Pen Pal Project

Relaxing is not my strength

June 30, 2015

Miami Beach

Dear Reva,

Guess what I decided to do? After emptying the final cardboard box, and before launching into some very serious work to meet my deadlines on The Book, I decided that some head-clearing was in order. So I have retreated to the beach for a few days, where I am doing yoga classes, eating kale and quinoa, and listening to the ocean. All this relaxing is hard, distracting work, so you should recognize, in today’s post, the intensity of my commitment to The Pen Pal Project.

Relaxing…have I mentioned that this is one of the few things that I can’t seem to master, no matter how hard I try? My whole life people have been telling me to relax, and I am constantly disappointing them. I’m intense. I’m high-energy. I’m sensitive. I’m ambitious and driven and hilarious, but I’m not relaxed. Sitting still bores me, unless I have a book in my hands. My mind is never quiet.

This is an excellent quality when it comes to generating creative ideas, or moving house, or navigating a crisis, or multi-tasking your way through life. It is, however, an obstacle when it comes to sustained creative work. Writing requires a kind of emptiness that invites the story in to fill it. Opening up that space has always been harder for me than the writing itself. I once dropped out of a mindfulness meditation class because I found it too stressful.

Anyway, I wanted to respond to your letter about race, which I found fascinating and brave, and also challenging, because I think that educated, left-leaning white people, people who believe in equality, people who have a vocabulary for talking about discrimination in all of its overt and subtle forms – people like me, in other words – have absolutely no idea how to talk about race.

We have non-white friends and colleagues, and we are glad that we do. It comforts us to feel that our non-white friends are exactly like us. The fact is, though, that our non-white friends are not exactly like us. They have experiences that we will never have, like being stopped by security guards at the mall or in their cars because of their skin colour, or being taken aside by airport security because of their surnames.

We. You see how I did that?

What I meant to say, really, was that *I* will never have these experiences. I’m horrified that my friends do. I’m sickened by the grotesque displays of racism that play out in the nightly news. I’m hideously disappointed that racial discrimination is still so relentlessly present in our lives. And yet I am so wary of embarrassing myself, of giving offence, of putting a foot wrong in the political minefield of race, that I tend to avoid the topic altogether.

But that doesn’t help anyone, does it?



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