Jul 10, 2015

by English Muse

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Joan Didion was one of 24 leading figures in American arts and culture who gathered on Wednesday in East Room of the White House, where President Obama made the annual presentation of the National Medals of Art and the National Humanities Medals. She looked so frail as she made her way, with a special escort, to the stage. Obama reached out to try to keep her steady.

He told the crowd in his opening remarks: “Somebody like Joan Didion, who, rightly, has earned distinction as one of most celebrated American writers of her generation. I’m surprised she hasn’t already gotten this award. But in her early years, she was in school only sporadically, basically taught herself how to read while she and her family followed her Army officer father around the country. She obviously learned quickly. She won a contest for Vogue in college; gave up her dream of being an oceanographer, writing became her world. And today, decades into her career, she remains one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.”

I’m sure Didion would have made a fine oceanographer, if that’s what she had decided to do. But the fact that she became a writer instead gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to live a full life, complete with hurt and loss, in this world.

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