Friday, June 05, 2015

The Curse of Sensitivity

I have often said that what makes an artist (and by artist, I mean in the broadest sense: writers, musicians, painters--creators of any kind) is that artists notice.

Perhaps those of us who are driven to create are born with our senses tuned up a little higher than is typical. And since it is those senses that help us navigate and mediate our world, it also means that we tend to experience and feel deeply in ways that often make day to day life more difficult.

I know that my mother used to tell me I was "too sensitive," and she meant it as a criticism. (Ironic, because she was a painter in her younger years.) For the most part, I have learned to manage and channel that sensitivity into my creative life. Fortunately for you, a lot of that (in the form of raw emotions on the page and fragments of poetry) remains closed up in paper journals and notebooks. Some has made it to this blog. Still other emotions have been mined and processed to emerge as elements in stories and novels.

Writing has been my salvation throughout my life, and especially over the past several years where the power of words has sustained me through our house fire, family crises, and the illness and death of loved ones. Why words? The flippant answer is because I can't draw, paint, dance, act, or play music to save my life. I can say that words have definitely done so.

My father passed away a little over a week ago. I am in a deeply quiet place. I am (slowly) doing what needs to be done in my life, but somewhat on autopilot. I'm grocery shopping, cooking, paying bills and organizing paperwork, readying a book for publication. But aside from the basics, I have barely accomplished anything and have certainly not written much, aside from his eulogy.

I can feel the words piling up in my head, but when I sit with pen to paper, I am mute. 

I know what I'd tell a friend, a loved one:
Be gentle with yourself. Loss takes its own time. There is no schedule for grief. 
Hell, I have told others those exact words. And yet, I cannot hear them for myself.

My father was extremely proud of me. While he wasn't much of a fiction reader, and certainly not a reader of any SF&F work, he none-the-less told everyone in his apartment complex about his daughter the writer. When we were there for his memorial service, I lost count of the number of his friends who told me how much he bragged to them about me.

When I was visiting with him in early May, I set up my laptop in his hospital room and worked on edits when he slept. When he was awake, he asked me about my process, marveling at the ability to actually write page after page after page of a complete story. So in a way, he is there on every page.

That book was ITHAKA RISING and I've dedicated it to him. It would have amused him and moved him. And yet, as hard as I worked on the novel, and as much as I am invested in this insanity of living a creative life, I am emotionally spent. I should be writing guest blogs, and promoting, and soliciting reviews, and setting the book up for pre-orders.

Instead, I am quiet. The to-do list lengthens. I cry at odd times when I am alone. I pick up the phone, intending to talk to my father, before it hits me again that he's gone.

I know it doesn't work this way, but there are moments I wish there was an off switch for this sensitivity. Or at least a volume control. But this is how I am constructed. I feel deeply and intensely and sometimes those feelings paralyze me.

I've also lived through grief before. I know there will come a time when the words will emerge again, when I can direct the sensitivity toward creating art.

But for now, there is silence and an unfilled space in my soul.


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