The Answer is Near

Strange, I thought. In a huge xeriscaped space, there was a plant coming up. Looking healthy, too, even though it is July in Phoenix and nothing looks sprightly and green after a week of 110º+ days. This little plant did.

Xeriscaping is landscaping with rocks, gravel and native plants. The Greek word for “dry” is xero, and the word was coined within the last 40 years to encourage landscaping without lush lawns.

Back to the plant. It surely didn’t have deep roots, it was too young and small. I didn’t see any drip irrigation tubes around. But then I heard a faint “drip.” I looked up to the trees. Nothing. Then to the nearby roof line. And there it was.

A pipe drain from an air conditioner. Many of them are placed on roofs in Arizona, for easier access. Our houses are put close together and fenced in, for the most part.

As the humidity rises in summer (no, there is no “dry heat” during monsoon), air conditioners start to drip water regularly. Somewhere beneath the rocks, a plant seed knew it was time to make the big dash to sprouting, getting water and sun, and setting another generation of seeds.

And opportunistic seed. Ready to take advantage when the time is right. A great example for those who are afraid of risk. Of taking a chance. The time will never be perfect, but when enough circumstances line up, it’s time to go!

Quinn McDonald is working on a book about the intersection of chance and time. It’s called The Invisible, Visible World. The experiences that happen if we are aware and awake and present to opportunity. She is a creativity coach and writer.

Perfectionists: Take That Risk!

Every time you make a decision, you close the door to other choices. It’s a fact of life. If you are a perfectionist, this causes a problem. Did you make the best decision? If it is the best decision for now, how about tomorrow?

For those of us who are recovering perfectionists, I can cheerfully say, “Make a decision. Every one of them comes with a consequence. You can’t control your whole future. Risk!”

TucsonsunsetPerfectionists are excellent procrastinators. Putting off a decision means not making a wrong decision. Yes, that’s true, but it also means you are not moving forward. And not moving forward isn’t an act of perfection. The difference between a rut and a groove is the length of time you’ve spent there.

Here’s something I learned over the years: if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t taking enough of a creative risk. If you are doing everything right, you are doing the same thing over and over. That isn’t perfection, that’s the shortcut to insanity. Unless you are assembling a kit, perfection is not the goal.

Come on out in the open and try making a decision whose outcome isn’t practiced, isn’t certain. If you make a mistake, you’ve learned something. And learning something is a milestone to getting better. Perfection, on the other hand, is an impossible state that hates “better.” So it remains immobile.

Image: I took the photo without looking as I drove from Tucson to Phoenix. The phone slipped and I took the photo. A happy accident–I like it better than a planned photo.

Quinn McDonald is spending the weekend taking risks with her new book. The Inner Critic is frantic and her Inner Heroes are gathering.

Journalfest Explored

For the last three days, I have been in classes at Journalfest in Port Townsend, WA. It was a memorable experience for many reasons, but the one I wanted to point to, before I collapse into bed, exhausted, is the benefit of risking. It’s hard to stay open and curious in a class full of talented artists. The normal inclination is to compete and do the “right” thing–to use the talent you have to create what you know how to do. In all of my classes, I chose instead to risk making mistakes, to risk people laughing at my work, to risk not liking what I created. It’s hard.

Gesso, watercolor, collage, conte crayon, charcoal risk. Result? Truth.

In one class, I was asked to use a conté crayon to sketch a frog puppet. On the paper I was using, the stick felt scratchy and dry, unpleasant. But I risked and sketched the frog. I didn’t like the result, either. It was the wrong proportion, the wrong shape, just wrong.I could have torn out the page and started over. Nope, I pressed ahead. Risking.

In the next section of the class, we learned how to work with an unsuccessful image. I obliterated all but the eyes of the frog. The technique was good, but I didn’t like the result. I rotated the page, and the image shifted dramatically. I continued working on the technique, feeling ahead blindly, not knowing what would happen. Big risk.

Three techniques later, I had created an imaginary creature–part koi, part salamander, part dragon and part . . .fun. In the process I had made choices, abandoned dead-end paths, made peace with bad decisions, accepted the simple force of putting hand to paper. In the end,  I liked the creature. Not for its realism (there is none) but because I could like a figment of my imagination that was neither perfect nor real. Most of us fail at drawing because we put an object in front of us and draw it. Ahhh, certain failure. The two-dimensional rendering will never look just like the three-dimensional object. So we hate ourselves, then say we can’t draw, then quit doing art.

Instead, I started from a place of not knowing, reached into what appeared on the page, and imagination, created the unknown. In that case, the result could not be wrong or imperfect. The drawing defines itself. I like the result, not because I think it’s beautiful, but because I think it is true. I recognize my own truth revealed in it. And that is the heart and soul of art.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.