Late yesterday afternoon my husband had an unexpected problem arise at work, one that required him to drop everything he was doing and switch gears. He was working from home already, in his office in our basement. I got home myself about 4:00, and went down to check on him. He was just getting started to work on this project, so I came back upstairs and closed the door so it would be quiet.
At 6:00, which is our usual dinner time, I went back to check on him again. Both dogs were down there with him, quietly sleeping in their little beds under his desk. His computer was humming along, his drawings were spread out around him, he was barely aware of my presence.
I knew he was deeply immersed in “The Zone,” so I just came back up and prepared my own dinner (which I ate outside on the deck because it was such a beautiful evening).
Although creative people often talk about being in “the zone,” anyone can go there. It’s that place where you become so deeply immersed in whatever it is you’re doing that you’re almost in alternate universe. You lose track of time. You don’t notice your physical needs. Your mind feels feverish with concentration and effort. My husband is an engineer, but when he’s in that place of intense thought and focus I know it’s not wise to interrupt him.
I get in that zone too, with writing and with music. But in addition to that very focused zone when all my senses are honed in on one task, I think we all have a “life in general” zone that helps us do our best work, whatever that may be.
Like most things, it’s a matter of balance. Writers especially often bemoan the fact that they don’t have enough quiet time to work. They talk about yearning to be locked away in an isolated cabin in the woods. But I think you must have a life in order to have something to write about. It’s all fodder for thought and expression. From the messy details of ordinary living to heart-stopping love affairs, to world wide exploration and adventure, it’s all fodder for the creative imagination, it all finds its way into the work you’re doing.
“The key to productivity is having an uneventful life,” Jen Lee writes in The 10 Letters Project. “Striking a good balance (means) just enough outings to keep yourself replenished and inspired, but no big dramas taking you away from the page."
That “uneventful life” is key for me. In the last 10 years I’ve learned so much about my limits, how hard it is to do any kind of thoughtful work if my life is messy. Some people thrive in an atmosphere of frenzied activity, clutter, and confusion. I know my happiest zone is the one where everyone in my circle is healthy, where I’m spending quality time with my friends, where my house is clean, where my schedule is predictable, where I feel loved and appreciated.
I’ve always been fascinated by writers and artists who create from a place of darkness and pain. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh - just a few of the truly great creative minds that produced their best work despite - of maybe because of - their tortured souls. As much as this interests me, I don’t envy them their greatness. Fame at the price of happiness doesn’t appeal to me.
These days I find myself in one of those golden periods of time when everything is humming along in the orderly way they should be. I also know how ephemeral this state of being truly is. So I’m taking note of these days, enjoying them, thinking about how I can use the time while they last to make headway on a new project.
I’m savoring life in the Happy Zone, and hoping nothing interrupts it for quite a while.
How about you? What kind of zone is perfect for your best work?