Joan Didion: The Center will not Hold

My story always starts with knowing that I wanted to be a writer at age 5. Joan Didion recalls her mother giving her a notebook and telling her to write, and writing her first story at age 5. Something much more elaborate, and even ironic, in comparison to my stapled together books of pictures, admittedly only just beginning to learn my letters at that age. What strange memories we each have.
I read my first book by her just last week. The White Album, and admittedly, did not like it much. Writing about the 60s, a time I so desperately have been trying to understand. Even she could barely put it into words. Instead, it became an anthology of essays. But she is incredibly well known. I find pictures of her when she was younger to be absolutely gorgeous. A woman who doesn’t seem to care what she looks like, either wearing dark sunglasses, or a stoney, detached expression. I have had one of her books on my shelf since college. A Year of Magical Thinking. Untouched for years because I’m not sure I am ready to read it, but kept in posession because of its poetic beauty. Not necessarily the words, I have yet to experience those, but the context surrounding it. As she wrote about, and essentially processed the sudden death of her husband, her life partner, her other half, upon finishing this book, her daughter unexpectedly died. This beautiful daughter she adopted and raised and loved. She later went on to write about her. Those closest to her believing as a way to process. And as she is being interviewed for this documentary, you see a frail and withered woman. Such contrast to the strong woman who went to El Salvador to report on the country itself, as well as America’s involvement with it. But what was most magical about this documentary was the audio overlay of her reading exerpts of her pieces. Read in a strong voice you almost can’t reconcile with the woman who is reading it. Read in the way she hears the words in her own mind. With her pace and emotion. In a way, she appears detached from the world around her, but it is that that helped her so brilliantly write about it.