Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations,” but what does that mean?
For me, it means this: unknown limits can’t be tested. The only way to know what I can do is to do it. The psychological comfort zone never holds me for long. I seek out activities that make me uncomfortable, skating the edge between personal growth and emotional damage. On the physical side, I can’t stop working or playing until I’m too exhausted to continue. It’s who I am.
For those unfamiliar with the concepts of comfort, stretch and panic zones, and their significance, here’s a little graphic. Humans learn best when we get out of the comfort zone, when we’re stressed enough to stimulate new brain connections. We stretch and grow. When people are hit with too much, too fast, however, it pushes us out into the red danger zone, where fear erases connections and sears the brain with stress hormones.
Prowling the hot line between stretch and panic zones might be a mild form of adrenaline addiction or an undiagnosed bipolar issue, but reasons aside, that is where I live. The new makes me giddy with enthusiasm, and curiosity is my besetting sin. Mastery is always my goal, and repeated failure is the route to mastery. It’s a form of competition, this constant testing of myself against myself, and I am a competitive monster right down to my toes. (See this post for examples.)
This lifestyle has consequences. One, it creates a high level of self-awareness about my strengths and weaknesses. Two, it creates a ferocious desire to protect my few comfort zone choices, because those zones are already so small and under such constant pressure.
In the months since I first published my books, I have learned a lot from the worldwide community of independent writers. Self-publishing experts dispense pearls of wisdom like these:
Get yourself out there. Write letters and send out work. Do con panels. Build a database of contacts. Court fans. Be sociable. Be outgoing. Negotiate with strangers. Set up signings. Talk up your work at every opportunity. Push, talk, connect, network. I can do those things. I am a salesman’s daughter, and I can dance the social dance so well that thousands of people would swear that I’m a shiny, happy extrovert. I have polished skills. I can sell an image. I can sell myself.
I can’t do it and be a writer too. There’s the rub. I realized recently that I have wandered across a line, and lurched into a molten hot danger zone. Here’s another graphic, because I’m in a picture-worth-a-thousand words mood:
I’m turning my back on any possibility of making it to the top through dogged persistence and relentless self-promotion. I need to step away from it before I do any more damage to myself.
I am a challenge addict who craves all that is difficult and untried, but I am also a deeply fragile introvert, one who needs long periods of solitude and only blossoms in emotionally inclusive spaces. If you think that dichotomy sounds odd, try living it. Balancing contradictory traits is an exhausting job, and every lurch off-center results in painful cycles of misery and self-loathing.
When I strip off the polished shell and open up my raw heart, the demands of marketing recede so far beyond comfort that they end up in a different time zone. I know promotion isn’t easy for anyone, but there’s hard, and there’s adamantium hard. There’s stretching, and there’s being strapped to a medieval torturer’s rack. Writing is already a huge stretch out of my comfort zone, a major undertaking I can’t safely manage alone. I need to protect the tiny comfort zone developing beneath that growth far more than I need to develop myself as a brand.
As of today, I am sinking back into the bluish depths, writing and stretching in a limited way with the help of some few others. I’ll continue on my own unsteady schedule and present the work in my own hesitant, self-deprecating way. I will remain unknown and unread. I’ll salve the pain of obscurity with the balm of choice.
Call me unprofessional. Call me lazy. I’m ready to accept the insults, if it means my soul quiets enough that I can hear the whispers of story again. Sneer away. Pity me for the cowardice of refusing to reach the biggest audience possible. Go ahead. I won’t mind. I”ll be over there in the corner, writing.
|This is me, stepping away from the line, being a cat who walks by herself.|