Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Thank you, Grace

Toby Talbot, AP

Paley said in a 1998 interview with the online magazine Salon: "Whatever your calling is, whether it's as a plumber or an artist, you have to make sure there's a little more justice in the world when you leave it than when you found it."

Grace Paley died (breast cancer) last year, at 84. This last new book, Fidelity, is a voice "from beyond the grave," one reviewer wrote. I've always had a special fondness for Grace Paley, though I never met her. I was touched intensely by the energy presence I felt as soon as I became aware of her, from reading an article, or perhaps when I first found her book, The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Men and Women at Love (1959). Then, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. (1974). I only remember this was so long ago, and the memory lingers. I bought paperback copies somewhere, and carried them with me sometimes for a while, to read bits here and there. Sometimes I laughed out loud at lines. I loved her "sketches," the no-nonsense way she had of dramatizing moments, or telling them as they were, with the low-key drama that is inherent in so much experience. Her titles made perfect sense to me. I had a tendency to let words drag weight behind them. I thought sometimes it was like constantly throwing fallen trash back into the heap on the moving truck in front of me. Driving, in front, or behind, always there seemed to be debris. Grace Paley counteracted this for me. I loved her unique way of capturing character in a glance, of distilling a life in a few words, where rhythm and space could give all the pause needed to take one more breath before moving on, and perhaps forgetting.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be an "original thinker." To blaze internal trails. To let a mind think freely, as love feeds it. I realize how I have so often depended upon old thoughts, thoughts I've already rehashed, expecting new life. A familiar saying attributed to Einstein is, We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

If, as one reviewer says, loss of memory becomes an acceptance of another facet of identity, rather than simply the physical struggle to remember, then we can celebrate the nudges we give each other, ourselves, as we feel the familiar warmth of love, of the sun. It's us, we say, we create. Hers are never wasted words - they remind us of all Grace can mean.

I forget the names of my friends
and the names of the flowers in
my garden my friends remind me
Grace it’s us the flowers just
stand there stunned by the sun

Regina Hackett posted In Honor of Grace Paley on the Seattle PI blog, in August of 2007. Here's a bit from hers that I like:
Here's a sample of what makes her memorable, her hearty voice, from My Jewish Learning, reprinted from "Jewish American Literature, A Norton Anthology":
"I lived my childhood in a world so dense with Jews that I thought we were the great imposing majority and kindness had to be extended to the others because, as my mother said, everyone wants to live like a person. In school I met my friend Adele, who, together with her mother and father, were not Jewish. Despite this, they often seemed to be in a good mood."

Thank you, Grace.

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