My friend NanLeah Mick creates poems based on photos she takes. My brother took this photo, and I’ve used it before. I like this one even better because it has a shadow.
Photo credit: H-Peter Clamann
Another talisman has come into my life, this one through the skill and talent of Su Keates, a silversmith from New Zealand. Su listens and then brings her own vision to the creation of a piece.
This piece was going to be hard. I wanted to have an abstraction of the Hebrew letter shin, the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter has many meanings and associations. The word shin literally means teeth or bite, but that’s not the hidden meaning I am drawn to.
Shin has three points, often said to represent
kindness, justice and mercy. In one kabbalistic interpretation, the three stalks represent the flash of an idea, understanding, and application of knowledge. Now that is a meaning I can spend time with.
What I love is the number of words begin with the letter shin (in Hebrew). The word for peace, shalom. The word for hear, or listen, sh’ma. The word for the day ordained as a day of rest, Shabbat. Then there is sun (shemesh) and change, and year, and rest.
Shin is a mother letter, and it represents fire. So I wanted this talisman to look like fire. The letter is heard in the first phrase of the Bible, “In the beginning.” How could I not find this letter a talisman for my work as a coach, helping people change? Or my work as a writer, helping people heal and rest from the scars of their life?
It’s new and ancient and I can already tell it has power and life.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach who helps people reinvent themselves.
From airport to hotel
it’s 45 minutes of dark freeway.
I’m hoping for one memorable taxi story.
One time the driver was drunk
I screamed louder and he
set me out in the middle of the road
and left me there.
But not tonight.
Tonight the driver wrapped me in his easy smile
and used his musical voice to stash my bag
confidently into his cab’s back seat.
Five minutes later, my taxi story started
with him telling me about his life
through rain and fog and life uncertain.
His dream, he sighed, was med school, “But it’s so expensive,”
so he works a double shift on weekends,
stoking his mojo to clear the path ahead.
He asked me what I did for work.
“I”m a writer,” I said,
speaking my big truth into the dark,
hoping it was still true.
He had a book in him, he said,
and I thought, “More than one, for sure.”
He asked if I wrote poetry,
and I held my breath before I said,
It sounded like a vow.
“I do not understand poetry so much,” he said,
and when I asked, “What poets do you read?” he said,
“Rabelais and Rimbaud,” I thought, “Well, no wonder.”
“Try Billy Collins,” I suggested,
and wrote it down for him.
“Tonight is like an adventure with you,” he said,
handing me my bag and receipt.
“What’s your name?” I asked
and was not surprised when he replied,
with solemn, formal, introduction,
“Call me Ishmael.”
— © Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved. 2016
Yes, the old site is being put back into service. It makes sense to post my poetry and artwork here. I wanted to have one site, but I cover a lot of ground, from art to poetry, to business writing and development. It’s a lot to expect people to understand. I needed a home for poetry, and as I move toward becoming a practitioner of poetic medicine, a place to talk about the power of poetry.
I’m also making my alcohol ink artwork available for sale, on the Art Gallery page.
For today, a poem about love and the importance of laughing at yourself instead of focusing on your love’s shortcomings.
It’s easier to fall in love than stay in love.
Much like skating requires learning to fall
Before you master gliding steadily ahead;
Easily, without windmilling arms
And grasping fingers.
Fall-in-love behaviors, (labeled dreamily, “exotic,”)
Slowly morph to “just annoying.”
The trick, just like in skating,
Is adjusting my Center of Gravity.
Squinting to find a polished patch of long-term love
under all those randomly-strewn shortcomings,
heading for that, jumping over unstable, glistening failures,
finding the direction by listening for
The really rich, full-throated laughing at myself.
© Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.
You own the business, you have to have clients. Find them, nurture them, and sometimes humor them. But there are also roads I won’t take for the sake of my coaching clients. This week, I’ve had some specific questions, some of them twice. So it’s time to review the underlying ideas to my coaching set up.
1. Coaching is done over the phone or Skype. I won’t go to your house, have you come to mine, or meet you half way. The reasoning behind this is simple: I was trained to coach over the phone. To listen. To not be distracted by facial expressions, which often are done to mask real emotions. I also take notes and people often get distracted by that. “What are you writing down?” “Can I see your notes?” And the conversation shifts from you to note-taking.
2. No in-person coaching means financial savings for you. If I have to drive to meet you, be there early, coach, then drive home, I’m going to have to charge you for that time. One of my goals for coaching has always been to keep the price of sessions reasonable. Once I start driving, that can’t happen anymore. And frankly, a lot of my coaching is international. And the commute’s really boring.
3. You will phone me for the appointment. When you phone me, I know you are ready, that you have put aside time to pay attention. That your heart is fully in it. If I phone you, you will still be eating, won’t have thought about the session, or ask me to phone back “in a few minutes.” I know, this used to happen.
4. Ask and sign up on your own. I won’t coach your friend, your spouse, or your child because you want me to. Unless the client talks to me directly, coaching is not a good idea. Coaching isn’t a spa day. It’s a soul-deep, life-changing experience. And you can’t make someone else have that.
Having these rules in place creates an amazing combination of heart-and-soul concentration and results. I don’t want to coach people who are lukewarm, vague or not really interested. I want to dig in with people who are aware, alive, and stuck. Who have hit a wall, can’t find their way around an obstacle, or can’t find what they know is there. People who want to work hard to build what they have always wanted. For those people, I will pay full attention, give you all my power and charge up your life. I think it’s smart to have the rules; you will, too.
—-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach.
We are still weeks from the New Year. You are probably overwhelmed with cards and holiday planning. It’s about a week from the beginning of Hanukkah and two and a half weeks to Christmas. So why start thinking of the Word of the Year?
Because you can’t come up with it overnight. It takes a bit of planning, thinking, and trying on a few to see how they fit before you choose the right one.
Here are some ways to start choosing words:
1. Write down words you like. You can like the sound or the meaning, or just feel attracted to the word. Write them down without numbering them, scattered across the page, not in any order: Torque, branch, flood, heart, live, thrive, shine. Any words that appeal to you. Do that for at least a day.
2. Around each word, write some words you associate with the word you wrote. Let’s use “torque” as an example. You might write “revolution,” “turn,” “twist.”
Decide if any of those words are interesting for you. Let’s say you like the idea of “turn.” So write a few phrases with the word you like. “Turn around,” or “turn your head,” or even “do a good turn,” and “a turn for the better.” Keep working on word groups and phrases for a day or so.
3. Try out a few words and see if they fit. Do any phrases strike you as important, even if you don’t know why? Do they feel like words you’d love to use a lot? Words that call to you require a fitting session. Write the word on a piece of paper and carry it around for a day. Every time you touch the paper, think if the word fits you.
4. Narrow your words down. Choose a few–no more than three. Work from there. Talk to your friends about what they think when they hear the word. You might get new ideas. Type it into Google and see what happens.
5. Sleep on it. Put the piece of paper with the word written on it under your pillow. Any interesting dreams? Any ideas or association within an hour of waking up?
The Giveaway. Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments, along with the word, when you choose it. You have some time–but not enough to put it off. On December 15th, I’ll choose one of the comments to win Wild Mind–Living The Writer’s Life a book by writer and writing teacher Natalie Goldberg.
The book is a great addition to your head and heart–how to balance daily responsibility with a commitment to write, coming to terms with success and failure, and how to find time to write.
—Quinn McDonald is choosing her word for next year.
The long and winding road (including airplane aisles) has gotten the best of my exercise routine. If I’m getting up at 5 a.m. in Dallas, my body thinks it’s 3 a.m. I’m not going to push my luck and run on a treadmill.
When I’m in Flagstaff at dawn, I’m not walking in freezing weather in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But I’ve been home for three days, so it’s back to the discipline of to-do lists and travel laundry, chores that didn’t get done while I was gone, and answering accumulated emails. And walking.
When I started out this morning, my knees protested. They began to convince me that a short walk around the block would be enough. I told them that the airplane rides and teaching yesterday had been long, so they might be creaky today. Halfway around the park one of my knees began to send threatening messages–serious pain every step. I thought of turning back. And then I had another idea. I slowed down. Stopped. Stretched by standing on my toes. And began to walk slowly ahead.
The other knee chimed in, encouraging me to turn back, go home. I took another step ahead. Slowly. No longer in aerobic territory. Hardly classifying in the exercise category at all. But it was forward motion. I continued at this snail’s pace around the rest of the park.
At the intersection, I stepped off the curb. No pain. I walked deliberately across the street. Worked just fine. With each block I stepped it up a speed–first purposeful, then stride, then arm-swinging walking, then aerobic walking. Letting my knees catch up with my determination had done the trick. No complaints from them for the rest of the three-mile walk.
When you face creative work, you may hear the same complaints from your heart–it’s too hard, you need a rest, it’s not great timing. Don’t leave the studio. Slow down, put hand to paper in an exercise, then begin to move slowly ahead. Push ahead to do some thinking about what you are creating, pick up the pace, and keep moving. Pushing ahead clears the road, and the mind. You can push through the frustration and reluctance. You can. If you leave the studio, it will be that much harder to come back to it.
––Quinn McDonald talks to her knees frequently. She keeps them in action pretty much the same way she encourages her coaching clients to stay in action.
Kids want to grow up fast. Do what adults do. Feel powerful. Unfortunately, most adults don’t feel so powerful. They feel helpless, burdened with responsibility but not so much authority.
I skipped grades when I was younger, got out of high school early and college really early. It didn’t make any difference, of course.
Every job made me “start over” and “prove myself.” For years, I thought this was a lack of ability on my part to show I was smart and capable. It took years to figure out that all the proof rested on thorny cultural facets–that women deserve less pay, that women need to prove themselves more than men, that women as seen as weak and hysterical.
Worse, I was a late bloomer. The youngest in my class, and slow to develop curves, I had to use wit, humor and smarts to negotiate my life. Unfortunately, I was also impatient, perfectionistic and, well, angry at all this nonsense. Why couldn’t employers just use my skills? That attitude didn’t help.
As I got older, I began to see the advantage of being a late bloomer. You draw different battle lines in different places. You waste less energy. You spend more time solving the real problem–the underlying problem, rather than the superficial drama. In fact, you don’t care about the drama so much any more. You’ve seen so much drama, little of it fresh, and most of it is not about you.
As a late bloomer, you give up the need to prove who you are by words, and focus on doing. What you do becomes your proof statement, and people interested in results begin to pay attention. People interested in externals still shrill loudly, but it matters less, because there are those results. (My favorite was the woman who looked at my generous hips and hissed, “If you can’t control what you put in your mouth, how can you control the people who work for you?” to which I replied, ” Not a problem, as I wasn’t planning on eating them.”)
Now that I own my business, I am grateful to have been a late bloomer. I know how to pace a project, I know how to separate “urgent” from “important.” I stay calm when others amp the histrionics, as I’m not interested in the attention. I get work done. I work with a better quality of people. Yes, many years were spent fraught and living in disappointment. But I’m a late bloomer and life is good.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She travels the Americas, teaching.
Note: Congratulations to Denise Huntington who won the book giveaway on my blog! Denise, send me your mailing address (to QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com) and Just My Typo will be on the way! Many of you were generous and said April Lopez and her Dad should win the book. April, send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a book you and your Dad will enjoy!
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Listening to your journal is a skill often neglected by the very people who would benefit from it. We write a lot in our journals, but then we close the covers, put them on the shelf and forget about the wisdom we just wrote. We are used to writing, asking to be heard–praying for answers. But we often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of journaling.
For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom of your Inner Hero. You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth, courtesy of channeling your Inner Hero. Your Inner Hero gives you permission to dream up solutions.
Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.
Your pen may race on, while your mind chews on the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed before. Because you could not.
And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.
You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who has a lot to learn.
This time of year the time seems to pick up speed and race toward the end of the year. The days are noticeably shorter and we begin to become more focused on the end of the year.
A good time, then to check in with your word of the year. Is it still serving you well? Are you satisfied with your choice? How often do you think of it or consider what it means in your life?
Half-way through the year, I changed my word from “scatter” to “distill.” It was
worthwhile. “Scatter” was what was happening to my life–too many open doors, too many choices to keep them all balanced. What started out as some far-flung ideas ended up as not getting enough of the right work done.
It was less of a paring down and more of a taking the essence of my work–distilling–that worked well. I’m glad I made the switch.
How do I weigh the choice? I write the word on random calendar days and see what has happened since the last time I considered it. Because I look at my calendar on the weekly view before the daily view, I see the word coming and going through the week.
Tell me how you remember your word and what it has meant to you so far.
—-Quinn McDonald loves watching words make meaning, whether or not she changes them.