Oh, That Rug!

When you travel a lot (and I do), hotel rugs, wallpaper and art become interesting. Also, a great way to know that you left one city and are in another.

Hotel rug, blooming happily away.

This rug, with huge florals, is compelling. I wouldn’t want it in my house, but for a hotel rug, it’s cheerful, hides dirt and doesn’t show wear. It’s also nice that the pattern doesn’t repeat. Since the even-numbered doors aren’t numbered where you can see them from the elevator exit, it helps to remember which flower is yours!

The sadder news is that I have stayed in three of this brand of hotel and I have had the same art in every room. Every. Room.

–Quinn McDonald is a corporate trainer who specializes in writing and creative problem solving.

 

For the Others on Mother’s Day

Tomorrow is Sunday. Mother’s Day. Maybe you feel guilty, or sad, or just wonder what other people were so sentimental about. Mother’s Day. The day when no praise is extravagant enough, no card kitschy enough, no sentiment sweet enough. And you aren’t feeling it. At all.

Collage: “Flight” ©Quinn McDonald, 2014

If your childhood was happy and you had a mother who gave you everything you needed and no card can express the love and admiration you feel,  today’s blog is not for you.

It’s for the others. You know who you are.

This is for those who  never really had the mother you needed. The one you wished would comfort you and praise you and love you when you were unlovable and  help without anger when you sewed the pieces of your gingham skirt together backwards. Twice. The one you so wanted to show up with comfort and forgiveness, but it didn’t happen. Not in your life.

Maybe you chose not to be a mother and everyone asks you why, or you wanted to be a mother and it didn’t happen for you and you are still pretending that’s just fine, but you don’t know how to act on Mother’s Day.

It’s complicated. Whether your mother was cruel or uncaring or clueless, the pain is there. If your mother is still alive, you probably won’t be able to have the big turnaround your friends keep promising you. Or blaming you for not working harder to make happen.

I have a horrible secret: Reconciliation may never happen. Not even on her deathbed.  And that may have to be OK, too, because that may be a hope you still have outstanding. It is not up to you alone to make it happen. You may do the work and it will still come to nothing.

If your mother is dead, you may replay scenes, wondering if you had acted differently, if the results would have been different. You’ll never know, but a wild guess tells me No. Some things can’t be changed, fixed, or healed. And never by one person. Two people, a mother and her child, might be able to fix old wounds,  but it’s hard. And if your mom is a believer in the old parent rules school, it is harder still.

The relationships between mothers and daughters is always hard. There is unwritten jealousy between age and experience and youth and naivete. There is anger in lost opportunities and unmet expectations.  For some, the fact that you were a daughter was enough of a disappointment to fill a lifetime.

“Remember that every son had a mother whose beloved son he was, and every woman had a mother whose beloved son she wasn’t. ” – Marge Piercy

But here is a truth you might want to hear right now, today, on Mother’s Day. You cannot be anyone else except the person you are today, with all your faults, experiences, hardships, joys, stumbles, successes and backslides. That is also true of your mother. No matter what happened, your awareness and work brought you to where you are today. With or without her approval.

And starting today, you can choose to be generous and kind and patient. To be a different person than the one who taught you to hate whoever you were at that moment.

Maybe you cannot be generous and kind to your mother, but you can be all those things with the women who surround you. The ones who work with you and don’t meet your expectations. The pretty ones who get promoted ahead of you.

The ones who don’t take the opportunities you wanted and they have the freedom to turn down. All those women you meet on your path during the day. You can swallow the angry remark. You can wish them well. You can choose not to judge. That is your choice now. And choosing that freedom instead of choosing retribution is worth celebrating. Today and every day.

Quinn McDonald is a mother who did her best with what she knew at the time. She was not the perfect mom, either.

Start With What You Know–Now

When I saw the Sephora bag, I knew that it would make a cute hand-made journal.  The bump in the road—I haven’t hand made a journal in more than a year—didn’t bother me. Hey, I knew how.

The secret to producing anything decent is practice. But psssssh, I’ve made dozens of journals. Sure, I can still do it. Easily. Right? Maybe not. Without practice, the skill dulls. It doesn’t vanish, and I may know the steps, but the skill element dulls.

The Sephora bag, ready to be worked on. Until I cut my finger.

So does the knife blade. After I decided how to cut the bag, I pulled out my cutting knife, did not put in a new blade, and drew the knife down the edge of a ruler. The blade stuttered, the ruler jumped, and I cut my finger tip. Not a big cut, but enough to bleed onto the bag. And soak into the paper surface. Wiping it off made it worse. And my finger was still bleeding, so there was not one drop, but three. Then five. I stopped to get a bandaid.

Yes, the bag was ruined. It didn’t have to be. What I should have done was not start with building a book. As far as creative work, there were many creative exercises that would have made a great beginning. But I didn’t do that. I started with something I had not practiced for a long time. And I failed.

hand-paited bollard

Photograph © Quinn McDonald, 2018

Not because I’m a bad artist, not because I’m not creative, but because I started where I’d left off years ago. Instead of where I was now.

I learn by failing. And my figuring out how I failed and working from there. It’s a good method. It helps you grow better with practice. And that works.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and writing instructor. She is working on a book about putting down your screens and getting out to listen to the Speaking World in the Invisible, Visible World.

Being Creative, Being Different

Is being creative the same as being different? In a world of “there are many ways, but only one right way,” and “it’s either wrong or right,” the word “creative” has taken a beating.

There were the go-getters who tried to make “disruptive” a synonym for “creative.” The connotation of disruptive is often negative–an idea barging in, taking over, crashing the status quo.  But the disrupters were mostly being different, and not necessarily creative, which has the connotation of being visually interesting, but not necessarily practical.

Being different means daring to be creative.

Being different can mean standing alone. Being creative means being colorful while doing standing alone. Photo: ©Hans-Peter Clamann

Creativity carries the burden of explaining ourselves. Creativity is not necessarily a new invention, a new method, although creativity is required to create. Most of us really don’t want to be too creative. We want to think we are different, but not actually be different. Being called “creative” feels a lot better than being labeled “different.” We prefer being different enough to still be interesting, maybe eccentric, but accepted, rather than stand-alone different. There is fear in having to explain ourselves—and failing.

Creativity is often thought of as self-expression—visual art, singing, dancing, writing, are examples. But often creativity is thought of only in terms of monetary gain. “Will this add to the bottom line?” But that’s not the point of creativity.

We live in a world of image, driven by consumer values. Creativity includes pressure to be accepted, to fit in, to have supporters, successful Instagram “likes”, re-tweets. To hold back on wilder ideas in order to gather acceptance and “likes.” Building an audience can be a goal, but the goal of creativity isn’t building an audience.

Creative self-expression is more therapy for the soul than it is a tool for personal financial advancement. Of course you can sell your work, but if you want to be creative without selling you work, that is a  clear choice you have.  And a limitless one.

Once you turn creative self-expression into a business, you are trading creative limits for financial gain. It’s not a one-on-one trade, but it changes how you think of your creativity.

I’ve sold my work and made a living doing it. Right now, I’m working on creative self expression to reduce anxiety (there’s fuel for that fire in every minute of the day), self-growth, and self-care. I’ll never sell what I make, because it is not geared to popular taste. But I love this work, and I love not having to explain it to anyone. And I love the feeling of getting better at solving problems–in my art and in life. For me, at least, creativity is problem solving. Sometimes practical, sometimes imagined, but it clears a path ahead.

Quinn McDonald is working on a book, The Invisible, Visible World, on creative self-expression. She teaches creative thinking and problem solving. She also teaches writing.

 

Advice From the Sidewalk

We’d had a nice dinner, my friend and I. She had offered to help me with videos for a class I’m developing for the Invisible, Visible World book. She is a generous soul— something we all need more of in our life—generosity. Giving and getting.

I’m combining my creative site with my professional site for a new look and new ideas. (This site will remain right here.) But I want people who hire me to train their employees in writing or critical thinking or problem solving to know that I’m not the “read the PowerPoint” kind of instructor, that in my class, everyone speaks, everyone questions, everyone is invited to engage and participate.

It’s a risky step–there are a lot of companies that don’t want to hear a class laughing. I do. When adults laugh, they are ready to learn. They are eager to try out something new. And that’s the place I want to stand when I teach.

Possible @Quinn McDonald, 2019

I was leaving the restaurant when I noticed writing on another restaurant across the street. It was a great idea, almost glowing in the evening light. It made me smile. And ready to learn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing, thinking, and creative expression.

Box of Colors

Storage sheds. We all know about them, we all need them.  Most of mine have had a jumble of broken items, tools, spiders, toads, snakes and rust in them.

Today, I found a shed clearly planned ahead and carefully. It’s in an older neighborhood in Phoenix, but as so often happens, once the updating started, almost everyone on the block got into the updating swing.

I love this box because it is not what you would expect. It does not hide itself. It stands, colorful and proudly offering its services while also brightening a front yard.  Being different isn’t easy, but it can be beautiful.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is working on a book about the Invisible, Visible World.

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.

Go For Fresh

By 4:00 p.m. I was hungry. Dinner is later these days, we aren’t both home until about 7:00 p.m. But by later in the afternoon, even with a good lunch, I’m  sure I will waste away without a snack. But it has to be healthy, too.  I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.

As I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowly exhaling its sweet aroma and crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.

Automatically, I reach for the sadder pepper. Training from long ago. In my family, we were not allowed to eat the fresh, new, crisp fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. We did not waste in our house. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years. Waste was not a choice, it was a way to stay alive. A habit once learned is hard to break.

The result? We rarely ate tasty, just-picked fruits or vegetables. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost gross, and saved it from the trash by eating it, cooking it, or burying it in a casserole or soup.

I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner, is meant to be eaten now. While it is fresh and juicy. While it is “now” perfect. That is when I will appreciate it most, honor it best.

The older pepper can benefit from another technique, but this one? I’m celebrating it (and my taste buds) for its perfect combination of temperature, color, and happiness.

Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh. We can’t control much, but we can control the choices we do have.

–Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.

The Tiny Fence

The Invisible, Visible World depends on perspective. Seeing things differently than others. Appreciating what shows up in front of you as you walk.

I am two different people: one who wants to know how everything works, is interested in reasons and causes and one who wants to experience the world through my senses.

Sometimes I see something and just want to enjoy what I see, what it makes me think of, the memories it brings out.

Here’s an example of how it works: I saw the tiny plant, clearly planted as a seed, surrounded by sticks, clearly broken off by hand, and stuck in the ground.  A tiny, wireless fence. It looks as if a child did it, but there were five of them, all in a neat row. Too neat for a small child. How could that protect anything?

But as I stood and looked at it, in the middle of the downtown front yard, I realized that the most likely attacker of the plant would be birds. (No rabbits in this part of town.)

The sticks were too tall for the birds to reach over, too close together for the bigger birds to squeeze through, and too tall for them to jump over.

A week later, the plants were bigger, and still there. I noticed the shadows the sticks cast, and the health of the plant. I noticed that the soil was damp and smelled like rain.  The things that protect us don’t have to be fancy, or complicated. Simple works. On plants. On people.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and put it to use. While she helps people who are labeled “creative,” she works with parents, investment bankers, teachers, and marketing executives, who often don’t know how to find their creativity.

 

The Art Bully

This collage was created on a shopping bag, using a black, printed stripe on the bag as well as the kraft-colored bag. A #2 pencil was used to sketch the bird. The feathers were found in the street. The printed pieces, cut from a newspaper, read, “We tend to forget we are animals, until we become prey.”

Making your way as an artist has never been easy. For most artists, it can at least be interesting. During the Renaissance art patronage shifted from bishops and cardinals (that’s how all those lovely European cathedrals were built), to wealthy merchants and bankers with political interests, who supported artists and offered them a livelihood, but were often not the kindest, most ethical, or generous people.

The Medicis  supported Leonardo da Vinci, Boticcelli,  and Michelangelo. Luckily, the Medicis had excellent taste and a gift for choosing the right artist for the job. It is not outrageous to say that the Medicis, by investing in art, laundered a lot of money by hiding it in art. The entire city of Florence (Italy), home to the Medicis, is alive with commissioned art.

Now that there are fewer Medicis (and art patrons), artists have to look to the American business model for a patron and a path to fame.

I began to pay attention to just how hard an artist has to work to become well-known. Roughly, here’s how it works: an artist develops a niche, a specialty, and focuses on that to attract an audience. The artist teaches this specialty, using favorite products. She (could be a he, too, but for this article, I’m using “she”) contacts a number of companies that produce the products she uses, hoping to get onto the company’s marketing or demo team.

Once that happens, the artist gets free products, but has to promote those products on social media, podcasts, blogs, on-line and in-person classes, books, and videos. Traditional book publishers shucked their marketing departments, using artists to market for them instead. It was a gamble, and for some publishers, it worked.

And effortless piece of art (butterfly, dog nose print, more) is no more than a piece of gum on a sidewalk.

Now the celebrity artists are often bound to art- or craft-supply companies, required to promote the products. If an artist is especially lucky, they work with their supply company to develop a new color line, maybe even a new product, and travel to promote that company.  For some, it’s a symbiosis that works. Artists develop classes to teach and books to write, and companies provide product and name recognition.

Sometimes, the supply companies unwittingly train art bullies. What’s an art bully? Someone who insists on specific name brand products being purchased for class use. Someone who insists that when they praise a product, their followers must like it, too. And if a celebrity artist/art bully doesn’t like a product, well, their friends, audience, and class participants shouldn’t use it, either. It’s the “cool kids table,” all grown up, now with art products.

Sure, I understand that not every ink, watercolor, paper, or tool is interchangeable. But a list of specific brand names in a supply list makes me suspicious. Is this brand the only one that will have a favorable result?  Is putting an art celebrity’s name and face on a product line a guarantee of art success?  (Short answer: Never. Success is 90 percent artist effort and 10 percent supply perfection.)

Some time ago, I said (in the thread of an art celebrity’s Facebook comments) that I had no luck with washi tape. It doesn’t stay stuck for me.  I joked it must be the art equivalent of kale. (I’m not a fan.)

The celebrity was not amused. She told me I must be using the washi tape wrong. Surprised, I said I was pretty sure I was doing it right, and had even tried several brand names. Out came the art bully. She disliked people contradicting her when she recommended her preferred products, she said.  She was pretty sure, she insisted, I didn’t know how to use the tape correctly, and certainly was not using her recommended brand. (Yeah, I was.)

Let’s get real: art skill never comes from buying a magic product. Art skill comes from experimenting, from failing, from trying more and different approaches until the practice begins to take hold. I thought of how asking questions to learn was so easily squashed by art bullying.  Like the worst of grade schools, you have to color the sky blue (with a specific product) and stay in the lines.

But I remained quiet. I did not clap back. Why? I don’t feel better when I make someone feel worse. Because I knew her fear of not supporting her money source, and I really can figure out how to use (or not use) washi tape. I made a mental note never to take a class from the art bully, though. There’s a price for bully-hood.

Those who protect the product they are hired to market, who care about the source of money more than spreading creative ideas, may do well. But they can’t do good.

I’m not at all sure that the art bully ensures the success of creative work. That work is always private, soulful, and revealing. And not stuck with a brand name.

—Quinn McDonald’s blog has, in 18 years, never been monetized. I want to keep it that way, so I can like and dislike, recommend or share what works for me and what doesn’t,  with freedom.