Dear Joan Didion: Part 1

It seems worth mentioning that you are among a select group of people for whom a first name is never enough. I always refer to you as “Joan Didion.” This select group is made up of friends and famous strangers alike. It makes no difference if I know an individual personally. For example, I usually refer to Billy Joel as “Bill,” and I refer him as often as I refer to you, Joan Didion.

The reason I am writing to you today is because of the Kickstarter your nephew Griffin Dunne launched in order to make a documentary about you.

It made its goal in the first day. As of right now, the project is 178 percent funded.

Nothing makes me more optimistic about and friendly toward my fellow inhabitants of this planet than the success of this Kickstarter. In the video, Griffin Dunne refers to you as “the most influential American writer alive today.” He is your nephew so his bias is obvious, but seeing those words scrawled across the screen affected me. I am especially fixated on the “alive” part. The “Risks and Challenges” section of the Kickstarter warns:

Our biggest challenge will be timing. We want to make this film and tell this story as soon as we possibly can…

Griffin Dunne also makes vague, almost hushed, allusions to your health, and all of this has me nervous. When you die, who will write about it so that I can be okay? Of course, it will be your writing that gets me through as it always has, but my knee-jerk response is to be scared of the prospect of losing you.

I know you detest being called fragile or frail or any of those words that draw attention to your mortality and your physical body, but every time I see you these days, I inadvertently notice how well those words describe you—until I hear you speak. What am I to do with the juxtaposition of your unwavering voice against the image of a body that quite frankly does waver? It takes me back to that The Year of Magical Thinking interview on Fresh Air, when you cried and Terry Gross stopped recording to give you a minute to collect yourself. That moment was as raw as the book itself, and it remains inextricably linked to my experience of The Year of Magical Thinking.

Because you are a writer, the sound of your voice isn’t the first thing I associate with you. My gut reaction to hearing your name is The Year of Magical Thinking and before that, it was that line from “On Keeping a Notebook” about “the impulse to write things down.” Your voice, though, lives in a deeper part of my consciousness. When I do hear it, as in the Kickstarter video, I am drawn to it. It is so assured, which is often at odds with the words it is speaking. The effect is to complicate the ostensibly unsure tone of your writing. The message I get is that it’s permissible, even useful, to be sure about being unsure.

I am often unsure, and it has been a strange few weeks around here. I had felt slightly unmoored, but this Kickstarter, this news about the documentary, has brought me back somehow. I should have known it would be you. It’s always you.