Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October 17, 2007: Escaping My Discomfort Zone

We’ve been hanging together now for some time now, so I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to you to know that I’m a tad on the anal-retentive side. I’m not entirely puckered, though. I still try new things, but I do so begrudgingly. And lots of colorful swearing follow along in my wake. I usually blame that on Jersey, my alter ego. To this day, though, I remain surprised at how incompatible my anal-retentive nature is with doing all of the publicity that is required if one wants to sell a respectable number of books.

Case in point. I was so excited to be asked to join the Femme Fantastic Tour. After all, the mission of the tour was for seven authors to show support for our troops by visiting military installations and autographing books. Plus I was going to be in good company. Lori Bryant-Woolridge was flush from just having released Weapons of Mass Seduction, a damned good book. Carmen Green and ReShonda Tate Billingsley have written so many books between them that they make Stephen King look lazy. Halle Berry just optioned the rights to Trish R. Thomas’s Nappily Ever After, and Nina Foxx is producing a play based on one of her own books. And Berta Platas adds her Latina flava to the mix. So it seemed like it was going to be a party like no other, replete with sisterly bonding and many martinis.

Of course, reality is always different from the fantasy. I felt this acutely as I was barreling down 95 South from Virginia to North Carolina, my alter ego Jersey cussing like swear words were ten minutes away from being outlawed. If you think that Mapquest is the Devil, then hotel directions are Dante’s ninth concentric circle of Hell. When I finally did meet up with the authors – Lori, Carmen, and ReShonda – on this, the Fort Bragg leg of the tour, I was flustered, irritated, and heart-patient sweaty. Just what you want in an author you’re about to meet, right? Mercifully, Lori had her portable GPS, which proved invaluable.

When we got to Fort Bragg, though, I realized the upside of being forced outside of one’s comfort zone. At the PX, we met and signed books for members of our armed forces and their families. They were so happy to see us, so thankful that we’d come to visit them. Which was such a contrast to some civilian signings I’d done at book stores, where people treated you like you were trying to interest them in buying a steaming turd.

Also, my well-meaning friends told me when I hit that particular milestone that forty isn’t old. I tell you, forty is plenty old when I’m looking at young soldiers going to or coming from Iraq, along with their wives (and husbands!), some of whom were born the year I started college. They were probably conceived while their parents were listening to the same Culture Club and Prince jams that I was bustin’ a move to at the freshman dance. Being forced outside of your comfort zone, more often than not, makes you put life in perspective, makes you rethink your perception of discomfort. Getting lost on a North Carolina highway in a fancy rental car with crappy directions versus getting shot at in a HumVee in Fallujah. No contest.

I visit five more military installations on the Femme Fantastik Tour, which starts up again in 2008. If you think Jersey’s going to disappear, that I’m not going to be pissed that Fate is moving my water dish, that I’m going to stop being anal-retentive – perish the thought. Spiky when squeezed is who I am, and I do it well. I will, though, be mindful of the ever-changing perspective that one finds in the Discomfort Zone… and try my hardest to chill.

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