Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Feeling the burn, by Veronica Zundel

Irregular verb: I am sensitive, you are touchy, s/he is a fusspot.

Have you ever been told you are 'over-sensitive'? Apparently when I was a baby, a complete stranger looked in my pram where I was bawling my head off and declared firmly, 'Ah, artistic temperament'.
 My mother never tired of reminding me of this incident throughout my subsequent life!

But does the writer or other 'creative' actually need to be more sensitive, to have deeper, and yet more easily accessible, feelings than other mortals? Are we born without that extra skin that enables the less 'artistic' to imitate a duck's back and let life, like water, roll off them? Sensitivity can be an excuse we use to make others do our bidding ('only the tiniest bit of chilli for me please') but if we really are more impressionable or even more fragile than others, it can be both a curse and a blessing.

A curse because, inevitably, life is going to send us tough stuff and we may be more affected by it than those with thicker hide or who bounce back quicker. A blessing because - well, actually for
exactly the same reason. We who make books or paintings or music or dance can take the tough stuff of our lives, in which we get so easily immersed, and transmute it, given time and effort, into something with the potential to feed or heal or inspire others. And equally important, we can take the good stuff which we enjoy so intensely and communicate it to others in a way which will, if we are lucky (and experienced!) allow them to see it in a new light or to feel its heights and depths as we do.

Of course, if sensitivity is a necessary attribute of the artist, it has its downside - we may be perennially closer than others to tipping over into the fearful territory of mental illness or breakdown. It surely is no coincidence that so many of our great writers/painters/musicians have suffered psychologically as an accompaniment to, or perhaps the price of, their creativity (or its inspiration?). You can be a highly sensitive person without producing any artistic output whatever, of any quality, but I'm not so sure that the converse applies.

There are always the glorious exceptions, writers and artists full of unquenchable joy and humour, who enrich our lives with laughter and hope - surely P G Wodehouse, for example, a writer of enormous talent, had few if any moments of despair or overwhelmedness - although you could argue
that he was exceptionally sensitive to the ridiculousness of everyday situations.

For most of us, however, if we want to create for the consumption of a human race almost all of whom will experience suffering, and most of whom will have moments of extraordinary bliss, we will have to live through both pain and pleasure ourselves, and we may have to experience them at a greater intensity than the average. Or is that just me?

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at


  1. Thank you, Veronica. I think we have to be tough and sensitive. Tough to carry on submitting and being rejected, sensitive to our own emotions and of those who are temperamentally different to us.

    I miss you on New Daylight, by the way, and look forward to your return. God bless you.

    1. Thanks. I miss writing for New Daylight too. Although in fact the notes that will not have me in are next year's - I write them a year ahead, but only two issues a year, so there will always be one a year without me.

  2. Brilliant post. I've often wished I could be less sensitive but, like you, I can see the blessings it brings. And I agree that for writers it allows us to work things out for the good of both ourselves and others. You have put into words what I've often felt but been unable to articulate 🙂