Joan Didion- The Writer and the Mother

Joan Didion always loved the sea, quiet yet powerful, just like her herself.

 It was where she spent time with her family, where her daughter was raised.

The family environment was always a source of inspiration for Didion, which can clash with her iconic figure, the one of a stylish feminist, wearing sunglasses in the morning, partying through the 60’s with famous musicians, and having her fridge filled with coke.

The essayist´s family came to Sacramento in the 19th century, and Sacramento is who she is. Her mother was the first to shape her, buying her a notebook at the age of five, and pushing her to participate in the “Prix de Paris”, in Vogue, which she won and followed into a job offer in New York.

On the other hand, her relationship to her father oozed sadness, as he was a depressed man, sitting every night at the piano with a glass of bourbon. Tension would be so high that, as a little girl, she would leave the room.

She grew up dreaming about becoming a western heroine, from the movies she saw three times a week, but instead, she became a silent heroin, using her writing as a weapon. But she did find a protective husband, the writer John Dunne. They would never send a piece without the other approving, felt no jealousy, and had their offices next to each other; concealing harmoniously private and professional life. Joan said herself that she couldn´t have been with someone who was not a writer. Another thing that drew her to John was his numerous family: his grandfather, who wrote 13 books, would give money to his family when they would recite some poetry. John and Joan spent a year in the Portuguese Bend, with John´s family, after they left New York. There, they all spent much time in a cave, waiting to catch the right tide, like Joan always would.

The couple then decided to adopt a child, Quintana. The announcement in the paper to find an apartment no longer said “Writer, Wife” but “Writer, Wife, Baby”, according to Joan. They lived in an edgy neighborhood, and they left when Joan found drugs in Quintana´s room, after a party. Dark times followed, where a divorce was filled, but resulted in great books. They reunited and lived in Malibu Beach, where a creative atmosphere emerged, surrounded by people. This happiness crashed when Didion learned that her daughter had a drinking problem, and when she told her that she could have been a more present mother, which surprised Didion.

One day, Quintana was in the intensive care service and her life was on a thread, but it was John who died. As a coping mechanism, Joan wrote, as she always did, to find out what she thought. She waited until her daughter was feeling better to suggest going to Malibu Beach, where she grew up. Unfortunately, Quintana hit her head, fell into a coma, and died in 2005.

Joan weighed only 75 pounds after all this, and decided to write The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about her husband, but with no mention of her daughter. She finally wrote about her grief in Blue Nights, for her daughter, talking about her guilt as a mother. Writing gave her a kind of release, where she could be near her family again, and be herself. She gained some weight after her play, where the director forced her to eat. She even put a sign on the table: “Café Didion”.

Her hands are now full of veins, full of stories to tell. The days where she put her manuscripts in the freezer when she was blocked are over. Now she can only think of the sea, specifically of Malibu Beach.


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