I recently read Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and just turned the final page of Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion. I feel that like Plath, every woman goes through a Didion phase, where a well-organized life is scattered by the wind in favor of madness, promiscuity, adventure, all of the above. It seems like Didion is the right author for me to be reading at the right time. Her descriptions of Los Angeles freeways, and Maria Wyeth’s endless drives on them, remind me of when I wrote a speech and presentation about freeways in college, for a public speaking course. What a strange topic, in retrospect, but there continues to be a captivation with controlled roads that lead everywhere and nowhere. Didion’s work remains fresh for this reason, and for many more.
What also surprises me, frankly, is that Didion lives today. Widowed, burdened by the loss of her daughter as well, her body so small and frail, but her mind still so strong. Reading her work and not knowing her life, you might assume that she had killed herself many years ago. But she has the ability to process the world as it is, and not despair. She perseveres. Like the final chapters of Maria Wyeth’s tale, she chooses life. It gives us hope.
As I continue my journey into writing, I also want to share highlights from books I’ve read. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Play It as It Lays:
For the rest of the time Maria was in Las Vegas she wore dark glasses. She did not decide to stay in Vegas: she only failed to leave. She spoke to no one. She did not gamble. She neither swam nor lay in the sun.
What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.
By the end of the week she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air began about the exact point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.
And the best:
One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and I keep on playing.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.