In the zone: What planet am I on?

Artist’s concept of how rocky, potentially habitable worlds might appear elsewhere in our galaxy. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt.

You may have heard about “writing in the zone.” It’s a creative state where the writer or artist becomes one with the work, in the flow, totally focused. Athletes can experience this, too.

Having been a writer for a while, I can say that this rarely happens. Most of us work distracted, even if we’re trying not to multitask. The computer advises you about a program update, the dog wants your attention, you’re out of coffee, and what’s that funny smell?

Still, it can happen. I remember one time vividly. Actually, what I remember is when it ended. I’d been working on the novel Interference, which takes place on a distant planet called Pax. I felt like I was there, living in the odd and wonderful sights, the cacophony of sounds, and the scents that carried meaning.

Then I looked up. Where was I? Not on Pax. So what planet was this? A blue sky, an oxygen atmosphere, and lots of clear signs of homo sapiens dominance. Yeah, this was Earth. In fact, pretty soon I recognized the city, the building, and the year, and remembered what I was doing there.

I still had one wisp of a question. Why was I on Earth? Why not somewhere else or some other time? The answer was obvious — but not entirely satisfying. Do I really have to be here?

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