Friday, September 10, 2010

Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

"There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic," (preface).

"I have as much trouble as the next person with illusion and reality," (32).

I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion about a year and a half ago and ever since have wanted to read more of her work.  Didion is able to capture--I don't want to say the heart, because though the heart is filled with mystery, such an overused term does not quite feel nuanced enough for her--the essence of a person or a place or an event in her nonfiction writing.  Her nonfiction essays in Slouching Toward Bethlehem are not merely a chronicle of something or someone that happened, but they cause the reader to enter into the exact temperature of mood and are given thorough understanding and feel of the time and place.  These essays were published individually in the sixties, then pulled together for this collection in the early seventies.

Didion's writing style made me think about how a sense of place creates a sense of self...or, about how remembering the small details of a place that was once our own can remind us of who we were, and wonder if those tree rings of experience are still buried somewhere.

"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," (139).

My first studio apartment in New York City in an Upper West Side brownstone--the worn banister next to the slightly crooked steps leading up to the third floor, my ikea furniture and new towels that matched my shower curtain.  My ritual of walking to Riverside Park every night with a mug of tea, looking west, leaning on the black, pointy rail imagining Ohio beyond the horizon.  I knew in those homesick moments that I would look back on them and feel nostalgia for the very reason my heart was then breaking.  Those days when New York didn't feel like home and my naive sense of self seem so endearing in a "bless her heart" kind of way that I wonder if the hardness of the city has gotten to me, after all.

I can think that way about any place, really.  My high school's football stadium.  All the backyards of my old neighborhood that ran together.  My first year teaching when I didn't have my own room and knew those 8th graders were playing me.  While I was visiting my parents in Louisville this summer, I really wanted to make a trip to Ohio--to see people, too, of course--but to run the 3 mile loop through the woods that I ran almost every day of every high school summer.  I romanticize that if I could just run at Sugarcreek every day, then continue my life in Brooklyn, that I'd have such a better sense of self.  Time and logistics didn't allow me to get there, and I can't decide if that were a good or bad thing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


i took a few deep breaths through that post, dear.

so vivid. so gorgeous.