“The peculiarity of being a writer,” [Joan] Didion says, “is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one’s own words in print.” (Just by making this statement Didion clearly inserts herself, the writer, into the story.)
Yet even worse than publication, she says, is the risk that something unfinished will be published.
omg. this. so much this.
Just tried to track down the article this piece is about [Joan Didion, Life and Letters, “Last Words,” The New Yorker, November 9, 1998, p. 74] and was foiled. None of the databases go back far enough (seriously what’s up with databases that only go back to 2002?). Will have to go to the VPL and track down the print version. SFU has its old issues on microfilm. Microfilm! How… 20th century.
ETA: So I actually went to the library and found the old New Yorkers in the stacks, located the right volume, and… some asshat who’s apparently never heard of a photocopier had torn out this essay. #fail
If we do not respect ourselves … we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Hellen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous…
It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something so small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — their lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.
via Maud Newton