"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Joan Didion

“as it lays” . . .


Joan Didion wrote a book about her years in California called “Play It As It Lays.” I read from it last week and found her writing rather dated when compared with two of her recent books, “A Year of Magical Thinking” and “Blue Nights.” These very personal memoirs filled with grief for the deaths of her husband and adopted daughter elevated the content and perhaps that’s what set them apart from her earlier work. 

I have been thinking about what “as it lays,” might mean in terms of some of my own actions lately. For instance, I have noticed that sometimes I have an idea in the abstract about being independent, looking for a place (real or imagined) where life would be different. I try these ideas on and when I do, discover a huge difference between mind and matter.

When hard reality hits and things come down to earth again, what I’ve learned in these little experiments is that freedom is a state of mind, not a place or thing. When they say, “inner freedom” the operative word is “inner.” You can’t buy inner peace (noticed that I just equated freedom with peace.) So it’s fruitless to search for it by doing too much, piling on more than we can handle. 

I’ve noticed that my pace is slower than what goes on in my mind because it’s important for me to process things as I go along. That takes time and when I’m behind in processing what’s happening, I am out of sorts and feel ill at ease.Life has been pretty frenetic lately and I am both wondering why and how to slow it down to make a soft landing. “As it lays” isn’t going to change unless I know what it is. A quiet space and being still may help to regain perspective. Let’s hope there was some there to begin with. 


“epilogue” . . .

The other day at the local library, I picked up a book by Anne Roiphe entitled “Epilogue.” Although I had not read her other books, her name rang a distant bell and so I checked it out. It turned out to be a memoir of her life after the sudden death of her husband of forty years.

I’ve read other memoirs about widowhood, notably Joan Didion’s book, “Magical Thinking” and Joyce Carol Oates whose title I can’t even remember because it seemed to be an excuse to publish another book when she had already remarried someone else by the time her widow memoir about her first husband was published.

That’s actually a lot of what these books are about: husbands, and marriage. In Anne Roiphe’s book, she misses her husband because he did everything for her: paid the taxes, did the cooking, earned a good living, provided homes in New York and in the Hamptons, hosted and cooked for their annual Seder, celebrated with their grown children and grandchildren. Lots of marriages are like that and that’s not what bothers me about Roiphe’s book. It’s her slightly unappreciative tone towards him (he didn’t leave me any life insurance and I can’t afford to keep the house in the Hamptons,) her daughters and especially sons-in-law that make her appear to be a miser emotionally at the same time that she is desperate to find a new man for companionship, or at least to provide her with what’s now missing.

I’m writing about a book which I laid down many times, picking it up to read more parts of it and finally finishing it last night because the unintentional take-home message for me was so loud and clear:

CHERISH, revel in and appreciate the life we still have with our partners now before one of us dies. Don’t look back with annoying regrets that you could have been kinder, nicer, more accepting, less critical. Hug each other now. Let the small stuff really go. Really. Stop worrying about what you can’t do anything about.

Treasure the present moment for all the days you have left, no matter whether it’s for just a short time or for a longer one than we might expect.

I guess that’s a great gift to receive from a book that was so annoying to read.