My favorite parts of Blue Nights, Joan Didion’s memoir on her daughter Quintana’s death.
Do not whine, I write on an index card. Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.
I have watched tears flood the eyes of grown women, loved women, women of talent and accomplishment, for no reason other than that a small child in the room, more often than not an adored niece or newphew, as just described them as “wrinkly,” or asked how old they are.
It was a time of my life during which I actually believed that somewhere between frying the chicken to serve on Sara Mankiewicz’s Minton dinner plates and buying the Porthault parasol to shade the beautiful baby girl in Saigon I had covered the main “motherhood” points.
The very definition of success as a parent has undergone a telling transformation: we used to define success as the ability to encourage the child to grow into independent (which is to say into adult) life, to “raise” the child, to let the child go.
A doctor to whom I occasionally talk suggests that I have made an inadequate adjustment to aging.
Wrong, I want to say.
In fact I have made no adjustment whatsoever to aging.
My mother’s name was already on the marble wall at St. John the Divine.
John’s name was already on it.
There had been two spaces remaining, the names not yet engraved.
Now there was one.
baffle (n.) Something that balks, checks, or deflects.
Read this, please. So many of the best parts are dependent on character development and context, so these are the best parts of Democracy by Joan Didion that make sense in this format and don’t give everything away:
You did all right.
You filled your dance card, you saw the show.
Water under the bridge and dynamite it behind you.
Many people are intolerant of the accidental, but this was something more: Jack Lovett did not believe that accidents happen. In Jack Lovett’s system all behavior was purposeful, and the purpose could be divined by whoever attracted the best information and read it most correctly.
In fact Carla Lovett made a convincing army wife… indifferent to her surroundings, passive in bad climates.
…she resolved to reconstruct the details of occasions on which she recalled being happy. As she considered such occasions she was struck by their insignificance, their absence of application to the main events of her life. In retrospect she seemed to have been most happy in borrowed houses, and at lunch.
“‘Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.’ W.H. Auden. But I don’t have to tell you that.” He paused. “The English poet.”
In fact they did run into each other.
Here or there.
Often enough, during those twenty-some years during which Inez Victor and Jack Lovett refrained from touching each other, refrained from exhibiting undue pleasure in each other’s presence or untoward interest in each other’s activities, refrained most specifically from even being alone together, to keep the idea of it quick.
Something to think about late at night.
“There was a sound in the autopsy room like an electric saw.”
“What was it.”
“It was an electric saw.” Billy Dillon shuffled and cut the cards. “Don’t dwell on it.”
Inez said nothing.
“Why air family linen?”
“Exactly,” Dwight Christian said. “Why accentuate the goddamn negative?”
The click of her heels struck her as unsynchronized with her walk.
“Listen, Inez said. “It’s too late for the correct thing. Forget the correct thing.”
When novelists speak of the unpredictability of human behavior they usually mean not unpredictability at all but a higher predictability, a more complex pattern discernible only after the fact.
“Anyway, we were together,” she said. “We were together all our lives. If you count thinking about it.”
balletomane – a devotee of ballet
casuarina – is a genus of 17 species in the family Casuarinaceae, native to Australasia, southeast Asia, and islands of the western Pacific Ocean:
codel – Abbreviation of congressional delegation, government-paid trips abroad, designed to give lawmakers first-hand knowledge of matters relevant to their legislation.
crazy eight – A wild card
D.S.C. – Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
guard hairs – The longest, coarsest hairs in a mammal’s coat, forming the topcoat (or outer coat). They taper to a point and protect the undercoat from the elements. They are often water repellent and stick out above the rest of the coat. Guard hairs add the sheen to the coat of an animal.
hemotoxins – toxins that destroy red blood cells (that is, cause hemolysis), disrupt blood clotting, and/or cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage.
kapu – refers to the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. The Hawaiian word kapu is usually translated to English as “forbidden”, though it also carries the means of “sacred”, “consecrated”, or “holy”.
liana – A liana is any of various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees, as well as other means of vertical support, to climb up to the canopy to get access to well-lit areas of the forest:
merc – mercenary
moue -a little grimace
Nisei – a Japanese language term used in countries in North America, South America and Australia to specify the children born to Japanese people in the new country.
quarter mastering – In land armies, especially US units, it is a term referring to either an individual soldier or a unit who specializes in distributing supplies and provisions to troops. The senior unit, post or base supply officer is customarily referred to as “the quartermaster”. Often the quartermaster serves as the S-4 in US Army, US Marine Corps units and NATO units. In many navies it is a non-commissioned officer (petty officer) rank for personnel responsible for their ship’s navigation. In the US Navy, the quartermaster is a position responsible for the ship’s navigation and maintenance of nautical charts and maps.
schitzy – slang for schizophrenic or exhibiting the effects of hallucinogenic drugs
Silver Star – awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States not justifying one of the two higher awards – the service crosses (Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Air Force Cross), the second-highest military decoration, or the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration.
The best parts of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking:
“Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of “waves.”
“I was thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome.”
“I found myself wondering with no sense of illogic, if it had also happened in Los Angeles. I was trying to work out what time it had been when he died, and whether it was that time yet in Los Angeles. (Was there time to go back? Could we have a different ending on Pacific Time?)”