For most of us living 1950s through present, Joan Didion is the coolest person on Earth. Growing up a Californian bourgeois girl, she started writing at age of 5. Her artly letters in 1952 didn’t impress Rixford K Snyder, a then-newly appointed director of admissions at Stanford, still they went on to win her the Prix de Paris and a celebrated career at Vogue. Behind the fames ornate to her writerly fashion, a documentary of Didion’s life story premiered on Netflix on October 10, 2017. That’s when and where I began to learn Didion whose writing has comforted many in the peculiar sorrows of late last century.
The postmodernism around the central borough evoked her nostalgia of the Californian sun and waters, a thought stream that submerged to her 1963 fiction Run, River. Moving back Los Angeles revive Didion’s life thus her career exploded. She, together with husband John Dunne, wrote in many prominent magazines and publications, including Saturday Evening Post, the most popular magazine in 1960s.
There in the Golden State, Didion experienced, immersed, thus best situated to describe hippiedom, the behavior and culture denoted baby boomers. When she invented her fictional writing on such popular reality four years after return to California, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, her first essay collection marked a phenomenon in postmodern American literacy. Her experiences, along with thoughts and feelings, during the period has since served the gateways for us later to walk into the counterculture of a whole post- and oppose-war generation.
While she penned down the turns of American lives of an age in flamboyant realism, the blooms and glooms of her own engrossed readers through her novels and screenplays. In Play It As It Lays of 1970, Maria, the main character, comes from mentally malfunctional parents, lives New York between shuffling jobs, encounters romance outside relationship, has a daughter not of birth and under medical treatments. Reading about Maria drifting through the tumults, one again touches and feels the space and time that casted the minds in Didion.
In a 1992 interview with Charlie Rose, Didion was asked about the beginning of her interest when her mother gave her a Big Five tablet (a children composition notebook) and asked her “stop whining and start writing.”
Didion: She just, just told me to write, you start writing.
Rose: So she recognize then that maybe you had some instinct [gift] that way?
Didion: I thought she just thought it was a way to pass time.
A prowess for life came accidentally by once inattentive parenting. Notably, as she may have long tried to settle, Didion didn’t make some of her grades as big as her essay at McClatchy High School. What did Rixford Snyder say? He rejected her college application despite the gracious essay. Not what Snyder and his admission colleagues say may matter, but Didion has shrewdly wound up a self-respect for her age and ours in her then first-published and since well-read essay on Vogue.
…one's sanity becomes an object of speculation among one's acquaintances.…To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.
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