David Moss: Flow. A word that can refer to a dizzying array of things. Water in a river, air in the jet stream, cash on the monthly balance sheet, pacing of a story, movement in a dance, an outpouring of emotion and on and on. But one thing that flow always refers to is movement. It's motion, change. Flow takes something or someone from here to there. Today, we're going to focus on people. I'll talk with Shana Black, Hikia Dixon, known as Coco, and Floco Torres, about the courses of their lives and the ideas that they have and how we get those ideas flowing out of us and into the world. I'm your host, David Alan Moss. Thanks for joining us.
Thomas Fox: Hi, I'm Thomas Fox with CreativeMornings Cleveland. We're thrilled to have Evergreen Podcasts on board as our official podcast partner. Evergreen Podcasts is committed to producing the best original content and engaging shows. Right now you're listening to Wake Up Call, recorded on location at the monthly CreativeMornings lecture series. Enjoy.
David Moss: Shana, when you hear that word flow, what does it mean to you?
Shana Black: I just think it's all of the pieces and parts, how they move like energy and how energy moves and brings things together. So yes, the art side and when we look at some of the paints here, we can see that, but just how things come together. So when you think about the people that are in the room and how we move and maneuver in life, that to me is what I think of flow.
David Moss: Does flow just happen? Or is it something that you can make happen?
Shana Black: Flow has to be started, I think. Kind of like a standing bowl of water. It's standing, but once you push it, then the ripples start to happen. So I think flow has to be initiated in some kind of way and then it's moving.
David Moss: Getting that movement happening is the real trick, isn't it? And as we learn, Shana herself is the initiator of that movement in some other people's lives.
Shana Black: I run a business called Be Ready Cleveland and it's all about moving people from that idea stage to small businesses. Many of us have that dream, I want to do this, but let's work through that because I just believe that the more we have small businesses, the more the city's going to thrive. Whatever that is, that obstacle that's holding you back, come sit down and we'll work through it and just sometimes show you the potential that you actually have because you don't see it.
David Moss: And that's not the only way that Shana's trying to help people get moving.
Shana Black: I run a blog here in Cleveland showcasing Cleveland called Black Girl in the CLE, and it's about showing off interesting spaces and people and places you should go just to get more people engaged, especially in the African American community. In Cleveland, they say we don't cross the river, but we also don't cross the bridge. The idea that if you're in Bay Village, you might not go hang out in Lakewood. If you're in Shaker Heights coming downtown it's like, what are we doing?
David Moss: Most of us have our comfort zones. Whether that's a few specific restaurants or a particular neighborhood that we find ourselves in on a regular basis, we know what to expect and there's comfort in that. But we may not find the same kind of energy or inspiration in that sort of routine as we might by having new experiences or changing our environment. In fact, in a lot of ways, comfort is the enemy of creativity. Because of Shana's business, she works with a lot of entrepreneurs and creative people, many of whom are stuck and need a jumpstart. I asked Shana, what's the best way to get unstuck? How do you get into the flow? How do you make things happen?
Shana Black: I think part of it is our minds are our biggest detriment and we may want to start that business, but then the phone rings and we have to pay the gas bill and then it's on the back shelf or the boss says stay late and I don't have time to work on my dream. But also the idea in the creative space that we get stuck, so kind of like writer's block. Once you're stuck, you stop the flow of energy and what have you, the creativity.
Shana Black: So what I've found is really just trying to be creative in other avenues. If I blog, some days I just need to dance it out or some music or some other way, paint, draw, just because I need to get the creativity going to get the words flowing. And like you said, changing the environment. In my stuck time, I remember the Cleveland Opera, they were doing a performance, which I didn't know was a thing. And sitting in that space and watching performers, my brain started clicking like, look at the beauty of that and the music and then all of a sudden it was just like, I'm back.
David Moss: It's almost like you don't realize. You can almost feel it when you're in a high-end performance like that, you're like, "I got to do something. After this, I'm going to go..."
Shana Black: I want to go play the violin. I don't know how, but I'm going to go try that anyway. And that's how the creativity and the flow gets back to it.
David Moss: Right. We talked about finding inspiration from disciplines that are not your own in our last episode themed Muse, and I think that holds true in this case as well. There's almost always new energy found in new experience. That's almost a sure fire way to get unstuck and give yourself a chance to find that flow again. Sure, these new experiences and explorations can bring some discomfort, but I think that's what we need sometimes. It might be a little stretch, but comfort feels very related to rest. And Isaac Newton says, "An object at rest tends to stay at rest." And to that I say, we're not doing a lot of notable things while we're at rest, are we? Coco, I should say, thank you for having us in your space. I was going to welcome you to the show, but really we feel so welcome here. So, talk about this idea of flow. What does it mean to you?
Hikia Dixon: I've always wanted a place where creativity could all flow together and I just didn't find it until now. And now I have this amazing space that is creative and energy just flows and everyone who comes down feels that energy.
David Moss: This is Hikia Dixon. Everyone calls her Coco. The space that we're recording in is her creation, Coco's Chalky Paints. There's a lot going on here. There's furniture all over and hidden rooms full of surprises around every corner. In fact, this whole place is a surprise. It's in the 5th Street Arcade in downtown Cleveland and there's a storefront, but it's a little like Alice in Wonderland or like Mary Poppins' purse. It's so much bigger on the inside than on the outside. So how did it come to be Coco's Chalky Paints? Well, for more than 25 years, Coco has been refurbishing old furniture and then donating it to single moms. She's never sold a piece of furniture for profit. And even though Coco is doing this amazing thing for these women, she, like many of us, eventually found herself a little stuck.
Hikia Dixon: I knew that I wanted to do more and I knew that I wanted to expand, but my garage was only so big. It was packed, our cars were outside. And so I had a furniture paint company that was a chalk paint company and they said, "Can I support you? And you can get all the chalk paint you want." I was like, wow, this is amazing. So they supported me, I got all the chalk paint I wanted. Chalk paint is historically very expensive, like an eight ounce jar of chalk paint can go for $29, which is really expensive. So the fact that they were providing it to me, I was like, okay, this is cool. This is amazing.
Hikia Dixon: 18 months ago, they were like, "Hikia, we can no longer provide you with the chalk paint." And I was like, "Yo what? Are you kidding? I need this chalk paint." I donate everything, everything's donated. So for me to buy the furniture, paint the furniture, buy the chalk paint, it was very, very out of my budget. So, I started finding ways to create my own and oh my gosh, it was horrible. I was like, okay, plan B.
David Moss: Roadblocks and even just small bumps in the road can feel really discouraging and even overwhelming, so openness to change and adaptability can be a huge strength to keep your work moving forward. But check this out. In Coco's case, this is where this story gets magical, like Cinderella's fairy godmother or Aladdin's genie, magical. Magical.
Hikia Dixon: I do Airbnb in my home and I'm a Superhost. So I had this guy, he's checked in for 60 days and he was from Germany. And so I was like, okay, well, he's coming to Airbnb, and he just shows up and I'm like, that's really weird. And I go, "You just show up in my house? You didn't ask me any questions. People stay a weekend, they're like how many steps to the bathroom, blah, blah, blah. You're 60 days, you just show up?" He goes, "Oh, I read all your reviews, over 200. I didn't need anymore." So anyway, he would go to work and I would be in my garage. And so then he finally comes and goes, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "Oh, well, trying to create chalk paint but it's horrible. I can't buy it, so I'm trying to create it." And I go, "What are you here in United States for?" He goes, "Oh, I'm a scientist in chalk-based products. I'm here to show Americans how to make chalk paint."
David Moss: Wait a second! How does that happen?
Hikia Dixon: Guys, I'm not making this up. I am not making this up.
David Moss: He had to know. See? Like Disney fairy tale convenient, right? And turns out, he didn't know. Even more than that, our mystery German scientist found out what Coco is doing with the chalk paint and has helped her ever since. And the next thing you know, you wake up and you're here.
Hikia Dixon: I'm here because he created my formula and we created a powder. He charged me not one single dime. He went back to Germany. He's come back one time since. He loves United States, he loves my place, but of all the places he could have chosen for Airbnb, he chose me. Seriously, when I said on stage that either they're all sleeping or I'm still sleeping because this is my dream.
David Moss: Next, we talked to Floco Torres. He's a rapper, a solo recording artist. His music is genre-defying, rap, alternative, rock style. He's got 22 projects under his belt and an extensive body of work that also includes over 600 unreleased songs. Floco knows a thing or two about being in the flow, so I asked him about it.
Floco Torres: My main thing is I don't believe that I control it and that we're a part of that. So if it comes at two in the morning, it comes at two in the morning. If it comes in a meeting or you were about to go hang out or something like that and it comes, be mindful of that because you may not get that same thing again. So I just try to be a part of that as much as possible, but that same zone doesn't always come. I'm just blocking out and it's like, whatever happens now, happens now.
David Moss: What are some of the things you do when the flow isn't happening on the tone?
Floco Torres: Just listening to drum tracks I made on a loop that have no melodies to them. I was just sitting in a alley or walking trails or I get on the Metro and just ride the loop and just watch people or whatever it was. And I was like, I don't know where this is going to lead, but I know it just feels right, it just makes sense, and I'm not going to question it. You don't know when or how it's going to come out. I go through these things where I just save a bunch of albums. I'm not in the mood to listen to music right now, whatever, so I save a bunch of albums and then I just indulge, like all right, let me see what they're doing, let me see what they're doing. Going to museums and seeing art and I just I'll do that for a month or two. And then I'm like, all right, now I'm ready to make stuff. And I don't know what it's going to sound like, where it's coming from, and I'm not going to question it.
David Moss: It's all about filling yourself with inspiration, finding anything to create a little spark and then just fighting to get some ideas pulled together. We also talked about the importance of having perspective and how sometimes we just need to do. Just do. Doesn't have to be a masterpiece, it just has to get made.
Floco Torres: Jay-Z's never going to do an interview and say there's still things on The Black Album he didn't like. You know what I'm saying? We don't hear that side of the story of there's still things, those greatest albums, that people would change. You just hear, "Oh man, this classic thing, it's perfect, nothing could be changed." It's like, no, some of them snares could have been different. You know what I'm saying? But just it's out there. All right, cool. I'm doing something else now. You know what I mean?
David Moss: Otherwise, you're George Lucas. Come on, dude. Why?
Floco Torres: Yeah, there's a lot of that going on.
David Moss: We've talked a lot about finding inspiration recently, but I wanted to hear Floco talk about it too. What would he suggest to help me and help others in the future? How do we get unstuck and find our flow?
Floco Torres: I feel like I'm making the same song over and over again or the artworks looks the same or the shows are getting stagnant. And I was like, well, I'm not watching anybody else. I'm not listening to anything. I'm not watching any shows. I'm not doing anything but telling myself that I have everything that I'm ever going to need right now and I can't learn anything else or I can't experience something new. You're just going to keep making the same song, which a lot of people do. And a lot of people make the same art because they just feel like, all right, this is as good as it's ever going to get. Maybe I don't have any more songs. Maybe I don't have anything else to say, but then... What'd I just start watching? I just started watching Mad Men. I don't know why I'm so late on this, but this Don Draper dude is crazy. And I was like, all right, cool. This is great.
David Moss: And conflicted.
Floco Torres: Yeah, and I don't know what led me to this or why I ended up, I think I seen an ad on YouTube where it was about be as confident as Don Draper. And I was like, who the hell is that? And I watched the thing and I was like, that's what Mad Men is about? All right, cool. I'll watch that.
David Moss: We're certainly not concluding an in-depth study on flow mode, but talking with a few people who make things happen and learning from their experiences can be helpful. I'm going to go back to physics and Isaac Newton's first law of motion again. An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. We'd like to find ourselves relating to the latter half of that saying. The easiest way to get into the flow and have that momentum to take your ideas from inside your head or your heart and put them into the world is to be in motion and stay in motion. How do you get there? Well, that's the trick, isn't it? I like to think of it like a river. Sometimes you're not standing on the banks, but you may stumble across some signposts and you may be able to hear it and someone may point you in the right direction. But when you do find it, jump in, let it take you where it will. You never quite know where you'll end up, but it could get interesting.
David Moss: Wake Up Call is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia, producer and audio director, Dave Douglas, story editor, Julie Fink, and account manager, Conor Standish. Thanks to Two Bob Crew for the use of their song, Rooster, available on iTunes. If you'd please like and review this program, it would really help. Learn more about this and other podcasts from Evergreen at evergreenpodcasts.com. Wake Up Call, ideas that crow.