Tuesday, January 10, 2012


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)


Ameer S. Washington said...

"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."

These words have always been easier said then done for the larger portion of the population. There's so much uncertainty in the world, in death, that even as we age, we look back and ask how much of it, that, this; was really worth it. I guess you can be 70, 80, 90 years old and think, "hey, have I lived a life worth living." To live, and just be, is what the monks in the buddhist temples venture for, they call it enlightenment.

I hope to be able to be as honest and forthcoming in my own writing. The picture of Miss Didion is a masterpiece. And while the face is quite young to the left, the eyes tell much the same story in both picture. Awesome post.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog about Joan Didion. The 2 pics are quite a comparison, but the eyes still sparkle and tell all. She does seem to be still achieving her goal instead of talking about daily life today. Everyone deals with success in different ways-this is her way. I admire her achievements. kam

Carola said...

She has had a tragic life. She writes so honestly, that it is impressive. Very good post--thoughtful and inspiring. Thank you.

Kaye Francis said...

EM, This blog really interested me because I have so recently watched the documentary "Dominick Dunne: After the Party" which is a profile of his life from a child through his 'fall from Hollywood grace' through his time writing for Vanity Fair. He was Joan Didion's brother-in-law. He was the one who produced Al Pacino's first? movie role from her writing.."The Panic In Needle Park".
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If you & JC haven't seen this documentary, it is 1 hour & 24 minutes long, available on NetFlix & was truly very revealing about so many things. It 'intersperses' his life story through interviews with him & others while he is covering the Phil Spector trial for the alleged murder of Lana Clarkson. Fascinating 1 hour & 24 minutes to me.
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Luv ya! I'm @grammakaye on twitter.