The Tiny Fence

The Invisible, Visible World depends on perspective. Seeing things differently than others. Appreciating what shows up in front of you as you walk.

I am two different people: one who wants to know how everything works, is interested in reasons and causes and one who wants to experience the world through my senses.

Sometimes I see something and just want to enjoy what I see, what it makes me think of, the memories it brings out.

Here’s an example of how it works: I saw the tiny plant, clearly planted as a seed, surrounded by sticks, clearly broken off by hand, and stuck in the ground.  A tiny, wireless fence. It looks as if a child did it, but there were five of them, all in a neat row. Too neat for a small child. How could that protect anything?

But as I stood and looked at it, in the middle of the downtown front yard, I realized that the most likely attacker of the plant would be birds. (No rabbits in this part of town.)

The sticks were too tall for the birds to reach over, too close together for the bigger birds to squeeze through, and too tall for them to jump over.

A week later, the plants were bigger, and still there. I noticed the shadows the sticks cast, and the health of the plant. I noticed that the soil was damp and smelled like rain.  The things that protect us don’t have to be fancy, or complicated. Simple works. On plants. On people.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and put it to use. While she helps people who are labeled “creative,” she works with parents, investment bankers, teachers, and marketing executives, who often don’t know how to find their creativity.


Dust You Are

You see something, and your brain doesn’t quite understand it. Your brain, trying to be helpful, makes up information for you to believe. You not only believe it, you will defend what you are sure you saw.

About a dozen people have seen the photo above. Most of them guessed it was some sort of archeological dig, showing a partial skeleton. Some decided it was a sketch of a skeleton using pastels. I can see that.

But this is much more commonplace. It’s truck tire tracks into a construction site. The dirt mixed with rain to create the look.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on The Invisible, Visible World. It takes a look at commonplace things that have a more interesting story to tell.

First-World Problems

When I couldn’t think of a solution to a problem I had, I posted the problem on Facebook. I knew I’d get interesting, odd, weird, smart, funny, and wise answers. It wasn’t a big problem, but I wanted to get out of my own head, so Facebook seemed like a good crowdsourcing solution. Other people’s perspectives can really wake you up.

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 11.18.15 AMAnd one of them did. “No disrespect, but ‘first-world problem’,” he wrote. My eyes rolled. Whenever someone says, “No disrespect” it means, “I’m about to be deliberately disrespectful, but  because I said ‘no disrespect’ first,  you  should suck up whatever I dish out, and if you do get angry, I can accuse you of not having a sense of humor.”  Sort of like “Bless your heart,” or the little winky-face emoji. That kind of passive-aggressive behavior never sits well with me.

I first heard the term about three years ago and at first thought it was funny. There are so many things to be grateful for in a normal life. Small problems plus drama creates big problems. But even small problems need to be solved, and often throwing money at it is not an option, so the solution demands time, effort, money, or luck that you don’t have. Generally at exactly the time you don’t have an excess of what you need.

I might as well say to someone who is stuck in a snowstorm, “non-desert problem. If you lived here, you wouldn’t have that problem.”

Lovely stream next to a nice greenway. Except, it's a sewage canal.

Lovely stream next to a nice greenway. Except, it’s a sewage canal.

We live in the first world. Inconveniences cost time and money, both of which can send a ripple into our lives. Our problems are our problems, it doesn’t matter which world owns them, we live in a certain time and place, and it doesn’t matter that the problem is first, second, or third world. It’s still a problem that requires a solution or, worse, several solutions involving cooperation.

Here’s an example: I dropped a tube of lipstick, which falls into the open toilet. The lipstick tube in the toilet couldn’t be pulled out by hand, and I don’t have a snake, so I had to call a first-world plumber and not use the toilet, which created a third-world living condition.

When someone did use the toilet, it flooded, pouring sewage on my floor, soaking into the bath mat. So, sewage in the house: third-world problem. Plumber who cost $125, first-world problem. Someone who had to stay home and wait for the plumber: another first-world problem. Fouled bath mat: lucky I have a washer and dryer, so, second-world solution.

I washed the mat and hung it outside to dry–nice third-world solution. Then aScreen Shot 2015-01-24 at 12.26.49 PM bird pooped on it, but that’s a third-world problem again, so I washed it again, wasting first-world water and first world-time. Birds poop in all worlds.

Dizzy yet? Me, too. Saying “first world problem” has nothing to do with the size of the problem. What it really means is, “this is trivial to me, and you should not let this bother you at all.” Who gets to judge that? One person’s inconvenience is another’s big deal.

And who are we to think first-world problems, the ones that are solved by first-world solutions, are trivial?  First-world conveniences, for which I am hugely grateful, and would not want to live without, include shots so you don’t get shingles, smallpox or polio. Electricity, central heat and cooling, paved roads, a system that brings food to my grocery store, mail to my door, and the internet to my computer. And yet each of those solutions has inherent problems of waste, pollution and costs. First-world problems.

Calling the plumber, and tossing the stinky mats into the washer cost me time and required me to change my outfit, which got sewage dripped on it. The change made me run into heavier traffic, and arrive late to a teaching gig, to face an unhappy client, who fired me. (This actually happened. One of those “no excuses, take responsibility, you should have gotten up half an hour earlier in case you dropped your lipstick in the toilet and had to call a plumber and got sewage on your jacket” clients.) Still trivial? Only if I don’t care about the money. Or if have lots of clients to replace the one I lost.

We live in the first world. We all have first-world problems. Perhaps we should be grateful for them, and glad we manage to get enough food on the table. Losing that client made a significant difference in my income for several months. No, I did not starve. But the ripples were worth more than a shrug.

At first I, too, thought “first-world problem” was clever. A way to remind people how lucky they are. But after thinking it over, I’m not going to use it again, not to describe someone else’s problems. Because you don’t know what world they are in at the moment.

-Quinn McDonald lives in the first world with all-world problems.

Your Light, Your Perspective

Sunday mornings at home are a treat for me. Cooking Man cooks breakfast, buys the New York Times and makes us each a double-shot cappuccino. Life is good. I came into the kitchen and smiled at the eggs lined up on the ragged cotton towels to keep them from rolling off the island. After I set the table, I turned around and was surprised to see that the sun was shining through one of the eggs, giving it an inner glow and showing the mottled surface of the eggshell.

eggBoth eggs had looked the same coming out of the carton. Now they looked completely different. I have a large streak of “metaphor for everyday life” appreciation, and looking at the egg brought on an idea:

We see people, ideas, and experiences through our own perspectives. The perspective we use lights up our view in a way that changes our perception. The two eggs had looked alike, but now I saw them differently.

Our experiences, our story, our biases all make us see the people and ideas around us in ways that reflect not them, but us. The Talmud says, “We see things not the way they are, but the way we are.” Good thought for the week.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who loves Sunday mornings that include reading the Times and drinking cappuccino.

Positive and Negative Perspectives

When I do monoprints, I have to think carefully and plan the negative and positive aspects of the print slowly. Negative space is still something I have trouble with. Looking at what isn’t there is a lot harder than seeing what is there.

Negative tag

The negative space of a gift-tag cutout–the part left after the tags are removed. It also looks like a box with a bow on top.

A stencil can be positive or negative–it can leave an imprint or it can create a shape through an empty space–the negative. What you see is a matter of your perspective. And for me, it can be confusing, particularly if the image itself is open to interpretation.

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive pieces look like gift tags–all I need to do is punch a hole in them and they are ready to go. Except, of course, I want them to have color and design, so I will punch them out of painted papers.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

But while I struggle with the visual aspects of positive and negative space, I also realize that the same is true in real life–what I think of as a negative isn’t necessarily bad or depressing. Sometimes there is a positive twist to a negative event.

Now the tags look like a children's book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

Now the tags look like a children’s book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

This past weekend I was scheduled to see the Sandhill crane migration and was too exhausted to drive the 10 hours to see it. I was bummed out until a storm moved through, dumping a lot of rain on the entire length of the trip–except for the elevation in which blowing snow and ice closed the interstate. It was worse at the site–fog, high winds and blowing snow blocked a lot of the visibility.

I was suddenly grateful not to be standing in a cold wind and driving snow pre-dawn. In fact, having stayed home and gotten enough sleep and a lot of backed-up work cleared off my desk seemed like a better outcome.

Maybe my next accomplishment will be getting better at understanding how to work with negative space in my monoprints.

–Quinn McDonald knows that life imitates art.

Simplifying a Complicated World

The world is not easy to navigate. It’s complex and drains a lot of energy from you. Complicated connections. Pull one thing and a whole lot of others come apart, too.

Lots of tangled wires, all connected.

Sometimes, when we don’t do anything except witness–watch and wait, take notes before acting or jumping to conclusions–we get more information. That step–being a witness instead of a fixer–holds the space for learning.

Choosing to be a fixer means we rush in with an answer, a suggestion, a solution as soon as we sense the connection is complicated. We want to simplify it, cut it apart, all before we are sure what  the problem really is. Because solving problems gives us a shot at being a hero. If we are a witness, and wait for information, well, time could be lost.

It’s a twisted fence, ugly from this view. Complicated, too.

Time doesn’t get lost. We do, but time does not. Time knows exactly where it is. When we stand still, stay calm, witness, take notes, don’t give advice till we know what we are doing, we catch up with time. We gather information. We don’t take on work that isn’t ours to do. We see what is ready to resolve itself without our help.

A simple pattern evolves.

And then, in the sharp shadow of understanding, the information becomes not only clear, but beautiful. Sometimes without our getting involved at all. The shadow of the fence on the sidewalk shows, not the complicated twisted pattern, but a simple light and dark outline of connections.

The other side of complicated is not simple, it’s waiting. So we can learn more.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who learns on her walks every day.

Freelancers and Perspective

If you read the blog, you’ve seen several articles on perspective. (Here’s one using a fence,  one with a Homer Simpson tree,  the ugly dog mindset, and one using landscaping). Most people think perspective is an artist app, or maybe a New Age-y way of looking at life. But for a freelancer, knowing how to work with perspective can be the difference between saving and losing a client relationship.

Do your math. Is the client worth keeping?Case A: Ms. Freelancer is a trainer. She has several clients, and Client A wants to lock the training days in place for the company’s budget. In July, at the beginning of the fiscal year, Client A and Ms. Freelancer agree to 5 training days through December. In October, two days before the training date, Ms. Freelancer calls Client A to confirm the upcoming training hours and ask for final registration numbers. Client A is flustered, having forgotten. There are only three people registered. Client A cancels the class and apologizes. Ms. Freelancer is left with no class, no pay, and not enough time to replace the work. Client A says, “Enjoy the unexpected day off.

Problem: To Client A, the only consequence is embarrassment. To Ms. Freelancer, the problem is both financial and supplies–she’s spent now-unpaid time preparing the class and money on class materials which now need to be stored for the next time.

Perspective: Ms. Freelancer makes money only on days she works. Client A gets paid every two weeks, no matter how much or little she works. She has no idea that she has caused financial problems for Ms. Freelancer. An unscheduled day off looks very different for each of these people. For Client A, it looks like a day of fun. For Ms. Freelancer, it could easily mean a bill-paying problem. Maybe even a grocery-restriction problem.

A contract is a negotiable document before it's signed.

Case B: Ms. Freelancer has saved dates for Client A, and lost one of them. Client B calls and asks for a training, which must be held on a date already promised to Client A. Ms. Freelancer worries that Client A may cancel another class and begins to wonder if it wouldn’t be smart to cancel Client A’s class and take Client B’s.

Problem: To Ms. Freelancer, having been burned, lining up another client might seem like a good idea. To Client A, it means a break in trust, and possibly a cancellation of the rest of the job.

Perspective: To Ms. Freelancer, having once been burned, it might look like a good idea to take on Client B. To Client A, it will look like a break in trust and contract. To Client B, cancellation will look like an unreliable freelancer at work. (Or not at work.)

Solutions: In both cases, it’s a matter of client education. A good idea is to add a kill fee into the contract. If the class is canceled less than a week in advance, the client pays a fee to the freelancer. Often, however, the client will refuse this. That’s how it is for most contracts–both parties want to have the upper hand. This is a time to negotiate. Before that, it’s good to explain to a client how life works for a freelancer. Don’t fall into the “I can’t buy groceries” trap. Showing neediness to a client is like having an overly-needy friend–you immediately want to push away, knowing that no matter what you do, it won’t be enough.

Better to say, “When you cancel, you are breaking the contract. When you do it with one-day notice, I have no way of replacing the training day, and I lose money. The purpose of our contract is to assure you that your group will be trained, and assure me that I will be paid. If you want to change the contract, we can talk about it. But canceling a day I have reserved for you needs to be covered financially.”

While that sounds tough, freelancers need to be clear. The client doesn’t have your perspective and can’t be expected to. When explained objectively, there is a better chance for good results. The other important part of perspective discussions, is to show the same situation if the client got the fuzzy end of the lollipop–if you canceled with one day’s notice.

Of course, one discussion won’t fit all sizes. Your experiences will vary. A client who is sloppy and cancels routinely is one that you need to drop. And that might require a shift in your perspective–a lousy client isn’t a client, it’s a financial liability.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer, and author.


Fence Perspective

When we see the world, we see it our way. When someone else tells us what they see, and we don’t understand it, we assume they are wrong. We trust what we see. “I know what I saw” we say, and we are sure. It is the Truth, with a capital T.

That’s how most of my clients see the world.  I don’t. I think we see what we want to see and disregard the rest. So it was fun to see this fence. Coming up on it, I saw that one of the verticals had been severely bent.

You can see the bent fence in the front third of the photo.

Yep, anyone would see that. Then I stood in front of the fence, and saw that the fence was pried apart. Yep, the Truth: the fence is damaged.

Big enough for a few javalinas to squeeze through.

Then I walked past the bent piece, and turned around and . . . the fence looked fine. It was the perspective of course. And the same as our own. We see what we think is “real” and that creates our reality.

Fence from the other end, looking back at the invisible damage.

Looking back, the damage vanishes. The fence seems fine. It just depends on what your perspective is. And that’s the Truth.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a life coach.

Raw Art Journal Prompt: Moon Lake

Raw art is the art you do from the deep, often lonely, place inside you that brings you great joy, but often not great understanding from others. It’s the place that sets you free, that allows you to draw, write, collage, even when you “can’t draw a stick figure.” (That’s how people who can’t draw describe themselves.) You often don’t show your raw art to people because you feel vulnerable, even exposed. Raw art is not perfect, sometimes it’s not clear to anyone but yourself.

That is the exact place creativity lives. In the work that makes meaning for you. Not photo-quality illustration. Not museum-accepted watercolor. A page in your journal that you hug to your chest because you got it right for you–that memory, that pain, that sadness, that joy, maybe even all of them together. Raw art is intimate and a bit scary because it is so real to you, so heavy with recognition of who you are, were, can be.

This raw-art journal prompt is simple–print it out, use it as a background, alter it to show what you need to show. Write over it. What is it? It’s a stark silhouette of a mountain with a moon mirrored in the still lake. Or maybe it’s just a crack in the sidewalk. You can decide. Put the link to your raw-art result in the comments.


Monochrome moon rising over lake.


–Quinn McDonald keeps a raw-art journal. Her how-to book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light books in June of 2011.

Perspective in a Tree

Other people see the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich or Jesus in a potato chip, or grow a rutabaga that looks like Lincoln.

Me, I walk by a tree every day that looks like Homer Simpson. Or at least it does to me. What have you seen lately that’s given you a fresh look at life?



If Homer Simpson were a tree. . .



–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who does walking meditation every morning. She helps other people explore possibilities in their lives.