Joan Didion and her bits

Joan Didion and Quintana Roo

“Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs.  The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout.  And so we do.  But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.’  We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

–Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook,” Slouching Towards Bethlehem, p. 136.

I just began reading Blue Nights.  The passage above from Didion’s much older essay has been with me as I approach a still-too-tender writing project.  It’s stuff I will write about some day, though more time must first elapse.  I need perspective, and this is too messy and raw.  Meanwhile I put bits into a jar (or notebook) to save, to turn over, to approach for the quilt when it’s time.

Meanwhile, merely typing Didion’s words (and reading her new memoir) is a comfort and a privilege.

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2 responses to “Joan Didion and her bits

  1. This is one of my favorite essays by Didion. I can see so much of myself in her observations, although, I cannot seem to keep a notebook!

    • I keep notebook(s), lest I forget everything, but I don’t know if I will ever go back through them methodically. As it happens, it seems the times when there’s a lot going on in front of my mind (and things that need my immediate and constant attention) I don’t write much down. So I likely won’t have the harvest there. Then there’s the question that Didion deals with in Blue Nights (one of many questions she deals with) about confronting people she’s lost in every drawer, every closet, their detritus, things for which, she writes, “there is no satisfactory resolution.” That idea has been haunting me. The things she kept (of her husband, of her daughter) and cannot give away, throw away, but also does not want to see, it doesn’t help her to see those things. Lots to think about in Blue Nights.

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