The Cycle of Years

clouds2September is a month of knowing. Summer is over. The days become visibly shorter, by about three minutes a day, early in the month. Leaves turn a defeated green on their way to orange. Summer, the time of year that reminds us of laughter and fun and childhood, is over. Fall, with the hint of the knowledge of death, with its cool dawns and promise of fog, steps up from the horizon.

That is a memory.

clouds1My reality today is different. September is a promise that the white blazing heat of summer won’t last forever. September is a shadow that falls across the pool, cooling the water in tiny increments with with a steady determination. The water goes from tea-warm to body temperature, to cool, to crisp. By the end of September, there won’t be long swims, there will be fast daring dips, to prove we can swim till October. In September, I can start to walk again, free of the gym and the equipment. September is the gate that opens the door to the world again.

Fencepost cactus, about to bloom. The flowers are so large and generous for the climate.

Fencepost cactus, about to bloom. The flowers are so large and generous for the climate.

And in September, the New Year starts. I know, New Year comes in the middle of winter, in January. But not for me and the tribes that follow the calendar of the moon; whose sons and daughters were slaves first and nomads next. For us, the summer signals the end of one year with the harvest, and the beginning of the year in the fall, when the fruits are canned, the grain in the barn,  and the hard work of the fields behind us for the year.  And still, I live in a city, where there are no fields, except in the memory and in the thread that connects the tribe scattered across the globe.

Tonight, I lit candles, covered my eyes and said the prayer that brings in the New Year, ” Blessed is the Creator of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us through the circle of the year to reach this season once more.”

For us, the next week are the days of awe, a slowing of time, a stretch to think about the certainty of death and the possibility of life. It’s a good time to think about the next step in life. What do we choose to bring with us? What needs to be put down, to no longer burden us with a weighted soul or regret? In the next week, the Book of Life is open, and our destiny is written. It doesn’t matter if it’s a metaphor, the days are getting shorter and reminding us of our limited time.

Death cannot be avoided, so it’s best not to fear it. And better still to plan a rich, generous and creative life for the days ahead.

To the nomads among you, Happy New Year. Celebrations are not exclusive or limited. They are for anyone who wants to be more fully alive and creative. The Creator of the Universe is not some unknown, it is you. We create our own universes. Create well and live well. May the coming year be sweet and generous to you.

-Quinn McDonald loves the solemnity and joy of Rosh Hashanah.


Ups, Downs, but Never Still

One of my clients was sad. “Something has gone wrong every day this week,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be this way. Life is not supposed to be this hard.”

I asked what she thought life was supposed to be like.

“Smoother.  More effortless. It shouldn’t be so hard. I should be happy.”

Some boats come in faster than others. Photo from Kifu.blogspot

Interesting to think about. My thoughts always go back to immigrants–people who left everything that was familiar to them and traveled (not without danger) to a country that was new and different and probably frightening. Because they wanted something better and were willing to risk. They hoped for a better life, but never expected happiness as a requisite life in their new home.

When my parents were young, they worked hard, studied hard, and created a life that created respect and work they loved. But a few years after they were married, their world fell apart. A war wiped out their house, took their possessions, took the lives of relatives and friends. They arrived in America with a few wooden crates with what was left of their lives and started over.

In my entire childhood, I cannot remember hearing my parents complain about having to work hard or wishing they were back in Europe. My father believed that you built your own happiness, that the effort you put into being happy determined how happy you were.

Martha Beck, the life coach and author, has a wonderful quote about how we view life:

As long as we are breathing, the conditions of our lives will always be in flux, our ships still sailing in, the things we already own potentially dissolving (or disappearing). To accept that fact without anxiety is
to enjoy the process of living. Anything less, and we are simply suffering until we die.
–from  Enjoyment in the waiting

I’m not much for suffering. I think we are here to enjoy life. How much we enjoy it, and how we feel about our life, depends largely on how we look at ourselves and our experiences.

Bad things will happen. We will lose those we love when we are not ready. We will make choices we regret. But for all that, we can still enjoy our lives, balancing the joy with sorrow, for neither one can exist without the other.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. Not every day is a bowl of cherries and ice cream, but very few days are cactus spines, either.

Make a Decision: Tap Into Your Emotions

Anne was trying to decide whether to stay in a relationship or go. There were plenty of reasons to leave–she didn’t feel heard, she felt belittled, her boyfriend didn’t want to go for counseling and didn’t want her to go either. On the other hand, she had spent a year in the relationship and had put effort into making it work. Her boyfriend was funny and made her laugh, even at herself.

coin tossTo stay or to leave? Would leaving seem like giving up? Was she being a quitter instead of someone who worked out problems? Was staying in a bad relationship a sign she didn’t care about herself? Couldn’t admit she had made a mistake and move on?

Anne was tortured with her choices. And she kept piling up more reasons without knowing which direction to take. Watching this was torture. I suggested she might feel comfortable writing Carolyn Hax, who writes the syndicated column, “Tell Me About It” for the Washington Post.

“I should be able to sort this out by myself,” Anne said. “I don’t know how come I can’t make a decision.”

Sometimes making a decision is tough because with the decision comes the consequence. Either staying or leaving brings on a pile of consequences that you choose the instant you make the decision, and often you are afraid of consequences you don’t know about yet. So you put off the decision, and begin to drown in your own life.

I gave Anne a coin. “Heads you stay, tails you leave,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said, looking at me as if I were nuts.
“Well, this is the simplest way for you to get to a decision. It takes thinking out of the problem. Let’s see what happens,” I said.

She flipped the coin. Heads. Anne broke into tears. Hurts and agonies months in the making poured out. I handed her a Kleenex. At the end of the sobbing came the sentence, “I can’t stay. I’ll die if I stay.” As soon as she sobbed it out, Anne had her answer. By coming up with endless possibilities and choices, Anne has supressed the answer she already knew. By taking thinking out of the pattern that she had developed, she suddenly collided with her emotions and knew the answer she had been suppressing.

Anne left her boyfriend, and although there were many tears and a few hard days and nights, over time she knew the decision had been right. Looking back she saw that a lot of her indecision was rooted in not wanting to change because change made her feel as uncertain as she felt in staying.

It’s not the tossing of the coin that helps you make a decision, but the emotions that follow it. Emotions often inform clear decisions, because they allow you to focus on what is important to you. We often block our values because we are scared of honoring them. The coin toss works, even if you know about its purpose, because it make your own feelings clear to you. Our ability to provide many scenarios of the future blocks a clear view sometimes, and tapping into raw emotions provides the only clear view. A coin toss will put you in touch with what you are hiding from yourself. The coin isn’t leading you, the coin gives you permission to see one decision and gauge your choices instead of balancing one pro with another con.

It clears the way to sorting through the issue at hand instead of the fear of making a decision.

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She knows that choosing can be as hard as admitting a bad choice. And she loves the thought of the sufi poet and fool, Mullah Nasiruddin, who said, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved.

Products Pumped Up With Air

Early in life, I learned my family was different. Of course they were, they were immigrants to this country. I alone was born here, and my parents would point me out to strangers and say, “She is our Native American.” They did not understand the odd looks that scrutinized the curly-blond hair and green eyes on a little fair-skinned toddler.

I missed a lot growing up: fried pies, Hostess Snowballs, Barbie dolls, popsicles, baloney, fluffernutter sandwiches. My parents were frugal. My mom baked bread and planted a garden. We ate from the garden. The sandwiches I took to school were an embarrassment: homemade bread filled with our own lettuce and tomatoes, with sliced chicken from last night’s dinner. I traded them eagerly with schoolmates for mashed bean tortillas. Much better.

As much as I tried, I was always different. I never fit in with the “in” girls. So it was no surprise when I grew up that my kitchen didn’t look like my neighbors: no Cool Whip, no crock pot, no flavored coffees. I did have a container of whipping cream, a pressure cooker and an espresso pot. Not the fancy one, the one that worked on the stove top.

foamy stuffTwo more modern conveniences are missing from my kitchen: almost butter that has nothing to do with butter and air-injected soap. We are a foaming nation. We love stuff that is pumped up with air to make it look fluffy and like more. (I will not, no, not, go for the metaphor.)

But I had to try them. Unlike my parents, who banned the strange new fads in favor of the solid known, I tried whipped margarine and pouffy soap. How in the world does anyone cook with this stuff? I was trying to fry eggs this morning. Over easy.whipped butter

This takes just enough butter to coat the bottom of a pan. Depending on the size of a pan, you can use a teaspoon or so. I kept having to add more of the tub stuff because it kept disappearing. It vanished. It left little grease spots on the bottom of the pan. No wonder. The first ingredient in this fake butter is water.

After about a quarter cup (and it’s more expensive than butter) I had enough to crack the eggs into the pan. They burned solidly to the bottom of the pan. Whipped stuff doesn’t keep anything from sticking, so the pan is still on the stove, soaking the burned eggs off the bottom. images4.jpeg

Which brings me to the whipped soap. To get it through the tube to whip it, it has to be a liquid consistency. They add extra water so you can pay more for pouffy soap. In a country obsessed with germs, they are cutting back on how much soap you get to use to wash your hands.

I pumped some of this stuff into the pan. It floats on top of the water, not breaking the surface tension, not emulsifying the oil. Not cleaning. How can pouffy soap not clean pouffy margarine? I check the label of this supposedly healthier margarine. Not only is it’s first ingredient water, the next is . . .”palm fruit oil.” Probably not date palms. Probably coconut palms. Coconut oil and palm oil are both partially hydrogenated and not on the edible list.

At least real butter is a known substance. This stuff doesn’t have a shelf life, it has a half life. In the time it has taken me to write this, the pouffy soap is still floating on top of the water in the pan. I’m going to dump this mess down the sink, get some real soap and baking soda for grit and scrub the pan clean. And cook with butter and wash with soap. And get the whipped air out of my life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.  See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2007-9. All rights reserved.

Poem: A Song On the End of the World

Recently, I thought about how our culture got into the mess we are in. I looked at competition as a cause. The kind of competition that doesn’t demand the best of us as individuals, but demands winning at any cost. And I began to wonder if part of that drive was the inability to be quiet, to be alone with ourselves. And, then, as if by magic, I came across this poem.

When you read about the poet’s life—what he must have seen and experienced—and then read this poem, it gives you a good point to start thinking about what is important as we go through life.

A Song On the End of the World
by Czeslaw Milosz
Translated by Anthony Milosz
* * *
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

* * *
—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has started to read poetry again, and is finding stillness there.

Popping the Dream Bubble

It’s time to take up some of our favorite myths and dispel them. (That’s DIS-pel, not misspell, although I’ve done that, too.) We believe things we hear, and then are disappointed when they don’t come true for us. The bright side is that while these myths won’t work for you, other wonderful things are just behind them, waiting to delight you.

kid in a dunce cap1. You cannot have it all. And you don’t want it all because you will need a place to keep it and you’ll have to dust it regularly. Having it all causes financial, time, and relationship strain. Pick what you really want and go after it with all your effort.

2. Even in America, you cannot be anything you want. I will never be a voice soloist. I’m tone deaf, and I can’t find the right notes, and if you play me two notes, I cannot tell you which is higher. So that solo career will not happen for me. Even if I practice seven hours a day. I’d love to be able to sing “Happy Birthday,” but the last time I sang with a song, three people left the table. Here’s the good news: half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. Then take the extra time and get better at something you are already good at.

3. Change happens whether you want it to or not. Practice flexibility. Figure out how to negotiate your waysoap bubbles when the ground shifts under you. This is as true in jobs as in personal relationships. You can’t live in your comfort zone all your life. Get out there and be uncomfortable. It’s good for you.

4. Being a loner does not turn you into the Unibomber or a freak. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are an alarming number of my high school classmates that are no longer with us. If you are a woman you will probably outlive your mate. Practice being alone and happy. You’ll be happy you figured it out when you need it. Finding yourself alone and having no idea how to handle it is a double shock.

5. Danger is not lurking at every corner. Making decisions out of fear creates an ugly life, not a safe one. Fear leads to wrinkles, paranoia, hating Rachel Ray’s scarf, and other emotions that constipate your life. Fear is a way people use to manipulate you into their tight little views. Give up fear and watch the sun come out, brighten your life, warm your soul. But don’t forget to put on sunblock.


–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She is also an artist, speaker and workshop leader. She is not, and never will be, a singer, ballerina, theoretical mathematician, or CIA operative. And she’s OK with that. See her work at

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.