Monday, March 23, 2015


I feel as though I should write something. It’s almost like a pressure in search of relief, an escape, someplace to go so that something else isn’t forced to adapt to the presence of whatever it is. If that path is not too twisted, not too restricted, the words will flow out almost – or seemingly – effortlessly. If the path is too direct, however, they will explode forth with little rhyme or reason. Anyone who writes with any regularity, with any experience, with some acumen, knows both extremes. Likewise, anyone who reads enough can usually feel when writers are in the zone. This so-called “zone” is certainly not unique to writers or even other artists. And it is more than just confidence, more than just acquired skill, more than just comfort with one’s craft. It can be elusive, but it can also be a place we find ourselves for longer periods of time. It is, in the simplest of terms, the perfect pathway for controlled release.

Benjamin Zander, the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, touches on this idea in a 2008 TED talk about the power of classical music. While the overall point of his presentation is not about getting into a zone, in his introduction he presents a narrative of the progression of a student pianist. At first the student’s musicianship is labored, choppy and viscous. Later, as lessons, practice and time elapse, the student becomes more fluid, smoother and more comfortable with the keys. Zander shows how the student moves from placing an impulse on every note to one on every other note to every fourth, and then every eighth note as time moves on. Finally, Zander portrays the student placing just one impulse on the entire passage at which point the music actually “pushes” him over - into a zone, if you will - that he calls, “one-buttock playing.” I get that. There are times when I am writing that the piece seems to just write itself; I am simply a conduit that gets the already arranged words out of my head and onto paper. There is no “composing,” the piece comes already assembled.

In fact, there are times that I can’t get the words out fast enough. The words are actually pushing me over – I am “one-buttock” writing. And as I think back, I might mean that literally. I would go so far as to say, and I think Zander would agree, that this zone, while always elusive to a certain extent, is there and available. And there is no question that the more I attempt to get there (translation: the more I actually write), the easier it is to find. That is no guarantee that it will always be at my fingertips, but the more I write, the more I find myself at the edge of my seat, hanging on as the words crash over me. I would not say that these words are that, I don’t feel I am so inspired, but I am dancing on the edge and that is at least a necessary point of departure.

It seems that there are some people who, when doing what they do, are always in a zone. I’m thinking of sports superstars or popular musicians or other artists – maybe particularly in-tune investment bankers who, it seems, never guess wrong. But I think that even though that’s what we might perceive, the reality would reveal much more miss than hit. The simple truth is that rising to an occasion still requires an occasion and some of us possess honed skills that are typically on display in public. Obviously, there is a whole lot of non-zonal stuff that goes on in private. But for most of us, it’s not a public thing. It’s all in private or, at least, not public. If we are performing on just one buttock, no one else knows it, they only see the results. For all they know, it might not be one-buttock at all… it might be half-assed. One can scroll through my archives and find plenty of that, too. And then there are those groups of words that found no clear path, those that read as semi-disjointed ideas linked in a hodgepodge of gibberish, those that read half-assed but are really much closer to the zone than they appear. Words like these...

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