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Stretch Your Comfort Zone

That’s what the Olympics teach us about life and journalism

I’d blame it on Olympic fever, had not the urge to stretch our comfort zones begun before the Games of the XXX Olympiad opened on July 27.
    Certainly, aspiration is fed by the spectacle of human beings attempting superhuman feats of strength, agility, grace, speed and endurance. By back-stories recounting achievement by sweaty, disciplined years-in-and-out perseverance. By slips and falls and rededication as much as by success.
    By the sight of Olympians of years past, caught in black and white in their height or revisited in their antiquity.
    In myths, Olympians are gods. But these men, women and near-children are humans. As we sit on our couches to watch them, our cushy comfort zones can seem as cloying as marshmallows, as indulgent as a potato chip habit, as sticky as the La Brea tar pits.
    If these Olympians don’t push you to stretch your comfort zone, what will?
    Some inner force, if we’re lucky, or some outer force, like your editor.
    Bay Weekly’s Stretching Your Comfort Zone began with an intern, one of a class called to live, for weeks or months, in the zone of elasticity.
    Jesse Furgurson had endured weeks of stretching; by his definition, he was way out of his comfort zone, “going what I perceived as too fast turned out to be edifying.”
    By my standards, he was close to escape without ever going out into the real world. So I told him he could choose between Ishtar’s Belly Dance Workshop and Self-Defense Against Zombies.
    He chose to the Jing Ying Institute of Kung Fu and Tai Chi’s zombie workshop.
    That, he admitted, “wasn’t as far out of my wheelhouse as you may have liked,” for he’d studied martial arts and, as he wrote in his Aug. 2 feature, “logged enough hours watching zombie movies as a kid that I could have received a PhD in zombiology from the George A. Romero School for the Aaaaaarghts.”
    But I decided to give the kid a break. Sentences like that one in a story that was both well reported and full of creepy facts were my rewards. And I hope yours, for if you haven’t read Workshop of the Dead, find it at http://bayweekly.com/articles/humor/article/workshop-dead.
    Now, in the Olympic spirit, we’re finding all sorts of occasions to stretch our comfort zones. We’ve kept new staff writer Ashley Brotherton so busy doing extreme reporting that we haven’t given her time to write her results.
    This week’s Stretched Comfort Zone takes a mental stretch rather than a physical one as Chesapeake Country historian Donald Shomette writes about his turn to lyric-writing to share the stories of the War of 1812.
    As this occasional feature took shape, I considered titling it Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone. No, I concluded, the connotation wasn’t right. Stepping out allows — indeed implies — the possibility of stepping right back in. Like dipping your toe to test the water, it’s a transient state. Stretching implies expansion of your zone, and that’s what I hope we do with Bay Weekly.
    Making the zone in which we operate a bit bigger and more fully detailed is expansive and enlightening, but it isn’t always, well, comfortable. A couple of recent expansions of my own comfort zone have me empathizing with Jesse. All summer long, I’ve had the opportunity of water aerobics at my pool. For the first month I resisted, imagining it as old-lady exercise way below me who, in my self-image, is a Bruce Springsteen kind of old lady.
    Having now dipped my toe into that pool, I’ve discovered that you need to be fit like Springsteen to stay above water. This stretch of my comfort zone leaves some new muscles aching. As Shomette admits of himself in this week’s story, I’m struggling. It’s harder than I thought, and I may be — no, am — the least coordinated stretcher in the class. But my elasticity thrills me.
    “I’m grateful for your efforts to push me out of my comfort zone,” Jesse wrote after he’d escaped me, and I feel the same after each new stretch.
    This summer, I’m grateful to the Olympians for showing me the range of possibility. We haven’t seen the full range yet, because records continue to be set and broken. Each day brings us the possibility of a new personal best. And with each Bay Weekly, that’s where we try to go.
    Tell me how you’re stretching your comfort zone: ­editor@bayweekly.com.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com