In the Zone

Photo by me: work fans are our friends.

I saw something on social media that tried to say a lot at once. It led me to want to write in response my version of what many people have already said. The quote was attributed to Carl Jung:

Comfort is a drug. Once you get used to it, it becomes addicting. Give a weak person consistent stimulation, good food, cheap entertainment, and they’ll throw their ambitions right out the window. The comfort zone is where dreams go and die.

Yeah, I don’t think so. I can’t find online evidence for his authorship of this, but my search was not full due diligence.

It seems a little harsh and snarky for Jung. He did write about embracing Life’s natural suffering, rather than retreating into false comfort to the point of not really living. But he seems to be discussing extremes of retreat and symptoms of illness, not an introvert’s or a creative person’s need for solitude and space. The comforts that are to us what sunlight and water are to a garden don’t seem to be things he would attack. 

So I call bullshit. And I was happy to see a lot of comments on the post were doing the same. People were standing up for their needs and their processes.

First point. Yes, dopamine hits from the online realms are real and addictive. Their call is powerful. FOMO is powerful. Rescue-kitten videos are powerful.  Stress, news trauma, and compassion fatigue, never mind experienced trauma, are powerful. 

But I don’t think it’s a matter of doing battle with them, swinging wildly at an enemy or surrendering. It’s a matter of choosing, from among a number of things with various values, what is most important. To the extent you can, since we don’t all have the same privileges of choice. You establish the attention and routines that foster the things chosen, letting the others go, in whatever time and space you have. Thanks to Greg McKeown for writing about this so well.

Second point, more bullshit. As one commenter put it so well, it’s Survival Mode where dreams go to die. Nothing like stress and exhaustion to smother creative energy for some of us. Do NOT let anyone convince you to join the So Just Push Through It All movement. Creativity does not have to hinge on the twisted, exaggerated sense of hustle and productivity our society worships.

For some people, pressure and intense activity do work well. You all do you! But it’s not mandatory, and for some of us it’s deeply unhealthy. For us, there is nothing wrong and everything right in a comfort zone. Some ease, some space and quiet, some of what is familiar and not challenging. 

If you soothe yourself with intelligence and care, with your priorities in mind, what’s the problem? I get A LOT done in my comfort zone: I’m in it right now, writing away, having finished one project and moved on to this draft. I need my zone in order to be OK. I can engage with some passionate feelings on this topic BECAUSE it’s early in the morning and quiet, and because I have coffee. That’s. How. I. Work.

So, yeah, try not to fill up on chips when you need to feed yourself for real, or to get lost clicking when you need time and space for Creativity. (And when these both happen, OK, take a breath, move on.) Showing up IS actually vital. But don’t let other people’s needs or values dictate the way you need to be creative.

A Little Bliss


I had some old notes for this piece but hesitated to write it now.  Joseph Campbell, quoted in Austin Kleon‘s book (I think it was Keep Going), advises us about moving away from the everyday into a space and/or time to open and create. Campbell wrote:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth…the place of creative incubation…if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Well, there’s no more “everyday” now, and who knows what that will look like later, what each of us will in future label “everyday”. When people have been universally forced into “other” time and space, can I still write about its value? I can try.

Campbell called the place he described above one’s “bliss station”. I have one. There it is, one end of a futon couch, next to some shelves, where I keep writing materials, meditation objects, and about 1/3 of my plants. And may I introduce Claude, the little blue fellow on the upper shelf, a rounded fellow with a ball nose and a beret, whom I made in a school crafts class when I was about 7? He’s sort of my Buddha. We’ve always been tight.

My bliss station is also early, before coffee is finished for the morning and work begins for the day. If I’ve got myself together, it’s sometimes before sunrise.  Not always.

I hadn’t been there for a while, as this current wave of awfulness started to break. I was sick (not with That) and scattered from suddenly having three jobs to do online, the entire gig economy on my lap. The news. Nerves. I don’t have to tell you. But then I went back to the bliss station and drafted this and started showing up again.

I will say four things are true about my Bliss Station. It was right there when I looked for it. It changes absolutely nothing about the current situation, except that I’m doing what I can to make the most Positive possible. Since I live in an attractive but very small apartment, it has helped these weeks to have designated spaces of all kinds: a work area, a reading corner, the bliss station, and random places to stand to listen to the news or think. That’s 3. The 4th one is that going to back to regular time in the bliss station has felt like Something. There’s things you can do if you put whatever is your own Ground under your own feet.

Against the enormity of what is happening, what are a few words here wishing you some Ground, Something to Lean On, a little Bliss? They are some words I wrote in my Creative Space, wishing you these things. Be well.



Pondering Creative Minds

pen and ink

At a New Year’s Eve get-together, some creative friends were enjoying the early evening hanging-around-the-kitchen-with-wine hour. Our host shared some stories about her and my former workplace, and before you click away, let me assure you it was creative gossip about two famous, influential writers.  They had both revealed to my friend something about how their creative minds worked in the daily world, and since I’m pondering that, no identities. But go ahead and guess, O fiction fans.

The organization we worked for provided short courses for adults in everything from languages to cooking to rollerblading, and it also hosted writers for appearances and workshop weekends. My friend’s job description put much of the logistics of these events on her shoulders. Let’s call the two visiting artists Creative Mind 1 and Creative Mind 2.

Full disclosure for blog justice: CM1 broke their contract without warning halfway through the weekend, and I am aware of later events in our fair city where CM1 made large, gratuitous difficulties for those who invited them. CM1 seems to have been nestled into a rarefied life by academia, where they operate undisturbed on strict routines that others of us might find monastic or stifling. The daily life seems designed to serve the Art. As the saying goes, you do you; I’m sure many artists work this way for successful results, and CM1 sure has those. (I only judge CM1 for how miserable they made my friend that weekend, as if their needs were the only ones of value. I settle for using the silly nickname we have called CM1 since then.)

CM1 told my friend that, flight delayed, they stood a long time in a long airport line. So they pulled out writing supplies and began notes for a new work. In the full experience of CM1 that weekend, my friend found this choice insular, as if they wrapped a layer of writing around themselves like plastic wrap in that unfortunate situation. That limbo moment was a chance to disengage from the world. That is how some artists get it done.

Again, disclosure: CM2 was friendly and obliging, and that counts for a lot when you’re coordinating a big event and are surrounded by responsibilities and drooling groupies.

CM2 was waiting to speak to an audience where our organization was then housed, a Gilded Age mansion in Boston, donated in the early 20th for that purpose. (I mean, it had a ballroom.) CM2 was waiting in a small, beautifully paneled room that had been the Gentleman’s study. They looked around and eagerly called my friend’s attention to the old wires bordering the glass inside the window frames. Recognizing it as a Gilded Age burglar alarm, CM2 was excited and exclaimed that it must be one of the earliest alarm systems, and how utterly cool. They were fascinated, and in this limbo moment, wholly engaged with a new thing to offer their attention. That’s how some artists get it done.

I would prefer a creative mind like CM2’s. I can be easily, even too, curious in any given moment and easily, even too, enthusiastic about new things to explore. I like CM2’s relationship with the world, although it can present challenges. Overload and scattering of attention does not always serve the work you want to do.

I’m also aware that I was doing exactly what CM1 did at the airport when I was drafting this piece, in the middle of an unpleasant, stressful period of waiting limbo of my own. Was I upholding my practice or retreating into it? When is being driven either inward or outward healthy and when not? What is the balance? How does objective success in one’s art, and one’s behavior to others, affect how we judge creative habits and what it means to have a Creative Mind?

There’s no conclusion here. I still find CM2’s mode richer, more appealing, and more natural to me. But I’m asking myself many questions about different forms of discipline, practice, routine, openness to the world as it comes, balance, and how best to support my well-being and creativity. Conversation welcome!