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Joan Didion’s Essential Packing List

To celebrate Joan Didion in the brilliant new Céline campaign, we revisit the author's infamous packing list

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Céline Summer 2015 campaign featuring Joan Didion
Céline Summer 2015 campaign featuring Joan DidionPhotography by Juergen Teller

The succinct travel list below, taped inside Joan Didion’s closet door in Malibu for many years, consisted of everything the author needed when she set out on assignment. It was printed, along with Didion’s own analysis of it, in her 1979 collection of nonfiction, The White Album.

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
pens
files
house key 

"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 this period or of the period itself."

This feature originally ran in the autumn/winter 2013 issue of AnOther Magazine © 1977 Joan Didion We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction by Joan Didion is published by Everyman’s Library Classics

Intro by Hannah Lack

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