Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Question For Joan Didion

I've spent part of my day re-reading and pondering one of my favorite essays by Joan Didion, Goodbye To All That. It is an essay about living in New York, about falling in love with New York, about growing so tired of New York that you can't even stand the thought of leaving your apartment.

The thing is: Joan left New York, but she came back eventually. I wish I could ask her what it was that brought her back, what happened to make the city tolerable again. I want to ask her so that I can understand if I can truly live here, make my marriage work here, make babies here, make my life here.

In the beginning of the essay , Joan writes about the love and infatuation that non-New Yorkers have with New York: ...New York 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.

I am past the point of being a non-New Yorker, but I wouldn't call myself a New Yorker, either. I'm more of a New York stowaway, biding my time and wondering if I'll ever get caught and sent back to where I came from.

And while living in this city certainly turns the miraculous to the mundane, wouldn't life, with all its rhythms and starts and stops and frustrations become mundane anyway, no matter where you are living? There are bills that need to be paid and trash that needs to be taken out and taxes that are due and that's true no matter where you live. So isn't the mundane inevitable no matter where you are?

I like to think that's what brought Joan back to New York, which is a self serving thought, as I want so badly to make my home here.

And if I should ever have the occasion to run into Joan on the street, or at Coco Pazzo, at Gristedes, or anywhere (as this is truly one of the most amazing things about New York--you can run into anyone anywhere) I think I would ask her this:

Living in a city like New York might very well turn the miraculous into the mundane, but if we must all suffer through these mundane moments of life, shouldn't we do it in the most miraculous city in the world?