Writing about Writing: A Joan Didion Review

1383348_10152279756790726_743771316_nI had a thought to write a blog post about my vacation in St. Lucia. But how boring would that be? It was warm. I got tan. I swam in the ocean and drank approximately 600 rum punch cocktails. I posted 4,000 selfies to my Instagram. I called it #springbreakselfieseries. I probably lost a lot of followers.

Now. Let’s write about what really mattered in St. Lucia. Which is…well…the writing. I spent a lot of sleepless nights, writing in St. Lucia. Things that I will probably never publish, never share, never mail. But it was what I needed from that vacation. My parents must have had some premonition back in November that I was going to need to escape the winter blues in March. And damn, were they right. Despite being on an emotional roller coaster in the middle of March, there are certainly far worse places to sort out your feelings than by a turquoise ocean in the constant 75 degree sunshine. And for this, I am grateful.

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A friend recommended I pick up some Joan Didion before I headed to the surf and sand. Her book “Slouching Towards Bslouching-towards-bethlehem-essays-joan-didion-paperback-cover-artethlehem” defined my vacation. The book is now smothered in pink pen and yellow highlighter (that was all I could find in my sister’s backpack…).

I was sitting by the pool, reading an essay on keeping a notebook. And I just started to cry. I’d never read anything so black and wIMG_8814hite about who I am. “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. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

I have been keeping a notebook since I was eight. I often go back and read my entries – to remind myself how far I’ve come, and how far I haven’t. To remind myself that the things that plagued me – in fact – ended. I did – in fact – heal. And the wounds I thought I’d carry forever, did in fact, disappear.

I do my best writings in the morning. Between 2 and 4 AM. I will literally be jolted awake, as if some phrase could physically grow a fist, and knock at my head. If I don’t write it down, it will never stop pounding. I know the feeling all too well, and I’ve grown to just accept it. When the old bits and pieces of my former self come knocking, I just answer with words. And there I lay them, in my notebook. Like my words are just infantile children that I must coddle, swaddle and burrito. A little baby word burrito. Just keep them pacified. Keep them at bay. Because the next time I look at these infant words again, they will not be infant words. They will be seasoned adults. Words as settled as aged cheddar cheese. And matured red wine. Words that don’t need my care and attention anymore. Words that don’t sting the way they used to.

IMG_8747Giving physical life to the words in my head immortalizes them and brings death to them at the same time. And it’s just about the only way I know how to cope. And it’s a very solitary way to cope. And I think it scares people. But I just came this way. Didion expressed similar sentiments in the same essay. “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant re-arrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

It’s this idea of needing to be “alone” to cope (and therefore, write) is probably what bothers most people about me. It’s the part of me they don’t understand. Ask anyone to describe me, and the first qualities named would probably be outgoing, social, vicarious, and loud. Retreating into isolation during times of trouble is about the most contradictory trait in my book (pun intended?).

IMG_8940In another essay, Didion wrote about the American Dream that we have all forgotten – the want to be alone. And free. She talks about the reasons we kept chasing the Pacific throughout the nineteenth century –“to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.” Nowadays, being a social beacon is trait to be admired. And frankly, I think it is a trait I possess. But the older I get, the more isolated I get. The more I desire to be alone. It’s a growing want and need that probably scares those closest to me – more than my frantic notebook jottings. But it’s this side of myself that I grow more comfortable with as I get older. And I am proud of it. To sort out the inner workings of my brain and heart entirely on my own is a survival skill. And I think it will ultimately be the one trait that keeps me sane as I navigate “adulthood.”

When I am alone, I write. And when I write, I feel like the best version of myself. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. It’s the only time of the day that I can intrinsically validate myself. And that, above all, should be a trait to admire.

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About Melissa Faulkner

1. If I blog, someone will eventually discover me. 2. If someone eventually discovers me, I will become rich and famous. 3. If I blog, I will become rich and famous. Follow me for shorter, daily doses! @melisslyss
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