Friends, I am in a bit of a MOOD.
Do you have times like that? My house is a mess and yet I'm not happy when I'm out of it; I feel overwhelmed by the very few adult responsibilities I have; I kind of wish I weren't feeling like a broken-down heap in my early 40s. I think Mr. CR sensed I'm very close to going off the rails last week when I went on a tirade about CRjr's swimming lessons. I don't swim, I hate pools, I'm annoyed at the pool where we go because they can't decide when they open or when you should be there to get in line to sign up for lessons. Or, as I said to Mr. CR: "Jesus God, if we spent half as much time in this country teaching everyone a second language, as we do teaching them to swim, we'd all be bilingual by now."*
Mr. CR is a smart person and did the nonverbal equivalent of "Yes, dear," and then got the hell out of the room.
So. Where was I? Oh yes, Joan Didion's new collection of notes (it's literally subtitled "From a Notebook"): South and West. Well, of course I read the whole thing, even though I can't finish anything lately. I finished it because it's short and I love Didion and even Didion not at her best (which she is not here; they're just notes, although Didion's notes are like a million times better than most people's finished product) is always a very intense reading experience for me. These two pieces, on the American South and West, were written in 1970 (for the South) and 1976 (for the West, or, more specifically, during the Patty Hearst trial in California).
You really just have to read the whole thing to get the flavor of it, particularly if you are at all interested in the American South. But here's one of my very favorite tidbits, it just seems so quintessentially Didion:
"NOTE: On being asked for identification when I ordered a drink in the rural South. Before I came south I had not been taken for seventeen in considerable years, but several times in that month I had to prove I was eighteen. It is assumed that grown women will have their hair done, is all I could think." (p. 61.)
I just love that. It made me remember a trip I took to Houston when I was blown away by the hair, make-up, and clothing (all very carefully done for maximum effect) of all the women there.
This isn't really specific to this collection, but my favorite thing about Didion is how she gives you what seems like a lot of personal information and a lot of glimpses into her psyche, and yet you still come away feeling like you don't really know Joan Didion at all. She can surprise you. This is one of my very favorite aspects of my closest interpersonal relationships: when people I know really well surprise me. (And it's not always with good surprises.) But still. I find it oddly thrilling to be surprised. I'm explaining it poorly, but gosh, Joan Didion is interesting. I don't ever have any idea what is going on in her head but I always, ALWAYS want to hear about it. Right down to her pictures: why is the author picture on the back of this book, for instance, of her and her daughter Quintana, when Quintana was only a small girl? Why put that picture here?
*Come on. Does the majority of the population ever go swimming again, once they're out of high school? No they don't--until they have to take their kids to water parks and lessons. So then they do that, and after that they never get in the pool again. It's a totally silly system. See? This is the MOOD I'm in.