Joan Didion made anxiety beautiful. Odd as that may sound, her writing captures the undercurrent of electricity running through daily life, sometimes stronger, sometimes not, that ultimately makes us human. Our ruminations fascinate us. Our worries, uniquely ours. And nobody does anxiety like Didion.
Credit Image: © Photo by Michael A. Jones/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press
From her essay "Los Angeles Notebook," published in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which captures the crazy-making spirit of the Santa Ana winds:
The city burning is Los Angeles's deepest image of itself: Nathanael West perceived that, in The Day of the Locust; and at the time of the 1965 Watts riots what struck the imagination most indelibly were the fires. For days one could drive the Harbor Freeway and see the city on fire, just as we had always known it would be in the end ... The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.
Didion is best-known for her essays, though she also wrote novels, screenplays and feature articles. Her latest book, The Year of Magical Thinking, was written after the death of her late husband, John Gregory Dunne.
Here she is, talking to Katie Couric about The Year of Magical Thinking.
I admire Didion's ability to capture the physicality, the itchiness of apprehension. The next few quotes are from her novel Play It as It Lays:
By the time Carter came back to town in February the dialogue was drained of energy, the marriage lanced.
I'd be terrified to sit down with her at dinner, as she seems to see straight through people and situations:
There was a silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.
I love a writer whose words stick with me years after I read her books. I read everything I've quoted here more than ten years ago. I'm still haunted by this:
She did not decide to stay in Vegas; she only failed to leave.
My life rushes past most days like my Twitter stream, with me wading in and out of consciousness, trying to function as a wife, mother, employee, daughter, sister, friend and writer. Didion nails what really happens while we're focusing on getting the job done; her writing is both painful and essential reading.
It requires talent to see lightning in one's distress.
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