Go With the Flow

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 September 2019

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Brass tacks, y’all: I am FIRED UP. Motivated. Here to work. Ready to roll up my sleeves and get into it. Can you feel it? This electric pulse of inspiration and creativity? That’s the current state of affairs in this corner of ASBX-land. We’re on a whole new thing now, kids, and the message is: “I’ve been in the corral, waiting for race time. You gonna let me run? Because I’m ready.” Mara Thomas, reporting for duty.

Quite a 180 from this summer’s more subdued topics — the Creative Vacuum and the Gifts of Loneliness. How did I get here from there? Sometimes things come along that shake up your day-to-day to such a degree that you find yourself on new ground. For me, what flipped the table on my navel-gazing were some recent experiences that connected me with flow, the zen-like state where time stops and you’re completely immersed in the task at hand. I have been having a hard time connecting to flow with my writing. However, you know where I almost always feel connected to flow? Playing music.

Have you experienced creative flow? Where you are so into what you’re doing that you don’t realize several hours have flown by? Where the project is so engrossing that you don’t even think to stop and eat or take a break? That’s flow, my friends. Flow researcher and psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi popularized the term and identified ten factors that accompany a flow state, including:

  • Concentration and focus
  • Losing feelings of self-consciousness
  • Losing track of time
  • Complete focus on the activity itself
  • Participating in an intrinsically rewarding activity

Let’s look at that last one more closely.  An “intrinsically rewarding activity” sounds to me like the “Make Pots” theory we’ve talked about before on this blog — that the pursuit is valuable for its own sake. That there is value in the doing of the thing, regardless of any outcome. Plus, the more you do the thing, the better you will become at doing the thing and the more fun you can have playing around with the thing as your skill level and confidence grow. In other words, immersing yourself in a task you enjoy can lead to flow. I have felt flow with running, with gardening, with cleaning, and I invariably feel flow when I practice and perform with my band Cold Cream.

Cold Cream rocking out at Hopscotch 2019. Photo by Cory Rayborn.

Cold Cream is my first experience as a band’s dedicated vocalist. In previous bands, I always played an instrument in addition to singing and frequently felt like I wasn’t performing optimally at either. Now, though, I can focus all my efforts on the vocals, connecting with the message of the songs, tuning into what my bandmates are doing, and fire-hosing that energy out into the crowd. I can tap into something deep inside of me — this is rage, let’s be real — and channel it to serve the music. It’s incredibly cathartic and I feel completely removed from my self-critical nemeses, perfectionism and comparison. The focus and energy it takes to perform don’t leave room for anything else.

Have I mentioned it is also incredibly fun? It is! Once we start playing, it’s all I want to do. What’s more, I can feel the residual effects of these flow states for several days and it’s giving me more confidence with song-writing, something that has been a major creative roadblock for me for nearly 15 years. That confidence is spilling over into rewrites for my play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY, a process that has been dogged with perfectionism. My attitude in this moment is, “Go for it. Give it all you’ve got and don’t look back.”

Creativity is at my doorstep. It’s making its presence known in a big way. Were I not buoyed by these recent flow experiences, I might feel overwhelmed or unsure or make some excuse not to answer the call. Having such a potent source of flow in my life truly makes me feel like so many things are possible. I’m ready to grab the reins and hold on.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with flow! Drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com. It’s always great to hear from you.

‘Til next time,
MT

P.S. See and hear Cold Cream in this video by Dave Schwentker from Hopscotch 2019.

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