I pondered for a while, before I delved into this writing, about what to write. Some personal stories are too personal to tell, and some publicly recognised blog topics don’t really (fit) the way I want to share things about myself. When my brain was drained of inspiration, the brick-thick book laying aside caught my attention. How could I forget about it? That 1000-page-thick book, weighing approximately 5 pounds. Wrapping itself with a cover gold in color. and being wrapped by a plastic book cover. The book packed into my bag and held by my palms through this autumn. My favorite. Joan Didion’s We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live.
Joan Didion’s vision of everything
If you feel connected with my previous post about Didion’s classic personal essay, ‘Goodbye to All That’, again you will feel the same here. We Tell Ourselves In Order To Live is her collection of non-fiction. It was published in 2006, with a massively compelling introduction by John Leonard, a former editor of The New York Times Book Review. It is an anthology of several most well-known works by Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem and The White Album, for example. The former encapsulates life, love and poignancy in the 1960s countercultures. The latter spells out what happened in American politics and society in both late 60s and early 70s. Other selection such as Political Fictions remind us that sentimental Didion also has a sharp eye for politics. So does Where I Was From remind us the other thing. Not only is New York about which Didion write acutely, but also is California, where she is from.
What she observed, based on all these, is across the nation and all-human-beings-concerned. I like Leonard’s comment on her: ‘She seemed sometimes so sensitive that whole decades hurt her feelings’. True. Didion has a romantically clear vision of what life is about. In her writing you see chunks of tiny things–people or objects. Her look at them is absolutely close that you read them for the first time as trifles.But for the second time as pieces that connote tear, heartbeat, or even just mediocrity. To leap over the gap between these two visions of reader, undoubtedly, always takes time. It hadn’t until, for me, I moved on from ‘Goodbye to All That’ to her Where I Was From that I devised myself a new filter to read her New York and California. When she firstly arrived New York’s Idlewild temporary terminal, Didion was wearing the new dress about which she said ‘seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already’. So why does the dress look less smart in East Coast? Is it because where her feet set on is a hub of high fashion? Maybe it is. But if you know that Sacramento symbolizes in her reminisce a type of ‘flatness’, you know by heart where the relativity comes from for a 17-year-old-girl.
We write in order to remember
Part of my belief in writing, as my recognition of what makes a beautiful sentence, also derives from her works. The other essay of which I wish I could replicate is ‘On Keeping a Notebook’. People keep their writing for different use. Some of them do it for they believe words act as cameras, framing the moments that exists once only. And the others do probably for the search of somewhere to talk to, a self-made shoulder to cry on. As a nostalgic person, I count myself as the combination of both. And it explains why Didion’s conviction tugs the sleeves of my heart. For her, the note-keeping is unnecessarily for what REALLY happens with 100% definite historical clarity. But as an account of how we used to be (throwing ourselves in or being put into) in ‘the very situations’. Possibly lots of them would eventually render useless. But we are made by where we stepped upon and whom who exchange words yesterday. So keep them remembered. One day when you lose the traces of who you are, among the previous accounts you find the answer again.
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