article

Joan Didion in ‘The Center Will Not Hold’—There’s Hope When Things Fall Apart

Share:

Recently released documentary, “The Center Will Not Hold,” details the life of author Joan Didion. Things fall apart, but in the wreckage, we find courage to rebuild.
Photo Courtesy of The Didion Documentary Team


author

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” —Joan Didion

There is much to be discovered by peering into the vast realities of humanity and the truth about our existence. But what happens when we look too closely? What happens when, as we lean in closer and squint to sharpen our gaze, we begin to see cracks within the surface? The flaws that disrupt what we believe to be the natural order of things—like natural disasters, mass shootings or the individual, isolated pain that doesn’t make global news? Or the widespread, perpetuated abuse that does?

Renowned contemporary American author, Joan Didion, speaks on this idea—the idea that things fall apart—in the recently released documentary, “The Center Will Not Hold,” which details her life and demonstrates, I believe, how the practice of writing can be a tool with which we engage in grief to work against the silence of shame.

If there was ever a time to draw attention to the incongruities between who we thought we were and who we actually are, it’s now.

Growing up in Sacramento, moving to New York City after graduating college, living in San Francisco during the countercultural movement of the 1960s and eventually traveling all over the world with her husband, novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, Didion has seen many corners of the world. Yet it’s the character of California that has always seemed to elude her—she calls California a “wearying enigma.”

Joan-Didion-LightWorkers-Author

RELATED ARTICLE: 8 Contemporary Short Stories to Read In 2018

And there’s truth to this statement. California sets the climate and perception of reality for much of the world: most of the content consumed by the world—music, movies and other forms of digital content—comes out of California. The United States, with the help of Hollywood, makes more movies and more money than any other country.

Here’s the point: when people across the United States and the world consume the media coming out of Hollywood, they’re consuming the 503 square miles that is Los Angeles; they’re consuming a very small, very pointed, very partisan perspective. They’re consuming a product that is often extremely fraught with destructive, manipulative control, media whose production has left many damaged behind the scenes.

Our sense of reality and “how things ought to be” is limited to a very narrow scope, dictated by a very few and very select group of powerful people.

In the early minutes of the documentary, Joan Didion articulates a sentiment that I believe applies to the current climate of our culture, saying, “…It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair.”

Similarly, it is distinctly possible to realize we’re not at the fair at all, that the bliss we’ve been enjoying is actually just ignorance.

Or worse: the bliss we’ve been enjoying has simply been the silence of others, perpetuated by shame and the abuse of power.

Sound familiar?

It’s all coming together now. As more allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power continue to surface, maybe we’re starting to realize that we haven’t progressed as far as we would like to believe. We’re approaching head-on a poisonous evil deeply rooted within our media-centric culture. That is, after all, the heart behind #MeToo: if you haven’t experienced abuse, someone you know has. It’s closer to home than it ever should be.

“I, myself have always found that if I examine something,” Didion explains, “it’s less scary. We always had this theory that if you kept the snake in your eyeline, the snake wasn’t [going to] bite you. That’s kind of the way I feel about confronting pain,” she continues. “I want to know where it is.”

RELATED ARTICLE: ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ Is the Novel That 2017 Needed

This is, as it turns out, a massive, subconscious motivator for humankind: to orient oneself in a position that avoids pain as much as possible, to dodge the risk of being caught off guard by people and structures with malicious intent. And the writer? Well, this is the writer’s driving force: to locate those inconsistent places, within ourselves and our world, over which we have paved for fear of confronting them, and to expose them.

Trading in the silence of shame for the silence of grief and empathy is finally empowering people to use their voices.

For Didion, it was the meaninglessness she saw in existing within Los Angeles’ media-driven culture and the ineptitude she felt when confronted by the passing of her husband and daughter.

Joan-Didion-LightWorkers-Documentary

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” Didion articulates.

We’ve reached it. The snake has bitten us. We’re not at the fair.

Sometimes, silence seems to be the only words to adequately portray the gut-hollowing, breathless sense of grief for the crimes perpetrated against the bodies and wills of fellow human beings.

Things fall apart, yes, but sometimes it’s for the better. Sometimes we need things to fall apart so we can sift through the wreckage to find hope for new foundations.

But grief is a different kind of silence. Trading in the silence of shame for the silence of grief and empathy is finally empowering people to use their voices. So to this I say, keep it coming. If there was ever a time to speak out about hidden abuse, it’s now. If there was ever a time to draw attention to the incongruities between who we thought we were and who we actually are, it’s now. If there was ever a time to shake the people around you, the people who think they’re at the fair, to remind them of the pain-riddled stories of victims of abuse, it’s now.

To victims, for the sake of humankind, please keep speaking out. To writers, please keep writing. And to everyone else, please keep championing the courage it takes the break the silence of shame. Things fall apart, yes, but sometimes it’s for the better. Sometimes we need things to fall apart so we can sift through the wreckage to find hope for new foundations.

“The Center Will Not Hold” is available for streaming now on Netflix.

READ MORE


AZIZ ANSARI WINS BEST ACTOR: WHY THIS GOLDEN GLOBE WIN MATTERS
Aziz Ansari has become the first Asian man to win a Golden Globe for ‘Best Actor” in a TV series. What about his historic win and his show, “Master of None” is so special?