Comfort zones can lead us to rather uncomfortable places

Last week I deleted more words from my manuscript than I care to think about, hover-click-gone-bourbon, and I got within only a few feet of some complete strangers while actively wielding a camera. While seemingly unrelated, the latter actually led me to doing the former. How is writing a novel and practicing photography related? Well, in my case, they were both ending up rather dull and emotionally flat because I was trying to keep my distance, trying to stay in my comfort zone, instead of throwing myself full tilt into the action.

Talking with a friend this afternoon, I described my epiphany for both activities this way. When I’m one-on-one with someone or among a small gathering of friends, I’m happy to get right into the mix of things. I laugh and chat and tease and tell stories with ease. But when I’m in a large group of strangers or people with whom I have little in common, I’m going to hang out on the edges of the room and watch, and watch, and smile, and sip my drink, and watch, before slipping out to go find a cat to pet or a book to read. He confirmed seeing this behavior in me. “Yeah, you can get pretty awkward then.”

*Please hold my purse while I pull this filet knife from my back.* Anyways.

I use a Fujifilm x100f. It has a single, fixed, wide-angle (24mm) lens. I adore this camera. It’s light and straight-forward and fits my small hands well. Yet it has been stymying my effort to get interesting shots of people around town because I’ve been insisting on standing at the back of life’s little party. I kept trying to use my camera as if it had a 300mm telephoto (aka – stalker) lens. “You stand (way) over there and do your thing and I’ll stand (way) over here and watch.” The x100f will never behave the way my comfort level wants it to, but it is operating exactly as it was designed to. What had to change was my behavior. When I started to get up close to the people and scenes I was shooting, things started falling into place. Yes, I was tremendously uncomfortable but that’s something I can work at overcoming. Wishing and wanting won’t ever change the way this lens behaves.

Thinking over this realization later, I understood that I had been doing the same thing with my manuscript. I’ve been holding myself at a distance from my characters, locations, and plot line. I wanted to keep everything neat and tidy, controlled and comfortable. I was flattening them and draining the book of color because I wasn’t close enough to see the characters as full-rounded people who would have lives outside of my plot line. I never gave them the room to be messy, and we’re all messy. We make mistakes, we over-correct, we ignore what we don’t want to see, we misunderstand what we hear, we assume, we let our egos hold us hostage, we aim to punish someone only to feel the sting of our own buckshot as it ricochets off an oil drum we didn’t even notice was there.

By getting in close, I got jostled by elbows passing by. I heard a few snarky comments. I flushed with embarrassment when I got the side-eye. I also got the shot.

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