By Lisa Schumaier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 20, 2003
It is impossible to discuss Grace Paley along with the weather. Her name does not come up when you are scurrying to lecture but have to stop and say hello to a friend from the dorms. She is not an item on your grocery list. Grace Paley is not idle banter and neither is her writing. "Just As I Thought" is a gathering of her short essays, memoirs, and narratives.
Although this book is relatively new, the non-fiction stories act as a timeline of her life and career. It is important to mention that this woman made her debut over 50 years ago, most notably during the women's movement and civil rights movement. From then on, she used her staunch voice like a crowbar, prying into every national and international affair. Many of her chapters deal with the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and U.S governmental policies. They were affairs where she did and did not belong, where she was wanted and others that gave her the name of "troublemaker."
Paley writes about them then to remind us of now. History is crucial in understanding our complicated present time. Some of her chapters did not seem like they were written 10 or 20 years ago, because they deal with the quandaries and inconsistencies of war ¸ a topic presently controversial and pending. Today her ideas are being called into question by a new generation of activists. Reading "Just As I Thought," activists can be inspired by the fervor of Paley's radical spirit.
In her introduction is a disclaimer of sorts. "This is not an autobiographical collection, but it is about my life. Many of the pieces are political even when they take on literary subjects ¸ a reaction not unnatural to me or deliberate." Paley speaks of the artist as inherently political.
"The Value of Not Understanding Everything" is a three-page abstract reason why Paley writes. Delivering it as advice to other writers, she is actually explaining what has fascinated her to write and has fascinated fans about her.
"What the writer doesn't understand the first thing about is just what he acts like such a specialist about ¸ and that is life. And the reason he writes is to explain it all to himself, and the less he understands the more he probably writes. He takes this understanding Ě and simply never gets over it."
We could all use some time with a troublemaker. Also, this is a backpack book. As students, we barely have time to read anything we actually want to. Between dozing off with Faulkner and reciting a to-do list with books by Ph.Ds and M.D.s who think they can write, Paley is conscious of her audience and the human condition. However, all of these are a couple pages that you can read in between class. Five minutes with her can shred any apathy and make you want to start a revolution out by the shoe vendors on the Mall. It is a form of productive fast food. The effort and commitment are minimal, but it will fill you up more than you thought.