To the left -- lovely Didion, after she had her daughter.
On the right -- Joan Didion, not lovely. It was taken recently, at a press conference in Brooklyn.
She told reporters, "I'm not certain anymore."
It's in her face.
It's in her new book "Blue Nights."
So? I used to jump in and express my feelings about this and that. Now, I don't jump, and quite instead of expressing how I feel, often I just shut up. I am not certain how I feel about a lot of things these days.
When I'm driving my car, I'm okay . I'm certain about where I'm heading. If it's somewhere new, I've checked the route on a map. I drive on confidently to the turn off -- be it a super highway or an unpaved road -- and make any necessary adjustments as the need arises. But socially, artistically, not being certain hangs over me.
Just by reading the titles of Joan Didion's works (a list is at the end of this post), you re-live her life-journey with her, climbing mountains that she climbed, using her ropes and ladders. Up you go! Down you go! Missing a rung, you slip, fall and hang on tight and heave-ho yourself up again, as you identify with what she loved, despised, reached for, got, didn't get, and left behind.
Didion's special gift is the way what she writes -- unfancy -- somehow her words speak directly to you, whomever you are. She knows success -- is well known in the literary world, has earned big money, yet, like us, sometimes she's anxious, unpleasant, angry, bitter. Other times she's amused, curious, searching for balance and wondering what reality truly is.
I catch myself wondering (as Didion wonders now in "Blue Nights") why did I spend my life climbing, learning all I learned? With the wealth of what I learned in my head, in my heart, I should be able to be --just BE.
When you pick a photo for a passport, a driver's license, or for a profile picture on Facebook, you don't select the worst photo, like the unlovely Joan Didion in the right. But what she was feeling-- troubles, woes, weariness, uncertainty are in that face on the right. She's not an actress. She didn't paste on a smile and tell reporters how happy she was that her new book is selling well, and has been praised by the critics.
That's Didion's talent. Her honesty touches us and involves us with what she's feeling. "Only yesterday," Didion writes, "I could still do arithmetic, remember telephone numbers, rent a car at the airport and drive it out of the lot without freezing, stopping at the key moment, feet already on the pedals but immobilized by the question of which is the accelerator and which the brake."
Hey Joan D -- want my advice? Your honesty is wonderful, but maybe it's time to. STOP squinting at the past. Box the past and position it on a shelf -- a high one, that you rarely need to access.
You worked and learned rung-by-rung to be what you are now. Write about day-to-day living -- speak of it simply -- speak with the wealth of what you are now. Publishing your new book, you're obviously still learning, still ascending, and still experiencing triumph.
My advice to Joan Didion is advice to me, if the shoe fits, it's for you, also. Stop wondering and being "not certain." Just Be. What you are, who you are, and, where you are.
Skim these titles, years:
* Run, River (1963) fiction; * Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) non-fiction; * Play It As It Lays (1970) fiction; *The Panic in Needle Park (1971 screenplay; *Play It As It Lays (1972) screenplay; * A Star Is Born (1976) screenplay; * A Book of Common Prayer (1977) fiction; *The White Album (1979) non-fiction; * True Confessions (1981) screenplay; *Salvador (1983) non-fiction; *Democracy (1984) fiction; * Miami (1987) non-fiction' *After Henry (1992) non-fiction; *The Last Thing He Wanted (1996) fiction; *Up Close & Personal (1996) screenplay' * Political Fictions (2001) non fiction; * Where I Was From (2003) non-fiction; *Fixed Ideas: America Since 9/11 (2003); non-fiction; *Vintage Didion (2004) non-fiction; *The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) non-fiction; *We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected non-fiction (2006); * Blue Nights (2011)