Burnout & the Zone

For many unestablished artists, the business of staying alive and attempting to provide for the future can be so exhausting there’s little strength left for the exercise of one’s art, especially if you think of your art as work (which, in some sense, you need to, if it is ever to become anything more for you). In the past month, in addition to my full-time teaching, administrative, and household duties, I wrote a paper for an international conference to which I was invited to speak on poetry and nationalism, spent a week travelling to, and participating in, the conference, contributed to a poetry festival upon my return, hosted a visiting writer at UWS, submitted final edits of my forthcoming novel, prepared over fifty meals for my children, helped my wife potty-train the toddler, and got all my students’ papers back to them on time with substantial feedback (at no point in all this did I actually have time to work on a single poem of my own). Now I feel like crawling in a cave and sleeping for a month… which, unfortunately, isn’t possible, so what do I do?

Get in the zone! Not necessarily to produce anything, because that capitalist production mentality is a huge part of the problem, but just to be in the zone is immensely recuperative in itself. In case you’re not familiar with the zone, the zone is where you are when you clear your mind of expectations and let your instinctive being take over. When you’re sinking free throws without thinking, you’re in the zone. When you’re running at a five-minute-mile pace and you don’t feel it, you’re in the zone. When you’re spitting instant fire on stage, you’re in the zone. When you’re watching yourself write, you’re in the zone. When a child is “in its own world,” it’s in the zone. The zone is the same for everyone. Different people just do different things when they’re in it. Incidentally, this is where you are when you’re practicing zen meditation as well. You can choose to do nothing but sit and be aware in the zone. The zone is where you are one with the world, spinning in its infinite, effortless orbits. The stars don’t get tired, and neither do you when you’re with them. The zone will psychologically and emotionally restore you. And, though you certainly don’t need to do or make anything in it, having been there will enrichen your later work, if that’s a concern for you.

To enter, do not think about what should have been, what should be, or even what is. Don’t think. Only that way is the mind open to infinite potential, and once it’s open, the potential energy of all creation may enter, and you may be restored. Don’t get me wrong: you might still be tired, but you’ll be okay with it then. That’s when you can really sleep, really dream, unreally.

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