Joan Didion

Joan
Didion
1934

American Novelist

Author Quotes

There is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.

What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

There was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible

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.

When I am near the end of a book, I have to sleep in the same room with it.

There's a point when you go with what you've got. Or you don't go.

We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pens‚es. We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind?s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their more casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them.

There's hardly anything I can say about this except thank you,

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 am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

When I'm working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm.

They feed back exactly what is given them. Because they do not believe in words - words are for typeheads, Chester Anderson tells them, and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips - their only proficient vocabulary is in the society's platitudes. As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one's self depends upon one's mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from a broken home. They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words.

We closed the deal and moved to New York. Where in fact I had lived before, from the time I was twenty-one and just out of the English Department at Berkeley and starting work at Vogue (a segue so profoundly unnatural that when I was asked by the Cond‚ Nast personnel department to name the languages in which I was fluent I could think only of Middle English) until I was twenty-nine and just married.

When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble.

This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Why do we like these stories so? Why do we tell them over and over? Why have we made a folk hero of a man who is the antithesis of all our official heroes, a haunted millionaire out of the West, trailing a legend of desperation and power and white sneakers? But then we have always done that. Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted. Shoeless Joe Jackson, Warren Gamaliel Harding, The Titanic: how the might are fallen. Charles Lindbergh, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Marilyn Monroe: the beautiful and damned. And Howard Hughes. That we have made a hero of Howard Hughes tells us something interesting about ourselves, something only dimly remembered, tells us that the secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power's sake (Americans are uneasy with their possessions, guilty about power, all of which is difficult for Europeans to perceive because they are themselves so truly materialistic, so versed in the uses of power), but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. Is is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one's own rules.

This one is really fantastic... It's not about grieving. It's about what happens when people die.

We imagined we knew everything the other thought, even when we did not necessarily want to know it, but in fact, I have come to see, we knew not the smallest fraction of what there was to know.

Why do you always have to be right. Why do you always have to have the last word. For once in your life just let it go.

This process, one of trading the state to outside owners in exchange for their (it now seems) entirely temporary agreement to enrich us, in other words the pauperization of California, had in fact begun at the time Americans first entered the state, took what they could, and, abetted by the native weakness for boosterism, set about selling the rest.

We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ideas with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

Writers are always selling somebody out.

Throw yourself into the convulsions of the world. I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't believe progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it, to look at it, to witness it. Try and get it. Seize the moment.

Author Picture
First Name
Joan
Last Name
Didion
Birth Date
1934
Bio

American Novelist