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On being sensitive

January 16th, 2012

Salvage the Bones“, Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award winning novel.

Granted, I would have known to steer clear had I actually read the book’s description:


Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.

Dying litter of prize pups. Yeah. Not so much.

So I put the book down, a mere 20 pages into it. And yeah it’s a national prize winner. And yes, after watching Treme’s first two seasons, I fervently believe that Katrina-related literature is so very important.

But I’m too sensitive for dying puppies.

The thing is, although I’ve got this soft streak, I also hate that my sensitivity often makes me feel left out. I know right now, I will absolutely not finish “Salvage the Bones”, no matter how many accolades it receives. And so, I’ll miss out on one of the most important books of the year.

Last night, I felt a little like I did when walking out of that movie theater 20-some years ago. Like giving in to my sensitive side is something to be ashamed of, to be made fun of for. And last night, like 20 years ago, I also realized that once you’ve felt that, it’s hard to un-feel it. Once you’ve read about… (edited, but it has to do with puppies)… it’s impossible to un-imagine it.

(Kind of like reading the synopsis of “The Human Centipede”. EWWWW.)

I suppose this is the catch of being an avid reader. Devouring books also sometimes means getting inside the book so deeply it’s tough to crawl out. Living in my imagination, even for a few dozen pages, means it’s impossible to un-remember those vivid words.

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9 Responses to “On being sensitive”

  1. Meredith MC Says:

    I know what you’re talking about. I quit reading the newspaper for several years after my eyes accidentally strayed onto a gruesome description of violence against children. my mind, without my permission, automatically forms images from words and sometimes I just can’t shake them. I can barely handle ASPCA commercials because I can’t bear the idea of someone being so horrible to an innocent creature. 40 years of this life has helped toughen me a bit, but if my guard is down, I can find myself absolutely horrified, and have images I don’t want and didn’t invite firmly implanted in my mind. I figure it’s evidence of my humanity, and try to forgive myself for it, but it can be a drag, especially living in a society that has it’s brutal side. At least we’re not alone in our affliction.

  2. Lee Says:

    🙂 I totally understand.
    I have long refused to read certain books or to watch certain movies. And I felt bad about it but there was a point in my mid-twenties that I stopped beating up on myself. I only have so much emotional resilience, reading /watching things that feel like they’re crushing my heart lives with me forever. I still can’t hear about “Riding in Cars with Boys” without wanting to cry about the scene where she realizes that her son, the treasure of her life, feels that he’s been her greatest regret (I’m crying now!)
    Life itself gives us enough pain without needing to make extra baggage. For those of us who internalize so deeply it’s easier on the soul to give yourself permission to let others read and enjoy that material. There are tons of other highly rated books out there that aren’t scarring. For myself I found that it took plenty of strength to let go of the expectation that I could/ would read those things. But it’s been very peaceful over the years since to know that I’ve saved myself unnecessary pain.
    Hopefully you find the balance you need!

  3. Greta Says:

    Count me in as a member of the club! I get a visceral reaction to words like that, and combined with images is almost too much to bear. It is the reason for my need to stick to a strict set of rules in order to avoid the nightmares and lack of sleep that I have worked so hard to overcome.
    Fox hollow looks great (except when autocorrect gets ahold of it…)
    Looking forward to the release of the pattern…
    Hugs to you and yours, as always!

  4. Lesley Says:

    Good for you! I know my literary triggers and avoid them entirely! I gave up watching most movies years ago, and stick to the history and science channel for the most part. Then again, maybe that’s why I knit so much :). Can’t wait for the new patterns!!

  5. Maria Says:

    And horses! I cried even watching the commercial for that War Horse movie.
    What movie did you walk out of 20 years ago?

  6. Debi Says:

    I am also a member of this club, it started with Anne Frank, I read until just a few days before the capture, then put the book down.

  7. Word Lily Says:

    Me too. Even really important works (movies, books) that I do want to consume, I have to be very careful about my mood and state of mind going in, as well as what else I’ve been consuming recently. It’s one thing for a book to make me cry, but it’s another thing entirely for it to change my mood completely, almost making me into a person I don’t recognize or like. That, I guard against.

  8. Angela in Ontario Says:

    I absolutely refuse to watch any movie with animals as a part of the story line. In Grade 1 we were shows “Where the Red Fern Grows” on a snow day, and I can’t tell you what happens, but I know that it tore my little 6 year old heart to pieces. Even that Will Smith movie about the zombie/vampire/whatever plague, the part with the dog, it totally destroyed me.

  9. holly Says:

    I agree – once read (or seen in the case of a movie) it cannot be un-read and can haunt you. Being sensitive endows you with gifts and insights valuable to yourself and others. Sometimes it is wise to protect yourself from the anguish of tragedy not so that you can see the world through rose-coloured glasses but because the forensic detail may not be necessary for you to empathise and ‘seeing’ it so vividly does not make you a better person.

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