America lost a literary icon today with the passing of acclaimed writer Joan Didion. For decades, Didion captured the changing political, social, and cultural landscapes of the country, in a voice both observant and personal. She moved between genres as easily as between subjects, working as a novelist, screenwriter, political reporter, and essayist. Among her work: the 1976 adaptation of “A Star is Born,” starring Barbara Streisand; the 2005 National Book Award winning memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking;” and “Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” a collection of essays written between the late 1960s and early 2000s which was released in 2021.
She died Thursday from complications of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 87.
Joan Didion was my only friend in the nonfiction graduate class I took as an undergrad. Older boys who played Rise Against! songs on their guitars at frat parties they were too old to go to and took ten pages to describe a woman’s tits called me a navel gazer and I felt completely out of my depth. Then our professor passed out a fully photocopied version of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and my world shattered into stars. That was the first book of essays I had ever read. I would say more but I am too busy weeping like the sensitive literary nerd I am so let’s get to what you came here for: 20 absolutely gorgeous Joan Didion quotes. May she rest peacefully.
1. “I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”
2. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”
3. “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”
4. “All I knew was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.”
5. “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”
6. “Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.”
7. “Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”
8. “When she drank, she did not dream.”
9. “Time is the school in which we learn.”
10. “We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
11. “We tell each other stories in order to live.”
12. “The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.”
13. “My life is a crystal teardrop. There are snowflakes falling in the teardrop and little figures trudging around in slow motion. If I were to look into the teardrop for the next million years, I might never find out who the people are, and what they are doing.”
14. “I had looked for the silver lining. I had walked on through the storm.”
15. “I never saw a wild thing / sorry for itself.”
16. “We all remember what we need to remember.”
17. “You had to feel the swell change. You had to go with the change.”
18. “Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was.”
19. “I am what I am. To look for ‘reasons’ is beside the point.”
20. “When someone dies, don’t dwell on it.”