Tag Archives: creativity coach

Drama: The Soul Eater

“But it was so wrong,” my client said angrily. And it had been. The next step was going to determine how much drama was going to enter her life and change it. There is a natural urge in some people to fix whatever they find in front of them. Not just lend a hand, but insert themselves into situations that are not their making and try to take them over. This is the flashpoint of drama.

letter to dramaDrama may seem like fun, a break in your routine, a chance to get involved in some juicy problems and watch other people struggle. A larger and larger number of women enjoy drama. If they don’t find it, they create it.  That’s a dangerous game.

Drama is a time-waster and a soul-eater, often creating more trouble than the original problem. Drama requires three players:

The victim, who can focus only on what is missing in life, what she does not have, and what she does not want. She wants to remain the victim, so solving a problem may not be what she wants to achieve.

The Fixer is the person who is attracted to every victim like a magnet. The Fixer wants to rescue or save the victim, and the more effort it takes, the better the fixer feels about herself. She wants to appear selfless, strong, and a problem solver. Unfortunately, that means looking at life from a negative point of view, to show sympathy and alliance with the victim. Fixers are people-pleasers or martyrs, giving up a positive view to dwell in the negative. Of course, where you look is where you go, so the “solutions” the Fixer brings are often revenge- or fear-based. That never has long legs.

drama adviceThe Villain is far more like the Victim than we want to think. They have a huge need to be right, to gain control over every situation, and are particularly bad at seeing anyone else’s point of view. Villains were often victims who brought themselves out of victim-hood by controlling everything in sight.

What makes this situation dangerous is the similarity to every fairytale in our cultural span. The Villain must be defeated, the Victim saved, and the Fixer (or hero) admired. The flaw in the fairy tale is that life is not that simple. And worse, in most fairy tales the victim is thought of as helpless or weak until she is rescued by a man. Sleeping Beauty had to be kissed by a prince to be saved, Rapunzel had to have her prince climb up her hair to free her (although then they were both in the tower with all that hair). You get the point.

What makes drama a bad idea for relationships, work, and friendships? Drama is based on the idea that the victim is in crisis and helpless. Instead of stepping in as the Fixer and immediately looking for a Villain in every situation, allow the Victim to be resourceful, creative and whole. Many Victims use their Victimhood as a test to find people who will always prove themselves as friends. For a Victim, friends are always there to be manipulated.

Victims control their negative life by not letting go of their bad luck, hardships, or problems. Any Fixer in close proximity gets sucked in. Victims like being surrounded by Fixers. Fixers, on the other hand, do not like confrontation or other Fixers. Often Fixers will try to be the only person the Victim can trust. If you think that sounds controlling, it is. Remember, many Fixers started as Victims, progressed to being Villains and now want to be Fixers–controllers and the ones who hold the only solution. The price is a lot more than a kiss or climbing up a hair ladder.  It’s a no-win situation, a traffic circle of grief.

Ways to break away from drama:

1. Don’t give advice unless you are specifically asked for it. Don’t fish around by saying, “do you want advice?” because a victim will always want you to supply an answer. That way, when it doesn’t work (and it never will), it will be your fault. You told her what to do, she did (in her own way) and now it’s your fault that her life, once more, is a mess.

2. Allow your friends, family and co-workers to be creative in choosing a solution that works for them. Creativity is the key. Creativity is the ability to see positive solutions and put together a plan to create them. This requires a lot of patience and some professional training.

3. Walk away from drama. It’s much easier to walk away before you get sucked into the traffic circle of escalating drama.

4. Suggest a coach or therapist. They are different answers, but coaches and therapists are trained to deal with drama without getting involved in the problem. Therapists look to the past to find old habits and solve them. Coaches look to the future and help clients build their own solutions while teaching them to use new tools.

–Quinn McDonald is a coach who knows a lot about drama. Trapped in the Victim-Hero-Villain circle herself for years, she is now writing a book on freeing yourself from the trap.


Life Tetris

My first computer game was Tetris. My first computer-game skill was to find the sound button and turn it off. I’m not good at spacial relationships, and I was very bad at Tetris. Eventually I outgrew it.

tetris1If you have never played Tetris, it is a game in which differently-shaped two-dimensional objects drop down a screen, and you have to fit them together to complete full rows of squares.

Last week, I put it back on my iPad. The paid version. Because I kept thinking I needed it. As I gain skill, no, umm,  practice, waste time with this game, I am getting better. Much faster. What happened?

Two things. In the version I have, you can slow down the time it takes for the tiles to drop. I got familiar with both the shape itself and the negative space that it fills.

The second thing was learning patience. You have to fill in the row completely with whatever shape you get. The more holes you think you’ll get to later, the faster you lose.

I’m now up to a much faster speed, and working quickly.

So why in the world am I going on and on about Tetris? Because I suddenly saw Tetris_screen006the metaphor in the game:

1. To get better at anything, you need to practice. A lot. Even if people tell you it’s a waste of time.

2. Another word for “practice” is “shaping a habit.” And good habits are good to form. Good habits make life easier.

3. Start slowly–so slowly you feel like an idiot. You learn a lot from going slowly. You have time to observe and learn. You can speed up when you have the hang of the big picture.

4. Be ready to jettison your assumptions. That’s really hard. But when we look at the world expecting certain things, we generally find them. When we approach the world with an open mind, allowing the experience to form new ideas, we begin to see opportunities that we did not see before. Example: There are two Tetris pieces that are mirror images of each other. This confuses me. Every time. I keep putting them in the wrong-shaped space and then

  • noticing it doesn’t fit
  • then panicking
  • then not paying attention
  • then losing the game.

To fix this, I decided to try a new way of seeing the board–not by shape, but by color. At first it was confusing, then it got a lot easier. Had I simply berated myself for not being good at spacial relationships, I would have stayed stuck. By working with color, something I understand better, I advanced my skill.

Yes, computer games are time-wasters. But they also have some great metaphors buried in them. And you know how much I love a good metaphor.

—Quinn McDonald is thinking about Tetris synethesia and smiling.

Check That Progress

To-do lists are my saving grace. I love them. I keep them, work them, check them off and grin. Occasionally, I am guilty of putting things on my to-do list that I have already done, just so I can check it off and feel like I’ve started doing something.

strugglequoteThe trouble with that, of course, is you are never satisfied, always living in the next step, and striving ahead without a break. It’s exhausting. And I still love them.

Which is why I started a to-don’t list, often before I travel, so give myself permission to put some work on hold so I can actually live in the present and do the work at hand–traveling.

Now I’ve come up with something almost as fun as a to-do list: a “it’s done” list. Research shows that a real boost to meaningful work is keeping track of progress. What went right. What you did that was smart. What worked well. Most of us don’t do that. If things work out, we just keep going. There’s no learning in that.

True, I learn a lot by making mistakes. The reason? When things go right, I just workInProgress-150x150breeze ahead. When I stumble and fall, I have to figure out what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to notice it early enough next time not to do it again.

Imagine if you did that for getting it right. Progress is an important step in meaning-making. Knowing you have made progress and admitting it, even taking satisfaction in it, is another thing entirely. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to keep track of what went right. Your good decisions. Your progress. See if more of them don’t start showing up.

—Quinn McDonald is moving forward on several projects.



Take the Fresh One

It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was hungry. That horrible mid-afternoon munchy that makes you think you are starving. 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.

pepperAs I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowing exhaling its crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.

Automatically, I reach for it. Training from long ago. We were not allowed to eat the fresh, new fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. Waste, of course, was an epic transgression of the laws of nature. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years.

The result? We never ate anything fresh. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost inedible, and saved it from the trash by eating it.

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. Not broken down by cooking, but celebrated for its perfection of temperature, color, and happiness.

So, with my Mother tsk-tsking in my memory, I pulled out the fresh pepper and enjoyed every fresh, juicy, refreshing bite. Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh.

–Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.


Your Light, Your Perspective

Sunday mornings at home are a treat for me. Cooking Man cooks breakfast, buys the New York Times and makes us each a double-shot cappuccino. Life is good. I came into the kitchen and smiled at the eggs lined up on the ragged cotton towels to keep them from rolling off the island. After I set the table, I turned around and was surprised to see that the sun was shining through one of the eggs, giving it an inner glow and showing the mottled surface of the eggshell.

eggBoth eggs had looked the same coming out of the carton. Now they looked completely different. I have a large streak of “metaphor for everyday life” appreciation, and looking at the egg brought on an idea:

We see people, ideas, and experiences through our own perspectives. The perspective we use lights up our view in a way that changes our perception. The two eggs had looked alike, but now I saw them differently.

Our experiences, our story, our biases all make us see the people and ideas around us in ways that reflect not them, but us. The Talmud says, “We see things not the way they are, but the way we are.” Good thought for the week.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who loves Sunday mornings that include reading the Times and drinking cappuccino.

After Class

What does an instructor do after a long day of teaching? Don’t know what every instructor does, and I’m pretty sure at least some of us head for bars. Now that I no longer drink, I’ve found other things to do. Last week I was in southeastern Arizona, in a high-desert town flanked by mountains on two sides and rolling hills into the New Mexico desert on a third.

cotton1What surprised me is the amount of cotton. Pima cotton, the beautiful, long-fiber cotton much sought after for the textile it produces, is named after both the Pima Indians who brought it from Peru and for Pima County, where a lot of it is grown.

November is cotton-picking season, and the ginning machines run long into the night, the fields lit by the headlights of the huge machines.

The machines munch up the cotton plants–dry and prickly, studded with longcotton2 shreds of cotton. And they bale them in huge round cylinders or neatly packed into tight units that fit into the containers moved by train.

There were fields of sorghum, which from a distance looks like corn, but with a fat seed head. Corn fields are being cut, and every field that is threshed leaves food for sandhill cranes, which are now arriving. They are a little late this year, but they are arriving in long strands of 50 or 60.  The cranes feed in threshed fields during the day and then group and settle near water as it gets dark. Protection in numbers.

cotton3Driving past the cotton fields, I felt I was driving into the past. The road I was on has been used for hundreds of years–for the mail stagecoach, for the Conestoga wagons, for gold-seekers, miners,  and army deserters who moved West to hide, to start over, to leave their past someplace along the trail.

Duncan is a small town that still has old street lights, the gas mantles replaced by bulbs. The shops were made of stones, two stories with wood roofs. I turned North, then East, and drove into the farmland beyond. I saw the first birds lift out of the field and head toward a riparian area of cottonwood trees.

This is not my photo, but it is sandhill cranes. The photo is © carol parafenko and you can see more of her photography at: http://carolparafenko.com/blog%202010%20fall.html

This is not my photo, but it is sandhill cranes. The photo is © carol parafenko and you can see more of her photography at: http://carolparafenko.com/blog%202010%20fall.html

In the next half hour, I saw four more small groups. And then the sun began to turn the sky salmon and pink, and the road turned West, and rose up 600 feet. The top of the crest showed  the mountains looming on the horizon and I saw the skein of birds, making that warbling, running-water sound that catches your breath and speeds up your heart. I pulled the car over, already in shadow, and looked up at the graceful, long-legged, long-winged birds find shelter for the night. I did not want to see  if my camera could catch the birds at sunset. I did not want to take my eyes off them. I listened and waited and they flew overhead, and they and I were the only thing from horizon to horizon.

They settled past me, along the Gila River in New Mexico, leaving me to drive back, smiling, into the dark. And that’s what I did after class one day last week.

Note: Congratulations to Carol Michaud, of Soul Stories by Carol, who is the winner of David Maisel’s Life Purpose Boot Camp. Drop me an email with your physical address, and I’ll send out the book!

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist, writer, and creativity coach who will drive 87 miles to see a flock of migrating birds.

Meaning-Making Books, and Giveaway

Meaning making is an important concept in my life–it is my life’s purpose. Fame, celebrity, happiness, or even a ton of money don’t do it for me, although I enjoy paying bills on time and meeting the mortgage. Past that,  the purpose of my life is making enough meaning to act each day in a meaningful way–and exactly what that is varies over time.

New World Library sent me two books to read and mention:

Life Purpose Boot Camp: The 8-Week Breatkthrough Plan for Creating a Meaningful Life, by Eric Maisel Ph.D.

Hop, Skip, Jump,: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life, by Marney K. Makridakis.

Both of these books tackle meaning making in different (very different) ways. But both of them know that meaning-making exercises are important for your career, your personal growth and your peace of mind. If you want to skip to the giveaway, it’s at the end of the post.

51wHcDzsiUL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_AA300_Life Purpose Boot Camp, by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. New World Library, 172 pages. Maisel uses the boot camp metaphor as a way to rally yourself to your own defense. Maisel was a drill sergeant at one point, and he uses this no-holds-barred, get-yourself-into-action voice throughout the book. After all, it is a boot camp, and it’s time to get up and get busy.

Maisel bases a lot of his logic thread on his “natural philosophy,” his term for the style of atheism he promotes. Some of this is reasonable–Maisel posits there is no “Universe” that blesses or curses you, your fate is in your own hands. So you must focus on what constitutes meaning making.

Maisel writes, “Many things that upset us, sadden us, or make us anxious may not be things that genuinely affect our ability to live our life purposes. If they aren’t, let them go!” The how-to guidance Maisel gives is “. . .to ask yourself, ‘Are these among the circumstances that I can improve?’ If you don’t regularly ask that question, you won’t give yourself the chance to positively affect those circumstances that would allow you to help yourself.” In my opinion, many people are mired in their own disbelief and would not know an honest answer to the questions. If they could answer the question, they may not know what circumstances they should create. But those problems are in the first 80 pages of the book, and the book does give advice.

Maisel also writes,”If one of your life purposes is to write novels, it matters whether anybody is publishing novels and whether anybody is reading novels.  . . . To imagine that we can live our life purposes independent of reality, is well, fantasy.” To keep your meaning together, Maisel suggests a “Meaning Repair Kit” containing a reminder bell, an evaluator thermometer, a personality tap, an aligner level, an investment planner and a reality tester. Again, I find the applications for these devices’ use devoid of soul. Which is exactly the benefit of the existential life Maisel promotes. Oh, and on page 94 he tells you what he wants your life purpose to be. Spoiler alert.

Maisel has a huge fan base and has received only positive reviews (five of them) on Amazon for his book.

Boot Camp Chapter Titles:

  • Creating Your Menu of Meaning Opportunities
  • Creating Your Mix of Meaning Opportunities
  • Upgrading Your Personality
  • Dealing with Your Circumstances
  • Naming Your Life Purpose
  • Creating Your Life Purpose Statement
  • Creating Your Life Purpose Icon and Mantra
  • Living Your Life Purpose

*    *    *    *    *    *
Hop, Skip, Jump, by Marney K. Makridakis. New World Library, 282 pages.51vi7Op-i3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

On the other end of the spectrum is Marney Makridakis, a peripatetic creative who specializes in play, games, puns, jokes, and staying in action through activities that seem like fun. Makridakis, in the introduction, says that manifesting something “you see as being part of your meaningful life” is the likely reason people would read her book. The beginning of the book includes a quiz to help the reader determine if they are hoppers, skippers, or jumpers–different “natural inclinations to manifest.”

In her 282-page book, Makridakis talks about the importance of play, particularly to adults. She includes trivia, haikoodles (haikus that invite doodles) and AcroWhims (acronyms in which existing word functions as a magical abbreviations for a message), and Manifestingrams (an anagram with manifesting powers.

Example of  AcroWhim: PLAY = Purposeful Love, Activating Yes.
Example of Manifestagram: MANIFEST = “Amen” fits!

As with all her books, she brings her whole life into the book–her family, her experiences, her ideas and her thoughts. When you buy one of her books, you get the whole package. You are not required to read the book front to back, you can skip around and find parts that appeal to you. As a sequential reader, I found that reading it from front to back has a purpose–to explore different approaches to fun, find the way that works for you, and manifest meaning through fun.

The book is divided into three parts: Hop, Skip, and Jump. Each have a particular meaning, which she describes in detail.

There will be giveaway and assorted deals on Marney’s website tomorrow, Tuesday, November 11, 2014. To date she has three five-star reviews on Amazon.

Some chapter titles (there are 75 chapters in all):

  • Playfully Pressing Your Reset Button
  • Hopping with Hope
  • Twenty-Eight Magic Minutes
  • Play with Creative Blocks
  • Improvisational Skipping
  • Manifesting Mood Rings
  • The Animation of Everyday Objects
  • Leaving Some of Your Toys Behind

*   *   *   *

The Giveaway: I’m giving away Eric Maisel’s Boot Camp book. It’s not a preference for his book,  it’s practical: I never limit my contest winners to the Americas, and it is easier for me to send the smaller volume overseas, if that’s where the winner lives.

Leave a comment to qualify for the book. The winner will be announced on November 16, Sunday. Check back then to see if you’ve won.

Disclosures: New World Library furnished both books for me to review. Eric Maisel was both an instructor and a coach of mine, both over 10 years ago.

—Quinn McDonald loves to read about meaning-making, including books that are strict, fun, or thoughtful.

Creating Heart While Traveling

Being on the road is tough. Not whining, but opening the door of yet another anonymous hotel room, eating by yourself in another restaurant where the only thing on the menu that fits the diet and the budget is yet another Cesar Salad, and the reward after a day of teaching is driving two hours to the next venue–it makes you reach in deep and suck it up.

“Eating Bitter” is a Chinese expression of working hard for what you want, sucking it up and knowing that you chose this life and you are making meaning even if it is a lot more effort than you want.

One of the ways I get through the chore of eating bitter and find a bit of sweetness is creating routines–I make an effort to walk every morning, even if I am a thousand miles from home. When the world shrinks to classroom-restaurant-car, it’s important to have a camera. I photograph small moment that seem important and use them in my Commonplace Book. The photo is something that makes me smile, or that serves as a metaphor. I love doing this for many reasons–it connects me to a strange place and it is comforting to find some small shred of beauty in an everyday place.

From my most recent trip: photos and notes that I put in the Commonplace Book for further development.

cactus1Heart on a cactus. Look at that backlighting! Thorns make a halo. Combination of thorns and love.  Being tough can still work as soft. Being uncommon can attract the right thoughts.

cactusDamaged heart. Look at that texture! Damage is dramatic, but can be beautiful, if you look at it the right way. Even nature makes a collage of color and texture. A cactus will root months after the piece breaks off. Life after damage exists, can even thrive.

light1Love the texture on the mid-century lamp. It warms up the whole photo. The flatness of the photograph makes the cactus in the background look like it’s outside, but it is really painted on the window. Illusion of paint–make it work and you believe in it.

window1Even the very ordinary items in a hotel room can be given a new perspective. This is the bathroom window over the shower. The “grass” is a palm tree, and the light is from a passing car. The moment was fleeting, but perfect. Glad I was there to see it and catch it.

A lot of comfort on a trip is creating a piece of life that is comforting and interesting, no matter where you are.

–Quinn McDonald has made friends with the road.



Quotes for Writers

Every writer needs some encouragement, warmth and a reason to write. Here are some quotes, especially if you are involved in NaNoWriMo:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I

Fencepost cactus flower photographed with iPhone, no flash. Illumination with flashlight. © Quinn McDonald 2014

Fencepost cactus flower photographed with iPhone, no flash. Illumination with flashlight. © Quinn McDonald 2014

hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
Neil Gaiman

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Benjamin Franklin

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”  ― Saul Bellow

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Anton Chekhov

“The first draft of anything is shit.”   ― Ernest Hemingway

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

“To be nobody but
yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
E.E. Cummings

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.


Journal Ideas on the Run

The last year has seen a steep increase in my travel time. Which means I fly a lot and stay in a lot of hotels. Traveling can be lonely, and eating out every night is not the luxury it might seem. I don’t have a fat expense account, my diet is pretty rigid, and after a while, the idea of another Cesar salad makes me scowl. But this post is not about traveling, it’s about journal ideas when I’m traveling.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

Hotels have a practical purpose to their carpets–they have to hide dirt and look trendy. Wallpaper has to be background to art and doorways and bedspreads are vanishing in favor of the bedroom equivalent of a table runner–a piece of fabric placed across the foot of the bed to remind you that there used to be bedspreads.

I photograph the patterns and then copy the idea into my journal. I may use different colors, sometimes I alter the scale, and sometimes I print out the photo and simply transfer it into my journal for color and shape use in a future project.

hotel2No matter how tired I am or how reluctant my brain is to write, the colors and patterns of walls, bedcovers, and floors provide endless design interest. Sometimes the design seems to emerge from the way-back machine (when, exactly, did that carpet above debut?).

hotel4On the other hand, from a design standpoint, the carpet above is interesting. I like the circles within circles, and the lines in the background gives depth to the whole thing. It was, in fact, the beginning of an idea for a Gelli Plate pattern I worked on. With different colors, it had an updated look.

hotel6Sometimes the wallpaper is simply interesting. This one was pleated, but irregularly. I loved the effect, which was limited to the elevator area. A whole hallways of orange and gold would have been too much–this wasn’t Vegas, it was Washington, D.C.

hotel1This coverlet detail above reminds me of my favorite “I can’t cut straight lines” solution. The fact that it is not symmetrical makes it even more appealing.

hotel5Oranges and earthtones seem to be having their heyday. Again. Which is why I liked this neutral-with-red striped bed covering in Dallas. The rest of the room picked up colors from this palette and made it effective for a small room. Another palette I’m saving for later use. I would not have mixed the pale gray-green into this mix, and the bit of pale apricot really works.

hotel7Bold works, too. I wouldn’t want this carpet in my home, but it was the inspiration for a collage I did that wound up in Joan Bess’s book, Gelli Plate Printing. The pattern-within-a-pattern was appealing.

Pg124Bessbk(p. 124 of Joan Bess’s book with my poppy collage, above). Inspiration is just that–an idea that you like, reworked in some other way. Because the poppy-carpet photo-transfer was in my journal, I began to play with the idea of poppies in collage. You never know where it will lead you.

Who would have thought that wallpaper and carpeting would be such an interesting addition to a journal? These walls did talk, after all!

-Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer. She teaches writing all over the U.S. and Canada. She is a certified creativity coach.