Joan didion essay on keeping a notebook

Joan didion on going home

You can say what you want to say, how you wish to say it. But it wasn't long after that, as a teenager, that I quit the habit altogether, and trashed all of the notebooks I had filled up. But when you finally get down to the reality of what that means — reliving the hardest days, trying to capture the happiest — it can be difficult to sit down and write. I always find this stance curious as the habit of keeping a notebook is common amongst exceptional people who not only take the time to report their struggles and feelings but also review them across time. Did any of it? Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. You are free.

We discuss the value of the technique, the way it works here, and how a mis en scene technique can fail in lesser hands. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

joan didion essays

That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. But when you finally get down to the reality of what that means — reliving the hardest days, trying to capture the happiest — it can be difficult to sit down and write.

Do you want to hold a tangible artifact in your hand that captures down to factual detail, every single day?

Joan didion quotes

I read about famous writers who never went anywhere without a notebook, watched fellow creatives on public transportation constantly writing, sketching, thinking. And I started to wonder what was wrong with me. The forebears make an indelible impression on new essayists: last week, I saw a student poring over the giveaway books outside the English department. Who cares? Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point. It was Joan Didion 's famous essay "On Keeping A Notebook" from Slouching Towards Bethlehem — basically required reading young journalists everywhere — that made me rethink my relationship with the humble notebook. Was this 'E' depressed, or was I depressed? We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were She was always a good deal of trouble, and I suspect she will reappear when I least want to see her, skirts too long, shy to the point of aggravation, always the injured party, full of recriminations and little hurts and stories I do not want to hear again, at once saddening me and angering me with her vulnerability and ignorance, an apparition all the more insistent for being so long banished. How much of it actually happened? We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. And neither did Didion. But of course it is not.

Your sanctuary. I always think he or she would be so much better of if they would write it all out, so they could see what it was, process it. And what happens when you do get past that initial hesitation?

Joan didion passage

But of course it is not. And guess what? Write about the things for which you are grateful. Write about good times, as often as you write about bad times. We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. And neither did Didion. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. Who is E? Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

What, then, does matter? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? Scott Fitzgerald, but perhaps we all must meet the very rich for ourselves by asking, when I arrived to interview her in her orchid-filled sitting room on the second day of a paralyzing New York blizzard, whether it was snowing outside.

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On Keeping a Notebook