Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I just finished

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and I related to one of the few genuinely funny passages (understandable that there's only a few in a book about grieving, of course). I thought I'd share the passage here:
When I was clearing out a file drawer recently I came across a thick file labeled "Planning." The very fact that we made files labeled "Planning" suggests how little of it we did. We also had "planning meetings," which consisted of sitting down with legal pads, stating the day's problem out loud, and then, with no further attempt to solve it, going out to lunch. Such lunches were festive, as if to celebrate a job well done.
My friend Libby asked me how I liked the book via Facebook and I responded with a public comment, describing her prose as "steely and (mostly) unsentimental." I'm not convinced that statement is true, with or without the parenthetical. I also didn't necessarily mean the parenthetical as a criticism. The prose is definitely steely, which tempers and balances anything sentimental about the book, and besides, indulgences in the sentimental I think can be allowed, understood, and appreciated here.

Regardless, when I reached the below passage, I cringed that I made my statement publicly, giving all who read it free reign to misinterpret:
I remember despising the book Dylan Thomas's widow Caitlin wrote after her husband's death, Leftover Life to Kill. I remember being dismissive of, even censorious about, her "self-pity," her "whining," her "dwelling on it." Leftover Life to Kill was published in 1957. I was twenty-two years old. Time is the school in which we learn.
I certainly don't think I've been guilty of that kind of thinking about the book. Being almost 32 now, I may not have experienced the death of such a close loved one, but I've experienced certain kinds of loss. Perhaps the deepness of her grieving is something I can only attempt to understand, but there are bits in there I completely get.

I've been doing some scene work lately on a new play about forgetting -- I'm actually finding it's becoming a recurring theme -- so much of what's considered in her writing (the inescapability of the past along with the frustrating impossibility of recapturing it or of exactly recalling it, among other things) is pretty resonant for me right now. Here's another particularly rich sentence:

[T]he apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my every day seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic.
As I was reading the final chapters tonight, I considered starting to journal again. I've always wanted to keep journals, but I've only done so sporadically. Every so often I'll dig them out of their boxes and flip through them, and I tend to read them with varying degrees of embarrassment because the writing is usually pretty sloppy, self-conscious, or depressive and morose; they're also often colored by whatever bit of autobiographical writing I just finished reading and felt inclined to try and emulate (for the latest example, see this post).

James Schuyler is among my favorite diarists (and I have to admit, I haven't read many), mostly because of how simply and sharply he records the ordinary in his days. I've tried that kind of journaling too, but I'm mostly interested in a record of the momentous, the memorable, the pleasurable, both in the most ordinary and the most eventful of days. Luckily I've got this blog to help me keep up at least a part of that record.

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