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We’re Going Home – Joan Didion

Joan Didion in 2008. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons.

When I write my best I think of Joan Didion. She died of Parkinson’s Disease on Dec. 23, 2021 in Manhattan at age 87.

I will continue to think of her while I’m writing.

The reason her writing has such influence is she has been in and on my mind since high school. I thought, if I could write like Didion it would be the pinnacle. I won’t ever be as good as she was at her worst.

I was thrilled when I found South and West: From a Notebook and Let Me Tell You What I Mean this year. I wolfed them down, starved for what she brings to writing. While she studied Hemingway and Conrad, she did not write like them. She had her own lean, assertive simplicity to make her points. I was enraptured.

I didn’t understand California after a half dozen trips there. While Didion’s stories are her unique, single perspective, they are believable and seem probable. They informed my understanding that California was more than what we witnessed through media combined with ocean, desert, farmland, and what seemed like an unlimited number of highways. She exposed a side of it I wouldn’t have known. There is value in that.

In college I struggled to find a path. I was on a trajectory supercharged by the death of Father in 1969. Didion’s writing was something I could look to and see myself. Although being a successful writer wasn’t meant to be my career, Didion gave me hope in dark times.

We’ve known the end was coming for a while. Now that she passed there are no surprises, just a feeling of desolation, restlessness and sensibility characteristic of her work.

Her writing will persist, as will memories of her frail frame on talk shows as she headed home.

5 replies on “We’re Going Home – Joan Didion”

Thanks for this personal and well-written tribute to a seismically influential writer, Becky. The Year of Magical Thinking helped me get through my husband’s death. I truly learned to appreciate her unfailingly honest perspective.

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Like you I admire her prose, and I sure wish I could write so deftly. On the other hand, I’ve always been a bit unsure about her sensibility — no, “a bit” is too little, I’ve been very unsure of her sensibility. And that’s odd, because she represents herself as a skeptic and as one who will report what she sees without preconceptions, the same sensibility I wish to bring to things. So, my feelings for Didion are hard to explain, even to myself.

Thinking of your autobiography task, I was reading a nice short summary of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life overnight (instead of useful sleep) and the author pointed out this quote from one of RWE’s own commonplace journals where he recorded his thoughts:

“The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself.”

You can put that on a sticky note on the rim of your monitor.

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Thanks for your comment Frank. When I consider Didion’s sensibility, I see it forged during those social gatherings at her home in California… over cigarettes, alcohol and everything else her actual life entailed.That is not a life I would have wanted to live, yet I am from Iowa, so why would I want to. I’m glad you liked the post. Have a Happy New Year.

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