Not my usual gig
I’m here in Colorado Springs, CO on long-term assignment to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located on Peterson Space Force Base. I can’t tell you a whole lot of details about what I do, for security reasons. I can say that I am way out of my comfort zone. This assignment is a career-broadening assignment. It’s the first job I’ve had, not counting the summer jobs I had when I was a teen, that has not been in the medical field. Space is very much not like medicine. It is, however, challenging, interesting, and fun.
I’m also living outside my comfort zone. I’ve been in a hotel for 5 weeks, going on 6, waiting for my apartment to be ready. This is the longest I’ve ever been in a hotel. It reminds me of the time I spent living in my first studio apartment, way back when I started med school. At the same time that I’m working in space, which is futuristic, I’m residing in a hotel (an extended stay hotel), which feels very retro. These new experiences are tempting me to try writing out of my comfort zone.
I asked my fellow Missdemeanors a few questions about comfort zones. Have you done something that was outside your comfort zone? What was it? Did it have any impact on your writing? Was the experience all you expected it to be?
I’m intrinsically a timid and easily scared person, but I’ve done a lot of things in spite of my fears because I’m also a very curious person. I got on a motorcycle at 16, began traveling overseas on my own or with a friend at 17. Sometimes I think I spent my twenties accepting dares the universe sent me, and, amazingly, not getting hurt. Having a kid felt like jumping into an abyss. To me, the entire world feels like it’s outside my comfort zone, and every time I go to a conference, or do a reading, or… anything, I have to square my shoulders and forge ahead.
Yes! I went to India by myself, three years ago. I was visiting a young woman I mentor in Banbasa, which is in the northern part of India, in the shadow of the Himalayas. I had never been to India before. I had never met Rosey before. The director of the orphanage was going to pick me up in Halwadi, which was an 8 hour train ride from New Delhi. So I took the train by myself from New Delhi to Halwadi, listening feverishly to every single announcement, which was in Hindi, because if I passed Halwadi I think I would have wound up in Nepal. Anyway, get off at Halwadi and there is no one there to greet me, and I knew there would not be another train for 24 hours and let us just say there did not seem to be a Sheraton nearby. Then I hear the sound of a motorcycle and this gangly man jumps off, surrounded by three young girls, all of whom fling themselves at me. I was home. It wound up being one of the best experiences of my life and had I not gone then I surely would not have been able to go now, so it did give me the feeling that it’s important to jump on opportunities when they arise.
I’m absolutely terrified of mass ground transit, subways and the like. So a few Malice Domestics ago, Ellen Byron and Gigi Pandian let me tag along with them from the airport to the hotel via train. The following Malice, it was just Ellen and me. We got on the wrong train, ended up being serenaded by a homeless man with mental health issues, terrifying me, who was in turn distracted the only other passenger on the train, a very helpful man and my hero. When we left the airport, we saw Cynthia Kuhn getting off the plane. When we got to the hotel, she was getting out of the taxi.
I’d rather confront a bear on a bike path than ride a subway.
I was once attacked by a crazy person on the NY subway at 2 in the morning, but I had boots on and felt just outraged enough to kick him off the train. Nobody helped me. After the train left the station one person asked me if I was okay. Everyone else was very New York and continued reading or staring at their shoes. I don’t see this as a negative experience, though. A bear would freak me out.
I’ve spent my life on NYC subway and have more or less survived the experience. You keep your eyes down and keep access to the door in sight. But I’ve had some terrifying experiences in Washington. Not sure why it seems worse, except I can also never get the ticket to work.
Okay, I’m less embarrassed now to admit how much I hated New York City. I always felt as if I were suffocating there and feared buildings would collapse and bury me in concrete. So many people love the city, I knew I was missing something. I finally decided to take Robert McKee’s “Story” workshop in NYC. I booked a somewhat elegant tiny hotel room, took a Peter Pan bus to Grand Central, and grabbed New York City by the balls. I found my way to the Screen Actors’ Guild where the workshop was held. I ate dinner alone most nights and found how friendly NYers can be. By the third day, “my” local Starbucks knew my name and order. I began to love “my” neighborhood, especially the lunches I enjoyed with my classmates. I realized I didn’t hate NYC. I had been simply terrified of it! Learning to overcome fear has definitely helped my writing. And now I love New York.
This question goes along with my post on why readers love characters with fears, flaws, faults, and foibles. My uncomfortable moments in life have had to do mainly with my fears, especially my fear of heights and enclosed spaces. Some of you know that during Covid, I’ve struggled with wearing a mask because of severe claustrophobia. The result was I just didn’t go places where masks were required. It may sound silly and foolish, but I’ve been more afraid of wearing a mask than getting Covid. Phobias by nature are irrational.
That same phobia came into play twice on vacation—once when I forced myself to enter a pyramid in Egypt and once when I followed a tour group into a dark burial chamber at Sutton Hoo in England. Both times there were people behind me, giving me no option but to go forward. This may not sound brave to you, but it took every ounce of courage I possess to do it and to keep from panicking. In my writing, I’ve given poor Kate Hamilton my fear of heights—a fear she’s had to conquer twice so far. She also has an irrational fear of spiders, poor thing.
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