Notes as breadcrumbs
I’m re-reading Joan Didion’s The White Album for a paper. At first, I didn’t get Joan Didion. I wonder if women with butts and boobs are supposed to get Joan Didion. Her writing is as sharp and clean as her figure – she’s a scalpel of a writer. The first time I read The White Album I thought it was blindingly harsh – like those days when you are driving down the freeway and suddenly the sun comes out from behind a cloud and you almost plow right into the back of a sedan loping along in front of you with Canadian plates. That, to me, is Joan Didion. But I am re-reading The White Album and reading, for the first time, The Year of Magical Thinking and discovering brilliance on these pages – like my eyes finally adjusted to the light.
I’m also working on a restaurant review for an online publication. I’m trying to hide my notes from friendly Taylor, who’s grinning at me, refilling my coffee, and doing a very fine job of NOT asking why one five-foot-tall woman just ordered two appetizers and two entrees. (I ask people to come with me on these things, but Tuesdays never good. Neither are Wednesdays. And never on Mondays. And so on. Eventually I have a deadline. You get the picture. Sometimes I get take-out and make my landlady try the food with me – but she comes up with really oddball remarks like “the hummus tastes minty on the tip of my tongue and lemony on the back of my tongue.” And then I feel like I have to write that down so she doesn’t think I’m ignoring her thoughts and ideas. Because I did come to her for help, didn’t I?)
I look down at my notes.
P. 1 – “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
I jot below it: We tell our loved ones stories to make them laugh, to distract them from the fact that life just took a wild, irreversible, gruesome left turn.
And then just below that: The Mexican chowder is vegetable soup’s sexy new girlfriend. The one his mother won’t let him marry. (No projecting there.) And then, I guess, I think twice about this analogy and write, No, the Mexican chowder is the offspring of chili and vegetable soup. Ah, that’s better.
I love notes. I jot down things all the time. I just need a better filing system. Sometimes, I’ll be looking for a phone number I scrawled sideways along a yellowed notepad buried in a drawer for two years and run across something like, “Third day without sleep. The midgets are coming. Buy helmet.” I have absolutely no idea what this means anymore. Perhaps it was a poem.
The midgets are coming
When I was moving, I found a list of goals I’d jotted down when I was about 23. Back then, I had hoped, I could perhaps land a communications job in a non-profit. (I was then an executive assistant.) At that age, I didn’t have the balls to give writing a real shot. And I was too timid to even consider journalism. Unless I had seen the note with my eyes, I never would have believed I had blown through my own expectations.
Speaking of notes, there’s a passage in The Year of Magical Thinking that haunts me. Didion is browsing the files on her husband’s computer almost a year after his death. He keeps a file marked “AAA Random Thoughts” and she notices it was updated the date of his death. She opens it. What was he thinking that day? What stone had skipped across his mind, leaving tiny ripples, and then disappeared?
“The file called “AAA Random Thoughts” was 80 pages long. What it was he added or amended and saved at 1:08 p.m. that afternoon I have no way of knowing.”
That's one of those crushing mysteries, isn't it?