I met a friend at
the Ponte Vedra an anonymous library last month, and afterwards approached a librarian to talk about donating a copy of my book. No big deal – I just thought maybe there was a local author section.
The woman behind the counter took my book and sighed very heavily. “I’ll have to see if it’s been catalogued,” she said. “This could take a really long time.” She picked up the book and started fanning through the pages, like she was shaking out dust or something.
“I’m not worried about it,” I said. “I just thought you might like to have it.”
More heavy sighing. “And if it’s not catalogued, we’ll have to catalogue it, and that could take even more time.”
“I certainly don’t want to inconvenience you,” I said in a strangled voice, because my throat was swelling up and water was pushing at my eyeballs. She said something about passing it on to the right person, I can’t remember exactly, and lugged my book to the back office like it was a 90-lb muddy golden retriever she would have to bathe before sundown.
This occurred on the first Saturday of summer. I had been having a very good day. But I cried on the drive home, because mean people suck, and when they suck at unexpected times, I’m caught off guard. It’s not at all about whether the library would carry my book – I don’t care. It’s better for me if people pay for it, remember? But that this woman would treat me as though I had asked her to personally check the card catalogue for 32,000 different titles – well, it was just plain rude. So disrespectful. Maybe it is indeed a whole lot of work to absorb a local author title into a library collection, although it seems unlikely. Here’s a much better response:
“Wow, this is your book? That’s so great! Of course we’d love to have it! I’m sorry to report that the library’s system for adding a book takes forever, so it might be a while before you see it on the shelves. But thank you so much! Congrats on your book!” Would that have been so difficult to utter? Geez. I went back later that day and told the same lady I wanted my book back. “I hope I didn’t make you think I didn’t want the book,” she said.
“Well, you did,” I said.
Look. I’m very sensitive. I even have a personality classification: Highly Sensitive Person. I know this fact about myself, and would have known it even if people hadn’t been telling me so my whole goddamn life, and even if I hadn’t just taken four quizzes entitled “Are You Highly Sensitive?” and aced every one. I have cried at every single Little House on the Prairie episode. I know things about people before they know themselves. I’m a writer, for Buddha’s sake. Being highly sensitive heightens my sense of empathy and compassion, and makes me more creative. It also makes me cry a lot. The other day I cried because I couldn’t do all the burpees in my CrossFit workout, and last week I cried because I couldn’t get my kid to fold her laundry. My feelings are hurt easily, although I’ve hardened up a bit. I know immediately if people don’t like me, and pretty quickly whether I’m going to like them. And I know when I’m being slighted.
Now, don’t worry – I usually get over it. But for a nano-second, it bothers me. Stop being so sensitive! I’ve been told a gazillion times. You’re being too sensitive! At this point, I’m thinking – if you know that I’m so sensitive, why don’t you be a little sensitive to things that trigger my hypersensitivity? Because I’m 53 years old, and I’ve been very sensitive since the day I was born, and it seems extremely impossible that I’m going to change. You see, sensitive people cannot stop being sensitive. However, insensitive people actually can acquire sensitivity. Sometimes, by the way, I refer to sensitivity as manners. Basic manners, or kindness. A woman I know recently took offense to something I said about her child, something that was true enough, and answered a question she had asked. But the instant I perceived I had hurt her feelings, I fell all over myself apologizing, rephrasing, and assuring – because I realized she was very sensitive, and it was the right thing to do to avoid ruining her day.
What the hell is wrong with people? I just don’t understand it. Yesterday the checkout clerk at Publix confided in me (that’s how often I am at the grocery store – the checkout clerks confide in me) that she’s very sensitive about her smile because she doesn’t have great teeth. Now that’s different from being a Highly Sensitive Person, but the premise is the same. She internalizes the pain of her source of weakness, and it hurts. I have perfect teeth, and I can’t imagine how difficult it is for her to work in a community where most people have expensive perfect teeth and be very aware that she doesn’t. So I took her hand and looked into her eyes (not at her mouth), and said, “You have a beautiful smile.”
She smiled at me, and it was actually a beautiful smile, and I smiled myself on the drive home, because sometimes being a Highly Sensitive Person means spreading a tiny bit of joy in the world. And that’s not a bad thing at all.