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I haven’t posted anything to this blog since February, 2020. Without exaggeration, I note that I have been, to borrow a phrase, struck dumb by the cataclysmic events of the past  two-and-a-half years: Trumpism; Covid; unnatural disasters (fire, flood, drought, famine, glacial melt) caused at least in part by climate change; January 6, 2021; and most recently  the war in Ukraine, an abomination in its own right and also a perilous proxy for renewed standoff between Russia and the West. What words did I have to scream into the cacophony of dissident voices ranging from the politely controlled panic of PBS’s Judy Woodruff and her reporters to the hypocritical and dangerous rantings of Fox’s Tucker Carlson and his ilk, to deep from the lowest registers of QAnon where the truly crazed and unbelievable holler out a chorus of fantastic lies, insults, threats, and calls to armed rebellion in the name of a twisted patriotism and the twisted man Trump himself. 

The caterwauling became too much for me. Wanting no  part of it, I shut up like a clam, cut off my access to CNN, MSNBC, all channels but PBS, not in protest but to preserve my own sanity. One hour of PBS nightly news; one newspaper, the New York Times; magazines –the Atlantic, The Nation, the New Yorker, and many, many books filled the silence of my days. In my liberal literary bubble, I remained quietly well informed. Maybe a bit smug, to tell the truth. 

Now after these years of brooding darkly about the fate of the earth and the future of my grandchildren and their children, I have given myself a good shake and decided to turn at least some of my attention to several unfinished or never-really -started essays for my blog. The combination of Covid-anxiety and severe back pain has limited my forays into the world beyond my apartment. Hearing loss is limiting my pleasure in being in groups of people. I am good at one-on-one communication and even better at writing what I have to say. No writer writes for herself alone; we all want others to hear us and perhaps respond. Plus, reading and writing supposedly ward off dementia the way garlic keeps vampires away. So here I am again with this introduction to a series of essays on material things and how we construct meaning in relation to them. You may accuse me of solipsism in that I will be writing about me and my life, but that seems better than sounding off about the world’s woes when so many others have said most of what I have to say with style and wit and access to publication. 

I titled my blog One Wild and Precious Life (as did several other writers in tribute to the late Mary Oliver from whose poem The Summer Day we borrow the phrase.) Here is the poem in full: 

The Summer Day 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Reading the poem now, at the age of 82, I focus on the line “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”  Yes, it surely does, I think, and I am prompted by age-sharpened awareness to leave more of myself behind in words about what I want to believe is a precious, if not a wild, life. I want to look back with heightened attention and curiosity at where I, a white woman of my generation in the USA, have been and what I have learned en route. I take as a controlling device, or perhaps a conceit, a few of the material things that I have acquired, lost, created, and valued along the way. 

While waiting for his girlfriend Brenda outside her doctor’s office where she is being fitted for a diaphragm, Neil Klugman, the protagonist of Philip Roth’s novel Goodbye Columbus,  thinks, “If we meet you at all, God, it’s that we’re carnal and acquisitive, and thereby partake of you.” Many centuries earlier, St. Augustine asserted “Our heart is restless until it rests in you,“ you being, of course, the same God Neal self-consciously addresses. We want things; we are encouraged to desire, to covet, to think we need by the capitalist zeitgeist in which we spend our days and TV-ad-enduring nights. We are restless consumers. The world may be, as Wordsworth reminds us, “too much with us,” but we love the things of the world and, I plan to assert, we often invest them with meaning, see them as symbols, treasure the memories they evoke, mourn when we break or lose them. Are those impulses signals of a buried desire to know God? Churches invest material items with spiritual significance, even to the extent of claiming that in the Catholic mass the materials of wine and bread are transformed by a priest into the real blood and body of Christ. While I don’t plan to make any such claims about getting closer to the divine, I can’t help but think of the “pagans” and animists and pantheists who find the divine in nature, of the many “false idols” worshiped before the Israelites declared for monotheism.  Many “things” are sacralized in worship –the host, the Torah, the Koran itself– as conduits to the divine. I make no claim to gaining proximity to God, but I do believe that there are spiritual significances assigned by us to more ordinary, domestic “things.” Or so I will argue in the blogs to come. Stay tuned.

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12 thoughts on “Back Again: Breaking My Silence

  1. Hi Paula—I’m so glad you will be writing again. You have a wise and literate voice, and your many fans have missed hearing it.

    So I am very much looking forward to reading your thought-provoking essays (I have often thought about your wise essay about your cat—which I have just gone back and reread—and which has seemed particularly relevant as Howard and I now share our lives with a year-old pup who has taught me much about being loving and “human”).

    Also obviously looking forward to seeing you at Chloe’s Bat-Mitzvah in a few weeks.

    Meanwhile, be well and keep writing!

    Fondly,

    Marilyn

    >

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    1. Thank you, Marilyn, I look forward to seeing you next week. I too feel that my thinking about “animals” and love has changed since I adopted Sappho. We had several family pets, canine and feline, over the years; but I regarded them with less affection and interest. This return to my blog is about exploring and rethinking assumptions and conventional ways of seeing the world. I appreciate your interest. Warmly, Paula

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  2. Eloquent and evocative as always! I am looking forward to hearing your ruminations on the divine and how we (at least in western society) have come to think and feel about that. Spiritual evolution and exploration is my passion these days, as I delve into Chinese as well as Christian spiritual traditions, from the simple base of my formerly atheistic mindset. Blessings!

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    1. Dear Len, I think we may be treading similar paths en route to understanding a spirituality not lodged in a particular church system, in fact, quite different, in my case, from the religion in which I was raised. I’ll be messaging separately about my visit to your qigong website. Many questions, much interest. Thank you for reading my blog. Warmly, Paula

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  3. I believe there is no need for a church in your life. You can speak to God any time you wish. I have notice most churches have their hand out for your money, then when people need help they refuse to open the doors to help them. I see more do as I say not do as I do in churches.

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  4. With school starting, it’s taken a minute to catch up, but thoroughly enjoy as always. My only question would be, are you sure you haven’t led a “wild” life? In the iconic words of WJC, it’s all about the definition of wild…Glad that you’re feeling inspired and refreshed; we still have much to learn from you!

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