May 2007: Comfort Zone ONLINE
Willa Cather is one of my favorite authors because she writes with a gentle caring for all of her characters, but usually one in particular, the very sensitive one. Most of her best characters are men--sensitive men. (I suspect she felt a bit estranged from the typical women of her day. One of Ours is definitely about one of ours.
Her descriptions are also for the sensitive--simple but apt, clean and airy. They are like Nebraska and New Mexico, places she loved. Above all, she does not get in the way of her story. You never sense Willa Cather behind it all, as you do, say, Hemingway. But she still was seen--she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1923. Very HSP.
The second book is about his unhappy marriage. The third is about his decision to enlist, to save France from the Hun, as the situation was seen in the U.S. The fourth is about his voyage to France with his fellow soldiers, young men from all over the U.S., seeing their own diversity and unity for the first time. It is a wonderful chance to travel along, having an experience long past.
The fifth is about Claude in France and in the war. In particular, Cather wants to show us how much Europe, especially France, impressed all of these young men, overseas for the first time. Indeed, most had never been fifty miles from home before. Naturally she uses a sensitive person to report all the emotion and subtleties. For example, for Claude, the train ride to the front was an embarrassment of ecstasy-- "Deeper and deeper into flowery France!"
The paragraphs below capture one experience, during his Company's brief leave time in Rouen. While his buddies headed off exploring all the sights...
"When Claude joined his company at the station they had the laugh on him. They had found... the main cathedral, the tourist attraction, and a statue of Richard the Lion-hearted, over the spot where the lion-heart itself was buried; 'the identical organ,' fat Sergeant Hicks assured him." (Book Five, Fourth chapter)
Black Swan Green
The story is set in a small village with some new housing developments (where Jason lives). There is quite a bit of violence and just plain nastiness on the part of the non-sensitive boys--a kind of ordinary-life version of The Lord of the Flies . The novel captures so well a sensitive boy trying to be like the others, trying not to become one of the most bullied. For example, the most respected boys were called by their first names, the second-best like Jason were called by their last names. "Taylor." The dreaded last place meant you had a demeaning nickname.
Jason hardly knows he is any different, and the author does not paint him as that different, at first. But Jason gradually finds his way into another culture. For example, he writes poetry which he submits anonymously to the newsletter of the local church. Eventually he is found out by an eccentric French woman, who takes an interest in cultivating his mind.
The teachers in his school seem as uniformly mean as his classmates. Jason stammers, and has to avoid saying anything that might involve the letters he currently cannot say. The teachers seem unable to sympathize. Yet when the crunch comes, because of his compassion for others, which he can no longer hide, he finds some secret support from the adults around him and hope for his future. Hence, although you have to wade through a great deal of pain and ugliness, the ending is satisfying. I would think sensitive men who recall a boyhood of trying to fit into a culture designed and maintained by bullies will find some healing in Jason's story.
Here's a small excerpt, in which the sensitivity barely shines through, yet is unmistakable. The lake referred to has been the scene of some brutal games prior to this, in which Jason barely manages to survive humiliation and avoid broken bones through well practiced, HSP-style strategies. He hates these games, yet dares not refuse to participate. A chance to go alone to the lake is another matter.
"A sort of trance" sets in and Jason sees a boy skating on the other side of the pond. Distracted, Jason falls through the ice, sprains his ankle, and totters off to find help in the house of a strange old lady who heals him overnight with a homemade salve. I wonder now if the author was thinking of it as magical in its healing powers, because things begin to improve a bit for Jason after that. For awhile. And in the end.
Help is on its Way
To quote my endorsement of the book, "Highly sensitive people will recognize their own childhoods in Jenna Forrest's radiant painting--using every hue in the emotional spectrum--of her years from seven to seventeen.... Readers will be charmed by this sensitive woman's unique creative force, a valuable reminder of their own."
Every HSP is unique, of course, so you may find some things that do not ring true about yourself. Further, Jenna had a distressing home life. Her parents divorced and her mother seems to have been truly difficult. This adds to the drama of the story, but makes it, again, unique. The philosophy she develops from it also may or may not be helpful to you personally. But it is inspiring to read how she comes to it.
May 2007 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
May 2007 Articles:
Summer Reading for HSPs: Cather's One of Ours, Mitchell's Black Swan Green, and Forrest's Help is on its Way
Coping Corner: A Meditation for HSPs on Criticism, the Killer
Sensitive Children: Working With Sensitive, Withdrawing Children
A Letter from Elaine