In the chaos of the moment, many of us are asking what we can do to right the ship of state. We talk. We read. We watch. We give money if we can. We “like” things on Facebook. We email our friends and urge them to support candidates – and vote. But, somehow it doesn’t feel like enough.
I write a weekly blog, like this one, and because of the president’s actions and the abundance of low hanging fruit I’ve become more political than I wanted to be. It’s satisfying to some extent but not wholly so.
I’ve been working on a travel-memoir project for almost two years. It’s challenging and time consuming, but in one sense it’s also a vanity project. Today, in view of the country’s turmoil, I resolved to put it in secondary position because of the example set by two remarkable women writers.
Kay Boyle and Grace Paley are two of America’s finest and most underrated writers. Ms. Boyle, who died in 1992, was my Master’s in Fiction advisor in the San Francisco State creative writing program. She’s the author of 14 novels, 8 volumes of poetry, 11 collections of short stories, and three children’s books. The mother of 6, a Paris friend of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Beckett, and Joyce, she was a serious political activist as well. Who says we don’t have enough time to do both.
The other writer is Grace Paley who while not as prolific as Boyle is regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest writers for two collections of short stories, The Little Disturbances of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, a book of essays, and 3 volumes of poetry.
Ms. Boyle (to this day I can’t call her Kay) was an avid admirer and promoter of Paley’s fiction and once told me she asked her when she was going to write the novel everyone was waiting for. Paley, very active in the peace and anti-nuclear movements replied “Right after I save the world.”
In her own book of essays, Just as I Thought, Paley noted their similarities by relating this observation of Boyle at a peace demonstration;
“I looked at this woman, known by me long ago, long admired, doing work I had barely begun myself. So straight. She had great posture from standing up, I think, to assorted villains and fools. Sometimes the collective bully of the state (ours); sometimes the single-minded nastiness of fools.”
I admired her too. I was in law school at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement and thought I’d seen it all until one day when the stately Ms. Boyle, then 68 years old, climbed into the back of a pickup truck and shook her fist at S.I. Hayakawa, the president of San Francisco State College, who was rigidly opposing the establishment of an ethnic studies program. Afterwards, Hayakawa denounced her as “the most dangerous woman in America.” Let’s hear it for dangerous women.
These two women inspired me to be a better writer but also to be a better citizen. Now, with only 64 days to the most important election in my lifetime, I’m resolving to put my vanity project on the back burner in order to see the final chapter in Donald Trump’s vanity project.
So… mask up, call your friends, write letters, gather your neighbors, use social media, support your candidates, and get out the vote. This will take all of us working tirelessly. We need this one badly.