Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Get OUT! (of your comfort zone)

I give my Comp classes weekly writing adventures.( They call it homework.) This week’s theme is to get out of your comfort zone.

Writers know this experience well. First off, writing is telling the truth, whether one writes fiction, poetry or essay, and discomfort leads to a change of perspective.

When I was working on my MFA, Leslie Rubinkowski, my first mentor, asked me, “What bugs you? What more do you need to understand?”

I had made a short list of things, and rank ordered them. Number one on my list was the 'tattoo piercing culture thing. '“I just don’t get it,” I said.

“That’s exactly why you need to write about it.”

It was autumn, and there just happened to be a tattoo conference in Pittsburgh coming up. I live about two hours from Pittsburgh, so a friend and I signed up.

As we checked into the hotel, Diane and I spotted crowds of people sporting tattoos; many revealed entire limbs covered in body art. She and I were the only ‘unmarked’ people in the conference, yet after talking to several participants, I soon let go of my trepidation, and met some wonderful people. One young man, who weighed around three hundred pounds and wore intricate tattoos on his chest and arms, said, “I don’t fit society’s standard of beauty, so I wear beauty on my body.”

We all have obsessions our friends and family shrug their shoulders at, yet it’s comforting to be among like minded souls. I go to a writer’s conference every year where the other participants understand obsessing over a single word, so a conference centered on body art provides a comfort zone for people otherwise perceived as unusual. Under the skin, we all worry about jobs, the house payment, electric bills, and getting kids to college whether we use our bodies as canvases or not.

What would you never do in a million years? What scares you?

Try something uncomfortable. It will energize your writing. You can start small, like trying a new food. Try something gross looking, has weird textures, or smells like old socks.(For example, squid, litchi nuts, ugli fruit, sauerkraut, sushi, etc.).

If food scares you, browse and/or shop at a store you were always afraid to go in or were never interested in. (John Deere, AutoWorks, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, a comic book store, a health food store.) Spend at least a half hour. Take notes.

Try on a style of clothes you would never wear in a million years. For example, if you’re preppy, wear something goth, or vice versa.

Get a hairstyle you’d never wear and wear it all day. gel your hair, or try on a new (temporary) color.
Be silent for a day. Only communicate through notes or gestures.

Start a blog and make it public
Go screen free for a whole day. NO TV, cell phone, Facebook, twitter, internet, or any computer. (AFTER you’ve read my post.) Read, hike, clean your house, etc.

Do a Disability Day. Wear a blindfold, walk with a rock in your shoe, or wear ear plugs or a walking boot.

Talk and/or befriend someone you’ve been leery of talking to. Perhaps a a grouchy neighbor or the grumpy cashier at the grocery store. (Really step it up and give them food, i.e. cookies)
Do a random act of kindness, like if you are in the drive thru at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks, pay for the coffee for the person behind you. Or buy a movie ticket for the next person in line.
Wear a temporary tattoo in an obvious place, such as arm, face, neck, leg. Take pix. Wear it for at least an hour in public.

Go to a senior center and read to an old person
Go to a church of a different denomination
If you hate sports, go to the football game
Drive to a side of town you’ve never been and stop somewhere new to eat.
Cook a complete dinner for your family from scratch
Go to a movie you would NEVER normally see. Scary, chick flick, or (very scary!!)a kid’s movie on a Saturday matinee.

Just try something unusual, then write about it.

What scares you or repulses you about the activity? What do you think will happen? Why is this so scary? So foreign? What do you have to lose? How? Why?
At the end, how has your perception altered? Why or why not? How have you changed? How did you feel?
At what point do you think you reached a “moment of truth?” What have you learned?
Would you do this again? Why or why not? Do you recommend someone else do this? Why or why not?
Happy Writing.


  1. Nice article, thanks for the information.

    1. You're welcome. I hope you got out of your comfort zone. I try to do something "uncomforatble" every day.