Last spring, on the night of the supermoon, I decided we should have our first campfire of the season. I was in a rush, gathering my camera and tripod, responding to the excitement of the kids, hoping we had the ingredients for a decent hotdog roast, hoping I’d be ready to snap a photo the moment the moon popped out of the cloud cover. It was supposed to be simple and calming, this night outside with the family.
I was called upon to start the fire because I am The Fire Starter. Others may try their hand at starting a fire, but they will be mocked when they fail (just as I was once mocked when I failed). I am the one who knows the proper arrangement of wood and paper and kindling that requires the use of only one match to create a magnificent blaze. I am magic.
Okay, so usually I am magic. That night of the supermoon, I could do nothing right. When my first attempts failed, I started over, arranging the ingredients based on knowledge and past experience. I felt so much confidence in my methods that I took my tripod and walked away from the fire pit, sure I’d return to perfect flames. Instead, Littlest came to find me, tugged on my coat, and whispered, “I’m hungry.”
The longer I worked on that fire, the less logical I became. The moon came out of cloud cover and went back in, but I couldn’t see it through the smoke. Someone politely suggested putting the hotdogs in a pan of boiling water and I took it as a personal insult. I could do it. I knew I could do it. I was The Fire Starter. I was also in a downward spiral. I was changing everything, trying to make a spark.
I finally did get a fire started—mostly by placing burning material around the recalcitrant logs. By that time, my family was inside, eating over the sink, watching me out the kitchen window.
I sat back and stared. I’d completely forgotten about the supermoon. I just sat there, watching the dead center of the fire, thinking perhaps the logs rose from Hell to challenge me personally to a duel. It was kind of a Devil-Went-Down-To-Georgia thing, but without Georgia. And without fiddles. And the Devil really did nothing but transform himself into logs and refuse to burn, which was really not very devil-like, what with the flames of Hell and all. Other than that, it was just like it. At any rate, they weren’t proper logs. Proper logs burned.
I mumbled my thoughts: “Where did these logs come from?”
Not aware my family had returned, I startled when one of my kids answered: “They were in the fire pit already.”
Wait. What? In the fire pit? The fire pit that sat out in the open and collected snow? The fire pit that had to be dumped because it was full of spring rain?
When I started laughing, my loved ones scooched away from me. I’m sure they thought I’d entered the final stages of my breakdown. I laughed harder at their reaction.
Yes. While I was trying to set up my camera, the kids dumped the fire pit and there, under all that water, were some logs. And really, why go all the way to the barn for wood when there was plenty already, right there in the pit? They didn’t know it wouldn’t start because their mother, The Fire Starter, had never bothered to share her fire-starting knowledge.
If you’re at all willing to consider an analogy from the same mind that brought you the devil log, I’d suggest that today’s publishing scene is a wet fire pit.
The ingredients that caught fire a season ago may never spark again. We can use the same tried-and-true methods and they won’t catch. We can rant. We can obsess. We can build sparks and flames around the old, but the old material will not catch. No matter how personal this feels, no matter how much your identity as The Fire Starter (or The Writer) is threatened, the devil probably did not show up as a wet log to personally ruin your life.
Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but laugh and reassess. What was the point? Why were you out there in the first place? What were your objectives? How did your ego get in the way? Did you ask the right questions? Were you open to new solutions? Were you able to share your knowledge and collaborate without feeling threatened? Could you still see the moon through the smoke?