Remembering Who We Are
This week I finally got around to watching Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a Netflix documentary directed by Didion’s nephew Griffen Dunne. I highly recommend it whether you are already a fan of Joan Didion or about to become one. In it, she talks about starting out writing for magazines in New York, returning to California, writing her novels and essays, her marriage, adopting her daughter Quintana and the death of her husband. It takes you up to her latest book, Blue Nights, which is about her daughter’s death. You feel as if you seen her whole story, but I’m certain she still has things to offer.
Throughout the film she reads passages from her own writings. At the very end, she reads a passage from Slouching Toward Bethlehem, from the essay, “On Keeping a Notebook,” in which she writes about journaling:
“See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I’m only going through the motions of doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is writing –on that bankrupt morning, I will simply open up my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there….”
The original quote as she wrote it in the 1960s ends: “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.”
But at the end of the documentary she says, “It all comes back. Remember what it is to be me. That is always the point.” I don’t believe the change is a mistake. Now alone, there is no one left to remind her who she is. Writing is who Didion is. Writing is how she processes her losses. Writing is how she experiences life.
Mindful writing is remembering who we are – setting aside that time to pause, create a place of stillness, bring our awareness to the present moment and remember that we are spirits living this limited human experience. As writers our job is to know and write that experience.
Year-End Mindful Writing Exercise
These last few days of the year are a good time to pause. So here’s a mindful writing exercise for the days before New Year’s Day: Meditate for 12 minutes (a minute for each month in 2017), focusing on your breath, breathing in and breathing out. With each exhale, focus on letting go. Releasing tension throughout the body. As things from the past year arise in your mind, name them, i.e., work, worrying, to-do list, planning, arguing, etc. and let them go. They are not happening now. They are not the present.
After meditating, pick up your pen. Instead of creating a list of resolutions for 2018, make a list of things you are going to let go of as 2017 ends. Let go of relationships that are unhealthy, expectations that didn’t happen, goals that are no longer what you want, that novel that isn’t going anywhere. Just let go. Release the things that no longer serve you. In doing this, you create an openness and make room for new experiences.
Happy New Year!