Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I feel I have been too dismissive towards Joan Didion these past few years. My disdain grew slowly, although punctuated with sadness. From my early 20s on, I read everything I could stand by her, including her novel Play It As It Lays. I gifted The White Album to several friends whom I hold truly dear. I count Slouching Toward Bethlehem a book of the Bible, my bible, the one I have created for myself. When I read After Henry, I practically had to spit the experience out of me. In this book, she accounts her loss as a writer after the death of her beloved and devoted editor Henry _________. Her loss is utterly convincing, especially when she describes her debt to him as an editor, and one can see that, in fact, he seemed to have co-written all her books. The writing Didion does in this book, without her now-dead editor, is so terrible, clunky and pitiful, I felt like, "Shit, woman. You can barely write." I felt like this because as I said, the writing style was awful; i.e. not Joan Didion in the way I had come to know her as a writer.

However, just now I read a quote by her -- she's quoted everywhere! -- where she says, "I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl, but I didn't want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn't realize then that it's the same impulse. It's make-believe. It's performance." *

That's right, I think. She's absolutely right. And I feel connected to her again, deeply, like I did when I was younger. And I remember that she is human (always was), and a great one at that, one who has left a legacy of storytelling and life experience so textured and vibrant, so dark and dramatic, so mundane and pedestrian, few can come close to her brilliance. I want to apologize to the universe for having held her up to ridiculous standards. I'm sorry.

* Quoted from The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner.


Chris said...

I know. I have a new account and the real problem I find is that people with whom I have no relation, people whom I knew for 4 years in high school, contact me and expect me to be excited about it.

"Like OMG, how have you been, what have you been up to. It's been like forever!"

And all I want to say is "it has been and wadda ya say we keep it that way... no hard feelings... your practically a stranger to me... I knew you for 4 years, 20+ years ago and even then, you were just an acquaintance..."

amywynne said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I found you because of your sleep nonsense entry from '05. I sit here during my precious no-screaming 8-10:15pm when I should be sleeping, cleaning, something, anything but reading some somebody's blog . . . by the time I got to Slouching Toward Bethlehem being part of your personal bible I was actually sad I left Houston because I might have met you somewhere. Brazil where my husband and I had our first date . . . I didn't know there was a "new" one until I read this. At any rate, thank you for "showing up" (my writer friend says that is always the hardest part) and sharing your words.

BTW, on the sleep thing, I try to apply Joan's trifecta of loving, discriminating, and remaining indifferent to my 6 month-old girl's cries at 3am . . . that doesn't work either.