A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing my work-in-progress with a friend. This WIP is about a murder in the studio where we take dance classes, and my idea is that each of us should have an unconscious hand in the murder. Ideally, each of our flaws would become a fatal flaw. For example, if one person hadn’t been late, if another person hadn’t left something behind, if a third hadn’t picked up something by accident, the poor woman wouldn’t have died.
We discussed possible flaws to assign to our classmates, then my friend said, “You know what’s wrong with you, don’t you.” I gave a rueful smile because I knew what she was going to say even before she said it: “You’re too sensitive.” (I don’t know how to work sensitivity into the story equation, so for now, I’m thinking my character’s flaw will be disdain, which I have to confess I sometimes feel when people say things that are patently untrue.)
This seems to be the consensus nowadays, that I’m too sensitive. I take things to heart, am sensitive to slights, hurt terribly by unintended insults, feel unfairness no matter who it’s directed at, wounded by disloyalty, and being ignored or shot down when I speak silences me completely.
I’m not sure why my sensitivity bothers others, but there it is. It would be a lot more comfortable for all concerned, of course, if I were able to accept with insouciance what anyone said to me, and yet, sensitivity has always been part of me. Grief blew whatever defenses I’d built to smithereens, and now everything bothers me, partly because I think people should feel honored that I have deigned to spend time with them. (I’m joking, of course, though there is an uncomfortable kernel of truth to the matter.)
To be honest, I’m not sure what being less sensitive will gain me. Why would I want to feel less? To insulate myself from unpleasantness? To ignore nuances of voice (both complimentary and chastising)? To accept other people’s view of the situation as the only reality?
I read something when I was a very young girl that has stuck with me throughout the decades because it seemed to be about me. I found this quote in the forward of a Pearl S. Buck book. (I was a precocious reader, having read everything in the children’s library by the time I was in second grade and everything in the young adult library before the fourth grade).
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” —Pearl S. Buck.
I’m not as hypersensitive as Pearl Buck, at least not anymore, but I was that sensitive as a child and a young woman, and apparently, I am heading once again in that direction. I have a hunch this sensitivity is something that being so connected to Jeff all those years protected me from, because I didn’t feel so abnormally sensitive when he was alive. His presence seemed to give me a safe place to “incubate,” to be myself without fretting about my difference from everyone else (because I was like him). Then later, his long illness dropped me into a period of dormancy, of numbness, of simply getting through the days, weeks, years.
And now? Without the cocoon of our relationship or the numbness of his dying, I am thrown once more into the world to deal with life however I can, to feel whatever I can. I seem to have fallen into a period of relative joylessness, but one day, the joy will return, and what will I have gained if I have learned to shut myself off from my sensitivities?
Of course, if people considered my feelings first, debates about my hypersensitivity would be moot. And since that will not happen, all I can do is deal with the fallout as best as I can with walks and tears and chocolate. And blogging.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)