This week, on December 5th, Joan Didion, literary journalist and novelist, turned 79. One of the greatest American essayists (and memoirists), she walked a long path of life, leaving her reflections, thoughts and experiences within her works. Almost eight decades spent on the Earth…there must have been plenty of raw material for good stories. Extreme mix of optimism and nostalgia, grief and pleasure, past and future, which is shown in her stories, was not created for pure entertainment. There are many important lessons one can learn from Joan Didion’s novels and articles, and the most valuable two are about attitude towards the past.
Do Not Forget About Your Past
In one of essay collections by Joan Didion, entitled “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, there is a short sketch called “On Keeping a Notebook”. It might not be the most famous of her works on memory-collecting and the ideas in it, may not be relevant to what people are used to reading in her essays. In this short piece Didion muses on what a personal notebook is. According to her, writing thoughts, ideas and feelings down might help you always remember, who you, your goals and values once were:
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
Do Not Let Your Past Consume You
Joan Didion’s best-known novel was published in 2005 and was called “The Year of Magical Thinking”. In this novel the author reflects on the grief she experienced after her husband’s death. “The magical thinking” term refers to the famous philosophical concept that, if acting positively, a person can avoid the cruelties of fate.
When losing something (or someone) precious completely and irrevocably, we, nevertheless, always try desperately not to let our memories go. We gather everything we can find – things, clothes, scents, notes, colors, photos (totems, as Didion states) – and, putting them altogether, try to pretend that these are not just dust and ashes. Clinging to our memories, we lose the valuable moments of present time.
And perhaps this is where writing things down works. If to seal your grief and pain within written words, it might be easier for you to let hard feelings go. You will not forget a thing, but you will not live in your past anymore.