Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blood and Money

What I mind, of course, is that my time is getting short, that I won't see my youngest grandchild grow up -- those things that you're gonna miss. I remember my father feeling like that. I have a poem about it -- he knew he wasn't gonna see the end of the Vietnam War. He said: "Goddammit, I'll never know how they got out." There's a lot you won't know. And there's sadness because your friends are dying. And with the terrible things in the world, with the idea that you're gonna leave the world maybe worse than you found it -- I don't like that feeling at all.
Grace Paley died last week. She was 85, and had lived the sort of life anyone could be proud of. She was a writer and activist. That quote is from an interview she did with Salon 9 years ago.

If you want to know more about Grace Paley, I recommend Robin Morgan's fantastic tribute(link via Heart):
Grace was my neighbor, too, a decades-long Greenwich Village denizen. When I’d find her leafleting on 6th Avenue—for lesbian marriage, Palestinian rights, whatever—I’d stop to chat or join her. Passers-by rarely recognized the 4-foot-10-inches-tall, age-84 “little old lady in tennis shoes” as a titan of American literature. Once, while I skimmed a leaflet’s jargon, she whispered sadly, “I didn’t write it.” Obvious, but her wordsmith’s standards leaked, though she quickly added, “Lissen, so what, it says what’s needed.”
I don't know enough about Grace Paley to write a proper tribute. I just want to talk about one paragraph she wrote, a paragraph that has stayed with me. I haven't actually read any of her books, just her collection of non-fiction writing Just As I Thought.I loved this book so much. It's about women, writing and activism and I think you should go and read it right now. The paragraph I loved most went like this:
It is possible to write about anything in the world, but the slightest story ought to contain the facts of money and blood in order to be interesting to adults. That is, everybody continues on this earth by courtesy of certain economic arrangements; people are rich or poor, make a living or don't have to, are useful to systems or superfluous. And blood - the way people live as families or outside of families or in the creation of family, sisters, sons, fathers, the blood ties. Trivial work ignores these two FACTS and is never comic or tragic.
I've come to see that statement as the most important feature of good fiction. So much of what is untrue, or uninteresting comes from authors who ignore their characters' blood, or money.

Grace Paley fought for the things that matters, whether in her fiction, or in her life.

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