My adulthood started in New York City. University was my excuse for moving to New York from sunny Southern California, but I realized much later, I needed to be there, I belonged there and somehow without ever visiting I knew that. The transition could not have been a more natural and fluid becoming process. I was finally growing into myself, the adult version of me, though, I must admit, Joan Didion had a lot to do with that process. Sitting in “Literary Journalism” my first semester at NYU, was my foremost encounter with the work of Joan Didion. The piece was called “Los Angeles Notebook,” first published in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Completely enraptured with her words, I was simultaneously put off by them. What she wrote about Los Angeles was true, though, I hadn’t yet reached the maturity to self analyze and therefore hadn't realized these truths until I read them. “To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.” I highlighted and underlined this sentence, ending it with a large pen drawn question mark. Did I have a ‘deeply mechanistic view of human behavior’? How did she know? Who is Joan Didion to make such bold statements about someone who grew up with the ominously hot Santa Ana winds? Put off, I was.
Joan Didion teaches us what we don’t yet realize about ourselves. She gives us the image of a woman who speaks boldly, who trusts her own insight and observations, she does not apologize and she does it all with an almost embarrassingly intimate humility. Through her writings she has taught us self respect, she’s taught us how to mourn and grieve with dignity, she’s taught us to observe, mostly ourselves and the culture around us, she’s taught us about our own humanity reflected through the stories of others. Didion has a way of holding up a mirror and showing us where we belong in the world.
“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent” (Didion, “On Self Respect” from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)
Through a cutting sarcastic tone, she is also able to deliver such messages with a deliberate self deprecation. Many love the works of Joan Didion, especially young, educated women living in New York and LA, it seems, but many also hate her. The truths she spits are not always easily digested, but whether or not her writing solicits adoration or distaste, to read Didion and to feel nothing is improbable.
This month of February, we have decided to dedicate The Curiositeur entirely to Joan Didion. We will share our thoughts on her works that have impacted us and have shaped our culture. We’ll post beloved and forgotten articles by Joan, we’ll talk about her upcoming projects and how her presence has affected the fashion world. We’ve got a great month ahead and would love to hear from our readers as well.