One of the first things I ever made for Lauren was a model of a bacteriophage. I took a large bolt for the tail and then soldered together legs and the head (I think it’s an icosahedron). I didn’t know much about public health but knew she had a biology background and this structure was the one thing I remembered from biology. I spent a few hours in my parents basement assembling it amidst some questioning and odd glances. She says she still has it packed away in some boxes at her mom’s.
Later I dabbled in furniture, and again made Lauren a piece as a gift. I remember spending hours here and there over the course of weeks on these pieces. Searching for the right fabric, talking to people about how to do things, which tools to use; muddling my way through, but enjoying it the whole time. Compare this feeling top the one I get while doing an obligated task, cutting the grass for example. My mind wanders to what I can do next or dwells on a distaste for the task I am faced with. This Monday as I was cutting the grass and listening to This American Life on my iPod, I was delighted to hear someone talk about this state where time seems to stand still as you focus on your craft.
It turns out that there is a psychological term for this; the flow. It was termed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a state that I can definitely recall entering but have not tried to formalize in my head. It’s satisfying to hear the scientific recognition of something that is so enjoyable. The radio story poses the question of whether this feeling is lost once the task you enjoy so much becomes your job. I highly suggest you give it a listen. The link is at the end of this post and it’s the third act of the show.