40 Wise and Inspiring Joan Didion Quotes

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Joan Didion is a living legend in the American literary scene. She first established herself as a writer back in the 1960s, when she won an essay competition in Vogue. She then went on to become an editor for the influential magazine, and in 1963, she published her first novel, Run River.

Didion has since gone on to write some of the most engaging personal and social commentaries of our time. Her essays, novels, journals, and memoirs have examined the darker side of the Hollywood lifestyle and the American dream, as well the counter culture of the 1960s and 70s.

Related: The Best Joan Didion Books Of All Time

After the death of her beloved husband in 2003, Didion published The Year of Magical Thinking. The book became an immediate bestseller, and was hailed as one of the most influential and honest books about loss and mourning of our time. It went on to win the National Book Awards in the non-fiction category and was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Joan Didion’s words have been a source of hope, courage, and inspiration for generations now. That’s why I’ve selected 40 of her best-loved quotes to help remind us that our struggles are not just our own; they’re a part of the human condition.

40 Best Joan Didion Quotes

“I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear.”

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

“Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves–there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”

“One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.”

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

“People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who wears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off. These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible.”

“Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.”

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, 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… ”

“The ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language.”

“You have your wonderful memories,” people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms in the closet, the faded and cracked photographs, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”

“I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”

“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

“I am a writer. Imagining what someone would say or do comes to me as naturally as breathing.”

“I did not always think he was right, nor did he always think I was right, but we were each the person the other trusted.”

“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact, they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here. How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see.”

“Time is the school in which we learn”

“We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. as we were. as we are no longer. as we will one day not be at all.”

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”

“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. “

“Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.”

“See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, someday when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do… on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…”

“Do not whine… Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

“Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

“…quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone, but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage.”

“As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs…The way I write is who I am, or have become…”

“What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.”

“Alcohol has its own well-known defects as a medication for depression, but no one has ever suggested – ask any doctor – that it is not the most effective anti-anxiety agent yet known.”

“I am what I am. To look for reasons is beside the point.”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We live entirely by the impression of a narrative line upon disparate images, the shifting phantasmagoria, which is our actual experience.”

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be…”

“Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach… I could make promises to myself and to other people, and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.”

I hope you enjoyed this selection of quotes from the wise and wonderful Joan Didion. Which Joan Didion quote is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

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