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These are all books I’ve acquired since I moved out here, and I deliberately chose different books–it didn’t seem interesting to grab all the communication texts I teach from

1. 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Phoenix.  A book that breaks down interesting hikes by views, difficulty, location.

2. The Zen of Seeing. A beautiful book,  hand-drawn and handwritten using shades of gray and black inks, that promotes seeing and drawing at meditation.

3. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks.  Music and the brain. (I’m tone deaf.)

4. Book Proposals that Sell.  Step by step instructions for writing the non-fiction book proposal.

5. Create Your Own Artist’s Journal. A beautifully written and illustrated book that grounds you in the practice of keeping a visual journal.


What do people look for in blogs? Topics that interest them, naturally. But that’s a lesson on its own.

I did an interesting blogging experiment over the last few days. I ran a blog on the artwork created by Jonathan Harris, who took the most common 86,800 words in the English language, and put them in order, by amount of use. You can search by number or by word, and you can get caught up in looking at the word for your birthday, and play numerology games.

I also ran a story about Sophie Calle, a French artist whose boyfriend dumped her via email; she subsequently turned the email and the dumping into an artwork.

And, because it is the topic of the workbook I’m writing, I included an article on another creativity lesson my bike taught me.

I began to watch which blog got the most views–words, getting dumped, or the creativity story. Of the two word-as-art posts, Calle’s getting dumped got more views. That was understandable. When the creativity story shot to popularity,  I first felt vindicated and *knew* my book would be a hit. . .until I check which words people searched for to get to the story.

Ah, the disillusionment! The agony! The incident in the story was a rainstorm, and I pointed out that with a teardrop-shaped gas tank and a round helmet that drips down on the gas tank, you get wet. The specific phrase I used caused the post’s popularity-“wet crotch.” It was a good comeuppance, but that makes me wonder if popularity is the only measure that should be considered when talking about blogging.

It’s been a tough Spring. Reluctant. Secretive. I tried to escape the East Coast and went to Sedona, Arizona, only to discover that it sleets there. In April. But slow as it is, Spring is being dragged into my yard by the bulbs I planted last fall. The grape hyacinths popped up purple and are now dropping seeds. The magic narcissus unfolded, one green blade at a time, and greeted me when I came home with a ring of white around the crepe myrtle, which is setting leaves. The lilies are coming up like bush green gnomes. In summer, they will burst with color and scent.

The lavender I planted too early is tough and is sitting in three little separate mounds, waiting for next year to grow bigger. (According to garden lore, the first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, the third it leaps.)

The mint is up and fighting for space, a sure sign that Spring won’t be held back.

The backyard pear tree is showing tiny green pears, the size of a pencil eraser, except on the edges of the branches, where a late, hard freeze froze off the blossoms.

Nature is a school for me. The lessons are not always soft and gentle, but they are always worth learning. I love being outside this time of year. Nothing is boring. It is all so alive.

Right now, life feels like a prayer. Everywhere I look, I feel grateful for surviving the winter. And in my tradition, there is a blessing for that: Blessed are you, creator of the Universe, for having kept us alive, for sustaining us, and for having us arrive again at this season in the cycle of the year.

The studio is cozy in winter’s reach to spring
Papers drift, display their wares to see what muse might bring.
Clients work delivered, banking balances done
So I can have the afternoon to let the muses run.
The evening is promised to the husband who complains
that we don’t see each other often when others pick my brains
or soul or heart or fingers worn down to the bone.
He needs some real attention, he’s been too long alone.

I have all day! The studio calls, but then the cats begin
they want their food, the litter scooped, and then the doorbell rings.
The postman wants a signature, and when I turn to go
downstairs, I sneeze, and the top pant button blows.
I sew it up, and while I have the needle and the thread,
I might as well sew up the cuffs on the pants left on the bed.
The postman left a package, Jenna sent the jacket
to try and get some feedback, so I unwrap the packet.
And type up notes to send her, she works hard at her art
I can’t just leave her hanging, so I finish what I start.

Now, back to work, chasing the muse, she waits downstairs for me.
On my way down, I take the wash, my arms just can’t stay free.
I sort the clothes, the machine churns, the suds are getting clean
the clothing, but the towels, too, need their turn in the machine.
Upstairs I go and fetch the towels and throw rugs while I’m there,
Bring them down and pile them up, and now, it’s my time’s share.

I pull the stool, and flare the sheet of handmade paper crisp
I sigh with pleasure at the feel, but sniff a smoky wisp.
The brownies I’ve been timing for my spouse while he’s out shopping
are burning in the oven, timer’s ring too soft to get me hopping.
Quick, before he comes back home, whip up another batch,
The ones I burned were walnut, these are plain,  but will he catch
this slip? Maybe not, but I want time, the clock says almost four
I slide downstairs and just ignore the crumbs left on the floor.

You know the rest, you’ve been there too, I never find the muse
The truth is: those distractions are things I, distracted, choose.
Because my art is silent, its voice echoes from mine
And it won’t speak until I stand,  claim my voice and  my own time.

* * *

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007, all rights reserved. No copies unless you ask. Quinn is an artist and writer, certified creativity coach and cat owner. See her work at 

Growing up, there was a print of Il Ponte Di Asnieres in our house. It fascinated me. The colors were so stark and yellow. It wasn’t unlike the color of the dust in the rural area where we lived. For years I thought the image in the painting was the place my parents came from.

Why did my parents choose that picture to bring with them? They had so little, they were allowed to take so few things. The monogrammed linens I understood. The silver candlestick I would have taken, too. But why that image? I never knew. But for years I wondered where that train was heading.

Often, I wonder where my parents got their strength, to start over in a strange land well into middle age. I wonder what it would have been like to grow up as someone else’s daughter, in a house that had a television. What would it have been like to have watched The Mickey Mouse Club? To have eaten Twinkies before the age of 20? But then again, that strict, rigid upbringing may have been exactly what I needed to become a writer.

If Vincent Van Gogh had lived a life of ease, of wealth, of comfort, would his paintings  have been as rich?  Would his brother have been as supportive? There is no time machine to show alternative lives. Or alternative paintings. We have the memories of Van Gogh’s tortured life and the glory of the paintings.

While reading an article, I came across a really good quote. But the person who said it was so unlikely. Turns out that many people said things we would think others said. So I turned it into a quick game. 6 quotes, 6 people. See if you can match them up!

Now, for another round of good dark Porter!

When my friend Emily came to visit me, I wasn’t sure she’d enjoy the place. There’s no TV, no video games, no junk food. Well, except those cookies in the pantry. But Emily liked it, and each day she got a little more daring.

Then one day she went for a walk. She took the camera, but although I saw the pictures, and listened to her story, I still can’t believe it.

I’m so touched by the stories of people who are dropping by the discussion on Creativity and your own experiences with it. Please feel free to contribute. It’s exactly the kind of discussion that makes Riversleigh feel so right for all of us.

For those who want a taste of early Spring, I’ve put a few photos up in the Murmuring Woods.

Growing up, we were not encouraged to dream, neither day- nor night. Night dreaming might be mentioned if it was scary or taught a lesson. Anything else–the mysterious, flying, living a wonderful life–was dismissed as a waste of time. And day-dreaming was no better. You could have been learning, cleaning, studying, or making yourself a better person.



As the only American-born member of my family, this did not seem strange. My parents had not ony gone through the hard-time 1930s, but they went through World War II in one of the countries that lost.

To read the rest, as well as see a link on how to daydream, visit my art studio. There’s chai on the table.

There are lots of quotes that inspire me. Most of them are ones that get me out of my head and into my heart.

When the workload is big and the spirit is thinking that ironing may be the only solution, as I’ve done all the laundry, I like this one:

“You do not have to complete the task, but neither can you put it down.” That usually helps me work for a set period of time, like an hour. After that, I want to keep working. That quote was from the Talmud, as is this one: “We do not see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” Always good to get perspective. Sometimes I have to realize that I’m just walking through someone else’s reality and that doesn’t make it my reality, too.Budding tree

I saw this written on a wall when I was in China, and at first didn’t understand it, then learned to love it: “We must separate truth from fact.”

And Thomas Edison’s advice: “We frequently miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

And after trying to do tackle something that was beyond my skill set, I finally said, “Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it.” This is not the same as not pushing yourself, but it is very different from wasting time trying to get something that you can’t do. Just to be clear: I will never be a ballerina, for reasons of age, weight, arthritis and talent. If I suddenly enrolled in ballet school with dreams of dancing the Nutcracker, it would be a waste of time. If I enrolled to increase balance, that would just be pushing the comfort zone. But I’ve spent an enormous amount of time tackling things I should have left alone.

This was a great exercise!

When the subject for this post came up, I grabbed an index card and pencil and made a list of creative influences. By the time the index card stack was up to the height of the desk, I knew I couldn’t pick just one “most” influential person. And one I couldn’t leave out–this group. From the day I arrived, I knew I’d found my tribe. But we all feel that, so I’ll give props to all of you and not natter on.

One of the influences that makes the most differences in my creativity is finding someone who thinks completely differently from the way I do. When I see how they tackle problems and solve them, I’m amazed. When this new kind of problem solving makes sense to me, I’m intrigued and push myself forward. When it is amusing, clever, and simple, I begin to drool.

Jessica Hagy is a person who explores and explains life with charts and Venn Diagrams. That explanation would make doors slam in my head. Luckily I stumbled upon her site, and saw what she was doing before I had to explain it. So I’m adding two of her images here for an appetizer. For a full meal, visit Jessica’s blog, Indexed.card6941.JPG

The first one is called “Not Rocket Science” and the second one “You can buy friends! With T-bonds!” For our international readers, T-bonds are treasury bonds in the U.S. which are actually a promise to repay the nation’s debt. So people who own T-bonds own part of our nation’s debt. If you own only a few, no problem, but China holds about one quarter of America’s debt, and that gives them power over the economy. card6874.JPG


It’s been too cold to walk for more than a week. Today it was above freezing, and right around sunset, I headed out. The moon was two days past new, and tilted in that winter’s way. Venus was below, bright and big, as if it had rolled out of the moon cup. (c) Quinn McDonald , 2007 Venus haiku

She lives in the south of Africa. She has the same name as a well-known Australian artist. She’s mistaken for her, but, she says humbly, “I’m just another Robyn Gordon.” She wrote me about a month ago, another victim of insomnia. She was lying awake and got up to drift across the Internet, hoping to find something inspiring.

She found my blog. She read an entry about creativity, another about failure. Her own life has its burdens, and they seem bigger at night.

She read an entry about meaning-making and decided to give art another try. Then she wrote me. I wrote back. It was a short exchange. I didn’t want to frighten her, and after sending a few emails she didn’t answer, I thought I might have scared her off. Damn. I hate it when I do that.

Tonight, I got another email from her. She has returned to her art. Each time we leave the studio, there is the risk we will not return. It’s a decision each artist makes every day. Robyn has chosen to return to her art. Make meaning with it.  It’s a huge step. I asked if I could see her work. Sure, she said, and sent the photo here.

totem2.jpgMy life isn’t about me. It’s about connecting with other people, people I don’t know, and finding out that creativity helped them make meaning of their lives. How wonderful that the world does not have to exist without this incredible art in it. No, I had nothing to do with it. Robyn Gordon made all the decisions and did all the work. But I am so glad it was my blog she read because I got to see this wonderful art.

She’s given me permission to publish it on my blog, and I’m putting it here as well. Thank you Robyn, for your art and for showing up in the world. (c) 2007 Images, Robyn Gordon. Text, Quinn McDonald.

Laughing at oneself is a deep and satisfying joy: to NOT know perfection, to accept ourselves as we are anyway–a rare gift.

One of my favorite explorations is to discover the tricks our brain does for us–for good or not. Whenever I explain the blind spot in our eyes, the class of adults marvel–they’ve never heard of it.

For everyone in the Taverna tonight–put down your drinks, have a seat if you are standing, and try this:

Lift your right foot about six inches (15 cm. for the smarter, metric set) and rotate it clockwise. No hurry. Got it? Great! Now use your RIGHT hand (lefties–put that one down, use the right hand here) and draw the number Six in the air.Hah! Your foot started going anti-clockwise, didn’t it? Try it again. And again. Same all the time. That’s your brain, being stubborn. You are not nearly in as much control as you think!

Hope may be a thing with feathers, but in this case, hope has wings.

hand fly


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The Soul Food Cafe is an international group of writers and artists whose global mission is to promote writing and art-making as a daily practice through the use of interactive web-based technologies such as blogging and e-mail groups.

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