Last night Joan Didion read in Cambridge, Mass., and I was lucky enough to have seen her do so. I went with a friend (a lovely and talented woman and writer in her own right) without any tickets hoping that there might be a smidge enough room for us to squeeze in, which, despite there being a rather huge line of ticket holders winding down the block, there was.
I suppose it was no surprise that the piece of writing that she is essentially on tour to publicize discusses the notion of frailty in that at age 76 (she turns 77 on December 5th) she is a slight woman who looks as if a breeze could blow her over. Of course, she has been a rather thin, frail looking woman for most of her life.
However, she read with strength and what she read was very good. And she spoke and read with humor and handled audience questions with a certain irascibility that I suppose fits her character. At first, after she simply said "No" to a rather lengthy question, I thought she was showing her age, but short abrupt answers to questions was a consistent theme.
There were three questions that seemed to get her to light up a bit. The first was from a young woman who asked about whether she found it dismissive of critics and others to discuss what a female writer wears and their wardrobe when they wouldn't do the same for a male writer. She simply said that she dresses to feel comfortable and mentioned that the other day while looking through her closet she found a dress from the 1950s, so she does not worry about what others think.
The other question was from an older man in a wheelchair who is working on his own memoir. He asked about the connections one makes as they write as a means of discovery. Her answer may seem cliche and like something of a platitude, but it is no less true, which is that the reason she writes is to learn and discover and see things in a new way. Writing, she was saying, is an act of mental exploration.
The third was about her desire for a private life even as she puts very personal memoirs out in the public domain. She said this is something that all writers must reconcile is they wish to be writers. Writing is solitary and good for people who enjoy lots of time on their own, but publishing is a very public endeavor where if you are honest in your writing leaves you rather exposed.
So it was good to see her read and get an understanding of what it means to be Joan Didion, though it felt brief. I look forward to reading the signed copy of her latest book to learn more.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.