Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion is not a book I would say I love, but there are a few essays between its covers that struck a particular cord with me. They are essays I know I’ll find myself reading over and over again, pages worn and soft from use. One of those essay is entitled, “On Self Respect,” and the other is called, “Goodbye to All That”.
“Goodbye to All That” is everything I wanted to say about Edinburgh and everything I didn’t know I might have said some years down the line. Reading this essay made me feel like Didion had somehow lived through my experience with me and was even now sitting somewhere quiet in my head emailing coherent sentences made up of my scattered and unconscious thoughts to a publisher sipping mojitos in L.A.. It struck me then how people are not so dissimilar as we tend to think. And on that note exactly, one of the first lines to bite me was this: “… but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before” (226).
Please just read the essay. I’m going to put here just a few of the quotes that explain to me my study abroad experience more than I ever could have in my own words.
“… it did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called [though], because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young?” (227) -wasanyoneeversoyoung?
“…. for that is how the years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick-shots…” (227) [“the deceptive ease of a film dissolve”]
“… I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.” (228) -thewayyoulovethefirstpersonwhoevertouchesyou.
“I… believed in possibilities… still had the sense… that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” (229)
“… I could smuggle gold into India…” (229)
“Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about.” (229)
“I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.” (230) - ANDNONEOFITWOULDCOUNT.
“… it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there.” (230) -ITNEVEROCCUREDTOMETHATIWASLIVINGAREALLIFE.
“… disinclined to consider the future.” (230)
“… colonials in a far country.” (231)
“[It] was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu.” (231)
“… the map of Sacramento County I had hung on the bedroom wall to remind me who I was…” (232) - toremindmewhoiwas.
“Now when [the city] comes back to me it comes in hallucinatory flashes…” (233)
“I began to cherish the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given time no one need know where I was or what I was doing.” (235) - CHERISHLONLINESS;NOONENEEDKNOWWHEREIWASORWHATIWASDOING.
“…drank bloody marys and gazpacho until we felt better, I was not then guilt-ridden about spending afternoons that way, because I still had all the afternoons in the world.” (235)
“…it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.” (236) - whatImighthaverealizedhadIstayedlonger.
And Home/Wake Up/End Scene:
“I had never before understood what “despair” meant, and I am not sure that I understand now, but I understood that year.” (237) - butIunderstood.
“…the golden rhythm was broken…” (238)
Thank you, Joan Didion. I never could have articulated these things myself.
Was mistaken for a local today.
I love living somewhere where I can open my window at 6:30 pm and hear live music float up from the street.
Hello and welcome to this episode of Panic and Freak Out.