Dani Shapiro
May 27, 2010

On Sensitivity

I’ve heard it said that writers are born with one less layer of skin–one less layer of protection–than normal people, or civilians, as I like to think of them.  I don’t know if this is true of all writers, but it certainly is true of me.  I have long felt like a slightly neurasthenic creature who needs great amounts of solitude and quiet.  In the words of my wonderful teacher and friend Sylvia Boorstein, I am easily startled.  My natural habitat is my house–in the daytime hours–when all is silent.  Even the dogs barking at wild turkeys out the window makes me jump.  And I admit that I ask Jacob not to practice his recorder first thing in the morning.  I recently had a conversation with another writer I greatly admire, and she told me that she never travels far from home without earplugs, eye masks, slippers… anything to create a buffer with the noisy, noisy world.  I so related to that.  But what about when a buffer isn’t possible?  What about those times when we need to simply be in the world in all its cacophony, to embrace the noise, the tumult, the…aliveness?

Over the years, I continue to develop tools.  These tools can be as simple as remembering to breathe.  To go inside myself, no matter what’s happening on the outside.  To find the words that center me, and remind me that everything I need is right here, right now.  When I am internal, I am a witness.  I’m the outsider, the observer, absorbing and seeing everything around me.  Sometimes it’s a little bit lonely–the price to pay for being on the other side of the window, nose pressed to the glass, looking in.  But when I’m too external, I become part of the world–and I lose my own outline.  I lose myself.  I do think this is the lot of the writer.  We need to be ever-so-slightly apart from what goes on around us, so that we can see it, feel it.  Ultimately, so that we can record and understand it.  Instead of berating myself (as is my wont) for the silence, the buffer I crave, perhaps instead I should see it as my greatest friend.