The Hunt for the Shimmer – Joan Didion

As I flicked my eyes over the first sentence of ‘Goodbye to all that’ by Joan Didion, I paused, and was compelled to re-read it again and again and again.

‘It is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends.’

Like I was driving in circles around a roundabout, my heart grabbed a hold of this sentence and refused to let go. I fell asleep that very night dreaming of those fifteen words. Didion has created images that speak directly to you, into you. ‘With a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict’. The clarity of the accuracy of the sentence, also made the nerves in the back of neck constrict. Within one paragraph, I was taken away by Didion’s writing.  

She excels at her writing as she has the ability to freeze a moment in time and teleport the reader to that exact moment. ‘I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later.’  As I read this, my mind travels through a montage of my own memories.

  1. Eating a peach on the beach in summer.
  2. When I was in Liverpool, and I could feel the warm air blowing from a train grating, wafting smells such as cheap perfume, garbage, and cigarettes.

Relatable.

In a singular sentence, Didion can have you relate, grasped by the tentacles of memory. I believe that she is a master of imagery. She talks of the shimmering image in ‘Why I write’ saying that ‘when I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges.’ When I read, this I was fixated, potentially obsessed, with the ‘shimmering image’.

Do I see shimmering images?

According to Didion, in order to allow yourself to see the shimmering image, you must stay quiet, lie low and not talk to many people. By following this advice, she says the image will develop, like a classic camera.

Ah, I think to myself, this is why I don’t see the shimmering image in my day to day life. I am rarely quiet, I like being the centre of attention and I talk to everyone. I feel like my generation don’t know how to let an image develop. We are a now generation, a why generation, an expecting generation, an immediate satisfaction generation.  I know now that I best see shimmering images when I have gone on an adventure, in search of the shimmer. This is quite often in nature where the hustling streets of my day to day life do not dirty my camera lens. The images can be seen in such clarity here.  I wish I could see daily moments with more clarity, the kind that will the nerves in the back of my neck constrict.

I jot this down as a memo to self. ‘Daily moments, clarity, slow down.’

Sanders said in ‘The Singular Essay’ that ‘We should expect as much from an essay: the shimmer and play of mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current’ and all I can think of is how my depths are a strong current but my shimmer is being dragged downwards, towards the seabed of cloggy sand and withering seaweeds. I have a note written down which is underlined and highlighted in arrogant yellow. ‘Imagery has the capacity to reach a reader faster and more directly than general descriptions and abstracts.’ I think this is how Didion has captured me. Her imagery is an experience within itself, and it includes more than the visual of the image, it has so much depth that I feel like I know exactly what she is thinking and I am swept away by her strong current.

I am intrigued by this idea and my curiosity for knowledge leads me to ‘In the Syntax’ by Eula Biss. Biss destroys and strips down ‘Goodbye to All That.’ In doing so she has become a master of this masterpiece. I wish I had read more of Joan Didion’s work before reading this piece. Biss describes ‘Goodbye to All That’ as a ‘narrative about a narrative’ and this flips down a new lens down for me as I reach for those nine pages once more.

‘I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again’. I fell in love with her syntax, how she would piece a sentence together with utter precision.

‘In the Syntax’ brought to my attention that the technicalities on Didion’s narrative in in ‘Goodbye to All That’ are beside the point, as the very essence of the essay will always sing true to all the read it. She speaks about the syntax, and I know I am an English major, but as life clogs my brain I find myself stamping across the keyboard, googling ‘Define Syntax.’ Google tells me it is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.’ Biss comments ‘The syntax of the body is still the best metaphor I can find for the syntax of the sentence.’ In ‘Why I Write’, Didion discusses how her writing practice is to work from images, to find words that fit that picture and this is how she builds her syntax.

‘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.’

The television whispers to me, enticing me with its explosions of light. It is a scene I know well from a childhood movie, and as the wands whip into action I realize that to think of imagery as different camera techniques is a great way to think about it. Didion refers to media techniques in ‘Goodbye to All that’ such as ‘The deceptive ease of a film dissolve’ and ‘in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old fashioned trick shots’. In ‘Goodbye to all That’ she says that she was talking ‘long distance to the boy I already knew I wouldn’t marry in the spring’ and how she ‘would stay in New York, just 6 months.’ This showed itself to me as two stills, showing a passing of time.

What a way to write imagery!

Just like Didion’s monastic four room floor apartment on Seventy Fifth Street, ‘Goodbye to all that’ has that simplicity that echoes Didion’s empty apartment. Her essay is a straightforward narrative. The beginning is her arrival in New York, the body is her experiences in New York and then end is her leaving for Los Angeles. Simplicity coats her writing and yet her imagery is exquisitely detailed and complex.

Didion refers to writing as an ‘aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions.’ Aggressive is such a harsh word, it claws sharp and ready to pounce. Writing is a performance, and breaking past people’s walls of privacy and into their homes. When reading Sanders “The Singular First Person”, he also starts off his piece with the arrogance of writing. ‘It is an arrogant and foolhardy form, this one man or one woman circus which relies on the tricks of anecdote, memory, conjecture, and wit to hold our attention.’

The evening breeze fluttered over my arms as I stood in the groundling pit, sand crunching underneath my worn through warm jandals and I shifted my weight from side to side. I was watching in anticipation, my eyes creasing and un-creasing as the scene unfolded. The man in clunky steel amour grunted at his comrade to his left as they clonked down to sit amongst sticks, grass, and moss within the forest where they were camping.  With tricks of anecdote and wit, my attention was held. I was entranced, and then in the back of the arena, fireworks exploded with a fantastic boom into the sky and my trance was broken as the element of surprise hit me like a thunder clap. 

In retrospect, I wish I travelled more. I am twenty-four now and I have a job and responsibilities and excuses. When I was twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and even twenty-three, I felt like I had all the time in the world and as Didion said in ‘Goodbye to All That’’ ‘Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach.’ Now, I am twenty-four, and everything is irrevocable and nothing is within reach.

Bibliography

Didion, Joan. “Goodbye to All That.” 1967. Live and Learn. London: Harper Perennial, 2005. 176-85.

Didion, Joan. “Why I Write.” The New York Times Book Review 5 Dec. 1976: 270

Sanders, Scott Russell. “The Singular First Person.” Essays on the Essay: Re-Defining the Genre. Ed. Bury, Alexander. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989. 31-42

Biss, Eula. “In the Syntax: Rewriting Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That”” Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Volume 13, Number 1. (Spring 2011): 133-137.

Griffin, Susan. “Red Shoes.” 1993. The Next American Essay. Ed. John D’Agata.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2003. 301-16

Gutkind, Lee. “Creative Non-Fiction: A Movement, Not a Moment.” Creative Nonfiction. 29 (2006): 6-18.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunt for the Shimmer

 

As I flicked my eyes over the first sentence of ‘Goodbye to all that’ by Joan Didion, I paused, and was compelled to re-read it again and again and again.

 

‘It is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends.’

 

Like I was driving in circles around a roundabout, my heart grabbed a hold of this sentence and refused to let go. I fell asleep that very night dreaming of those fifteen words. Didion has created images that speak directly to you, into you. ‘With a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict’. The clarity of the accuracy of the sentence, also made the nerves in the back of neck constrict. Within one paragraph, I was taken away by Didion’s writing.  

 

She excels at her writing as she has the ability to freeze a moment in time and teleport the reader to that exact moment. ‘I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later.’  As I read this, my mind travels through a montage of my own memories.

 

  1. Eating a peach on the beach in summer.
  1.  When I was in Liverpool, and I could feel the warm air blowing from a train grating, wafting smells such as cheap perfume, garbage, and cigarettes.

 

Relatable.

 

In a singular sentence, Didion can have you relate, grasped by the tentacles of memory. I believe that she is a master of imagery. She talks of the shimmering image in ‘Why I write’ saying that ‘when I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges.’ When I read, this I was fixated, potentially obsessed, with the ‘shimmering image’.

 

Do I see shimmering images?

According to Didion, in order to allow yourself to see the shimmering image, you must stay quiet, lie low and not talk to many people. By following this advice, she says the image will develop, like a classic camera.

 

Ah, I think to myself, this is why I don’t see the shimmering image in my day to day life. I am rarely quiet, I like being the centre of attention and I talk to everyone. I feel like my generation don’t know how to let an image develop. We are a now generation, a why generation, an expecting generation, an immediate satisfaction generation.  I know now that I best see shimmering images when I have gone on an adventure, in search of the shimmer. This is quite often in nature where the hustling streets of my day to day life do not dirty my camera lens. The images can be seen in such clarity here.  I wish I could see daily moments with more clarity, the kind that will the nerves in the back of my neck constrict.

 

I jot this down as a memo to self. ’Daily moments, clarity, slow down.’

 

Sanders said in ‘The Singular Essay’ that ‘We should expect as much from an essay: the shimmer and play of mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current’ and all I can think of is how my depths are a strong current but my shimmer is being dragged downwards, towards the seabed of cloggy sand and withering seaweeds. I have a note written down which is underlined and highlighted in arrogant yellow. ‘Imagery has the capacity to reach a reader faster and more directly than general descriptions and abstracts.’ I think this is how Didion has captured me. Her imagery is an experience within itself, and it includes more than the visual of the image, it has so much depth that I feel like I know exactly what she is thinking and I am swept away by her strong current.

 

I am intrigued by this idea and my curiosity for knowledge leads me to ‘In the Syntax’ by Eula Biss. Biss destroys and strips down ‘Goodbye to All That.’ In doing so she has become a master of this masterpiece. I wish I had read more of Joan Didion’s work before reading this piece. Biss describes ‘Goodbye to All That’ as a ‘narrative about a narrative’ and this flips down a new lens down for me as I reach for those nine pages once more.

 

‘I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again’. I fell in love with her syntax, how she would piece a sentence together with utter precision.

‘In the Syntax’ brought to my attention that the technicalities on Didion’s narrative in in ‘Goodbye to All That’ are beside the point, as the very essence of the essay will always sing true to all the read it. She speaks about the syntax, and I know I am an English major, but as life clogs my brain I find myself stamping across the keyboard, googling ‘Define Syntax.’ Google tells me it is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.’ Biss comments ‘The syntax of the body is still the best metaphor I can find for the syntax of the sentence.’ In ‘Why I Write’, Didion discusses how her writing practice is to work from images, to find words that fit that picture and this is how she builds her syntax.

 

‘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.’

 

The television whispers to me, enticing me with its explosions of light. It is a scene I know well from a childhood movie, and as the wands whip into action I realize that to think of imagery as different camera techniques is a great way to think about it. Didion refers to media techniques in ‘Goodbye to All that’ such as ‘The deceptive ease of a film dissolve’ and ‘in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old fashioned trick shots’. In ‘Goodbye to all That’ she says that she was talking ‘long distance to the boy I already knew I wouldn’t marry in the spring’ and how she ‘would stay in New York, just 6 months.’ This showed itself to me as two stills, showing a passing of time.

 

What a way to write imagery!

 

Just like Didion’s monastic four room floor apartment on Seventy Fifth Street, ‘Goodbye to all that’ has that simplicity that echoes Didion’s empty apartment. Her essay is a straightforward narrative. The beginning is her arrival in New York, the body is her experiences in New York and then end is her leaving for Los Angeles. Simplicity coats her writing and yet her imagery is exquisitely detailed and complex.

 

Didion refers to writing as an ‘aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions.’ Aggressive is such a harsh word, it claws sharp and ready to pounce. Writing is a performance, and breaking past people’s walls of privacy and into their homes. When reading Sanders “The Singular First Person”, he also starts off his piece with the arrogance of writing. ‘It is an arrogant and foolhardy form, this one man or one woman circus which relies on the tricks of anecdote, memory, conjecture, and wit to hold our attention.’

 

The evening breeze fluttered over my arms as I stood in the groundling pit, sand crunching underneath my worn through warmjandalsand I shifted my weight from side to side. I was watching in anticipation, my eyes creasing andun-creasingas the scene unfolded. The man inclunkysteelamourgrunted at his comrade to his left as theyclonked down to sit amongst sticks, grass, and moss within theforestwhere they were camping. With tricks of anecdote and wit, my attention was held. I was entranced, and then in the back of the arena, fireworks exploded with a fantastic boom into the sky and my trance was broken asthe element of surprise hit me like a thunder clap. 

 

In retrospect, I wish I travelled more. I am twenty-four now and I have a job and responsibilities and excuses. When I was twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and even twenty-three, I felt like I had all the time in the world and as Didion said in ‘Goodbye to All That’’ ‘Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach.’ Now, I am twenty-four, and everything is irrevocable and nothing is within reach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Didion, Joan. “Goodbye to All That.” 1967. Live and Learn. London: Harper Perennial, 2005. 176-85.

Didion, Joan. “Why I Write.” The New York Times Book Review 5 Dec. 1976: 270

Sanders, Scott Russell. “The Singular First Person.” Essays on the Essay: Re-Defining the Genre. Ed. Bury, Alexander. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989. 31-42

Biss, Eula. “In the Syntax: Rewriting Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That”” Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Volume 13, Number 1. (Spring 2011): 133-137.

Griffin, Susan. “Red Shoes.” 1993. The Next American Essay.Ed. John D’Agata.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2003. 301-16

Gutkind, Lee. “Creative Non-Fiction: A Movement, Not a Moment.” Creative Nonfiction.29 (2006): 6-18.

 

 

 

 

The Hunt for the Shimmer

 

As I flicked my eyes over the first sentence of ‘Goodbye to all that’ by Joan Didion, I paused, and was compelled to re-read it again and again and again.

 

‘It is easy to see the beginning of things, and harder to see the ends.’

 

Like I was driving in circles around a roundabout, my heart grabbed a hold of this sentence and refused to let go. I fell asleep that very night dreaming of those fifteen words. Didion has created images that speak directly to you, into you. ‘With a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict’. The clarity of the accuracy of the sentence, also made the nerves in the back of neck constrict. Within one paragraph, I was taken away by Didion’s writing.  

 

She excels at her writing as she has the ability to freeze a moment in time and teleport the reader to that exact moment. ‘I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later.’  As I read this, my mind travels through a montage of my own memories.

 

  1. Eating a peach on the beach in summer.
  1.  When I was in Liverpool, and I could feel the warm air blowing from a train grating, wafting smells such as cheap perfume, garbage, and cigarettes.

 

Relatable.

 

In a singular sentence, Didion can have you relate, grasped by the tentacles of memory. I believe that she is a master of imagery. She talks of the shimmering image in ‘Why I write’ saying that ‘when I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges.’ When I read, this I was fixated, potentially obsessed, with the ‘shimmering image’.

 

Do I see shimmering images?

According to Didion, in order to allow yourself to see the shimmering image, you must stay quiet, lie low and not talk to many people. By following this advice, she says the image will develop, like a classic camera.

 

Ah, I think to myself, this is why I don’t see the shimmering image in my day to day life. I am rarely quiet, I like being the centre of attention and I talk to everyone. I feel like my generation don’t know how to let an image develop. We are a now generation, a why generation, an expecting generation, an immediate satisfaction generation.  I know now that I best see shimmering images when I have gone on an adventure, in search of the shimmer. This is quite often in nature where the hustling streets of my day to day life do not dirty my camera lens. The images can be seen in such clarity here.  I wish I could see daily moments with more clarity, the kind that will the nerves in the back of my neck constrict.

 

I jot this down as a memo to self. ’Daily moments, clarity, slow down.’

 

Sanders said in ‘The Singular Essay’ that ‘We should expect as much from an essay: the shimmer and play of mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current’ and all I can think of is how my depths are a strong current but my shimmer is being dragged downwards, towards the seabed of cloggy sand and withering seaweeds. I have a note written down which is underlined and highlighted in arrogant yellow. ‘Imagery has the capacity to reach a reader faster and more directly than general descriptions and abstracts.’ I think this is how Didion has captured me. Her imagery is an experience within itself, and it includes more than the visual of the image, it has so much depth that I feel like I know exactly what she is thinking and I am swept away by her strong current.

 

I am intrigued by this idea and my curiosity for knowledge leads me to ‘In the Syntax’ by Eula Biss. Biss destroys and strips down ‘Goodbye to All That.’ In doing so she has become a master of this masterpiece. I wish I had read more of Joan Didion’s work before reading this piece. Biss describes ‘Goodbye to All That’ as a ‘narrative about a narrative’ and this flips down a new lens down for me as I reach for those nine pages once more.

 

‘I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again’. I fell in love with her syntax, how she would piece a sentence together with utter precision.

‘In the Syntax’ brought to my attention that the technicalities on Didion’s narrative in in ‘Goodbye to All That’ are beside the point, as the very essence of the essay will always sing true to all the read it. She speaks about the syntax, and I know I am an English major, but as life clogs my brain I find myself stamping across the keyboard, googling ‘Define Syntax.’ Google tells me it is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.’ Biss comments ‘The syntax of the body is still the best metaphor I can find for the syntax of the sentence.’ In ‘Why I Write’, Didion discusses how her writing practice is to work from images, to find words that fit that picture and this is how she builds her syntax.

 

‘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.’

 

The television whispers to me, enticing me with its explosions of light. It is a scene I know well from a childhood movie, and as the wands whip into action I realize that to think of imagery as different camera techniques is a great way to think about it. Didion refers to media techniques in ‘Goodbye to All that’ such as ‘The deceptive ease of a film dissolve’ and ‘in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old fashioned trick shots’. In ‘Goodbye to all That’ she says that she was talking ‘long distance to the boy I already knew I wouldn’t marry in the spring’ and how she ‘would stay in New York, just 6 months.’ This showed itself to me as two stills, showing a passing of time.

 

What a way to write imagery!

 

Just like Didion’s monastic four room floor apartment on Seventy Fifth Street, ‘Goodbye to all that’ has that simplicity that echoes Didion’s empty apartment. Her essay is a straightforward narrative. The beginning is her arrival in New York, the body is her experiences in New York and then end is her leaving for Los Angeles. Simplicity coats her writing and yet her imagery is exquisitely detailed and complex.

 

Didion refers to writing as an ‘aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions.’ Aggressive is such a harsh word, it claws sharp and ready to pounce. Writing is a performance, and breaking past people’s walls of privacy and into their homes. When reading Sanders “The Singular First Person”, he also starts off his piece with the arrogance of writing. ‘It is an arrogant and foolhardy form, this one man or one woman circus which relies on the tricks of anecdote, memory, conjecture, and wit to hold our attention.’

 

The evening breeze fluttered over my arms as I stood in the groundling pit, sand crunching underneath my worn through warmjandalsand I shifted my weight from side to side. I was watching in anticipation, my eyes creasing andun-creasingas the scene unfolded. The man inclunkysteelamourgrunted at his comrade to his left as theyclonked down to sit amongst sticks, grass, and moss within theforestwhere they were camping. With tricks of anecdote and wit, my attention was held. I was entranced, and then in the back of the arena, fireworks exploded with a fantastic boom into the sky and my trance was broken asthe element of surprise hit me like a thunder clap. 

 

In retrospect, I wish I travelled more. I am twenty-four now and I have a job and responsibilities and excuses. When I was twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and even twenty-three, I felt like I had all the time in the world and as Didion said in ‘Goodbye to All That’’ ‘Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach.’ Now, I am twenty-four, and everything is irrevocable and nothing is within reach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Didion, Joan. “Goodbye to All That.” 1967. Live and Learn. London: Harper Perennial, 2005. 176-85.

Didion, Joan. “Why I Write.” The New York Times Book Review 5 Dec. 1976: 270

Sanders, Scott Russell. “The Singular First Person.” Essays on the Essay: Re-Defining the Genre. Ed. Bury, Alexander. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989. 31-42

Biss, Eula. “In the Syntax: Rewriting Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That”” Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction Volume 13, Number 1. (Spring 2011): 133-137.

Griffin, Susan. “Red Shoes.” 1993. The Next American Essay.Ed. John D’Agata.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2003. 301-16

Gutkind, Lee. “Creative Non-Fiction: A Movement, Not a Moment.” Creative Nonfiction.29 (2006): 6-18.

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