Stepping out of comfort zones - the struggles no one ever sees and a quiche that is all comfort in its essence
I have one of those brains that are constantly working, constantly thinking, analising, creating. I tend to overthink too much, and my thought processes are usually messy business and very convoluted, being hard to follow the line of thought even for me. I may start by thinking up plot and scenes for a current WIP, and from there move on to sketching in my mind the gist of a chapter, and all of a sudden I find myself thinking of a comment I read on Instagram, or something someone said a week ago and that I hadn't yet found it in me to really think about it. In the end, when I look back on the process, I hardly ever understand how my mind got to that, and sad to say, this is how great ideas get lost. But this is also how I push myself forth, how I make myself grow, how I take myself out of my comfort zone. By constantly thinking about life in general, constantly analysing my own opinions and the opinions of others, studying them up and tearing them apart so I can educate myself and so I can put myself in other people's shoes. That's the best way for me to get out of my comfort zone: putting myself in someone else's shoes.
Everyone's going on about people needing to move out of their comfort zone in order to become better and more successful. Seeing that I don't really have a comfort zone - even if we're talking red wines, I always long to try new ones, thus moving out of my comfort zone of the wines I already know and prefer, forcing myself into trying something new every chance I get - I have a very hard time struggling with this notion. For instance, I don't bake those beautifully embelished cakes. I love seeing cakes like those, and appreciating the art and the amount of work put into it, it's art, it's beauty, it's aesthetic hedonism for me, so I love those cakes. I wouldn't eat most of them, but that's another story. I would never manage to bake and decorate one of those cakes, and that is not me staying in my comfort zone, that's me knowing who I am to a dot. I simply lack the patience and the interest in pursuing that kind of art. Doesn't mean I don't admire it, though. Doesn't mean I am not quite aware of my limitations, either. It also means I'm being smart about what battles I choose to fight, know what I mean? I refuse to put myself into stressful situations that will simply make me feel horrible and that give me no sense of acomplishment or pleasure at all. After all, I am an hedonist by nature.
See, I think people mistake this thing about one's limitations with someone unwilling to move out of their comfort zone. Doing that is placing yourself in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, it's not placing yourself in a situation you hate and fear, or that bores you to death. I hate maths. It bores me to death, I have no patience for it. I am aware that my brain lacks the capacity to understand maths deeply, like my son and husband do. I get the overall gist of it, and leave at that. Trying to comprehend advanced mathematical theories is not me stepping out of my comfort zone, is me trying to annoy myself to death. And frankly, I'm not suicidal. Same for baking elegantly decorated cakes. Again, I'm not suicidal and lack the fine art of delicate hands that are able to create delicately. I also lack the interest. I'm not staying inside my comfort zone, I simply cannot be bothered. It's like placing myself in a vat filled with cockroaches. That's not me stepping out of my comfort zone, althought that would make me uncomfortable. It would also make me hysterical with fear, because I have a phobia with most insects. And no, I do not advocate facing these kind of fears bravely, I'm all for the scream and run way of dealing with them. I see a cockroach, I scream, I run and I burst into tears.
I keep asking myself, where the hell is my comfort zone, how could I leave it? Because everyone talks about this so much, and I start thinking and analysing it, wondering if I am not staying whithin my own comfort zone a tad too much, perhaps? I actually get out of it everyday. I'm a misanthrope at heart, deeply introverted, and everyday I have to put myself out there and chat idly with the other parents during the school runs. I hate idle chat. I feel terribly uncomfortable around other people, people that I don't know or hardly know at all. It stresses me out and I'd much rather stay home alone in silence. I don't, I step out of my comfort zone and once in a blue moon I find myself having a really interesting conversation with someone who seems rather interesting too. I just went through that on Instagram recently, and I also found out that one of the moms at my son's school is really nice and cool talking to. I forced myself out of my comfort zone, and yes, a couple of nice things happened. Even though I hate meeting new people, I hate being put into that type of situation. But I go along and do it.
One could argue that when I sit down to write I'm really putting myself inside a cocoon of sorts, I'm diving into the ultimate comfort zone for me - seeing that I'm an introvert, a hermit, a misanthrope - but it's a wrong assumption. Whenever I'm writing, that's when I most push myself out of the said comfort zone. It's where I challenge myself the most, really. Take this: a few years ago I began writing a fantasy series in my native tongue, portuguese. Meant for the portuguese market which is... well, backwards could be used as a word. In that series I have a character who happens to be a lesbian. When I began introducing this character through a chapter, I wrote from another - unimportant - character's point of view. A girl of about ten, who was an apprentice of this other character I wanted to showcase. And the reader gets to know the character through the thoughts and the eyes of the little kid. There was one particular moment when I wanted to introduce the fact that she was a lesbian, so I did it by writing the little girl witnessing a sex scene between her mentor and her lover in the deep of night. The girl saw nothing at all, except for the bodies moving beneath the bedlinens, and the sounds and noises the two women were making. I was so out of my comfort zone, writing that scene that I ended up deleting it in the end. Because it featured a child, and I feared the passing judgement of readers. There was no intention at child abuse there, or advocating any such thing, but I ended up cutting the scene out, for fear of it. Still, I took myself out of my comfort zone by writing the whole scene down.
Not that writing sex scenes is me stepping away from my comfort zone, nope. It pretty much is a comfort zone for me, actually. I find it so easy to weave into the narrative, and so logical. Mostly I write about people falling in love, or in lust, so it's quite natural that there is desire between my characters, want, need. It's what happens in real life, so why shouldn't it happen in books? People do have sex, you know? Vanilla sex, most times, so what's the problem in writing about it? I've been doing it since I was fifteen and wrote a scene between a couple of teens who were exploring their sexuality without really having sex. I was very graphic, taking from my own and my friends' experiences - some were still virgins, others weren't - and as I read the scene out loud to my friends and other older kids at school, there was shock in their reactions, but they all admitted to having felt that which I described. It's not boundary breaking, not for me. But perhaps it's boundary breaking that my sex scenes aren't filled with sex toys and bondage and weird positions or an in depth description of the Kama Sutra. Maybe the fact that these scenes are common in most households and most people's lives makes them shocking. But for me, I'm in a comfort zone of sorts when I write them.
And yet I still push myself out of that comfort zone, even when writing sex scenes. On my current WIP - and if you've read Unnatural, you will know this already - I have a couple of characters who happen to be bisexual. They've been involved with men and women alike, and there's mention of it there, in that book. On book 3, one of those characters gets involved with another man, and they go up to a hotel room to have sex. I wrote the whole scene, because there would be revelations during their tryst. I had to really push myself out of my comfort zone to write that one. First, I'm not a man, so I have no idea how a man feels when it comes to desire and lust. And I have absolutely no idea how desire and lust translate between two blokes. I mean, being a woman, I kind of know how it is with a man and a woman, how it goes between them, but two men? I had to go with my common sense and simply believe that it is pretty much the same thing. Did I feel comfortable writing it? No. Do I feel comfortable with how the scene is written? Not really. But I wanted to write it, to push myself with it. So perhaps people are too quick to say others aren't stepping out of their comfort zones nearly enough, when actually everyone does it, all day long. We just don't even realize they're doing it, there's no trumpet blare annoucing it to the world.
But there's also nothing wrong with staying inside our comfort zones, some times. Some times we really need to. Like baking a quiche. I mean, this is pretty much my comfort zone in the kitchen, quiches, tarts. As long as my husband makes a batch of dough, I'm good to go. And this one was comforting all around. This is how we did it:
- 180 gr strong bread flour
- 100 gr cold butter
- 5 to 15 ml cold water
- dried coriander, just a scatter
- 100 gr (give or take) fine sliced prosciutto
- 200 gr mushrooms, chopped
- four medium sized onions
- 200 ml cream
- 4 eggs
- olive oil
- salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme
Start by making the pastry on a food processor, by blitzing together the butter, the flour and the dried coriander until you get a coarse, sand like dough. Bring out of the food processor onto a floured surface and start mixing it with a kinfe it, adding water until you obtain a silky smooth pastry. Wrap in cling film or baking parchement and refrigerate for half an hour. You can move on to the caramelized onions, with this recipe right here, such a good one. On a frying pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil and stir fry the mushrooms with a little salt and a little thyme. Reserve. Spread the dough on a floured surface, using a rolling pin and then cover the bottom of a pie dish with it. Pierce some wholes into the dough using a fork. Now cover the dough with sliced of prosciutto, both the bottom and the sides should be covered in it. Add the caramelized onions and the mushrooms over the prosciutto. Beat the eggs with the cream, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, pour over the rest of the quiche and bake on a pre-heated oven at 180º for about 40 minutes. Serve with a nice, crunchy salad, and you're good to go, comfort zones and all!