“We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”
I blush at this because it’s just so breath-takingly good. Oh Didion, your way with words is a joy and a curse.
Like P&C I too feel slightly withered after reading her, it’s painful to be confronted with writing that puts all one’s own petty attempts at it into sharp relief – she sort of buffets you about the head with the smallest (and weightiest, I like that term) of phrases and she leaves you sighing and melancholic and buffeted and wishing you could drink straight bourbon like she can.
Are keepers of notebooks really a different and lonely and rearranging breed though? I’m not too sure about this but I do like her point about this breed of hers being awash in ‘some presentiment of loss’ – I know this feeling, I don’t always observe things and then worry they’ll be gone (or already are) and go and write them down in my notebook and try to thus fix them and keep them so I don’t lose them but I know that compulsion well, and that feeling of losing moments exactly in the instant I experience them.
For me, this essay captures so well the paradox of the notebook (or diary, or pensee record, or journal, or blog etc etc), the one that often stops me from filling one up with delightful bon mots and charming anecdotes and profound insights; that is that in writing in one, one is always so conscious that it is both the most self-indulgent/pointless/navel-gazing/dripping in upper middle class angst/privileged way to spend one’s solitary moments AND that it is, as Didion says, a delightful way to resist the expectation to always put others before ourselves, to ‘affect absorption in other people’s favourite dresses, other people’s trout.’
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” This is the lesson I’d like to take from her precisely because I’m certain I do everything I can to stay far far away from my previous others – like the one who tried to start a ‘movie diary’ that’s now a recipe book and which I grimace over every time I flip to the review of ‘Lost in Translation’ [the one that says it was 'bittersweet' and 'altered my perception'] instead of to the recipe for chickpea casserole.
But yet, my latest notebook isn’t going much better if I’m honest – it starts with ‘profound’ quotes from GUESS WHO? Erm, Joan Didion of course along with some David Foster Wallace (I seem to think quotes can speak for me better than I can speak for myself – is this just another example of my diffidence to others’ thoughts and ideas as Didion points out?) and apart from that, there are some random PhD related rants hidden towards the back; apart from this I am actually TOO SCARED to write in it – I actually don’t want to mess up the nice clean pages with what I already assume will be a combination of derivative drivel and quotes…sigh…I’m not really getting anywhere now am I?
Maybe when my others appear “…hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night”, instead of picking up my notebook, I’ll just pick up Joan instead.
[I could also just chill the hell out and start messing up my prissy clean little pages with some mind strings - F**k Yeah]