Rumors and Rumor-Mongering

Last week found me traveling back from Dallas with a head cold I had picked up somewhere along the trail. The news of where I’d been hadn’t been out of my mouth for three seconds when a well-meaning friend said, “I hope it’s not Ebola.”

Big sigh.

Fear. Fear-mongering. Fueled by rumors. Let’s take a look: I was nowhere near



Thomas Eric Duncan while I was in Dallas–I was in a hotel and at a client’s office. The incubation period is from two to 21 days, making Dallas unlikely as a source for my cold, let alone Ebola. You have to come into direct contact with bodily fluids to get Ebola, so all of this is just stirring the fear pot.

Sadly, I’ve seen this twice before. Once in the 1980s, when AIDS first was defined as an incurable, death-causing disease. There were nasty rumors about gays then, too. The other time was after 9/11, when all Muslims became painted as terrorists. I sat in on a class of a fellow instructor, a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf, and shook my head at the advice she was given: just take off the scarf. Interestingly enough, none of the terrorists had been women.

UUaJbEDMeanwhile, we are growing a fresh crop of panic over Ebola. I’m not saying it’s a harmless virus, it is not. But I am saying that we have serious problems in this country—heart disease is the number one killer of humans in the U.S. About 68 people die every hour in the U.S. of heart disease. In a year, it adds up to 600,000. Over half a million. Not a single person has ever asked me if I still eat bacon. Or if I exercise. Nope. Because Ebola is more dramatic.

The people who are fear-mongering over Ebola are not nearly as worried about heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. AIDS has claimed about 636,000 lives, but we don’t talk about it anymore.

Let’s not get hysterical about Ebola. Yes, it’s a serious disease. No, there is no cure for it. Yet. (And there is no cure for MS, diabetes, ALS, cancer or the common cold). Take a deep breath and realize that you have better things to worry about. And let’s not talk about shutting down air traffic between the U.S. and Africa. That would have been a brilliant strategy in 1619, but we’re about 400 years too late for that.

Fear leads to fear-mongering. Leads to rumors. To lies. To hatred. To victimizing. Let’s stop it early.

Quinn McDonald is feeling well enough to rant.


The Aha! Moment

After two articles on bullying, I spent some more time processing my emotions around the incident. I’ve done stand-up comedy, and knowing what is funny to an audience and the timing of delivery is key to humor.

Pushable button image from

Pushable button image from

And then I had an Aha! Moment. In all the years I was super fat (I had a mirror, so I know), and people said hateful things to me (when I was in the middle seat of an airplane, for example) I actually felt sorry for them. I did not feel shame or diminished. I loved to eat (still do), and knew that fat people are one of the few groups we feel free to openly bash. I was capable of compassion.

Because I was not a fat child, I had no buttons to push.

But the incident at Trader Joe’s  pushed all those buttons I had embedded a long time ago.

So the work I have to do is around healing those pushable buttons is about feeling fine about being different. Taking pride in being an outsider. Because when you are outside, you have a bigger view. You aren’t hemmed in. And while everyone inside is bathed in light, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance or happiness.

A good thought for Friday the 13th.

-Quinn McDonald is moving on with a lighter step. (Carefully checking for a banana peel.)


Adam, Fear, and Problem-Solving

When the training client told me that I’d have to bring my own computer to show the Powerpoint, I said “of course.” But I didn’t want to bring my laptop. It’s heavy and it’s the only computer I have. Yes, it’s backed up, but still, dragging it around wasn’t appealing to me.

Luckily, I have an iPad with Keynote on it. (Apple’s version of Powerpoint). But how to get the file from the computer to the iPad, I asked at the store. “It’s simple on iTunes,” the genius-bar employee said, and gave me some steps. I wrote them down. Now, I hate to admit it, but I’m not a big music fan, so I don’t know iTunes very well. My playlists are all books. Yes, I have music on my iPhone, but I really don’t use iTunes.

Blocked as surely as if a boulder falls in front of me.

Blocked as surely as if a boulder falls in front of me.

So I struggled with the instructions, which didn’t work. As any good Inner Critic knows, this is the clarion call to show up and make sure the stuck person knows that she is stupid, probably terminally so, and the client will laugh at her for not knowing simple procedures. Time to make a fast appointment for a one-on-one lesson. None available till I come back.

Fear shows up as anger first. Stupid store and their 10-day wait to get a simple lesson. Then, anger muddles thinking. I came up with the idea of using Dropbox, but I still couldn’t get the presentation itself moved to Keynote.

Notice what’s happening here? Fear blocks all problem-solving ability. I wasn’t thinking through anything. I was stuck in a place in which I would be humiliated for being slow, old, dumb, and not prepared in front of the client. That shame loop circled through my brain while I added more dramatic color and a sound track. [Cue “Chain of Fools.”] No problem-solving whatsoever. Finally, I made another genius bar appointment, sure the Apple employees would mock me, too.

Not so. Adam came up, and I explained the problem with iTunes. Adam looked at me and smiled. “You can send it from one machine to another via email, then just open it in Keynote.” Of course. It couldn’t have been simpler. But while I was filled with fear and imagining a catastrophic scenario, my brain was too busy adding details, color and sound to the catastrophe to see the simple answer.

iphone_5s_6_months_later_heroAnd then, Adam did something amazing. He showed me how to use my iPhone as the remote to control the Keynote presentation. Let me practice it to make sure I got the steps in the right order. And within 10 minutes I wasn’t an idiot, I was a tech-savvy professional, with an iPad and a remote, ready to go.

In those 10 minutes, I didn’t change a bit. I weighed the same, I had the same hair and eye color, wore the same clothing. The only thing that changed was fear. It was gone. Adam had solved the problem I could not because I was concentrating on the fear. Anger is the answer to fear, and anger blocks both logic and creativity.

I’ll probably make the mistake again. It’s a big problem and so not resolved by one experience. Or six, ten or a hundred. It’s a lesson I will repeat until I understand it, myself and the power of problem solving with a clear, creative mind and heart.

-Quinn McDonald wishes a Happy Passover to all who tell the story of the Exodus tonight. And wishes strength and peace to all who live in fear and slavery of any kind, mental or physical, or their own doing or other’s.

The Fear of Being You

The most frequent comment in “Jungle Gym for Monkey Mind” (my online poetry class that just started) is a fear of posting their poetry. It’s not surprising. We do creative work and hide it and we don’t have to think about it. But creative work that’s shared is. . . out there. Makes us vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to. . .discovering who we are. Oh.

Make up your own metaphor about this agave. Nope, it's not an artichoke.

Make up your own metaphor about this agave. Nope, it’s not an artichoke.

Is it the fear of comparison? Sure. I might like your work more than mine. And then I won’t be as good as I thought I was before I read your work. Of course, it would also be that if I read yours and like it, I could see how you put together your work and learn something about creative work, you and me. That doesn’t sound so bad.

The other, sneakier fear is: what if my poem thrills me and is the best one posted? Then who will I have to be next week? I’ll have to be better than I was last week–and for sure, I can’t do that.

Your Inner Critic is a sociopath. A compulsive mis-director of attention and facts. You are not going to win with the Inner Critic. So, just for now, no matter what creative work you are doing, go with the creative urge. If you mess up, you learn something. If you do well, you also learn something. And best of all, you are doing creative work. Making meaning. Building your courage muscle. Exercising your bravery skills. Not a bad result of writing some poetry, is it?

–Quinn McDonald made paper do incredible things this afternoon. She hopes it can happen again.

No Safety Guarantees

After the police arrested the Marathon Bomber in Boston, one of the students interviewed said, “Now we can go back to our life. We don’t have to be scared anymore. There is nothing to fear.” He’s so very wrong. The idea that two panic_disorderbombers caught make the problem go away is a false one. And every time a terrorist attack occurs, we (understandably) want it to be over so we can have our lives back. Go back to what we were doing before we had to think about dying. But that isn’t real, and our lives have changed forever already. There is no going back. There is no closure. People died. People had their legs blown off.

And still, there is a huge difference between living IN fear and living WITH fear. When we live with fear, we understand the world around us is unsteady and not in our control. We promote kindness, compassion and understanding because that is what we can do at the individual level. We understand that death is not within our control, and that someday we, our family and friends will die–maybe of old age, maybe of disease, maybe because a terrorist bomb found us.

Fear, from

Fear, from

When we live in fear, we become suspicious, angry and controlling. We trade essential freedoms for the hope of safety, and wind up with missing freedoms and no guarantee of safety.  We refuse to think about death as anything except a cruel cheat, and something that happens to others. And we lose our creativity.

Fear is the big scourge of creativity. Fear robs us of flexibility, agility, choices, and the glory of uncertainty. When we live in fear, uncertainty is the enemy (along with almost everything else.) Instead of spending time in creative thinking, we spend time in isolation, developing rationalizations for “them” and “us” thinking. Anything different, unusual, or non-conforming is suspicious, maybe even dangerous.

The very root of creativity is in different, risky, and strange. There are many countries whose citizens have had to adapt to war–Somalia, the Sudan, Mali, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan–all have innocent citizens whose lives are directed by war they don’t want, and don’t agree with. But yet, there they are, in the middle of a war, still trying to feed the family and provide a normal life for their children.

Creativity is both exciting and calming, involved in giving up and expanding anew. But let fear in the studio, and it vanishes. Fear makes you small. It takes courage to be creative. But it’s worth it.

Quinn McDonald’s mother was lost to fear. She doesn’t want to follow in those footsteps.

Getting Up, Again

Many of my coaching clients think I live a charmed life. I’m so patient. I have such insight. How could my life not be bliss-laden and peaceful? When I sold my artwork at art festivals people would come up to me and say, “You are so lucky!

Nope, it's not upside down, it's a cold front reflected in a puddle.

Nope, it’s not upside down, it’s a cold front reflected in a puddle.

You get to do fun things all day long, never have a worry in the world.” I learned to reply, “Yes, I do get to make art, and I’m grateful every day.” I never yelled at them, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with idea and make a bunch of mistakes before your figure it out and then fix it before it works?” I did not do that because I would not have ever sold another piece in my entire art festival existence.

Other people’s lives seem easier, less stressed, not as hard, and certainly not as complicated as our own. That’s a better thing to believe than that everyone’s life could be sold as damaged seconds and someone else would be foolish enough to snap it up.

Everyone who is living a real life makes huge mistakes, does not learn from them the first time, makes them again. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who has not risked and lost.

The reason this blog has insights, tips, Aha! moments and how-to’s is because I made the mistakes it took to learn them. All of them. Several times over. It is more important for clients (and readers)—to know that it’s not how often you feel stupid, but how often you get up, dust yourself off and start over. Learning is the heart of creativity, and risking is the brain.

So when the bombings happened in Boston yesterday, I did feel fear. I was in D.C. when the plane ran into the Pentagon. Yes, I felt fear. You did, too. What we (who are not in charge, but who feel unsure about life) can do to fight terrorism is to be fair to everyone in our work and play, to be kind, to be generous. That’s enough. Be the person who calms, not stirs the pot. Be the person who steers the conversation to interesting ideas and away from speculation.

We can’t control our fear when we hear bad news. But we can always control our actions in the wake of fear.

–Quinn McDonald is happy she is teaching grammar again tomorrow. There is something solid about teaching sentence structure in a time of uncertainty.


Laying the Blame

It may be a few days before I get back to Facebook. Although I knew this was going to happen–in time of a tragedy, our natural reaction is to find someone to blame. Guns. Criminals. The mentally ill. The health care system. And finally, yes, it came down to: Mothers. “His mother was rigid.” “His mother was too strict,” the comments read on the killings in Connecticut.

perfect-womanYes, there are mothers that don’t do a good job. Ones that probably shouldn’t have had children. But there is a much more pervasive problem here–a culture that demands that moms take care of kids, have money-producing jobs, take care of a house, make sure the kids have play dates and are in sports, music and summer camps. (And do it smiling in heels and coordinated outfits). Add to that the clothes and food shopping (better comparison shop or use coupons), homework supervision and religious education, and then, don’t forget yourself, so we can be the woman who has it all. And if you are not a mother, you better do a lot more, because there is an obligation to be a mother, as well.

You can’t have it all. You can’t be all things to all people. Not at the same time, maybe not all in your one lifetime.

The messages we get from our magazines (cook like the Barefoot Contessa! Be

organized like Martha Stewart! Run a blog, take care of a farm and farm hands  like Pioneer Woman! Run an empire, write books and take coaches on training sessions like Martha Beck! Look and dance like Beyonce!) are constantly showing us what we are not and need to be.

Sure, some moms get help from the children’s father. As they should. But even with help, meeting all those expectations is impossible. The effort alone is exhausting.

We wake up and our first thought is “I’m late,” or “I didn’t get enough sleep,” or “I didn’t finish that report for work.” The first hour of the day, the one in which we are most creative, is spent giving ourselves messages of “not enough,” and “hurry up.” No wonder creativity gets shoved into a corner as a chore rather than as personal growth.  No wonder we are tired, frustrated, and chronically at the end of our rope. The demands to be everything, have everything, and do everything is constant.

Instead, we are not enough of anything consistently. We take a dash at creativity by assembling a kit, we hand our kids a video game instead of reading to them, we put preservative-loaded food on our table and we worry about our family and our image all the time.

Playing along with a culture of perfection, fear and blame doesn’t make us perfect, courageous, and bold. It makes us shaky, angry and scared. It makes us look around for someone to blame when a corner of our world crumbles. “We have met the enemy he is us,” Walt Kelley wrote in the long-vanished comic strip Pogo. It’s time to change our culture, and it starts with you.

Quinn McDonald helps people through re-invention and change. She is a life and creativity coach and far from perfect.

The Crafty Inner Critic

Our inner critic is no fool. Playing on fear is how s/he gets our attention. Fear reactions are deep and visceral and often feel like safety, when often they are simply more fear. A reaction to fear is anger, and to anger doubt. You can see where that leads without much explanation.

When I saw the image with Marianne Williamson quote on Facebook, it made me smile. We are also afraid of love. Love is work. Love is commitment. Love is not guaranteed. If we fail, it will hurt.

All that is true.

Love can hurt if we fail at it.

But fear hurts when we succeed at it.

—Quinn McDonald has felt both love and fear, so she is writing a book about the inner critic.

The Cat and the Bag

Like most cats, Buster loves paper bags. He likes plastic bags, too, but those are for licking. Paper bags are for pouncing on, climbing into and creating cat-forts.

Buster, in a calmer mood.

Buster is a rescue cat. He was mistreated before we got him, and although he’s been with us many years, he still fears having something grab him by the neck. He wears a collar, but that took 18 months of careful work. Despite that, he loves being a lap cat and is the most fearless foolhardy of our cats.

After I emptied the groceries from Trader Joe’s, I dropped the bag on the floor. Buster was in heaven–he crawled into it, he rattled around it, he jumped on top of it, slid down the length, and stuck his head through the handle. In the split second before it happened, I knew it had been a mistake to leave the bag handles intact.

Buster now had his head through the bag handle, and while there was plenty of

Buster loves watching bacon. Just in case you drop some.

room, he was wearing the bag, and for Buster that meant the bag had him by the neck. Old fears roared to life. Buster headed down the hall full-tilt, the bag in pursuit. I tried to grab the bag as he went by, but that made it worse–now I was lunging for him. At least in his imagination.

As he came by again my comforting voice was lost in the bag rattling and flapping. The sliding door screen simply popped off the track as he burst through the open door and started a frantic lap around the pool. I hoped he wasn’t going to fall in, it’s too cold to voluntarily jump in, even after a cat. The pool towels were still outside, so I grabbed one, and when Buster made his second lap of the pool, I dropped the towel over him and scooped him up. He was so terrified he wet himself, the towel, and me.

In a second, I had the bad off his head, and sat down with a wet, shivering, terrified cat. With the bag gone, Buster did what Buster does when someone is holding him and saying calming things to him–he began to purr. In a few minutes his heart rate settled down and he let me give him a sponge bath. Particularly because I kept the bag of cat treats in view, and rewarded him when we were done.

After the drama, I began to think about his reaction. At first I thought, “he knows that bag won’t attack him; he knows it’s not alive.” But then I realized that I do the same thing. Well, not with a bag, but with old memories that still scare me. Given a trigger to set off anger, fear, or shame, I run around emotionally, not capable of calming myself, not caring what I do as long as I try to outrun the painful emotion.

The solution, of course, is to stop running, sit with the emotion and notice that it no longer has a hold on me. It never did. All I needed to do was pull it over my head. But calm thinking and planning is not what happens when old triggers are pushed. Panic and frantic emotions take over. At that moment, we need a calmer, cooler head that can see the bigger picture to hold us, comfort us and assure us we are safe. And until we learn to do that for ourselves, we will be no smarter than Buster.

–Quinn McDonald learns something every day, even if it’s from Buster. She teaches what she knows through coaching or writing classes.

Fear Factor

On July 4, I wrote a blog post about fear-based culture. It’s an exhausting way to live, and it creates a circle of anger, resentment, control, and giving up.

Because I work with words, and words are an easy weapon, I looked around to find titles and situations in our popular culture that ignite the fuse on the anger circle. The words we use casually become part of our lives.

“War”  We now have a war on women, a war on religion, and yes, Craft Wars on TV.  It’s offensive to use the devastation of war to describe a disagreement and a competitive TV show. Remember when “awesome”  meant extremely impressive or daunting? Now it’s used as a filler word, used to mean “I heard what you just said.”  Soon “war” will be another shrug-off word. We’ll be mildly interested in the collateral damage, but it won’t shock us.

Every successful TV show spins off a competitive one, where one team has to demolish the other. The winning team gets to lord it over the losers. Apprentice, American Pickers (the competitive version), Cajun Justice, Fear Factor,  all the competitive cooking shows, all the race-from-one-place-to-another shows–it’s not just about winning, it’s about making the other team lose. The leftover resentment, anger, ridicule is now part of the American Dream. If you are on the winning side.

From the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List: 50 Shades of Gray (a trilogy on sadomasochism), Wicked Business, Wild, Cowards, Killing Lincoln. Don’t forget the softcover selections: Explosive Eighteen, Afraid to Die, In the Garden of Beasts.

Best Selling Video Games:  Total War, Bioshock, Mortal Kombat.

Words are important. In the movie Iron LadyMargaret Thatcher ‘s attributed this wisdom to her father:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.

I know that violence is more interesting than compassion, drama has more frisson than contemplation, and reading about tragedy is more exciting that reading about self-awareness. It does us no good to avoid gluten if we are stuffing our minds with gore.

Do the hard thing and give up your anger, your control, and your threats. Fill your time with creativity. It soothes, heals, inspires and makes you feel like you have achieved something worthwhile. Because you have.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is giving up control, one day at a time.