My name is Zadie Smith, and I am a 38-year-old pathological reader. I would like to say in my defense that I don’t really get the appeal of YOLO. I live many times over. Hypothetical, subterranean lives that run beneath the relative tedium of my own and have the power to occasionally penetrate or even derail it. I find it hard to name the one book that was so damn delightful it changed my life. The truth is, they have all changed my life, every single one of them—even the ones I hated. Books are my version of “experiences.” I’m made of them. But every summer I hope to take a book to a beach and pretend that it’s only an occasional thing, a seasonal indulgence, which will be put down come September, as I return, like any civilian, to real life.
I’d always believed I was being unfair to my fictional characters if I didn’t grant them the chance to redeem themselves with desire or effort, with earnest attempts to transcend their flaws and limitations. It felt unfair to be their God and then refuse them certain saving nuances. But in my essays I was doing just this — refusing myself access to anything but my own worst tendencies. So I had to consent to making myself something more than a brat or a binger — to treat myself to the rigorous grace of complication instead.
It was that female art of multitasking, he would conclude, that witchy capacity that girls possessed, that allowed them to retain dual and triple threads of attention at once. Girls could distinguish constantly and consciously between themselves and the performance of themselves, between the form and the substance. This double-handed knack, this perpetual duality, meant that any one girl was both an advertisement and a product at any one time. Girls were always acting. Girls would reinvent themselves, he later thought, with a sour twist to his mouth and his free hand flattening the hair on his crown, and boys could not.
Last night I threw a rock into the Charles and said “fear” and that was the thing I was determined to let go. I had eaten a milkshake almost wordlessly after work, spooning it into my mouth on a park bench under string lights in Harvard Square. It was hot and the air smelled like vomit. My friend and I walked out to the river then and sat on the ground and looked at the water. I cried, and then my friend put rocks into my hands and told me to say something I am frustrated with and throw. I was tired of crying so I did it. I don’t remember what the first thing I said was. We took turns naming our battles small and large and throwing rocks. There were so many things.
It can be exhausting to be a person who cares this much. I miss the easy rhythm of Chapel Hill and the lilt of its whispering leaves, its wholesome greenness and bricks and bikes. I am tired of doubting myself. I am tired of thinking the worst of my work. I am tired of this jagged routine. I am tired of people’s cruelty. What I want is something sweeter, softer, calmer, something that leaves me feeling comfortable at the end of the day. I don’t need total stability; the thrill of work is often in the high-pressure. It’s the pressure I put on myself that I want to ease. I do not need to be perfect. I am enough.
I threw rocks into the river because even though I know what I should be doing, I don’t do it. I threw rocks into the river because we often know what we need and neglect ourselves. I want to remember that I am enough, that doubt is okay, that my worries are okay. What I want to let go of is fear.
Writer, reader, journalist. 21.
Into books, burritos, aimless walks and front porches.