Letting Go - or Daruma's Other Eye

Letting Go  -  or Daruma's Other Eyedaruma

I wrote this article on St Patrick's Day, when Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World had just been released. The post briefly ran on writing.ie, then a few weeks later writer and blogger Louise Gibney was kind enough to feature it on her website (check out her travel blog as well). Then it hit the Canadian National Post blog in May. That's a lot of travelling! Now it's retiring here. Read on:

If you go to any Buddhist temple in Japan at New Year's, you'll find Daruma dolls for sale. These are round figurines, usually made of papier-maché, depicting a grumpy-looking bearded man cloaked in red and gold with no arms or legs. The reference is to a monk called Bodhidharma who, according to legend, sat facing a wall in meditation for nine years. 'And then his legs fell off!' is the gleeful note the story ends on.

The first thing you notice about these dolls is that the eyes are blank, just staring white circles. This is because Darumas are meant to be used in setting goals for the new year. You colour in one of the eyes when you make your promise to yourself. Then, when you've achieved it, you colour in the other eye. So rather than scrawling down your resolutions on a scrap of paper and forgetting them, you'll have a half-blind Daruma reproaching you from your shelf until you get your act together. On the flip side, looking at a Daruma with both his eyes coloured in gives a lifting sense of achievement.

Or so I imagine.

I lived in Japan for four years, and for three of them my apartment overlooked Sensoji, one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the country. At the end of December 2004 the area around my place was packed with stalls selling decorations and good luck charms for the new year: pine boughs, oranges, straw wreaths, lobster figurines painted Daruma 1with gold, an awful lot of chicken effigies (2005 was the year of the Rooster). On New Year's Eve, I hit the streets with my Irish boyfriend to take in the atmosphere. People lined up to pray at the shrine in their winter kimonos, bought charms and hot saké from the vendors, chatted with friends. I accepted a very nice proposal of marriage. Three months later my boyfriend and I got married at Ueno City Hall, and then we were on a plane heading for Ireland. Two Daruma dolls from Sensoji were in our suitcases.

I put the Darumas on the mantelpiece of our first apartment in Dublin and we each coloured in one eye. My husband wished for a decent job in the city. A few months later he was able to fill in his Daruma's blank eye. I wished for the same thing. And then I got it. But...

I couldn't bring myself to colour in that white circle. This particular goal didn't seem big enough. I didn't deserve to have a fully sighted Daruma on the shelf, not yet. I needed something more.

Years passed. I got accepted to a master's programme, went back to school, graduated. I finished the novel I'd started in 2010, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World. I got an agent. Cinnamon Toast was accepted for publication. I dusted the half-blind Daruma every few weeks.

I promised myself that I'd fill in the little guy's other eye when Cinnamon Toast was printed and in my hands. That day came and went. When I saw it in a store, then. ThatDaruma 2 would be the right time. It's in stores all over Dublin. Now I'm telling myself that I don't deserve a fully sighted Daruma until I'm sure the book will actually sell.

Jesus H. Christ! That poor disgruntled red monk's been missing an eye for EIGHT YEARS! What is it going to take for me to admit that I've accomplished something?

The truth is, I am one of those incredibly annoying people who find it difficult to acknowledge good fortune, although complaining is effortless and can go on forever. You hear so much about failures and flops: books, movies, marketing campaigns, perfectly nice space-alien cults that just didn't work out. Why tempt fate by colouring in that eye?

Except that fate doesn't particularly care about what I do with my Japanese souvenirs. Why would I assume that it does? I blame those positive thinking gurus. Keep repeating 'I'm wealthy' and the money will appear. We've all heard it. I've even been told, straight-faced, that this is a great way to find a parking space. And while I've always suspected that the idea is a bit daft, I suppose part of me believes in it. Fate, Santa Claus, the Universe...they can hear your thoughts and they know if you're plotting something Daruma 3naughty or nice. And if the universe really is standing outside my door poised to reward me for whatever I'm mentally affirming, why wouldn't it be just as ready to give me a boot up the arse for my smugness and pride?

But there's another, simpler, reason why I'm hesitating to give poor Daruma-san both his eyes. I lived in Cinnamon Toast land for several years. I rewrote and edited until I could practically stand up and recite the entire thing from memory. I know these characters better than I know my friends and family. It's possible that I don't want to say goodbye, and admitting that this task is finished would be doing just that.

What am I doing instead? A lot of lurking. A lot of skulking. Checking the book's stats obsessively online. Creeping into bookstores on my lunchbreak to spy on its progress. Worrying. Nail-biting. Rocking back and forth and hissing 'my precious' a lot. But this is normal, right? No, probably not. And it's certainly not helping.

I've heard people compare writing a book to giving birth to a baby. Yes, maybe. It is messy and painful and debilitating, and just about impossible to accomplish on your own. So sending your book to the marketplace must be like waving it goodbye on its first day Daruma 4of school. You can pack your kid's lunch in the morning, walk her to the bus stop, help with homework, attend all the parent-teacher meetings. But you can't follow her into the classroom and control what happens there. It's out of your hands.

And, though I'm willing to do anything short of eating bugs on Youtube to sell this book, to a large extent it's out of my hands as well. The story belongs to anyone who decides to read it now, and they can like it, hate it, or remain indifferent as they please.

So I'll say, 'Thank you, Ireland for giving me a place to write and a publisher for my story.' And I'll take my trusty marker and fill in that missing Daruma eye. In fact, I'm going to do it right now.

Get your copy of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World here

...in Ireland and the UK 

51U3E6BPgnL  SL500 AA300  Cinnamon Toast pb cover low res

In the U.S.A.

In Canada...or try here. Or go independent.

"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner