March 2, 2021

Joan Didion, Miami

This is a project I am undertaking that could end today or could go on for who knows how long, perhaps until I’ve run out of things to say or have simply moved on. I have always felt this self-induced pressure to assure continuity, to win loyalty, a return of my audience whoever they may be and however few they may be, so that they will have some kind of faith in me. I am unable to begin and end here, to be comfortable with the uncertainty that this will perhaps be the last thing I write until the next time. And so I promise nothing. This is only my attempt to take each day as it comes. Why are we always performing for others what we cannot do for ourselves?

This is the first book I have read in nearly three months, even longer if you exclude academic texts and excerpts. Let’s say this is the first book I have read for pleasure in nearly three months. Allowing myself pleasure is difficult. Quite long ago I had decided that I could either have control or pleasure, but not both. I chose control, which is often an unpleasurable experience. For the past month I have thought over and around exactly what book I should read: it’s volume, genre, cover, height, width. I would need to read a book slim in volume; anything greater would be too much, I would no doubt abandon it. It would need to land light on its feet, nothing that could provoke me into anger, too much joy or tears. I find myself so immersed in my personal sentimentality that any foreign impetus would drive me over the edge. I would think nothing of the book for days, feel paralyzed by emotion, I would drift endlessly. I feel with a suffocating intensity. The cover would need to be pleasing, the cover alone should be a magnetic force I am constantly drawn to, one that looks pleasing precariously perched on the edge of my nightstand, that looks promising in my hand. It should be neither too high nor too wide, and neither too small nor too narrow. This book, of course, does not exist, and so this morning, in an impulsive moment of lack of self control, I asked my husband to choose a book for me to read, just nothing too big, I said.

He landed on Miami by Joan Didion, and then offered for me to reject his choosing for something else, and so I took the book. This edition of Miami was printed in 1988. A search for Joan DIdion in the 80s results in popular iconic images of her in easy tops and long dresses that feel almost Helmut Lang-esque or James Perse. Relaxed, easy, cool. She appears the opposite of lackadaisical, and yet nothing appears calculated or formulaic, but rather the reflection of a fine-tuned cultivation of personal style, not only in the manner of style, but also in manner. Poise. I have been feeling the opposite of poise. Some days I am constantly moving till I fall asleep, and others I am immoveable, glued to my station and witnessing with slight horror but also with detachment the life that moves past me. I feel untethered, with a few dear ones trying to pull me back down to earth even though they themselves are drifting, but the problem is that only I know how to return, it’s only a matter of whether I’ll allow it.

This edition of Miami was purchased secondhand from some place I can’t recall. There is too much going on with its cover, a bestseller badge in the center, a proclamation from the Washington Post Book World, as if I need to be goaded into reading the book. I don’t. The edges of the cover are faded, with water damage at the bottom, but the book itself is in surprisingly good condition. That would be my description if I were re-selling the book. I won’t. When I was a child I amassed an enviable library of books. When I was twenty my parents sold my childhood home in a hurry; I had never the chance to return one last time, to pick out my most precious belongings that perhaps one day I would share with my child or fondly glance over from time to time. It was all gone, the books purchased and the remainder donated, and then there was nothing left of this little girl’s books. For ten years I never thought about them, too afraid of the avalanche, and then in the eleventh year it was almost all I could ever think about. The only thing that made me feel at home during a time in my life when I felt never quite at home.

On page 19 of this book, in the second paragraph or the first true paragraph following a previous paragraph that bleeds on to page 19, really depending on how you perceive your glass, Miami is misspelled as “Maimi”. My first impulse was to underline it, as I do when I come across peculiarities in a text or something that truly moves me, but then I decided against it. It could be that there is a Maimi, something that I’m not aware of, had never come across, and so ultimately I chose to underline it. I am always moved by the vulnerability of an error in published texts, a small signal that we are not perfect, that every now and then an error comes along undetected by anyone, and if anything is enriching. Or that is was purposeful, detected by all, and to which the author insists it must be left there, it is intentional, and that it will go largely undetected by most, but only a few will catch on to it, this wink, this subtle nod to indicate that we are all human. We are all capable of mistakes and that life will go on. Poise.