A letter to Joan Didion

In the 2017 documentary, The Center will not Hold, writer, essayist and journalist Joan Didion speaks on the first essay she wrote as an assistant Features Editor for Vogue, Self-Respect: its Source, its Power, how the title was never taken up so she had to write it. The interviewer asks if it was unusual to adopt a voice so personal for Vogue to which Didion responds straightforwardly ‘well it was probably sort of unusual’. In her non-fiction work, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, she candidly confesses ‘I am bad at interviewing people. I avoid situations in which I have to talk to anyone’s press agent.’ In The White Album, Didion unreservedly motions towards the imposition that we universally live according to a script, our narrative is mapped, but she remarks on a period between ‘66 and ‘71 where this imposition collapses. She ‘was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it […], to hear cues and no longer did.’ As she writes, during this period, of the notoriety of her name, being ‘a lecturer and panellist, colloquialist and conferee’, of being awarded ‘Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year”’, she parallels her public successes with her private realities. In the paragraph after, she cites her own psychiatric report.

To be a respectable voice, is not to be some pseudo-oracle, comically wise beyond your years, severely sophisticated in the way you write, but to value the power of feeling and writing for oneself without the expectation of an audience

We are not delivered a painting of Didion, but a mirror. To read about a writer of such renown, a woman who was attributed to being one of the writers who influenced ‘New Journalism’, speak so honestly and unforgivingly about her life experiences, where every word is beyond being performative, beyond the need to act as poetic rhetoric, but instead holds personal meaning, brings to me in these moments of writing this editorial much comfort and reassurance. That no matter what I write, the language I write with, all I can do is observe and feel. In the weeks, days, hours leading up to my final editorial, I pondered on what profound declaration I planned to write. Would my piece be Aristotelian, or Aristophanic? Who on earth do I emulate or have to thank for my writing style? Would anyone even read, or comprehend the words on this very page? And then I looked towards Joan Didion, the true definition of writing what you see and feel. I read Didion, I deeply exhaled and then, without hesitancy, commences the tap, tap tapping of the keyboard as my inner thoughts expel from my body. As the pied piper plays his flute, as the sirens sing their melody, Didion’s rich essays guide me to cast my own thoughts onto the page. I have learned that to be profound, and to be a respectable voice, is not to be some pseudo-oracle, comically wise beyond your years, severely sophisticated in the way you write, but to value the power of feeling and writing for oneself without the expectation of an audience.

We are not delivered a painting of Didion, but a mirror

In her infamous seminal 1961 essay Didion concludes, ‘To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.’ And to that I say, Joan Didion, consider this my letter to you.

With that also said, I write this letter to Charlotte, who I embarked on this journey of editorship alongside, to Nicole who taught me the value of embracing my inner artist and of arts journalism, to Dan who always made midnight print edits humorous, memorably delving into Dizzee Rascal’s entire discography, and to Emily, the girl I watched transform from News Editor to Editor-In-Chief, my shoulder to cry on, your potential is unbound, your dedication inconceivable, and your spirit unequalled. I am proud and honoured to have my goodbyes be under your editorship. I would also like to thank Joe, Ayasha and Camille for making this a memorable ending to my time in Indigo, and for making this ending of a chapter all the more poignant. And to all the section editors of Indigo, I have only known you for a short while, but I hope you keep the legacy of Indigo alive, inspiring artistry and creativity, whilst honouring the value of emotion and feeling to the new generation of Durham students.

In this edition of Indigo, Features advises on how to tackle mid-term burnout, Travel explore the ‘Danish key to happiness’ and Food & Drink review the infamous Too Good To Go.

Illustration: Hayleigh Mclean

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