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Wednesday
Nov182009

Joan, Patron Saint of Blogging

If you somehow read the same 1s and 0s that I do, it's possible you've noticed a Didion Pattern emerging. "Goodbye To All That" brought up at regular intervals when New York and migrations of young, dissatisfied generations of women are being discussed. Chock Full O' Nuts references and imagined trips to Hawaii not for the beaches, but for the solitude she wrote into its hotel rooms and airports. Emily Gould's Didion-related exotic dessert metaphor. And this interview with young Brooklynite blogger Meaghan O'Reardon, which contains the single, separated (oh how appropriate) line:

I love Joan Didion.
It's as simple as that. Invoking her name, admitting a love for and an allegiance to her prose. And I started to wonder: is it because of Joan Didion that we blog?*

I've admitted here before about how much her writing guides the hand that writes this blog. Just as a few years back, various writers at The Stranger talked about things they have stolen from Joan Didion. The blunt sentences. The "we"s and the breaks in the line.

Something like this.

But more than style, more than line breaks, what Joan Didion gives us — as writers in general and bloggers in particular — is the okay to write about ourselves. The essays she writes are both expressions of herself and the world around her. Let me restate the obvious: she writes about herself. The world she encounters and perceives and translates into words on the page is Joan's world. We bloggers do little more than the same in attempting to legitimize and document our own occasional solipsism.

(She must have the patience of a saint to put up with all us pretenders. If she even knows we exist.)

St. Joan says it's okay to perceive the world through the lens of self. It feels honest. What feels false, to some of us, is removing ourselves from the story, forgetting the fact that I was in a conference room on the 5th floor in a building several miles away when the towers fell watching the Spanish channel because it was the only station that would come in clear enough to see what was happening. That I was wearing flats and a pleated white skirt on the day of the blackout, and walked the last mile home through the park barefoot and tenderly. Or that I have no particular recollection associated with the precise moment the Berlin Wall was torn down. Only that it was there, and then it wasn't, and then they were selling pieces of it in our local supermarket. We come through the world and to the blank page brandishing a personal historical lens; this, says St. Joan, is fitting and right and okay.

The women (and, just as often, men) who channel Didion while they document the world around them are admitting that we're in this world and therefore the world is in us. It begins, of course, in what we remember. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Or is there? What good is it to anyone else how I see the world? Short answer: It isn't any good to anyone. You're writing into the void. Shorter answer: It's a matter of perception. Or we ignore this train of thought and realize that writing is writing is writing is writing. The point is that we are writing. We are all becoming writers.

Because, like she said, we were all telling our stories in order to live.

The litany of St. Joan. (See also the litany of St. Joni. Those lyrics that go it's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees, you know they're putting up reindeers and singing songs of joy and peace are straight out of someone's December archives, someone somewhere in a dimly lit room with a needle hitting the last groove on the record.) I don’t know how these women become saints. These skinny California-bleached girls with words in their mouths and on the tips of their pens about rocks and rivers and politicians and encounters with men in bars. I don't even know if it's fair to give them that power. All they may be doing is inspiring droves of women with knitted brows to hunch over an acoustic guitar and form their lips around the letter O with more pain than is deserved or experienced. Hunch over their writing desks and come up with a mimicked packing list. Or, sometimes, without any warning, in the middle of a rambling essay, a reference to rattlesnakes.

But, in the end, it's comforting for us to see art translated as perception, to see that a generation of published writers has come before us, a generation that had no shame in what self meant to the process of writing.

Thus, we recite her words like a litany. Scatter them over our prose like holy water. St. Joan, bless this prose, as rambling and self-involved as it may be, that readers might understand what I'm trying to give...

* Possibly more important: do we have her blessing?

(It's like we're all on some cosmic Didion wavelength. Just today, I came across a piece that manages to say much of what I've been trying to say with far more grace: V.L. Hartmann's Joan Didion Crosses the Street at The Morning News.)

UPDATE: What was in the water on Wednesday? Jezebel also makes a reference to Saint Joan, and delivers a great line: "As a keen student of hero-worship, Didion herself must find it fascinating." (via Jessica)

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