by Sidney S. Stark
Imagination is a miraculous creature spawned of spiritual need and creative deprivation; or so Cousin Kate believes according to one of her early interviews with a reporter from Opera News Magazine. She told him that growing up on the mud flats of Maine forced the birth of her artistic temperament. Maybe so, but if so, I wonder why there aren’t hundreds of budding young performers from her home town clamoring to offer the diva some competition. I think (no matter what she says) that imagination is actually embedded in our DNA before birth and I’ve only just recently found out that the psychologists agree with me. Of course I concur that imagination can be affected or encouraged by circumstance and environment, but usually I think it thrives on its own in whatever soil and with whatever nourishment it can find. Mine is a perfect example.
If the deficit of growing up in a environment with limited stimuli forces the production of food for fertile thought, then growing up on the island of Manhattan should have put me in a state of continuous, gluttonous overload and shut down my creative appetite forever. But if the mind’s eye, by its very nature, gives the intellect a place to live and thrive inside of any spirit then it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside. The problem of course can come when the adult guides in a child’s life insist on demonizing flights of fancy as indulgences of an escapist spirit. They should be glorifying them as discoveries of the genuine self. It’s just a different self. Children like me were told they were ‘too sensitive’, ‘too shy’, and ‘too dreamy’. Those criticisms are bad enough for a girl but I can only imagine how affecting they must be for a boy. I wish my grandmother could be there for all sensitive kids who think they aren’t ‘normal’.
Most writers lay claim to a telescopic mind’s eye from early childhood. Undoubtedly all creative artists would include themselves in that declaration. Unfortunately, most educational systems teach people to answer questions rather than to ask them. My true education was started by my grandmother who had the consummate skills of a tutor and mentor and the desire to have me as her pupil. She taught me to listen and appreciate silence for the inner voice it lets you hear. I knew that voice had always been with me and I knew I had to have time to address it to feel grounded. But my grandmother had to help me filter out the accusations of teachers and others who said it wasn’t ‘healthy’ to have a vivid inner life. And in fact she promoted it with the support only hours of reading on her lap could have installed as proof. She knew instinctively and unfailingly what it’s taken modern science decades to identify and categorize as a fundamental inherited trait. Highly sensitive people (or HSP’s as Dr. Elaine Aron has labeled us) help bring the world into balance. And the acknowledgement of this innate attribute by psychologists today is just as important as my grandmother’s encouragement was for me in my childhood. The affirmation, acceptance and acknowledgement are gifts of incalculable value.
And that brings me to my writing. I can clearly make out my grandmother’s instructions on the navigation charts left behind for me in my memory. But I sense that something is missing. Like the pinch of baking soda that mysteriously vanished from my grandmother’s recipe when it was transcribed, is it perhaps the most important ingredient of all? What was it she wanted me to find when I went on that journey?
I sense that exploration of my inner life will pay off in an exhilarating adventure to a place familiar yet altogether new, simultaneously threatening and thrilling. So standing in the bow of this courageous craft and lifting my chin to meet the rising wind I can almost hear myself shout, ‘I’m off’ and my grandmother call back, ‘at last’!
Question@You: Do you think sensitivity is learned or inherited? Does it matter?