Tag Archives: postaday2012

Drama-Lovers Bliss: Munchausen at Work

Some years ago, when I was still in the corporate world, I had a boss who was a mystery to me. She seemed to be very savvy at work politics (which I was not.) What made her a mystery to me was that when I was around her, a crisis would erupt out of nowhere. Suddenly, there was lots of activity, staying late and coming in early. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the crisis was declared over.

It took me months to untangle the mystery, and I didn’t want to believe it when I

The real Baron von Munchausen. Image source: Wikipedia

did. The crisis would erupt when my supervisor wanted the attention of her boss. Occasionally, the crisis would erupt when she had forgotten a deadline or offended her boss in some other way. She then deftly created a crisis, was the only person who know how to solve it, solved it successfully, and got the attention she needed, along with the praise that come from crisis management.

The fact that there were bodies scattered around her office was of no importance. We were the collateral damage of the corporate world. So skillful was this tactic, that I thought I was imagining it. When I saw it years later, at another job in another state, I realized it was real. And I wasn’t the only one noticing it.

Jennifer Alvey, the author of the Leaving Law blog told me some time ago that this behavior has a name: Munchausen at Work. Named after the mental disease in which a person fakes symptoms or deliberately harms themselves in order to get medical attention and sympathy, Munchausen is no less serious when it migrates to the workplace.

John Neville (who died in 2011) played Munchausen in the movies.

According to a Harvard Business Review article (Nov. 2007),Georgia Tech professon Nate Bennett reported on the phenomenon and gave it the name.  The Wall Street Journal took it seriously enough highlight Munchausen at Work as well. The article concluded that fewer people have cause to engage in creating a crisis with the economy stripping workplace employees down to a minimum.

I humbly disagree. A workforce pressed to excel, in which perfectionism is treated as success instead of the sure path to failure, is a workplace ready for Munchausen at Work, and even Munchausen-by-proxy at work. (Munchausen by Proxy is a mental disorder in which a caretaker of someone helpless—often a child—induces real or faked illness to gain attention for the caregiver.)

A example of Munchausen-by-proxy at Work would be an employee who causes strife between two departments or two co-workers through gossip, rumors or lies. The originator then steps in as intermediary and saves the situation. This happens in businesses where knowledge is restricted to those who “need to know” and is then used as currency for favors.

Knowledge or information hoarding is common in businesses, often through lack of communication. The most frequent sign of MAW or MBPAW is poorly-run meetings. If the reason for meetings is to distribute knowledge, than a meeting gone wrong raises  more problems than it solves. Meetings that involve too many people, not the right people, or the same few people and a management representative are also symptoms.

What do you do if you think this is happening at work? Watch for a lack of teamwork; different departments being told wildly varying reasons for problems; employees being deliberately pitted against each other in the same department; and a workplace that creates “heroes” and rewards them lavishly.

  • The best way around this problem is not to participate in it.
  • Do not create or fuel drama at work.
  • Do not get involved in gossip or shunning.
  • Get your work done on time.

It’s true that if you don’t participate, the MAW may get worse as the attention-seeker stretches to absurd lengths to get attention. And that is what will eventually come to the attention of senior management. A MAW employee will almost always overstep the rules of accepted office behavior. And do it quickly. The real Baron von Munchausen (for whom the disease is named) first exaggerated deeds on the 18th-century battlefield. When he didn’t get enough attention, he claimed to have ridden cannonballs as they were shot, to have roamed the moon, and to have pulled himself out of a quicksand-like pond by his own bootstraps. Which is where that expression comes from.

-Quinn McDonald is no fan of drama. She’s seen her share of Munchausen–at work and in social situations. She writes about what she sees.

Yellow Snow, But Nicer

WINNER of the Book Spine Poetry Contest. There were too many that delighted me–so I wrote the names of 10 wonderful entries on index cards and let my cat walk across them. The first and last ones he stepped on were the winners–Andria of DrawingNear blog and Paula in Buenos Aires, you won a copy of my book Raw Art Journaling! Books will ship when I get back from  teaching at Valley Ridge, the week of May 7.

*   *   *   *   *

One of the delights I experience every spring is the blooming of the Palo Verde trees. The trees have tiny leaves and tiny yellow flowers on green branches supported by green trunks. Palo Verdes evolved to survive the Sonoran Desert by shedding leaves and small branches in the searing heat of the summer. The trunks and big branches do the photosynthesis work, so thy are green.

The trees’ tiny yellow flowers drop off the trees and create the look of bright yellow snow. A slight breeze will cause drifts of blossoms and for a few weeks, these yellow snow-like masses shift and drift on curbs and in corners.

The path to the library is lined with Palo Verdes and today was a perfect day for yellow snow–the nice kind.

-Quinn McDonald is a naturalist who thrives on the Sonoran Desert’s surprises.

Your Art Needs Your Time

Most artists have problems (at least some of the time) getting to the studio and getting creative work done. It just seems too much to pick up the pencil, sit at the computer, go to the quilting frame. And there is a pile of laundry. And you are working today till 6 anyway. The difference between successful artists and “wishing” artists is ritual.

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you have a routine. And that routine is probably timed down to the exact second, either by time or by what’s on the TV or radio. It gets you out of the house and into the office on time.

Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you set the priority every day of your life.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also uncomfortable sometimes to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art. Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes beforehand to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses. Once you get in the habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. As the wonderful strip of paper that I found wrapped around a candle says, “What you do today is important because you are exchanging your life for it.”

Quinn McDonald knows that each one of us has to make our own meaning in life. The act of creation is what makes a life.

How to Clean Your Office

Some days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to. Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Donald Trump shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike to me.  Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.

Feed the Inner Critic and it Will Stay

You’ve heard the story of the two wolves–the one you feed is the one that thrives within you. The inner critic (also your gremlin or inner lizard) works the same way. The diet for the gremlin is tied to a lifetime diet that starts in childhood.

You can stay in your prison. . .

“My parents never encouraged me,” we sigh, feeding the gremlin the “you can’t be enough because you weren’t nurtured” gruel.

“At home, the boys got all the attention,” we complain, giving the gremlin the sweet accusation that we aren’t worth the effort of love, attention, or praise.

“No one ever loved me enough,” we say, giving the gremlin a meaty bone of self-doubt to chew on for years.

The saddest (and funniest) childhood comment I’ve heard as a coach came from the client who said, “My parents gave me everything. They encouraged me and praised me. So I never learned how to deal with disappointment. I don’t have the ability to be self-critical.”

. . . or you can dance, even if it is in the mud. Or maybe because it is the mud.

Poor childhood. It can’t win. If we’re treated badly, it ruined our life. If we were treated well, that’s wrong, too.

Yes, I take seriously the grim stories of childhood I hear–stories of abuse, abandonment, loss. No one can take any of those stories lightly. They do cause damage. The sign of growth, the sign of change, the sign of reinvention is the willingness to admit that we can’t go back and change the past. It happened. Blessedly, it is also over, and in the past. The next step is yours to make and live.

You can hold onto that pain from the past, you can brandish it like an accusatory weapon, making it the magic wand that transforms your every tomorrow into the same sad yesterday. “Well, of course I keep choosing the wrong partner. . .my parents fought all the time, and I took that as my pattern.” “I can’t commit because my Dad cheated on my Mom; I don’t want to repeat that.”

Maybe it’s time to put down the past. Hugging the hurt to you, shaping the pain into your heart and making it beat in time to the sad rhythm of  the past will not repair either the past or your heart.  Waiting for your parents to come back and help you re-live your childhood and create a different outcome–well, it’s not going to happen.

Reliving your past over and over creates too much spinning and not enough weaving. The harder work is to take your present day skills, your present day image of what you want for yourself and build your own future. Give up the idea of making someone else wrong for your present by blaming it on the past. It’s so vastly overrated. Instead, be bold. Be risky. Be the person you wish you were and forge yourself into the person you want to be. It is hard to step away from the past. It is also wonderful to step away from the past. The past and the future are the two wolves within you. The one you feed is the one that stays.

–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who did not have an ideal childhood either. But she has the strong belief that if she had had adoring parents who lavished attention on her, she would never have grown a backbone and a colorful soul.

Class shock

This is not about class warfare, or even the one percent or the 99 percent. This is about taking scrapbooking classes. To be honest, my experience at the class I took yesterday.

I have to say right up front, that I am not a cropper or scrapbooker. I loved the original idea of scrapbooking as a gateway to creativity, but left the arena when I began to notice an alarming number of items, supplies, equipment and tools that were one-thing specific. A tool to punch a hole. Another tool to punch a larger hole. A tool to cut a 12-inch sheet. A tool to cut a 10-inch sheet. I began to see the scrapbooking arena as being consumed by retailers who want to sell you more and more equipment because you believe that your next purchase will make you an artist. This is a hard idea to overcome.

The products and tools being turned out for scrapbookers are lovely and tempting, but so many of them don’t encourage creativity, they chase it out of the room and replace it with accuracy and project completion.

In that way, scrapbooking mimicks office life. You had to be fast and accurate, and if you followed directions, you got a project that looked just like the one on the cover of the kit. Good job!

It had nothing to do with creativity, it had nothing to do with meaning-making. It had a lot to do with peer pressure. Scrapbookers became brand loyal. If you had the blue one, you needed next year’s pink model. You bought the pink model although the blue one still works just fine? Good job! We love you! And like getting a nod from the boss, it is deeply satisfying. And has nothing to do with creativity. Or with meaning making.

Why do I say all this? Because I took a scrapbooking class.  I was the  only one who did not arrive wheeling a suitcase of equipment. The instructor came in, put five plastic boxes, one in front of each small group, and returned to the front of the room. I’m not pretending she represents all scrapbooking instructors. She did mention the brands she represents. And then, to my amazement, she recited the assembly instructions for all five kits, one after another. She moved smoothly from box to box, picking up the completed piece and describing how we were to peel this sticker and apply it to that transfer sheet and then transfer it again, noting sheet colors and decorations by brand name. I began to take notes and she told me not to. “Just follow what I say. As soon as you know what to do, start.”

Women (there were no men in class) jumped, snatched kits out of the plastic boxes and applied themselves with a fervor and concentration. Tools flashed. A woman next to me asked me where my tools were. I held up my journaling bundle. She shook her head. “You’ll never keep up with just that.” It seemed the goal was keeping up and completing. It was not a technique class by my definition, it was a multi-project class.

One of the coloring steps was interesting. I applied a color I like. The instructor was suddenly over me, tapping my transferred sticker and saying, “Pink. This is not supposed to be indigo, it’s supposed to be petal. Start over.”  I nodded, and waited for her to leave. I’m not a fan of pink. I continued on the indigo. The woman on my right looked at my work and shook her head. “That’s not right,” she said kindly, “You are doing it wrong. You’ll be here till midnight.”

I am not criticizing the women or the instructor. Many women left with completed project that looked just like the completed kits at the front of the class. I felt I’d spent two hours in a factory, failing at lining up the chocolates.

For me, this is not creative work, it is assembly work. It fosters perfectionism and obedience. It doesn’t allow for variation, play, or exploring.  For me, there was no meaning making.

Maybe a few people who are scrapbookers want more play, more exploring, less dependence on tools, more on intuition. Maybe they want a way to discover who they are, and what skills they have and how those skills can be important to them. If so, I’m interested in you. I’d like to know what your next step to creativity is. I’d like to know what you love about scrapbooking and what you don’t. I’m interested in meaning making and how we experience it.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, a book for people who want to make meaning but don’t know how to draw.

Listen Up, Fashion Designers

Fashion designers work in a different world. Unfortunately, it’s the one the rest of us live in. Fashion designers design for the ideal, the wonderful. In Season 9 of Project Runway, one of the designers, Olivier Green (why didn’t I notice that name before?) complained that one of his models had boobs. He didn’t like that, it ruined the line of his work. He also complained about hips, legs that weren’t long enough, and shoulders that weren’t wide enough to make his creations drape right.

Hearing Olivier complain made me realize what happens in the translation from runway to store rack–and most of it goes wrong. Here’s what I wish designers would pay attention to a few details:

You looked at the buttons didn't you? Had some weird thoughts, too. Told you so. Image: Huffingtonpost Style section.

1. Just because it’s plus-size doesn’t mean the buttons need to be the size of dinner plates. Regular buttons will work just fine. Jackets or blouses with huge buttons call attention to whatever they are close to. When these giant buttons are also white, no matter what color the fabric, they look even more ridiculous. See image on the right.

2. Cross-body bags need to fit across the body of people with breasts.You can’t be Olivier and insist that your work is meant only for the super flat-chested. Even men have chest muscles that aren’t flat, and allow a heavy cross-body bag to shift and wind up in an awkward position. In the example below, the bag is meant for men to wear in front and women to wear across the back. That would be great if we never needed to take anything out of

If the cross-body bag is going to hug your body, make sure it doesn't become a one-sided push-up bra. For men or women.

the bag, didn’t mind if the person behind us in line does take things out of the bag, and didn’t have an impossibly wide or cuttingly thin strap across the front. Try them on real people before you make a million of them. Even the guy on the right doesn’t look like a good fit for this device, which is just big enough for a smart phone, keys and plane ticket. If that’s all I’m carrying, I’ll use pockets. Trouble is, when you fly, you also have a laptop, carry-on, water bottle, e-reader, jacket–none of which will fit in that contraption across your chest, which you will have to take off and send through the X-ray machine. So you’ll take out your boarding pass anyway and carry it between your teeth.

3. Please give us colors we can wear. Want to wear. To work. Very few people can pull off the mango-tango color of the year for 2012. We’d like to pull it off and bury it, but it glows beneath the earth. No one larger than a size 4 can wear pants this color. OK, so maybe my slate-gray, navy blue, dark olive colors aren’t trendy. But give me a choice. Do the mango-tango, but also let me have granite, shale, mushroom and midnight slacks. Everyone in line will be grateful.

4. Not everyone is flattered by cropped pants or capris. I can’t find a pair of summer slacks that covers my cankles. For the vast majority of people, cropped pants are hideous, cutting the leg in two (a visual trick not flattering to those without legs that start at the armpit). The crops also hit the leg in a place that isn’t tapering so it looks like a wrapped fencepost. Please make a few long pants for summer. And don’t tell me it’s cooler. The crops were shown across the page from a matching selection of long-sleeved sweaters and knit cardigans. If I’m wearing sleeves on my arms I want sleeves for my legs, too.

5. Pants need pockets, shirts don’t. I have no idea what pockets on women’s blouses are for, but certainly not for an iPhone. I call half my clients every time I sneeze. And unless I tuck a calculator in the other side, I look like I’m pressed against a narrow wall. If I decide not to put anything in my pants pockets, that’s my choice. It’s not up to the designer to decide I shouldn’t and eliminate the pockets.

Please, designers, take a look at real people and design for them. Sew on buttons with more than two passes of thread, tack the end of the zipper so it doesn’t crawl out, cut the neckline so it covers the bra straps, and make my blouses long enough to cover the waist band when I hiccup. I will thank you and my colleagues will be able to look at me without smirking.

—Quinn McDonald is hoping to find just one pair of dark linen pants for the summer that not only fit, but have pockets.

Pencil Beats Disk

I love pencils. Cheap, available, usable. I have a pencil on my nightstand next to some index cards–in case I wake up and need to remember something but don’t want to turn on the light. A pencil always works. In the dark, without looking, the pencil will work. Ballpoints and fountain pens, which I also love, sneakily need to be warmed up and I don’t know when they’ve started working.

Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald

The other night, I wanted to remind myself to take the white board to a workshop. I used a ballpoint pen (the cat had absconded with the pencil to blissfully chew the eraser to bits) and the next morning I read “uh tc bca d”because missing halves of letters looked like different letters–half of a W turned into a U, the O into a C.

When I got to the journaling workshop, I was asked the most popular question I get–why not just blog? Why not keep a journal on your computer? I love tech toys.

But I also have a shoebox full of diskettes in various sizes that no one can open and read. Some are in word-processing programs that pre-date MS Word or Wordperfect. Anyone remember Multi-Mate? Of course not. Some are on formats for which there are no matching slots in computers. The big 5.5-inch floppies. Punch cards. Those computers are long gone.

Lascaux cave drawing, hunt scene

It’s true that I lost a pile of journals to a flood in the basement, and to another to a fire in the attic. (Ah, the Old-Testament years.) But in each case, the journals I found were still readable. For that matter, so are the drawings in the Caves at Lascaux, which are about 30,000 years old and made with charcoal, an early pencil-substitute.

My son’s first drawings, love notes I scribbled, my parents notes to each other (my father favored light poetry directions and directives to my mother), in fact, my father’s sketches from when he was 6 years old–over a hundred years ago–are all still intact because they are in this simple medium. Pencil on paper. Timeless.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who uses pencils, pens, computers, and inks to make meaning. Anyway she can. She’s also a creativity coach.

Five Tips to Improve Your Social Networking

First, you have to know I’m not a self-proclaimed social networking guru, genius, or miracle maker. I’m a writer, and social networking is largely about writing well. Whether you are a beginner or have been on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Tumblr, Flickr and Pinterest as soon as they launched, these quick tips will make you better at it. Some of the tips may be completely opposite to what you’ve heard. Writers learn differently from other people.

I love this image, but I still believe content is king. Image: http://www.digitopoly.org

1. Social Networking is about content. Cheap, starchy filler may attract followers, but it won’t keep them. Choose something you know about and care about and stick to writing about that.  At a book signing, I heard Martha Beck say, “Information is not power anymore. Attention span is power.” Content commands attention. Comment communicates.

2. Be curious about the world. No one loves a know-it-all. Even if you are an expert, there is plenty left to learn. Keep reading, keep researching, keep being curious. Learn from your readers and your audience. It’s contagious and your readers will love it.

3. Deliver what you promise. If you write a how-to article, make sure you show your readers how to do it. Too many articles that promise “how” simply tell you “what.” Be specific. Include steps. Imagine your how-to article being used to train your dog. If the dog is off chasing a squirrel at the end of the article, you either have a lab or your article needs re-writing.

4. Don’t be a tease. Tweets or Facebook posts that start, “Check this out. . .” or “Here’s what I think. . .” and then a link is not nearly as fascinating as you hoped. Give people a reason to click, a juicy temptation to leave the page they are on. And reward their decision with a great photo or article.

5. Don’t link all your accounts. Twitter is a different medium than Tumblr or Pinterest. If your audience overlaps, they really don’t need to see the same thing twice. Or six times. Automatically re-posting your Tweets on Facebook insults your friends and confuses your audience. If you are too lazy to re-write for a different audience and a different objective, do not expect your audience to find you fascinating.

A bonus tip: Size isn’t everything, particularly in audience numbers. Having a huge number of followers and thinking they care about you is the same as standing on top of the Chase building in Phoenix and thinking you are influencing the Valley just because you can see from Goodyear to Gilbert.

Social networking is about influence, and that’s not necessarily about numbers, it’s about what those numbers do, think or say.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who finds social media fascinating, weird, unpredictable and wonderful, frequently simultaneously.

There Is No Closure

The teary-eyed woman on the news with the microphone thrust in front of her said, “I just want to get closure on my daughter’s murder.” The reporter nodded solemnly, turned to the camera and intoned, “With the funeral tomorrow, the family hopes to move on.”  Being farther down life’s road than the reporter, I ‘d like to paint a signpost: There is no closure. Your life will become different.

Image from Cyberbretheren.com

As a culture, Americans are big on closure.
Something awful happens to us, and we look for a ritual that allows us to tie it up neatly, claim we are “just fine,” and go back to work.

We are afraid of the word Death, we want to call it something softer, soft enough to stuff away and hide. We talk about “final reward” and “called home,” “passing on” and “passing over,” or simply “passing,” which, because I live in the land of fast drivers, I always imagine as a soul flashing its headlights and pulling into the left lane and zipping ahead to heaven. None of that has the finality, the simple truth of not being here anymore, as death.

Last year, when Gary’s wife died, he asked me when he should stop wearing his wedding ring.
“When you are ready to take it off,” I replied.
Gary looked at me warily. “I thought you were a life coach. Well, you should know the rules.”

Life doesn’t come with instructions for grief. We have to write our own. And there is no closure, no permission that mourning is over and we can go back to our regular lives. We don’t have regular lives anymore. After death, life changes.
When we lose someone we love, when a medical problem blows up our routine, lives do not get glued back together

Instead, there’s a different life. And we become a different person by coping with it. Over time, we stitch together broken hearts, shattered expectations, overturned plans, and figure out how to proceed. And the change forges for us a new heart and a new spirit that we use to cope with our new life.

As almost anyone who has lost a loved one or gone through a life-changing disease, friends pull away.  In the beginning, we are showered with questions, with suggestions, with directions. And when we don’t respond as expected, our circle of friends backs away, leaving us alone, because death is scary. Because we don’t want to be around it. Because it might be catching.

Disaster brings a new character. We slowly quit crying so hard and so long. We fashion a new life. There is no closure. There is just courage to face another day until we get strong enough to recognize our new life. And then we live it, one day at a time, until we make a new role for ourselves.

Theodore Roethke had it right in The Waking, when he said,

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who is stepping into a new life once again.