One runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home…

Back in 2005, I read Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” after hearing much acclaim for the author and the book.  I was underwhelmed and said so in my Amazon Review at the time.  Yet, it rankled me that so many others were on the other side. (Why? Perhaps, I just missed what was readily understood by the intellectuals.  Maybe you just didn’t get it Pal.)

emilydaisypage - Self PortraitSo, more than 7 years later – I trip across a post at on Joan Didion’s 1968 collection of essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.  My head immediately snaps to attention.

Oh what delicious irony…the excerpts are “On Self-Respect.”  (Excerpts on ‘On Self-Respect.’ Deepak Sharma would say ‘Nothing is a Coincidence.’)

The post left me shaking my head.  (Sweet Jesus.  I did miss something.  Apparently I missed everything.)

On to the excerpts…

“To do without self-respect…is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. 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. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves…”

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

“Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts…”

“[S]elf-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.…all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.”

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meting the next demand made upon us…”

“…there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”

Read entire post @

Image Credit: Permission granted by EmilyDaisyPage.  Artist Self-Portrait. Emily is an architecture student, studying at the University of Sheffield in the UK.  Check out her work at EmilyDaisyPage.  Amazing…

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  1. She definitely has a way with words. A lot of profound conclusions stated with few words.


  2. Wow…..I’m actually going to see her this week. I was looking forward to it before, but even more so now…..


  3. David, This is good stuff! Thank you for the pingback 🙂


  4. I must confess that I, too, was underwhelmed by “The Year of Magical Thinking.” But now I feel encouraged to give it another chance.


  5. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    Years ago I heard someone say something about having been raised “without the burden of having to be happy.” Very true for me. We were just raised to respect others, develop discipline in studies (and piano practice!), self-control, basic etiquette. I don’t recall my parents ever concerned about my “happiness.” It and, I think, self-respect, came along the way. I see on a daily basis kids that are burdened with having to be happy, and being in the right activities or programs to support that. What a disservice.
    But if this was written in ’68 I guess it’s not just a generational issue. I’ve been blessed (younger sister has a completely different story, though. How can 2 sisters 15 months apart have such a drastically different memories???).


  6. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    And you’ve written 270 reviews on Amazon? Seriously? Just when I’m trying to cut back on internet time!!! 🙂


  7. I believe if you have no self respect, you will not get it from others. If you try to please everyone you eventually crash and burn up. I like the line, “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – it’s the source from which self-respect springs.” My mother always said, “you reap what you sow.”



  8. All these comments underscore how little I know of you – which is cool. The universal affection, I totally get. She’s a really thoughtful and considered author – and I empathize with her tendency towards the verbose (sigh). The pendulum of course if swung to the extreme suggests a level of self-absorption and belly-button gazing that may not necessarily result in self-respect, but narcissism. Some of her points are so spot on – and others, I’m not fully on board. Self-respect to me is not something one coaxes out – to me it is a function of repeated actions that one re-defines as one goes (yes, this is the cognitive therapist pain-in-the-butt me). It is more a perspective to me, rather than a discipline – but that could just be semantics. No doubt, she is an incredibly talented, scary smart person who has endured such tragedy in her life AND written about it magnificently.


  9. A little late to the party…but just want to thank you for a perfect “start my week” post.


  10. Reblogged this on Me and My Alter Ego and commented:
    Such a great message


  11. boldbohemian says:

    Still running and I hope to find someone there…


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