Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

Why is This Doll Winking at Me?

So this little guy is the original weeble-wobble. His name is Daruma and this is his home on my desk. There is a weight in his paper-mache base, so if you knock him over he stands back up again. He is modeled after a legendary monk named Bodhidarma. Like all legendary characters, there are a number of tall tales about him. (They’re has to be, right? He’s got his own action figure.) What is most consistent in the tales is that Bodhidarma was the man who brought the practice of Zen Buddhism to China from India.

It is said that because his students lacked the strength to withstand long hours of focused meditation, that he taught them martial arts. The story goes that he sat in meditation so long, his arms and legs fell off. But whattya gonna do? Lots of things are said. Few things are done.

So why is he winking?

The wink is about doing things rather than saying things. In Japan it is tradition to buy one of these doll at the start of any large endeavor. Like opening a business. When you get it, both the eyes are blank. So you take a pen and ‘open’ one of his eyes. When you reach your goal you open the other eye and then burn him.

So, when I started working on How to Succeed in Evil, I got this intense-looking Japanese doll. And for nearly five years now this little red-robed bastard has been winking at me. Many times, he’s been unbearably cocky — seemingly secure in the knowledge that I had started a project that I would never finish. But if you look very closely, you can see that he’s scared. That’s why he’s trying to look so tough with those angry eyebrows.

Daruma is scared, because I now have an agent for How to Succeed in Evil. Which means the book is going to publishers in a highly purchasable fashion. Which means, he’s that much closer to seeing the world in stereo. And, shortly after that, in sterno.

What you really need to write a book.

I believe that the Daruma doll is also  related to a Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” For me, that captures  what you need most when creating something of scale, like a novel. There’s not a precise word for it in English, so I’ll call it a mix of endurance, perseverance, persistence and blind, mule-headed, stubbornliosity.

Daruma is a constant reminder of this. Any time I get frustrated, I can knock him over. And then watch as he rights himself. Might sound silly, but I assure you, anything that gets you through the day and keeps you on the path is nothing to scoff at.

So when I get a book deal, this little doll goes up in flames. And if I ever get a movie deal, what the hell, I’ll burn the Jade plant too.

Subscribe: email | twitter