Friday, January 20, 2006

What do you cover?

I heard a public radio interview today with Kenji Yoshino, a Yale Law professor who has published a book called Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. He made some interesting statements about how people in U.S. culture are encouraged to "cover", to hide aspects of themselves that would make them stand out as different from mainstream culture, whether those differences are racial, sexual, ethnic, religious or just ones of personality (a man who hates sports, for example). Diversity is accepted and preached but we receive subtle but strong pressure to silence or not express those parts of us which are different enough to cause others to become uncomfortable (being blind, being gay, being poor, being a sexual victim, male or female, etc.). The one exception he mentioned is the marketplace...if some aspect of, for example, being black (rap) or being gay (Queer Eye) proves to be hip and popular, it is accepted and incorporated into the mainstream while other aspects which are not fashionable are discouraged or put down as strange and unacceptable.

Yoshino had larger issues to make about how this concept of covering influences civil rights legislation (behavior, not identity is regulated). It got me thinking though about how we all actively cover, really manage, what parts of ourselves we are willing to show to different people in different situations (Psych 101, right?).

But it connected with a quote I had read earlier today from an E.B. White essay, "The Second Tree from the Corner" (in a Ralph Keyes book about writing) where a man named Trexler goes to see a psychiatrist because his fears and anxieties are crippling him. The session has mixed success but Trexler feels a bit more free afterwards because he is "unembarrassed at being afraid; and in the jungle of his fear he glimpsed (as he had so often glimpsed them before) the flashy tail feathers of the bird courage." Keyes goes on to say that White was a beloved writer because he was "so willing to sail boldly into the squall of his own fears, commenting on the trip as he went" (1995:5).

Fear is so visceral. You break out into a sweat, you hyperventilate, your eyes dialate, your heart rate shoots through the roof, your muscles tense up, and your stomach does cartwheels. It pulses through your body. Meanwhile, your mind is actively scanning the physical, psychological, and verbal horizons for that one reliable source of relief: an escape!

The idea of not only being unembarrassed by our fears--not "covering" them--but to "sail boldly" into the midst of them, requires a courage that eludes me at the present moment. But it does inspire me to try to take a different approach to writing anxiety than the one that is my typical reflex--busying myself with something completely unimportant in comparison (cleaning, writing letters, playing Sudoku, um, writing in a blog). Something to muse about over the weekend...