Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

Author:Joan Didion [Didion, Joan]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2021-01-26T00:00:00+00:00

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So went the “beginning” of this story I had in mind, this story I believed to be about a woman and a man in New York—I use the word “beginning” only as shorthand, since nothing so rough and inchoate can be said to have a true beginning—and so went some of the notes I made in an attempt to get down on paper some of the things I wanted in the story. The notes, tellingly, have nothing to do with a woman and a man in New York. The notes—that silver lying on the dining room table after parties, those bars in the rain where the fire never worked, those figures about when and where the Sacramento River would rest—say simply this: remember. The notes reveal that what I actually had on my mind that year in New York—had on my mind as opposed to in mind—was a longing for California, a homesickness, a nostalgia so obsessive that nothing else figured. In order to discover what was on my mind I needed room. I needed room for the rivers and for the rain and for the way the almonds came into blossom around Sacramento, room for irrigation ditches and room for the fear of kiln fires, room in which to play with everything I remembered and did not understand. In the end I wrote not a story about a woman and a man in New York but a novel about the wife of a hop grower on the Sacramento River. The novel was my first and it was called Run River and I did not have it clearly in mind until five years later, when I was finishing it. I suspect that writers of short stories know their own minds rather better than that.

Short stories demand a certain awareness of one’s own intentions, a certain narrowing of the focus. Let me give you an example. One morning in 1975 I found myself aboard the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There were, before take-off from Los Angeles, “mechanical difficulties,” and a half-hour delay. During this delay the stewardesses served coffee and orange juice and two children played tag in the aisles and, somewhere behind me, a man began screaming at a woman who seemed to be his wife. I say that the woman seemed to be his wife only because the tone of his invective sounded practiced, although the only words I heard clearly were these: “You are driving me to murder.” After a moment I was aware of the door to the plane being opened a few rows behind me, and of the man rushing off. There were many Pan American employees rushing on and off then, and considerable confusion. I do not know whether the man reboarded the plane before take-off or whether the woman went on to Honolulu alone, but I thought about it all the way across the Pacific. I thought about it while I was drinking a sherry


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