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Joan Didion

  • I think nobody owns land until their dead are in it ...

  • That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

    • Joan Didion,
    • introduction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past ... Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else, for all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... Lancaster, California ... that promised land sometimes called 'the west coast of Iowa.'

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself ...

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • Self respect ... is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Self-Respect," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Morality," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • I ... have another cup of coffee with my mother. We get along very well, veterans of a guerrilla war we never understood.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Going Home," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Notes From a Native Daughter," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • Going back to California is not like going back to Vermont, or Chicago; Vermont and Chicago are relative constants, against which one measures one's own change. All that is constant about the California of my childhood is the rate at which it disappears.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Notes From a Native Daughter," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • It is hard for people who have not lived in Los Angeles to realize how radically the Santa Ana figures in the local imagination. ... The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Los Angeles Notebook," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • It is often said that New York is a city of only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for only the very young.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Goodbye to All That," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Goodbye to All That," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... any compulsion tries to justify itself.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Keeping a Notebook," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • ... 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 run 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.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Keeping a Notebook," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • My first notebook was a Big Five tablet, given to me [at age five] by my mother with the sensible suggestion that I stop whining and learn to amuse myself by writing down my thoughts.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "On Keeping a Notebook," Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • She can't win if she's not at the table ...

  • ... a hoarder of sexual grievances, a wife.

  • You have to pick the places you don't walk away from.

  • He was an outsider who lived by his ability to manipulate the inside.

  • We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

    • Joan Didion,
    • title essay, The White Album ()
  • ... great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "In the Islands," The White Album ()
  • That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "In Bed" (1968), The White Album ()
  • And I have learned now to live with it, learned when to expect it, how to outwit it, even how to regard it, when it does come, as more friend than lodger. We have reached a certain understanding, my migraine and I.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "In Bed" (1968), The White Album ()
  • Right there is the usefulness of migraine, there in that imposed yoga, the concentration on the pain. For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties. The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "In Bed" (1968), The White Album ()
  • Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Why I Write," in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It's an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there's no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Why I Write," in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... All I know about grammar is its infinite power.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Why I Write," in The New York Times ()
  • Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

    • Joan Didion,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., The Writer's Chapbook ()
  • Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else's dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

    • Joan Didion,
    • in Authors Guild Bulletin ()
  • New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion ...

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Farewell to the Enchanted City," in The Saturday Evening Post ()
  • Life changes fast. / Life changes in the instant. / You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

  • Marriage is memory, marriage is time. ... Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John's eyes. I did not age.

  • Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be.

  • In the early years, you fight because you don't understand each other. In later years, you fight because you do.

    • Joan Didion,
    • in Sara Davidson, Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship With Joan Didion ()
  • To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self.

    • Joan Didion
  • There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.

    • Joan Didion
  • I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages.

    • Joan Didion
  • On the whole, I don't want to think too much about why I write what I write. If I know what I'm doing ... I can't do it.

    • Joan Didion
  • The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home, and in your writing you are invoking that home, so you are assuaging the homesickness.

    • Joan Didion

Joan Didion, U.S. writer

(1934)

Full name: Joan Didion Dunne.