Category Archives: In My Life

The Creative Slump

While I’ve been sick (yeah, I’m real tired about writing about it, too),  I haven’t stepped foot in the studio. No interest. This is so unusual for me, I took a closer

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

look. I’ve been spending spare time doing my taxes, a chore I absolutely loathe. But the dumb repetition of finding dates on receipts (why in Bastet’s name do they not put the date in the same place on all receipts?) and putting the amount on a spreadsheet is something I can manage to do.

Normally, I keep a list of ideas I want to work on, but I can’t think of anything that interests me at the moment. There is work on the desk, ready to go. Not interested.

There’s clearly a connection about a stuffed head and an empty brain. And I’m not rushing it. True, I haven’t written in my journal in two weeks. Unusual. And it’s Spring, and usually I want to make note of the day the fig started leafing out. Nope.

Instead of worrying about this, I’m shrugging it off. When I feel ready, I’ll go back. I think it’s odd, but then again, I’ve learned a lot about my body and when my body is ready to pull itself together, it will. Meanwhile, I’ll drift, read, and celebrate the fact that the taxes are done about two weeks earlier than ever!

Quinn McDonald is getting it together, piece by piece.

The Sweeping Gesture

Because I am a woman of a certain age, I am having fun startling people. Frankly, I am currently invisible. Neither fat nor thin, long past attractive, I have decided to draw attention to the fast-fading art of being polite.

A doorway at Tohono Chul--"a corner of the desert" in Tucson.

A doorway at Tohono Chul–“a corner of the desert” in Tucson.

My favorite trick is to open a door then step to the side and with one arm, sweep my hand toward the inside of the building and say, in a voice with a smile, “After you!” I’ve brought people to a dead stop in front of me. They think it’s a trick. I’ll add, “Please,” while I incline my head toward the inside of the building.

It works well with automatic sliding doors, because I step aside and let the people who are inside step out. It makes sense to do this anyway, but when done with the arm sweep and a smile, it freezes people in their tracks.

On the other hand, if a man gestures that I should step out of the elevator first, I’ll reward him with a smile and a “You just made my day. Thank you.” I’ve seen men grow several inches, just from that small kindness.

Occasionally a woman will say, “Letting me out the door first doesn’t make up for being treated like a second-class citizen.” Well, no, of course not. But at that moment, no one is treating me like anything except a dignified woman who is being let through the door first. I don’t think it means any more than that. And I am enjoying it tremendously.

The busier the escalator, the TSA line, the bank, the more a slight sign of politeness brings on a smile. And secretly, it makes me feel generous, too. It’s a small shift in the fragile fabric of our culture, and I’m secretly happy to have the power to make something gentle happen.

-–Quinn McDonald loves surprising people who do not expect or remember the art of being polite.

 

Meaning-Making and Validation

It’s not enough to make meaning anymore. Because we aren’t sure it really is meaning. Unless, of course, we photograph it, put it on social media, and get approval. Then we’ve made meaning.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Popular culture shifts and changes–that’s what defines pop culture. But the biggest change in our lives (from my observation), is that something has to be photographed (or videod) and put online for it to matter. Somehow, we can’t have private meaning anymore. In fact, we can’t really be alone any more.

Without “likes” and comments, even negative ones, what we do doesn’t feel real,  doesn’t matter.

That’s why, when we see something surprising, beautiful, alarming, horrifying, we immediately grab out camera and experience it though our phones. Then post it. We crowd-source our emotions, our experiences, and eventually, our meaning-making. If people object, we change our minds. Maybe we didn’t have as much fun as we thought. Maybe we didn’t like that movie as much. Or maybe it was much more, depending on what reactions we get.

Some people I know Tweet all their reactions to watching TV. They post 20-60 tweets while watching Downton Abbey or the Oscars, waiting for friends to react to the show and the other tweets, to create an emotional background they cannot seem to create alone.

In a recent study, published by the Journal Science (and reviewed here in Time magazine) 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would rather receive electric shocks (which they administer themselves) than be alone with their own thoughts.

We no longer trust our own emotions. We don’t even want to have them. We want approval so much more, that we are willing to put the most intimate parts of our life online and get a reaction to them, to validate ourselves. This weekend, I watched people post the following events online:

  • the death of a relative (with photos of the dead person)
  • a selfie of a crying woman (“I’m so sad right now.”)
  • the birth of a baby at home (with a photo of the emerging head)
  • new tattoos (complete with blood still flowing)
  • two FB posts from different emergency rooms
  • one FB post from an ambulance

oversharing1-300x210At some time, each of these events would have been thought of as too private to share. In fact, years ago, most people would have preferred to process the comlex emotions of these events with family (or alone) and not mention them to others until some time has passed. Not anymore. We aren’t real unless we are online.

I’m amazed (and will admit to being the right demographic for amazement) that we are so willing to give up every shred of privacy to validate our emotions. I’m not there yet.

Is it really so bad to have something happen unshared? Unphotographed? Undocumented? Do we not know what to feel until our FB friends tell us? I’ve quit posting my Sketchbook homework not because I don’t want to share, but because I want to experience what I feel about it before others tell me. It’s OK not to like something and not say anything. Or to enjoy it without sharing. Sometimes, it’s wonderful to not share your thoughts.

-–Quinn McDonald feels completely OK making meaning on her own and not sharing it.

 

 

The Seedling of Patience

Patience–wish I had it. At least more than I do now.  Impatience is my strong suit. The last time I was discussing a problem I wanted to resolve, my coach rootnsproutsuggested just letting it ripen for a while. For a Myers-Briggs “J” –the one who checks things off a list, who is always working toward a goal, who makes decisions and even if they are wrong, who cares, it’s better than not doing anything–well, letting a problem stew didn’t seem like a good solution.

My coach, wise woman that she is, said–“think of the solution as a seedling. It’s just broken out of the ground and is searching for some light. If you come along and pull it out to get a closer look, then stick it in the ground, then do that every day, the seedling won’t survive.”

I could see that poor seedling getting pulled up every day, examined, and stuck back in the earth. I could see my impatience doing just that.  And how quickly fatal that would be. Some things do better when left to grow roots and shoots.

The story reminded me of another gardening metaphor on patience. Sweet corn zea_mays_-_kocc88hlere28093s_medizinal-pflanzen-283takes about 75 days to go from seed to picking an ear. Yelling at it to hurry up has no effect on the length of time. It doesn’t make the corn sweeter, either.

Some problems, some answers just need time to ripen. Even if we want answers and solutions right now. Knowing when to turn things over, as another wise woman I know says, “to the operating system of the universe,” is good wisdom.

-Quinn McDonald is a gardener at heart. She is learning to be a gardener of the heart.

The Confusing Message of “Not Giving a F**k”

We’ve worn out a lot of words in the last five years. “Awesome” used to mean “fall on your knees, drooling, in fear or amazement.” Now it ranks around “OK” (or to use the common term, “K”) or just a shrug. We’ve also bleached out the meaning of “basically,” “literally,” “absolutely,” and “good job,” usually accompanied by a high-five if said to a child under the age of six.

This image is often seen with the phrase, "this kitten does not give a f**k"

This image is often seen with the phrase, “this kitten does not give a f**k”

Watching how Americans use English is something that fascinates me (but is not “a passion” of mine–we wore out passion when we brought it into the office and substituted it for “mildly interested.”)

Culturally, we are now wearing out the F-bomb. I will freely admit to being a bit stodgy about using this word freely. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’ll confess that I didn’t use it at all until I was about 23 years old. There were two reasons:

1. For me, it was a shocking, violent word best associated with rape, darkness, and the opposite of love. (Your results may vary.) I also had to say “Cheese and rice” in the homes of my Catholic friends, instead of naming the Christian deity’s son outright.

2. The F-word was considered vulgar, and writers (particularly women writers) were encouraged to use move vivid, powerful, and vibrant words. It made for lively combinations of adjectives, adverbs and interjections. It made me an excellent collector of exciting phrases that would pass the editor’s inspection and still allow the reader to know what we meant.

We use f**k  so commonly that we have made up substitutes that are used in zappa3even the most proper corporate meeting: “freaking” came first, and sounded quite harmless, so we upped it to “fricking.” And then we just forgot about talking around it and went right for the f-word.

Note: Many of my friends use the word frequently. I do not correct them. Nor am I shocked. Loving language is more about observation than being the f**k police.

What does interest me is the adaption of the phrase “Not giving a f**k” and its best friend “Not a single f**k was given that day,” to mean two different things entirely. (Google the phrase, then click on images. NSFW).

You would think (or at least I did) that “not giving a f**k” would mean not caring, indifference,  not being involved in an outcome, having an ability to walk away from any situation.

It may mean that in some circles, but it also means being so sure of yourself that you don’t care what other people think. You are rooted firmly in your values. Now, that’s a use I find interesting.  Mark Manson described this meaning in an article on January 8, 2015. Yes, “giving a f**k” means caring, but that’s the point–he discusses why caring too much can drain your focus of what you should be caring a lot about. And on those issues we care deeply about, well, then you give a big f**k.

Here’s what Manson says: “Indeed, the ability to reserve our fucks for only the most fuckworthy of situations would surely make life a hell of a lot easier. Failure would be less terrifying. Rejection less painful.”

What all this means is that indifference breeds drama, and drama is empty of power and force. Caring about others, choosing to protect what is important to you, well, that is what we want to give a f**k about.  An interesting twist of events.

And finally, because I’m worn out from clicking on all those asterisks, here is a poem I found about living that life of deep caring, real coherence and authenticity. Without once using the f-bomb.

I found this poem on The Practical Mystic, credited to The Awakening Woman Institute.

You are the well-trodden, dusty tracks of habit
and you are a freedom so brilliant it brings
deities to their knees.

You are the hesitation and the mistrust that make us
so desperately cling to the plastic replicas of who we are,
and you are the ache of the real calling us from the other side of risk.
You are that mystical courage
that makes us get up and out of bed each morning, despite it all.

Achingly beautiful, dull, exhilarating,
horrendous, paradoxical, cosmic, dense,
dark matter and radiance beyond measure.
Here is your world.
Here it is.

You have been so busy creating walls,
squeezing your tail and your wings
into this digestible hand-me-down dress,
trying so very hard to compartmentalize the
unfathomable wilderness that you are.

There is no action, no withholding,
no sprouting or rotting,
no lover or predator,
no loser or hero,
no wound nor victory
that is not you.

Here is your world.
Here it is.

:: Chameli Devi

-–Quinn McDonald is careful what she cares about. Language is right up at the top of the list.

Warning: If you use the spelled-out f-word in your comments, the comment will automatically go to spam. I’ve been a blogger for eight years now, and that control is a comfort.

 

Looking Ahead

Thanks to all of you who emailed me about the new website. And for voicing an opinion on a tagline. You want me to stay here, not join the corporate world, and keep posting blogs. Breathe, breathe.  I’m not running off.

Pen Nib Sigil for Quinn McDonald 2I’ve been a corporate trainer for about 20 years, I just didn’t talk about it much. I teach business writing, grammar, emails, persuasive writing, writing for the web, and create custom courses for clients who have special requests. The most recent class is on writing answers for complaint letters, for a customer service department of a business I work with.

Why didn’t I tell you? Because the classes aren’t open enrollment–each class is for a specific company’s employees.

Yes, I will still be coaching, more than ever. I’m developing several three-session sets for people who want to be coached on a specific topic.

And the blog? Just like it is now. I write about living a creative life and making the most of yourself in this life. I share information that I believe to be useful to you. Including mistakes. Because I am the same person all the time, the blog posts are not suddenly going to morph into annual reports.  I may emphasize writing more because that’s who I am–a writer. I’m not giving up art, but I am doing some personal development work and don’t have much to show. Why? Talking about art ideas while I’m still working on them makes me see all the things I could be doing differently and that, for me, is the road to perdition. I prefer to share when I can talk about the good parts of the journey.

And now, I’m off to bed. A chest cold knocked me flat today, and I’m taking it easy. I am deeply grateful that I got to teach the two-day class in Dallas before this hit. Colds rarely get me, but this one did, and I’m letting it run its course.

—Quinn McDonald is grateful that the two-day class in Dallas was over before she got the cold.

The Secret to Luck

When people I haven’t seen in a years notice I’ve lost weight, the inevitable question I get asked is, “What’s your secret?” When I say, truthfully, “There is no secret; I gave up everything I craved and walk three to five miles a day. It made me cranky and I wasn’t always nice.” I get skeptical looks. “But what is your secret?” they repeat. There should be a smoothie, a pill, a piece of equipment, a girdle, or a new exercise behind  significant weight loss.

"Make your own luck."

“Make your own luck.”

If I’m feeling brave, I’ll say, “Self discipline. Self control. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done so consistently. I still mess up.”  That doesn’t work, either. “You have to treat yourself sometime, or you will quit,” they assure me. “You need to eat a little bit of the foods you love.” “It’s not good to have all that discipline.”

I try to change the subject. I’m uncomfortable talking about discipline and success. It’s not the answer for everybody. But it has worked consistently for me–not just in changing my relationship with food, but for most things in life that I have been pig-headedly stubborn about relentlessly pursued.

It reminds me of how often I was told, after I landed a book contract, that I was “lucky.” Well, perhaps, but it also involved a lot of hard work and, ummm, discipline. I experimented with concepts, ideas, projects. A lot of concepts weren’t strong enough, ideas were half-baked and projects failed. Real creativity is what happens after you fail and before you succeed.

I wrote the book proposal over at least six times, I changed the idea of the book

slightly when it wasn’t focused enough, spent hours doing research to find a publisher who specialized in the kind of book I wanted to write.

The need for “luck” and “secrets” comes because discipline and hard work are Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.19.45 PMnot fast and easy.  And no one (except the Little Red Hen) wants to say, “I worked really hard for this and I made it work.” It sounds conceited and self-satisfied. But I don’t know a single soul who has lost a lot of weight and kept it off who had an easy secret. Same goes for people who have accomplished something big in their lives. They seemed to have given up a lot of what they would have liked to do instead and worked hard for a long time to make the big dream come true.

Thomas Edison had it right when he said, “The reason too many people miss opportunity is because is goes around dressed in overalls and looking like work.” Followed by another good quote from Thomas Jefferson, “The harder I work the more luck I seem to have.”

Don’t be afraid to dream big.  Don’t ever doubt that pushing a dream into reality isn’t hard work. It always is. Don’t be afraid to work hard for that big dream. It’s worth it, and you will learn a lot along the way.

Quinn McDonald is still struggling to keep the weight off. But she gets to walk in the beautiful light that comes at daybreak.

 

You’re Not Who I Imagined You to Be

You read a book you love, you imagine the author to be someone who could be your best friend. You read the next book, it’s even better. You feel you know the author. You meet the author at a book signing and he doesn’t have a flash of soul recognition. Or maybe he is dumpy, frumpy, and a bit cranky. You go home and toss out all the books and change your fanmail review on Amazon. Your imagination has been bruised.

courage-be-yourselfInteresting, huh? Once we have an image of someone in our heads, we don’t want them to be anything else. We say things like, “I used to like her, but then she changed. . .” or “She wasn’t anything like I expected.” And quite often, if the real person is not like our imagined one, it’s not ourselves we adjust. Instead, we walk away, slightly angry and disappointed. The real person failed to be our imagined creation.

After meeting me at a book signing, one woman realized I am not the illustrator she imagined me to be. Although I state this clearly in both books, she had thought that someone who writes like I do, and does art, must also be an illustrator. She thought I was just being modest. And here I was, not a modest illustrator, writing a how-to book on expressive art. The nerve! She told me as much, and walked away without buying a book. Deep breath . . . and. . . not my problem to solve. Yes, I write about expressive creativity, but my focus is on the Inner Critic, the voice that ruins who we are and shames us for not being someone we can’t be.

Often training clients who have never met me imagine me as younger, thinner,392059_305190596168834_1104470495_n prettier. Their faces go through contortions while they try to think of something acceptable to say. My favorite (and most flattering comment, to my ears) was, “Your emails are so professional and smart, I thought you’d be more like me.” Yes, that’s exactly what we want. Recognizing our best selves in others so we can like them.

Those reactions is one way I prove to people they are creative. We make up images, backstories, expected behavior, and are then surprised, disappointed or even a bit angry when our imagination “fooled” us. The sign of real creativity is to be open to change and surprise.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer, coach, and writing intstructor.

 

 

The New Book

I don’t talk much about the book I am writing. It’s not that I’m secretive or hiding anything. From long experience, I know that if I talk about it too much, I’ll pull the wind out of the sails. The ideas will shrink.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

Without memory, there would be no books; without books, we would have no memories.

This week, I’ve been having a hard time with the book. I keep writing around the issue at hand. Finally, early this morning, I sat down and wrote a very hard section. A section that did not cast a flattering light on my own Story. Or me.

And that was the whole point. I did dumb things. I still do. But I am no longer making them the heart of my Story–the reason for my mistakes. The excuse to continue making the same mistakes. Once you own your mistakes and admit them, you take away the feeding frenzy of your Inner Critic.

We love our Stories. They are the meat and marrow of the decisions we make every day. Unfortunately, they are also the main meal for our Inner Critics.

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the Inner Critic the “you can’t be enough because you weren’t nurtured” broth.

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, spooning the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise into the mouth of our Inner Critic.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the Inner Critic a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.

The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from

from anagarcialopez.com

from anagarcialopez.com

the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. No wonder I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical. It was my parent’s fault, really.”

Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.

Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They cause terrible damage. But not irreparable damage.

The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live. And that’s what the book is about.

-Quinn McDonald is writing a book. Again. It’s turned into a habit.

Things I Never Thought I’d Say

Life is weird. At certain times in your life, you are sure you would never say anything odd, embarrassing, silly or just plain dumb. But then, technology changes, you change, and you are saying things you could not have imagined yourself saying 20 years ago. Or ever. Travel is broadening, but in so many ways I had never imagined.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.35.07 PM1. If you remember a time when there were only landlines, phones were attached to the wall or sat on a small table. When you phoned someone you never had to ask, “Where are you?” because the answer was one of two rooms where the extensions were.

2. “I need Botox.” Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxin that for all of my life lived in poorly canned meats and killed people. You didn’t need it, you feared it. The idea that some people cheerfully inject it into their faces is still a bit jarring.

3. “What day is it?” The first time I walked into a rest home and saw the day and date on the bulletin board, I was horrified. People didn’t know? But when you are teaching grammar on Monday and editing on Tuesday and persuasiveScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.36.53 PM writing on Wednesday, and copywriting on Thursday, and you always wear black dress pants when you teach, it’s easy to get up in the morning, shower, put on those black dress pants and then wonder, “What day is this and what am I teaching?” It’s a bit scarier if you are in a hotel room on a 12-consecutive-days teaching gig and the hotel room in Dallas looks like the one in Cincinnati and you aren’t entirely sure where you are, much less what you are teaching today.

4. “Please don’t lick my phone.” Said to a child on an airplane.

5. “Yes, I am the last drop off, but that doesn’t automatically mean that suitcase is mine.” Said to a shuttle driver in some city where I arrive in the middle of the night.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 9.52.10 PM6. “It’s a fountain pen. You use it to write with. The tip is sharp, but not dangerous. No, it’s not a blow dart.” Said to a TSA inspector.

7. “No, I never told him not to steal the car.” Said to an angry Human Resource inquisitor when one of my direct reports stole the company car and went joyriding, then blamed me because I hadn’t expressly forbidden him not to steal the car.  “And I didn’t tell him not to pee in a wastebasket, either, because some things seem pretty clear to me.” He stayed. I got fired.

8. “No, I don’t have a spare condom you can borrow.” Said to a young couple in an elevator. “If I had one, I’d give it to you, not lend it to you.” And then realized they didn’t understand why I added that. Because when you teach grammar, everything is a learning experience.

Are there phrases you never thought you’d say or would have to say? Leave them in the comments. It’s a good day for a laugh.

Quinn McDonald lives to laugh at herself. Lucky for her, life gives her plenty of opportunities to do just that.