Asking for What You Need

We all need basics: air, water, food, friends. Once we acquire those, we have to start asking for what we need. Our friends are not mind-readers, no matter how much we wish they were. They may offer help,  but it’s up to us to ask for the kind of help we need. We aren’t very good with that.

“You’ve known me for 10 years! How can you think I’d do that?” or “Why didn’t it occur to you that I needed a babysitter?” Each of us has enough on our plates. And yes, you have to risk being told “no.” Asking for what we need is half of the solution. Handling “no” is the other half. It’s not easy being a friend and an adult at the same time.

This cactus cannot ask for what it needs. It needs water. It’s growing by a canal–all the water it could ever need is no more than 15 feet from its roots. But it can’t move and it can’t ask, and the canal is a concrete channel, so the water won’t leak over to it. Like most cacti, this one is hardy. It hasn’t rained significantly in three months. There are limits to hardy, too. Nature is not always soft and gentle. The cactus may well die, the soft parts dry, leaving a beautiful skeleton.

Note: these photos and brief essays are a prompt to help you think about the changes you might want to make in your life. I photograph the Invisible, Visible World to help us all become aware of what is around us. To think deeply about what we care about.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people in emotional and psychological pain. She also helps people finish that book, painting, music, or dance. Or get started. But you have to ask for what you need!

 

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Growing Into a Goddess

From my morning walk: Plant growing on a third-floor balcony. Wait, it’s a goddess who is both grounded and growing!

Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist who walks around Phoenix for exercise. That’s where she discovered the Invisible Visible World. She is also a creativity coach, and, in another place, a training developer and writing teacher.

More Than a White Sheet of Paper

On this morning’s walk, I saw a van whose back windows had been papered over. Maybe for privacy, maybe because on April 6, it’s already hot in Phoenix. One side was new and fresh–white paint (to match the van) painted over heavy paper.

The other side? Well, it had been around for a while. Been in the sun. The paint was peeling from the paper. But it was the far more interesting piece.

Sometimes wear and tear adds great interest. There is a Japanese esthetic called wabi sabi that places high value in the worn, the old, the damaged. I’m a fan of wabi sabi.

In people, wear and tear adds valuable experience. That texture is symbolic of having been folded and torn and changed and survived. Not a bad thing. Gives me courage to keep on going.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people see their lives in new ways. Ways that allow for change and growth and acceptance.

The Sparkle Tree

It’s Spring in Phoenix, a tiny slice of time wedged between bare-tree winter and sweat-soaked summer. It’s a wonderful time, a time to savor, to hear bird’s singing day and night, to see huge flowers on trees, to walk in the early morning and feel a cool, refreshing breeze walking with you.

I turned the corner on my morning walk (you may want to read this first) and saw a bare tree. The bark was smooth and dark, and mixed in with leafing and blooming trees, it looked like a sketch on a blank sheet of paper.

Hanging from the branches were lead-crystal beads and pendants. I recognized them as pieces from an old chandelier. The graceful pieces sparkled in the sun, sending shards of light into the air and across the sidewalk. It was other-worldly. Beautiful.

Because I look for symbols to inspire me when I walk, I saw more than an eccentric decoration on a tree in a stranger’s front lawn. I saw the care someone had taken to string the beads and pendants together. I recognized the need to add something to a bare tree to make it winter-beautiful. It was wonderful to feel another person’s need for beauty, for their boldness of hanging up chandelier parts in their front yard, knowing their neighbors might find it strange, or “different,” or “weird.” Instead, the chandelier came to life in a tree, flashing messages of light across a quiet neighborhood. It was, for a second, magic.

And I got to see it. I could have walked on another street, but I hadn’t. I could have been staring straight ahead, but I wasn’t. I got to experience this surprise light show and appreciate it.

I don’t assign meaning immediately to these incidents. I do write down how it made me feel, and what details I remember in a journal. I let the connections happen on their own. Maybe later in the day I will experience a bright idea that is eccentric, or one I am not sure to follow. Then I’ll make the connection.

Meanwhile, I have another symbol to hold on to, in the world of kairomancy. (See the link above for more about the word.)

-Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist and kairomancer who walks five miles a day through areas of Phoenix, where she lives. She is also a writer and a creativity coach who helps people find meaning in their lives.

The Pigeon and the Peregrine

Phoenix has peregrine falcons. They have adapted, using our high-rises as aeries and our pigeons as food. There is no shortage of pigeons in Phoenix.

Peregrine falcon, audubon website free download.

Peregrines are compact and fast. A stooping (diving for attack) peregrine can reach speeds of 200 mph. Females are considerably larger than males.

Yesterday, I was driving from one place to another, stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light rail to pass. There was a blur above me and I saw a pigeon working hard and above it, a stooping peregrine. The pigeon didn’t stand a chance, I thought.

But the pigeon was not ready to be dinner. He flew directly in front of the light rail. I flinched, certain he was crushed. Then my eyes jerked up to watch the peregrine. He had vanished. Had he hit the light rail? Nope. The pigeon was safe in a nearby palo verde tree. The peregrine pulled up in a move that must have filled his imaginary Pilates teacher with core pride, and flew along the light rail, and then up toward a tall building. Both birds were safe. Both had survived another day in the city without being killed by the Machine in the Garden.

The car behind me honked. The light was green. I moved on, part of the machine in the city garden.

Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist, a writer and creativity coach who helps people heal from trauma through writing.

 

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.

Neocolor II Backgrounds

Simple book. Monsoon Paper cover, neocolor II surface decoration on the inside pages. © Quinn McDonald 2017.

For years, I made books in acceptable ways. Cut the paper, fold it, carefully stitch it into the cover. There you are–a nice blank book. But I didn’t like blank books. And I wasn’t into slathering paint or color onto a page and then coming back and writing on it. But it was the “right” way to create a book.

So I stopped making books. In fact, I stopped doing any kind of art. It stopped being fun.

Recently, I’ve decided to just experiment. Play. I want to make a book that has poems in it that I like. Something to take with me on a trip to read if I wake up at 3 a.m. (You can read more about my dreaming the lives of others here.) Something that isn’t for anyone else, something that is easy to tuck in a carry on.  The cover paper (above) was a piece of Monsoon Paper. (A surface decoration technique I created about 10 years ago.)

What if I completed all the pages first, then chose the ones I liked best and bound those into a  book? No pages I didn’t like, none that didn’t work out. Much more freedom.

My first step was to create a background in the book, something with color. I decided to use neocolor II crayons, because acrylic paint, which is plastic, is hard to write on without special tools. I wanted something that didn’t stiffen the paper.

First, I scribbled some Neocolor II onto a vinyl file folder. It has a slight texture and is waterproof.

Next, I sprayed the surface of the folder with distilled water. (The water in Arizona contains a lot of minerals, and I didn’t want them to discolor the paper.)

Using Arches Text Wove (also called Arches Velin), a 100-percent cotton paper, I pressed it onto the wet surface. Without moving the paper, I rubbed the facing-up side with my hands. Then I slowly peeled the paper off the folder. The wetter areas blended, the dryer ones were more textural.

I printed another page with a slightly less spray, so it was dryer than the first. You can see the texture in parts of this page. I also dipped a brush in the yellow section and dragged it across the page.

Putting aside the wet sheets, I went for one more really dry print. The colors are all pale enough to write over, particularly if I choose to write in the places with less color. The first result was a bit granular, so I sprayed the paper directly with a bit more water.

The experimental pages are fun, don’t come with a big burden of perfection, and are pure self-expression, rather than bound by rules. If the book turns out, I’ll show you the completed project!

Quinn McDonald is an everyday creative who writes, creates collage, and is a certified creativity coach.