Working With What You Have

Not all creative projects work out as you thought. Not what you wanted. Still, if you translate that into everyday language,  you are practicing. We need to practice art as much as we need to practice all skills, and for the same reason: to get better.

A Neocolor experiment page. Good for using as background, or for adding something more to it.

When you were first learning to walk, you fell a lot. But you got up every time. That’s the reason you can walk so well today–you didn’t think failing defined you. It was part of learning. Somehow, we start to discount that idea as we get older. We think we “should” know how to art techniques  the first time, or much faster than others. Not true. Real experts spend lots of time doing the same thing over and over to gain skill.

After being away from art for a while, I plugged back in again. Collage and found poetry are two ideas I love to dive into, so I thought I’d combine them. After not doing them for a while, I knew the results wouldn’t be stunning. Maybe even amateurish. Who cares? It’s exercise and growth.

Collage experiment, made from an old retail catalog, Neocolor II and found poetry.

I decided to work with what I had at hand–no buying supplies, no updating what I had. In fact, I limited myself to the experimental journal, glue, an old Barney’s catalog (printed on matte paper), and a black waterproof extra fine marker.

Experimenting is freeing. I’m not developing a project for a show. I have a journal in which I work only on experiments. Only experiments. Paper is cheap. Even good watercolor paper is relatively cheap.

Found poetry always looks rustic. Found poetry it cut from print pages, so no matter how carefully you glue it down, it looks like a ransom note, except not as exotic. You can’t really work found poetry into an Old Master’s oil painting and have it work. That gives me permission to work on content, on the creativity of bringing content out with shapes and color.

Detail of the collage, showing the found poetry made only of retail advertising copy, re-assembled.

I started by using the page I’d made using Caran D’Ache Neocolors II. (It’s up there on the left side of the page.) I cut varying circles from the catalog and pasted them onto the experimental page. I then chose a page from the catalog (randomly) and began to cut out words and phrases that, disconnected from their sales background, tell a different story.  I finished by creating a brief emotion caught withing words. (Detail, above).  Satisfying. Creative work, driven by curiosity.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer who teaches both.

Healing Through Writing

We all meet dips in our lives. We don't always get warnings.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don’t always get warnings.

It’s been a tough year, no matter what side you are on. There were surprises enough for the whole world. If you feel in need of healing medicine, I’m offering a healing through writing class. It’s online, on a private group on Facebook.

The details are here, on my professional writing blog.  The basics? It’s four classes, one every two weeks, starting on November 19. There are two warm-up lessons already on the Facebook group, so you won’t be bored till it starts. The class is non-partisan, no political talk allowed. It’s about healing whatever needs to be healed in you.

Price? Pay what you want. There is a link to a PayPal donation page. You can pay nothing, you can pay a bit to help you feel accountable, you can pay a lot. All of the money goes to two charities.

If you have questions, you can always contact me through comments or by the Contact page on either blog site.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is studying poetic medicine and will become a writing therapist.

A Talisman of Fire

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

Another talisman has come into my life, this one through the skill and talent of Su Keates, a silversmith from New Zealand. Su listens and then brings her own vision to the creation of a piece.

This piece was going to be hard. I wanted to have an abstraction of the Hebrew letter shin, the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter has many meanings and associations. The word shin literally means teeth or bite, but that’s not the hidden meaning I am drawn to.

Shin has three points, often said to represent

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

kindness, justice and mercy. In one kabbalistic interpretation, the three stalks represent the flash of an idea, understanding, and application of knowledge. Now that is a meaning I can spend time with.

What I love is the number of words begin with the letter shin (in Hebrew). The word for peace, shalom. The word for hear, or listen, sh’ma. The word for the day ordained as a day of rest, Shabbat. Then there is sun (shemesh) and change, and year, and rest.

Shin is a mother letter, and it represents fire. So I wanted this talisman to look like fire. The letter is heard in the first phrase of the Bible, “In the beginning.” How could I not find this letter a talisman for my work as a coach, helping people change? Or my work as a writer, helping people heal and rest from the scars of their life?

It’s new and ancient and I can already tell it has power and life.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach who helps people reinvent themselves.

 

It’s Random

Consider this: The Raptors, a baseball team, has won the last four games played on a Tuesday, but only if it rained. No rain, no win. Rain? They win. Today is Tuesday, and it is raining, and the Raptors are playing. Should you bet on them to win?

It's not rain, but a forest fire behind a high-school game in Colorado. I found it randomly.

It’s not rain, but a forest fire behind a high-school game in Colorado. I found it randomly.

Of course not. Winning and the rain are not related. It’s a coincidence. Correlation does not imply causation. Which is a compact way of saying that the rain, Tuesdays, and winning are not related to each other. Even if it happens four times in a row. It’s random.

Random is much easier to accept if it’s in your favor. When things go your way for a while, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back, tell yourself how much you deserved it, and how you are smarter than your idiot competitors.

When things go wrong, of course, we look for the idiot who screwed us up. Sometimes we blame ourselves and beat ourselves up.

This is a good time to make sure what went right and what went wrong wasn’t random. If you were involved, good to see how, admit it, fix it, take credit for it, or cheer.

© Scott Adams

© Scott Adams

If it was random, and it often is, don’t spend another second looking for secret reasons, lessons from the universe, a ghost in the machine, or divine retribution. Correlation does not imply causation. What’s your next best move? Time to get busy.

-Quinn McDonald knows that over-thinking “random” resulted in the Salem Witch Trials. They could have spent the time better overcoming fear of outsiders.

 

Doing It Wrong

I’ve spent a lot of blog space talking about relationships and the importance of communicating clearly. How you have to give a damn about your client to make them feel cared for.  Here’s a perfect example of  what happens when you don’t pay attention to your client, when you are focusing on results and not relationships.

It was time for my yearly physical. In my coverage plan, the yearly physical starts dague3with lab tests, then a doctor’s appointment, then any additional  work.

Today, I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, when she breezes in, frowning at her computer screen. No eye contact. Cursory greeting. Then, “I have your lab results here.” Short pause. “Do you have a will written up? A medical directive? Because you need them.”

Luckily, I am a healthy person. Rarely sick. But suddenly, here I was, needing a will and a medical directive. And damn, I am feeling much better than last week, when I was still sick. And now I’m . . .dying?

I fix the doctor with a level gaze and say, “I do have a will, a medical directive, and clearly spelled out code directives. [Under what circumstances I do not want anyone to take any measures to keep me alive.] Why do you ask?”

0b2dd5ee0ce1b0119e25266cba6f4dc0She looked up from her computer. “We ask all patients to furnish them and I see that we don’t have yours on file. So bring them in to us in the next week or so.”

What a second ago had been a death sentence was now a minor administrative matter. The doctor then slapped the blood pressure cuff on me and discovered my blood pressure was higher than normal. This time, I wasn’t concerned at all.

“You just scared me–asking for my medical directive without telling me about the lab results first. So I’d expect my blood pressure to go up.”

She eyed me doubtfully. “Well, you got that completely wrong. Your labs are all normal. But your blood pressure may need monitoring.”

So there it was. I was wrong, and my blood pressure had nothing to do with a shock, because the doctor didn’t perceive her request as being scarey. So if I perceived it that way, well, I was wrong.

She agreed to take the blood pressure again in a few minutes. When she did it, the pressure was also within normal limits.

The doctor wasn’t concerned about how I might take her message. She knew what she meant, and any other meaning was simply wrong. Easily brushed off.

And that’s why she is losing me as a client. If everything is a business decision for her, and I’m a client, I want better customer service. From another provider. Medical practice is a two-way relationship. And as long as I’m on the fuzzy end of that lollipop, I’m seeing someone else.

Quinn McDonald is a healthy human being. If she’s treated decently.

Why Breaking the Internet Doesn’t Matter

I’m writing my new website so hard, my eyes are bleeding. I keep bouncing from being clever to being simple and clear, from being baddass to being straightforward. I am making all the mistakes I warn my writing clients about: too many objectives, too big an audience and the worst–listening to too many people who are giving me advice. Not that I asked for any, but it doesn’t slow writers down. We love giving writing advice.

i-won-the-internetThe worst advice I’ve gotten is that I need to write copy that will “go viral,” or “win the internet,” or, best of all, “break the internet.” No. No, I don’t.

When an image or a blog post goes viral, it gets passed from hand to hand, eye to eye, quickly. Remember The Dress? The one that was either white and gold or blue and black? That was about a week ago, and in one two-hour segment, The Dress got 16 million views. It went humongously viral. But exactly what did those 16 million people do with the image? Passed it on, defending what color they saw.

There was only one dress, so it didn’t sell a million dresses. I’m sure a lot of people who didn’t know what Adobe Photoshop could do, found out. But Adobe didn’t have a huge increase in sales.

Views, discussions, explanations are great. But they do not translate into sales. Information no longer is power. Everyone had information about that dress. Attention span is power. And, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no “there, there” for attention span in the dress story. The wave went from what color you saw the dress to explanations of rods and cones in the eye, to polls on what colors you saw in the dress, to weird science and then. . . it vanished in the churn of the internet.

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By GaryKing and the Enablers, via Imgur.

What holds attention span? Caring. What makes readers care? When the writer gives a damn. (Now if I said “gives a shit” I could have had a cool acronym– GAS). See? I’m just not badass.  But I know a big mistake most writers make–and it’s the same one I’m working on avoiding. Most writers screw up when they write to prove how clever/smart/cool they are. The smart writers don’t write for themselves, they write for their audience. Because they give a damn about their audience.

Caring is always smart/cool/perfect. Caring about your audience, whether you are a writer, a teacher, an artist, or a social media expert, is how you get a bigger audience. A real audience. One that is interested in what you have to offer. And that audience does not care about the color of the dress today.

—Quinn McDonald is not listening to advice about going viral. She’s being her intuitive, introverted self who cares about her training and coaching clients. Because she knows they want to be understood. And she knows how to do that.