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When the Fire Comes

When the Fire Comes

Few writers are more closely identified with Los Angeles than Joan Didion. Her famous essay collections The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem capture the essence of California in the 1960s and 70s. In her latest book, Blue Nights, Didion wrestles with the untimely death of her only child as well as her own fear of aging. On Wednesday night, Didion spoke with Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin before a packed house for the [ALOUD] and Pacific Standard Time collaboration: An Evening with Joan Didion:  The White Album to Blue Nights

Didion charmed the rapt audience with topics ranging from her advice to new writers–“don’t be afraid to rewrite”–to her dislike of the word memoir–“it’s soft”–to breaking down the myth of California in Where I Was From by “trying to find the narrative by trying to find the lies.” Didion compared daily living in Los Angeles with it’s unpredictable earthquakes, winds and fires to being prepared for the apocalypse. In Blue Nights she recounts a saved “notice from the Topanga-Las Virgenes Fire District instructing the residents of the district what to do ‘when the fire comes.’ Do note: not ‘if the fire comes.’ When the fire comes.”

When the Fire Comes

While Didion is prepared for the worst in natural disasters, she has made no preparation for the inevitability of aging. That’s a thing that happens to other people she joked to the crowd at Vibiana. Much of Blue Nights addresses her avoidance of the issue, “aging and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored.” In typical Didion fashion, she then dives into exploring what aging means for her: the hours of inconvenient medical exams leading to no clear answers, “why we will never again wear the red suede sandals with the four-inch heels,” and the “question with no possible answer: who do I want notified in case of emergency?” After the loss of her husband and daughter, that once simple question becomes mired in difficulty.

When asked about her favorite place in Los Angeles, Didion remarked that Vibiana was her “new favorite place.” The beautiful space is a decommissioned cathedral, originally built in 1876, now used for private events. The grandeur of the Italianate baroque sanctuary elevated the talk to near religious levels for devoted Didion acolytes. If you missed the event you can still pick up a copy of  the elegant yet devastating Blue Nights here.

When the Fire Comes

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