Can you still see the moon? by Johanna Harness

09 Nov

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?


Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Family, publishing


Tags: , , , , , ,

24 responses to “Can you still see the moon? by Johanna Harness

  1. Liz Flaherty

    November 9, 2011 at 3:38 AM

    I loved this. I’ve tried to start more wet logs than I care to admit!

    • johannaharness

      November 9, 2011 at 5:55 AM

      Good to know I’m not alone, Liz! Thanks for the reply.

  2. JC Rosen

    November 9, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    “Could you still see the moon through the smoke?” Hilarious, but with the ring of truth behind it. Such a great question to ask when things go awry. I loved your story – forgive my schadenfreude – especially in the moment you realize the logs were waterlogged (ahem). Just too funny and your reaction says so much about you as a person. Letting yourself see the humor in a challenge rather than acting out of anger lets you learn useful lessons. I agree with you entirely there.Thanks, Johanna. Another terrific blog.

    Take care,

    • johannaharness

      November 9, 2011 at 6:13 AM

      Thanks so much, Jess. I was just thinking how my family’s response says so much about them. They’re always there for me, even when I’m being ridiculous. Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

  3. Gloria Bostic

    November 9, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    I’m on my to get fresh wood! Loved this story even without the analogy, but you’ve certainly given us something to think about.

    • johannaharness

      November 9, 2011 at 6:30 AM

      Thanks, Gloria. Thankfully there’s no shortage of wood. 🙂

  4. Susan Russo Anderson

    November 9, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    “today’s publishing scene is a wet fire pit”

    Johanna, thanks so much for this challenging, creative, and amusing post.

    As our world loses more and more shelf space—or shelf space becomes virtual—the traditional publishing scene, itself in disarray, changes into what, we can only imagine, leaving us scrambling for logs that, if we only knew how to look, are there to be uncovered.

    Thank goodness we have children who teach us how to see with new eyes. And new tools. A new world rising up from the (sodden) ashes.

    • johannaharness

      November 9, 2011 at 6:35 AM

      I agree, Susan. The paradigms are shifting, but the stories remain. The more we allow ourselves to see with new eyes, the better we’ll be able to tell those stories.

  5. Joanne (@OpinionsToGo)

    November 9, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    I was very curious how you were going to segway from starting a fire to publishing, but you did,
    without missing a beat! Well done!

  6. ramblingsfromtheleft

    November 9, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    Johanna, for my entire young adult life the closest I came to being a fire starter was turning on the gas burner of our stove. Then being the crazy person that I am, I joined in a wild project and became a street vendor. Oh yes, on the gritty streets of NYC, selling what? Meat on a stick. How did it have to be cooked? On a grill I pushed seven blocks to “my corner” and remained for eight hours a day. A portable, rolling charcoal grill which sat on hot NY streets became my daily challenge, the hardest physical work I had ever done, and each morning it was my chore to start that darn fire. I am certain that I will never voluntarily “grill” a hot dog or a pepper sprout on a gril with real charcoal, but to your analogy. Those fires burned bright and gave me and the two kids the greatest summer adventure we had ever known. Now my new eyes see those fires as the burning desire to work as hard sitting here as I did standing on a street corner in Manhattan. Thanks for the memories and the great analogy 🙂

    • Johanna Harness

      January 17, 2012 at 6:02 AM

      I love this image of you selling meat on a stick. It does sound like a great adventure!

  7. Meredith Conner

    November 9, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    Great post Johanna. I have actually been banished as the Fire Starter in my family. I’m the Smoke Master and when I’ve made my attempt, my husband or my two very young daughters take over and we get fire.

    • Johanna Harness

      January 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM

      Ooh. The Smoke Master. Are you the person the smoke follows, no matter where you sit? There’s always one.

  8. Mary Vine

    November 9, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    I love the pictures!! I always like reading your blogs, too. I would have been no help to you with the fire, so good for you for being able to do it-sometimes :-). Sounds like some info to put in a story. Also, I totally pictured you out there – the way you described everything.

  9. Liz Fredericks

    November 9, 2011 at 9:31 AM


    You have no idea how long it took me to put a period after each letter. To do otherwise would neglect one of the funniest and most poignant blogs I’ve read to date. You do a beautiful job of weaving the layers of a woman’s life together – kids, obligations, roles, rituals, nature, and personal goals and dreams. What wonderful messages . . . . so many themes . . . . one of my favorites – how arrogance always turns around and bites one in the ass. 😉

    • Johanna Harness

      January 17, 2012 at 5:59 AM

      Thank you so much, Liz! Your responses always inspire me to keep writing. You’re wonderful.

  10. Carley Ash

    November 9, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    Fun blog, Johanna.

  11. angela parson myers

    November 11, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Wonderful analogy. And yes, the world of publishing has changed amazingly and will continue to change for quite some time. I’m going to try to paraphrase Darwin (forgive me if I screw it up), but ultimately, it isn’t the strongest who survive, but the most adaptable. Truth is, I probably never stood a chance in the old world. In the new one, both Angela Parson Myers and AH Myers can have their voices.

    • Johanna Harness

      January 17, 2012 at 4:58 AM

      So true, Angela. And sometimes it’s good to stand back and realize that living in a time of change is not unique. The adapters always thrive.

  12. Sharon

    January 16, 2012 at 9:20 PM

    Johanna–I am happy to find your blog. I also blog about sheep and their raising, and I do have a blog on WordPress. then go to “Ranch News” I am also a fan of the Trailing of the Sheep. You go girl!!!

    • Johanna Harness

      January 17, 2012 at 4:56 AM

      Sharon–thank you for stopping by Gem State Writers. I’m in love with your blog. I love the writing and the photos. I just subscribed by email so I don’t miss anything.


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