On the Rebirth of an Untended Fire


It's 3:44 am, January 22, 2020, and I'm nearly finished with my mug of starter fluid. Faithful Ruby, our dog, attends me, snuggled up in the chair Nan will occupy in a few hours.

Why am I up? It's a bit early, or, for some of you night owls, a bit late.

For the uninitiated, it's not insomnia. Most of my life, I've nearly never had difficulty going to sleep or remaining asleep for eight or nine hours. However, starting in my early thirties, precisely during the first exciting project I took on as a custom props builder, and often similarly when in the midst of an engaging, creative project ever since, I experience a much curtailed sleeping pattern for weeks, if not months.

I don't use a Fitbit these days, but back when I did, I noted the sleeping pattern it recorded for a few weeks.





I've been in a similar period, more or less, for a few months now, probably (surface level) again because I have a number of creative projects in the works. 

Far as I can tell, I'm at the tail end of one. Though the transition back isn't a smooth one, it feels like I'm gradually returning to a more normal sleeping pattern - it's as if there's some tiny, internal Regulator that says, "Listen, we've run the calculations. Either this guy gets some decent shut eye or he'll keel over some day soon and we'll be out of work."

If I had to put percentages on it, I'd say around 70% of the time, I get the doctor's recommended full night's sleep - during which time, you could fire a pistol off next to my bed and I'm not sure you'd wake me - unless it was aimed at, say, my toe. The other 30%, I seem to sleep even deeper, though, as recorded by my Fitbit, for a much shorter length of time. Three, four hours, maybe. Sometimes even less. Then, as mysteriously as sleep comes to us all, I wake, sans alarm. Fully rested. 

Those of you who have read my blog before are probably familiar with this pattern of periodic wakefulness that attends me at times. 

At times, it feels braggy to mention this serendipitous, natural ability, but truth be told, I'm just along for the ride. I have no ability whatsoever to turn it on and off manually or, mild mannered reporter that I am, to enter a phone booth and come out dressed in spandex - Wakeful Man! Thank goodness, I can hear you all say.

Yes, be thankful. Because, even setting that disturbing image aside, if I could somehow manufacture this ability on my own, I'd probably use it all the time, and probably for nefarious purposes. Like tunneling night after night from my house to the nearby Fine Arts Center where I'd definitely start by nabbing their Diebenkorn, next their Sargent, and next, their Marisol - it'd have to be a big tunnel for the Marisol, but it feels like I've got the time. And then, one day, with no internal brake, I'd simply slouch over and expire, clutching a rolled up Chuck Forsman.

But no, whenever it resumes, it seems to do so of its own accord, and it seems the waking times consist of one primary thing:

Creativity.

Of birthing something into the world.

If I may say so, and as a father of five with his own blog in a free country, I do - it's quite similar to actual pregnancy, which, I've noted, is often attended by an irregular sleeping pattern as well, especially as the time of birth approaches.

But I wonder...

I just wonder if these periods of literal wakefulness are for something more than a personal project. I wonder if, in some way, shape, or form, they're intended to help others start a fire.

Let me explain.

Like me, some of you - you know who you are - feel a similar stirring at times. Perhaps it's not attended by a similar wakefulness in the wee hours of the night. But it's there, nonetheless. 

I wonder if these periods of mine, and, more to the point, my writing about them, are not simply navel gazing. I wonder if they're supposed to stir - to kindle - to stoke, in you, a corresponding or reflected wakefulness. Again, perhaps not a literal, pre-dawn one like I experience, but definitely something internal. Something deep within. Perhaps one of the reasons I both have these periods of birth or rebirth - of hitting another level or peeling another layer off of my scaly, onion-like being, is to somehow create a condition, an atmosphere, the desire, via this online medium, whereby you too will, in some way, somehow, awaken. Or reawaken.

Reawaken like that moment when an untended fireplace fire, its visible flame reduced to orange coals beneath blackened logs, gets reawakened after the reintroduction of new fuel. 

Often, I've found such reawakenings coincide with when I have a chance to take a bit of a break from the daily grind. To find some place, some space in my busy life, when and where can reflect. Like I did recently.

Every year for the past twelve or so, my family and some of our friends head to a particular spot in the mountains either just prior to Thanksgiving or just after, for a few days of fun and relaxation and beautiful vistas.

There are a few separate living quarters at the place where we go. One of the larger spaces is typically used as the primary gathering spot where we eat, play games, read, talk, and, in general, enjoy each other's company and the down time. Although all the spaces are heated by natural gas, we try to keep a fire burning in the fireplace in the main gathering area from the time (I) get up until the time (the kids) go to bed, partly for the warmth and light it provides; the ambiance.

To date, it's largely my job to start and maintain the fire, and this past Thanksgiving, as we were enjoying our latest stay with a large group of friends and a burgeoning family (three of Nan's and my children have gotten married since the summer of 2018, adding three spouses to the mix), as I was tending fire, I noticed something about the task that resonated with me - with where I was at the moment, internally.

Now, while I'm no pyromaniac, I do find enjoyment in starting and tending a fire. 

Depending on the quality of the wood - primarily how dry it is - a fire can be extremely easy or frustratingly difficult to start. The place where we go is usually stocked with a couple cords or more of dry softwood, but even so - perhaps because it's also quite cold wood at that time of year, the first few minutes (or longer) after having carefully set the kindling and smaller pieces of wood up and lighting a match are often spent carefully nursing the small flame into, it is hoped, one large enough to stay lit. There's a combination of art and science to the process, but suffice to say there are things you can do to help increase the possibility that the wood will stay lit. I won't go into them now, though they, too, carry metaphorical significance.

Unless you're dealing with impossibly green (wet) wood, there's a moment, be it nearly immediately or many minutes into the process, and more often, than not, I've found, the latter, when the more substantial pieces of wood, perhaps still just barely burning, have been heated to the point where you can just tell: they're lit. At that point, you transition from fire starter to fire maintainer; fire tender. 

Now, you can focus on other things - like trying to Aubri at Speed Scrabble or Nate at Monopoly or Lexi at Wise and Otherwise or Nan at Gin.

As fire tender, you need only to keep one eye on the fire. Rendered safe and useful within the context of a fireplace cordoned off by a screen, the flames can be enjoyed, their metaphorical overlays pondered.

I'll soak into the metaphor of the untended fire just a bit more before I close.

Let's say you've had a nice fire going for hours, adding a new log every now and again.

But then, for whatever reason, you've neglected the fire. Often this is of necessity. Other, more pressing duties have necessarily taken precedence. You have taken one of the kids out on the dirt road to practice their driving skills (possibly before they have their learner's permit - cough). Or you've been asked to join in a game of frisbee golf, and need to show Will the old man's still got it. 

Plopping back down on the couch somewhat dejectedly, having been bested yet again by Will, you note that the fire which you'd left merrily crackling just an hour ago has gone out. Yet even now, the wood is still quite hot, glowing dimly with orange, slowly pulsating embers. Assuming you don't wait too much longer, all you have to do is put a new log over the hottest spot and - critical to success - give the fire a few minutes to pre-heat the new fuel source. 

With a bit of patience, at the right moment, it's as if the wood says, "Now." Now's the time for some additional oxygen. If you blow on the fire at this point, when the new fuel source is just hot enough yet not visibly lit, man, it's like magic. It's like you're some sort of fire genie. With your own lungpower and only a few well-aimed puffs of air, the fire reignites, accompanied by a soft, but audible "whumph".

You're back in business.

It feels a bit like creating something ex nihilo, though you know you only had a hand in the process.

Do you know what it is? It's an inflection point. But that's a story for another day.

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular Posts