Flow and the Wandering Mind

Posted on by Marnie Galloway

One of the purposes of this news section is to honestly document the creation, from beginning to end, of the projects in production at Monkey-Rope Press. Inevitably, it is not all good news.

In addition to the print series, Monkey-Rope Press is also in the early stages of writing and illustrating a book. Print production is old hat: I took all of the fine printmaking classes I could work into my college schedule, worked for a year as a pre-press and press operation apprentice in a small-production offset facility, and then a year honing my typesetting and letterpress skills with my friends at Starshaped.

I am reminded of the work of positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on flow. Flow is the creative production ideal: a loss of self-consciousness, a total absorption in the matter at hand, a loss of track of time & physical needs. It is pure, undistracted, rewarding concentration. When settling in to print work, flow comes easily. I know the process thoroughly enough to not need to look up answers to problems; I find every aspect of design and carving, ink-mixing and printing challenging and rewarding; I find myself irritated at daily necessities that get in the way of continuing on the project. Why do I need to buy groceries? This block needs hours more work! I can eat tomorrow.

Unfortunately, it has been markedly different with this book work. While I have made small "sketch" books and taken bookbinding & book arts classes with artist & educator Melissa Jay Craig, I have never before attempted anything on this scale. Every decision breeds two new questions, breaking any rhythm I had briefly found. In almost every way, this project is thrilling: it is the fulfillment of two years of daydreaming and testing and hind-brain planning, but it also has that carpet-pulled-from-under-feet feeling of working in new, untested media. Even worse, without settling into that easy rhythm of production-flow, I find myself seeking distraction. Cats walking by my feet? They must need entertainment! Computer in the same room? Surely something of life-or-death importance has been sent to my email! Suddenly I find my bicycle too dirty to function without a good cleaning, the day too beautiful not to walk in, and then the whole day has passed with my notebooks untouched.

The only solution I have found that works is to physically isolate myself from distraction. Without a Woolfian room of my own, I settle in to the comfortable cliche of Young Urban Writer Slash Artist Working in Independent Coffee Shop. This has been much more successful a strategy than working in my home studio, which is encouraging. Since changing spaces 3 weeks ago, I've made a lot of progress. I'm not as far as I'd hoped, but this forward movement is significant. I am still writing the story, with the goal of finishing writing by the end of the year to turn to production in January.

I can't wait for that production-flow. Until then: off to the coffee shop.