Poet and creative writing teacher Chris Price on the euphoria of not drinking.
I was born with a few drops of euphoria, not the whole bucket. That makes me lucky, although not lucky enough to escape loving drunk when younger. Drunk both amped up the euphoria and solved (temporarily) some of the problems of living. I remember sitting on the floor in a school friend’s ‘rumpus room’ — the holding pen where some middle-class parents parked their kids’ excess energy, so they weren’t always dealing with it firsthand — while the ritual of a 21st birthday played out before the assembled youth, cross-legged on the carpet as if transported back to primary school. A cartoon graduation ceremony. Was there a key? A key on a card? There was definitely a yard glass. I recall a conscious and murderous contempt— if this banal ritual was the entry to adult life, then I refused it. The alternative? Drunk. It didn’t occur to me then that the yard glass I despised as an emblem of the stupidity of boys was related to my own solution.
I couldn’t leave my schooldays fast enough, and that 21st threatened to drag me backwards.
My body has always manufactured its own euphoria anyway. First thing in the morning it still shows up, despite the biochemical changes of age — usually as I am about to get into the shower, which only enlarges it further. It often manifests as my mind singing silly songs to itself, silly rhythmic songs like I joined the navy, to see the world, and what did I see, I saw the sea… Sometimes my mouth forgets to keep its trap shut, and the words spill out among the jets of water to evaporate with the steam.
After the shower, coffee lets me hang on to the euphoria and maybe translate it to the page, as I am doing now.
My nickname for this water-born euphoria: ‘the loonies’. Don’t take this as a slur on the mentally unwell; recent research indicates a scientific basis for the moon’s effect.
The loonies used to manifest at other times of day in champagne bubbles of mock opera. Only in the privacy of my own home, you understand, but fun. Doesn’t happen much now, if at all. Unbecoming in a fiftysomething. But I miss them, those bubbles.
Whole poems have been written in loony; in fact, I would go so far as to say that poems are one of loony’s sacred tasks. Loony has sprung rhythm, assonance, and with any luck, a capacity to swerve as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Loony delights in itself, but it’s not a total narcissist. The world delights it just as much, or more, and the words the world is made of.
The wellspring of loony may just be those shower noises, a reversion to childhood pleasure in making sound before sense sets in. Working with a looper lets me recreate that pleasure, making music out of wordless vocalisations, out of breaths, pops, and clicks repeated, reversed, delayed, chopped up, layered and faded. The toddler phase reborn through an SM58 and remixed in a perpetually morphing rhythm track that makes a bed for melody.
Rabbits out of hats. Disappearing acts. The end of the episode that leaves you saying — after gasping — I didn’t see that coming.
One reason I love modern dance is that it can render loony in concrete form. Dancers make legible with their gestures what happens only at cellular level in mine, the contours and texture and movement of loony. I am a mermaid, and because I can’t dance, they dance for me. They supply the wordless substrate and beyond-words atmosphere that surrounds the syllables and gives them the breath of life, a huff of nitrous oxide or a hit of oxygen. Meanwhile I lurk in the ocean blowing bubbles their way like kisses.
Drunk was where I hid my rage, never where I expressed it. It was where I took euphoria too far, releasing air held under pressure, and no amount of collateral damage deterred me from repeating the experiment long beyond whatever shaky insights it delivered. Amazing how much foolishness can cohabit with intelligence, how often currents of compulsion triumph over sense.
In euphoria, everything glitters. But if you want to use it, get in quick, before the shine subsides. I can already feel it beginning to fade.
The best natural glitter has always been waterborne. Sea swimming does it every time, a little cannon goes off inside and I am bathed in sparkle. A lake is not the same: lovely but calm, it leaves me undetonated, unchanged.
Writing without glitter is like bush-bashing on muddy tracks. Clauses sag under their own damp weight, non-essential syllables proliferate, words are a landscape without uplift, untransformed facts. The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction, Blake said. Is this what he meant? Surely, Blake was euphoria in extremis.
I don’t have many poems by heart, but the last stanza of ‘Concerning Some Recent Criticism of His Work’ by US poet Mark Doty hangs there like an asterisk:
— No such thing,
the queen said,
as too many sequins.
Euphoria and Euphonia — wicked sisters of the crackling synapses. Brightness dims. To continue, or quit while you’re ahead — how to get ahead of yourself while the light still shines, Jenny Bornholdt writes, although she probably wasn’t thinking of glitter. Will the writing be a relay race, baton handed on from one day to the next, or a sprint, the dash done in one short and glorious run and victory to the swift?
The swallow’s flight too is stitched with the loonies, as are all small birds in their flitter and twit, their lyrical foliage. Pīwakawaka is the diva with her Carmen Miranda fan, her fast clock rate and curiosity.
Liquid joy is hard on the organs and damaging to the pipes; eventually it untunes the organism. I can’t drink now; the organism has lost all tolerance, so I am glad to be left with a lingering dose of the natural-born loonies that come and go at their will and won’t be summoned, but can sometimes be coaxed to shed a little bracing hail in passing, or bring the Wilis with them. You don’t want those spirit-women to stick around too long because they will dance you to death, but in short bursts they give you the delightful illusion that you too can rise en pointe for a dizzying twirl.
As long as you remember that glitter is for a good time not a long time, you’ll be fine, or so I tell myself. I once photographed some abandoned sequins glowing on a damp morning footpath in Berlin, as if last night’s party angels fell to earth, picked themselves up and moved on, but left this bright melody behind for those who missed the party to find, a sign of grace on an ordinary ungracious morning. One sunstruck sequin took the shape of a tiny, bright green leaf.