Feeling the Flow Again

I have been writing on Avatar of the Maker after a hiatus (with other projects) and I am glad I’m revisiting it. Writing is once again a flow activity!

I’ve talked about flow before, but I might as well talk about it again. Flow is a concept originating with Mihalyi Csikmentmihalyi, and it involves being so engrossed in an activity that time flies by, yet one’s perception is of timelessness. Flow happens when the activity is neither too challenging nor too easy, but at an optimal level of difficulty. To experience flow, one must have mastery over the activity and be able to grow while doing it.

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Flow is one type of engagement, and engagement is one aspect of well-being, according to the PERMA model. So, literally, when I engage in successful writing, I feel better, more complete. When I do not achieve flow in my writing, I am grouchy and unfulfilled.

What are your flow activities?

What Can I Give You?

I write this blog every other day, and I hope you enjoy it. My topics are a variety of musings, memories, and meaning. I write from the perspective of an almost-sixty-year-old writer, professor, and fellow human being. And one with a very insistent inner child. Not very sexy, I know.

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I wonder what my readers are looking for when they read this blog. Should I pick one topic and write about that? Should I continue writing about what’s on my mind? Maybe I should write more about my books, or less. Do my wellness (mostly positive psychology) posts grab people? What about my melancholy tableaux?

If you’re reading this, let me know what you enjoy. What you want to see more of. Alternatively, let me know what you want to see less of. Because I want to be interesting on these pages, and I’m not an expert judge of myself (I’m convinced my lectures are interesting, after all.)

Let me know — what can I give you in this blog?

What is There Left to Say?

Sometimes I look at this blank screen and ask myself, “What have I not said yet?”

Everything, I realize. Everything in the world. There is so much I haven’t written about.

Just the things off the top of my head I haven’t talked about:

Close-up Of A Scared Woman Peeking Through Fingers
  • I have a phobia about rabies, which is known as hydrophobiaphobia. No kidding.
  • I have always wanted to become a carpenter or something else useful. A college professor might not be too handy if the zombies take over.
  • I have cavorted with lion cubs. It was amazing.
  • I got hit by a car. I’m okay now, but I have a metal bar in my left leg from knee to ankle. At airports, I get treated like a potential terrorist.
  • I have written several novels, but I don’t know what to do with them.
  • I wish I could run. It would be handy (e.g. zombies).
  • I can fall asleep sitting up (and just did).
  • I write although I can’t visualize.

These are small topics, but they lead to bigger ones. And there are other topics lurking as well. I’ll have to remember this when I feel I am without words.

What do you have to write about? I imagine a lot.

A Bit of the Blues

I have a bit of the blues right now. Everything seems so stagnant right now — the weather is grey, there’s at least another month of Winter, there are no surprises (hopefully only the good ones, knock on wood) in my life, and nothing I am doing is very fruitful.

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Perhaps it’s just the season. Spring hasn’t arrived, and the juncos outnumber the robins in the yard. The snow melts into squelchy mud and nothing is green.

Perhaps it’s just karma right now. I have spent so much of my life fulfilling Big Audacious Goals (although never at the “becoming famous” level because that’s not where I want to be) that maybe I should see my goals fail.

Maybe it’s just chance, or being an old dog in a new world, or a lack of sunlight bringing me down.

But I’m down, and I want something exciting to happen, because that always gets me out of the blues.

The Annual Love Post

Today, I taught my personal adjustment students about love. No, not the deeper, profound experience of love. But I taught them that Valentine’s Day celebrates only one type of the seven types of love that the ancient Greeks celebrated.

So, those types of love:

  • Agape – love of humanity.
  • Storge – love of family
  • Philia — love of friends
  • Pragma – love which endures.
  • Philautia – self love
  • Ludus – flirtatious/playful love
  • Eros – romantic and erotic love.

Valentine’s Day only seems to celebrate eros, and it does so in a big, splashy, commercialized way. 

I want people to reclaim the other types of love for Valentine’s Day and go out and celebrate them. Galentine’s Day is a good start, for those female friends who want to celebrate each other. But we should be celebrating our families, our friends, our flirtations, the world. Wouldn’t the world be better for that?

If you liked this blog post, please drop me a note at lleachie@gmail.com or @lleachsteffens on Twitter.

Music for Writing

Right now I’m listening to psychedelic 60s music (an Apple Music playlist), trying to see if it inspires me to write. So far, it’s not inspiring me to write, but I’m contemplating laying down and grooving to it. I’m too involved in the music and where it wants to take me (even without substances) to write about my much more mundane world. I’ll go back to this later when I want to trance out and see what happens. For now, Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive is on as I write.

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I’m picky about my music to write to. I need music that will help me concentrate and relax at the same time. The music must be interesting but not too involving. Luckily, composers have written and refined music with these characteristics through the ages. Erik Satie was the father of ambient music, which he called “furniture music”. Look him up; the music is perfect background music. While we’re talking about history and forefathers, look up Brian Eno’s Music for Airports to experience ambient fully realized.

Today there’s a music classification with a focus on just the sort of combination of interest and detachment called study music. There’s several playlists on Apple Music curated for study music, a combination of chillhop (downbeat hip hop), Lo-Fi, ambient, jazz, classical and other music that paints an atmosphere like a curtain around me. It’s perfect for someone like me who can’t concentrate in a quiet room and who did my best studying before school, sitting in the hallway and being stepped over. (Yes, I was that oblivious and that annoying.)

So, sitting in my living room, I will write under the influence of study music.

Tomorrow is my first day of meetings. Vacation is over. This means that I need to change my plan to write because I won’t have as much time to fulfill it now that I’m back at work. Right now it’s taking 2 hours to write 1000 words (which is slow for me; I really need to get inspired by this story!) So the SMART goal looks more like this:

I will write 1000 words of creative works a day (novel, short story) in the afternoon/evening.

Place will vary: home in living room, home upstairs, Starbucks.

Using the usual tools: laptop, Scrivener, ProWritingAid, iPad and DuetPro for double screen at Starbucks.

There’s my new SMART goal.

Too tired for Christmas

The semester is almost over, and I am tired.

Last week, I graded three major assignments and a handful of smaller ones. I fielded last minute requests, including two students who are just getting their spring semester internships put together. The Curriculum and Degree Requirements committee meeting went on forever.

I have written nothing this week — actually, the last couple of weeks — because I have been so tired. When I’m not working, I’m listening to Christmas music and surfing r/niceguys and reminiscing about my dating years. (I’m mostly joking.)

Next week, all I have to grade are the essay questions in the exams, and that shouldn’t take too long because they’re very short essays. Then I submit the grades. I should be done grading by Friday. Friday seems so. far. away.

All of this exposition about my time is for one purpose — to make the case that I am too tired for Christmas spirit. I’m sitting at Starbucks right now listening to Christmas music and wearing an ugly Christmas sweater. I just lost Whamageddon without realizing it. There is a Christmas romance I need to write and I’m not inspired. I’m not quite Bah Humbug here, but I’m about ready for a long winter nap.

And then, after a couple days of vegging out while listening to the Grinch soundtrack, I should be ready for the season.

Dear Universe, Please Deliver One Muse.

A message to the universe

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Sometimes I write because I see it as a method of getting an idea out there into the universe, as if the universe will supply me with something I need to deal with it creatively. Part of my belief system holds that, if one listens closely enough, the answers or comfort or solution is out there. I like whoever’s providing the aid to know what I’m asking. It comes from Quakerism and it also comes from the Christian belief of praying for what you need. I don’t know if I believe in what would be called “intercessory prayer” in some circles wholeheartedly, because my spirituality has become a muddle from the time a psychiatrist diagnosed me as bipolar. But I put words out into the universe occasionally, with some witnesses to hear. That’s you.

My life with the muse

Right now, I struggle with creativity. The spark is gone. I am writing without that burning desire to see what comes up next in my work. Everything I write feels pedestrian. I lay my problem on the muse I have had throughout my career. Muses exist to give motivation. For example, my writing life goes like this:


I assume the muse enters at the inspiration part of the equation. I used to get inspiration from my dreams. My dreams haven’t come from a muse lately. They’ve come from the Karen of my subconscious. In my dreams, I forget little things like showing up for class (I’m the professor) and wearing clothing. I’m doing everything wrong, and I am about to be discovered as a fraud. My bad dreams don’t even have the courtesy of being a dystopic plot line, preferring instead pedestrian impostor syndrome.

As muses are notorious for whipping up their subjects into a creative fury, I lay the problems of my obsession stage on the muse I’ve had as well. The obsession is the need to get into the story to interrogate the dream. I want not just to know the story but to be in it. To be it. It’s an exhilarating feeling, like flight. The obsession part is alright, unless it’s not. I know writers go a little crazy when they write, but my obsessions come with hypomania. I get into mood swings that swing between elation and Subconscious Karen, telling me I’m out of control, as if she fears I will skip class and run around naked. (Thank God I have done neither.) So I don’t get wild, but I fear giving creativity any quarter will cause the calamity I dream of.

Go away, muse

So I fired my muse. Those obsession parts were too wild, and I feared sliding down a slippery slope to a bacchanalia in the middle of the University Ballroom and all those other explosions Subconscious Karen feared. I never have experienced the wild elation since I fired my muse. I miss it sometimes, but it’s nice not having Subconscious Karen around all the time (she’s only around sometimes now, usually when I’m under a lot of stress).

Now I wonder if I can hire a new muse. I don’t want an erratic, frenetic, startling muse anymore. But I want a muse to inspire me without the feeling that I’m about to choose to swing naked on that chandelier. There has to be a middle between swinging on a chandelier and Subconscious Karen.

It’s not about a muse, is it?

Writing this article has been alchemy. I discovered, in writing this, that it was about writing with bipolar disorder. Although I am convinced that I am not less creative with the bipolar meds, I don’t know how to grasp my creativity as readily as I would like to. In a hypomanic state, ideas jump at me and I grab onto them and run. I feel touched by the muse and my self-doubts melt. I feel gifted, and this makes writing easy. Subconscious Karen keeps me from veering off the deep end but makes my life uncomfortable and my mood swings worse. I have given up those things which encourage artificial highs (irregular sleep, extended stress, obsessive crushes) and thus have robbed myself of the muse.

My thought going out into the universe: Help me live with Subconscious Karen in a way that doesn’t rob me of joy. Help me find inspiration without obsession, intensity without disruption, creativity without condemnation.

Death and Stories

I haven’t written for a while. My father died a week ago on Thursday, and I feel so tired. I don’t understand it because my dad was 86, and I’m almost 60. It’s not a shocking death. I wake up every morning from nightmares that seem to have nothing to do with my dad, and then I realize there will be no fresh stories about my dad. There will be the old stories, and that’s it.

I haven’t cried for my father. I didn’t cry for my mother either. When my father figure, Les, died, I didn’t cry either. Or when my best friend Celia died. I seem pretty stoic in the face of death, unless I am asleep and my mind explores the afterlife.

Most of the time, I don’t believe in any afterlife. (This does not mean I don’t believe in a Divine Presence.) If there’s an afterlife, we are swirling energies in the universe that — um, contribute to the Akashic records? Sing the music of the spheres? I don’t think we lived this life as humans so that we could live as humans somewhere else.

When someone close to me dies, however, I want to believe in that paradise, and I clutch to myself the imagery of a big old house and a party where all the people I have ever been fond of show up. There are joyful reunions, even between those who have never met. We fill the house with hugs and laughter.

I go to the kitchen to help cook because I feel overwhelmed by the noise and the hugs; it’s something I often do. I turn to the woman cooking — she’s tall and bountiful — and ask if I can help cook. “No, go out there. It’s your party.” As I go out, I realize that it’s everyone’s party, because this is Heaven and this is God.

I fear death. Not the inevitable emptiness itself; I worry about the knowledge just before one dies, the certainty that there will be no next minute, no stories to tell. Yet it’s the only scenario that stands up after examination, after questions of “Who gets admitted in?” and “Aren’t they going to get bored?” That and the humanized energies scenario discussed above.

We die and are returned to ash. Our stories live beyond us, until those carriers, too, die. This is what makes me cry.

In the End

When you’re sixty, no one calls you an orphan.

My dad is dying. He’s 86 and in hospice care, so it’s not unexpected. It’s hard, though, watching the person who taught me how to ride a bike and who took me out fishing at his weakest. It’s the way of life, though.

That doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad alternates between agitated and a twilight sort of existence; in neither does he seem to be with us. He doesn’t recognize any of us anymore, except possibly my sister, who has been his caretaker through this.

I am here to say goodbye, which has become a prolonged process. I think I said my proper goodbyes two weeks ago, when he was still coherent sometimes.

Goodbye, Dad. You did a fine job with us.