“We tell our stories in order to live…” —Joan Didion
I just finished a very special book, The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I don’t even know where I got it, I must have picked it up at a free-library box or something. It’s been on my bookshelf for at least a year without my once cracking the spine. I try to keep my bookshelves limited, not holding onto books I won’t open again, but I’m glad I kept this one, which seemed to jump off the shelf into my hands the other night, exactly the the day I was ready for it. I’ve read a lot on grief this year…and I will continue to, but Didion is such a good writer, that this book is immediately set apart. She wrote the book a year after her husband of forty years died of a heart attack and as her daughter was fighting for her own life in a hospital. As a friend says about her work, you feel like she’s at the table with you, talking about herself.
I admit I’ve never read any Didion before, but she is quickly becoming a favorite author. Her voice resonates with me. She also makes me want to be a better writer I have been thinking for a long time about what to do with Vernon’s blog. Do o I rewrite it as a memoir? Do I try to find a publisher? Every so often I’ll go back and dig in, but then my emotional resistance raises its head and throws me into some sort of fog or panic, and I put the ideas aside till I’m more healed up. Now, reading Didion’s book makes gives me courage to think about trying—to try to write like her? I wish. No, to try to write like myself…but better.
So I’ve started writing. Just fifteen minutes a morning…if I stick with this, it will be a long time till it’s done. But the point is, I’ve started. I’ve gone back to when we were first married, eleven years seems so long ago. Now the thoughts of the past are with me throughout the day, which isn’t bad, just…interesting.
Here are some standout quotes from her book, the Year of Magical Thinking. I love these because in this first year, I have often felt that I am losing my mind. I’ve questioned my own mental health. No where else have I seen these symptoms described and affirmed so clearly.
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
“Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time.”
“The mourner is in fact ill, but because this state of mind is common and seems so natural to us, we do not call mourning an illness…. To put my conclusion more precisely: I should say that in mourning the subject goes through a modified and transitory manic-depressive state and overcomes it.”
“We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”