Nora's Reviews > Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
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I like Joan Didion... and now I want to leave Oregon and move to California, though wonder if my staunch New Englandness can truly make such a move with comfort or a modicum of ease or will I simply feel like a foreigner, like a spy sent from a far to see how the other side lives and to debunk the mythology I created growing up back east of California? I am a New Englander, truly; in many ways the puritanical pragmatism is ingrained in my bones and is the tendency I fall back upon despite valiant efforts and eating copious amounts of psychadelic mushrooms in the early 00's. When I am in Portland, distance and nostalgia cloud my rarely accurate memory with a veil of foggy romanticism. I think of Amherst and Northampton and Cambridge, the oldness, the architecture and history. When I am in Massachusetts, I feel withdrawn, interior, a touch stifled and, frankly, a tad depressed and I think warmly of Portland: the rain, my bike, and cozy dwellings. I left this book moved by many of Didion's essays, wondering how I missed this book, when in high school I devoured The White Album and Play It As It Lays with such rapidity that I lack any idea of what those books were actually about, but in typical Didion fashion, I recall with clarity and immediacy who I was. Where I was emotionally and spiritually stays with me: a plane on the way to Atlanta, terrified because in a few months I was leaving home to go to college and felt rudderless, without much tethering me to anything, adrift. I remember my window seat, drinking lukewarm lousy black tea as I watched the clouds and the glimpses of land below, a creeping sense of awareness that my crisis of identity was banal and even the scene itself, on a plane, book in hand, tears welling in eyes struck a chord, a cheap string on a shitty plastic guitar. And now I wonder, where do I belong geographically... where is my home, in the sense of place as home?
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Reading Progress

August 15, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
August 22, 2009 – Finished Reading

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Nora Didion's final essay 'Goodbye to All That' had my stomach in knots and has been all that I can consider lately- recalling my own early/ mid-twenties and my habits, drinking by night, sometimes into the day and talking wildly, full of ideas and this sense of newness, of a stack of days, fresh and dewy and each a clean slate. She has a line about drinking during the afternoon and not feeling guilty because to the twenty something year old DIdion, there are afternoons aplenty. I felt hurled back to New Hampshire and to times spent sitting at a bar, nattering away about future plans, writing, books and movies and experiences, and how I would drift home, usually quite tipsy, on foot or slowly on bike, write for a little while, go to bed, and possibly wake up to get a bloody mary and have a conversation with similar themes, rhythm and cadences. And now, nearly 30, drinking or even becoming tipsy by day, would create such guilt, such ech-oh-what-are-you-doing-with-your-life sorts of thoughts.

Maybe the intersection of 30 and Didion and not quite knowing where to live, what place is home is what made this book as impacting as it was, leaving behind little marbles of thoughts that have been on a pinball path in my mind since yesterday afternoon.

Goodbye to All That was tender and beautiful and was like reading a mirror reflection of my thoughts on myself and geography. Didion writes about New York as a Californian, a Sacremento native. And here I dwell on the abstraction of California from my native New England perspective... And living on the west coast in general. I came to Portland as respite to figure out what the hell I was doing in terms of grad school and my life in general- I had long been sitting on the Portsmouth, NH shelf past my date of expiration and my nerves were shot, frayed little things. I came to Portland to have some fun for a year or two, get some perspective and then, inevitably, as it always goes, shuttle back East.

Five years later- and the East seems like a daunting place to return. I suppose because I've cemented in this notion that once I go back, I do not return to the West Coast to live again; barring radical changes my locale will be fixed more or less. It's silly, rigid thinking, but I can't deny it's there. I like Portland, but, like anywhere, it is lacking in many things I love, but that lack is always quickly mediated by the ease of living here, the relative cheapness and way I can just bike most places with little effort, afford most foods, shows, etc.

Oh Joan. Look at the pot you've stirred.

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