Yes, I Am Going To Send This
Dear Joan Didion,
It occurs to me that I have particularly bad timing.
It is, after all, only several months after Knopf released your latest book. Certainly the letters will be piling up.
But it also occurs to me that after composing a letter to you in my head for several years, finally beginning means that I ought to finish. What it actually took was an admissions requirement from Vermont College and Goddard’s MFA in Creative Writing programs. Each has requested a “critical essay” as a part of their application.
I decided to write about my interest in the September 25th version of Chapters 1-4 of The Year of Magical Thinking (appearing as “After Life” in the magazine – did you title that or did they?) as compared with the book versions of Chapters 1-4 released by Knopf in November of the same year.
I never took a literature course in college. I tried to design my own Writing Major but the school wouldn’t have it. I went for philosophy instead and it changed my life. Through this I learned to be critical by trying to become what it was I had to understand. In other words, I could not write about the forest unless I was in it. I could not describe the horizon unless I had walked as far in its direction as I could. This seemed to me the most logical way to dissect something. It was exhausting, but it worked.
So I hope you don’t mind that I had to try and copy you in order to write my critical essay. Here, you can see. I’m sending you my essay. Maybe you’ll laugh. I did this once before with Alexandra Fuller, actually, but in retrospect I completely wrecked the whole thing. You see, it started in Paris, March of 2003. I was eating hard-boiled eggs while my boyfriend ate both our croissants. I kept the individually wrapped sugar cubes from that table and snuck them through customs because I thought they were unique. Cheap tourist, I guess. Between bites we discussed Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight and someone interrupted us. It was “Bobo’s” best friend, and she gave me an email address to get in touch with the author.
I sent Fuller one of my memoir vignettes, along with five questions from my class of ninth graders whom I had studied the book with. The problem was, I had written this particular vignette while studying Don’t Let’s Go and I had borrowed one of her tricks: combing two or three simple words into one and placing them in a sentence in italics. The phrase I stole was readyornot. I was trying to walk in the forest so I could write about it, but I forgot to tell Fuller that. She answered my students’ questions but said not a word about my vignette. Oops.
I am hoping you can give me your opinion on the writing life. Do you think writing about our own pasts is a way of trying to make sense of the present? Or perhaps, of the future? I’m working on My So-Called Memoir. It’s a book highlighting the salient aspects of adolescence by juxtaposing my personal experiences (from approximately age eleven to twenty-two) with the experiences of some of my former students (I taught writing at a boarding school for teens). If so, what do we have to gain by doing this? What do we have to lose? Is it possible to convolute our own futures by packaging, labeling, and dissecting our pasts? If you have some specific examples, it would help me in my thinking.
It’s weird to try and say “thanks and goodbye” when I don’t even know if my “hello” will make it to your desk. I hope it does. I hope you reply. Once I thought if I sent a post card to Bob Dylan everyday for one year that he might come and perform (acoustic guitar only) for the school I was teaching at. My students would have loved that. I never tried it though.
Thanks and goodbye,