It's about to rain a lot around here—tonight, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—and it has come to my attention that some people have still not see the Joan Didion documentary.
The legendary journalist, essayist, novelist, fashion model, screenwriter, Californian, New Yorker, mother, wife, widow, cigarette smoker, gin drinker, Dexedrine taker, car driver, and Doors fan has written enough about her own life that you might almost think, if you've read her books, there isn't anything you don't already know. You'd be wrong.
• I didn't know that her much-revered essay "On Self-Respect" was written while she was an intern at Vogue, and that she initially wasn't supposed to write it. But the latest Vogue cover had already gone to the printer, and it promised a story inside called "Self-Respect: Its Source, Its Power," and the writer who was supposed to write the essay never turned it in. So they let her do it. God, that essay.
• I didn't know about her mildly debilitating physical condition, something I assume has something to do with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("the kind of name usually associated with telethons") in the '70s, though the documentary doesn't address it directly. We see the effects, though.
• I didn't know that when she turns a page of the newspaper it looks like it weighs a hundred pounds.
• I didn't know what the inside of her apartment looks like.
• I didn't know that, when grieving the death of her husband, she weighed as little as 75 pounds. When the director David Hare adapted The Year of Magical Thinking for Broadway, he says, one of his goals during the process was to feed her. They created a little cafe table in the wings of the stage, put a sign on it that said "Cafe Didion," and gave her croissants and soup.
• I didn't know she considered herself a failure as a mother after what happened to her daughter, even though I'd read that whole book about her daughter, Blue Nights.
• I didn't know that Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter building a deck and bookcases for her house in Malibu before getting cast in Star Wars.
• I didn't know that Warren Beatty used to have a crush on her. After watching the documentary, I googled it and found out that one time, after she was married, Beatty had a late call on set and invited her to hang out with him, and she simply replied, "That is not feasible."
• I didn't know—I was shocked—that when asked about what it was like seeing a 5-year-old on acid (as described in "Slouching Towards Bethlehem"), she would say: "Let me tell you. It was gold."