Your Life as Poetry

gold7Sometimes poems say everything that needs to be said.  Most of what I do today didn’t exist when I was in school.  What I still use today is the problem solving I learned. How to think, not what to think. And, of course, that art is the heartbeat of a culture. Everything I learned was by feeling my way along in the dark.

You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

—William Stafford, from You Must Revise Your Life

-Quinn McDonald loves how life imitates poetry and poetry tracks life across the desert under the light of the moon.

The Power of Stubborn

When I was very young, I became a mom. It was not unusual in those days–people were often grandmothers by the time they were in their late 30s. Like mothers of those days, I was pushed out of my job about halfway through my pregnancy. There was a war in Vietnam, so I was alone when it was time to drive to the hospital. My son was born at 4 in the morning, and one of the nurses had a staph infection, which she transferred to my son. And then everything went bad.

Bilirubin lights turn the incubator blue.

Bilirubin lights turn the incubator blue.

He went downhill fast with the infection. His liver stopped working. He turned yellow.  He lost half his birth weight. The doctor noticed that my baby had a single line across his palms–in those days called “simian creases.” It accompanies many terrible genetic diseases–among them Down Syndrome and Kleinfelter syndrome. The chaplain made it to my bed before the doctor and began to discuss picking out a coffin. The doctor followed and told me my son would most likely be low-functional, and never have a normal life.

I was young and alone. I was not allowed to see or hold my son, who was attached to so many tubes I could hardly know he was a real person.

Both sides of the family became silent. I learned what it meant to be alone. I saw a life of incompetence and struggling ahead of me. I was scared. Even at a young age, I was good at sucking it up and moving on. I was sent home 12 hours after the birth, and returned with breast milk the next day. For the next weeks, I stayed at the hospital until they threw me out, and sang to the little bundle amid the tubes. “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” and “Forever Young.” I have no talent for singing, and one nurse told me it would damage the child, and I should let his last hours be in quiet. I hated her.

He lived. He was stubborn and tough. He came home. No one gave me referrals or instructions for this under-functioning baby. He didn’t sit up until he was 8 months old. He walked late. He talked late. I tried to be brave. He kept me busy. And then he began to talk. In full sentences. Every night, I read him stories and sang to him. At 23 months, he read the stories along with me. At 25 months, he would put his hand over my mouth and say, “You are singing it wrong.” And I was. I can’t sing. Not even hum.

yale1-1

Yale University

A doctor examined him and told me, “Mothers of retarded children [that was the term in those days] often think their children are brighter than they are. You must accept what God has meant for you.” I don’t believe in a vengeful God who punishes children or their mothers. I was a little older and a lot tougher. Ian and I  left the office, both stubborn. He was reading chapter books before kindergarten.

I took him to a new doctor and didn’t mention the past. In a time without computerized medical records,  it was easier to lose the “retarded” label.  Over the years, it turned out that he was amazingly bright, determined, focused and impatient. He often didn’t understand that others weren’t as bright as he was. Bright children have their own struggles, and we muddled through.

When times got tough, I’d think about those first hard months. And those days were the first thing I thought of when he phoned me two years ago, to tell me he had achieved tenure and been promoted to full professor at Yale University.

It has not been without hardship, loss, sadness and struggle. But it has also been with laughter and growth and  just plain pride.

Today is Ian’s birthday and those memories are still strong. I’m so very proud of you, Ian, for not quitting, not giving up, not saying “I can’t go on, ” even when it got tough. I love you.  You have made me so very proud.

-Quinn McDonald is the proud mom, no matter how old the birthday boy is.

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.

hae4bQi

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.

 

 

Creativity Echoes and Duplicates

If you do any creative work, you know that you will have a brilliant idea, fall in love with the idea, polish it, then release it to public view. As soon as you do that, you will see the same idea all over. You get angry. Who stole your idea? The answer is–nobody. There are several reasons this happens.

1. Heightened awareness. Once you begin to concentrate on an idea, and certain words, phrases, images begin to repeat in your head. Your heightened awareness makes you see those words “more often,” when you are really simply more aware of seeing them. This happens when you learn a new word–you suddenly see it three times in a day when you don’t recall seeing it before.

2. Mysterious parallel universes. OK, I made that up. Creativity duplicates in our world. If you were to ask a Russian who invented the telephone it’s unlikely they would credit Alexander Graham Bell. They would mention a Russian who invented the device roughly at the same time. Simultaneous invention, writing, advertising ideas do happen. Regularly. And has happened for years. Now, with the increasing speed of knowledge shared through the internet, more people come up with similar ideas more often.

images3. Your grass seed, my lawn. When we talk about our ideas to a friend, the friend often takes the next step with the idea. You talk about creating a journal page using a dictionary page, and suddenly your friend is teaching a class on altering dictionaries. And that’s when things get sticky.

This is the hard part. I know exactly how hard it is, because I have gone through it with one of the techniques in The Inner Hero Art Journal.  Yes, I was angry. Yes, I felt cheated. But I also know that ideas can’t be copyrighted, and that my idea doesn’t belong to me exclusively. What to do? Well, break that list into legal, ethical and generous steps.

Legally, I notified my publisher, so if any of the images I shared or the journal prompts I created and shared appear on another website, the publisher can handle the copyright violation.

Ethically, if my idea is similar to another artists, I have to follow the rules The Ethics Guy uses to judge actions as ethical. (Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. is the Ethic Guy). This isn’t that complicated in theory, but very hard to do with a complete heart.

  • Do no harm
  • Make things better
  • Be respectful
  • Be fair
  • Be compassionate

But the items may be hugely difficult to manage. If someone treats you unfairly, you don’t want to treat them (or anyone else) fairly. But you have to. The entire reason the world doesn’t collapse into savaging each other is that most of us want to be fair and even generous.

How do we act fairly and generously? We give credit. We say “Thank you.” It doesn’t detract from our work, it adds to it. Giving other people credit for helping you get to your own idea is a wonderful way to increase your creativity and your peace of mind.

Thanking and crediting others relieves you of guilt, makes you feel generous, expands your creativity. And that is your work to do.

-Quinn McDonald keeps a gratitude journal and another one for ideas on change. Sometimes she writes one idea in another, and then alchemy happens.

Popular Culture, Fairy Tales, Bolts

Book Giveaway winners: Princess Burning Hair (known as Angie) wins the book giveaway from earlier in the week.  Journalution goes to Angie–congratulations!  Bluestocking wins another book from my journaling stash. Bluestocking said that she is having trouble with journaling book and keep flinging it across the room. Her honest frustration made me laugh, so Bluestocking, get in touch and I’ll send you a different book. Contact me at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com so I can send the books!

*    *     *     *

Every February in Yukon, Canada, there is a hair-freezing contest. Yes, hair freezing. Contestants dip their hair in 104ºF water, then put their heads up into the freezing air. (I will not make air-head jokes. I will not.)

takhini-hot-springs-hair-freezing-contest-8The cold air then freezes the water and the hair. The contestants can mold their hair into shape or let it freeze freely. (Story via Buzzfeed.)

enhanced-8211-1425575578-10There is something funny and wonderful about this contest. It’s not just the color, but it must feel cold on your head while your body is warm.

Kilian Schönberger is a German photographer who has toured Central Europe looking to find locations that illustrate the otherworldly imagery of the stories collected by the Johann and Wilhelm Grimm.

central-european-landscapes-inspired-by-grimms-fairy-tales-by-kilian-schongerger-4You can see more of the photographs on Behance (part 1) and (part 2).

central-european-landscapes-inspired-by-grimms-fairy-tales-by-kilian-schongerger-10On Behance, he says, ” I think there is a deep longing for tranquil naturalness among people in our techonology-driven environment. Therefore I don’t want to show just potrayals of natural scenes – I want to create visually accessible places where the visitor can virtually put his mind at rest and make up his own stories. Possibly this is the real benefit of my work: Resting places for the eyes in an visually overstimulated world.”

Tobbe Malm is a sculptor from Sweden. He found a bunch of old bolts in a barn in Bergsladen Sweden, and decided to use the bolts in sculpture.

tobbe-malm-transforms-steel-bolts-into-evocative-sculptures-1The forms are touchingly human and the sculptures speak to the human condition.

tobbe-malm-transforms-steel-bolts-into-evocative-sculptures-3Via Twisted Sifter, Malm says, “The bolts reminded me of human forms, and I felt they had something to tell. I heated them, forged, bent and twisted. I tried to create relations, meetings and situations and suddenly stories emerged about sorrow, joy, pain, warmth and humour. A kind of poetry was created, hence the title.”

Have a creative weekend!

-Quinn McDonald is encouraged by original art. She is also delighted that today at 9:26 a.m. and p.m. it will be the perfect Pi day: 3.1415926

 

 

 

Seeing is Believing

In another part of my life, I’m a training developer. I create programs that teach business people how to write documents, presentations, even emails. Of all the topics I get asked to teach, the one I never would have guessed is at the top of the

A diagrammed sentence.

A diagrammed sentence.

list: grammar. Grammar is rarely taught in elementary or middle school anymore, so tomorrow’s leaders have to learn syntax and grammar quickly. And that’s what I do–invent creative ways to make grammar interesting.

When I call the Inner Hero book “my second book,” it’s with a touch of irony. In the last year, I’ve written half a dozen workbooks on technical writing, grammar, email communication and creative problem solving. But they aren’t sold in bookstores, so I rarely mention them.

Last week a client said something that made a lot of sense to me. “We offer a lot of classes, and we want people to take grammar, but they have to see the value in it. And grammar sounds boring.” Yes, yes, it does. She said, wistfully, “I wish you could do a cartoon instead of the outline of what’s in the class.” What a great idea my client had! So I sat down with the “boring” outline and made it visual.

begr_visualWe are visual people, and looking at something colorful and interesting makes grammar less threatening. Looking at a busy, colorful “map” of the course is a better way to sell it than an outline.

When I was done, I did one for Business Writing, too. I hope it helps the visual people see the benefit of the class. It doesn’t show everything we do in class, but it shows enough to pique interest.

biz_writing_visualUsing visual creative tools to explain everyday topics shows the utility in a new, fresh, appealing way. The client knows her audience. And now I have a new tool in my training tool box, too.

–Quinn McDonald loves mixing different skills to solve old problems.

 

 

Book Review and Giveaway: Journalution

Cover

Cover

Sandy Grason wrote Journalution in 2005, and it still stands as one of the best books on deep-writing journaling. She writes in an easy-to-understand way, and combines the wisdom of Julia Cameron with the emotional nurturing of Shakti Gawain. (One of my favorite lessons from Gawain is, “to feel more love, you have to let go of more anger.”)

Grason handles journaling in a simple, direct way. If you have been swamped by the responsibility of art journaling, if you are tired of trying to think of something to journal about, if a sketchbook journal disappoints you because you can’t draw, you will enjoy this book.

The subtitle of the book says it all: “Journaling to Awaken Your Inner Voice, Heal Your Life, and Manifest Your Dreams.” That’s a lot of journaling, but it’s packed into 200 pages that you can dip into, study, or read from front to back.

Table of Contents, page 1.

Table of Contents, page 1. Click to enlarge the image.

If you haven’t been deep-writing journaling, start now. Grason helps you getstarted and answers some simple-sounding but meaningful questions like “Where do I start?” and “Why do I need to journal?”  The answer to that is in a quote from the introduction:

“You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” –Margaret Young

Grason gives you tips on writing when you don’t feel like it, figuring out what’s important to you, getting to your truth, and facing a blank page. There are tips for keeping track of your hopes, dreams and visions. There is an index to find all the exercises, from playing small to living large and how to set intentions and remain detached from the outcome.

The book is gently used, and from my book shelf. It’s time for it to bring ideas, clarity, and inspiration to someone else.

Table of Contents, page 2.

Table of Contents, page 2. Click to enlarge the image.

Quote from the book: “Inside, we are all just little children trying to heal, trying to do the best we can in this world. Many times it doesn’t look like that to others, though. Often, the child inside is angry and resentful; it may even want to hurt others.”

Giveaway: Leave a comment telling me why you want the book, and you’ll be in the drawing. There is just one book. The drawing is random, so you don’t have to be brilliant. International entries are welcome. I’ll announce the winner this coming Saturday, March 14, so stop back and check in!

Quinn McDonald is making room on her shelf for more books.

 

Punctuation and Assumptions

You’ve seen the meme on Facebook: “If you are over 50, you probably still use punctuation in texts.” There are various version of this poster, most of them showing women in hoop skirts.  The idea is right there: be an old geezer and stick to punctuation or a cool young thing and skip it.

From grammarly.com

From grammarly.com

I was amazed. Peer pressure to stop using punctuation. So you can be younger. Use fewer commas and your wrinkles will disappear.

As a life-experienced person (see how I did that? Avoided an ageist comment while sounding wise), I know that reasoning has a big fallacy. One assumption is not logically connected to another. You might as well say that young people only text when the moon is full. One part is not connected to another.

My classes are filled with people who know that punctuation isn’t about the writer, it’s about the reader.

Here’s an example:  “I enjoy cooking my family and pets.” Doesn’t sound like someone you want to know, does it? Add two commas and you get “I enjoy cooking, my family, and pets.” Different person? No, different punctuation.

comic_grammar

Punctuation isn’t about the writer, punctuation is about helping the reader understand what you mean. If you don’t make it clear, if you leave doubt, people will not know what you really mean. They’ll guess. They’ll make it up. And it won’t always be pretty. Or accurate.

You don’t have to waste energy dancing around other people’s assumptions. If you use punctuation, your writing will be clear without excessive explanation.

There is a corollary to life here. We waste a lot of energy in life dancing around other people’s assumptions. When people talk to me on the phone, they often assume I’m a man, because I have a gender-neutral name and an alto voice. When they see me, there is an awkward moment, which I simply ignore and move into the business at hand. I do not have to dance around with their assumption.

Many people hear my name as “Gwen,” which makes sense, as it’s a more common name than Quinn. If I hear it, I politely correct the mistake, so the other person won’t feel awkward and I’ll get my name said right. I used to dance around the issue, trying to say my name several times, or apologizing for it. Not necessary. I don’t have to make their assumptions mine. I don’t have to apologize for something that is a hearing error.

I like to dance, but not around other people’s assumptions. And I’ll keep my wrinkles and punctuation, too. I earned them.

 

Questioning Your Motives

When I was first married, I had to learn my husband’s family’s Christmas customs. There was a lot of gift buying, and because we didn’t live close, a lot of gift shipping.

As December flipped onto the calendar, I began to panic. My husband hadn’t purchased gifts for his family yet. We had decided it was his job to do that. He enjoyed it. Because Christmas starts in August, by early December I was in high panic. My husband has a different view of time than I do, and he wasn’t concerned.

From history.org

From history.org

Finally, in week three of December, he said he was finished shopping. I took a day off work, and, unasked, spent the entire day furiously wrapping, labeling and packing boxes for his family members. I then loaded the car and stood in line at UPS for hours waiting to ship his packages. My credit card took a serious hit on rush charges. I came home feeling virtuous. He owed me now. He would look at me as the hero I was and heap praises on my head. I could taste my victory and it was sweet.

I strode into the house, filled with more that a touch of vindication. “Your packages went to your family today, and they will make it in time for Christmas,” I said, pausing for praise. When it didn’t come, I prompted, “I used a vacation day to get them all out.” When I looked at him, I saw. . . hidden anger.

Available as a poster from http://www.topatoco.com

Available as a poster from http://www.topatoco.com

“What’s wrong? I took a whole day off to do this for you! I stood in line and put a lot of rush shipping on my credit card!” He looked at me and said simply, “I didn’t ask you to do that. I had planned to take tomorrow off to do it. I like doing it. You don’t. But mostly, you did something you hated so I’d appreciate it. And instead, you deprived me of the joy of listening to Christmas music and wrapping presents while you were at work.” I was furious. How could he be so selfish?  I had taken a day off and done a whole day of furious work for him, and I did not get one word of appreciation.

With time, I realized my totally inappropriate level of control and, well, wrong thinking. My husband was right.  Wrapping and shipping the presents was not my work to do. I took it on without asking. I did the work not because I enjoyed it, or even because I wanted to do it. I did the work to be appreciated. Instead of focusing on holiday joy, I focused on what I didn’t have: time, appreciation, enjoyment.

And the trouble with focusing on “What don’t I have?” is that the answer is always “I don’t have enough.” Always a sad realization.

In the years that followed, I learned to do things for others because someone asked me to help, or because I wanted to. Occasionally, I did things because they needed doing and no one else was available. But I no longer do things to be appreciated. It’s a losing proposition, every time.

—Quinn McDonald appreciates giving help and asking for help, which allows others to feel generous. She does the work that is hers to do.