I’ve fallen in love with the work of Joan Didion. Her observations on life, her dealings with grief, with the death of both her husband and her daughter within two years of one another, her belief in the value of introspection, of sorting ones own thoughts, arranging them in a manner that increases their clarity and value, she is endlessly sifting the wheat from the chaff in prose that lilts the mind to thoughtfulness and contemplation. Her sentence structure is enviable at every turn, her words are simultaneously sparse and abundant, simple and complicated, they are the right words.
“I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read me, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind. I want you to understand exactly what you are getting: you are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest people. You are getting a woman who somewhere along the line misplaced whatever slight faith she ever had in the social contract, in the meliorative principle, in the whole grand pattern of human endeavor. Quite often during the past several years I have felt myself a sleepwalker, moving through the world unconscious of the moment’s high issues, oblivious to its data, alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot, the bike boys stripping down stolen cars on the captive cripple’s ranch, the freeway sniper who feels “real bad” about picking off the family of five, the hustlers, the insane, the cunning Okie faces that turn up in military investigations, the sullen lurkers in doorways, the lost children, all the ignorant armies jostling in the night. Acquaintances read The New York Times, and try to tell me the news of the world. I listen to call-in shows.” ~ Joan Didion, The White Album ~
And what you must know about the context of this quote is that it is timeless, but that it is very much of a product of the time, the place, and the situations, that Joan Didion was in. What you must know about Joan Didion is that you didn’t know that she was there, ground zero at the center of everything. What you must know is that Joan Didion shopped for and picked out the dress that Linda Kasabian wore when she testified.
Harrison Ford was her carpenter. She loves The Doors, she knew them in their beginnings, sat on the floor and listened. She has x-ray vision with a gossamer filter on it that renders the intolerable indignities of living into the spun silk of valuable experience through her writing. “The Center Will Not Hold”, directed by Didion’s nephew, actor and director, Griffin Dunne, is a worthwhile watch for any writer. For me, the words of Joan Didion have become a godsend as they have helped me rediscover my own voice.