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Gwen Tuinman

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Joan Didion

People We Used to Be

I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s essay On Keeping a Notebook in which she wrote, “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive or not.” Such a tough pill to swallow if we harbour a modicum of negativity toward chapters of our lives we deem less than stellar. Maybe we once contended for too long with shoddy treatment by a lover, or lashed our own sharp cut into someone undeserving. Maybe we ate and drank too much, or denied ourselves too much. Maybe we lamented over imperfect thighs and noses when much greater atrocities inflicted others. Maybe we authored deception or were lied to. Maybe …

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The Centre Cannot Hold

Years ago, one of my daughters gave me a beautiful book, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I wasn’t feeling well at the time and the daily readings lifted me. Today I flipped to a passage that reflected on feelings of being “spaced out” and “out of kilter”. Breathnach attributed this being uncentred within. “The centre is not holding,” is how she put it.

Talk of centres not holding made me think of Joan Didion (1934-2005). In recent months, I watched a documentary, by her nephew, called The Centre Will Not Hold. I sensed gravity in the words, interpreted centre to mean inner strength. The frailty of her physical body, in later years, brought to mind the final tenacious leaf that clings to its branch in spite of November winds. The film walks the viewer through Didion’s remarkable career as journalist and author, and the personal tragedies of having survived both her husband and daughter. Winter cruelly buffeted Didion, but for her to have carried on and written books like The Year of Magical Thinking, I can’t help thinking her centre did hold.

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