Joan Didion turns 82 today. As an essayist, novelist, and cultural critic, Didion has long been one of the finest chroniclers of American life over the course of the last half of the twentieth century and beyond.
There is much I could write about Didion, a writer whose work has affected me deeply over the years. I'll save that for another day, when I have more time to write. For now I'll just share this from her seminal essay, "Goodbye to All That:"
I had never before understood what “despair” meant, and I am not sure that I understand now, but I understood that year. Of course I could not work. I could not even get dinner with any degree of certainty, and I would sit in the apartment on Seventy-fifth Street paralyzed until my husband would call from his office and say gently that I did not have to get dinner, that I could meet him at Michael’s Pub or at Toots Shor’s or at Sardi’s East. And then one morning in April (we had been married in January) he called and told me that he wanted to get out of New York for a while, that he would take a six-month leave of absence, that we would go somewhere.
To anyone who's experienced a year like that, or a series of years like that, this essay and in fact so much of Didion's writing perfectly encapsulate the experience. The times when anxiety is omnipresent and despair becomes your shadow, walking alongside you everywhere you go,
At Literary Hub today, Emily Temple has a nice synopsis of what makes Didion special, along with this rare clip from a 1970s interview with Tom Brokaw. Temple closes her short appreciation with:
At the end of the interview, Brokaw asks Didion if she feels optimistic about the future.
“The future of what,” Didion says, sly.
“The future of Us,” Brokaw clarifies.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I hope so.”
More than 30 years later, I hope so too. Happy birthday, Joan.
Happy birthday indeed, Joan. Your words have been inspiring and frightening and comforting and so many other adjectives to so many of us, for so long.