Alcohol Ink and Poetry

My artwork is becoming more and more about poetry. I’ve always loved words in art, probably the best reason I love making collage.

For a project in my poetic medicine certification, I am exploring the idea of silence, and how we use it to communicate, to heal, to express our deepest pain.  I created a dozen alcohol-ink abstract landscapes, and printed phrases of my classmates poetry onto the landscapes. The snippets combine to form a poem of their own, about the power of silence.Samples are below, but not in order.

Four project cards on my work desk. My landscapes do seem to stay in Arizona's desert.

Next week, when we gather, I’m going to ask each person to read their poetry snippet, in an order I chose to create a new poem, with a dozen contributors.  I’m hoping they’ll not only cooperate, but be pleased with the visual combining with the spoken word.

This landscape is an image from my trip to Second Mesa, on the Hopi reservation, where the night sky is filled with stars.

This landscape is an image from my trip to Second Mesa, on the Hopi reservation, where the night sky is filled with stars.

I’m enjoying the break in serious study for this project. I hope it goes over well.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, a writing trainer, and studying to become a poetic medicine practitioner.


A Talisman of Fire

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

The Letter Shin, © photograph by Quinn McDonald. Sterling pendant by Su Keates.

Another talisman has come into my life, this one through the skill and talent of Su Keates, a silversmith from New Zealand. Su listens and then brings her own vision to the creation of a piece.

This piece was going to be hard. I wanted to have an abstraction of the Hebrew letter shin, the 21st letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter has many meanings and associations. The word shin literally means teeth or bite, but that’s not the hidden meaning I am drawn to.

Shin has three points, often said to represent

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

A traditional rendering of the Hebrew letter shin.

kindness, justice and mercy. In one kabbalistic interpretation, the three stalks represent the flash of an idea, understanding, and application of knowledge. Now that is a meaning I can spend time with.

What I love is the number of words begin with the letter shin (in Hebrew). The word for peace, shalom. The word for hear, or listen, sh’ma. The word for the day ordained as a day of rest, Shabbat. Then there is sun (shemesh) and change, and year, and rest.

Shin is a mother letter, and it represents fire. So I wanted this talisman to look like fire. The letter is heard in the first phrase of the Bible, “In the beginning.” How could I not find this letter a talisman for my work as a coach, helping people change? Or my work as a writer, helping people heal and rest from the scars of their life?

It’s new and ancient and I can already tell it has power and life.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach who helps people reinvent themselves.


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.

Wise Words for Writers

Pine tree in Sedona, AZ © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved. 2012

Pamela Wilson studies and teaches on satsang–“a gathering of people to honor Truth, to rest from the conflict and confusion of the world, and take refuge in the Heart.

What a better day to honor taking some refuge from the harsh and difficult world that is so difficult to understand. Often it is our past that fills us with despair, or the current news.

Pamela is a soulful teacher, and today a wisewoman friend, Donna McGuigan,  sent me this quote. It reached me exactly where I needed it, and I hope it brings you light and warmth, too.

“ I’m not in the don’t-touch-it school. Maybe it’s my Italian heritage. I call it Mediterranean satsang. I say, “Come here, poor little story!” If the story keeps coming back, it means it’s desperate for a little loving attention.

If you are always going, “Oh, it’s just story,” of course it’s going to renew its effort: “No, I’m not!”

If a certain situation continues to arise, just let it sit with you. See it as your devotee. Grant it the compassion to be able to sit with you. Say, “Yes, you are welcome here.” Even story. In the beginning it’s good to get firm with stories, because there are way too many of them. But it’s like Reader’s Digest; you have them condensed down to the top five issues, right?

Red rock in Sedona, AZ. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2012

When you’re feeling strong, or if you have a friend to sit with, just sit in the silence until you’re soothed, until the body and brain are soothed, and then invite the story to come sit. It will start to activate the body, and then the brain will start to bring in strategies to fix it and try to help. So thank the brain, and then attend to what’s happening in the body. Stories have another function, other than bothering us. They’re designed to dissolve the defenses in the body. They’re like armor. So you sit with the issue, the upset, and see where it’s triggering in the body, and then just allow awareness to move into it and permeate the upset – like awareness has hands, and it’s soothing and loving.

What you’re doing is helping the body let go of the past. One of the ways the body creates release is by recreating something from the past in order to pull it out of the earth of the body. Otherwise it stays deep. This system of release is strange – almost reptilian, it’s so ancient. These bodies are from another time. Even though you get a fresh, new body every time, a lot of the defenses are recreated through thought. That’s why I say bring the story here. There’s no lack of brilliance in the design of either the body or the way it lets go, or even that this world is so harsh. Robert Adams used to call this the remedial planet, because when you really want freedom, this is where you come.

It’s sweet: the body asks for a blessing through its upset, its agitation. It’s invoking the Beloved, awareness-consciousness: “Please, master, come here. Please heal me.” And if it’s really frantic, then it will be sending out distress signals all the time. So it has another function: to awaken the Beloved. It awakens the satguru through its distress.

Ramana used to say, “I would follow a devotee into hell if need be.” So when hell or agitation arises in the body, it’s luring the satguru out of the heart. Everything is an invitation for the Buddha to awaken and bring peace, even to the body. It calls for the laying on of hands, the welcoming and soothing. Even doubt is asking for your love. Doubt is talking to you, saying, “Master, is this true?”

When you see your body and thought as your devotees, you have a completely different relationship with them. Where else are they going to go for truth?”

Dealing With Hurt and Anger

A few days ago, I talked about being angry after being wronged. First of all, thank you for all your supportive emails and messages. They were thoughtful, insightful, and uplifting. And comforting.

While I was working on letting go of my anger and choosing a course of action, I wrote my own coach, who reminded me that before I took action, I needed to spend some time healing.

It’s good advice. When we are bruised, we put ice on the spot and elevate it. My spirit needed the same thing. But I’m so busy! I have deadlines! I need to . . .heal. My coach was absolutely right. How do you heal? But treasuring your creative work and spending time with it. By being creative, the sense of loss is not a sense of threat. By turning to creative work, the hole left by the sense of lack is filled with creative work, proving we are capable of it, and capable of healing ourselves.

Choosing a reaction doesn’t spring from a sense of anger, it grows from a sense of boundaries and accountability. Yes, that’s from Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Brené says that by holding people accountable for their actions, we enforce the boundaries of acceptable behavior and can concentrate on what someone did, not who they are.

My first task today was healing. I went out to the Desert Botanical Garden and enjoyed the butterfly house with a friend. We then wandered into the garden, found a bench, and sat down to sketch. Sketching requires concentration and gives you positive results. Looking closely at something you are drawing helps you see how it’s constructed. A bigger lesson at work.

So thanks to my own coach, I’m on the road to healing through creativity and setting boundaries and holding the person who wronged me accountable. I want to create a solution that is clean, ethical and simple. I think I can.

-Quinn McDonald is working through a hard time the only way she knows how–by meaning making and creative work.

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Day 4: Walking and Plan B

“Day 4 of What?” you ask? Find out. It’s not too late to join us, if you feel called. And thanks for spreading the word: Seeded Earth Studio.

Wisdom from the comments:
Jackie Dishner: ” There are books to be written, stories to tell, imaginations to build in all my journals. I think of them as extensions of myself.”

Krystyna Rawicz: “I used to be terrified that my children would read what I write in my journal. How strange. Terrified my own children might see me.”

Daien: “Yesterday’s writing brought up such a surprise. I read back over the intentions, and as I put pen to beautiful rough brown paper, my body began to tell me a story about itself that I’d never listened to before. Seriously? My teeth at war with my stomach, my heart bruised and tired of intervening between the two? Such epic revelations, resulting in a much more tender carriage of my entire self yesterday and beginning again today.”

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Walking is a wonderful activity. I first did it as a substitute for running. I like

Palm: growing and dying at the same time.

walking. Seeing plants up close; hearing coyotes, owls, cicadas; smelling trees lose their leaves and rain in the distance—it became a conversation between nature and me, between the desert exhaling dawn into the dark, and me exhaling as I walk.

In early September, when it is still  hot enough to suffocate a gnat, you can feel the days growing shorter. It February, when the cold gnaws at your joints, the dawn comes earlier. Walking is the only hope I allow myself, and it is a generous gift.

Many people in this group do not live in a warm climate. I moved into one. Phoenix is on the Sonoran Desert floor, at 1,000 feet above sea level. We have four seasons, but they are subtle. Hell spends the summer here; we bring in our outdoor plants in early June to protect them from the heat. We are starting to pick our oranges and grapefruits now.

Eventually walking became my way of meditating. There is nothing special–no slow motion stepping, no extravagant arm movements. This is meditation of my own device–walking, being fully present, not concentrating on the day ahead but on the flow of time around me.

The last two days have been windy and raining, and as I don’t own a raincoat, I didn’t walk outside. This makes me cranky, but I realized that many of the people on the journey with me face high winds, driving snow and tree-cracking cold. Many of you may have a Plan B for bad weather.

Here is where it gets interesting. There is substitute exercise, but for me, it is more important to create a substitute meditation. As Krystyna Rawicz wrote, “I nearly gave up on the meditation, then decided it was ok to do it lying in my warm and comfy bed. The idea of hatching myself arose as a result. Maybe because of the warmth.”

Walking meditation has become so much part of my morning, that the first time I substituted only exercise I realized that it was not exercise I craved, it was mental silence. If I can’t walk, I still meditate. I sit in a chair in my studio, no music, no TV, no “background noise” machine. I place my hands over my eyes, palm toward my face, so my eyes are cushioned by the section of my palm right beneath the fingers. In that way, my palms support my cheeks, and I sit in silence and feel the world getting lighter–both literally, as dawn comes, and metaphorically, as I let go and float.

Because these 30 days will covers days of bad weather and limited tolerance for cold, a Plan B is a good idea. Share one when you discover it.

–Quinn McDonald and a group of explorers are on a 30-day journey to the source of creativity within ourselves. Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.

Random Thoughts After Meditation

That bag of blame you are dragging behind you? Like stabbing yourself in the heart a thousand times to hurt those who hurt you. It’s not retribution if the other party doesn’t care.

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All that painful stuff from your past made you the powerful, capable person you are today. Stop trying to fix it, teach yourself to use it to your advantage. It’s not going away, might as well make work for you.

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If it’s not inside you, part of you, it isn’t yours. That includes happiness, peace, and joy. None of those come in a shopping bag, they are born in your heart.

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If you don’t let the person who wronged you off the hook, you have to stand there and hold that heavy pole–reeling them in, playing it out, reeling them in, playing it out. Hint: there’s a better way to spend your time.

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The things we hate about ourselves are often our best characteristics turned up too loud. Don’t pull out your faults, tone them down till you can see the gift in them.

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Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach, writer, and speaker. She is engaged in a journal project, sending journals around the world to collaborate with strangers.