Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Dying of Delight meme

I'm always pretty chuffed to get bought into a meme, especially when they are created by such lovely people as Clare.

Since her first novel, The Dying of Delight, has such a wonderfully evocative title, it's hardly surprising she wanted to make use of it again - and what a great use she has put it to!

Here's my meme response, with instructions for others to follow below:

The Dying of Delight meme

1. Briefly describe an aspect of your life for which 'The Dying Of Delight'* would be an apt title.

Whenever I think of the word/concept of delight, my thoughts always turn to Neil Gaiman. If there is one thing that always haunts me from the incredible work that is "The Sandman" series, it is how he encapsulates The Endless, the concepts and moments of life that are eternal. And of those, many people's favourite is Delirium: a crazy haired, multi-coloured girl who conjurs fishes and butterflies from the madness and intensity of her thoughts (check out the illustrations on The Wake website mentioned above). Delirium, who used to be Delight. What an amazing concept, to spot the hairsbreadth bewteen delirium and delight.

So to think of a moment when an amount of my Delight began to die a little also makes me think how close delight is to delirium: that breath away from insanity that pure delight can be. There have been many perverse moments when delight has been edged out by delirium on a glance, or a remark. The panic of wondering if you can escape a situation and what, if anything, you will learn from it.

Still, as Clare rightly points out, any kind of delight only truly dies when we die: nevertheless, it can fade, become confused, bewildered. And those moments have often littered my life.

It's perhaps a different kind of delight that died in this account. In my early 20s, I had a bit of a mini-breakdown and was signed off from work with "nervous exhaustion". My closest friend at the time refused to send a card to me on the grounds that I just needed to pull myself together. The wound of her willful ignorance of my despair cut deep. I had come home one day from work and getting off the bus, walking round the green in front of our council house, and down the entry.... well, it had took an age... My mum stood in the doorway just horrifed at the sight of her girl walking slower than a 90 year old with a frame. Once in, I couldn't even lift a knife and fork to eat properly. It took me weeks to feel I could go out without holding on to someone. But for me the delight was not what had died in me when the illness of depression took over; the real dying of delight came when my friend refused to acknowledge there was even anything wrong with me. I knew then that long-term the friendship was doomed. I wasn't wrong.

2. Pick another book whose title has some resonance in your life, and write a little about it.

True Confessions and New Cliches

It's the "True Confessions" bit that I always identify with, not least because I often associate that title work with a friend from University with whom I shared many, many true confessions ["I know her sober / (but I know her better pissed)"]. I don't know if it is because I am an only child, but I do find that beyond a certain point I open up quite easily. In fact, if anything the problems come when something halts me in making 'true confessions', since it is in hesitation that I lose my nerve and close up, sometimes for good as if unable to justify having let go of the moment of openness. The idea of sharing is something very powerful in me: I don't feel that I do it lightly, though others may perceive I do. But perhaps I am also drawn to finding resonance in this title because of the two concepts it brings together: these are TRUE confessions, and as one desperate to please I have also sometimes made false confessions.

Still, a powerful memory for me comes from when Cloud and I were first going out together and I was overwhelmingly impressed by the breadth of his knowledge and reading (I still am: this story aside, he is just an amazing fount of knowledge and ideas). We sat in breathy conversation about some intellectual philosophical book for hours in his room at his parents. But I was bull-shitting him and hadn't actually read the book - I may even have not heard of it prior to him mentioning it (I don't even now recall what it was: repression or what!) And then the moment came: he confessed he hadn't actually read it. And I did the same.

In our desire to impress, we'd both played at knowledge but there had come a point where we couldn't sustain it. I think I loved him even more after that, for making a true confession that showed us both up as frauds.

3. What Women Want Men to Know

Never, ever, underestimate the power of our imaginations. Conversation, words written and spoken, can be the greatest turn-on imaginable: never forget that.

Except when we just want - no, need - to be absolutely shagged into ecstacy. Then you can just shut up.

4. A little known book

Maiden Speech by Eleanor Brown
I often return to this book of poetry, and though it was a close call between this and Robert Grundin's gripping murder mystery "Book", I plumped for Brown's debut collection of poetry because it seems even more obscure and yet deserving of note.

I've mentioned Brown previously, but I'm going with her again because, hey, this particular meme said to aim for little known books in the hope of getting them some more sales or attention. This gem certainly deserved wider recognition.

It opens with the ever hilarious "Bitcheral", which has lines like "There isn't a law that a face should have features, / it's just that they generally do" - surely one of the most neatly cutting remarks anyone could make on a new partner of someone they knew (and perhaps loved); and the final verse always makes me smirk a miaow:
It's not that I think she is vapid and silly; / it's not that her voice makes me wince; / but - chilli con carne without any chilli / is only a plateful of mince
Brilliant stuff...

What makes the book so glorious is the way it can move from insightful wit on contemporary manners ("Imitations of Immortality": "O, she may well disintegrate, / as human bodies must; / yet she will not surrender / to those voracious guests / (inviolable forever) / her perfect plastic breasts") to heartfelt character pieces where Brown conjurs the spirit of women from history and mythology ("Penelope": "I know you've been with other women. / That thing you did with my hair...")

Yet it is the centre-piece of the book, her magnificent "Fifty Sonnets", to which I endlessly return. Tracking a relationship - flawed, but treasured - from its intense beginnings to its no-less-intense recollection long after, the work has to be read complete to make sense of its impact. I've struggled to identify one particular section that sums up the poem, and could have alighted on pretty much each sonnet depending on my mood. I'm especially fond of the following passage:
When I recall you - as I often do -
between two paragraphs, against my will
(I try to keep you in parentheses,
but you will interrupt my reading as
you did my careful life, appearing through
the ruptured print to laugh at it)...
But overall XLII is perhaps the one that I sense most would be stung by, for so aptly describing that figure of love that people never quite get over:
Not if you crawled from there to here, you hear?
Not if you begged me, on your bleeding knees.
Not if you lay exhausted at my door,
and pleaded with me for a second chance.
Not if you wept (am I making this clear?)
or found a thousand different words for 'Please',
ten thousand for 'I'm sorry'; I'd ignore
you so sublimely; every new advance
would meet with such complete indifference.
Not if you promised me fidelity.
Not if you meant it. What impertinence,
then, is this voice that murmurs, 'What if he
didn't? That isn't his line of attack.
What if he simply grinned, and said, 'I'm back'?
Now tell me there isn't at least one person in your lifetime who doesn't inspire similar conflicted emotions?

5. Response:

This really is a thought provoking meme!

6. Five people to tag:

Anna, Reidski, Just Jane, Conscious&Verbal, Cloud.

So, to recap (quoted from Clare):
1. Briefly describe an aspect of your life for which 'The Dying Of Delight'* would be an apt title.
2. Pick another book whose title has some resonance in your life, and write a little about it.
3. Write one more short personal piece - one which matches the book title chosen (in part 2) by the person who tagged you.
4. Take your favourite little-known book and plug it to your readers. Authors need incomes, and word of mouth is one of the best ways to sell books.
5. Sit back and marvel at the magnificence of this meme. It was brought to you by an out-of-breath author, reduced (on account of her publisher* having expired) to trundling copies of her book across the internet on a rusty old trolley with one wheel missing, sweating and shouting "Buy me book, Gov?" Now visit and see if you'd like a copy for yourself.
6. Tag five people with this meme.
*Diva Books, ceased trading Feb '06. RIP.
Go forth meme-ers!


Pamplemousse said...

It really is wonderfully gratifying to see people doing such great things with this meme!

I love the story of you and Cloud blagging each other for hours on end with the same lie. And as for Neil Gaiman...

Somebody once asked me whether the title was a reference to the demise of his character Delight. It isn't - I hadn't read Gaiman then and still haven't got round to it - but I like the sound of it, and the idea of the possible connection.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Hmmm that someone may have been me as I know I mentioned it in my previous post about your book!

Otherwise, obviously someone else with good taste!
Ta for thinking this is an okay answer/response to the meme.

I ended up doing this instead of writing my conference paper up yesterday. It was more fun but I may pay heavily by looking a fool (bigger fool?!) come April...

Pamplemousse said...

Yeah, you have indeed mentioned it but you weren't the one I was thinking of!

The meme actually seems to be taking off. I'm amazed and delighted.