Starting Over

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The gallery is in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts

Starting over. Starting fresh. It sounds like a new coat of paint over a tired life. The messy slate of the past is wiped clean, and ahead is a shiny new start. We can put on a new face, a new attitude, a new effort. It seems like we can create a whole new identity with as little effort as a new website.

Soon enough, that new effort is overwhelmed by the old ideas, old habits, old behavior–the old us. Alcoholics Anonymous figured this out years ago when they said, “If you are a drunk in Cleveland, moving to Peoria for a fresh start isn’t the answer. You’ll be a drunk in Peoria, too.” It’s a wise saying, although a tough one. (AA never pretended to have easy answers.)

When I went to Catholic school (I’m not a Catholic, but that’s another story), I loved seeing my friends go to confession. They’d say their prayers and their sins were wiped away. Poof! Just like that, they were brand new and sin free. Unfortunately, the old habits didn’t vanish, and my guess is that the same sins got repeated in the confessional time after time. And since there were different priests, no one really noticed or cared, and little personal growth resulted.

Teresa Jennings Robinson read this post and sent me the gorgeous hand-lettered quote she made for her art journal. See more of her work at rightbrainplanner.com

Teresa Jennings Robinson read this post and sent me the gorgeous hand-lettered quote she made for her art journal. See more of her work at rightbrainplanner.com

And that’s the danger of new projects. They seem free of the past baggage, but they are not free of us. We show up with our past, and relive it because it’s familiar. In a few days that new project takes on the fingerprints of the old us. If we don’t like the old us, we’ll hate the new project, too.

I have friends who are start-up junkies. Addicted to new beginnings, these eager people will start up a company with the fervor of Ron Popeil selling the Veg-O-Matic. But they aren’t good at running a company, which seems tedious and boring, so they dash off to do another start-up, leaving the clean-up team to handle the rest.

Any beginning feels like the creative part. And it is. But the road-test of creativity is showing up every day to do the hard work. The book I am writing is hard work. It’s satisfying, and I enjoy it, but it’s not riding rainbow unicorns. It involves saying “I can’t go to the movies with you, I’m writing,” or thinking, “I need to re-write this chapter, it’s not working, even if it is the fourth re-write.”

Creative work is hard. We want to give up, we get bored,  we want to do something fun and new. Yet what gets the work done is moving steadily ahead, when it’s not fun and not new.  Learning from your mistakes and getting up every time you fall is what the real work of creativity. And it pays off.

—Quinn McDonald is working on a re-write of a trio of chapters. She has done it before, and she may well do it again.

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.

Parts of a Whole

No plan comes together all at once. Plans get put together piece by piece. Each piece gives you more information for the next step. It’s good to have a big picture to know where you are going, but over-planning can bring disappointment that you don’t need.

Some parts don't fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

Some parts don’t fit in a tidy box. Cactus grid © Quinn McDonald, 2015

If you love control, you think that planning every inch, every second will bring you what you want. Life doesn’t work that way. Life is messy, but messy is interesting if you let it be.

Keep the big plan in mind. Keep the goal in sight. But here’s the real secret. Stay flexible. Not every piece has to drop into the pre-determined box to make the final piece complete.

Leave yourself room to shift, change, and grow. Your problem-solving skills will not drop away. You always have the skills necessary to make the plan move forward. There will be many times the final plan didn’t come together the way you want, but if you keep problem-solving skills working, the final plan may be better then the first plan.

Control is not everything. Sometimes determination, patience, flexibility, creativity, and ingenuity trump control. Sometimes you have to dump the plan and start over. You can choose.

-Quinn McDonald knows the charm of asymmetry.

The Creative Slump

While I’ve been sick (yeah, I’m real tired about writing about it, too),  I haven’t stepped foot in the studio. No interest. This is so unusual for me, I took a closer

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

look. I’ve been spending spare time doing my taxes, a chore I absolutely loathe. But the dumb repetition of finding dates on receipts (why in Bastet’s name do they not put the date in the same place on all receipts?) and putting the amount on a spreadsheet is something I can manage to do.

Normally, I keep a list of ideas I want to work on, but I can’t think of anything that interests me at the moment. There is work on the desk, ready to go. Not interested.

There’s clearly a connection about a stuffed head and an empty brain. And I’m not rushing it. True, I haven’t written in my journal in two weeks. Unusual. And it’s Spring, and usually I want to make note of the day the fig started leafing out. Nope.

Instead of worrying about this, I’m shrugging it off. When I feel ready, I’ll go back. I think it’s odd, but then again, I’ve learned a lot about my body and when my body is ready to pull itself together, it will. Meanwhile, I’ll drift, read, and celebrate the fact that the taxes are done about two weeks earlier than ever!

Quinn McDonald is getting it together, piece by piece.

Saturday Creative Hop

Beautiful colors, fascinating abstract design–it’s easy to love the art of Helen Wells.

"The Underwater Dream" © Helen Wells

“The Underwater Dream” © Helen Wells

From her website: “This unique painting is made by adding multiple layers of watercolour paint, and detailing with a pencil and iridescent silver watercolour paint.”

Paste magazine talks about books, and books are art. And this discussion is about Harper Lee and her new book Go Set A Watchman.

Harper Lee

Harper Lee

There is a lot of controversy about the book, written before To Kill A Mockingbird. The concern is that Harper Lee is not mentally clear enough to make the decision and is (or is not) being manipulated by her lawyer.

Duy Huynh is a Vietnamese artist who paints poignant and beautiful artistic works that illustrate ancient myths, fairy tales and comic books.

©Duy Huynh

©Duy Huynh

He learned to paint as a way to illustrate his own communication struggle when he learned English as an immigrant.

© Duy Huynh

© Duy Huynh

The idea of trust in the above painting is particularly poignant to me.

For me, posters are a perfect opportunity for good design. Poster Cabaret has a lot of posters and art prints, including this crane poster by Michelle Morin.

© Michelle Morin, "Cranes"

© Michelle Morin, “Cranes”

Andrew Bird concert poster by Jason Munn.

Ben Harper poster  © Jason Munn

Ben Harper poster © Jason Munn

Munn does several great graphic effects in his posters.

Have a creative weekend!

-Quinn McDonald is having fun with taxes. It’s almost as much fun as nailing your tongue to the wall.

Starting Your Gratitude Journal

When I first wrote about gratitude journals, it was about my own experience, from grumpy doubter to believer. There’s considerable proof that saying “thank you,” and finding things to be grateful for reduces blood pressure, makes you feel better and actually can improve your mood.

Now that we are close to Thanksgiving, a time when people who are alone orCHR75reg2__06130_zoom overwhelmed may not feel so thankful, I thought it might be useful to spell out how to keep a gratitude journal. Of course, you can keep it any way that works, but working with a lot of coaching clients, I’ve found a few tips that really work well.

1. Keep it small and keep it with you. A small spiral-bound notebook is inexpensive and easy to carry with you. That makes it more likely you will have it with you when you need it. I like a 4-inch by 6-inch size.

2. Leave the first page blank. That way, you won’t feel so pressured to make it perfect. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be there for you.

3. Write it down when it happens. In the beginning, when you feel more exhausted, angry or hurt than grateful, write down the slightest thing you feel grateful for. Write it down as soon as it happens. Noting your gratitude will help sharpen your senses to things that make you grateful, and make more events available to you.

4. Write every day. Look for anything that makes you feel better or grateful. Some days you may have to search really hard, and that’s OK. Comfortable shoes, someone holding a door open for you, a smile from a stranger can be a big event in a life gone awry. Look for them so you will experience them more often.

5. Look back over what you are grateful for. Many people find that they start out small, then realize there is more and more. If that happens, it’s, well, something to be grateful for.

6. Be the stranger to smile at someone. Wouldn’t it be nice to wind up in someone’s gratitude journal?

If you have good results, let me know. It can be a boost to others. We’re in some tough times right now, not through any fault of our own. It takes a little more effort to be cheerful and grateful, but it’s worth it.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who has learned to be grateful

 

Splatter as Art

Ever dropped paint on the floor and gasped at the mess? Hua Tunan splatters deliberately and does a great job of it. As an artist, he combines traditional Chinese art with graffiti.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-3The combination are magical. The splatters combine to form realistic art that has depth and power.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-10He calls his street art “noncommissioned art,” a way of keeping his own artistic integrity and still making his art public.

I have (still) a deep appreciation of artists who are true to their own vision.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.