Creativity and the Sunday Sermon

Meg is a creative force in my life. We’re not the same religion, not even close, not

The Mender's home on Sundays.

The Mender’s home on Sundays.

even on the same planet, religion-name-wise, but we are sisters of soul restoration. Meg is deeply creative and stitches her creativity into the lives of those who pass by. She catches a raveled edge of fear and smooths it back into the fabric of a life. She sees a button of calm about to unravel and fall into anger and stitches it back onto the soul to hold the garment of strength buttoned to the edge of calm. Meg is a creative mender of souls.

Meg is a Baptist minister and I  . . . am not. I had quick ideas about what “Baptist Minister” meant, just like people had quick ideas about looking at me and thinking “fat, her own fault.” So I put down fast judgment and took a deeper look at the mender’s heart.

This morning I visited, via the interwebs, Meg’s church. I read her sermon, called God’s Laundry. And there I met healing for the Boston Marathon, for Connecticut’s dead, for the mess of killing and anger and hatred we are stewing in. I watched her mending needle darn its way between unraveled hearts and love. Meg’s dream, told, is what deep writing is about.

I struggle with Hope, as I think it gives false security. And I struggle with Faith, because it is hard for me to accept without question. But I did not struggle with this loving dream, told at the right time. I thought you would enjoy it, too, no matter what religion you are. Interpret it in your own way, it still comes out to creative love.

—Quinn McDonald didn’t ask Meg about this before publishing it. Quinn is vaguely aware that if she is struck by lightning today, it will be for her lack of religion. She steadfastly believes however, that she is walking in creative love because, while not religious, she is a believer in doing spiritual laundry.

Learning from Dreams

Dreams are important. They are more than just random processing of the day’s events. Sure,  some parts of dreams are recycled parts of experience. But dreams are also our very personal stories, given meaning by our deep personal connections.

In a dream, we recognize the yellow tricycle we passed on the sidewalk earlier in the day. That doesn’t strip it of meaning. To wrangle meaning out of dreams, we have to sit with the ideas our dreams give us and untangle the complicated links to ourselves.

Put down the book that “explains” dream images. You create the message and you can understand it. It’s yours to explore for meaning. A few nights ago I had a dream about a toaster cozy. Unlikely, yes. At first.

A handmade toaster cozy, sadly no longer available on Etsy.

The Dream I was in a class of women, and we were all making kitchen-appliance cozies. You may remember those–covers for toasters, blenders, coffee grinders. Cozies were very popular in the 1950s and early 60s. I think the purpose was to unify the look of the kitchen, although it’s possible women wanted to “hide” the machines that did the work for them while they wore pearls and shirtwaist dresses.  There was a lot of conflict in housewives’ minds about having “women’s work” made easier. It was more noble to do everything by hand, but a lot faster to use a machine to help.

In my dream, I was in a sewing class, learning to make a toaster cozy. The other  women in the class were making their cozies really fast, sewing machines humming. Most of the cozies in my dream were crayon-colored prints, with contrasting piping. (In my waking life I’m not attracted to crayon-colored prints and piping.) Some women were quilting theirs in traditional quilting patterns.

My toaster model was a vintage, rounded, 2-slicer with the big bakelite black handle. The instructor kept stopping by, fretting. I was making a cozy out of Tyvek,  the material FedEx envelopes are made from, and was adding a stuffed sculpture on top. The instructor was worried, and said, “This isn’t really the shape everyone is working with.” I nodded, but kept working.

The instructor, who in my dream was a home ec teacher, asked to see it on the toaster, but I shook my head. I didn’t speak, just kept working. Finally, when other women were putting their neat, tidy, perfectly sewn toaster cozies over their toasters, I put mine on the toaster–it used the toaster as a base, and the whole cozy was about two feet high.

  On the top of the cozy was a tiger, rearing up on two hind feet, claws out, snarling. The teacher was horrified and asked me why I did that. I said, “Because I needed to.”

The interpretation: Here is what I knew but didn’t say to the teacher–the toaster was fear and the cozy was anger,  a reaction to fear. I was covering fear with a show of anger. Tyvek can’t be torn or ripped. It would stand up to a lot of angry treatment.

Showing strength and anger keeps people from seeing we are just a toaster. Because being a toaster is not enough, in our heads. And yet, we buy toasters just for that ability–to toast bread.

The question: What cozy do you put on to appear to be something else? What are you hiding from the world?

Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She has a strange attraction to Tyvek.

Creativity Coaching? Why? (+ Giveaway)

Coaching Giveaway Report: Today is the day (Oct. 24, 2011)  I’ll be contacting the winners of the free coaching. I will not be publishing names to keep all coaching confidential. It’s an ethical bond I want to continue. There were seven winners—Thanks to all who left a comment!
*     *     *     *     *
As people find out about creativity coaching and separate it from a football coaching, marriage counseling, and therapy, I start getting interesting questions.

Journal page, ink wash over white ink.

The first question is always, “How is creativity coaching different from life coaching?” The short answer is, “Creativity coaching focuses on that part of your life that fuels your ideas and talents. It helps you make meaning out of your life.”

Some other good questions I get at book signings:

Q:  Do I have to be an artist to benefit from creativity coaching?
A: No, not at all. Creativity coaching makes the most of your ideas and innovative ideas, even change in your life, to help you feel worthwhile and show up in the world the way you see yourself.

Q: How long before I see a change in my life?
A: In the last two months, I’ve had two people who came for a sample coaching, had a powerful session, and found their direction. That’s great, but it does take most people a bit longer. I ask for a 12-week commitment, because change is not easy, and while the first session is powerful, it’s hard to maintain that surge on your own. Doubt creeps in. To overcome the fear of change, to make change work for you, and to take the fear out of it takes about 12 weeks.

Q: Does coaching always work for everybody?
A. Sadly, no. There are people who do not want to put in the work it takes to create change in their lives. Some people would do better in therapy. But at the end of 12 weeks, you will either have made the change, or know the reason you haven’t, and that is a lot of learning worth having.

Q: What’s the point of creativity coaching?
A: If you are sleep-walking through life, you probably aren’t happy. Most people don’t like their jobs, but stay in them because of the salary or benefits. That’s a dreary life that to feelings of worthlessness and  low productivity. Finding something that fuels a purpose in your life, that combines left-brain drive with right brain insight can give you a completely different perspective. You life can fill with purpose and energy. That’s what focusing on creativity can bring you.

GIVEAWAY  Today on Create Mixed Media’s website, North Light Books (my publisher) hosted me at a webinar about my book, Raw Art Journaling, which is deeply rooted in meaning making. I’m finding people hungry to use their talents to do something that makes a difference. I want to help. That’s what the giveaway is about.

WHAT: I’m giving away free full-length (one-hour) coaching sessions, one for every five comments, up to 10 free coaching sessions. No multiple comments necessary.

HOW: Leave a comment telling me how you think coaching can help you. It’s not an essay contest, but I’d like to know your perspective.  You can live anywhere–coaching happens on the phone or via Skype.

WHEN: On Monday, October 24, I’ll announce the winners and contact them via email to set up a time in November or December to experience the coaching.

The Dream of Pens

In the last several months, a few artists I know have been given license agreements–they now have a line of glue, or paints, or digital grounds with their name on them. It’s very impressive.

It wasn’t surprising when I had a dream last night about licensing. In the dream, I was using Artist A’s paints, when Artist B came into my studio and said, “Why aren’t you using my paints?” I didn’t know what to say to either artist, and a funny dream sequence ensued, in which Artist B’s paints were the only ones that would work in a certain brand of visual journaling book. The paints endorsed by Artist A just drifted off the page. When I noticed this, Artist B gave me a wink and said, “I have a great contract!”

As the dream continued, I got a phone call from a licensing agent, who wanted to sign me up. Knowing that my paints would float off the page, I declined. When he asked what I would like to endorse I said, “Pens. I want to endorse a pen I can believe in. Something I’d use all the time.”

“No one uses pens anymore,” said the agent in my dream.

Rapidograph technical pens have interchangable tips, small reservoirs to make ink color exhange easy, and color-coded barrels for nib size.

“I do. But it has to be a fiber tip pen, write smoothly, have a hefty barrel, be refillable and easy to clean,” my dream-self replied.

“How about a nice roller ball?” The agent asked. He clearly didn’t know me very well.

“No. I don’t like roller balls. Too smeary, too slippy on the page. I’d like to endorse a good fiber tip, a cross between Pitt Pens and Microns and Rapidographs. Something that will last, and is easy to use,” I said, expressing a very real wish for such a pen. “I love my Rapidographs, but the steel tip can catch on Arches Text Wove, and I hate that.”

Each Rapidograph has a color-coded section on the pen that indicates the line width of the nib.

The agent rolled his eyes and said, “In your dreams.” And I woke up. In my dreams, indeed. I don’t think this dream is a glimpse of the future, although I sure wouldn’t mind owning, if not endorsing, my perfect dream pen.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. She would love to endorse a line of art pens, either in her dreams or in real life. Meanwhile, the book is available from the publisher with free shipping–at least for a while.

Goals, Dreams, and Getting What You Want

The sentence in the article I was reading confounded me. A woman in a horrible relationship went to a therapist for “my first and last visit. He asked me to set goals.” The writer was appalled at being asked to talk about goals when she was in such pain.

I wondered what she would have wanted the therapist to ask. If the client

There is never a perfect time to start a goal. Just start.

is in pain, the smart therapist is going to ask what the result should be–leave the relationship? Stay and try to work it out? Demand couples counseling? Set a deadline for the other person to take action? For yourself to take action? All those sound like goals to me.

I think goals got a bad name in annual reviews. Business employees are supposed to set goals and then check them off. Goals are often artificial or checked off after attending a class. (I’m familiar with those people in my training classes. It’s often called “training as punishment.”) Real goals, those set with intention and thought, are more than useful. Without goals, life is stuck in the endless wash cycle–the dirt is out, but you churn without really getting clean.

A goal is a point in time we can imagine. Once we can imagine it, we can benefit from the joy or achievement we’d feel when we reach it. That’s the best motivation to move toward your goal.

A softer word for a goal is a dream. Napoleon Hill famously said “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Dreams are visions of a wonderful future. Dreams are often considered unreachable. “It was only a dream,” we sigh. But if we don’t dream, we can’t imagine what we long for. And without longing, there is no goal development.

I’m always troubled by coaching clients who tell me, “I don’t want to have goals, I just want to be in the moment.” Being in the moment is not the opposite of having a goal. It is part of having a goal. The “now” part. The part you work on right now because now is the best time to work on something you want to achieve.

When I ask the coaching clients who don’t have goals how they feel, they often tell me, “I’m unhappy. I don’t know what I want.” Not knowing what you want is different from not having a goal or a dream. Not knowing what you want is most likely being afraid to name what you want.

Often, when I ask coaching clients who has no goals why they are unhappy, they’ll say, “I never get what I want.” I can’t help myself, I ask, “How would you know?” To get what you want, you have to name it. To name what you want, you have to know what you want. To know what you want, you have to have a dream, a longing, a wish. It can be vague, it can be specific. The only requirement is knowing that having it will make you feel good–fulfilled, satisfied, successful, joyous. And you have to be OK with feeling good.

The person responsible for your personal goals is you. Only you can define them, and only you can manifest them. You have to do the work, but you get all the credit and joy, too.

I love the fable of the man who is stuck in a flood. He’s on the roof of his house, when a rescue boat comes by to help him.
“No, thanks, ” says the man, “I prayed to God for help and God will help me.”
The rescue boat motors on.
A few minutes later, the water is rising faster, and a helicopter appears.
“We are lowering down a ladder, climb up!” says the EMT.
“No, thanks,” says the man, “I prayed to God and He will save me.”
The man drowns and goes to heaven. He meets God and says, “I am so disappointed in you. I prayed to you, I trusted you, and you ignored me.”
God looks at the man and says, “What do you want from me? I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, and you turned them down.”

Our goals, our dreams and getting what we want are ours to get or to lose. We have the choice to make. We have the work to do. We have the joy to feel.

Photo by JasonRogersFooDogGiraffeBee

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people who are stuck in their dreams, in their life, and in their work.

Dreaming Your Life Awake

Australian Aborigines believe that our dreams are our real life, and our waking life is meant to be a path to fulfill them.  I’ve had recurring dreams, meaningful dreams that I still remember vividly, and dreams that have come true much as I dreamed them. I once dreamed a portion of someone else’s lif and had them verify it.

Dreamers, colored pencil on Bristol Board © Quinn McDonald

What’s bothered me about dreams is that they seem personal and meaningful, but dream interpretation seems to be a impersonal, reduced to symbol searches. Many books list the items in dreams and assign them a meaning. You dream of flying, it’s a sign someone is going to die. In another book, flying is sex. (In that book, everything is sex. It doesn’t need to be 300 pages long, one would have been plenty.)

Another school of thought says that you are everyone in your dream. I’m not sure that works for me, either. Many of the people in my dream are known to me and many unknown that represent an idea or warning for me, but they aren’t me.

I think dreams are far more meaningful, and I don’t believe they are random images your brain fans out because you’ve eaten pepperoni pizza late at night. I believe dreams are a connection to the collective unconscious–the past of your cultural ancestors. I think dreams are a map of our lives, a colorful tapestry of adventures, a guide to the path we have chosen, an illuminated manuscript of both our imagination and our possibilities.

After studying with Robert Moss, and reading his books, I’m interested in active dreaming–a combination of shamanic methods and paying attention to ourselves. Moss says, “Our ‘big story’ is stalking us, and if we don’t embrace that story, others will impose their own stories, little stories and ‘small identities’ on us. ”  The only person who can correctly interpret a dream is the dreamer, who has all the information. Well meaning friends, who reach for mass-interpretation of dream, may want to help. But it’s the “fixing” kind of help that isn’t the best answer because it’s someone else’s idea of what we should do.

Moss believes we can re-enter dreams, either in meditation or in subsequent dreams. He believes we need to get lost in the meaning of our dreams to discover their meaning.

I’m keeping track of all this dreaming, waiting to see how I’itoi is meant to be in my life. I’ve chosen to believe that dreaming of I’itoi is not hijacking another culture, it’s freeing my limits. Dreaming sets your soul wandering at night, why should I build a fence around it? Enough people do that already. And maybe that was the meaning I’m learning.

Quinn McDonald is a dreamer, writer, and creativity coach. She never uses faces in her work, but this one, a figure from a dream, worked out.

Make Your Dream Come True. Then What?

We sure spend a lot of time chasing dreams. Working hard, staying focused. And then, suddenly, like a cat chasing a butterfly, one day you reach and catch the dream. Now what?

The winning line:

Catching up to your dream and making it real can be scary. This is your dream and part of you didn’t believe you could do it. Your negative self talk told you often enough how out of reach it was. You might have chased that dream because it was good exercise, but deep inside you may not have thought you’d catch it. And now you did.

At this very point–the point of reaching your dream or goal, we jump back. After all, if we hold the dream, we suddenly become responsible for it. We doubt ourselves. Is that dream good or big enough? After all, if we reached it, was it really worthwhile?

When you reach a goal, there are no instructions and no magic wand that comes with it. The biggest burden of reaching a goal is that the same ol’ you has reached it. Along the way we might have become older, wiser, thinner, but it is still you. Getting that dream doesn’t come with a limo and posse for most of us. It comes with responsibility. You reached your goal, now you have to acknowledge it, and account for it. You have to admit that you got what you wanted. Some people will say “So what?”, others will snort, others will be envious. A few people will be mad at you. None of this should stop you from admitting you reached your goal. None of this should make you belittle yourself or your goal.

The important part is knowing what you did to get here, knowing that you could have stopped to avoid having the responsibility and pretended to change the goal. It’s a brave thing to reach your goal. Unlike running a marathon, once you cross the finish line with a goal, you realize you can’t declare a finish time and stop. Goals we set for ourselves continue. They grow as we do. When you reach a goal, you have made meaning out of your life. You understand what you can learn and manage. You have succeeded.

Before you feel dipped in fear, acknowledge your growth. Be proud. Making meaning is growth. Celebrate!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and creativity coach.

Insomnia: Why You’ll Fall Asleep

Sleep, in the Jewish mystical mythology, is not just a time for physical rest. The soul returns to its Maker, who keeps it for rejuvenation. The moment of waking is the return of the soul to the body. If the Almighty decides not to return your soul, you don’t wake up.

dawnThere is even a special prayer said upon waking up that thanks the Almighty for rejoining body and soul for another day. I find the idea of having my spirit buffed up, the dust shaken off it, setting it up for a new day a wonderfully relaxing one.

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I imagine the Almighty searching around, having misplaced a group of souls like I misplace my keys. Finally, the souls are spied, dropped behind a random thought. They are lovingly picked up, and 40 insomniacs drift off to sleep at last.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She is also a writer and writing trainer. See her work at Image: (c) 2008-9 All rights reserved

Fear of Success

Today, Thanksgiving, was a dream fulfilled. Last year, separated from all family, I was alone on Thanksgiving. The thing that helped me through was my dream of the future–the house Back East would sell, we’d pack up and move, buy a house and have Thanksgiving in the West. And that’s exactly what happened today. And to top it off, we ate outside. In November. It stopped raining long enough.

And I almost missed it. It’s an old pattern. A dream starts to form and come into reality and I start to panic. Oh, no, I’ll have a dream come true. I’ll have to admit it. I’ll have to be responsible for all that joy. I won’t be happy enough. Or serene enough. Or it wasn’t perfect and I’d wanted an imperfect dream. And I wasn’t thin while it happened.

Luckily, I stopped myself. While my family was passing around the stuffing and cranberry sauce, I realized that I had come through a very difficult year. I had experienced a lot of growth and a lot of slips backward. Just yesterday I heard from a prospect that I spent a great deal of preparation on–I didn’t get the job. So how could I allow myself to be happy? Because compared to a year ago, I have made progress in my life, and I was sitting at a table with enough food and family. And the disappointments? We can’t know happiness unless we also know sadness. I can’t feel success unless I feel failure. So compared to last year, I was satisfied and happy, despite setbacks and despite the fact that I have a lot of work to do.

Often when we experience success, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it. It might jinx it. Stop. Please. Feel that success. Babies laugh out loud without fear of being smacked down for not having enough experience with joy to express it. They get praised for smiling.

Experience that joy, that growth. It doesn’t come without struggle and a price, but when it arrives, let it blossom and cheer you. It will make the next step easier and it will be great to recognize it again.

Here are some tips to help you remember:

–When you reach a goal or experience success, what does your joy feel like?

–Where in your body do you experience it–do you feel light-headed? Do you feel energized? Do you feel like dancing?

–What do you do to remember your successes–throw a party? Confide in a friend? Treat yourself?

–What were your last three successes? How about your last three failures? If you can rattle off the failures but can’t remember the successes, you have some work to do. You’ve had successes, but you haven’t celebrated. It’s your success, it’s your victory. Don’t shortchange yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and creativity coach. See her work at

A (tiny) space of your own

No matter how small and cramped your living quarters, you need a space to call all your own. It’s a sacred space you keep for your dreams, your hopes, the tending of your creativity.

That space becomes your spiritual and mental safe space, a place where you can feel what you need to feel, have bold dreams, write, doodle, hum, sing, or just be. It’s the place where you safely are a human being, not a human doing. That space becomes the place where you simply are. With yourself and your dreams.

Woven light

Woven light

This space doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. It can be a comfortable chair, a desk, a card table, a pillow on the floor. It can be by a window, in a cool dark room, in a corner of the kitchen. The important thing is that it has to be yours and yours alone.

To this space you bring your problems to think them over, your projects to daydream about, your mind to clear out. And you use the space in a ritual way. You never approach it without mindful consideration–this is where my soul rests, this is where my energy is stored, this is where I can have whatever thought I want, or no thoughts at all.

When you come to your space, you come with hope. You might be troubled or angry, but when you come to your space, you come with the realization that anything can happen, that you can be healed or inspired, quieted or charged. Your space can be all that and more.

In my apartment, my sacred space was a chair with a footstool and reading light. It was not my desk, where there was always work to be done. It was not my bed into which I dropped in exhaustion. My chair was where I chose to sit and dream, read, or just be.

In my new house, there is a premium on space. My art spot is a place in the guest room; I do my business work in the dining room filled with bookcases and a desk. But even though I have two places that allow me to express myself, I still have a sacred space–a chair with a footstool and a good reading light next to a window that will let in direct light in winter. It’s a place without a way for people to contact me–no computer, no phone. But a way for me to contact other worlds–read books, sink into meditation. It doesn’t look like anyone else’s sacred space. To one of our cats, it looks like a good place to sleep uninterrupted. But to me, it is the place where all peace starts, where I can let go of all the things I have to be and do, and where, for a small part of every day, I can just be.

–Quinn McDonald is a daydreamer and night-dreamer, and who captures her dreams in a chair by a window. She is a writer and certified creativity coach. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.