where i was from

thoughts on where i was from by joan didion

joan didion

richard diebenkorn

westwood village 1941

the past tense in didion’s title, where i was from, reveals the author’s detached relationship with the state, and appropriately sets the tone of the entire book. california’s conflicting foundations are ripe for study, but didion delves into these stories with such obvious contempt that she misses the irresistibility that makes these issues so interesting in the first place. with so many problems, how does the state continue to glow with such shiny allure, and why do we keep returning to this unfulfilling myth? she views the appeal of the land and the warmth of its embrace as the imaginings of the naïve. she admits that she was once seduced by california’s falsehoods, but she has since matured beyond it.

joan didion

laurel canyon 1983

didion has made me wonder what i’m doing in california when so much artifice and disappointment exists here. there’s no way to reconcile the plentiful dream that the state promises with the realities of our state’s ecological and financial limitations. the current state budget crisis signals an impending doom without any concept of a solution.  what does california have, concretely, to provide for its citizens? our education, welfare and healthcare systems are not providing the tools of success. our water supply is dwindling. we are not creating; we are consuming and ravaging.


yet, like any californian, i love this place. honestly, i feel the land vibrating beneath my feet.  i feel the history of this place, i feel what it has provided.  i don’t need to see the fruits it has borne, or any kind of evidence at all really.  i just feel it.

california wildflowers

los angeles freeways

so i know there’s a problem. this kind of irrational love is unhealthy, and it blinds us to the realities of our situation here. we cannot move forward or change or build anything at all if we do not understand what we have to build off of. at the same time though, i will miss this dream. i want to keep living in it, to keep loving the fantastical california in my mind. shouldn’t we be allowed to make up stories?  especially when the story is as great as the golden state?

mcdonald's 1954

hollywoodland 1923

california central valley


1 Comment

Filed under books

One response to “where i was from

  1. Iris Alden

    Great post! Such nice pics too…

    I think i know precisely what you mean about CA’s land vibrating with opportunity. It seems to be about the fact that it’s still so new compared to the rest of the world. The lasting presence of Gold Rush immigration and early Spanish settlement–Chinatowns and missions up and down the coast– serves as a constant reminder of a time when people indeed rushed into raw land with their dreams looming large overhead. And you can feel it in the coastal hills, still so pristine…

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