Variety Adds Interest

A new fence went up in my neighborhood. Everyone in Phoenix has a fence around their side or back yards. (Largely to keep kids and pets out of pools, but also because housing is close together here.)

The fence is different from all the other fences in the neighborhood. Instead of being made out of wood cut to the same width and height, it uses a variety of widths, a variety of lengths. The result is a far more interesting fence.

Instead of looking at the fence to see where there might be a mistake, where one slat is a tiny bit higher than the rest, I look at the fence as a whole, pleasing in its effect–a functional piece made from different sizes of lumber. And functionally, it would be harder to jump this fence than one that’s the same height.

This fence. Just like real life. A lot of metaphor happening there.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who helps people ask for what they want.

Old Hurt, New Reaction

First, the promised winners of the giveaway: Kelly Harms has won Ann LeFevre’s book, Live Your Life, 14 Days to the Best You. Winners of the coaching sessions are: Cynthia Pepper, Linda Marsh and Lynn Thompson. Congratulations to the winners! You’ll be hearing from me for details. *   *   *   *   * 

Emotional reactions (often called triggers) are familiar to every breathing human being.  Something from the past –a word, comment, reaction, song, even a smell–that snaps us back to a  bad memory in full, vivid color. The most common reaction is to behave as we did the first time–although we may be decades older.

Old tree trunk, with considerably damage, still beautiful. Beautiful because of the damage.

In mild cases, triggers cause us to cringe with the emotional strength of the memory. In severe cases, they cause us to behave forcefully, drop years of therapy, coaching, or conditioning. In the worst cases, they aren’t  just flashbacks, they are the symptoms of PTSD.

Let’s focus on those milder triggers: The relative who says something thoughtless, taking you back to childhood. You snap at them as you did when you were younger. A friend teases you and pushes an old trigger, you reply harshly, surprising your friend with your anger and hurt.

This afternoon, I was on the phone, talking to an acquaintance, and she pushed an old, almost forgotten trigger. It was a casual, teasing move on her part. But to my emotions, it felt like a slap, a reminder of a mistake I made that I’d rather not re-hash. I was at the point where my tongue already was sharpened to smack down the remark and devastate the speaker, when a thought flashed across my mind:

“You aren’t the same person as you were back then. Time has passed. You have changed. Circumstances have changed. Use a new reaction. You won’t be sorry.”

Just as fast as it came, it was gone, but the truth it left behind was huge. I paused, pushing away the hurt and embarrassment of the long-ago mistake I made. Instead, I stepped into the adult I have become, the different person I have grown into since that incident. In that instant, I could see the acquaintance meant no harm, I could see her remark from her perspective.

That shift in perspective allowed me to swallow my own hurtful remark, and say something light-hearted instead

The result surprised me. Instead of letting the trigger pull me back into the past, I brought the event into the present and saw that it had lost some of the power to shame and hurt. Time had made me capable of different behavior. Enough time has passed. I am different. It will always be a trigger, but I do not have to let it hurt me again

Quinn McDonald is surprised that old hurts can remain old.

 

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.

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.

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.