A couple of months ago I purchased the collected works of Joan Didion at Strand Books in Union Square. It was in a New York fury of a day, and after throwing it on a credit card along with another book by Marc Maron, I felt much psychic relief. Now I have reference to the decades of insight from an authority on incisive, California-informed cultural reporting, criticism, and creative mores. And after a cursory read from different periods, settling into her first book Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I realize I have bought a sort of textbook, and it was not something I could swallow in a week of voracious reading. Absorbing her work will take time, and I need to realign my own perspective.
I have been up the last couple nights in feverish insomnia, and it is due to layers upon layers of psychic plaque. Call it writer’s block, whatever, but the inciting incident of updating my website design was enough to light a fire of remorse under my ass. Oh, all the missed opportunities for cogent mechanisms of speech! Oh, the cripplingly low self-confidence! These are things I exclaim to myself in my mind, usually draped in sarcasm. Oh, how I have lost touch with myself. It is easy to shortchange myself the cathartic pleasure of writing.
Some of Didion’s most circulated pieces are her personal essays, including “On Keeping a Notebook”, which appears in many iterations on Brain Pickings, a wonderful blog on the wide range of art, literature, and philosophy available for consumption in life. Because I was still watching old episodes of Chopped at 4AM, this quote sits with me today:
“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. 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.”
Coming in contact with yourself so suddenly produces those sweats and fevers, and the hobgoblin of emotions is a little tougher to deal with. But I’m thankful for these last nights, to come into myself. So this thing we call a notebook, a journal, a diary, or hell, even an Instagram feed, is our tool to maintain the thread to our past, just as we were. When revisiting past journals, I first see the mistakes. There are travesties of penmanship and furious scribbling, as if I wanted the page to scribble something back. There are numerous times I question the type of pen I am using, and even self-admonishment for using a pencil. There are always lumps of coal–composed equally of judgment and self-doubt. There are diamonds, too, flashes and phrases of muse-driven expression. But it’s clearly a conversation I’m having with myself, extricating events and details I choose to remember. Didion talks about the delusion of “some thrifty virtue…from preserving everything observed.” The goal is not a precise, plot-based chronicle of my day, as if I were enriching the world of a novel or film, but in writing anything at all, I have the ability to look back and recognize what was important at the time.
So, on with the process, and back to the page to clear a path for myself. And yes, I should probably also floss.