Grace Paley died this week. She was 84.
In the summer of 1998 I was working in Vermont at the Bread & Puppet Theater, when I looked over to my left to discover that Grace was operating the giant head puppet with me. I had a certain kind of starstruck--the surprise of her suddenly next to me, involved in the same activity. And yet, why shouldn't she? The puppet was cumbersome, heavy, and required many small movements coordinated by four or five people, all choreographed by sound cues that included, among others, listen for the banjo-playing goats to emerge from the woods--forty yards away. "This is hard," she said.
There is a certain kind of pressure, cosmic perhaps, that you feel when a person like Grace Paley dies, if you see yourself as the kind of person with similar interests in politics, art, and personal responsibility--and if you, like me, see the lines between those three divisions as negligible, blurred possibilities, not actual divisions. She said in an interview once: "Whatever your calling is, whether it's as a plumber or an artist, you have to make sure there's a litte more justice in the world when you leave it than when you found it."