May 23 2011

State of Flow

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Forgive me, as I may appear to be a bit obsessed with water lately.

Perhaps that’s because our patch of the Sonoran Desert hasn’t received measureable rainfall in the past 41 days (this, while my parents in Pennsylvania consider purchasing a rowboat for their front yard, which is not lakefront property … usually).

I’m reminded of this deficit daily, as the scorched desert dirt sends tendrils of earthy smoke from under my running shoes, from beneath my truck’s tires. I imagine it screaming, “I’m parched! I’m thirsty! I need relief!”

Despite the very dry state of the desert when this photo was taken in March, water trickled down Copper Creek into this tiny tributary from the 4,000-7,000-foot high Galiuro Mountains. I love the way the water intensifies the peach color of this igneous rock. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps my growing liquid-less unrest has been further exacerbated by last week’s failed promise of rain? Or maybe it’s because June 15 seems so far away still – the official start of our desert monsoon season. Even then there is no guarantee, no magic button to push, to ensure that the skies will open on that day (though even the mere promise of it is refreshing …)

For all those reasons, it seemed the perfect time to share photos that I snapped when water was flowing near my desert home. Think of this photo montage as a bit of a pre-monsoon celebration (or my own silly, superstitious precursor to rain … a way of eliciting good vibes for a wet June, July and August)!

Right down the road, Aravaipa Canyon does feature a perennial creek, as photographed during a group hike in December of last year. This is one of my favorite desert spots, and I’d love to dip my toes in that babbling brook right now. Click to enlarge.

Heavy rains from the Santa Catalinas re-contoured the normally bone-dry wash that cuts through our driveway. Thanks to Mother Nature’s sculpting, we now have a curvy drive instead of straight. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: Do you ever experience days when your writing is flowing, the words tumbling off the keyboard on to your screen like water in a stream, without effort? Time just zips on by, your creation is nearly flawless, and the ability to achieve that perfect crescendo in your work seems effortless (yeah… it doesn’t happen to me often, either). For me, it’s pretty hit-or-miss.

Well, guess what? You can learn to harness this flow! I am intrigued and breathless knowing that this kind of creative momentum can be practiced and perfected. At the same time, I am absolutely terrified, because, at its heart, achieving a state of flow means letting go and becoming focused.

And let’s just say I have some anal retentive tendencies that make letting go a bit difficult. Plus, I am always switching from right brain to left brain when I write (Write a sentence. Edit. Write a sentence. Edit). This is counterproductive to flow, as I’m learning.

According to Everett Bogue, author of The Art of Being Minimalist, “Flow is a moment in time when you’re both challenged at the activity that you’re doing, and when you also have complete autonomy in the task you’re conducting.” He believes it’s a time when no thinking is involved, when “the conscious part of the mind switches off and awareness of self slips away, allowing you to just do.”

Sounds easy, huh? (Note sarcasm).

But here’s the good news. In a guest blog on zenhabits.net, Bogue offers some pointers for achieving flow. I’ve paraphrased them below (adding my wit and eloquent vocabulary, of course), but feel free to consult his entire post, which really is a must-read if you want to save time, increase productivity and get in the “zone.”

9 Ways to Achieve Flow

  1. Choose something challenging. The key is to select something you love and have a passion for (like writing!). Tedious tasks won’t ignite flow.
  2. Turn that damn social media ‘stuff’ off. Phones, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook … it’s all distracting. Flipping back and forth between writing and these tasks disrupts flow (I know this firsthand).
  3. Research first. Before your flow session, be prepared. Have your research done in advance so you don’t jolt yourself out of the groove. That means understanding your character’s motivation for the scene, knowing the setting, understanding the medical scenario or how blueberries are processed (or whatever) before you start.
  4. Become a temporary hermit. The key to achieving flow is being alone – not in a room full of people (little ones or big ones).
  5. Give in. This is the tough one for me: let go. Have no preconceived notions about the results you will achieve. Let that word count, page count or chapter count slip from your mind. It narrows your focus and leaves you open to disappointment if you don’t reach said goal. (Again, I have lots of experience in the ‘disappointment’ area).
  6. Use a timepiece. Start out with a goal – maybe 30 minutes of uninterrupted flow time and put your all into it. Let ‘er rip! If you go at it with gusto, you may just forget about time completely.
  7. Keep the synapses firing. Don’t stop long enough to let your mind wander (tame the urge to log on to Twitter, pet the cat, take pictures of birds outside your window!). Choose a challenging pace, but not a frenetic one. The goal is to remain calm, but while moving forward.
  8. Turn off your brain. Try not to second-guess everything you do, and turn off the self-consciousness of your every move (also known as sabotage).
  9. Practice makes perfect. Don’t freak out if you aren’t a flow master from the start. Like all things worth pursuing, it takes practice. Choose a regular time every day to practice your flow skills. After a few days, a week, a month, you may just have a new, free-flowing approach to your writing.

What about you? Do you already have flow mastered? What are your secrets? Or are you one of those tortured souls like me who feels the need to ‘perfect as you go’? What works for you? Would you consider trying any of the above techniques?

*Special thanks to writer and creativity guru @lizmassey68, who first introduced me to this article and the “flow focus.”


May 16 2011

Fading Footprints

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Footprints seem so solitary, so isolated, so lonely.

Maybe that’s because they are simply a shell of what once was, a reminder that someone – or something – traveled a particular path once-upon-a-time.

I think about this often during my morning jogs through the desert, when the tracks of my running shoes mingle with the footprints of coyotes, javelina, mule deer, jack rabbits and roadrunners.

I am convinced that these are the tracks of a mountain lion perusing our property. Lions (as the locals call them) have been sighted in our area, and one was struck by a car a few years back, sadly. These prints were way too big to be a coyote’s or even a bobcat’s tracks, showed no claws, and featured rounded toes. Did I mention they were GIANT! Click to enlarge.

The curious thing about fresh tracks is the sense of permanence that they initially evoke. An imprint stamped in the dirt reveals things seemingly imperceptible … a sense of authority witnessed by weight; a sense of urgency or leisure based on stride. And in human prints, we read even more into tracks – based on shoe type, barefooted preferences, foot size. Through mankind’s tracks, we envision hopes, dreams, isolation, independence.

I originally called these “mouse tracks in the mud,” but I believe they are actually wood rat or chipmunk tracks preserved in the mud, for a short time, after heavy rains. Click to enlarge.

I am frequently reminded of just how erasable, how temporary, these desert tracks are. Some mornings, quad and four-wheel-drive tracks snake over the tiny toe prints, pulverizing the short-lived history of past travelers, imprints dispersed again to dust. Other days the trails are traveled by so many – bobcats, skunks, foxes, lizards – that proof of previous visitors sinks away into the sandy soil. The rain and wind, when they come, play their role, too, in erasing these footprints that are much more than empty shells. They are unrecorded stories that can be written again and again.

This desert track stopped both me and my husband in our own tracks. What more can we say, except that we named the snake that created these markings “Snakezilla.” Just compare the truck tire tread width to the snake trail width, and you’ll know why.

For Writers: Writers inevitably leave behind a legacy with their work. Their footprints, a bit more permanent, take the form of words – ink on paper in bound books, e-ink on digital book readers, blogs with photos, magazine articles, white papers.

What kind of an impression will your writer’s footprints leave? Are you the kind of writer who wants to make her mark distinct, independent and fierce – one of a kind, with crisp, well-defined, solitary tracks?

Or are you the kind of writer who feels more comfortable leaving behind a trail of comingled tracks – ones that blur along the edges from so many passersby – your readers, family and friends – walking alongside you, sharing your words?