Didion eulogy written for Still North Books 1/2/22
"I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street." - Didion, "Goodbye To All That" 1968
I was away from my phone, working the book desk at Still North on the morning of December 23rd, when a customer approached me with a copy of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem for purchase. I did what I always do when someone is wise enough to select a Didion from the store’s shelves: sort of gaze off into space and sigh, visualizing her on her Malibu porch… sunglasses, cigarette, “jasmine everywhere”, then exclaimed “excellent choice” before scanning the book and grabbing a bookmark. My Didion induced reverie was cut short when the customer gently told me “She passed away today.”
I’m not sure anyone could have prepared me for this moment in a more elegant way than Didion herself, because it has been through the reading of her work that my own concept of grief has been defined. This theme is most explicit in her 2005 National Book Award winning memoir The Year Of Magical Thinking, but I find it to be an important and powerful teaching of her work right from the very start with Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Essays like “On Keeping A Notebook”, and “Goodbye To All That”, have comforted me though vastly uncomfortable transitions: cut to me hopping the Dartmouth coach and leaving New York City until, who knows when? Cut to my first major heartbreak erupting in the middle of the pandemic resulting in a heavy mixture of personal and collective tragedy.
I really wish I could thank Mrs. Didion for not just soothing my spirit with her words during those times of grieving, but teaching me that loneliness is powerful and can be cherished, that with great grief comes a greater sense of self, and — maybe most importantly to me — that there is profound beauty in moving on. My copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is tattooed greatly with marginalia from myself, my friends, and in fact, my former boyfriend. It will always be close to my nightstand as a reminder of who I was, and who I am becoming.