Reposting archival entries from my old blog (prior to discovering Tumblr), this one from Dec 18, 2009:
The calendar year draws to a close. People shuffle about dodging traffic, hands in pocket, with so much on the mind — lists, parties, travel. On the horizon lies a handful of days off of the ol’ routine. It should come as no surprise to me, but I’m feeling ever reflective.
Too often do I bump into a friend when out for lunch and’m asked “What have you been up to lately?” and have got nothing but a blank stare or a canned answer of no consequence to share. I usually feel so buried beneath my day that my fingertips have very little anecdotal grasp or instant recall on a recent memory of any import. My peripheral vision might go a few days ahead of me at any point but rarely does it go behind me without some effort. As the holidays triangulate and block my perspectives in, however, it becomes a little easier to (and damn near impossible to not) reflect casually on what has transpired in my recent past, the last year in particular. It makes for an especially fruitful wintry fortnight as I bathe in the year-old waters trying to divine meaning and shape out of the non-linear — a poetic geometry if you will.
All this said, over a year after reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I’m still in awe of the sort of reflective heavy lifting that Joan Didion did in 2004 when she wrote her memoir about — and in the emotionally brutal midst of — her grieving for her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, who died suddenly at the very end of 2003. Grief-stricken and without a roadmap for how to process the shock of such a sudden and deep loss, she set out to document her experience, in part to survive the experience but also to help others survive their own after her. It’s a devastating read. From cover to cover. You needn’t have had a catastrophic loss to appreciate the emotional depth that she navigates. But be prepared if you have.
One thing about Magical Thinking that has really stuck with me since reading it is how utterly ill-equipped to deal with her loss Didion felt. Not just personally out-of-her-depth (which goes with the territory), but she felt that society — and especially the tradition of literature which she felt so close to having considered it her life’s calling — had left very few tools to help one process grief of such magnitude. Though she quotes T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, e.e. cummings, Euripides and W.H. Auden, she found precious few pertinent extended texts written from a truly personal perspective (among them C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed). In The Year of Magical Thinking Didion created an instant classic from both the critical and the popular perspectives; a canonical work that will captivate tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of new readers every year for the next hundred plus years; a beacon of hope in the shape of a near peerless loss memoir to those lost souls seeking light on a dark path. I reckon I’ll recommend it to countless friends and no doubt re-read it multiple times throughout my life, short as it is.