Friday, October 19, 2012

The Writing Zone


Whenever you enter a bookstore or a supermarket, you are embarking on a Hero’s Journey.

In a happy conflation of convenience and coincidence, you often think about a grocery store while you are in a bookstore and of books when you are in a grocery.  There is more fact than hyperbole to this given that for the past few years, your grocery of choice and your bookstore of choice are in the same shopping mall, more or less defined by the intersection of State Street, the main drag of Santa Barbara, and the adventurous cross street, Las Positas.

True, you sometimes bail on Gelson’s Market and go to Whole Foods (where you find the selection of peanut butter even more fanciful and the varieties of olives yet more plentiful), and particularly when you are looking for older, even used books, you’ll slip away from Chaucer’s and into the depths of Amazon.

True enough.  But the connective link remains strong and ductile.  There are products in both, adventure-laden products, shouting for your attention much like dogs or cats at an animal shelter trying to convince you to take them home.  There are products you simply would not buy, however glamorous they might look, a description equal in its application to foodstuffs and books.  There are products you’ve tried and have resolved not to try again under any circumstances.

There are, rolling around in your head like the tine bb in a spray can of paint, suggestions from friends.  A trip to a grocery or a bookstore is an undertaking, a safari, a vision quest and in each visit to each one, you are reminded of the late Joseph Cambell, who put to words the concept of The Hero’s Journey.

The fulcrum of these disparate concepts resides in an object of about the size and weight of a candy bar, which is not an accident of design.  The concept also came spilling into your lap in a book.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, you purchase for snacks a so-called diet bar, which you first learned about in a book by a former basketball coach, Barry Sears, who went on to articulate a diet/energy concept called The Zone.  By modifying and regulating food sources, one can maximize healthy bodily function, attain ideal body weight, and experience the comfort of “feeling healthy.”  More often than not, your purchase of these snack bars are The Zone brand, since you did indeed, at one time when it was critical for you to do so, lose weight.

Barry Sears, the father of The Zone, has a sentence that transcended dietary and performance boundaries and into your writing landscape.  “You are always,”  Sears has written, “as close as one meal away from The Zone,” by which he means you can easily get back to the diet aspects of The Zone Diet by your next meal.  He is even saying it is natural for you to screw up and provides at least one way of doing so that will, in fact, keep you in The Zone Diet:  a snack of half a Snicker’s bar and a half cup of cottage cheese (but please eat the cottage cheese first so you don’t mess with the glycemic index).

The zone you are even more interested in is the story zone.  You’d be content if you could be sure you were never more than one writing session away from the story zone, but so far, your best approach to that ideal is to embark on the seeming hero’s journey of as many writing sessions as you can manage, certainly at least one of at least an hour or so a day.

Narrative health resides within the writing zone in a manner similar to the physical health and metabolic blast of the individual in Barry Sears’ Zone.  You are aware of being alive and involved, yet it is a world without your conscious awareness of thought or the critical senses of sorting out feelings, as though they were unmatched socks, found in a large drawer.

The writing zone is a splendid concoction of a disembodied voice, the unseen prompter at a stage play, whispering the words into your ear, doing so with the perfect pitch of each character.  Should you hesitate for a moment, this prompter supplies the missing words until you are blissful in your unawareness of their origin.

What a wonderful world you inhabit, amazed by the scope of your vision yet in complete and excited thrall to the suspense of what your characters will say and do next.  You cannot hold them in restraint.  They are moving beyond your ability to think new activity for them.  They have their own volition and agendas; they are sweeping you along for the ride, and a chilling, adrenaline-charged ride it is.

To be sure, there is an occasional speed bump where you have slipped in one of your favorite words that do not on this special occasion belong.  But you are never more than a word or two away from this zone, or so your senses tell you, with the same certainty Barry Sears uses when telling you how close to The Zone you are.

The writing zone is where it all happens, which is to say narrative health, loss of excess weight, and that itchy sense of being a part of something intriguing and as truthful as anything you’ve ever experienced on you own.


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