This post about Joan Didon reached me, courtesy of a blogger who regularly sends me stuff that he finds interesting. The photograph from 1967 shows Didion at the Golden Gate Park's "Panhandle".
Didion mingles with a countercultural group known loosely as the "Hippies", because they were hip to radical changes taking place in the culture and the society. She died in 2021 at age 87.

She wrote novels, screenplays, and a sort of sylph-like, subjective criticism of modern social trends and personalities. In 1968, a panel of judges even named her as one of California's "Women of the Year," along with Nancy Reagan, Olympic athletes, and California businesswomen. "It was a time of my life when I was frequently 'named'," she wrote.

To all outward appearances, Didion had succeeded. Very few people knew that her private life had fallen apart, and she had to enter a psychiatric hospital. The contrasting circumstances of her public and private life left her in wonderment. In her book The White Album, first published in 1979, she lets her readers know near the beginning that her psychiatrists told her that she had a few problems to deal with.

Didion even lets the reader see a few pages from a psychiatrists' report on her condition—fourteen years before Susanna Kaysen did that for her book Girl Interrupted. The psychiatrists reported that their tests on Joan Didion revealed

   A personality in the process of deterioration, with abundant signs of failing defenses and
   increasing inability of the ego to mediate the world of reality, and to cope with normal
   stress. . . .
   Emotionally, the patient has alienated herself from the world of other human beings. . . .
   Reality contact is impaired. . . .
   The Thematic apperception Test emphasises her fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and
   depressive view of the world around her."

Didion lets readers know that she accepts the psychiatrists' analysis with a grain of salt. For readers, she suggests that mental illness never does a writer too much harm. Somehow, the pessimism and "failing defenses" give her a viewpoint and insight that not many other writers have. So I will never see mental illness in the same light, again.

You have to be sort of crazy, or obsessive, to make a living as a writer, or to write in the first place. You feel happiest when you can sit home and orbit in a fantasy constellation, which you create for your own pleasure. Maybe control-freak is the word. You can manipulate plots, characters, and the rest for a story. Then you have to go outside, at some point, and interact with the real world, which you don't control.

Then, you become famous, and everyone wants a piece of you. The Beatles expressed the problem with a song titled "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" about die-hard fans who stalked them continuously at their homes and studio. A girl crawled into Paul McCartney's home through a bathroom window, as the song relates. In addition, photographers followed the Beatles everywhere, snapping pictures. That alone can drive you a little crazy.

In many of her photos, Didion looks almost cadaverous, an emaciated lady who has spent the last two hours in a bathroom, sick to her stomach. But somehow, her brain functions independently of her mental and  physical circumstances. An ethereal clarity colors her observations. Her subjective use of words adds a personal touch to her observations.

Besides the physical circumstances and the mental illness, Didion describes herself at length as a fairly pedestrian mom and housewife, as much concerned with clean bed-linen and soaking lentils for making lentil soup. One senses the darker forces in Didion when she says that she made beds in her rambling-wreck of a house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, California, but didn't know for sure who slept in them.

It was the '60s, after all, when such things happened. The Franklin Avenue neighborhood had a lot going on. Mostly, the real estate had to graduate suddenly to a higher grade of utility, as more and more people moved to LA, and the "Old," well-to-do neightborhoods had to give way to multi-use buildings and apartment buildings, while new Hollywood-money moved out to Beverly Hills and the canyons beyond them.

Didion tells the story of one house, where the Hispanic named Ramon Navarro had lived, a movie-star from the silent-films era, who was murdered by a pair of drifters who had moved in with him. Didion also writes that the house across the street had been built for the silent-films actress Norma Talmadge. But like Navarro's own home, it was in poor condition, waiting to be demolished.

I would not have bothered with Joan Didion, except that when she appeared at Golden Gate Park to report on Southern California's counterculture, she could not have known how her writing would remain on the radar by presaging the present. On 24th April of this year, San Francisco will host its Free-Cannabis event at the Panhandle.