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  • Writer's pictureLaura McBride

Highly Sensitive People

Couch potato.jpg

Yes, that's me on Major Yeats in a "fun day" costume competition at Fox Hollow in Tennessee. We got a 4th. The costume was a couch and a couch potato. I was wearing an old dressing gown, had a packet of chocolate chip cookies in one pocket and a TV guide in the other. I had a shower cap over my riding helmet. I covered Yeats in the ugliest sofa cover I could find, and pinned little pillows to it. The costume was suggested to me by a journalist colleague, David Wickert (now of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution) because he had heard me moan about Yeats' laziness so often.

One would assume, I assume, that artists would be highly sensitive people (HSPs). I suspect there are some exceptions, and that some artists can cope with crowds and noise and excessive demands on their time and all sorts of upheaval. I suspect there is a continuum, with some artists being extremely highly sensitive, and others being a little more towards laid-back and unflappable.

I would place myself at the far end of the bell curve on the extremely highly sensitive side.

I loathe loud music. I find it offensive when someone else's music invades my space. What makes them think I would enjoy whatever gormless crap they are subjecting their ears and mind to? I had neighbors like that in Maryland; summer was often a trial. It turns out that some new people who have moved in near me recently in Cornwall are of that ilk. The people who lived there before had a pre-teen son whose friends came over and they got quite noisy in the garden on the trampoline...but it was happy noise and not arrogant, like the playing of your music for other people's ears, unasked. Kid happy noise=good; arrogant subjection of others to crappy music=bad. Or simply, relaxingly human v. aggravating.

Poster child for pernickety (that's persnickety in the US)

Which leads me to suspect that--using myself as the poster child--a certain amount of personal space is part of the sensitivity, as is a highly developed concept of polite behaviour.

Of course, I may be wrong. But once again, I shall make an assumption that artists are HSPs and, as well, usually introverts.

There are people who would debate that about me. I'm one of the few writer/editors I know who didn't mind giving speeches to civic groups when I was doing special projects for a daily newspaper in Virginia/Tennessee (in a town on the state line). I also worked in national marketing for the second-oldest theatre in the US; I had to get up on stage occasionally and give the "curtain speech" when the Artistic Director was out of town. I thought it was fun.

But now...well, all that belongs where one of my horse trainer friends, my dear friend Peter Krukoski of Fox Hollow Riding Academy in Tennessee, put it many years ago when he and I were having a tiff. "Your problem," he said, "Is that you are an introvert who learned to act like an extrovert to get what you want."

Coping with faux extroversion

He was right. Exactly right. As a journalist, I phoned and met people day in and day out. At the theatre, ditto. It was a living, a pretty good one, and sometimes exciting. But the horses were my safe, quiet place. On horseback, I was in another world. Riding horses over fences is wonderfully relaxing simply because you will have only one thing on your mind; communicating perfectly and wordlessly with that horse so that you both land on the other side together. I loved it. It was the antidote to the faux extroversion I practiced when I wasn't on horseback.

Now that I've (mostly) left the journalism behind, and working for a wacky organization like a theatre isn't even on the radar screen, I find I've reverted to introvert. I scarcely want to answer the phone. It takes me a week to recover emotionally from hosting a small dinner party. The thought of going out stumping to promote my artworks leaves search of an arsenic substitute and the courage to take it. (I might also propose that arty folk have a tendency to dramatise......)

I've retired my horse and frankly, he and I together were an art form--a sort of free-form flying expressionist art form at times when we magically and suddenly parted company, other times exhibiting classical perfection over fences. I have no intention of getting another horse. Indeed, there is no other horse in the world I'd care to ride except Yeats. I did ride others...lots of others...and even leased a few before and during my years showing Yeats, just so I wouldn't get stale. But as for the ride, Yeats is a huge bugger, as stubborn as the day is long, too smart for our own good...and the apple of my eye from the minute I first sat on his broad back. His gaits are not great; when we won a class, it was over fences, not on the flat. He's a great, careful jumper. Well, he was after Peter and I trained him, with some help from my friend January Johnson, an artist on horseback, who is now an artist with food. Yeats is larking about in a friend's pasture in Tennessee in his rather posh retirement; I still own him and pay his bills because, well, I love him.

A good substitute for a horse?

I need to replace horsemanship in my life; I need the total immersion break from the pursuit of art, the sort of break that riding gave me from the pursuit of interviewees or promotion of a theatre. I have no idea what that might be. (All suggestions gratefully accepted.)

Unless, of course, it could be art that is the relief from the pursuit of art. Perhaps I should just give up the perfectionism of the mid-century-born American to be the hostess with the mostess and every other screwy thing heaped on some of us by grandmothers giving Victorian ideals another life, and do more painting when I'm tired of painting. Or at least, relax about anything else I do.

Right then. My next dinner party won't be a selection of wonders from my French cookbooks served amongst the Irish crystal. It will be spag bol* with jug wine in Jamie Oliver glasses (dishwasher safe), take it or leave it.

*Americans: Spag bol is Britspeak for spaghetti bolognese, or in other words, pasta with tomato-meat sauce.

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