Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Year of Magical Thinking With Joan, Morning, California

If I had to pin the process down to one artistic saving grace in all of California, it would be Joan Didion. Joan lives and breathes in New York, and there's a reason. She lives and breathes in New York because she is from California.

I've been asked, by varying degrees of acquaintances, if I like California. It's a question I still get asked as though I just moved here, and I've been here the length of a bachelor's degree at a Midwest university. The fast and edgy answer has been this: I love living in California. I hate working in California.

Granted, some of the pain has spurned from living here, and not working. I look at the film reel and about die again, thinking of the scenes. To arrive back on the train and find the car gone, on Valentine's Day. To sleep only 15 minutes in the course of an entire night, because it was my first night sleeping with a man, of all people, while he slept like a baby. To watch my brother pull away in the moving van with Fresno stamped on the destination. To give away Bess and never see her again.

Living in California will strip you down.

Working in California will break you.

Monday and Tuesday night there may be a few entries in my blog throughout the course of the night, awake, again, this time because I have to inventory the entire showroom. Yes. I will be alone the entire night, both nights, in Oakland, which is the murder capital of the nation, and I will be armed with only a Stanley FUBAR. (If you don't know what a Stanley FUBAR is, write. I'll explain. The second picture at the top shows the number of murders in Oakland for the year as of March--I'm afraid to look at the current stats.) At the time of this writing I have a right leg in a permanent cramp (imagine having a continuous charlie horse) and a right arm with a strung pain between the wrist and the elbow. This condition, by the way, comes from building pallets of shipments of 5 pallets or more, multiple times throughout a day.

Working in California will break you.

If you get the opportunity to move here, I WOULDN'T IF I WERE YOU.

Okay, I take it back. There is redemption.


In 2003, a year before I got all cocky and packed the Lumina and drove myself and my frightened cat out here, Joan Didion published the book "Where I Was From," an account of her home state of California and her reasoning for its mentality. "At what cost progress?" was Didion's biggest question of the state, one that excuses every action of itself by writing them off to a pioneer past, and sometimes you do what you gotta do.

Like the Donner party, for example.

Not that I plan on eating my coworkers or employees. When I first read "Where I Was From" I was recouperating from the night short on sleep. I read her on the train to Fresno, on time between jobs, between working in California. I was burnt out then, and went back to work anyway. I had had it with California. But Didion gave me hope. Not false faith, but real and sustained belief in where you end up, regardless of the cost. See, Didion has an issue with California. But she has a love of it too. And because she is a phenomenal writer beyond her words, she gives us California, unbiased, laying out the bad and good.

I am most grateful. I get it now, Joan. This is where I am from. Broken allows space for healing.


I thought of Joan Didion this morning not because of "Where I Was From" but because of "Up Close and Personal."

Yes, the movie.

Didion and her late writer husband cowrote, among other things, "Up Close and Personal" and the 1976 adaptation of "A Star Is Born." "Up Close" is a candy-ass walk in the park compared to "A Star Is Born," which was so well acted that I loathed Kris Kristofferson for a long time after that movie. I didn't just think of any of this on my own this morning, however. Despite my exhaustion, I couldn't sleep this morning and browsed through Netflix and saw the movie. And there, in the midst of the opening credits, was the "Written by" of Joan and her husband.


Joan Didion? Movies?

So there was some quality time Wiki Joan...and that's where I found Streisand and Kris. What staggered my mind was how both movies have the same premise--boy discovers girl on the way up and boy crashes and burns when girl makes it to the top. Interesting.

Maybe someone else had a sleepless night, too.

My sleepless morning gave me the gift of Joan all her humanity.

I love California. But I wouldn't want to work there. Not on an empty heart, anyway.


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