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Issue #20

You Can Be Productive in Wyoming?

John Loeppky

January 11, 2024

A mountain range in Wyoming is in the background, a lake is in the foreground with the reflections of the mountains crisp and clear. There are also small green hills visible. The sky is blue with wisps of white clouds.
Look at those reflections/Sharon Kehl Califano from Pixabay

And Other Overly Extended Metaphors

Anyone who has read a significant amount of my public-facing writing has probably found themselves thinking, “Huh, this dude has a real thing for John and Hank Green.” The duo, who amongst their myriad of projects co-host the VlogBrothers YouTube Channel, have become a real mainstay in my content ingestion cycle.

But this isn’t an email where I fanboy about John and Hank, whose understandings of disability (specifically mental and chronic illness) have shaped a lot of the way I talk about my own conditions in the public eye, I do that enough. This email is about a video John posted last week where he talks about his relationship to that inexplicable moment when you are so deep into a creative spurt that you feel like you’re somewhere else. For him and his family, that means saying you are in one of the least populated places in mainland America. Or, in his words:

“That's kind of what creative expression is to me. It's a way of escaping the body-type prison of myself and traveling to other places… like Cheyenne, Wyoming.”

What far more famous than me John is talking about here is what some call a flow state. In sports, it can sometimes be referred to as being in the zone. Your brain is rocking and rolling and the rest of the world falls away. It’s a type of high that you’re chasing, a dangerous high if you’re not careful. The thing is, we often talk about a flow state when we’re discussing these high visibility pursuits. You’re unlikely to hear even the geekiest (compliment) office admin talking about the flow state of building a spreadsheet and yet, if you talked to data journalists, they’re familiar with the feeling. Something like a flow state feels like a privileged thing, a high brow thing, an almost ableist thing

From a cripping productivity perspective, in my mind, there is another parallel. Dislocation, not just of bones but of routines, is at the root of a lot of what disabled people are searching to remedy when we’re talking about productivity. The good days can be so rare, the consistency so fleeting, that we’re actually looking at productivity through the lens of damage control or harm reduction rather than optimism, care, and comfort. We don’t create space for discovering what that feeling of deep creativity is in a safe way. And, crucially, when we find something that works—whether it’s a medication, a system, or a gadget—we tend to grab onto it like the tiniest life raft in the most sensorily overwhelming of oceans.

Now, I’m not trying to become a pop psychologist—I have an MFA, not any other type of credentials—but it strikes me that this is one of those times where something that in one context can be good (yay, creativity) can be horrific in another. A flow state, at least colloquially, feels like the opposite of disassociation. One we celebrate and the other we malign. We often even put dissociation into the category of one of those symptoms where we don’t want to address it as part of someone’s support network because it inspires fear in us.

And I think we also buy into this idea, and creatives are prone to this, that a flow state is the only place where good creativity can happen. That the slow and monotonous slog of doing work is inherently devoid of beauty because it wasn’t created in a log cabin somewhere. During the last stretch of my MFA, when I absolutely had to get it done, I wrote 80% of my thesis in a week. There was no beauty, I was not in a flow state, I was doing something knowing that my mental health would suffer. To extend this metaphor even further, that trip to Cheyenne was in an alternate universe where the world is flipped upside down and it’s a really rough travel itinerary filled with all sorts of demons, memories, and mental health triggers. Those thousands of words were some of the toughest I’ve ever had to wretch out of myself. But, when I tell people I wrote the majority of a project in a week—and I leave out that hellish description, it often leads folks to aspire to that level of creativity.

So, from a cripping productivity perspective…you can aspire to go to Wyoming, but maybe know why you’re going (and how you’re getting back) first.

Until tomorrow!


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