Garden Party Guest List: Joan Didion

Garden Party Guest List: Joan Didion

By Tarleton Walmsley

Garden Party Guest List: A person, living or deceased, real or imagined, that always has an invite to our Party.

It should come as no surprise that a good bit of Garden Party's aesthetic is heavily influenced by California design and culture. And when I think about what defines California design and culture, of course Joan Didion comes to mind. There are far more eloquently written eulogies, essays and articles about the late writer, essayist, and icon. I'll refrain from trying to dissect Joan's brilliance and importance here, although it does feel important to memorialize her in my own Garden Party kinda way.

The first time I visited the west coast was back in 2012, when I traveled to San Francisco for the first time. A few months earlier my father had passed away from Pancreatic cancer, and I was locked deeply in the "bargaining" stage of grief, in which I was struggling to find meaning in what had just transpired. I remember a lot of small details from that trip, but the thing that struck me the most was seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. My friend had driven me throughout the city, and finally we made our way to the rolling pastures of Point Reyes. It was a beautiful landscape, enthralling really. When we parked off the side of the highway for a hike, I thought there would just be more coastal grasslands. Instead the hills split apart to make way for this vast, rocky ocean that I couldn't take my eyes off of. It was beautiful, and I wished that my dad could have seen it. It was the first time of many times to follow that I would wish for my dad's presence, understanding there were so many opportunities he wouldn't get to experience. I struggled to articulate to anyone around me what I was going through, and how small I felt against the vastness of this ocean. 

Shortly after that trip, I revisited Joan Didion's books (as one does after visiting her stomping grounds for the first time). I hadn't ever read "The Year of Magical Thinking," but after glancing through just a few pages, I knew I had finally found the words that spoke to the cycles of grief I was experiencing. As Didion herself wrote, "I seemed to have crossed one of those legendary rivers that divide the living from the dead, entered a place in which I could be seen only by those who were themselves recently bereaved." I would return to this book over and over again, especially when others in my life couldn't relate to what I was going through.  


I feel certain that given her status as icon of the 60s and 70s, Joan probably Garden Partied a time or two. Here, some products I think Joan would get down with.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp Living Abstraction- This definitive survey on the Dada artist is filled with examples of her textiles, marionettes, paintings, and stained glass. The abstractions are clean and modern, and I imagine this book living on Joan's coffee table.

Summerland Ceramics Chongo-Another excellent example of California design at its finest.

Mom Grass CBG Prerolls - Joan's perspective on motherhood is some of the rawest, most honest writing I've come across on the subject and serves as reminder that mothering takes on many forms beyond the biological kind. So for Joan, and all kinds of moms everywhere, Mom Grass:)

Everyday Oil - Even though made right here in the mountains of Western Carolina, I still think Everyday Oil is as California as it gets. Maybe because the first time I saw it was at General Store in SF. In any case, I can certainly see Joan embracing this low maintenance, big results product on the daily. 



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