We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

If you have read Hunter S. Thompson and not Joan Didion then you, along with me, are in the majority. Thompson made for good copy. He was a lunatic who had a hell of a way with words. When movie stars pay to have your ashes shot out of a canon then you were definitely a personality as well as a writer. Many writers were. Fitzgerald. Twain. A bunch of other men.

Joan Didion…I keep writing her name and then I can’t figure out what else to say. She leaves me speechless. What can I say? She knows all the words most everyone else knows but for some reason puts them in an order that makes my mind shiver. That’s a dumb sentence but I have sat here long enough trying to come up with something intelligent to say and I have obviously failed. Let me go grab the book and I’ll leave a few quotes here so you can read for yourself.

“I could tell you that I came back because I had promises to keep, but maybe it was because nobody asked me to stay.”

about California “…things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”

about morality “one of the promises we make to one another is that we will try to retrieve our casualties, try not to abandon our dead to the coyotes.”

on the American film industry “What we have, then, are a few interesting minds at work; and a great many less interesting ones.”

on what modern people call burnout and Didion calls lack of self-respect “Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question.”

on the reason she kept notebooks “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.”

And just this:

“It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag…it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.”

Isn’t it just so.

All quotes from We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006.

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