Dissolving the Bad Day

The business trip had been bone-wrackingly tough. Flight delays. Cranky people. The airlines insisted on gate-checking my bag (no space in steerage for more bags), then broke a wheel on my suitcase, which means I had to carry it instead of roll it. My lock was cut off. I was the random “let’s dig through the bag” person at the TSA. Long day at the client. Delayed lunch. Last-minute extra paperwork. At the end of the day, I am carrying a heavy suitcase down the street, wearing a backpack, puffing hard on the three-block walk and feeling sorry for myself.

I am not thinking of the successful class, the people who thanked me, the person who asked me to autograph the workbook. No, I am focusing on all the mistakes, flaws, and the damn heavy suitcase that no longer rolls. I am, admittedly, in Full Pity Party Mode.

Moon2The sun is setting; I have never loved the late afternoon. I’m a morning person who loves the dawn, and by sundown I’m tired, particularly after a long, intense day teaching business writing.

In this frame of mind, I begin to think of Sundowner’s Syndrome, the depressed state of dementia patients who become agitated in the late afternoon. My mom had Alzheimer’s, so my thought goes right to the idea that I may be next. Maybe I’m already in decline.

The Christmas lights come on in office buildings on the traffic-packed, noisy street. White, twinkly lights wink in tall buildings. Beautiful and cheering, but I refuse to move out of my full-on grump. As I look around, I see a woman sitting against a sturdy stanchion so often seen around big buildings. She is crying. Dressed in just a ragged T-shirt and sweatpants in the winter chill, she looks desperate. I approach and ask if she needs help.

She shakes her head. I put down the suitcase and ask her what’s wrong. She hasMoon1 just come from a state assistance office where she was turned down for help. She is being evicted–before Christmas–and the story is one of bureaucratic mess. She is angry and frustrated. Doesn’t know what to do next. Needs to protect her young son. She’s cold and angry and hungry and I recognize that desperate mix.

Suddenly my own troubles are less threatening. The relentlessly twinkling lights remind me that it’s my job to bring warmth into the world along with light. I ask her when she last ate. More than 24 hours ago. I can do one small thing for her. I bring her into the very fancy hotel with me, the one with the airport shuttle stop. I ask her to carry my backpack (yes, with my wallet and phone) so we can enter looking like we belong together. I’m in business dress, so the hotel concierge raises an eyebrow but says nothing. We stop at the hotel food shop and pick up a healthy dinner for her boy. Then we sit down for dinner in the plush lobby restaurant. I wasn’t planning on eating there, but sharing the decorated and lighted space feels right. And sharing a meal so she will not feel beholden makes the evening seem cozy and not so depressing. We chat about being mothers and chili, and if it should have beans or not.

She wants to thank me and I tell her that she helped me more than she could know. I thank her for keeping me company and helping me see the world in a different way. We walk out and I give her bus fare to get home. We trade my backpack for her son’s dinner and walk in different directions, into different worlds. And mine begins to look a lot brighter.

—Quinn McDonald travels for business and learns more than she teaches.

A Million Views–and a Giveaway

Photo: Lickthebowlgood.com

Photo: Lickthebowlgood.com

Yes, it’s happened. My blog passed a million views yesterday. That number sounds amazing to me. Oh, I know that the blog is six years old, and a million views isn’t record-breaking. Not the point. For me, it means that people keep coming back, looking at older pages, waiting for new pages. A million views.

It makes me happy and grateful that people have found me, stuck around, left and come back, and posted insightful, interesting comments.

So it’s time to celebrate! I’m giving away two, one-hour creativity coaching sessions. If I receive more than 60 comments, I’ll do one free coaching for every 30 comments left, and choose the winners from among the first, the middle and the last groups of comments.

Photo by Lynn Viehl

Photo by Lynn Viehl

The coaching is not a demos. Real-life, get-down-to-the-issues creativity coaching session. Want to tackle your inner critic? Good idea. How about choosing your next project and starting it? Or taking a look at your perfectionism? It’s your choice. It’s a one-hour session, either by phone or Skype, and it is my gift to you. No charge, no sales pitch, just coaching.

If you’ve ever wanted to experience creativity coaching, this is your chance. You will experience the feeling of support and possibility, perhaps even a moment of clarity and a breakthrough. It depends on what you bring into the session, and I am excited to have the experience of free-form coaching again.

Here’s the small print: We’ll choose a time that works for both of us. You will initiate the call. If we use Skype, it will be computer to computer and without video. International entries are encouraged, if you have a computer and a Skype account (which is free).

Thanks so much for continuing to read my blog and celebrate with me!

Note: The winners of the free coaching have been notified. My privacy policy keeps me from disclosing their names, like I usually do with winners.

-Quinn McDonald is thinking, “A million views. Wow.”

Photo credit: Cake:  Lickthebowlgood.com Spring challenge.
Sparkler: Lynn Viehl, photographer.

Journaling for Perfectionists

Note: Ms. Lillypads is the winner of Mary Beth Shaw’s book. Congratulations! Send me your address and the book will be on its way!

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Saturday I’m teaching Journal Writing for Perfectionists. I was prepping the sample  technique pages earlier tonight (that’s some of them in the photo above)  and remembering how hard it is to be a perfectionist. All that control. All that belief that I could control other people, events, life. It sure took me a long time to learn control is not a virtue when it comes to other people.

But we do get  chances to be grateful. My first gratitude journal was thin and mostly blank. It’s easier now to be grateful.

Some guy in a Ford truck cut me off today. I decided it was a small price to pay for having so many smart blog readers who leave smart comments.

Later at the library, a lady was allowing her little girl to empty her purse and help find her library card. The little girl got distracted and the mother didn’t encourage her to find the library card so other people could use the check-out machine. The line behind me grew. Finally another woman cut in front of me and said, “I’m in a bigger hurry than you, I have kids.” I didn’t yell at her. It was in exchange for good friends who are kind and considerate. Once you get the hang of gratitude and give up control, life gets easier.

There are still some spaces in the class. It’s on Saturday, March 9 at Paradise Valley (AZ) Community College, from 9 a.m. to noon in Building Q.  Details and registration are on this page. You can have fun if you are a recovering perfectionist, too.

-Quinn McDonald is teaching grammar tomorrow and journaling on Saturday. This does not seem odd to her.

Gratitude and Guns

Because I live in Arizona, I see a lot of people packin’ heat. Carrying guns in hip and shoulder holsters. Here, it’s fine to conceal-carry. Or open carry. I see guns in the library, bars (yes, places where you go to drink and let down your inhibitions), and movie theaters. Gives the store name  “Target” a whole new meaning.  My classes are gun-free zones, and when I announce that, some people argue and some go stow their guns in their cars. Life can be weird here in the West.

Walt Whitman from JottedLines.com

When I ask my coaching clients to keep a gratitude journal, I start slowly. It’s hard to be grateful when you are downtrodden, angry, restless or a victim of your own life. Gratitude is hard. It makes you responsible for your own self, your own joy. And when you are busy eating worms, it sounds annoying, not helpful.

Gratitude journals do something very ancient and very interesting. They base their success on the sure knowledge that we create our own reality.  What we look at, we find. What we find, we become.

Walt Whitman had it exactly right when he said:
” There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.”

So the gratitude journal serves the purpose, not of making you grateful, but of making you aware that you can allow yourself to be grateful. Once you have done that, you begin to look for things to put in the journal. You go gratitude hunting. Things that are mildly gratitude-producing become grist for your gratitude. You find what you look for.

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. (It’s often attributed to Abraham Kaplan and slightly reworded, to Abraham Maslow, the developer of that hierarchy of needs, Maslow’s pyramid.) We use the tool we have. If the tool is gratitude, we look at our life trying to figure out how to be grateful, even if it’s not obvious, even if it’s hard.

Now replace that gratitude journal with a gun. Concealed carry.

When a gun is strapped to your hip, you are ready to “protect” yourself, your ideas, your beliefs, your world. That gun becomes part of your reality.  And you begin to look for reasons to use it. Without a gun, armed only with your pen and journal, you have to look for a way to reason with someone who argues with you. You have to be willing to lose, to walk away, to concede a point. You have to learn patience, tact, honesty, compassion.

If you have a gun, everything looks like a challenge. You want to use the tool you carry. You look for threats. No one goes to the range to practices “shoot to scare.”

Be careful what you choose to arm yourself with. You think it’s hard to withdraw words said in anger, it’s a lot harder to take back a bullet.

-Quinn McDonald is a user of words. She does not own a gun, although she has qualified as a sharpshooter in years gone by.

Fear of Praise

After the class was finished, the instructor handed out evaluations for us to fill out. I’d enjoyed the class and learned something useful, so I circled all the 5s on the form–the highest number. The person next to me said, “You gave her all 5s?”

“Sure, ” I said, “The instructor was interesting and I learned something.”

Praise warms you. © Quinn McDonald

The woman next to be frowned and said, “That 5 means the class is perfect, and it wasn’t perfect. I could name a few things that weren’t perfect.”

I stopped her. “I’m sure you could,” I said, “But 5 is the highest score, and it doesn’t mean perfect, it just means the instructor did what she said she was going to do, and that’s fine. And I had a good time. For me, that’s a plus.”

“I have higher expectations,” the woman said, “and I didn’t have a perfect experience, so the instructor doesn’t get a perfect mark.”

I wondered exactly what the instructor would have had to do to earn a row of 5s from the woman. And I wondered how come we are so afraid of giving praise. Giving a word of praise isn’t a promise to take care of the other person for life. It’s a vote of confidence–I liked the class. It’s an encouragement–when we offer praise, we offer encouragement to keep doing more of the praised behavior, and that leads to more experience in good behavior.

Even when I offer praise, it gets shrugged off–“Thank you,” I’ll say, in genuine appreciation.

“No problem,” the person answers, as if the effort weren’t enough. I’m sure she would not want me to cause a problem, but the thanks gets lost in the denying.

In the workplace, supervisors don’t say thank you to avoid being asked for a raise or promotion–but how many people would work harder hearing some encouragement? And then deserve that raise or promotion?

My book got its first one-star review on Amazon. I read the review and knew instantly that the person hadn’t read the book. Missed the point entirely. I know the book isn’t for everyone, and won’t make everyone happy. But the criticism was of the “I don’t like it, so you shouldn’t either,” type.  I looked up that reviewers other reviews. Just as I thought, the vast majority were harsh criticisms, judgement rendered from a place of fear. I felt sorry for such a life, and grateful that I don’t have to life that life.  I’ll bet a copy of my book  that she hasn’t had a lot of praise in her life, and felt anger and disappointment at reading the enthusiastic reviews.

Praise doesn’t have to be elaborate. A smile might be enough. Or a simple, “I appreciate your help,” or “Thanks for your effort, it made a difference.” Praising people attracts appreciation to you, too. And that feels good.

It’s Monday, go out and praise someone this week. See if it doesn’t make you feel good.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. She loves the surprised look on people’s faces when they hear praise.

Happy Thanksgiving–Alone or in a Crowd

Whether you are alone, in a crowd (but not part of it) or loving a lot of company and noise, Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s also Theme Thursday, a day of links to fun and interesting place. So I’m combining the day of listing things I’m grateful for, and links to find them.

Daniel Patterson's image of wild Mexican turkeys in the Tucson, AZ area.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, one without presents but not without stress. But we all have much to be thankful for, from big blessings to tiny flashes of insight.

Two years ago, I was alone on Thanksgiving. It felt strange, but not unpleasant. I spent the entire day in silence, working on art projects, feeling what it is like to be alone with just your thoughts. It wasn’t an exciting day, but it was memorable. I didn’t eat turkey, I wasn’t part of the imagined vision of national celebration. I felt removed from the mainstream, but intensely happy to have a day to sink into my art.

In that time, I thought of things I was grateful for. Non-traditional things–the ability to make it through a day alone, without a TV, with just my own meager art supplies.

Today, I’m presenting a list of links that are also reasons to be grateful. I had a rocky start with gratitude journals, but I’m a fan now.

I’m grateful that there are still wild animals on the face of the earth, and that the internet makes it possible for someone on one end of the earth to watch a pond at the other end.

I’m grateful that I found the intersection of art and words as my heart’s delight. If you are a book artist, enjoy pages of inspiration. Don’t miss the Pittsburgh Art Collective books. Beautiful!

I’m grateful that I can see the works of a lot of other artists–of all skill levels. And participate in showing mine, if I like. You can display your art on Illustration Friday, too. It’s great to see what others are doing.

Chris Dunmire runs the Creativity Portal. No matter what your outlet, the portal will help you find more and more interesting articles, projects, and interviews with creative folks.

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays: * * *  Creative Play 11. 19.09 * * * Creative Play 11.5.09 * * * Creative Play 10.29.09 * * * Creative Play 10.22.09 * * *  Creative Play 10.15.09 * * * Creative Play 10.8.09 * * * Creative Play 10.1.09* * *  Creative Play 9.24.09 * * * Creative Play 9.17.09* * * Creative Play 9.10.09 * * *

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also wonders what you would like to say that you didn’t?


Thanks . . .for all

Thanks to all the readers of my blog who have helped, shared thoughts, given ideas.

Thanks for the things I understand and those I don’t.orchid

Thanks for all the answered prayers and the unanswered prayers, because sometimes the unanswered ones make me think harder and more carefully about what I want to petition the universe for.

Thanks for time to be alone and time to have people around in a big noisy mess. Both are important.

Thanks that the house sold, that we found another one at the other end of the country, that the three plants we stuck in the moving van made it (that’s the orchid, blooming in the new house, on the right), that my husband drove the van safely across the country, that we got the whole thing unloaded without losing a lot of furniture.

Just thanks. It is enough.

Alone on Thanksgiving: Making it Through

Alone on Thanksgiving can be a restorative practice. Last year, I decided to spend the day in silence, gratitude and meditation, away from the busy, commercial world. This year I am surrounded by people, noisy and chatty. Each has its advantages.

Lst year, I chose silence because I had never done it. Many people are alone on Thanksgiving, afraid and hurt. If you are alone, here are some tips and links to make your solitude fill with gratitude.

jicama1. East something new. I made a simple salad of jicama (HICK-ih-mah) and mango preserved with chili, salt and sugar. Jicama is a vegetable that looks like a stone, needs to be peeled with a vegetable peeler, and is best eaten raw. It has a crisp texture and a just-sweet enough flavor to make it a salad ingredient. I purchased both the preserved mango and jicama in a Latino market. Dice both the jicama and preserved mango, dress with orange juice.

2. Burn incense or wear perfume. Your sense of smell is a powerful memory machine. Smelling something wonderful lifts your spirits and helps you remember today as special. Use incense that is wild-harvested, not sticks made of glue and sawdust. Two years ago, I was fond of  Miller-Harris’s Figue Amere, a gentle wind-swept scent of wild figs and Mediterranean herbs. A great place to explore scents is Lucky Scent.Miller-harris perfume

3. Online can be a a window to the outdoors. Check your clock, and if it’s daytime in Vancouver, you can watch the beluga whales. No matter what the time, you can watch live underwater activity in the Monterey Bay.

More interested in wolves? Watch for them (live camera in dens and in camps in New York) as they walk by the camera. (This one takes patience; you may have to wait for wolves, but the scenery without wolves is lovely as well.) The National Zoo in D.C. has a cam on the pandas. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, or check out the still camera pictures.

4. Want to get out of your head and think about the larger world? Peter Russell’s World Clock will tell you how many barrels of oil are being pumped out of the ground, how many people are being born and are dying, or watch the earth’s temperature rise.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. (c) 2008 All rights reserved. Thanks to the magazine Spirituality and Health for some of the ideas and links. Miller-Harris image: http://www.Millerharris.com Jicama image: http://www.uga.edu

Gratitude Journal: New Age Hype or Useful Tool?

The first time someone suggested I keep a gratitude journal, I suggested they set their hair on fire. I was a little cranky at the time. I didn’t want to be grateful, I wanted to seethe and be angry. Once I got finished with anger, I wasn’t sure why I should be grateful. And that’s the point.

Being grateful and writing it down helps slow down all that galloping emotion. In the mood I was in, my approach was a “revenge of the gratitude journal.” I wanted to prove that idiot who suggested the gratitude journal that they were wrong. Hah! So I wrote down, “I have nothing to be grateful for.” So there. I looked at it for awhile and felt a little dumb. Except for the thing I was angry about, which had taken over my life, I had a roof over my head, clean clothes to wear, a caring spouse, enough food to eat. I knew that other people didn’t have all of that. But hey, I was still angry.

So I wrote down, “My cup of coffee was not total crap this morning.” That seemed about right. The next day, I wrote down, “My annoying cube neighbor has the flu.” Then I added, “Traffic was OK. I got to the client on time.” I found that having a few small things to be grateful for seemed to reduce my anger. Only because all that anger was exhausting me.

Over time, I began to notice the quality of items I was grateful for changed, almost as if I could predict a bad mood, a new project coming my way, and when I was in problem-solving mode. I began to dare to notice that I was good at some things and write them in the gratitude journal. I could see the big picture and the details to get there. I was a good problem solver. Being grateful for what you are good at and noticing it makes you better at it.

A gratitude journal sharpens your skills. The first time I suggested it to one of my coaching clients, he tactfully suggested I set my hair on fire. (Well, no, he was quite polite. But I could feel the shock wave over the phone. This was no girly-man.) But he kept up the gratitude journal. I promise my clients anonimity, so I can’t quote his entries, but they started simple and got quite complex. It was working for him, too.

Here’s what he wrote to me this morning:
“You can tell your tough-guy clients that when I got laid off, the journal had mentally prepared me to view it as a blessing and an opportunity rather than a death sentence.
It allowed me to think clearly and focus on what I really wanted to do. Kind of like boot camp mentally prepares a “green” soldier for his first combat mission.”

Thanks so much for letting me know. You and I discovered the same thing about gratitude–it’s not a new age emotion, it’s a business tool. Particularly if you own your own business.

Note: Tips for keeping a gratitude journal.

—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a life coach who specializes in guiding people through transitions. She holds workshops on writing, corporate culture, and giving presentations. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Her other website, Raw-Art-Journals, is about her art life. Follow Quinn on Twitter.