A dear friend once confessed that she didn’t believe I had a comfort zone. In retort, I said I did…..I just didn’t know quite what it was.
After a bit of introspection, it was no surprise to discover that my comfort zone was writing. It was a small zone, heavily fortified with pots of boiling oil poised on the turrets, a moat with sharks and alligators, and archers on stand-by at their arrow slits. The slightest, most subtle criticism of my writing would send me into fits of self-doubt and turn the archers inwards. God forbid if someone laughed at my attempts: my heart would shatter and the sharks would attack the gatekeepers.
Writing class after writing class told me two things: 1) write what you know, and 2) it isn’t what say, it’s how you say it. Interestingly enough, the same aforementioned dear friend also affirmed the latter with the phrase, “There is only one artist.” Everyone has a story and only that person can tell their story their way.
I have been on eHarmony since March. In perusing the ‘matches’ delivered by eHarmony, I am struck by what has become ‘normal.’ The normal distribution, or about 67%, of unattached males between 35 and 45 years seem to fit the following description: extremely active, love the outdoors and traveling (or swap ‘traveling’ for ‘my motorbike’). They are considered by their friends and family to be physically fit, intelligent, easy going, and good listeners. Snooze-a-roni. I have never been that fond of like bell-curves.
There is nothing different, nothing unique about anyone I have seen on eHarmony. In fact, I’m quite frightened by how similar everyone is. It’s almost as if they are afraid of being individuals, like being an individual is a weakness.
Placing ourselves within a bell-curve of normality is evolutionarily advantageous. In the rest of the animal kingdom, being different means being beaten up, exiled, or killed, often by your own community. Being different is BAD. But the human species has a habit of exalting its anomalies, whether good or bad. Alexander the Great, Marie Curie, Nefertiti, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, even Jeffery Dahmer — all people who stepped toward the tail-ends of the bell-curve to do something different. These are people we want to meet. Even Dahmer.
As a writer, as a business, it is advantageous to be unique and trumpet this uniqueness. A writer’s voice is their #1 sorting device and can be a distinguishing trait for branding. This should also be the case with individuals. We no longer live in a community where being different gets you killed. Being different gets you noticed, and in today’s society, usually that leads to good things. The folks on eHarmony blend together. Is the evolutionary adaptation to fit in with the pack still engrained in our species? Or is it something else, like a fear of showing weakness? Call them faults, flaws, imperfections, or weaknesses, these are the things that make us unique, attractive, and loveable. These are the things that make us who we are. And usually these are the things that keep us hunkered down in our comfort zones for fear of being hurt.
After a bit more introspection, I discovered that a comfort zone is a nice place to visit, but isn’t some place I really wanted to live. The writing eventually came out of the closet and is now being exalted as a distinguishing characteristic. Sure it was incredibly scary stepping out of the comfort zone. But once I figured out that Dr. Seuss had it right (see quote below), the comfort zone turned into a craggy ruin with dead sharks floating in the water. And then the strangest thing happened: I had a craving to witness every perceived weakness in my friends and family for these faults are what make them the people I love and I wanted to love them wholeheartedly.
Say what you mean and mean what you say because those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind. ~Dr. Seuss