I’ve recently found my way to Joan Didion. For all the usual reasons (too many words to read, too little time) her name has been sitting on that list in my mind, and her books on that pile beside my bed for longer than I would’ve liked. I’m so glad I finally did get to her though.
Completely by coincidence, her book The Year of Magical Thinking has been set as one of the texts in the course I’m doing at uni this semester. I haven’t yet started it, but am looking forward to it because of the essays of hers I’ve read. Below are some bits that stood out when I was reading her essays back in February, lying on the beach while I was away on holidays.
It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value of having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. (Joan Didion, ‘On Keeping a Notebook’, Live and Learn, page 113)
However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves. (Joan Didion, ‘On Self Respect’, Live and Learn, page 116)
I’ve always found the concept of self an interesting one. The idea that we carry around the echoes of the people we used to be (and possibly also of the people we might become) is one that appeals to me — and I’ve written about it here before. And I love this description of self-respect: the ability to rest with the uncomfortable aspects of ourselves.
This weekend just gone, I went to Queensland for the wedding of a very dear friend of mine. She and I lived together for a couple of years while we were at uni, and being at her wedding got me thinking about the people we used to be. We each are quite different now to those people, and yet still the same. We danced like we used to. I cried at her, because I was so happy for her; she laughed affectionately at me. Everything was the same, but different, and it was absolutely lovely in ways that I am not eloquent enough to express.