Reviewed by Angela L. Eckhart
Jana Richman, author of a memoir and two novels, writes, “The noise of the world seems to increase with each passing year, while my tolerance for it decreases.” How many readers can identify with that? She then poses the question, “Instead of insisting on being heard, what if we all sat in stillness for a while?” This is what her new collection of essays, Finding Stillness in a Noisy World (The University of Utah Press, June 2018), encourages her to seek.
Richman explores the sanctity and desire for solitude in fifteen essays on varying topics, and while they are presented in no particular order, she does suggest they be read in the sequence in which they appear. The essays contain themes of universal emotions: fear, love, ignorance, loneliness, compassion, and more. She has spent most of her life in rural Utah, yet at one point in early adulthood, she escaped to experience the city life. However, she once again yearned to return to her Utah roots, thinking, “Our lives are often driven by a desire to hold tight to what we have or to recapture something we’ve lost.” Some of us may feel the same way or even experience those same thoughts about returning to the place where we were raised, regardless if we couldn’t wait to leave years ago.
Her essays explore issues that affect us all, such as overpopulation and scarcity of natural resources, including loving someone who suffers from depression. In contrast with the public’s ignorance to any problems that society faces, she focuses attention on the beauty of the natural world and her hope to sustain what mother nature has given to us. She encourages us to be “still” and contemplate solutions, rather than add to the problems. “We no longer sit with issues, ponder them, question them, discuss them. We have no tolerance for letting thoughts develop and evolve,” she writes. “When asked to take a position—it seldom occurs to us that we have the option not to. We’re quick to take a stand and quick to take offense.”
Likewise, she offers an admirable outlook to the simple truth of how our society keeps contributing to overpopulation, yet she does this with delicacy. “We may not be capable of voluntarily shrinking our population to live within our natural means. Our instinct for individual creation obviously overrides our instinct—assuming we have one—for preservation of the whole, so maybe we simply continue down that road until we can go no farther.” It’s difficult to imagine what the world will look like a thousand years from now, especially with advances in medicine and people living longer. Add that to continuous procreation, and some may wonder how many natural resources will remain for future generations to enjoy.
Richman’s passion for reconnecting with nature embodies her essay, “On Walking.” She says, “I would argue that the world since 1968 has become noisier and significantly more absurd, and the need to remove ourselves from that world, more essential.” She frequently retreats from the “noise” and takes full advantage of returning to nature, and she enjoys walking with her husband. In this essay, she points out how she is able to say what she needs to say to him, rather than remaining silent and dealing with confrontation. Somehow, through walking together, they are able to connect. “Conversations that feel invasive and insidious in the confines of four walls flow effortlessly while walking, as if the literal pumping of blood required to move the body coincides with a metaphorical opening of the heart.”
Similarly, in “Dirt Fantasies,” she writes eloquently about the beauty and richness of dirt.” Here, she and her husband hike to a creek, no one else around, and they “lived as close to the earth as modern humans from an unnatural civilization can live.” They slather themselves with silky dirt and rinse in the cool creek. Richman’s descriptions are luscious and evoke sensuality. It is as if the reader becomes a voyeur during this magical, personal experience she shares with her husband.
Richman’s inspirational, evocative, and humbling essays depict the human condition for which we can all relate or at least think about. Her voice instructs us to take pause, to “stop manipulating, stop blaming, stop accusing, stop overgeneralizing, stop lying, stop giving ultimatums, stop threatening, stop demanding, stop fearmongering. Stop yelling. Stop screaming. Stop stomping feet and pounding fists. Please let us stop. Pause for a moment. Listen. Breathe.” Imagine how much better people might feel if they took the time to appreciate some silence.[boxer set=”eckhart”]