...and how writers can relate to shrimp.
In case you missed last week’s intro spiel, here’s a repeat:
Between writing coaching and The Core Stories Collective — and some personal stuff I shared last time — I’ve been thinking and talking about writing, like, all the time. For months. And I still have more to say. So that’s what this Substack is for now: writing about writing, for writers and “writers” and wishful writers-to-be.
You’ll get a newslessay (a newsletter-essay, yeah?) in your inbox every Thursday from here on out. (Except if I’m sick! Also, vacations! And this schedule is subject to change. We’re experimenting.) Like the one below, each one will include a brief reflection on the practice of writing, plus a writing-related quote and a prompt offering.
For now, reading remains free. At the end of April, I plan to switch to a paid subscription model. Free subscribers will get one monthly email, while those paying the $7/month rate will get one each week.
Okay, that’s all. Thanks for being here. Onward…
1 | ON SENSITIVITY
A childhood memory: I am walking down a cement sidewalk that links one winding suburban street to another, abridging the route to the neighborhood pool. The air swells with ordinary birdsong and bug sounds against a manicured backdrop of green.
I look down at my feet at just the right moment. The breeze reaches like an arm for a singular fallen leaf, lifts it, pirouettes it in a perfect spiral, and places it back on the ground. I stop for a second, struck with wonder.
“Beautiful,” I think to myself. And then, “Nobody else would notice or care.” I clutch the image to my chest and continue walking. I tell no one, sure they won’t get it. I keep it to myself like secret treasure for years. All these years.
My cache of childhood memories is slim. This one glistens.
I was not a big fan of the suburbs in general. I wanted the exuberant razzle-dazzle of New York City, with its sugared peanuts, its pulsing lights, its jiggling crowds. I thought that Times Square was the coolest, most exciting place in the whole entire world, the way it was never not crackling with sensory stimulation, how it kept my jaw dropped.
In New York, everything was breeze-twirled leaves. You were supposed to be in awe of it. The city manifested life’s gorgeous madness as omnipresent and undeniable.
But I understood that not everyone agreed with me. On occasional family vacations or school field trips to the city, others seemed to find the noise grating, the chaos exhausting, and the whole thing just too much. In my mind, I twisted this to mean that they were the “sensitive” ones, but not me. I could handle it. I could savor it.
Only a handful of years ago did I begin to understand that my love of that leaf and of New York are both linked to a certain sort of sensitivity — the precise kind that drives me to write. I am, in fact, extremely sensitive, by which I mean, I am oddly and specifically attuned to what’s around me. Attentive. Any stimulus might be transmuted to story.
This confrontation with my sensitivity has largely unfolded within the safe container of therapy. In a recent session, I was talking to my therapist about a terrible experience I’d had at a restaurant, where my meal companions were all excited about the trendy menu, and I could hardly eat. For lack of better language, the “vibes were off.” The “energy” wasn’t right in there, in the kitchen or on the floor. My food tasted…angry? Even as I write this, I struggle to believe myself. I have to battle the urge to roll my eyes.
“Do you know what animal sees the most colors of any creature on earth?” my therapist asked me.
“I have absolutely zero idea,” I replied, “but by all means, enlighten me.”
It’s a shrimp, she told me. Not just any shrimp, but a particular kind called the mantis shrimp. The human eye has three color receptors, and the mantis shrimp has a whopping 16.
A shrimp! I expected something majestic, not a tiny, creepy-crawly crustacean.
“I feel like you’re that shrimp,” she said, light but also earnest. “You just see colors other people can’t see. You’re built to receive different data.”
And if you’re reading this, I bet you’re your own sort of shrimp, too.
As writers and as creative, curious thinkers, it’s our job to be shrimp. To see the nuanced shades beneath the shadows of the watery depths; to witness the colors in what’s dark and murky; to process the particular stimuli that startle and delight us.
We are just tiny, tender creatures with a very important job: to feel things out loud. This can often be lonely. But wouldn’t you rather notice the leaf, the lights, the dancing of things?
My point is, please do not desensitize yourself. You are sensitive. That is good. We need you to show us what only you can see.
2 | A QUOTE TO KEEP CLOSE
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him…a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, and create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation.”
3 | A PROMPT YOU CAN USE
Pick an ugly place — a gas station, the grimy inside of a trash can, the shoulder of the highway where you’re stuck in traffic. Go there. Stay there. Look closer. What can you see, smell, taste, hear, feel? What’s beautiful? Where is the dignity in this plain space, if you offer it your sensitive attention?
Describe the place on paper in all of its glory. Set a story there.
I’m crying at a shrimp I love this I love this I feel so seen and celebrated thank you