See that white, floofy flower above? It caught the corner of my eye bouncing gently on the breeze one afternoon last summer. Huge. And delicate. Backed by glistening waters, the dregs of last winter's smooth, bleached driftwood, and late summer grasses, waving tall, the delicate round form of the flower makes me slow my walking stride to a stop. There's something to notice here. Mounds of tiny white flowers everywhere. With that one dark dot in the middle.
What is that? I wonder aloud to myself, coming closer to give it a look.
Maybe it's an insect. Only it's not black. Or moving. And it's shaped just like all the other flowers. Except that it's deep eggplant in color. And jutting up a few tiny millimeteres above all the white ones. Smack in the middle; a tiny purple burst of perfection amidst a sea of white.
Amazed, I laugh. This isn't at all what I was expecting to notice. I want to share my wonder with someone walking by. But no one's around. So, I search for other flowers like this one. Are they punctuated by a single pop of purple? Or wholly whorls of white? I need to know.
The others I see have the same design. Round and full. White everywhere. Except for that one speck of deep purple opening its tiny petals in the center of it all.
Taking one final smiling glance at what I've just seen, I continue my walk, my sensitivity satisfied. It likes to have space to notice nuance like this. To sit and write. To share its insights. Instead of being mostly a hazard in our overwhelming world.
Just to be clear, much of the time I'm still learning how to work with my sensitivity. Much like my sensitivity picks up on tiny, nuanced subtleties like dark flecks in the middle of a seemingly all-white flower it picks up on every shade of injustice, idiocy, and out-of-line around. Problems in the world, power imbalances? Yep. The moment those appear my sensitivity hollers and wails! Just like it does when the leaf blowers screech their shrill wail in the pouring rain, taking five times longer than normal to relocate that one remaining leaf on the perfectly manicured driveway. Much of my life I've immediately jumped into action in response to my sensitivity: Beat the patriarchy and the man at this messed up game. Change the system for the better once and for all. Fight! Stop what's wrong and horrible. Now! But just like marching myself out in my red, scotty dog bathrobe in the rain to yell at the leaf blowers to stop is futile, my endless quest to change the world, saving it from its problems, leaves my sensitivity reeling, raging, raw with ever more that I dislike to do.
Not a great way to make space for sensitivity in my life. My sensitivity. That thing in me that means I hear every chip my partner crunches no matter where I am in the house. And that thing that means I notice the dark flower in the middle of all the white. That thing that means I can't tolerate leaders who silence others, fill an entire meeting with their own agenda and fail to share power. And that thing that means I notice the nuance of everything with a heightened awareness that can be way too much unless I find an outlet for it in my life.
The book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind has given me an entirely new perspective on sensitivity, creativity, and how I've always existed in the world. Unable to be settled. Satisfied. Always doing things differently. And not the way others think I should. Always needing something new to create in my life and the world. It's not the easiest way to exist in the world. And often I've wished I wasn't nearly so sensitive. But I like this quote as a reminder of the link between sensitivity and creating.
"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, and 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
Sensitivity's a gift. But it needs an creative outlet. Unless I want it to drive me crazy. Writing my memoir gives my sensitivity a regular space and place to serve and support my life and work, not just pop up in challenging ways when it gets overwhelmed or pained by whatever's happening in the world. It gives my inner child a playful, gleeful outlet in a world hyperfocused on productivity as self-worth. This is nothing I anticipated would matter so much in my life. And when I began I had no ability to allow myself this much sense of play or fun. But giving my sensitivity a creative outlet of its own not just using it in response to another of the world's problems has been profoundly fulfilling. It's connected me to others after a lifetime of feeling I didn't belong. And it's given me a way to have my say in the world before I go to work for the day. In my book, I can thumb my nose at the establishment in little and big ways. Or bask in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Or portray the lunacy of what humans do to one another in dramatic and compelling ways that horrify others (or inspire them) as much as they do me.
Consistently making space for creative expression is how I give my sensitivity a place in my life and the world instead of trying to self-improve it away. It's how I stop fighting to change the world, certain I can clean up its shenanigans once and for all so I don't have to feel so much so hard. I can still use sensitivity at work and in the world. But in the world, things are never fully on my own terms. I have to meet others where they are. Which can drive my sensitivity crazy. Because people do a lot of dumb things. Which is why it's essential that I give my sensitivity creative outlets where it can just be. Do whatever it wants. Not have to be the right thing for the imperfect world.
This is all a relatively new realization for me. My sensitivity is part of me. A gift. It NEEDS a way to be heard. And seen. By me. (And maybe others.) And honored for its brilliant capacity to sense and feel in the world. (Without having to jump in and change the world.) Sensitivity needs space to create: something to do with the wonder of a huge white flower with a surprising, singleton pop of purple in the center right alongside with the horrors of how controlling people can be in their interactions with others. It needs a way to do what it loves. That isn't dependent on the world liking it (at least not right away). And it needs a place where things sparkle and shine, have a glimmer of glee, and the possibility of play. (Even if there's lots of challenge and hard along the way.)
So, if you've spent a lot of your life trying to improve your sensitivity away like I have, I'd like to offer a new frame as a parting thought:
Old frame: My sensitivity makes me a hazard everywhere I go. I'm just a giant, walking reaction who can't even do normal things that most people expect. Will this ever get better?
New frame: I'm deeply sensitivity. That means I'm highly creative (even if I haven't been using that part of me much or on my own terms). The fact that I can feel and sense the world deeply is what can make my creative work exceptional. My sensitivity is ultimately what connects me with others and the world. The more I allow space for my sensitivity, giving it a creative outlet that's on its own terms, the more fulfilled and alive I'll be.
What creative outlet would you love to give your sensitivity? Even if it scares you? :) Thinking of each of you as we move solidly into fall and towards winter. If all goes well (I'm navigating a pretty intense and scary health challenge at the moment), I'll be offering a new round of Women Create (website still in progress) starting late January or early February. Feel free to reach out if you might have interest. I'll ping you more formally once I know what's happening with the surgery I'll likely need to undergo soon. Sending love!! :)