Following years of escaping in cities, Jana Richman revisits her hometown, Utah, in a journey that unravels her emotions and childhood wounds. In her 2018 book “Finding Stillness in a Noisy World,” she guides her readers through a transformative and eye-opening journey in which she explores transverse feelings including fear, love, and loss in a compilation of short essays, which can be read in no particular order.
Richman communicates in a straightforward, light and relatable manner. Her words flow smoothly; however, the emotional-shifts and transformations require us to be being fully invested, both emotionally and analytically. Her essays, filled with vivid descriptions, speak to our senses, creating a text that is both thought-provoking and captivating, prompting us to dwell in her words while reflecting on their feelings, experiences, and struggles.
She also writes in a reflective manner, inclusive of numerous experiences and perspectives as well as a synthesis of elements existing on both micro and macro levels. Thus, allowing her reader to delve into their emotions through her words. She effectively utilizes other authors’ insights to give her readers, and perhaps herself, a clearer understanding. For instance, when she explores suffering, she refers to Buddhist nun and author Pema Chödrön, who suggests that we cause our suffering. Here, Chödrön’s title as a nun provides the input of someone who carries different views, beliefs and value systems.
Moreover, she addresses our complex and liable human nature as well as problems unique to our globalized age, relevant to those who feel like they are always struggling to catch up with time. For instance, globalization brings diverse groups together, which poses a threat to those accustomed to living in homogenous societies. Here, Richman examines the fears of newcomers in her hometown and the ignorance that accompanies it; she explains how a single phenomenon can trigger various emotional responses in a group of people.
In her chapter “Affordable Care,” she discusses social media, the pressures of it, and the difficulty of balancing contradictory feelings. She addresses a dilemma we all face, which she calls “the competition for caring,” in which we face pressure to care beyond our human capacity about several causes all at once. She moves on to question whether compassion and peace can coexist in our complex world. This specific chapter left me with several questions; namely, am I caring if I can find a moment of peace to myself without contemplating every problem existing in our world?
“Affordable Care” is distinguished by its timelessness as well. It delves into a discussion of how we no longer “sit with issues” or admit our ignorance — an issue that increasingly prominent in social media as people are always defensive, refusing to inquire before speaking. As I went read through her journey, I found Richman’s writing to be both comforting yet distressing because it forced me to revisit my thoughts, fears, and insecurities.
Although the chapters can be read independently, the book is cohesive as it explores common themes; namely, solitude, nature, and death.
Solitude is a prominent theme throughout the book that all other topics stem from. Richman discusses both our desires to be alone and to be around people, as well as the eye-opening experiences solitude can offer a person.
Self-exploration through seclusion is done in nature, which is another dominant theme throughout her book. She introduces it in her first essay by disagreeing with her neighbor’s bumper sticker that says: “Wilderness: The Land of No Use.” Richman paints vivid pictures, taking her reading through her long walks in the wilderness, alone and with her husband, as well as her ancestors’ experience when they walked the Mormon Trail. In all her discussions, she points to the human connection to nature, favoring it over the industrial world that took over our cities. She explains how nature has full authority over humans; without it, we are reduced to nothing. We are not whole, missing a big part of our distinctive character: “My knowledge of this place is the depth of a rain puddle, yet somehow I know that my understanding of this place is fundamental to my understanding of this life.”
Her admiration ascends into complete glorification. Richman’s descriptions of the human bond with nature and her focus on traveling alone are similar to German romanticism that arose in the late 18th century as there seems to be a spiritual aspect to it. This is further emphasized when she refers to monks in one of her discussions on the importance of being alone; drowning in the sound of birds and the wind that’s blowing through the leaves, blending entirely in nature, and eventually surrendering to it.
My favorite chapter of this book is “The Curling Fingers of Hatch The Women,” which combines most of the themes discussed in the book: fear, loss, pain, ignorance, and human weakness as well as love, faith, evolution, and the desire for growth. Perhaps most notably, is the complete surrender to nature, which is represented in her anecdote of the hatch hands that suffered from arthritis for generations. Richman says: “Every morning now my hands scrabble with containers of calcium tablets, fish oil softgels, glucosamine chondroitin capsules … They are Hatch hands, now curled as if they hold a fond memory of gripping a Ball fruit jar filled with pear halves.” Further, the chapter explores the idea of death wherein it is something humans try to delay on one hand, and it is an escape from the pains inflicted by life on the other.
“Finding Stillness in a Noisy World” was published June 29, 2018, by the University of Utah Press. Jana Richman also published a memoir, “Riding in the Shadows of Saints: A Woman’s Story of Motorcycling the Mormon Trail,” and two novels: “The Ordinary Truth” and “The Last Cowgirl,” which received the Willa Award for Contemporary Fiction.