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Cruel Compendium #41 🌠
Mourning Joan Didion, and saying goodbye to all that
HAPPY NEW YEAR EARTH ANGELS! I hope you are all rested, refreshed, and ready to take on 2022 with clear, glowing skin.
ICYMI, in my last post of the year I shared my favorite books, writing, newsletters and podcasts of 2021, as well as tools for setting intentions for the new year.
Rather than share reading links today, I want to talk about Joan Didion, who passed away on December 23 at 87. Though her writing has been a part of my life for less than a decade, her words have had a huge influence on me, my own writing, and the way I think of my home state of California.
In 2017, I interviewed Didion’s nephew, actor and filmmaker Griffin Dunne, about his documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. I asked Dunne then:
In the documentary Joan speaks about meeting your uncle [John Dunne] and getting married. She says the concept of falling in love wasn’t part of her world. What do you think she meant by that?
People talk about love at first sight and the passion and the blood rushing through your body. I think that she probably felt all those things about John, but she also saw a life partner who would understand better than anyone that you write about what you know. And [who would know] that her priorities would be, even when her daughter is two years old, to go to San Francisco and do research for Slouching Towards Bethlehem. They had an agreement that not only could she write about when their marriage was in turmoil, he would edit it.
Didion was a journalist, political reporter, novelist, essayist, screenwriter—you name it—and she was also a wife and mother to an adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. The way she chose to live and work is something of a North Star to me—her creative priorities, pioneering career, glamorous social circles, singular style both on and off the page.
Sadly, both Didion’s husband and her daughter died 15 years before Didion did. My favorite books of Didion’s, Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking—books I reread most winters—were borne of her grief.
I wrote about Didion in this newsletter in 2019, when I was grieving:
Didion, now 84, still lives in New York City. I think of her often. I think of her California roots, and how she describes the sights and smells of my home state. I think of her work ethic, and how she wonders if she could have been a better mother to Quintana, could have worked less and seen her more fully. I think of her stoicism on the page, and wonder if she is as somber in real life. I wonder what having a drink or six with her at one of the many parties she threw for Hollywood’s elite would have been like. More than anything, I think of her definition of memories:
“You have your wonderful memories,” people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.
I will always think of Joan Didion when I walk the streets of New York City on the longest summer evenings, bathed in that peculiar blue.
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.” ― Joan Didion
Questionable self-care advice
💬 Find Your Word for 2022. My word is FEEL!
📗 If you donate to NYPL you can put your loved one’s name in a library book!
👩🎤 Emo Christmas throwback
🛑 What really happens when a guy’s been dating a girl for 1-3 months
“Superbloom” by MisterWives
Remember, in 2022, you’re a resilient little thing.
And here’s the songs I loved the most in 2021, if you care to listen.
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You are not alone!