Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Joan Didion’s Packing List



In her 1979 book, The White Album, American author Joan Didion reveals and explains the packing list she used when working full-time as a reporter:
“This is a list which was taped inside my closet door in Hollywood during those years when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. Notice the deliberate anonymity of costume: in a skirt, a leotard, and stockings, I could pass on either side of the culture. Notice the mohair throw for trunk-line flights (i.e. no blankets) and for the motel room in which the air conditioning could not be turned off. Notice the bourbon for the same motel room. Notice the typewriter for the airport, coming home: the idea was to turn in the Hertz car, check in, find an empty bench, and start typing the day’s notes.

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, one article I needed and never had: a watch. I needed a watch not during the day, when I could turn on the car radio or ask someone, but at night, in the motel. Quite often I would ask the desk for the time every half hour or so, until finally, embarrassed to ask again, I would call Los Angeles and ask my husband. In other words I had skirts, jerseys, leotards, pullover sweater, shoes, stockings, bra, nightgown, robe, slippers, cigarettes, bourbon, shampoo, toothbrush and paste, Basis soap, razor, deodorant, aspirin, prescriptions, Tampax, face cream, powder, baby oil, mohair throw, typewriter, legal pads, pens, files and a house key, but I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during the period or of the period itself.”
The list read as follows.

(Source: The White Album; Image: Joan Didion by David Shankbone.)
TO PACK AND WEAR:

2 skirts
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
stockings
bra
nightgown, robe slippers
cigarettes
bourbon
bag with:
   shampoo
   toothbrush and paste
   Basis soap
   razor
   deodorant
   aspirin
   prescriptions
   Tampax
   face cream
   powder
   baby oil

TO CARRY:

mohair throw
typewriter
2 legal pads and pens
files
house key