Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Diversity is in the air. It's evident in the sheer magnitude of languages I hear daily, the skin colors I see, and the variety, mix and fusion of ethnic cuisine available in Los Angeles. It didn't just happen overnight. When my friends and I were in college we questioned and challenged everything. It was an era for women asserting themselves in the work place and in the bedroom.

Is a same sex relationship easier, we wondered? There wouldn't be the same power struggles, we thought. Sexual Fluidity wasn't a term in popular use then, and bisexuality was distrusted by both gays and straights. In her debut novel, A Fitting Place, Mary Gottschalk, tells the story of one woman's journey down that path. 

From Amazon: 
In the wake of her husband’s desertion, Lindsey Chandler finds solace in a relationship with a woman who offers an intimacy Lindsey has never known. Before long, however, she finds herself ensnared by the same destructive inter-personal dynamics that plagued her marriage. Unable to blame her dilemma on traditional gender roles, Lindsey is forced to look in the mirror as she seeks to define what she wants from this—or any—relationship. The premise of this debut novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. A Fitting Place is an uplifting story of the human potential we all have.

 Why do you write what you do, Mary?

You've got to jump off the cliff all the time and build
your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury

Taken literally, Bradbury’s quote sounds preposterously risky, but it speaks to the potential for intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth that occurs when you are in “free fall,” when your core beliefs and values are being challenged.
It is this often-painful but ultimately exhilarating process that is the central theme of both my memoir and my novel.

In one sense, I have always been a risk-taker. It’s a behavior pattern borne out of a mélange of natural curiosity, an intense dislike of repetition and routine, and an almost instinctive tendency to rattle whatever cage I happen to be in.

More often than not, risk-taking had positive results by opening a door to educational and career options I might otherwise not have had. But all too often, those new opportunities left me no more satisfied than I had been before I made the change. Metaphorically, I was getting off one bus with uncomfortable seats and hopping onto the next bus that came along in the hope that it would suit me better. 

I never stopped to ask where the bus was going, or whether I would be better off traveling by train or on foot.

Until I was 40, that is.

That was the year that I got off the bus for the last time. That was the year my husband and I abandoned our successful careers, as well as family, friends, or familiar support systems, to sail around the world in 37-foot sailboat. That was the year that I began my escape from a world of other people’s expectations.  For the first time in my life, I had to decide for myself where I was going and how I was I going to get there.

My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to trade the bus for sailboat, to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.
By the time the memoir was completed, however, I realized that “the story” was larger than “my story,” and that few people can quit their jobs and head off into the sunset. I wanted to explore the growth that can take place when a woman stays close to home. In my novel, A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

 How does your work differ from others of its genre?  

The premise behind both my memoir and my novel is that opportunities for personal growth are greatest when you step outside your comfort zone. From a psychological perspective, the term “comfort zone” encompasses behavior patterns formed during childhood, patterns which may not be productive or healthy in adult relationships.

By stepping outside of your comfort zone—whether by choice or by circumstance—you exponentially increase the possibility of personal and professional growth.    

My writing is also distinctive because I like to utilize metaphors to emphasize the universal themes that underlie my stories:

·       Sailing Down the Moonbeam (a memoir) – Sailing is a powerful metaphor for everyday life:
·       It is impossible to control your environment, whether it’s the weather or a possible job promotion. You enjoy life much more if you recognize the your control is limited to your own thoughts and actions.
·       Very few things in life work out the way you planned. Expectations leave you vulnerable to disappointment, while living in the moment opens the door to opportunities you didn’t expect.
·       All too often, you end up in a different place that you intended to go, both in relationships and in careers. Our focus should be on the journey, not the destination.
·       A Fitting Place (a novel) — The title is a metaphor that applies on multiple levels:
·       A Fitting Room – A fitting room is a great place to try on a new persona.  How would I look in purples? Would I feel sexy or tart-y in a sequined dress with a plunging neckline? Some unexpected purchases delighted me for years, but others languished in a closet until I carted them off to Goodwill.
Lindsey’s love affair with a woman offers an intimacy she has always ached to have, an opportunity to try a different way of living and loving. But will that same-sex relationship stand the test of time, or will it founder just as her previous relationships with men have foundered?
·       The Biblical Notion of Fitting. The Biblical term “fitting” usually refers to actions or events that are suited to the circumstances, rather than those that are “right” in some a priori or moralistic way.
For most of her life, Lindsey has done the “right” thing, routinely subordinating her needs to what she assumed was expected of her. Only when Lindsey begins to take responsibility for her own decisions and actions—to do what fits the situation rather than what she thinks someone wants—do her stomachaches ease. It is the beginning of maturity.
·       A Jigsaw Puzzle – We’ve all been frustrated by working on a jigsaw puzzle with a piece or two missing. Most of us have also had the distressing sense that a piece of information or a crucial insight is missing from your life.
For Lindsey, the missing pieces were largely of her own making, a consequence of her tendency to dole out only the information she thought people “ought” to know. The pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place as Lindsey discovers that what her friends and family really wanted from her was quite different than what she had assumed.

Mary has made a career out of changing careers.
She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, working with major corporations in New York, New Zealand, Australia, Central America, Europe, and now Des Moines, Iowa. Along the way, she dropped out several times, the first time to embark on the multi-year sailing voyage chronicled in her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam.

In her latest incarnation as a writer, she has written for The Iowan and contributed to several anthologies. A Fitting Place is her first novel.

Relevant links

A Fitting Place: http://amzn.to/1m57778

Sailing Down the Moonbeam:  http://amzn.to/Iy5JTJ

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