The Beauty of Destruction

Building, making, and creating are wonderful. But there is also great beauty in things that are old, damaged, or worn. Wabi sabi is the Japanese phrase for honoring the worn, the old, the damaged.  I’ve had a long-lived love affair with wabi sabi.

A few days ago, Phoenix had a hard freeze and stucco’d walls will often pop off the stucco. This wall is on the way there. I found the shadow work on it really beautiful.

You can see the lifted stucco as well as the line where the bricks are joined. It forms a map of its experiences, just as the lines on your face tell your story, too.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on the Invisible, Visible World–seeing things in new ways with fresh eyes.

Organization and Control

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days, much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door.

todolistI stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project. What I missed by socializing after work, I made up for by working once my son was asleep. My work was always on time or ahead of schedule. I was dependable and it had to stand in for social.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, ignore it, deny it, or rarely, work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was organization.

The trouble with organization, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It does allow for good problem solving, a regularly planned process and a good idea of what was going to happen in the future.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, of when or how our family members will die, when or if we will get the flu, or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results.

Control often runs off the tracks due to no ones fault. Instead of trying to force events by sheer will, see what happens if you look at the event in the light of “what works best here?” or “What can I do that works with what I have?”

-Quinn McDonald is beginning to enjoy the accidental and the flawed. It’s the gift of emotional wabi-sabi.

 

 

Creative Hop (Saturday, May 10)

Note: Congratulations to Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, who won Writing Wild. I love her blog, here’s the link to the boulders she draws in her journal. Send me your mailing address to QuinnCreative AT yahoo DOT com. The publisher sent me two books, and I’m giving away the second one as well. Congratulations to Diane Becka, new owner of the second book!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment!

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Kaisa has a wonderful nature journal that I have to introduce here. She draws a lot of scenes, but the ones with boulders in them really are special.

From the website Valkoinen Poni.

From the website Valkoinen Poni.

It’s hard to draw a rock that doesn’t look like it might be ice cream or a cow pie (to stay on the theme), and she does a wonderful job of introducing us to her native Finland.

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I found this on Facebook via thiscolossal.com: Seventeenth-century artist A. Boogert mixed colors and kept track of them in a journal. What an amazing piece of work.

colors-1There are almost 800 pages of colors, hues and tints–the most comprehensive book of color for its time. There is only one copy of this book, although it was meant for educational use. In my view, a perfect Commonplace Journal.

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Kintsugi is a Japanese method of repairing broken plates, sculpture, teapots with lacquer mixed with gold, silver and platinum.

bowl-1The process honors the history of an object without hiding damage. The visible repair makes the item more beautiful than it was when it was whole and perfect. And as so many philosophers have noted, “There is a crack in everything; that’s where the light comes in.” (That particular version is from Leonard Cohen.)

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In Tokyo and other urban areas where there aren’t many trees and birds have to scramble to find nesting material, the clever crows have once more adapted to their surroundings.

crowhangers2Crows steal wire clothes hangers and use them in their nests. They interlock the wires, add a lot less nesting materials, and create long-lasting homes for their broods.  You can see more photos on the Beautiful Decay website.

Quinn McDonald is delighted to live in a creative world.

Saturday Creative Stroll

146-250Serena Barton has a just-released book on one of my favorite topics: wabi sabi. The Japanese esthetic honors the worn, the old and the weathered. Her book is on making art that honors wabi-sabi. It just arrived in my mailbox, so I have just glanced at it, but I’m already happy I ordered it.

You’ll find a nice selection of her art on her site, including some collages, encaustics and mixed media pieces.

Elizabeth LeCourt lives and works in London, creating quirky illustrations and some interesting fashions. After a fashion. She constructs dresses out of antique maps, and that’s always fascinating to look at. And wonder about.

One of Daniel Barreto's houses embedded in a tree.

One of Daniel Barreto’s houses embedded in a tree.

If you like small houses, you will fall in love with the art of 21 year old Boston, MA based illustrator Daniel Barreto. His houses are carved into hidden  trees deep in the woods. Their windows, glowing with light in the snowy forest night is mysterious and haunting.

If I thought I had trouble ginning myself up for a head shot, Wes Naman must have scared his subjects out of their wits. Naman is a photographer, and for this series on faces, he wrapped his subjects in Scotch tape, wildly distorting their faces before he grabbed the camera. It looks like collage of plastic surgery gone wrong, but it’s compelling. OK, just a teensy bit creepy, too. Art’s job is to upset the apple cart, not re-arrange the fruit plate.

Hong Yi works in . . . coffee. She does  detailed, realistic portraits in coffee stains. Prefer tea? No worries, she does those, too. Her name, Hong, sounds like the word Red in Mandarin, so her website is called Red. From her website: “Red is a Malaysian artist-architect.  She also loves how a colour can stir up conflicting emotions – one of love and passion, and of danger and sacrifice.” She has a big variety of art on her website.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is at the Women’s Expo in Phoenix this weekend, demoing art projects for Arizona Art Supply.

Collage Background

Backgrounds for your collages are all around–you can use ripped up magazines, paints, books, or. . .your own photographs printed on unusual papers or exaggerated in size. Train your eyes to see backgrounds, photograph them, and the world will fill up your journal.

rock wall with vineTake photographs to save the idea, and then print them on a variety of papers–photographic papers will give you a stiff, glossy surface.

Printing them on copy paper will give you a softer look, but be careful–ink jet ink will run with glue. Spray it with several light layers of fixative first.

Print them on Lazertran or transparency paper. Print them on heavier paper and paint ink over them.letter

Or just leave them alone and use them as the beautiful backgrounds they are.

From top to bottom, the images are:

1. Rock wall with a dried vine, taken at the Washington Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

2. Close up of a letter stained with tea and printed on Lazertran.

shadow on sidewalk

3. Close up of a sidewalk stained by grass fertilizer and very hard water, Mesa, AZ.

4. Close up of salt-stained staircase in Washington, D.C.salt-stained wall

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Quinn McDonald is a collage artist and a certified creativity coach who teaches collage art and visual journaling. See her work at RawArtJournaling.com

Wabi-Sabi: A simple life

The moon lay on her back in the sky, her thin ivory rim tipped up. Cupped gently in her hollow was the indigo sky, dotted with stars. Two straight lines stitched past the horns of the moon. They were contrails, side-lit by the bright, reflected light. Next to the contrails is the constellation Orion. I always look for it when I walk at night. Often I can just see the belt. Tonight I could see the entire constellation: the powerful Hunter standing next to the river Eridanus with his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, fighting Taurus, the bull. In the early Spring, the constellation is overhead when I walk at night, at an angle I have to search for.

OrionThis morning, I watched the moon get tangled in a palm tree, and later in a new-leafed tree. I like walking late at night and early in the morning. The sidewalks are deserted. In the distance, I can hear a train whistle calling as it crosses the street grade and races into the blank and mountainous desert. Who is on the train? Where are they going at night, where will they wake up?

In the next block the first faint trace of orange blossom appeared and vanished over a block wall. In the dark,  I could just see the first blossoms on an orange tree. I know the smell from perfumes, but no perfume has such a rich, deep green smell that carries the hope of summer’s glowing ember oranges. I touched one of the polished, shiny leaves, black in the pre-dawn. moon

The houses have their curtains drawn. I could hear faint sounds from the TVs. Someone was watching explosions and laughing. In the next house someone was screeching on a reality show.  I kept walking through the chilly, shining air. This was my gift alone. In two months it will be warm this time of morning.

I have chosen this life–right now it is hard. I work too much. I don’t spend enough time in the studio. My house is not clean and polished, there is laundry to do. But walking through the night with all five senses is a feast I find indescribably peaceful. I feel alive and aware. I am in one moment at a time. It is an enormous gift to see all this, to taste it, touch it, to hear the sounds of the desert. I am grateful. The people who are in front of the TV will never know this, but they are satisfied, too. They don’t want to be walking outside in the dark. I’m glad for their comfort and glad for my own experience.

And in that second of peace, I know the heart of wabi-sabi.

Images: Orion: space.about.com  Moon: http://www.andrill.org

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Living a Wabi-Sabi Life

Wabi-Sabi—Appreciation of the Imperfect and Impermanent
You are looking in a shop window at a beautiful dress. Suddenly, you see the reflection of a young woman behind you, also looking at the dress. She reminds you so much of your younger self– fresh, eager. You smile at the recognition of the wonder of this moment.

That fragile moment of recognition is part of the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi– the beauty of things impermanent or incomplete. It contains a profound appreciation for things modest and humble. As an

Bonsai and shadow © Quinn McDonald, 2007

Bonsai and shadow © Quinn McDonald, 2007

aesthetic, it honors things imperfect and unconventional.

A Different Approach to Success and Abundance
Wabi-sabi is the release of control. It avoids beating up the creative soul for not achieving perfection. Recognizing and embracing our imperfections allows room for growth. The only result of demanding perfection is certain failure. Perfection is impossible, and while we live in a culture that loves people who are “passionate” and “give 110%,” we seldom feel passion for our daily lives, and it is impossible to give more than all. Perfection is a cruel boss. It leads to giving up, depression and anger rather than eagerness for growth and improvement.

Living a wabi-sabi life means letting go of the stress of competition, relentless achievement, and replacing them with a willingness to let life find its own pace. It allows for space to trust that opportunities will appear, and a willingness to let the world unfurl without having full control over every activity. It is a life stripped down to what is valuable, rather than randomly acquired. It is not living without, but rather within.

In a wabi-sabi life, you recognize all things are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Once you open the door to imperfection, a creative force rushes into your life, making it possible to risk, to try different solutions, to explore your creativity fully. Which leads to living a creative life–work and business combine to create a full, rich and abundant life.

How to Live a Wabi-Sabi Life
One of the hardest things to do is live in the moment. We are always planning—what to have for dinner, what time to pick up the kids, what to do if that promotion doesn’t come through.

Bittersweet © Quinn McDonald, 2007

Bittersweet © Quinn McDonald, 2007

We live our lives in the past, reviewing our mistakes, and in the future, planning on contingencies and how to handle what will happen next. The current moment is empty as we rush to control—ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children. We try to control our creativity, what we make, even our intuition.

Certainly planning helps organize our time and leads to action. But when we begin to plan for every possibility, guess at every motive, fill every second of the day with planned activities, meetings and obligations, we exhaust ourselves and our families.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Often we can’t influence the future. What we think of as failure is simply a lack of knowing. You don’t always have to know. And you don’t always have to be in control. Take off that heavy obligation of knowing and controlling and take three deep, slow breaths. Then decide right now. In this moment. To live and grow. And leave perfection behind. And let creativity take root in your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She teaches journal-writing classes, including Wabi-Sabi Journaling and raw-art journaling (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved.

Wabi-Sabi Journal Prompts

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that values the time-worn, the aged, the imperfect. It is a philosophy and a way of accepting and giving up control. Bringing wabi-sabi into your life allows you to make room for daydreams, for accepting a simpler life and for valuing the riches already in your life.

A wabi sabi journal is one filled with authentic you, the one that hungers for simplicity, nature, the organic flow of life. Here are a few quotes to help you open your mind to Wabi-Sabi. They make great journal prompts.

You are the person you are when no one is looking.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

No one can give you abilities. For example, an Olympic athlete works with a trainer to develop her abilities, but the trainer only helps manifest what was inherent all along. Likewise, no one can give you happiness. At most, others simply help manifest the joy that was always within you.snail

Happiness does not mean ‘absence of problems.’ There has never been a life free from problems. It is not the presence of problems, but how we tackle them that determines the quality of our lives.

Blind faith is no faith

One does not win by making others lose.

–All quotes from “Open Your Mind, Open Your Life.” edited by Taro Gold

–Image from Still in the Stream, a site reflecting on Wabi-Sabi in nature.

-Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. In March, she will teach “Wabi sabi journal writing.”  Visit my other website: Raw Art Journaling.

Perfectionists and Procrastination, Part II

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

Trash can trash by bedzine.com/

Trash can trash by bedzine.com/

Around age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Misplaced Focus Leads to Misplaced Ideals.
As children manage the hard work of socialization, they are taught to focus on certain questions and their answers.  Art, music, and other creative studies are dropped. No standardized test worries about inventiveness, creativity or multiple right answers.

A Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” Peers goad with fear that we are not good enough, stupid, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. We live in a world stoked by our own negative self talk. “You can’t do this, you will not make it, you are scared. . .” goes the voice.  Suddenly discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
Discipline is exactly the right word for what we do need to nourish. it is not the discipline of your youth. Here is how the new discipline works.

Neatly stacked manuscripts, wirelessdigest.typepad.com

Neatly stacked manuscripts, wirelessdigest.typepad.com

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we call, not on discipline, but on the gremlin of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, perhaps even accomplishment.

Gremlins of Negative Self  Talk.
Everyone has gremlins of negative self talk. We criticize ourselves harshly, in the words we remember from our parents, teachers, and peer bullies. This negative self talk collides head-on with the need to compete, to win, to succeed. And perfectionism is created.

Too much pressure and stress to achieve leads to symptoms or real illness. The deadline looms, and the perfectionists collapses.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate lesser efforts than there own. Yes, the perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

And making it perfect sounds virtuous, even wonderful. The perfectionist excuse fosters procrastination.

It says, “Oh, this part isn’t as good as that part.” It says, “Oh, this book needs too much work to be right.” It says, “I need to edit the draft one more time.” And when the work doesn’t get out there, we have the excuse of “still working on it. . .”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour or so. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will discover that it is really good, and that it is done. When you submit it, you will be boosted up on a wonderful high. You will feel relieved. You will feel proud.  You deserve that wonderful rush. It is the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today. And it will be the first step into meeting deadlines and doing well. It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. See her work at QuinnCreative.

Perfectionists and Procrastination, Part I

Anne is a writer. She hit upon a great idea for an article. It would require a lot of interviews, but the idea was brilliant. She posted a segment of the work on her blog and was contacted in four hours by a publisher. Anne could turn the idea into several spin-offs, so there was a great future ahead.

If you are a perfectionist, you know the next part of the story. Anne missed the first deadline. And the next. And the project is still not complete.

Anne is a perfectionist, too. She does excellent work and doesn’t want to turn in anything less than the best.

Changing time won't change deadline

Changing time won't change deadline

If Anne follows the road of perfectionism most writers and artists (and office workers, moms, employees, and supervisors) take, she will start a dozen projects and finish none of them, because they are not “finished.” Or “quite right,” or “done editing.”

She will have another great idea, and start it, and never finish it, either. Over her lifetime, she will start a thousand projects, ideas, articles, books, blogs, and relationships. None of them will end satisfactorily; many of them will never be finished at all.

Perfectionism sounds like something everyone would aspire to, but in real life, it is a pitfall to satisfaction. Perfectionism is the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.”images-1

Don’t confuse “excellent” with “perfect.” Perfectionists are not satisfied with excellent, because there may be an  invisible flaw that someone will find. And expose the perfectionist as a fraud.

And being exposed as a fraud takes the identity from a perfectionist. And the power they hold over others. As long as they don’t hand in the project or complete the work, they hang onto their identity.

Perfectionists are driven by fear of inadequacy–and sooner or later, often sooner, they will fail. Perfectionists fear this failure so much, that they begin to control their lives, their work, their employees, their family and friends in an ever-widening circle of perfectionism. By judging other people severely,  perfectionists point to the flaws of others as a distraction from faults growing in their own lives.

They are never happy, always striving, forever hearing the threat of “fraud,” “unworthy” and “failure.”

Continue reading Part II of Perfectionism and Procrastination on Monday, Dec. 15. Discover a common cause of perfectionism and a new perspective.

-Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps others open the door to being great, if not perfect. See her work at QuinnCreative.com