Friday, April 1, 2011

In the Zone

Outside Santa Fe, 2008

I was listening to someone talk the other day about being “in the zone.” We usually associate this term with athletes, referring to those moments when they are fully conscious of everything that’s going on around them and seemingly incapable of doing anything wrong.

The person I was listening to, though, was referring to writers and those times when the ideas and words are flowing so freely and quickly that it’s all you can do to pass them from your brain through your fingers to the pen or the keyboard without losing any of them.

Popular lore has it that the moment of greatest satisfaction is when we stand back and look at something we’ve created. But I’ve come to believe the greatest moment of satisfaction is the moment we don’t notice. That is, it’s that period of time—the moments, hours, days or whatever—when your mind is lost in the work before you, when you’re so caught up in that moment that you lose track of time and are fully disengaged from any other thoughts.

In my own corny way that’s how I look at photography and at these blog posts. Sometimes it doesn’t take long to take a picture I really like. But the satisfaction of that time, whether it’s seconds or hours, can last for days.

I write these blog posts at all times of the day and night. I’m not as disciplined as some of my writer friends who get up every morning long before the sun to have a solid hour or so of writing time. That isn’t the problem anyway. Rather, the biggest challenge for me is capturing the ideas that become blog posts.

You might be saying, “Why don’t you just carry pencil and paper with you?” I do. If you know me well, you know there are lots of pencils and pens and pieces of paper strewn in my path. But ideas don’t always give you a lot of notice and sometimes you find yourself somewhere that it’s not convenient to write, like in bed or in the shower. You might be in a meeting with clients where you’re expected to be fully present with them. I keep pencils and paper in the garage because a lot of ideas pop up when I’m pulling weeds or pushing the lawn mower. I keep them in the car and in the pockets of all of my suit jackets.

Some people have the gift of perfect recall and don’t need all this help. If something occurs to them they can stash it aside in their mind and recall it fully later on. I don’t have that gift. I get easily distracted. Many good ideas have been lost to the ages because I forgot them before I got to where I could write them down.

Of course, the idea is just the starting point. Many are the nights I’ve sat here at the keyboard at 10:00 p.m. thinking I was going to quickly spin one of those stray thoughts into a blog post, only to find the next time I look up that it’s already 2:00 a.m.

From a sleep health standpoint, this probably isn’t healthy. But from a mental standpoint it’s immensely nourishing. I’ve often said I write this blog as a therapeutic exercise for myself. If someone sees it and enjoys it, so much the better. But the time spent doing this is time well spent, and even if the outcome is sometimes lousy, I’m hooked on it. It’s my zone and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

I was definitely in the zone when I took Outside Santa Fe, above. I was trying to get to Santa Fe before the sun rose. But it started crossing the horizon before I got there. I pulled off the highway and drove down a dirt road until I saw this view off to the south. I climbed a fence, kicked a dead (yes, really dead, not playing dead) rattlesnake out of my way and walked out onto the mesa to take this picture. I knew I had magic at that moment. Nothing else I did that day measured up to that 250th of a second of being in the zone.


  1. That is a gorgeous shot, Chris! I know exactly what you mean about lost ideas....happens to me all the time. As for kicking that dead rattler, I'd run him over with the truck a few times before kicking him. In what's left of my mind there are two kinds of snakes; the good ones and the ones without tire tracks.

  2. An awesome picture and interesting post. Have you ever read "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott? If not, I highly recommend it.

  3. Couldn't agree more, Chris.

  4. Go on with the therapy, I really enjoy it!
    ... and it also helps me improving my English :)