Salient points [#5] – The gravity and grace of Paley

Tomorrow will come.

This phrase is lifted from a Grace Paley short story entitled, ‘My father addresses me on the facts of old age’. It is a useful read for anyone, perhaps anyone of adult age: a meditation on living, loving and longing. In the tale the three words quoted above are specifically used in the potent recall of a Great Depression survivor…

I mean tomorrow – I was there when tomorrow came in 1929 – and so I say to them in their millions: ha ha ha, tomorrow will come.

As a reader I savour the three words in mind as a useful mantra, just as I feel in my marrow the whole story as a kind of memento mori: As sure as you will die, you must seize the day, live the present, love the moment.

To me, this short and Paley’s other writings that I have read are marked by tenderness and cleverness. The ‘My father…’ short is a smart, sophisticated story written in a seemingly childish, chatty style. It is crammed full of ‘facts’ as having been lived by the protagonist father, and relayed in his ‘address’…

It is a cornucopia: warnings, advice, requests, self-reflection (“we were serious Socialists”). It is laced with criticism of Turgenev and Dostoyevsky, some frank talk of sex, pearls of wisdom, derision of divisive labels, roles, cultures such as are maintained by ‘men and women’. It is riddled with codified nods and winks and humour. It all has the sense of an ending, and it all leads irrevocably to a suitable ending, with a telling punchline: “something like a joke but… very serious.”

Audio version of Paley’s short, linked through the Paley portrait, below.

Street portrait of Grace Paley (by unknown)
A snapshot portrait of Paley (credit unknown) – her hat is particularly good!

You can listen to the gravity and grace of this Paley short, as well as a brief discussion around the tale, in a New Yorker podcast
linked through the picture…


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