Joan Didion // "I learned to find equal meaning in the repeated rituals of domestic life. Setting the table. Lighting the candles. Building the fire. Cooking. All those soufflés... Clean sheets, stacks of clean towels, hurricane lamps for storms, enough water and food to see us through whatever geological event came our way. These fragments I have shored against my ruins, were the words that came to mind then. These fragments mattered to me. I believed in them...I could find meaning in the intensely personal nature of life."
Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.
“It took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer,” she explains. Then she quickly clarifies: “By which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.”
“Why I Write” is really an explanation for how Didion views meaning as inextricable from syntax itself: “To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed,” she writes. To her, a writer is not primarily a prophet or a polemicist; a writer is someone who uses hammers and saws to shape the raw building blocks of words. Writers coax meaning from the words themselves, from turns of phrase, from the construction of sentences. A writer knows how to conceal and reveal significance by placing the building blocks well.
- Joan Didion