Changing Your Mind

We often fight new ideas because a new idea leads to growth and growth means we will have to change something else about our life. In other words, growth leads to change. And we hate that.

This tree is growing. The bark doesn’t fit anymore. In spring, the bark splits and peels back. The new bark is revealed. It’s not scary, it’s expected every spring.

Growth doesn’t happen all at once. When you let it happen naturally, one step at a time, it’s manageable. As your old ideas peel away, save them. They help you shape more new ideas.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing, getting along with difficult people, and creative problem solving. She is also a creativity coach.

Changing Like a Butterfly

The caterpillar is programmed by destiny to spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly. No one knows if the caterpillar is aware of what happens during the process. No one knows if the butterfly remembers being a caterpillar.

"Learning to Fly" © Quinn McDonald  Collage: Monsoon Papers, handmade paper, sun-bleached paper, ink on mixed media paper.

“Learning to Fly” © Quinn McDonald Collage: Monsoon Papers, handmade paper, sun-bleached paper, ink on mixed media paper.

People are different. We don’t develop a chrysalis, change and emerge, fully different. Ours is a harder way–small steps every day. We change because we keep choosing t0, day by day, decision by decision. Despite the advice and change-back messages from reluctant friends.

It is hard, making the choice to change. It means we deliberately give up one thing to choose another, often unknown.  It means we risk losing friends who don’t want to get to know us all over again in our new forms.  Some friends will turn around or branch off.  We can’t control their decision not to change.  The line between controlling our own lives and not controlling others’ lives is often blurry.

For some of us, the change is emotional. We choose to forgive bad parenting, and accept what we did get, and thrive despite of it. We choose to leave a job that pays well but doesn’t meet our values.

Our transformations are as amazing as a caterpillar’s. For all of us who have survived, who have chosen to heal ourselves, to push into growth,  to keep going no matter how hard, we have chosen a life of growth and transformation.

We know change is possible and sustainable. Sometimes it’s a secret. Sometimes we reinvent ourselves several times. We can have more than one career, one set of friends, or one job in a lifetime. It’s the same you, with all your emotional baggage, but you have chosen different destination. The one that leads to satisfaction. Maybe happiness.

–Quinn McDonald knows that the longer it takes a butterfly to get out of the chrysalis, the stronger the butterfly becomes and the longer it will live.


The Value of Waiting

I’ll admit it–I’m impatient. Not as much as I used to be, but still more than is necessary. The last time I was discussing a problem I wanted to resolve, my root+n+sproutcoach suggested just letting it be for a while. For a Myers-Briggs “J” –the one who checks things off a list, who is always working toward a goal, who makes decisions and even if they are wrong, who cares, it’s better than not doing anything–well, letting a problem stew didn’t seem like a good solution.

My coach, wise woman that she is, said–“think of the solution as a seedling. It’s just broken out of the ground and is searching for some light. If you come along and pull it out to get a closer look, then stick it in the ground, then do that every day, the seedling won’t survive.”

She made me laugh the kind of laugh that let’s me know I’m delighted in my own mis-steps. I could see myself uprooting the seedling every day to see how it was growing. And how quickly fatal that would be. Some things do better when left to grow roots and shoots.

The story reminded me of another gardening metaphor on patience. Sweet corn Zea_mays_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-283takes about 75 days to go from seed to picking an ear. Yelling at it to hurry up has no effect on the length of time. It doesn’t make the corn sweeter, either.

Some problems, some answers just need time to ripen. Even if we want answers and solutions right now. Knowing when to turn things over, as another wise woman I know says, “to the operating system of the universe,” is good wisdom.

-Quinn McDonald is a gardener at heart. She is learning to be a gardener of the heart.

What Lies Within

We are all so much more than our outsides–what we look like. Sure, everyone knows that, but still. We love things that are beautiful, from kittens to people, from cars to landscapes. I love the potential in things. I love looking for what is about to become different and delight in the development.

fleur4This cactus fruit is developing seeds. They are in progress. The light from the sun illuminates the still-growing fruit in a way that says “anticipation” to me.

fleur3Amaryllis are big, showy flowers. When I lived on the East Coast, they were my salvation in the winter. Here, many things bloom in winter, but the amaryllis always is a delight.

It develops quickly, always stretching and leaning into the sun. The bud develops and you can see that a lot is happening inside.

fleur1Then one day, in under 12 hours, crisp white petals appear and unfurl. I always wonder how they fit into that much smaller bud. It’s like an idea. Once expressed, it expands and takes on a whole new shape.

fleur2This blossom was just one of three packed in that special spear-shaped promise. And there is more to come.

What are you growing into?

–Quinn McDonald is letting nature take its course.

Stubborn Pays Off

When my son was about five, he bought me two plants for Mothers Day–a corn plant (Dracaena Frangrans) and a spider plant. The spider plant populated offices and homes throughout the entire state, and then exhausted, died. Not so the corn plant.

The corn plant has survived eleven moves (one cross-country), has bloomed twice and has sturdily refused to branch. When a winter was too cold and dry (and i was too stubborn to turn up the heat in New England) it threw off leaves, but each spring, it flourished again.

The cat can’t believe it, either.

I would cut off the top if it got too dry, and the stem would re-sprout. If the cane got dry and lanky, I’d cut off the top and replant it. The plant chugged along, older than any plant in my ever-changing collection. When I left D.C. I gave away all my plants except for the fig tree, an orchid and the corn plant. The big plants had no choice, they rode in the moving van. For five days in August, they stayed in the dark heat of the van.

Being relatives of mine (well, how could I not think of them that way?) they survived. The ficus, known for being delicate, didn’t lose more than five leaves. The corn plant drooped, but picked up again. I cheerfully topped it and planted the top while the cane died. Again, I had a new plant.

Last summer, four years into its stay here, the corn plant began to dry out. It didn’t like the air conditioning blowing on it nor the sun baking it. I trimmed the dying leaves and finally, there was just a four-inch top. I trimmed it and saw the cross-section of the cane was dry and brown. I hoped the top would root again.

The stem crinkled. and I had to admit it was over. I put the pot on the east side of the house, in days when it was still 110 degrees in the afternoon. The top was taken into the bathroom with a skylight, and after a few weeks of touch and go, it decided to live and pushed out two new leaves.

Yesterday, thinking it might rain, I went outside to connect the extensions to the gutter drain. I saw the plant and remembered I had to pull it out and put it in the trash. It had been outside for weeks, and it had rained only once.

There, on the plant, were two leafy sprouts. I have no idea how a plant that wasn’t doing well inside, at 84 degrees and regular watering would come back again. But there it was. I repotted it, watered it, and placed it under the orange tree where it will get dappled shade and great winter sun.

The corn plant lives on, thriving in any condition, dipping close to death, but coming back strong. It appreciates love, but will count on its own strength when it has to. And now I have two of them, generations away from their origin, still turning toward the sun.

-Quinn McDonald has grown hundreds of plants in her life, but the corn plant and the ficus are the most amazingly resilient of them all.

The Beauty of Change

This palo verde is in Arizona. It’s been trimmed, and it’s bare.

When I arrived in Wisconsin, the trees were leafing out. Seeing big-leaved trees again was great, they had just started to unfold and fill the trees. By the time I went home three days later, the trees had come into their shapes.

Change. We hate the idea, but we live it every day. The trees changed every day I was there. They were changing when I watched and when I didn’t.

Evolution is not something limited to ten thousand years ago. Evolution happens every day. We adapt, we behave a new way, it works, we keep doing it. We’ve changed.

Leaves are starting to push out, dark and fresh green.

Adapting is the stepping stone to flexibility. Flexibility is the doorway to creativity. We explore, we create, we invent, and we grow. Creative evolution. We change without really noticing it, just notice that our art is getting easier. More satisfying. More natural. Until we have fully leafed out and ideas come to rest in the shadow we cast on the earth.

Tree in progress to becoming.

Quinn McDonald is an artist who writes and teaches what she knows. It changes from year to year.

The Past in Your Closet

On this Saturday, I’m de-stashing. The Craft Retreat, a local craft supply store, at 59th Ave. and Greenway in Glendale, AZ, is renting tables to customers. Some people are selling items they made in classes they took at the store, others are selling what they make in their studio. I’m de-stashing. Rubber stamps, packs of ephemera, fabric pieces, paints, containers, canvas–tools of art I no longer do.

Gene Simmons, then and now.

While pulling boxes out of the closet, I came across the very first loose-leaf are journal pages I did, about six or seven years ago. A shiver of horror ran down my spine when I looked at them–miles from what I consider acceptable today. But I didn’t throw them out. We grow slowly, and sometimes we don’t see how much we’ve grown, how far we’ve come. Instead of horror, I treated myself to some delight.

Design, construction, materials have all improved. At the time, if I liked a technique, it went into the piece I was working on, whether it was sensible or not. I no longer do that.

The words were still appropriate and fresh. That may be because I’ve been a writer for a long time, and the growth in the collage side is more apparent.

It’s easy to criticize yourself when you look at art you made years ago. But there’s a lot to be learned by looking at an older piece and seeing what you’ve changed. Why did you make the changes?

What was the result?
Why did you choose to do some of the older techniques?
Did they work, or were they a fad?
Does some of the work still please you?
What technique or concept pleases you still?
Is the thing that pleases you now shaped differently, or would you do the same again?
What color did you use most often? Do you still like or use the color?

The answer to all those questions create a pattern of growth in your art that you can see and measure. While you might cringe, it’s also good to know that you have grown over time. Producing the same art year after year without any change means you are stuck.

“I’m not stuck, it’s my groove,” one of my coaching clients used to say to me.

If you are sticking with the same colors and patterns, it’s not a groove, it’s a rut. Look at some of your older work and see what it has to say to you. I was surprised, a nice lesson on change while de-stashing.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who will be selling tools and ephemera this weekend.

Home is Where the Growth Is

“You must be happy to be coming home,” the lady at the coffee shop said. I was standing in a small space on Hillhurst Ave., off Los Feliz, a coffee shop that I’d frequented 33 years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles.

“Well, I didn’t live here long enough for it to be home,” I said, in that irritating way I can have when perfectionist precision beats out big-picture acceptance.

Later, as I continued my walk, I thought about it. No doubt, the short time I spent in Los Angeles had echoed changes through my life. I came into my own here, accepted myself as a writer, realized that not wanting to become a nurse did not make me the bad person my mother insisted, and basically, grew up.

I’ve lived in many places in my life, and made a home in all of them. Contrary to surveys, that only allow you one home, you can have many. Is my son’s home Georgia because he was born there, even though I left when he was less than a year old?

There have been homes I’ve loved and hated to leave, and homes I’ve lived in because it is where I wound up. Each has contributed to the life I’ve led. Each home has a story and leaves a mark.

Much of it depends on the decisions you make, the mark you leave yourself. I will always love Los Angeles for the growth I experienced here. There are other homes I love for other reasons–places where I was happy, sad, understood, rejected–all of which taught me something new and pushed me into shape.

Now I’m in Phoenix and that will be home. Not because I chose to live there, but because I’m making a life there, a life that will take me in a new direction of growth.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who develops and teaches communication programs. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.