Letting Go of 2014

It doesn’t matter if it was a great year or a tough year. Probably some of both. Either way, in a week it will be 2015. And you can choose what to take with you and what to leave behind. Yes, you can. This is not up to your partner, or your parents, or what happened in 1974. It’s your choice.

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 11.34.12 PMLetting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in new air into your life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag you down. Things that hold you back.

You get to choose priorities. You get to name what it important to you. No one can decide for you. You can’t claim it is important and then turn your back on it. Then it wasn’t important enough.

One year from now, you will not remember if you started the year with clean floors, dusted furniture, or a put-away tree. But you will remember your creative work. The work that expressed who you choose to be. The creative urge you followed that made 2015 different from 2014.

Start to let go of what isn’t make you eager, alive, wonderful and awake. You have a bit less than one week.

–Quinn McDonald is starting to let go.



Non-Attachment: Hard Work, but Worthwhile

Non-attachment seems to be against everything we’ve learned: ambition, competition, beating out the slower contenders, winning, success, and “we’re #1!”

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

Non-attachment sounds lazy, uncaring, and weird. It’s anything but. Non-attachment does not mean you don’t care, won’t try, or give up. Non-attachment means you care deeply, do your best, and then don’t expect the world to throw money (or fame) at you.  A few examples will help with clarity:

You are in line for a new job. You are asked to take some good-fit behavioral tests. Attachment to outcome move: Instead of answering honestly, you suss out what the company is looking for and answer that way. Outcome: you get the job and are miserable, because the job fit is awful and you have to keep re-programming your authentic self.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You answer honestly. If you get the job, you can behave authentically and be appreciated for your skills. If you don’t get the job, you can be glad that you didn’t waste time trying to force yourself into a bad fit.

You want your creative work accepted into an upcoming gallery show.  Attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium, but you are an artist and can do anything.  Outcome: You work very hard and very long to get that theme into a piece of work. You are not chosen. You begin to doubt yourself as an artist. You also start to make snarky comments about the gallery owner.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium. You thank the curator and ask to be kept on their list for future shows. You have free time to pursue your own creative work and have a piece ready for another show at another time.

Someone you know on Facebook posts her latest (in a long series) humble-brag. You call her on that s**t, because you know the truth behind that story. And you tell her what she should have done to earn real praise. Outcome: you look like you are trying to control the universe (again). Worse, your FB friend feels embarrassed, takes your advice next time and it ends in disaster. She blames you.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You take a deep breath, roll your eyes, and congratulate her.

Non-attachment frees you from the responsibility, outcome and control over work that is not yours to do. It allow you to do your best work without blaming yourself if you don’t win the prize. It allows you more emotional room and freedom.

Non-attachment is hard to learn. If you work in a corporate situation (or ever did), it is harder. But the freedom feels wonderful, and is something worth practicing.

–Quinn McDonald wishes she could hit the stride of non-attachment more often.

Reducing Stuff in the Garage

Note: In the book giveaway, I read every comment. I wished I had more books. And then I realized I did! So in addition to Sue in Georgia winning Finding What You Didn’t Lose, Ray in Canada won Saved by a Poem and Annie who Laughs won Voices from the Heart, which is more of a visual poetry book. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all of you who read the blog. There are more giveaways coming.

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Five years ago, when we downsized to a much smaller house, we left so much behind. Yet when we arrived, we  still had too much stuff for the house. But it was August in Phoenix and I could not unpack one more box. We stacked them in the garage and I promised I’d unpack them when it got cooler. I did not.

My studio is the guestroom, so when we have guests I have to quit making art. And the poor guests never get to use the closet because it is stuffed with papers and paints, brayers and fabric, hole punches, scissors and rivets. No room for more.

Buttons“You haven’t looked at it in five years,” most people told me. “Just throw it out.” Or, “You haven’t missed it, so get rid of it.” But I couldn’t do that. I’d gotten rid of everything I could stand getting rid of when we packed, I must have had a reason to pack those boxes.

Today, because it is cooler and I can’t take the gimlet eye of my spouse, I began the task of opening the boxes and preparing for a garage sale. The first box was easy. Coats, hats, gloves. No problem. I saved three scarves, two umbrellas, and a big fat coat (I have a client in Michigan) and the rest will go to the homeless to keep them warm in the winter.

And the box of  drawing paper I found is perfect. I always need drawing paper and paper for the printer. The ream of Strathmore has history–it’s from the main company in West Springfield MA,  before they were bought by Hammermill and then Mohawk, when the thistle was still the logo. I’d guess it is about 30 years old. Still heavy white sheets, still wonderful.

silverringI found my mother’s button box. Buttons so old that one of them crumbled when I touched it. Bakelite and metal, wood, horn and shell buttons. And two napkin rings from my parents’ grandparents. One of them is engraved “November 7, 1849.” Pre-Civil War. The year Abraham Lincoln said,  “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” The year Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death and Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious in an alley in Baltimore, but could not be saved. The year Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery. That napkin ring wasn’t in America then, and wouldn’t be for another 100 years.

I cannot just throw out those boxes. It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember the napkin ring, it remembers 164 years of use. What’s five years in a box to it?

There were letters, in a style of handwriting I can no longer decipher. But the letterpaper is thick and the ink is black, and it will work its way into my art.

Difficult as it is, the boxes need to be sorted one more time. There are things that others can use, and items that will come into the house with me because I will invite them in and find some space. We might have a small house, but I want the items in it to be part of the thread of time. The pieces that will be kept by another generation and wondered over. Because if it is worth wonder, it is worth the space to hold the wonder.

Quinn McDonald is cleaning up and cleaning out.

Letting it Go v. Giving Up

It’s a thin line, a shiver of a difference, but it changes the road you are on from a long hard climb up a scree-strewn path to a road you have chosen, maybe not for its easy travel, but because you are willing to walk where it takes you.

It’s the difference between Giving Up and Letting Go.

Whether it’s a decision made in your studio, your buzzing mind, your hollow heart or a closed-in hospital room, giving up is coming face to face with who you are and how much you can give. It’s often unwilling, exhausted, and the only idea you have left. And sometimes it’s made out of fear, anger and retribution. You give up when your effort is no longer rewarded in any way you can recognize. There are no new ideas, no breeze that feels fresh. It’s a feeling of churned up dirt. It may be laced with a feeling unworthiness and emptiness. But not the good kind.

Letting go feels different. Letting go may be shaded by sorrow, but it is lit by strength. Letting go comes from self-knowledge and the ability to give up control, give up expectations of how much you can steer the outcome. You may care, but you have weighed the choices carefully, balanced your ability with how much heart you have left, and you have chosen. Deliberately.

You open your hands, your heart, and breathe in deeply when you let go. You choose. You know it may hurt, but you also know that you are not going to carry that burden any further. Letting go feels open.

Giving up and letting go can both be uncomfortable, but giving up tastes like ashes and letting go is a long cool drink in the desert. You may still have a long way to walk in the hot sun, but you know where you are going.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and art journaler. She’s done both giving up and letting go. And letting go is done with open hands and open heart, and giving up is done with clenching fists and fear.

The End of the Angry Quilt

A few months ago I wrote about the mystery of the quilt my mother wouldn’t make for me. She stopped and started the quilt for more than 20 years. The part of the story that confounded me was that for the years my mom was in dementia care and in the years since she died, no one has been able to complete the quilt. People want to take it, but once they have it, their energy wanes.

Double wedding ring quilt, from SarcasticBlogger

Double wedding ring quilt, from SarcasticBlogger

Something happens to each person who offers to work on the quilt. Months or years after I hand the quilt over, I get it back, stuffed into a black trash bag and handed back quickly, as if it were an illegal transaction. Or one of mourning.

After I wrote about the quilt, many readers made kind and thoughtful suggestions (you can read that blog post here) of what I should do with the quilt. Some offered to make me a new quilt, which was touching and amazing to me.

There were also a few mothers with difficult daughters who wondered if I might have been on the other end of the perspective. Maybe.  And at the end, I promised to tell you what I would do with the quilt.

I’ve thought about it for a long time. Here’s what we know: The colors (Williamsburg blue and milk chocolate brown with touches of ivory and burnt orange) are not a palette I’d choose. (Notice I’m not saying it wouldn’t match my walls or the couch–I don’t think art has to do that). The calico my mother used was not the cotton of today, and the fabric has degraded over the years.

I took the quilt to meditation and was struck by three shockingly clear facts:

1. The proof, rather than the quilt, was what I was after. I wanted my mother to love me, and prove it by making me a quilt. She made quilts for so many others, why not me? That idea set many years ago, and I never questioned it. When I did, the answer was–my mother did not finish the quilt. I need to accept that as I have accepted the other truths that didn’t taste great the more I chewed on them.

2. If the quilt were finished, what, exactly, did I want to do with it?  I did not want it to cover my bed. Don’t like the color, the design is incomplete, and it would be a reminder of the whole story of loss, every day.

3. The fate of the quilt would be to lie folded in a box in the garage, degrading some more until I pass it on to a relative whose history it doesn’t fit, and who does not need to continue the story.

It took a long time for me to mourn what I did not have and to decide on the next step. Part of my business is designing rituals for others. I join people in marriage or commitment; create and perform sacred ceremonies; end of life transitions; house selling, moving and new home blessings; even new job celebrations. What I needed was a ritual for letting go of the quilt. Vicky, one of my readers, has left the comment, “Burn it.” When I read it, I was shocked. And I knew she was right.

images-1The quilt has served its purpose, and it is time to transition the quilt to another use. I am going to bundle it up, write a letter to my mother, releasing her go of the obligations to complete this quilt or  prove she loves me. I will then burn the quilt and letters and save the ashes. The ashes will be mixed with water-soluble varnish and distilled water and become ink. I’ll use the ink to record the history of the quilt in a journal. My mother was the quilter. I am the writer, and the quilt will find a purpose in the way I know how to use it. The lessons of the quilt can be passed on

  • No one can be forced to love you.
  • “If you loved me you would. . . .” is a sentence that is about control, not love.
  • Loving yourself starts when you accept yourself and know you cannot change the past. Everything else comes after that.

When the day comes to burn the quilt, I will invite people to create their own ceremonies of letting go–of failed love, of regret, of a loss that won’t heal. Whether you burn old love letters or set your sorrows afloat, tied to a stick that you drop into a river, it will be a day to celebrate your own strength.

Take photos and write your stories, and we will create a blog chain of support and celebrate the power of letting go. I’m thinking that October is a good month to do this. I’ll remind you from time to time about your plan, so you will be ready. It will feel incredible light and right to let go.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. Her word for this year is “let go.”

Letting 2010 Go

Yesterday, I went to a letting-go ceremony. It was held at Storm Wisdom in Phoenix, a store and learning center. We gathered in their meditation room and spent some time writing down what we wanted to let go.

The card I drew as my intention for 2011.

Letting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in hew air into our life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag us down. Things that hold us back.

We took our lists to a fire pit and one by one, threw them in. We watched the flame chew up our lists of discarded thoughts, emotions, loss.

We were then smudged with a sage bundled, blessed, and wanded with a crystal wand. When the cleansing was complete, we each drew a card to set an intention for next year. We chose the card without looking, knowing that this was the right one.

It was a kind and loving ceremony. I’ve never been cleansed or wanded, and it felt quiet and good.

I don’t know what kind of a year 2010 was for you, but I’m grateful to leave it behind. There are some lessons and people I will welcome into 2011, but frankly, 2010 was a year that I’m going to exhale from my system and be grateful that I can move ahead and away.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach.

Letting Go to Be OK

Anne was in for a visit; she’s a DC resident, and was happy for our dry heat. . .except for the heat part. The pool seemed the answer to the triple digits. We were floating in the cool water when Anne said, “I’m trying to be a good person, but I’m angry.”

images“What about?” I asked. Anne doesn’t get angry often. She told me a story about a slight that seemed to pile up on a precarious pile of patience and had toppled all her resolve.

“That seems a good reason be angry,” I said.

“Well, really good people don’t get angry, or if they do, they handle it better,” she said. I was a bit surprised at this news. I know a lot of people who aren’t handling anger all that well.”

“So what do you want to do?” I asked, curious.

“I want to get over anger faster.” Anne said. “I tell myself to get over it. I remember that The Secret says when I think negative thoughts, I’ll attract bad things into my life. That makes me worry, and then I get angry about being angry.”

I’ve never been a big believer in The Secret since I read the book and it seemed to miss the logic path and head into the ditch of materialistic consumerism. I wasn’t going to discuss it with Anne now.

“Suppose you spend that time being OK with being angry. Not justifying why you are angry, just being OK with the fact that you are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion, sometimes necessary to solve injustice. It’s what you do with your anger that is important, isn’t it?” I asked Anne.

“I’m still angry and then I get angry that I can’t move on,” Anne said. I understood that. If you turn on a timer and demand of yourself not to think of 100 white horses, they will prance through your mind until the timer rings.

“How about if you tell yourself you are OK with being angry, that there was a reason for it at the time, and start to wonder what’s next? That checks the anger off the list, and lets you wonder about an action instead of focusing on your emotion? Beating yourself up for being angry doesn’t seem to help get rid of it.”

Anne was doubtful. “What if I start thinking about getting even with the person who made me angry?”

“That’s another step. That’s a choice. But first, be OK with anger. Or frustration. Or not knowing. Once we allow ourselves to have negative emotions, they have a tendency to lose importance. Brooding over our lack of charity doesn’t leave much room in our heads except brooding.”

Anne was cheering,”So I can spend some time being angry, and then decide what to do?”

“Sure, ” I said. “First, give yourself permission to be angry. Don’t punish yourself or beat yourself up for having an emotion. When the emotion is acknowledged, it falls into proportion. Then you can decide what to do. You can measure what needs to be done and what the consequences will be. You can weigh your action with the consequence and make a choice. But it starts with being OK with emotions, even strong ones.”

“So if I feel angry, and am OK with that, how long does it take to get over it?” Anne said.

“I don’t know. It depends on what you are angry about, and how angry you are. But the more you beat yourself up over the emotion itself, the more contorted your reaction is going to be.”

Anne floated on her back in the pool, slowly paddling toward her drink in the shade.
“Being OK and letting go doesn’t sound easy, though,” she said.

“Letting go anything that jacks up our adrenaline is hard,” I admitted. But it’s the whole idea about being in the moment, and non-attachment. It’s recognizing what isn’t working and being OK with it’s not-workingness, and not attaching more importance to it.”

“In that case,” Anne said, “I want to attach importance to supper.” And we did.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches life skills and writing.