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The Author Speaks: Writing to Live

Joan Didion, bestselling author of The Year of Magical Thinking turned personal tragedy into a powerful tale of heart-wrenching grief—and the strength to go on.

How is she different today?

“I’m far less patient about certain things,” she admits. “And I’ve learned to value love more. When I think of the moments that are wasted in all of our lives! They are particularly precious to you when you can’t replicate them.” Her eyes fill with tears. “After John died, I’d get cross when I heard couples bickering. I’d tell them they just didn’t have enough time.”

She is also surprisingly lighter of heart. “I used to be such a control freak. Then I realized that I was berating myself for not being able to control all these uncontrollable events. This is the worst kind of grandiosity.” Having lived through the worst, she thinks, “very little can happen to me now.”

Lest anyone think that Magical Thinking is relentlessly depressing, though, it should be noted that the book is as much a romance and a tribute to a highly successful, unusual marriage-between-equals as it is a story of mourning. Aging is another complex theme. “Marriage is not only time,” Didion writes; “it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For 40 years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.” Time’s march can no longer be denied, she knows, but neither can evidence that she’s getting better. Just the other day she found herself clearing shelves in John’s old office. “I [moved his things] without giving it much thought—or maybe even any thought. That,” she assures me, “was a first.”

There’s one more thing I want to ask, but I fear it may be indelicate. Can she imagine falling in love again?

“Of course,” she answers, without hesitation. “I wouldn’t marry again, I don’t think. And I doubt I’d want to live with someone. But falling in love? Absolutely.”

Mark Matousek’s new memoir, The Other World (Bloomsbury), will be published next year.

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