“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” ―Joan Didion
My best writer friend (BWF) is obsessed with California. We connected instantly. I, too, know the complicated pains and parental joy of deeply loving a place. Plus, when there wasn’t a lot of Hawaiian literature available, I read California writers because, often, it was the closest I could get: the similar flora and fauna; we stared at the same ocean.
It’s nice to have someone you can share your darkest secrets with. When I spoke myself bare to my BWF―”I have never read Joan Didion”―she gasped, like she was coming up for air after being caught in a riptide. Those wide eyes and an O for a mouth. I hid my face until she confessed, “Me too.”
She opened Slouching Towards Bethlehem first. Like an amazing BWF, she xeroxed copies of the Hawaii mentions, but I couldn’t wait for the snail mail and hurried to the library. I finished the book in two days. Reading Didion’s sentences felt like surfing, something bigger than me pushing me along, a clean, awe-filled ride.
Hooked, I read The Year of Magical Thinking, The White Album, Play It As It Lays, and Blue Nights. You can imagine my giddiness when I discovered the Joan Didion and Oahu connection―Oahu, where I live now, approximately twenty-three miles from my literary obsession’s stomping grounds. She traveled to the island enough that she contemplating buying a house. She traveled to the island enough that she regretted not buying a house. In Waikiki, every time I glimpsed the tip-top of that grand pink hotel tucked into the gaggle of shoreline buildings, I promised myself that I would visit.
I have been lucky to have met writers who are obsessed with place, to keep finding writers who are obsessed with place because I have this obsession, and I don’t see an end to it. Mark Twain understands:
No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ears; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its woodland solitudes, I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.
Please return for the follow-up post, “Jane Searches for Joan Didion.”