Writer Joan Didion Shares Some Life Advice

Snow came to Vancouver for Christmas!

On December 30, 2021, the sun came out and pathways in the snow welcomed us to embrace the winter chill. As I walked towards the Vancouver Seawall, I heard my cellphone notification, alerting me to an incoming e-mail from my sister, Sarah. Her message was short and confined to the subject line. “Loved this quote.”

Below I read, “Writer Joan Didion shares some life advice.” The source was her 1975 Commencement Address at the University of California, Riverside.

As I read Joan Didion’s words, I felt that marvelous sense that life was to be embraced – no, seized with enthusiasm.

Joan Didion’s recent passing on December 23, 2021, and my subsequent decision to place her book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” on top of my 2022 books to be read was fresh in my mind. Sarah’s e-mail was a serendipitous confirmation that I had chosen wisely.

I encourage you to read Joan Didion’s full commencement speech which is found on The UC Riverside News website: “Joan Didion’s ‘lost’ commence address revealed.

Writer Joan Didion shares some life advice:

"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."

Source: 1975 Commencement Address at the University of California, Riverside

Published by Rebecca Budd

Lifestyle Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

34 thoughts on “Writer Joan Didion Shares Some Life Advice

  1. You know what Rebecca, for once I am speechless having gone over and read her address because finally I felt I belonged. There you go. I felt that despite our very different logistical backgrounds she was talking to me in every way and there it was, the way I’ve felt all my life and the things I’ve raised my own children by. A most wonderful post and share of her full address.

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    1. When I read Sarah’s email message, I felt that serendipity had come calling. I share that same feeling of connectedness as you do. Your writing exemplifies the idea of living within a messy world, where notions of good/bad, write/wrong, and success/failure are confronted and challenged. That is your gift, Shey. You give us characters who try valiantly to make their way in a complex, ambiguous environment. Your allow them to experience the convulsions of the world. Sending many hugs your way!!!

      “All I want to tell you today, really, is not to do that. Not to move into that world where you’re alone with yourself and your tree. I want to tell you to live in the messy world, throw yourself into the convulsion of the world.” Joan Didion.

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      1. My darling, I have felt that I never belonged except in that messy world. I spent years thinking I was the only one at odds. BUT then you met more and more people that way. I am so glad we connected in every way. Listen xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx for that comment there. I just like tow rite and like that I could have had a contract with a big house in romance but I could not write the story the way they wanted it. It was way too tidy and ergo silly for me!! ! And my fear was never rejection at this point, it was acceptance, so I stepped away . So what you means such a lot to me xxxx

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    1. I am with you on that thought, Liz. I would have loved to be in that audience. Joan Didion’s words resonated especially about living in a “messy world.” Critical thinking is like common sense, which is not so common. Her choice to use the word “struggle” clearly defines a life-long journey.

      “I’ve had to struggle all my life against my own misapprehensions, my own false ideas, my own distorted perceptions. I’ve had to work very hard, make myself unhappy, give up ideas that made me comfortable, trying to apprehend social reality. I’ve spent my entire adult life, it seems to me, in a state of profound culture shock”

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  2. Excellent and precious advice! It reminds me of a Persian proverb; the last shirt has no pockets! Joan Didion’s words must be taken by heart in our greedy and selfish world. Even though I have suffered a lot in my life; therefore I have sympathy for the young women and men who are political prisoners in the prisons of the authoritarian regimes, and also whose parents worry outside of bars about them; if they have no understanding for these words; to live it in!
    We have such a different world around this planet, and how I wished it would be not so. Stay safe and well, dear Rebecca. Blessing

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    1. Many thanks, Alaedin for your profound words. Your words “the last shirt has no pockets” was a brilliant affirmation of Joan Didion’s address. Our world is indeed complex, which challenges us to employ compassion in our daily interactions. Kindness to ourselves and to others (including all creatures that share our whole) is essential for living with hope.

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    1. I am delighted that you joined me on the Vancouver Seawall, Deborah. The snow lasted a few days and now we are in the rainy season that is preparing for the coming of crocuses and daffodils. Everyone was out with their cameras to capture the sunshine and snow. Many thanks for your visit and comments!

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  3. This ist the first time, dear Rebecca, that I hear of the writer Joan Didion and her commencement address at the Universitiy of California, which is very touching:) The sentence which seems to me to be absolutely true is the following one: ” We all distort what we see. We all have to struggle to see what’s really going on”
    Thank you very much for having presented this lady to me!

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed this message, Martina. I have been reading about how we develop critical thinking, something that came out of the discussion with Dave and Shehanne. Perhaps knowing the definition of critical thinking needs to fully understood (I continue to learn in this area) – which is about our ability to question, to acknowledge and test previously held assumptions, to recognize ambiguity to examine interpret, evaluate etc.

      In my experience, this is a life-long journey. It is so easy to move quickly through our learned decision-making process, rather that to stand back and reflect, allowing our mind to examine our closely held beliefs. I agree – “we all distort what we see. We all have to struggle to see what’s really going on.” I especially appreciate the word “struggle” for it is an ongoing struggle to understand who we are and how we relate to others and external forces.

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      1. I really love your interpretation, Rebecca, of how we should proceed in order to really see things how they are:) I have, in fact, been thinking about this very important kind of behaviour, which was somewhat alien when I was young! And, yes we have to struggle so that we can really see ourselves, the others and other point of views! It’s so good to share this important fact with you:)

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  4. I look forward and enjoy your reflections and appreciate that you post them for my reading and consideration. This one is especially powerful for me since it comes, interestingly. from both of my daughters. Also, I find it important that you had already selected Joan’s book and had placed on your reading list. Thank you for including her “life advice” for my reading enjoyment, very challenging! ! This is another confirmation that life is to be lived, enjoyed and treasured every day! Please be encouraged to continue these reflections, I read and really look forward to them!

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    1. Thank you for your profound thoughts, Frances! I agree wholeheartedly. There are many distractions that demand our full attention and some that incite anxiety, especially when we encounter complex situations. We need to live boldly and keep focused on what gives us joy and fulfillment. Many thanks for your visit and comments – very much appreciated.

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  5. I’ve read Didion’s Blue Nights and more recently The Year of Magical Thinking. Though she has been dubbed “The keen-eyed social critic who chronicled decadence and grief,” I like her writing style, intellectual but in a quirky way.

    Thanks for posting her commencement speech, which I’ve not read, Rebecca.

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    1. I am delighted that you recommended Blue Nights. I just downloaded the book and look forward to reading it as well as The Year of Magical Thinking. This message came just as we entered a New Year – I am carrying these thoughts going forward. Thank you for your comments – I enjoy our conversations.

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    1. Isn’t it interesting that thoughts come at the right time when needed. I recorded this just we entered 2022, a marvelous message to carry forward with me into the months ahead. Many thanks for your visit and your lovely message, Jennifer. I am looking forward to reading her book, The Year of Magical Thinking!

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    1. I am looking forward to reading Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking. I agree wholeheartedly – we anticipate events that may never happen and lose the moment that we are experiencing in the now. I am delighted that enjoyed this reflection. Hugs!

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  6. What a delightful view of life, Rebecca. I truly felt embraced by Joan Didion’s outlook.
    I have, over the past number of decades, tried wholeheartedly to put those sentiments into practice. There is no time, and I haven’t the will to forego all the upliftment on offer in our world. After all, what we focus upon becomes us!
    Loved your reading. Another thanks to Sarah, too!
    xoxoxo

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    1. Many thanks for joining me on the Vancouver Seawall. Every moment gives us a choice on how to live. Like you, I embrace thoughts that uplift the spirit. You exemplify these sentiments, Carolyn. I truly enjoy our conversations. Sending hugs!

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    1. Thank you for joining me on the Vancouver Seawall, Narayan and for your comments. I looking forward to following your posts and sharing insights along the way.

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