blog that incorporated a dream.

The terror of my dreams–the toaster cozy.

I do a lot of dream work–using my dreams to inspire journal pages or stories. In this dream, which was close to a nightmare, I was in a class that made toaster cosies–those covers for kitchen appliances from the 1960s and 70s.

The thing that made the dream interesting was the meaning that became clear when I wrote about it. Luckily, as soon as I woke up from the dream, I wrote down the details, knowing how quickly they can vanish.

Enjoy your dreams and the toaster cozy story!

Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler. She remembers toaster cozies with a mix of nostalgia and fear.


The Dream of the 18-Wheeler

Doug looked like an independent, typically flinty New Englander–tall and lean, hard-working and as  ambitious for all of his kids as he was for himself. When I first met him, years ago, he sized me up as a potential wife for his son, and I got the feeling he found me wanting. I couldn’t build anything. I had no idea how to winterize the camp on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Use plumber’s antifreeze to winterize a toilet. DIY directions in the link on the right. Just in case you need to know.

“You’ve never poured plumber’s antifreeze into a toilet?” he asked, incredulous.

I had not. How could I be successful without this basic life skill?

But I had graduated from college. Even better, I’d earned a graduate degree. He respected education and hard work.  I’d been working my entire adult life. That was good, too. Most of all, though, he approved of me because I loved his oldest son.

Over the years, he was puzzled at some of my career decisions. Writing was a good, practical skill–but he was puzzled that I wrote things that didn’t have my name on them–ads, brochures, commercials, articles and speeches that others

Speech scripts. Image courtesy of the BBC.co.UK

took credit for. That baffled him. “Don’t you mind that your name isn’t on it?”  he’d ask. “People wouldn’t care if I said it,” I explained. “But when the CEO says it, it makes people listen and act. That’s fine with me.”

It was difficult for him to grasp my love of art. Early on, when I was a paper maker, he could not fathom why I would grow plants, beat them into fiber by hand, and make paper without using electricity. “That’s just going backwards,” said the man who lived in the area of New England re-shaped by the machines of the Industrial Revolution. “I could build you a real pulp beater,” he said eagerly. When I refused, he settled for building bookcases into the dining room of the house, adding a closet and building a kitchen island for his son, the chef. The shelves in the island could hold 150 pounds each, because “you never know what kind of equipment you’ll be using in the kitchen”.

When his car pulled up for a visit, the trunk would pop open and instead of suitcases, he would unload tools, sawhorses, and power equipment. As his daughter in law, and  until I moved to Phoenix, I had never lived in a house that did not have a closet, countertops, refinished cabinets, chair rails, a bookcase, or a kitchen island that he built and installed.

If he didn’t understand my papermaking, he understood raw art journaling even less. Why anyone would write and draw and keep it private was amazing to him. Private didn’t make money. And meaning-making, well that was all well and good, but you couldn’t cut into it at dinner.

He’d look at drawings or journals of mine and say, “You know, you could sell this. And with a good marketing plan, you could get to the point where you’d need an 18-wheeler. Now that’s a sign of success.” He fixated on the 18-wheeler idea for years, bringing it up in random phone calls, at holidays, asking me if I’d done well enough to need an 18-wheeler yet. As he grew older and frailer, I grew more tolerant of the 18-wheeler conversation.

Last December, Doug was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. He took it as a challenge as complicated as the corner closet he built in the tiny bathroom in one of our houses. He wasn’t ready just yet. But at 85, those are not decisions we get to choose.

He asked about my book–was it selling well? I’d just gotten the royalty statement, so I could figure out that I’d sold enough not only to fill one 18-wheeler, but it would have to make more than one trip. I had arrived just as he was leaving.

The storied 18-wheeler, a gift from Doug’s son, an apple that did not fall far from the tree.

Doug died early this morning; some of the family was with him, and some on the way. He had a busy, work-filled life. His retirement years were filled with building, and the senior living place added a large workshop building that he managed and stocked with tools and equipment for all the woodworkers in the facility. His last piece of work was a gift for us—a wood turning of a bird house, with a tiny light inside that welcomes admiring glances with warmth and light. It will hang in our ficus-tree/ Christmas tree as a reminder of his own big heart. As big as an 18-wheeler.

-Quinn McDonald is grateful for the opportunity she could be Doug’s daughter-in-law. And proud that she could finally fill up that 18-wheeler.

The dream of lions

Running impala from safaritalk.com

Here is what I dreamed last night.

A lioness was chasing an impala across the savannah. Both were running hard. The impala was leaping and turning, agile and lithe.

The lioness was muscular and strong, running lean and low, digging in to make the sharp turns.

Lioness from wallpaper,net

In the dream, I wondered how the race would end. Who would win, the powerful lion or the agile impala.

I was filled with a deep peace and heard the Bruce Cockburn song playing in the distance.

And then I saw the difference between the two. It wasn’t the stride, or the size of the muscles. It was in the intention, the purpose of running.  The lion was running for her dinner. The impala was running for her life.

–Quinn McDonald is lucky enough to remember her dreams.

Learning from Dreams

Dreams are important. They are more than just random processing of the day’s events. Sure,  some parts of dreams are recycled parts of experience. But dreams are also our very personal stories, given meaning by our deep personal connections.

In a dream, we recognize the yellow tricycle we passed on the sidewalk earlier in the day. That doesn’t strip it of meaning. To wrangle meaning out of dreams, we have to sit with the ideas our dreams give us and untangle the complicated links to ourselves.

Put down the book that “explains” dream images. You create the message and you can understand it. It’s yours to explore for meaning. A few nights ago I had a dream about a toaster cozy. Unlikely, yes. At first.

A handmade toaster cozy, sadly no longer available on Etsy.

The Dream I was in a class of women, and we were all making kitchen-appliance cozies. You may remember those–covers for toasters, blenders, coffee grinders. Cozies were very popular in the 1950s and early 60s. I think the purpose was to unify the look of the kitchen, although it’s possible women wanted to “hide” the machines that did the work for them while they wore pearls and shirtwaist dresses.  There was a lot of conflict in housewives’ minds about having “women’s work” made easier. It was more noble to do everything by hand, but a lot faster to use a machine to help.

In my dream, I was in a sewing class, learning to make a toaster cozy. The other  women in the class were making their cozies really fast, sewing machines humming. Most of the cozies in my dream were crayon-colored prints, with contrasting piping. (In my waking life I’m not attracted to crayon-colored prints and piping.) Some women were quilting theirs in traditional quilting patterns.

My toaster model was a vintage, rounded, 2-slicer with the big bakelite black handle. The instructor kept stopping by, fretting. I was making a cozy out of Tyvek,  the material FedEx envelopes are made from, and was adding a stuffed sculpture on top. The instructor was worried, and said, “This isn’t really the shape everyone is working with.” I nodded, but kept working.

The instructor, who in my dream was a home ec teacher, asked to see it on the toaster, but I shook my head. I didn’t speak, just kept working. Finally, when other women were putting their neat, tidy, perfectly sewn toaster cozies over their toasters, I put mine on the toaster–it used the toaster as a base, and the whole cozy was about two feet high.

  On the top of the cozy was a tiger, rearing up on two hind feet, claws out, snarling. The teacher was horrified and asked me why I did that. I said, “Because I needed to.”

The interpretation: Here is what I knew but didn’t say to the teacher–the toaster was fear and the cozy was anger,  a reaction to fear. I was covering fear with a show of anger. Tyvek can’t be torn or ripped. It would stand up to a lot of angry treatment.

Showing strength and anger keeps people from seeing we are just a toaster. Because being a toaster is not enough, in our heads. And yet, we buy toasters just for that ability–to toast bread.

The question: What cozy do you put on to appear to be something else? What are you hiding from the world?

Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She has a strange attraction to Tyvek.

Eye on the Heart

Making samples of your art is always hard. You want to get every part right, you are working against a clock, and you don’t want to start over.  Usually you have a show coming, art retreat deadline coming, or a class deadline sneaking up in jackboots.

Here it is: the intersection of art and writing. Communicating from the heart is never easy to understand.

The past two days to get samples made. Of course the gremlin shows up. This time he showed up in a van with the whole family. It wasn’t the ‘aren’t-good- enough’ trap I fell into. It was something much worse. It was, “what if my concept for this class is simply too complicated? What if no one comes? Maybe I should do something else, something easier to understand” And there it was–the same thought that had driven me out of silverwork. The idea that I had to focus on what sells, what is easy for clients to understand and pay for.

I thought about it for a while. I know that a lot of people prefer product classes–you go in, hand over the money, and walk out with a cute project. If you are adept, you walk out with a project good enough to give as a gift. I don’t teach those classes anymore. Enough people teach those. I’m going for something else.

Almost every artist I know has videos, a You Tube channel, and online classes. I think that’s brilliant. I’ve watched a lot of You Tube–I’ve learned how to tie a tie when my husband had his arm in a cast, how to do Coptic stitching with both one and two needles, and how to do a reasonable watercolor wash.

But it’s not what I teach. I think we make art for a different reason–not to make gifts but to make meaning. That’s why I teach in person. To see a glimmer of hope and help the person stay with it. To see the shadow of fear and let the person know that’s OK, too. That’s why I teach classes that include deep writing.  Sometimes when I explain a class to store owner or art retreat leader, I get a blank stare. Each time that happens, I feel a pang of guilt, an urge to take it back and offer a simpler class.

But I’m not going to make that same mistake again.  I want to offer people access to their own creativity, to joy, to meaning-making.  There may be fewer people out there who want to explore meaning, but they are my audience.

I often thrill to artists who do esoteric art with great enthusiasm. With great love. The only reason that kind of art works is because it connects their hearts to their soul through their minds. It’s challenging. It’s thrilling. It’s frustrating. But in the end, it has more satisfaction than anything else. And if you are willing to share what you learned after going through that process, the class will be powerful, particularly if you walk out with your hands empty and your heart full.

Years ago, an artist friend of mine learned how to make fishing nets by hand. She sized down the pattern and used hair-fine silver wire to cover small rocks. It took infinite patience, and person after person said, “Who would buy that?” “How much will you charge?” Her answer was, “It doesn’t matter. I’m learning how to encase my hard heart in delicate beauty.” Years later, I saw her work in a gallery, and smiled. She had found her audience, appreciation and the value she had to make for herself first.

So I’m going to take a stand for my own art. The art of exploration, of writing, mark-making and meaning making. It’s too juicy and rich for me to walk away.

I’ll soon be announcing two classes that I’m teaching based on this concept of deep work and deep satisfaction. I welcome those who want to join me. And if the classes are small, it won’t make any difference to working from the heart.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist who works at the place where words and art elude each other. She is the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

When the Dream Comes True

We sure spend a lot of time chasing dreams. Working hard, staying focused. And then, suddenly, like a cat chasing a butterfly, one day you catch the dream. Your dream comes true. Now what?

This orange tree has reached its goal. The oranges are beginning to ripen. Over the next month, the oranges will become ripe, be picked and the tree will begin to put our blossoms for another success.

Catching up to your dream and making it real can be scary. This is the dream–and dreams are not real. Part of you didn’t believe you could do it. Your negative self-talk told you often enough how out of reach it was. You might have chased that dream because it was good exercise, but deep inside you may not have thought you’d catch it. And now you did.

At this very point–the point of reaching your dream or goal, you might feel you don’t really want it.  After all, if you hold the dream, you suddenly become responsible for it. Doubt creeps in. Is that dream good or big enough? After all, if you reached it, if you actually made it come true, was it really worthwhile?

When you reach a goal, there are no instructions and no magic wand that comes with it. The biggest burden of reaching a goal is that the ordinary you has reached it. Along the way you might have become older, wiser, thinner, but it is still you. Getting that dream doesn’t come with a limo and posse for most of us. It comes with responsibility. You reached your goal, now you have to acknowledge it, and account for it. You have to admit that you got what you wanted. Some people will say “So what?”, others will say “is that all you could do?”, others will be envious. A few people will be mad at you. None of this should stop you from admitting you reached your goal. None of this should make you belittle yourself or your goal.

Somewhere along the line, you might have said, “failure isn’t an option.” Of course it is. Failure might even be a good option, a necessary one to help us learn. Perhaps this success grew out of that failure, and you are now finding the success harder to admit than the failure. Most of us are better at accepting failure than accepting success.

The important part is knowing what you did to get here, knowing that you could have stopped to avoid having the responsibility and pretended to change the goal. It’s a brave thing to reach your goal. Your success  grows along with your skills.  When you reach a goal, you have not only defined success, you have lived it.

Before you feel dipped in fear, acknowledge your growth. Be proud. Acknowledging success has real meaning in it. Before you coolly brush your success aside, think about who you were at the beginning, when you chose this dream. Think about what it took to make it come true. Think about what you had to give up to choose this dream, how you had to grow, what new skills you have.

We are meant to reach our dreams. We are meant to be happy. We often don’t know how.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

Inks in Art Journaling

On my way home from JournalFest, I flew over the mountains North and East of Phoenix. For a moment, I thought I could see large petroglyph, or sand carving.

A new road being scraped into a mountainside. Taken through an airplane window.

It was neither. It was the beginning of a road, scraped into the earth, against a mountain. I looked at the wrinkles and color, as if ink had been applied on a paper bag, then scrunched up. Inks. . .so interesting. They can work like watercolors or dyes. They are so much more than just fluid to write with.

This weekend, I spent some time working with inks in the studio. Found some interesting techniques with ink. Here’s a wash done with ink:

Ink wash on watercolor paper

Once the wash is dry, you can continue to work on it. Below, I sprayed the wash and dropped ink on it, for a double-layer effect:

Ink on watercolor paper.

It would make a good background for a journal page. Here’s one I did in a different color, then wrote on it with Pitt pens and watercolor pencils.

Pitt pen and watercolor pencil on inked watercolor paper.

My favorite discovery was that some inks won’t bleed when re-wet, and you can add several different colors in layers:

The one above is done in browns and orange and indigo. I see seedheads and flowers in it, but that’s for later. Below is one done in Payne’s gray, black and orange.

Ink on watercolor paper.

Inks are also effective on black paper. Of course, irridescents work best for black paper.

Shimmer black and gold ink on Strathmore's Artagain black paper.

Taken one step further, you can use the inks to create figurative work. Here’s the first step:

And here is the same image re-imagined into a stormy wind cloud behind a tree scene, sort of Grimm-fairy tale-ish,  where someone just vanished.

"He Was Never Seen Again" Ink, watercolor pencil on watercolor paper.

It’s a wonderful medium, with both deep and pale color, and the opportunity to use washes as well as splashes of ink. There will certainly be more.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She is spending time making meaning in new ways.

The Dream of Pens

In the last several months, a few artists I know have been given license agreements–they now have a line of glue, or paints, or digital grounds with their name on them. It’s very impressive.

It wasn’t surprising when I had a dream last night about licensing. In the dream, I was using Artist A’s paints, when Artist B came into my studio and said, “Why aren’t you using my paints?” I didn’t know what to say to either artist, and a funny dream sequence ensued, in which Artist B’s paints were the only ones that would work in a certain brand of visual journaling book. The paints endorsed by Artist A just drifted off the page. When I noticed this, Artist B gave me a wink and said, “I have a great contract!”

As the dream continued, I got a phone call from a licensing agent, who wanted to sign me up. Knowing that my paints would float off the page, I declined. When he asked what I would like to endorse I said, “Pens. I want to endorse a pen I can believe in. Something I’d use all the time.”

“No one uses pens anymore,” said the agent in my dream.

Rapidograph technical pens have interchangable tips, small reservoirs to make ink color exhange easy, and color-coded barrels for nib size.

“I do. But it has to be a fiber tip pen, write smoothly, have a hefty barrel, be refillable and easy to clean,” my dream-self replied.

“How about a nice roller ball?” The agent asked. He clearly didn’t know me very well.

“No. I don’t like roller balls. Too smeary, too slippy on the page. I’d like to endorse a good fiber tip, a cross between Pitt Pens and Microns and Rapidographs. Something that will last, and is easy to use,” I said, expressing a very real wish for such a pen. “I love my Rapidographs, but the steel tip can catch on Arches Text Wove, and I hate that.”

Each Rapidograph has a color-coded section on the pen that indicates the line width of the nib.

The agent rolled his eyes and said, “In your dreams.” And I woke up. In my dreams, indeed. I don’t think this dream is a glimpse of the future, although I sure wouldn’t mind owning, if not endorsing, my perfect dream pen.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. She would love to endorse a line of art pens, either in her dreams or in real life. Meanwhile, the book is available from the publisher with free shipping–at least for a while.

Goals, Dreams, and Getting What You Want

The sentence in the article I was reading confounded me. A woman in a horrible relationship went to a therapist for “my first and last visit. He asked me to set goals.” The writer was appalled at being asked to talk about goals when she was in such pain.

I wondered what she would have wanted the therapist to ask. If the client

There is never a perfect time to start a goal. Just start.

is in pain, the smart therapist is going to ask what the result should be–leave the relationship? Stay and try to work it out? Demand couples counseling? Set a deadline for the other person to take action? For yourself to take action? All those sound like goals to me.

I think goals got a bad name in annual reviews. Business employees are supposed to set goals and then check them off. Goals are often artificial or checked off after attending a class. (I’m familiar with those people in my training classes. It’s often called “training as punishment.”) Real goals, those set with intention and thought, are more than useful. Without goals, life is stuck in the endless wash cycle–the dirt is out, but you churn without really getting clean.

A goal is a point in time we can imagine. Once we can imagine it, we can benefit from the joy or achievement we’d feel when we reach it. That’s the best motivation to move toward your goal.

A softer word for a goal is a dream. Napoleon Hill famously said “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Dreams are visions of a wonderful future. Dreams are often considered unreachable. “It was only a dream,” we sigh. But if we don’t dream, we can’t imagine what we long for. And without longing, there is no goal development.

I’m always troubled by coaching clients who tell me, “I don’t want to have goals, I just want to be in the moment.” Being in the moment is not the opposite of having a goal. It is part of having a goal. The “now” part. The part you work on right now because now is the best time to work on something you want to achieve.

When I ask the coaching clients who don’t have goals how they feel, they often tell me, “I’m unhappy. I don’t know what I want.” Not knowing what you want is different from not having a goal or a dream. Not knowing what you want is most likely being afraid to name what you want.

Often, when I ask coaching clients who has no goals why they are unhappy, they’ll say, “I never get what I want.” I can’t help myself, I ask, “How would you know?” To get what you want, you have to name it. To name what you want, you have to know what you want. To know what you want, you have to have a dream, a longing, a wish. It can be vague, it can be specific. The only requirement is knowing that having it will make you feel good–fulfilled, satisfied, successful, joyous. And you have to be OK with feeling good.

The person responsible for your personal goals is you. Only you can define them, and only you can manifest them. You have to do the work, but you get all the credit and joy, too.

I love the fable of the man who is stuck in a flood. He’s on the roof of his house, when a rescue boat comes by to help him.
“No, thanks, ” says the man, “I prayed to God for help and God will help me.”
The rescue boat motors on.
A few minutes later, the water is rising faster, and a helicopter appears.
“We are lowering down a ladder, climb up!” says the EMT.
“No, thanks,” says the man, “I prayed to God and He will save me.”
The man drowns and goes to heaven. He meets God and says, “I am so disappointed in you. I prayed to you, I trusted you, and you ignored me.”
God looks at the man and says, “What do you want from me? I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, and you turned them down.”

Our goals, our dreams and getting what we want are ours to get or to lose. We have the choice to make. We have the work to do. We have the joy to feel.

Photo by JasonRogersFooDogGiraffeBee

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people who are stuck in their dreams, in their life, and in their work.

Dreaming Your Life Awake

Australian Aborigines believe that our dreams are our real life, and our waking life is meant to be a path to fulfill them.  I’ve had recurring dreams, meaningful dreams that I still remember vividly, and dreams that have come true much as I dreamed them. I once dreamed a portion of someone else’s lif and had them verify it.

Dreamers, colored pencil on Bristol Board © Quinn McDonald

What’s bothered me about dreams is that they seem personal and meaningful, but dream interpretation seems to be a impersonal, reduced to symbol searches. Many books list the items in dreams and assign them a meaning. You dream of flying, it’s a sign someone is going to die. In another book, flying is sex. (In that book, everything is sex. It doesn’t need to be 300 pages long, one would have been plenty.)

Another school of thought says that you are everyone in your dream. I’m not sure that works for me, either. Many of the people in my dream are known to me and many unknown that represent an idea or warning for me, but they aren’t me.

I think dreams are far more meaningful, and I don’t believe they are random images your brain fans out because you’ve eaten pepperoni pizza late at night. I believe dreams are a connection to the collective unconscious–the past of your cultural ancestors. I think dreams are a map of our lives, a colorful tapestry of adventures, a guide to the path we have chosen, an illuminated manuscript of both our imagination and our possibilities.

After studying with Robert Moss, and reading his books, I’m interested in active dreaming–a combination of shamanic methods and paying attention to ourselves. Moss says, “Our ‘big story’ is stalking us, and if we don’t embrace that story, others will impose their own stories, little stories and ‘small identities’ on us. ”  The only person who can correctly interpret a dream is the dreamer, who has all the information. Well meaning friends, who reach for mass-interpretation of dream, may want to help. But it’s the “fixing” kind of help that isn’t the best answer because it’s someone else’s idea of what we should do.

Moss believes we can re-enter dreams, either in meditation or in subsequent dreams. He believes we need to get lost in the meaning of our dreams to discover their meaning.

I’m keeping track of all this dreaming, waiting to see how I’itoi is meant to be in my life. I’ve chosen to believe that dreaming of I’itoi is not hijacking another culture, it’s freeing my limits. Dreaming sets your soul wandering at night, why should I build a fence around it? Enough people do that already. And maybe that was the meaning I’m learning.

Quinn McDonald is a dreamer, writer, and creativity coach. She never uses faces in her work, but this one, a figure from a dream, worked out.