photo credit: Gary Leonard
I didn't have a clear view of Joan Didion on Wednesday night when I went downtown to hear her at the historic Vibiana Theater. I had bought my ticket for $20 several months ago, before the publication of Didion's latest memoir Blue Nights, and it was general seating. The room was cavernous, a former church, I think, built in the late 1800s. About six hundred people sat in folding chairs in the grand room; a woman lurched over me to a saved seat about five minutes into the program. She apologized profusely and made a big production of sighing and sitting down. Didion was about the frailest speck of a woman I've seen in a long time, wrapped in a soft pale purple shawl, her long fingers constantly in motion as she spoke and read from her essays and books. The woman next to me literally typed and texted into her iPhone THE ENTIRE HOUR that Didion spoke. As you know, I've been in a mood of late, and I was unable to tune the woman and her phone out. Rather, I was constantly mindful of her and her texting, which completely detracted from the iconic writer, and I spent more time debating whether I should say something to the texting woman than I did listening to Didion. As my son Oliver said tonight when he lost in the second heat of the Raingutter Regatta at his Cub Scout meeting, EPIC FAIL.
I've read nearly all of Joan Didion's writing and admire her writing immensely although I've never felt particularly connected to her writing emotionally. Does that make sense?
The first thing she read Wednesday night (and before I became completely and utterly distracted by THE TEXTER) was her famous opening line from The White Album:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
The White Album was published over two decades ago, and lays bare in the driest of tones and most beautiful language the culture of California in the sixties and seventies, yet that line rang through the crowded church as true as it ever had. Didion's two latest books, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights chronicle the respective deaths of her husband and her only daughter. It was difficult to imagine what stories Didion must have created in order to live through those deaths.
I thought, a bit, of those of us here, in blogworld, who write our stories in order to live, who craft with words in attempts, somewhat vain, to make sense of what will probably never make sense. I'm not sure why there's comfort in the crafting, but there is. Didion also stated that she always writes for an audience and never for herself, that the relationship between writer and reader is as intense as that between the actor and the audience in a theater.
I'm still thinking of these things, two days later, and despite the fact that THE TEXTER (or my inability to ignore her) prevented me from really hearing much of Didion's talk, there was something in those few words that I did hear that will resonate for a very long time.