I’ve never really written about my username. It’s a quote from a William Blake poem:
He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
I don’t know if I have a favourite poem as such, but this comes close. It resonates with me on so many levels. The first time I ever heard it quoted was in the 1990s BBC adaptation of The Buddha of Suburbia, which I was obsessed with and rewatched over and over again (yes, watching Stephen Mackintosh and Naveen Andrews make out had something to do with it, perhaps, maybe).
Although Hanif Kureishi sadly turned out to be a bit of a prick, I still have such fond memories of The Buddha of Suburbia- a story involving queerness and race and sex and punk set in South- East London was only ever going to be entirely my bag. The scene in which Karim’s uncle quotes ‘Eternity’s Sunrise’ before they dance to ‘Stir it Up’ through the newly painted rooms of a refurbished house made me cry with happiness when I first watched it. Perfect telly.
Later, that line about kissing the Joy As It Flies that fell with such autodidactic pride from Uncle Ted’s lips became a catchphrase of mine. I knew instinctively what it meant: as someone whose moods fluctuated with a rapidity that regularly bewildered me, I learnt early that something of the secret of life was to embrace the good times as they rolled. Without clasping them too close- because they were always rolling, usually away from you.
That’s just the way of things, because the only constant is change (and of course, it’s a paradox that this particular truth never changes). As I discovered Buddhism and its exquisitely simple- and to me, unarguable- wisdom, it was the second of the Four Noble Truths that chimed like a temple bell. The inevitable truth of suffering is that it comes from trying to bind ourselves to our joys, rather than letting them fly with a kiss.
About 10 years ago I moved into a flat in a particularly leafy part of my adopted home city. Across the road from the flat was a house with a magnolia tree outside. It was tall and well- tended and when it came time for it to bloom the blossoms were fat and chalice- shaped. The pinkness of the petals’ tips as it suffused into creamy whiteness made my heart hurt with joy whenever I walked past, and my first cameraphone was stuffed with photos taking from below, looking up at magnolia blossoms reaching for crystalline blue sky.
A magnolia tree is perfect for perhaps a week a year, but that week became the highlight of my spring. The third year I lived in that flat I walked down wide hilly streets past tall houses made of smooth pale stone past that tree, and realised it had given me so much happiness that I had to thank the owners of the house for looking after it, so I stuck an anonymous note through their letterbox.
The next spring I was in the depths of a very, very deep depression-I’ve not been that low since, thank God, because I nearly didn’t surface- and only realised how low I’d been when it occurred to me that I’d not noticed the magnolia tree at all that year. I’d walked past it in the course of its week of pomp, I was almost sure, but hadn’t seen it at all. I had not let its beauty touch me; I had not kissed the joy of the magnolia tree as it flew.
I’m writing this in the cafe at my local train station. I’m on my way to the countryside to see a newish friend, someone I don’t know well but of whom I’m already very fond. My train’s been delayed, so I’m sitting drinking a mug of wishy- washy uncoffee and thinking about the last time I was here, sitting on a bench near the car park, waiting to be collected by a man I didn’t know very well.
He arrived, striding towards me with a grin, greeted me with a kiss and a tweedy hug, and took me to the home he shares with the love of his life. The plan, as far as I can tell, was dinner and sex and a beating I’d been promised the weekend before by his partner.
Things… escalated, shall we say.
Two weeks later all I know is that I’m having more fun than I have for years–ridiculous, giggling fun, sloshing around in a sea of orgasms and subspace, of teenage style PDAs and topless mischief in the backseat of a moving car. I have these two people in my life, all of a sudden: these two dirty, gorgeous, sparkling, love- sodden creatures.
I don’t know what this is or where we’re going, or how or whether it will work. But I do know this: life is fucking hard. The world around us is a flaming shitshow, to such an extent that it often hurts to think about it, so I often don’t, and I often feel guilty about that. I have a new job that I love, which not only demands a huge amount of emotional energy but occasionally exposes me to the very worst that humanity is capable of.
When confronted with these truths all I can do is run shouting after the joy, and kiss it as it soars towards the sky, like magnolia blossoms reaching for the sun.