In April, I read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life alongside a collection of essays by Joan Didion. Most days, I woke up with a writer shivering inside a flimsy cabin on Haro Strait and went to bed beside a writer waiting with suspicious Haight-Ashbury hippies.
I finished The Writing Life last week, pushing the book into the library receptacle as if sliding a friend’s hand-written journal under her door, and I hope to never finish the Didion book.
I read them at the moment when my husband lost his job (one of 130 employees laid off and sent home) and lost his dog (a fifteen-year-old English Cocker Spaniel who never recovered from surgery). I read them for the sixth month of rain in Vancouver, putting dents into my training plans and anti-depression armor. I also read them as I start writing projects with new goals, topics and formats.
It’s an intense time with loud exhales and quiet lunches, so Dillard and Didion are ideal companions. Reading them promises a moment in the shadows of wise and precise observers. They go slowly, appreciating the meaning or detail that amount to a day. Their words never speed into a reckless sentence, never cut off other ideas or turn without a signal. There are no hashtags. I don’t scroll.
Their printed words pull and follow each other in an orderly way, simultaneously paving and driving a road through the massive pile-ups of a typical day. Their licenses are faded, leathery from decades of work; I am the only person to care if my learner’s permit blows away. I sit in the backseat, studying their beautifully constructed sentences and paragraphs, trying to keep up with their tempos and themes, looking out to see mailboxes at the edge of gravel driveways, dogwood branches stretched over dark ditches, and two boys who stop running as we drive by before accelerating onto the freeway.
Yes, we tell stories in order to live. We also read in order to live.