The Universe Says “No” Sometimes

The dream first. I was standing in a tall building, looking out over the mountains in Phoenix. A voice behind me said, “This is a higher calling.” I looked around, and I was standing in a room of packing boxes. A poetry book was on a box next to me. I’d probably been reading it.

The next morning, I wrote down the dream, and indulged in an ancient kabbalistic meditation on the creative spirit. Then, to work. And hard work it is, writing my new website. I’m on the third draft, and the webmaster is trying hard to stay polite and the account executive is probably going home to stick pins an a voodoo doll of me. I don’t blame her. But I won’t put up a website that isn’t well done. So. It’s hard work.

The phone rings and on the other end is a poet whose books I’ve read and whose writing and teaching I admire. A wonderful conversation later, I discover he teaches a course that sounds as if it were designed for me. Two years and I’d have a certification in healing through poetry. I want to do that. It sounds perfect. It matches the dream!

I check into the price, and it is more than I can afford. Way more. Of course, the price is worth it, that’s not the point. But both of our cars are more than 12 years old, one of them has more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. The family room needs a new floor. The carpet, even when clean, looks like a plowed field waiting to be seeded.

Sometimes the dream is not a sign.

Sometimes the dream is not a sign.

It seemed like a good time to turn over the problem to the Operating System of the Universe. I went back to work. OK, I may have mentioned it whined a little on Facebook. I should have kept my fingers concentrating on the website.

The emails began to trickle in: “Jump and trust. The money will show up as you fly.” “The universe will provide you the money. Sign up!” “This is an investment in the future, just do it.” “The dream was a sign! Go now and the money will come.” “Write a love letter to money!” Oh. I’m not big on blind trust. I noodle some numbers, and nope, it’s just not feasible right now. That happens, too. Even in an enlightened universe. Sometimes the Universe says, “No,” even if you have a dream.

1354416871_4777_tantrumThe next step was also interesting. “You didn’t try hard enough.” “You didn’t trust enough.” “Maybe you didn’t deserve it after all.” “You are playing small.” “Write another love letter to money.” Wow, so if the universe doesn’t deliver, suddenly it’s my fault. What happened to blind trust?

I have a few days left. Maybe the Universe will write me a check. But if it doesn’t, I’ll have to be disappointed. There is nothing wrong with disappointment. It does not reflect on my character, my will or my ability to manifest. It simply means that something I wanted it out of my financial reach. That happens. Even to deserving people.

Tomorrow there will be more webwriting, but mostly workbook writing. Sometimes the Universe helps you by letting you deal with loss and then move on.

Quinn McDonald trusts in the Universe, even when the answer is “No.”

Unlikely Persistence

Sometimes stubborn is persistence, sometimes it’s annoying, and sometimes it’s just baffling.

We had an early Spring here in Phoenix, and we are now roasting, way too early. We’ve had three days of record-setting weather. A high of 97ºF is too hot for March.

Road2We had a bit of rain, and grass began to sprout in cracks in the street. Big, wide, black-tarred street, tiny crack filled with green grass. They will last until lack of rain and heat kill them.

Road1

Grass is opportunistic, it will start up anywhere. Maybe it lasts, maybe not. But it is worth a shot. What’s truly amazing is that after it browns, if it rains, it turns green again. A mystery.

Quinn McDonald loves the mystery of grass.

Compassion v. Boundaries

We all want to be compassionate. Unless, of course, the other person doesn’t deserve compassion. Oh, wait, isn’t that exactly when we are supposed to be even more compassionate? But what if the other person is a jerk? What if compassion isn’t working?

images

Boundaries can be beautiful and useful; you have to plan them that way.

That’s what boundaries are for. Boundaries are limits we set for ourselves and other people. It is completely unrealistic to think that you have unlimited compassion, patience, and ability to shift to please other people, even if they are family or friends.

Sometimes, people’s bad behavior, demands, or blame-game is theirs to own. Your job is not to fix, educate, or change them. Your job is to set a clear boundary and enforce it.

Boundaries are not a judgment of others. It is calling them to a higher level of discipline. If they can’t make it, or don’t want to, that’s fine. That’s why boundaries work so well. You can walk away cleanly from abusers. When they try to blame you, you point to the clear boundary.

When you set a boundary, make sure you can live with it.  Not enforcing

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it's up to you.

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it’s up to you.

the boundary is equal to not having a boundary and putting a doormat on your chest and saying, “please walk over me.”

Be clear about the boundary and enforcing it. No fair saying, “if you forget to put gas in the car one more time, I’m leaving you,” and then not leaving. Don’t create a threat you won’t carry through. Boundaries are not threats, they are reasonable lines that show the level of your discipline and self-care.

Saying “No” is your responsibility. When you set a boundary, you can expect your family and friends to think it doesn’t apply to them. When it does, learn to say “No” and mean it.

Steer clear of “If you loved me, you would. . . ” Don’t say it, don’t fall for it. It’s manipulative and untrue. People you love will disappoint you and you will still love them. That’s how you know you are compassionate. People who try to get around your boundaries will use it to push your people-pleasing button. Don’t fall for it. If you do, it will be the first in a long string of manipulative “if you love me. . .” demands. Be firm. “I love you, but . . no, I will not do this.” If their love is defined by how much you do for them that is against your values, you are learning about their definition of love. And it’s not yours.

Boundaries are healthy for your own well-being and help those around you be clear about what they can expect from you. Think them through and set them. Then enforce them. That is true compassion.

—Quinn McDonald is still learning the difference between “No” and wanting others to approve of her.

The Joy of a Trashy Novel

imagesPeople who work on airplanes are admirable. I watch them take out their laptops, open documents and work as if their lives depended on it. Maybe they do. Then there are the game players who hold their iPads like steering wheels and race through narrow lanes on their screens. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the people who are watching a movie on their iPhone. Seriously, I would not want to watch a movie that expanded across a big screen shrink down to the size of my phone. I’d keep wondering, “Which one is that? Was he the driving the getaway motorcycle or was he the guy who crashed through the window in France?”

On airplanes, I bring a book. The kind you don’t have to put away until you are at 10,000 feet. The kind the flight attendant doesn’t ask you to turn off until the Captain tells you it’s OK to read. The kind that makes you look like a matronly grammar teacher on her way to teach a class and . . . let’s leave her alone.

These airplane-reading books are a slice of heaven. I keep my eyes glued to the pages tPile-of-Bookshrough turbulence. Ignore the man in the next seat whose head is on my shoulder and he’s drooling. Ignore the squalling toddler who is kicking my seat.

For I have the trashy novel and am loving it. I pick them carefully. They have to be well-written and the plot has to capture my attention. I’m willing to suspend a lot of disbelief if the main character is flawed in a believable way and has to struggle to solve his problems.

When I say “trashy,” I don’t mean bodice-busters or Fifty Shades of Gray. I have standards. There are genres I don’t like (but not many).  Give me a good mystery with an interesting protagonist, and I’ll have to be pried off the plane like a dried-on diaper from a baby that’s been asleep since we passed over Cleveland.

pile-of-books-1During the work week I often read non-fiction books on writing, coaching, critical thinking. Art books and magazines for fun. But I do have a weakness for novels, and audiobooks have made many a car trip not just fun but deeply satisfying. Airplane books fall into that category. Yes, I’ve read Middlemarch and Moby Dick, Light in August and The Gulag Archipelago, but I don’t read classics on an airplane. I read books that hook my interest and my imagination. Some of them may even be literature. But all of them hold my attention.

My latest airplane novels:

Inferno by Dan Brown. More of the same, but if you love Italy or are a folklorist, there is a wealth of interesting information buried in the so-so plot.

A book of short stories by Neil Gaiman. That led me to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane and then onto American Gods and The Ananzi Boys. Not trashy, incredible. Some of the best story-telling I’ve read.See where a book of short stories can lead?

Several by Jodi Picoult. She writes page-turners with interesting characters and interesting plots.

Peter Robinson writes about an English detective, Inspector Banks, who is flawed and troubled and a very stubborn and a good detective. The books are always interesting because they weave the personal life of the characters into the crime plot.

J.A. Jance now lives in Seattle, but she’s from Tucson. She wrote a series that takes place in Tucson (Joanna Brady and another set featuring Diana Ladd Walker and Brandon Walker)  another in Seattle (J.P. Beaumont),  a few where the detectives from each town meet. Then there are some about a woman newsreader who gets bounced from TV because her face is starting to look old (Ali Reynolds). J.A. Jance is prolific and a kind and generous woman who once comforted me with a funny story that made a clever blog. And she writes page turners. If I finish one on a plane, I put a note in it recommending it and leave it in the airplane. Someone will be delighted.

You don’t have to get on an airplane to read an interesting novel you like. Good writers almost always are also voracious readers–of anything. Enjoy an old-fashioned book. You won’t be disappointed.

-Quinn McDonald reads books in bed. Her iPad hurts too much when it drops on her face as she falls asleep.

 

Saguaro: Home in the Desert

cactus1Saguaro cacti (Sa-WAR-oh) provide food and homes for a large number of desert animals. You wouldn’t think so–the cactus has big thorns, are tall (40-60 feet), and live for 150 years. Doesn’t sound like a friendly place to set up housekeeping.

Saguaros attract Gila Woodpeckers. With their tough beaks, they drill holes in the low- to middle areas of the cactus, between the ribs.  You can see one in the center of the cactus in the photo on the right.

A saguaro is not hollow. It’s made up of tough, long ribs and woody structure. This is what a cross section of a dead saguaro looks like:

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

A bird has to be pretty persistent to drill through the outer skin into the cactus. When the bird breaks through and hollows out a space big enough for a nest, the bird abandons the cactus. The cactus protects itself by secreting a material that hardens into a waterproof lining for next year’s nest.

Hand holding a saguaro boot.  © Take a Hike, Arizona.

Hand holding a saguaro boot. © Take a Hike, Arizona.

The lining is called a boot, and the Native American tribes used the boots to carry water and to use as waterproof shoes. The next year, when the boot is firm, Gila Woodpeckers will build a nest. After the woodpeckers abandon the nest, elf owls, screech owls, purple martins and starlings will take turns. There is a strict pecking order (yeah, I said that) of birds.

cactus3Higher up the saguaro, the Gilded Woodpecker can drill through the harder ribs. They build nests underneath the arms of a saguaro, which protects the entrance to the nest. It can also provide important shade in a landscape that rarely has overcast days.

In late April the saguaro sets flower buds. Bats, moths, and small birds pollinate the flowers.

Once the fruit forms–at the top of the arms of the cactus–it provides necessary liquid and food for birds, and the chunks that are spilled and drop provide food and liquid for rabbits, desert squirrels and rats.

A saguaro grows slowly. A 10-year old plant may be only a few inches tall. While they are still small, the cactus is food for bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Those that survive to the 30-foot mark or higher and develop arms (at around 75 years of age) provide the support for the large platform nests of Red-Tail and Harris Hawks. Once the nests are built, Great Horned owls and other large hawks might battle for the nest. Harris Hawks are team-hunters and they get the first call on the nest. Take on a Harris Hawk, and you have the whole family to deal with.

Saguaros are fascinating and do a lot more than stand around and look tall.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and writer who lives in the Sonoran Desert.

 

Kickstart Your Journal

Yesterday, my friend Marit said she was “waving from her journal page to mine,” and I thought, “what a great idea!” Need something to focus on? Need a jumpstart on writing?

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King's County (Washington)

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King’s County (Washington)

This is more than a journal prompt. It’s not a word to write about, it’s a whole technique. And it’s powerful. Let’s get started:

1. Warm up by focusing on your emotions: Right now, I feel [fill in the blank.] One word may be all you need.

2. The reason I feel [blank] in 20 words: [describe how you reached this emotion.]

3. Almost always, someone else is involved in this story about your emotion. Whether you are happy, anxious, excited, or skeptical, most of our emotions are connected to other people, often for reasons we don’t understand.

4. Use the next page to write a dialog between you and the other person. Writing dialog means you will make things up. That’s fine. You want to figure out a reason for the emotion and what your role is and what the other person’s role is. By putting words in someone else’s mouth (and you know you are doing this), you are resolving old issues, exploring new ways to happiness, or clarifying ideas.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. A friend has asked me to help her in a way that I feel uncomfortable with. I want to help my friend, but I want to hold onto my values.

Q: I’m not sure I can do this, Friend.

F: But it will help John and it will be a big favor to me, too.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

Q: I think speaking up at the Writers’ Club and supporting John as another member isn’t a good idea. The club rules say you have to be a published writer, and John isn’t.

F: It’s not about you, Quinn, it’s about getting John into a place where he can find business. And the club is great for that. You’ve gotten business that way. John is a good guy.

Q: I have gotten business from the club. But I was a published writer when I joined. And John isn’t.

F: He writes his own blog, and that’s publishing. You are just afraid he’s a better writer than you.

Q: A blog is not publishing. And I want what’s best for John. But getting him into the club is not in his best interest.

F: What’s wrong with you that you won’t help this friend? Haven’t you needed a hand before?

Q: I’ll be happy to help John in some way that helps John. Being dishonest doesn’t help anyone. Least of all John, if he gets a job he can’t handle.

. . . .the dialog can go on as long as you need it to. In this example, I see my own stubborn character, but also my clarity in not being dishonest. Yes, it’s a small thing, but I can see that if I vouch for John, and he doesn’t do well, the lie I told will be the reason John got in over his head. What I am understanding from this dialog is that my need for approval is pretty big, not not big enough to lie for someone.

Is this the dialog the way it really happened? No, but by making up the other half, I’m giving myself the opportunity to dig into my own emotions in ways that help me see my own motives clearly.

The dialog exercise is a good way to find out more about yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is an explorer in her journal

Journaling as Building Block

I’m working on the journaling process again. I’m focusing on writing and Commonplace Journaling for right now. I got a 5 x 8-inch journal in which I can’t draw (paper is too thin) so I would write more. I’m fond of doing mind maps, and I’m doing a lot of them, too. Why writing instead of art journaling? Right now, I have a lot of ideas to clear, a lot of inner critic arguing to do, and that (for me), is done by journaling.

Yes, I’m still working on my art. The latest piece is also about writing, though!

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

Book of letters. © Quinn McDonald 2015

The collage uses an older idea I had, but the letters around the book actually are words that relate to writing. I often sit in front of a blank journal while my mind writes and my hands don’t. That’s what gave me the idea.

To make myself focus and write, I create a list of problems, worries, and ideas at night, right before bed.  (That goes in the journal, too). The next morning, I choose an item from the list and set the timer for three minutes. When the timer rings, I finish the sentence and shut the book. No re-reading. That comes later.

mindmapOn the left is a mind-map from Journaling from the Inside Out by Susan Borkin. I use mind maps to capture pieces of a big idea when I don’t know the connection yet.

The mind-map helps me grab all the pieces of the brain dump. Sorting them comes later. I’ve found that mind maps are still maps, another one of my favorite concepts.

When I’ve got a book filled, I can go back and distill ideas and save them. The books have cardboard covers and have about 50 pages. They aren’t attractive, but they allow me to be messy and not try to design a page. Sometimes, quantity is as important as quality.

It doesn’t matter how you tackle journaling, it always helps. It always heals. As long as you keep writing, your life will begin to make sense.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journals. In many different ways and styles.