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In Defense of The Sensitive Person

“You’re such a good listener.”

Photo cr: crazyspeechworld.com
Photo cr: crazyspeechworld.com

It’s something I’ve heard often, that I’m a good listener. It’s probably the trait of which I’m most proud. Who doesn’t want someone to listen to them? Who doesn’t want to be heard? You can change the tone of a conversation or an argument just by letting the other person know that you are listening to them and reflecting listening behavior.

I value strong listening skills because too often I have felt like I have no one to talk to who will really listen. My closest friend tend to be those also described by as others as good listeners. By good listener, I mean, if sharing a story, they don’t interrupt to tell you their own story; clearly engaged in conversation such that their eyes meet yours, they nod in comprehension, their expressions change to reflect the intake of narrative. If you have a problem, they listen and offer support in the way that you need it, rather than tell you what they would do if they were you or what they think you should be doing. If you say something hurts your feelings, they don’t invalidate your expression of emotion by asking, “Why are you so upset by this?” or dismissively comment, “Maybe you’re being a little sensitive?”

Sensitive. That word. I’ve long hated that word. It rarely seemingly used in a complimentary way, especially when directed at women. Sensitive people or expressions of sensitivity are sometimes viewed as weak, emotional or neurotic. The US is a society that applauds typically masculine traits and too often derides more feminine traits, such as sensitivity, so it’s no wonder many, including myself, consider it insulting to be told they are sensitive or even worse, “too sensitive.”

PLR_XSThis past spring, I participated in a past-life regression session with a friend of mine who does past-life regression therapy for a living. Her goal is to help people move past the trauma holding them back in their current lives, by uncovering the source of the pain, which is sometimes rooted in past lives.

We were bridesmaids together last year and I met her for the first time not too long before all the bridesmaids planned the bridal shower together. We bonded during the bachelorette party as we discussed everything from the significance of Jason Collins coming out to the potentially dicey topic of religion.

Something about her makes me feel like I can trust her with the kinds of secrets & vulnerabilities we hold nearest to ourselves for fear of being exposed for who we really are or who we fear people will think we and have our vulnerability used to hurt us, tortured by our own Kryptonite. When she offered to do a regression for me the next time I was in Los Angeles, but warned me it could get pretty emotional and raw, I had absolutely no qualms about taking her up on the offer.

Prior to beginning the hypnosis part of the session, she asked me a series of questions to assess my susceptibility to reaching a deep meditative state. She asked me if I am more of a visual or auditory processor and while I always thought of myself as more of an auditory processor, she helped me realize just how much I “see” life as a series of stories, images, themes and patterns.

The entire experience was incredibly intense and emotional, as promised. She said to me, “You have a sense about why people do the things they do and you see things in the world in a way that only a small number of people do. It can be isolating.” Even though I was in a “hypnotic” state, I could still comprehend her words and respond to her. She finished with, “It’s probably why you can get upset with people easily, because you see things they may not even be aware of and it frustrates you.” She’d practically reached into the depths of my past, unwrapped a box I had stashed way deep down, and seen a part of me I usually protect, hiding for so long I don’t even think about it.

photo cr: Rook-XIII
photo cr: Rook-XIII

“You exist on a different ‘plane’ than many people. Not that one plane is better than another, they are just different. You probably feel like an outsider sometimes. Even in your family; like no one understands you. It’s probably why you live so far away from them. You wanted to find where you belonged.” Girl, yes! Like it’s not enough that I’m a short, black, left-handed, female living in an America that prefers tall, white, right-handed males, I am even the weirdo in my own family.

So wait, I’m not weird? Why has no one ever told me this?

hspWhat she said really stuck with me. I began reading up on visual processing which led me to a series of links about a book named The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Of the book, a Marie Claire article shares:

…what all HSPs share is an uncommon ability to pick up on subtleties that others might miss — a look, a feeling, a message embedded in a seemingly straightforward statement. “It’s like they’re wearing an extra pair of glasses,” she says.

This sensitivity I’ve been beating myself up over for so long is actually much of what makes me who I am and there’s a lot of meaning in that one word. Being sensitive means:

Wrinkles emotions1. I Hate to See Others in Emotional Distress
Last December, on my way out of the office with my boss and co-worker to have drinks before our holiday party, I noticed another co-worker dressed up and ready to go, but solo. I asked her if she had plans to get to the party and when she said “No,” I invited her to join us. My boss looked at me with a bit of wonderment and commented, “Keisha, that was so nice of you. So many people would have just left and not said anything.” Exactly. So many people do do that and miss out on opportunities to reach out to others. I’ve done that. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt alone or passed by as though I were invisible, whether intentional or not. It sucks. I didn’t ask her to join us because I felt pity or because I wanted to feel like martyr, I did it because she’s always been polite to me and I hate to see anyone alone if they don’t need or desire it. We’re human beings. We are social animals, whether some of us care to admit to it or not, and we seek acceptance and welcoming by others.

2. I am a Loyal Friend

If I decide I care about you, you can expect I’ll throw down for you, without question. I’ve been in three fights in my life that got physical (once with beer) and two of those times were in defense of a friend being picked on by an asshole (whom I am often good at spotting). The third time was a stupid fight with my sister, M, when we were in middle school, over whether you had to have seen Halloween III to understand Halloween 4. I don’t remember who won, but my mom came home in horror and put a stop to the fisticuffs. We were dumb.

3. I Can Smell Bullshit

You’ve heard the phrase, “Never bullshit a bullshitter”? Well, I have a very vivid imagination and know how to spin a tale and I can hear when someone is trying to sell me a baggie of crap. I can spot a bullshitter with ease.

4. I Love Animals
I got my first dog at five. I had him for one whole weekend and then he disappeared. My dad claimed she got sick or something, but I think he didn’t like that the puppy pooped on the floor and sent him back where he came from. Some of my friends laugh when I say I want to have a ranch one day with some of my favorite animals. Giggle all you want, but I will have an alpaca buddy one day. For now, I have the two kitties and not-so-secretly hope to meet an eligible suitor with a lovable dog.

Emotional-Intelligence5. I am Sensitive to the Moods of Other People
I have to protect myself from situations and people who are energy vampires or carry too much negative energy because I absorb it without intention. Last week at work, I had to leave a very heated meeting – one of the top 3 most painful meetings I’ve ever sat through in my entire worklife – because people were tense, argumentative, confrontational discontent, and frustrated with each other. Like a fucked up family dinner with no food and no alcohol for maximum suffering. Each unhappy sentence rolling off tongues felt like being hit with repeated soft blows by invisible balled up fists of bad energy. The minute I left the room, two-thirds of the way through this hour and forty minute torture session, and took a walk around the building, I felt better, freed from the emotions contained and simmering in that hot conference room.

6. Sometimes People Think I’m Psychic
When a guy I dated broke things off with me a few summers ago, I told a friend of mine, “He is going to marry the woman he dates after me.” My friend looked at me doubtfully, attributing my words to post-break up grief, I imagine, “How can you know that?” Sure enough, less than a year later, he was engaged to the woman he dated after me and they are now married. I just knew. The signs were there. I’m not psychic. I just saw the cues.

I’m rarely surprised anymore when someone I work with announces they’re leaving. The signals are almost always there, some people just notice them more than or before others. I am one of those people.

I’ve many a time been called perceptive and insightful and less frequently had people jokingly ask me if I’m psychic. I’m often not consciously looking for signals, but the patterns are there in the world, you look and listen for them.

Etiquette for Women7. I’m Conscientious
I’ve been told I’m polite and at times in frustration, I’ve had people tell me I’m too polite. I treat people the way I wish to be treated. My conscientiousness is the result of a couple of things. I have a mother who went to charm school growing up and thus taught her daughters how to be “charming.”  Secondly, I simply believe in being considerate of others. That seems to mean a hyper-awareness of social observances that other people may not have. Boy do I get pissed in the BART station when some people don’t notice that everyone else is standing on THE RIGHT SIDE of the escalator, and you are the only clueless boob standing on the left, blocking the flow of stairclimbers. It initially strikes me as a rude move by someone who isn’t thinking of others, and I can’t stand when people are inconsiderate. Get some home training! However, as I am often reminded in life’s mysterious ways, not everyone thinks the way I do about manners and consideration and I have to demonstrate patience and give others the benefit of the doubt. Else, I risk spending too much time being too through with people for not behaving as I think they should. Life is too short for that.

8. I’ll Pass On The Violence

The older I get the less I am able to withstand images of violence or people in pain. Once, while trying to decide what to watch on TV with an ex-boyfriend, he landed on a documentary about the Holocaust.

“I can’t watch this,” I said.

“What? Why? This is important.”

Amsterdam“I know that. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of reading and watching about the Holocaust. Horrifying images are seared in my head. Joseph Goebbels is a disgusting human being and obviously Hitler should burn in 80 million hells. But, it’s going to make me really emotional to watch this. I just can’t. I’ll start crying and it’ll be a mess.” I could barely keep it together during the opening scenes of Up. It’s for that reason that I still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, even though I know it’s a highly lauded and important film. I visited the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam and I had to take a seat. It was too real. I recovered at a “café.”

9. I Love Beautiful Things
When I went to Paris almost five years ago, I fell in love with Picasso at the Pompidou Museum. I understood what the fuss was about. His art drew me in and that trip to Paris will always be linked in my mind with my discovery of Picasso and a new perspective on art. A lovely and romantic experience in a Paris museum, just me and Picasso.

Members of the Class of 2014
Members of the Class of 2014

I also see beauty in different ways, not only in classic or tangible aesthetics.  My youngest sister graduated from college a couple of weeks ago. Her area of study is largely majored in by women. The graduates comprised of a plurality of ethnic groups including black, Latino, white and Asian students. Women, graduating by the hundreds. Women, who less than 100 years ago, couldn’t vote in this country. Women, who less than 50 years ago were barely accepted in the workplace. Black men and women whose enslaved ancestors only could dream about the freedom to study in a school, alongside people of different colors and graduate with a college degree. Individuals whose families may have struggled to reach the point where they could send someone to college. I imagined the ghosts of our ancestors sitting alongside their family in the audience, beaming with pride. In that moment I really felt the weight of the meaning of my bachelor’s degree for the first time since I earned it over a decade ago. That’s beauty.

10. My Sensitivity Isn’t Always Appreciated

I’ve had people tell me my thoughts are too intense or that I ask too many “serious” questions. At times it’s resulted in my retreating, reluctant to express my thoughts. A feeling of, “Don’t get too deep. Play dumb and light to get along well with others.” Again, that’s isolating, there’s a feeling of being unable to express your true self lest your observations or theoretical questions are met with a blank stare and a slow, “Uh…yeah, that’s interesting. What made you even think of that [weirdo]?”

More and more studies emerge suggesting that having high emotional intelligence, which is linked to sensitive traits like self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy, makes for stronger leaders. Sensitivity is being rebranded.

Being sensitive doesn’t have to mean being neurotic, weak, dramatic or soft. If you’re sensitive, embrace it; you’re normal and it’s okay. If you know someone who is sensitive, appreciate what they have to offer, perhaps they’ll help you see the world through a different lens.

I don’t know if I’m one of those “highly sensitive people”. I don’t feel the need to label myself with yet another adjective. What I am though is someone who can be sensitive and I choose to see that as a positive trait and not something to hide in shame. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, being who I am.

How Are the Kitties?

It’s always funny to me how, when catching up with friends, they’ll sometimes ask “So, how are the kitties?”

The answer is always a (thankfully) boring, “Oh, they’re good. Healthy.” But, why do we ask about each other’s pets? They are very simple creatures. They eat, drink, play, sleep, whine to eat more, shed, and find the only rug in a hardwood-floored apartment to vomit on because vomiting on the floor would make things easier for me to clean, and repeat.

Do we expect the answer will be something like this?

Fluffy RaccoonTail is busy hatching his plan to take down the internet’s latest cat darling, Colonel Meow. The Colonel’s arrogance and perma-sneer offends him. Also, like me, he likes to give back. So he’s set up a nonprofit to provide birdwatching opportunities for disadvantaged indoor cats with nothing better to watch out their windows except large dogs that are beneath them as a species and that, like fools with no damn sense, do everything humans tell them and silly humans carrying no food whom are therefore useless. He’s getting push-back from the bird lobby on his birding nonprofit. He says, they’re whining that “cats kill birds and shit.” Boo hoo, he says. I don’t know where he gets this attitude from. He is brilliant and the secondary income he brings in allows me to afford to eat in this city, since rent consumes all of my pay.

Bitchy VonScaredy-Cat has regressed further into bitchery and lame-assedness since the move from L.A. She’s actively working with her therapist to get the hell over herself. She’s decorated her bedroom, a cozy spot far under my bed, with furballs and dust. She hopes one day I will stop torturing her by trying to love her and clean her since the vet told me she’s too stupid to clean herself properly.

We are all very well, thanks for asking. One of my cats is awesome. Do you want the other one?

Kitties Got Swag
Kitties Got Swag

A Tanzanian Safari in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Ngorongoro Crater

Our safari trip began the day before with a visit to Tarangire National Park, home of Ngorongoro Crater. As our safari guide informed us, “crater” is actually a misnomer as there are living creatures residing in the area, which is an active volcano. After a unique breakfast, we started exploring the park.

Lake in Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
A lake within Nrgorongoro Crater. There are rhinos in the water. They were quite vocal and sounded angry. It was a little disturbing being so close to animals that are prone to charging and trampling other animals, humans included, but we made it out without incident.


The crater is pretty impressive. There are tens of thousands of animals living there along with Maasai who reside in huts and tend to their cattle and other animals.

Zebra Buddies Ngorogoro Crater Tanzania Safari | The Girl Next Door is Black
Zebra Buddies
Line of Safari Jeeps Ngorogoro Crater Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Line of jeeps awaiting the lions

All weekend, we’d been hoping to see a lion in action. Even I, the animal lover, joked impatiently,

Is it too much to ask that I see a murder while I’m here? I don’t think these lions understand just how far I’ve traveled to see them. Work with me here!

After a few hours in the park, we spotted a line of safari trucks pulled over on the side of the road: almost always a sign that there’s something to see nearby. Sure enough, our guide slowly pointed out one, then two, then four, then seven(!) camouflaged lions. Their target: a poor lone gazelle. Once I realized what might actually transpire, I knew I didn’t want to see the gazelle lose the fight between prey and predator.

We all watched intently, eyes darting between the lion and the gazelle, and spoke in hushed tones. Well, almost all of us. G_ said loudly, with his Southern drawl, “Hey lion. Come to papa!” and laughed heartily. We all shushed him, including the party in the safari van next to us. No one wanted to spook the lions. We are not interested in being lion chow!

It seemed the lions enjoyed torturing their prey with fear; the gazelle seemed to be weighing its options. Finally, the gazelle made a decision and we watched as it hightailed it away from the lions, followed hilariously by two tubby warthogs. The strategically positioned lions, did not give chase. Instead, they rose slowly en masse and ambled toward the safari trucks.


Lion pride in Ngorogoro Crater Tanzania
Very intimidating!

We watched as they hulkingly rumbled toward us. In the truck, J___ teased me, “You wanted to see some action. Your window’s open, one of those lions could reach in here.” I quickly closed my window and soon after, a lion strolled right by my window, less than 5-feet away from me. This is one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced.

Lions in Ngorogoro Crater Tanzania Safari | The Girl Next Door is Black
The lions had had enough of the tourists and moved on, abandoning their targets. The lions moved in between our safari truck and another, within spitting distance of me. I promptly closed my window when I realized just how close they were.

After the exciting safari, we returned to the lodge to eat. During lunch at the lodge, our Maasai guide, Zak, and our driver, Grayson, discussed the differences between their two tribes. In Maasai culture, it is okay to have more than one wife, who are sometimes paid for with cows and/or goats. Maasai men can “share” their wives with other Maasai men. This is not the custom is Grayson’s tribe, which practices monogamy.

Zak asked us what happens in the US if a man has more than one wife. He was beside himself with shock when we informed him that it’s call “bigamy” and it’s illegal. Same for Finland, M_ added. Additionally, prior to getting married, Maasai men must endure public circumcision during which they are not allowed to show pain, otherwise they are considered weak and unmanly. Their debate about tribal rituals was amusing. After digesting our last meal, we headed back “home” to begin another week of volunteering.

Group on Safari in Ngorogoro Crater Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Me and the other volunteers and our Maasai guide, Zak.

Tanzania: Safari – Tarangire National Park

I arrived in Moshi on a Friday night after 18 hours of flying and my exciting visa adventure. I’m in Moshi to volunteer teach at a school geared toward female empowerment through education. Four volunteers were already in town when I arrived. I hadn’t gotten a chance to meet them when I arrived at the volunteer house as they’d all gone to the Serengeti fiesta and two of them were hungover. The party sounds epic: it was held in a stadium with at least 3000 attendees, including Maasai tribe members who seem to be quite popular.

The other volunteers planned a weekend safari trip including me and I got up early to join them. G_  is a very tall South Carolinian in his mid-20s, with boundless amounts of energy, a loud voice and an extremely inquisitive nature. In addition to G_, there is: M_ from Finland, also in his mid-20s,  and he’s definitely Finnish: tall, strapping, & broad. He has a deep voice and speaks slightly accented English. He also speaks French, Spanish and German.  K_ is a kind-looking blonde, half-German/half Dutch, but has been in the US for at least 20 years and her adult son, J_ is biracial: his father is a black American. He’s in his early 20s, slender with a swimmer’s build and seems chill. They live in Northern California. Everyone seems friendly. I just met these people 30 minutes prior and I’m going on a weekend trip with them. I hope they are sane. Our safari driver is Grayson and he is assisted by Zak, a Maasai, who dresses in traditional Maasai clothing. They are both very welcoming. We’ll be heading to Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Crater.

Our safari truck
Our safari truck

We all bonded quickly on the 3-hour drive to Tarangire. The volunteers have all traveled a lot and have fascinating stories to tell. G_ had just spent the past year and a half teaching English in Southwest China. M_ and I took a photo together on the way to the park and G_ declared, in his booming voice, “M_ and Keisha, our newest couple.” M_ is cute, so I had no objections and apparently he didn’t either as our whirlwind “relationship” became a running joke throughout the weekend.


Tarangire is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania. During the trek, we saw camouflaged lions lying in wait, salivating over zebras mingling with wildebeests; herds of elephants, antelope, beautifully-colored birds and giraffes.

Elephants in Tarangire National Park
Elephants in Tarangire National Park

We took a lunch break in the park. While eating we met a precocious young boy of about 10-years old, from Oman, named Hilal. He and G_ took a liking to each other right away with their very sociable personalities. Their conversation was highly amusing:

Hilal to G_: “Where are you from?”

G_: “The United States.”

Hilal in wonderment: “Oh man, the United States? I am dreaming!”

G_: “Where are you from?”

Hilal: “Oman.” G: “What’s Oman like?”

Hilal: “We have X-Box and Wii! And I’m getting a Playstation soon!”

Ah yes, all the important things for a young boy. We ran into him two more times on the safari. At the park exit, he and G_ exchanged email addresses so they can write to each other. Their fast friendship is adorable.

Safari Lunch
Safari Lunch

Later that evening we arrived at Haven Nature Lodge  in Lake Manyara where we stayed for the night. The camp has permanent tents and the tent I shared with K_ had two twin beds and an electric outlet which I immediately used to charge my dead electronics. Electricity can be hard to come by here.

At dinner we discussed politics. I was hoping to get away from talk of politics given the 2012 US Presidential election is driving me batty. Ah well. The conversation ran the gamut from my hatred of the state of Florida; heads of state of different countries; America’s obsession with race; colorism in different ethnic groups; capitalism vs. socialism and weed. We were all even-keeled and well-behaved and there were no tears, fights or name-calling. Yep, it is possible to talk politics and race and be civilized. Zak, one of our guides, innocently asked the Americans if bears eat people. He’s never seen one. He’s as fascinated by bears as we are the lions. We told him that bears are much like rhinos and elephants: they are large, intimidating and can hurt humans if they feel threatened, but generally do not care to eat us.

Nighttime performers

After dinner we were treated to a show around a bonfire by a local polygamist tribe. They sang a welcome song, “Jambo, Bwana”, and a few of us joined them in their song and dance. The song is catchy and fun. The tribe sang a few more songs and performed a couple of skits. Iwas moved to tears. I guess I was mourning the loss of a rich African culture that African-Americans had taken away from us.

After the show dispersed I made friendly with a few of the stragglers: two young women, Canadian Ky_, American V_ and an African man, B_ .  V_ had been in Tanzania for a month with a UN program. B_ runs a tour group in Tanzania. He enjoys taking tourists off-the-beaten path. He and V_ met on one of his tours and became fast friends. He took a few days break to join Ky_ and V_ on their adventures. Ky , who reminds me of Amanda Seyfried, had the opportunity to spend time with the Hadzabe tribe and said she wants to join them. B_ laughed at her comment and told her that perhaps she should learn the language first before joining. She’s comical and sweet. I asked B_ how he thinks it is that traditional tribes in Tanzania are able to maintain their culture without being influenced by Western culture. Ky_ chimed in that there is a tribe where up until a few years ago the women who used to go bare-breasted are now covering up and the men who wore loincloths now wear shorts. They’ve discovered modesty. It’s a difficult balance. It’s an engaging discussion, the type that makes traveling worth it. I bid them farewell after a while and told Ky_ that I look forward to seeing her on NatGeo in the Hadzabe tribe one day.

I intended to go to bed, but I spotted M_ and J_, my volunteer-mates, hanging out with a large group of British kids who were smoking non-cigarettes. Even in Africa… They rapped to Nicki Minaj with thick Liverpool accents and it was so hilarious I wanted to video it, but one of the kids was afraid I’d YouTube it (I don’t YouTube anything). They ask me if I like any British rap artists and were unimpressed when I can’t name it. They are young and nuts and I needed to go bed, so off I went after further unimpressing them by telling them I like Elton John.

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