The Discomfort Zone

December 16, 2016

I indulge in the comforts of life—comfort food, comfort reads, comfortable routines—at least as much as the next person. But I must admit that dis-comfort has also played an important and positive role in my life. As much as I hate to admit it, discomfort does more to help me towards my best life than comfort does.

Why is discomfort important? Discomfort prompts us to change. It’s a sign that something is wrong or needs attention. If things are great as they are, why would you want or need to change? It’s that restless, edgy, something’s-not-quite-right feeling that spurs us on to better things.

For example, when I become uncomfortable in my body, I increase my exercise and monitor my eating if it’s my weight that’s bothering me. If I’m exhausted, I get more sleep, and if I’m hurting, I make appointments with professionals who can help me feel better. When the mess in my office becomes uncomfortable, it’s time to go through the paper piles (see photo!). Most recently I’ve become uncomfortable with the amount of stuff in my house. I’m not a minimalist (or a hoarder), but my belongings are weighing on me rather than bringing me joy and comfort. I’ve tipped over the edge of enough into too much. Discomfort will help me pare away the “too much” and reach the “just right.”

Sometimes I’ll notice that nagging feeling of discomfort around my behavior. I’ll say or do something and wonder later what I was thinking. Or I’ll hear myself talking griping about a situation to a friend or my husband, and realize there’s something about it that’s getting under my skin. Often, this means it’s time to examine my motives, my needs, and my true desires. Do my actions match up with my stated goals? If not, time to change.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with being in our comfort zones…sometimes. If we were constantly uncomfortable, it would make for an unpleasant, unhappy life. Our comfort zones can be places to relax and recharge, places to regroup and ready ourselves for a return to the discomfort zone—because that’s where real growth takes place.

Is anything causing you discomfort right now? Does something need to change?


December Ladybug

December 14, 2016

Photo courtesy Filip Kruchlik

Introduction by Ted Kooser:
We are never without our insect companions, even in winter, and here’s one who has the run of the house. Roger Pfingston lives in Indiana.


Lodged tight for days
in a corner of the wall,
ladybug can’t resist the tree

crawling now over cold
light, ceramic fruits,
tinsel lamb and sleigh.

Flies out of the tree
to try rum cake on a
plate of caroling cherubs.

Ends up on her back,
wings flared, silly girl
spinning over the kitchen floor.

Later, between the blinds,
tiny bump of silhouette:
a stillness against the falling snow.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Roger Pfingston and reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 80 & 81, Fall 2013. Roger Pfingston’s most recent book of poems is A Day Marked for Telling, Finishing Line Pr., 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Roger Pfingston and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Recklessly Buying Books

December 09, 2016

Despite my stated goal of reducing the to-be-read (TBR) stack of books I own, the theme of 2016 could easily be summed up in the title of this post. Never mind that my closet shelves already groaned beneath the weight of books I just HAD to have, never mind that even a rapid reader would literally have reading material for years, I have gone and purchased (or received from Paperback Swap) more than 50 books this year.

While I’ve been diligent about reading from my stack, there’s simply no way to get ahead—that is, reduce the TBR stack to a more manageable level—if I keep buying books at such a pace.

But really, who can resist David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls for 50 cents?  The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady for $1? Or even At Home With Beatrix Potter for $8.50? Not I.

It’s not just the books themselves that I love—I love the hunt. I carry lists of books I’m looking for in my purse. I search out used bookstores when I’m on vacation, and I happily troll the Internet for books to add to my collection.

There is a way to fix this, I know. Simply stop going into the Friends of the Library bookstore at my local library. Stop frequenting used bookstores. Stop reading book blogs because they introduce me to books I want to read and if I can’t find them at the library I end up adding them to my wish list (and we all know what I wind up doing then—say it with me—recklessly buying books). Stop reading the book reviews in my Sunday paper (because: see above).

But who am I kidding? I’m not going to do, or stop doing, any of those things. Searching for books is a huge source of simple pleasure and happiness. This is a relatively harmless addiction, since most of my book purchases are $10 or less. I could collect Faberge eggs, or antique cars, or even first editions, all of which cost a lot more than my second-hand copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. And my TBR stack is not—yet—a fire hazard.

I have to conclude that unless my very nature changes, I’ll continue recklessly buying books.

I can live with that.

How about you? Anything you’ve spent 2016 “recklessly buying”?


The Greatest Feat

December 07, 2016

Photo courtesy Joe Beck
“It takes great wit and interest and energy to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is a great activity. One must be open and alive. It is the greatest feat man has to accomplish.”
—Robert Herrick