Farewell the Queens of Yesteryear

1 Oct

I have been thinking lately of Joan Didion. Not lately, actually. I’ve been thinking of her on and off really since the pandemic lockdown in March, 2020. A few months before that I had watched twice the somewhat abbreviated but heartfelt and honest documentary on her life, The Center Will Not Hold, a project spearheaded by her nephew, Griffin Dunne. Even before the lockdown she’d been living in her apartment in New York City quite a bit less a social animal than the decades past in her life—not a recluse by any means, but fairly isolated it seemed.

So when the city announced it shut itself down completely, Joan Didion was the first person I thought of. I figured she wasn’t alone alone, but . . . with no one able to leave their home, I just thought: who is going to look out for Joan Didion? How is she gonna get food? In the documentary she seemed extremely thin, and even Griffin Dunne and other family members seemed to have been quite worried about her weight.

And I thought of her once again just last week. Something my daughter showed me on her phone or maybe it was lyrics to a song she liked that mentioned “slouching towards Betlehem” that reminded me to show her Joan’s book with the same title. I had picked up that book the day before to make sure the word was “towards” not “toward.” I had been writing a letter to another writer that mentioned my love for that book and wanted to get the title right. Check this out! I told my daughter as I pulled Joan’s book off the shelf and showed her the title. I just looked at this yesterday. The moment of synchronicity wasn’t left unnoticed or unappreciated by either of us.

The title of this piece is likely insulting. We haven’t lost Joan Didion just as we still haven’t lost a lot of older people we’ve grown to love in our lives: artists, musicians, writers, actors, architects, mothers, fathers. But I sense that things are coming to an end of sorts. Eras are wrapping up. They’re swallowed by the seamless, information-overloaded daily rhythms of life now. So much information and data and opinion and echo rushes at us daily, that history is buried now at the speed of 21st century distraction. Who even thinks about Joan Didion anymore? Who even knows who she is?

And I just realize: Joan Didion isn’t Joan Didion herself as I am meaning it. She is, but she isn’t what I mean to write about here. Joan Didion is everyone that isn’t right now part of our daily thoughts that we once may have known or just thought of. This may not make sense to anyone but me, but it’s apropos. I write these things for me. It sounds pompous, but it’s not meant to be that way. These are meant to be shared and read, sure, by others than me if those others so wish, but they’re not written specifically for anyone other than me. So “Joan Didion isn’t Joan Didion” may not make much sense to some who are reading this. I think that is fine. Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury doesn’t make any sense to me. Nor does much of James Joyce’s work. And that is also fine. The writing world, the classicists, the historians, the contemporary writers, and time itself (the culprit for all this . . . forgetting stuff) all abide.

I think the realization, the true realization of saying farewell to the queens of yesteryear, whether they are Joan Didion, an old episode of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, or that old chest of drawers still collecting cobwebs up in the attic for the last 75 years, only dawns on someone having long-hauled it at the very least to a fifth decade of life. At least.

By the way, speaking of, I just watched an episode of “The Love Boat” last night in which Dick Martin played a paranoid passenger obsessed with being bugged by . . . the CIA? The Soviets? The government? I don’t really recall. “The Love Boat’s” auxiliary plot arcs, other than the usual star: Love, aren’t exactly memorable or worth fretting about.

And even if those queens of yesteryear aren’t gone yet, but just simply fading away (I am not thoroughly convinced that burning out is a better alternative), the process of saying goodbye does take some personal time to get used to. It is drawn out, in a way, almost as life itself is drawn out—just on a much smaller scale. Without any intent of being insulting, I have been saying goodbye to Betty White, for example, for quite some time.

So, goodbye Joan Didion. You are always here.

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