Grammar Is A Piano I Play By Ear: Joan Didion Quotes for Her Birthday

Joan Didion is the author of lovely and heartbreaking work like The Year of Magical Thinkingan account of the year after her husband died while her daughter was unconscious in the hospital, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, about her experiences living in California in the 1960s. She’s an amazing and important writer, and today is her birthday, and we’re going to celebrate by giving you a few snippets of some of her best lines. But really, you should celebrate by going out and reading all her lines. ALL OF THEM.

  • “Grammar is a piano I play by ear.”

-from Essays and Conversations

  • “Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”  –Slouching Towards Bethlehem
  • “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” –We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live
  • “Marriage is memory, marriage is time. Marriage is not only time: it is also, parodoxically, the denial of time.” –The Year of Magical Thinking
  • “To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves.” -“On Self Respect”


  • “There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

-from Where I Was From

  • “I tell you this true story just to prove that I can. That my frailty has not yet reached a point at which I can no longer tell a true story.” –Blue Nights
  • “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” –Slouching Towards Bethlehem


Do you have a favorite Didion line?