Joan Didion is often quoted as having said that she writes to understand what she’s thinking about. I have often wondered how much of that statement is an appeal to romance, or an appeal to practicality. Is writing itself a love affair, perhaps with an amorphous phantom entity, with which one’s involvement is a kind of lived, evolving mirroring of selfhoods and values and so on, the same way people would talk about relationships as a “growing together”. Conversely, or maybe not even, like a different side of the same coin—and I did realize this much later on and tried it myself, to varying degrees of success, how writing as a practice could basically be a schizogenic enterprise, a tunneling of one’s psyche, you get the picture.
I don’t know if I’m using that word, schizogenic, correctly, but what I mean is how this talking-to-oneself becomes or could become a generative thing… What it generates is the next pertinent question, I guess. In the Didionian sense I think it’s meant to be some kind of structure, order, or clarity. Although other times it could be something else entirely, a messification if you will, like rummaging through unlabeled boxes in an attic, trying to look for something, and realizing later on, much, much later on, that you’ve made a huge mess. The funny thing is that it is, in some ways, a beautiful mess! Poetic, even. The next step would be to ultimately reconcile with it. Do these piles of boxes and stuff need tidying up again? Will they need labels now? Or are they best left there alone, as a symbolic residue of a hunt?
Joan Didion, as you might expect, had been very transparent about what “magical thinking” entails. It is, basically, the asking of the what-if’s, a tracking back of what was and therefore what could’ve been, should’ve been—answers to questions about Was hope justified? Was hope rational? I’m thinking of Didion the “cool customer”. At what point does the cool customer begin to write? Compelled to write? I imagine that expanse of gray time that is (let’s call it) life, and that moment—is it a decisive moment, in the Cartier-Bresson way? A dark night of the soul? A night so dark that, by writing, some light might shine upon that mist-filled bleakness of living?
Another thing I would probably want to say about “magical thinking” is Didion’s use of that word, magic—where, maybe, although I offer no alternatives, other words might suffice. A satisfactory enough-ness for the rhythm of a title. I do remember reading once about the comma of Run, River—whether or not there should have been, or whatever. Anyway, what is clear—to me, anyway—is that semantic sense of positivity in the English language usage of magical. Of course there is what is supposedly dark magic or the occult and that whole realm, but “magical thinking” was somehow always meant to be a good thing, of the angelic arts. But I wonder, too, about how much poignancy is inveterate in that one word, notions of improbability, naive entertainment. And when I start thinking of magic as something performed on a stage, one that is rehearsed by a flamboyant and calculated figure, I simultaneously think about the strain of all that to the otherwise passive notion of plain thinking.
That’s the tricky thing about writing, the arduousness of it. I think that’s why we make such a big deal specifically about the sitting-down component of writing, itself a kind of symbolic choreography to a much larger performance. Is it a magic act? To the extent that in writing one can take some comfort in the what-ifs, as violent as the prospect of it may be… Maybe so, indeed.