Friday, July 12, 2013

Magical Thinking on Blue Nights...

It's a winter night in New York City and you are home with your husband John in front of the fireplace, drinking wine. For a few moments you go into the kitchen to get something and when you come out he is gone. Just like that, from cardiac arrest. Your golden years together are over and they had only just begun.

"Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant."  Joan Didion

During this your only child, your daughter Quintana is hospitalized in intensive care on the other side of the country. 

How do you survive this? If you are the writer Joan Didion, you write. First, about losing your husband and how the only way you can stay strong for your daughter is to sometimes just for awhile, for relief, pretend that he is not gone. Pretend that you are going to see him soon. His shoes are still by the door. He is just away.

It's called magical thinking and it keeps you together as long as it has to so that you can survive moment by moment and let this new reality sink in while hoping your daughter will survive.

Tragically, she doesn't. Two years later she dies after as much time hospitalized. You again do the only thing that will keep your heart beating in your chest. Write about it. A tribute to motherhood and a recollection of your life. An understanding of who you are now and what your journey has meant.

"The Year of Magical Thinking" and "Blue Nights" are two of the best books I've ever read. I read them before I'd lost anyone, if I were to experience them again I would probably understand them even better now that I have lost my mother.

"Time is the school in which we learn"....Joan Didion 

Joan Didion has been writing for over 50 years and has published many books. She was a liberated woman before there was even a term for it, but she was also a wife and mother, every bit all three.

I learned from Joan's books that a little "magical thinking" is okay once in awhile if you are aware you're doing it and using it to heal and regain your strength.

There is also another message that Joan conveyed so well to readers from her book "Blue Nights".

She explains page after page of one chapter what it is really like to grow old. From the inside out. She makes it real and takes you inside her experience. It will happen to me, and to all women...she never thought it would happen to her, not really, and certainly not like everyone else! While many find this unsettling it is in an equal way, helpful. Becoming old is the price we pay for a long life. It can be painful, like childbirth, but "everything worth something comes with a price", to quote Joan herself.

What reminded me of her work is that earlier this month Ms. Didion was awarded a National Medal of Arts along with several others such as George Lucas, Elaine May, Tony Kushner, Renee Fleming, and Herb Alpert, to name a few.

Joan Didion, recipient for National Medal of Arts for her mastery of style in writing. Exploring the culture around us and exposing the depths of sorrow, Ms. Didion has produced works of startling honesty and fierce intellect, rendered personal stories universal, and illuminated the seemingly peripheral details that are central to our lives.
A young Joan Didion

"The Year of Magical Thinking" was adapted into a Broadway play with Vanessa Redgrave portraying Joan Didion.


Joan Didion's Wikipedia page