Grace Paley


Safely becoming. Already becoming. Always becoming. It is safe to become who I am. That sounds weird, but what I’ve been addressing lately was the un-safety of becoming a young woman; the un-safety that I experienced as a girl. I am really tired of re-plowing that ground and want to move on to something a little lighter.

And I do feel lighter, as if by sharing that story I’ve spit a stone out from my gut. Which implies that I once swallowed that stone. Did I? Or was the stone something that grew inside me like a kidney stone? Anyway, yesterday was a little rough, but by evening I began to feel that I had successfully regurgitated the stone. I am lighter and feel relief.

I got my first car, a 1966 Volvo wagon, just before I turned twenty-one. It was namedvolvo122samazon Amazon, not just by me, but by the Volvo company. No joke. When I checked out the owner’s manual, passed on to me by the guy from whom I bought the car, there it was. The manual was tiny, just over an eighth of an inch thick, compared to the volumes that come with cars today.

There on the binding it said AMAZON in small print. As a young feminist, I was delighted. The probably mythical Amazons were strong women, fighters from an ancient matrilineal society. It was imagery that I needed and eagerly grasped. If I could take on the bearing of an Amazon, I would be safe, without the need to be protected by others.

greekvaseamazonAmazon was an image that meant a lot to me in my twenties. I stood tall as I made my way into fields that had been previously defined as male-only. I took some flak for pushing my way in, but I didn’t back down. Then, somewhere in my thirties I lost sight of the Amazon incarnation, except as it applied to my cars. Each successive (I’m currently driving my fifth, and possibly final) Volvo wagon has been my Amazon.

It seems that I didn’t need to hold that self-image during my parenting years. I was strong because I was a mother. I was the protector of my child and always told her that what mattered the most to me was that she was safe and happy. Safe was and is a really important element of parenting. But now that she has begun to guide her own life and take responsibility for her own safety, in both the literal and figurative sense, I am back to me.

So I think once again about the Amazon within. What I sense is that the Amazon no longer needs to fight. She no longer needs to strike a pose, assuming the posture of a defender. I am a retired Amazon, solid and safe, by my own design. The world is no less threatening than it was 45 years ago, but I can meet those assailants, face those battles from a less militant stance.

I am solid, I am safe, a retired Amazon, content to focus more on my inner life than battlingavt_grace-paley_9439 the nightmares of my youth. Don’t misunderstand me; I am not stepping away from the need to speak out against injustice. Among the sheroes and fighting female role models I have known, the late Grace Paley was a shining example of a woman who never quit speaking (and acting) up.