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.