I mentioned a few posts ago that my reading life has been a bit full. A colleague of mine mentioned that she was reading and couldn’t put down Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I finished this book within 24 hours at 11:30 pm and proceeded to google Joan Didion, reading and thinking way too late well into the night. An account of her husband’s death and her story of grief and memory, it was the closest, most poignant description of loss I have ever come across. And though I cannot directly relate to her story, she tapped into the underlying inevitability of the human story: that though we are capable of extraordinary love, we must also live through love lost.
One of the most poignant aspects of this book for me was Didion’s intertextuality: “In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to literature.” She breathes in all sorts of texts to process, and all I could think about was how frail life is and how we need art and story and memory to hold onto, however impossible it is to hold it in our hands no matter how hard we, I, try.
Life is frail;
feeling slips through my fingers
and pools in the depth of my chest.
I am left grasping for the pages and the images and answers
I cannot hold in my hands.
I have found that the biggest contradiction in my life (which I think I can also find beautiful?) is my belief in Truth next to my need to process through the lens of postmodernism. I connected with Didion not on the subject matter of her memoir, but in the way that through multiple texts and words I am able to attempt to make sense of the world around me: it is not a solitary painting or song or poem or story, but the compilation of each experience…and the fact that it seems near impossible to name any singular emotion with exacting clarity. Life will not ever be interpreted, for me, in one long, linear string of events; there are far too many strings in my web of an existence, each pouring into my understanding in its own way.
When researching for the Ars Poetica project I gave some of my students, I came across these lines by Czeslaw Milosz:
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
The last aspect of The Year of Magical Thinking that I want to comment on is the title itself. Didion references throughout the memoir that she kept thinking that John, her husband, would be coming back. The phrase magical thinking is heartbreaking–because as children we truly can believe in it and as adults it seems that it only comes by way of self deception, and loses the hope that is attached. I suppose that this is where my understanding of Truth comes in, though this is not the post or the place in which to fully disclose my beliefs. But. I do believe that there is a place for magical thinking, though it is not directly connected to the reality of this world. And I sometimes think that we need the magic to survive, sometimes.