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Joan Didion On Beauty

Some days we are called to travel-whether by bus, plane, train to release the energy trapped by routine and mundanity. This creative or sexual energy, sitting within our loins, waiting to experience a day outside the rituals. We crave to experience the sunset with different colors, spend our days behind a different backdrop. Joan Didion On Beauty captures the experience of traveling to the south.

Or we travel to places that we once went as kids. To reexperience the memories of a time long gone–which is healing. Movement is healing, for whether its dance, stretching, or travel we need to experience a new day. Joan Didion found herself experiencing this energetic call to travel. Journeying to New Orleans in the summer of 1970 creating a scrapbook of background notes, thoughts, and early drafts. This became South and West. Joan exhibits the characteristics of the free artist. Finding meaning behind, or within, what they are thinking and looking at– she says:

I could never precisely name what impelled me to spend time in the South during the summer of 1970. There was no reportorial imperative to any of the places I went at the time. I went nothing “happened” anywhere I was.

If I talked about it I could mention only Clay Shaw, and Garrison, and a pilot I had once met. Who flew between the Gulf and unnamed Caribbean and Central American airstrips for several years on small planes. With manifests that showed only “tropical flowers,” could mention only some apprehension of paranoia and febrile conspiracy. In short I could only sound deranged. And so instead of talk- ing about it I flew south one day in the summer of 1970. Rented a car, and drove for a month or so around Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. Did nothing at all but try to find out what was making the picture in my mind. 

Joan Didion On Beauty
Joan Didion On Beauty

While searching for meaning within the world we simultaneously reveal people to themselves and our relationship to the people, for where the people forget their own beauty the artist showcases the minute. Writing about people, especially those that are strangers, requires a care for the thinking and doing of people–which is love and compassion. Joan goes south, an a Californian and a artist, with a few preconceptions about the south. At the height of her career she comes humbly without a camera crew, without an editor, and doesn’t intend of doing interviews. She wants to experience the people in their totality, for the only way to know people is by appreciating their grace and beauty. Documenting her trip to New Orleans, and speaking a little about her intention of being in the south she says:

In New Orleans, the old people sitting in front of houses and hotels on St. Charles Avenue, barely rocking. The Quarter I saw them again (along with desolate long-haired children), sitting on balconies, an ironing board behind them, gently rocking, sometimes not rocking at all but only staring. In New Orleans they have mastered the art of the motionless. “I guess nobody knows more about the South than the people in this room right now,” my host allowed several times before dinner.

Joan Didion On Beauty
Joan Didion On Beauty

We are a reflection of our country, the masks used to conceal our scars, and the myths we place on our histories, to deal with our pain, happens on the level of our states and cities. The shame, forgetfulness, and tendency to evade responsibility reflects our own inner forgetfulness, shame, and irresponsibility. Through revealing the beauty of the people we guide souls towards a reflective revelation. Joan travels to New Orleans dispelling myths for the outsiders, and spreads the truth about a city in need of reflection. As she travels through New Orleans speaking to the people, and experience the scenery she says:

When I think now about New Orleans I remember mainly its dense obsessiveness, its vertiginous preoccupation with race, class, heritage, style, and the absence of style. As it happens, these particular preoccupations all involve distinctions which the frontier ethic teaches western children to deny and to leave deliberately unmentioned, but in New Orleans such distinctions are the basis of much conversation, and lend that conversation its peculiar childlike cruelty and innocence.

In New Orleans they also talk about parties, and about food, their voices rising and falling, never still, as if talking about anything at all could keep the wilderness at bay. In New Orleans the wilderness is sensed as very near, not the redemptive wilderness of the western imagination but something rank and old and malevolent, the idea of wilderness not as an escape from civilization and its discontents but as a mortal threat to a community precarious and colonial in its deepest aspect. The effect is lively and avaricious and intensely self-absorbed, a tone not uncommon in colonial cities, and the principal reason I find such cities invigorating.

Joan Didion On Beauty
Joan Didion On Beauty

A little book with a chilling power of prediction. In the intervening decades, the isolated, somnolent rednecks Didion encounters – people who even back then before cable news fed on information that was “fifth-hand, and mythicized in the handing down” – acquired an inordinate political power because of demographic shifts; last year they had their revenge when, in collusion with rust-begrimed losers from the Midwest, they elected a president. Coming from California, Didion sees the south as a metaphorical landscape, America’s heart of darkness. In the west, the frontier ethic erased history and equalized people, but the south remains colonial, obsessed with disparities of “race, class, heritage”. Wilderness on the western plains and in the mountains is redemptive; in the south it is rank, malevolent, encroaching everywhere. Continue reading Alain De Botton On healing while in love.

Joan Didion On Beauty
Joan Didion On Beauty

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