FIRE IS A FICKLE BEAST
By: Lauren Anderson
They say that cooking by a fire is a skill unique unto itself. Because not only do you have to manage the food you’re attempting to cook, you have to cater to the fire’s needs as well.
Too low of flame and the food won’t cook. And if it does, it will take FOREVER.
Too hot and you can burn the food– not to mention yourself.
Mastering the art of the flame is a huge part of what differentiates people from other animals. It’s helped our species survive and prosper. It’s helped us innovate and expand.
We hold the key to fire. We claim we can control it. And by controlling it, and wielding it at our pleasure, it has made us king of the jungle.
But fire is a fickle beast. It can give, but it can also destroy. As glorious as it is deadly.
Okay, so you might be thinking:
So this is all a fine and good esoteric discussion on FIRE Lauren, but WTF does it have to do with anything other than the midnight musings of a comedian blogger?
Well… I’m getting there!
It dawned on me that fire just might be the perfect way to talk about how hard we are on ourselves.
Lately I’ve been listening to a bunch of people who all seem kind of wide-eyed and overwhelmed. And one of those people is myself.
We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Or we set expectations on ourselves that we cannot achieve, so we feel like a failure. Or we discover that it’s hard to commit, because it’s too extreme. Measures taken in hopes of bettering ourselves and/or trying something new, flop because it is ultimately too much.
Where something as simple as a question of what to eat for dinner will launch me into a wheel of regret that could go like this:
I‘m so tired, I think we should just order in. But that’s so expensive, and I’m trying to save money right now because I want to pay off my car loan before my second school loan kicks in. And I’m trying to watch my salt intake, because I’m worried about my blood pressure because I heard high blood pressure runs in the family and I just had a birthday, and I’m that age now.
So we should probably just cook something. I could try and make that new chicken recipe, but I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while, so I need to run out. But the co-op will be super crowded right now so it will take a few hours, and I’m so hungry. And the only place near us doesn’t have the organic juice that I need to make the sauce.
I would use the other juice but there’s so much sugar in that, and I’m trying to cut down on my refined sugar intake. And besides the only oil I have right now is Palm oil, but I just read that it’s hard on the rain forests er something, so now I feel too guilty to use oil that I spent almost ten dollars on because I thought it was the best oil. That’s 10 bucks I could’ve used to get a burrito bowl at Chipolte.
Fuck it. I’m going Chipolte.
Does that scenario sound at all familiar? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. I haven’t gone through that exact scenario (YET) but we all know it’s only a matter of time.
Sometimes it seems like every decision I make is laced with potential threat to another part of my life and/or the environment or society at large. I keep getting caught up in these impossible un-ending situations that never fully pan out the way I want them to. I feel like I’m serving so many masters that no one is satisfied.
Like for instance, I currently have what I would call “A STRAW PROBLEM”
It all started when I heard about the damn turtles. “You shouldn’t use plastic straws! They’re BAD.” is all you ever hear. But knowing that, and then changing my life, and society at large are another thing.
So I do what every eco-minded person does and I buy a reusable straw. And then I promptly forget to bring it with me EVERY DAMN TIME I NEED IT.
So I ask for no straw, and then they give it to you anyway. So then I keep the straw and put it in my purse instead of throwing it away. And then when I get 3 or more straws in there, I clear it out and put it in a cup by my sink. And I tell myself with the BEST INTENTIONS, “When this gets full I’ll make an art project. These could be really cool bracelets.”
But the reality is, it’s been months now and I’m waaaaaaay too fricking busy to make art with all the straws I’ve saved. So there they sit overflowing from the cup on my counter. Staring at me, mocking me with all the ways I’ve failed, and continue to fail. And I don’t know how to stop.
AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON PLASTIC FORKS.
The straw problem is like fire. It requires constant attention. If I don’t care about it and carry on as I was, ignorant… then maybe a sea turtle gets hurt by my neglect. There is a single-use plastic problem that I really do feel needs to be addressed. By me, and society at large. And if we don’t–
The neglected flame spreads and sets the woods on fire.
So I save every straw for months and now I have a zillion straws and it’s overwhelming my kitchen, and my sanity.
The over-stoked fire can burn you.
So don’t use a straw ever again right? Well, okay. Sure. But here’s the deal– I like drinking with a straw! I do! (I know I know I’m a monster!) And I know sacrifices must be made for the greater good but until then, I see no reason I can’t lean on small joys to buoy me through the harder shit. One of them, is the convenience of a straw! Still, I could go without…
Let the fire die out, and it gets too cold.
So where’s the middle ground? How do we seek moderation that we crave when the modern world demands full speed, full engagement, full transparency, all the while offering no room for error, no time for growth, no forgiveness, and almost no grace?
Too bleak? Well, maybe. I must always remind myself that there are pockets of grace.
I see it and I seek it.
And when I do, I will often find it.
But I think I’m missing a key factor here. I think I forget that I while I can see grace, and seek grace, I can also BE GRACE too. I can embody the solace that I need.
But how? I’m not totally sure, but I have an idea. And yes, I’m going to relate it back to fire again.
When I think about Grace sometimes, I think about this old Danish proverb that I read on a serving plate in an antique shop years ago. It struck me then because the saying seemed so strange on a plate.
It said, “Fire does not care about the owner of the coat it is burning.”
Weird right? And why was that on a plate exactly? Anyways… I didn’t buy the plate, because I don’t cook– at least not like that– but the words have stuck with me ever since.
FIRE doesn’t care about your coat, because that’s not fire’s deal. It doesn’t need to care, cuz Fire’s only job is to burn! But– BUT– I CAN CARE.
I can see if your coat is on fire and I can help you put it out. I can splash water on you, or wrap you in a woolen blanket, or scream “STOP, DROP, AND ROLL!!!”
And perhaps the VERY LAST THING I should do when I see someone burning is go, “Well, that’s what you get for wearing a coat made with synthetic material. That’s why I only wear sustainable bamboo coats made in the USA by a women-owned company who pay their workers a living wage, and have an in-house day care.”
(This gruesome image made me laugh… because that’s how awful it is. And maybe it’s not that extreme, but how many times have I felt like a failure, and instead of help, people decide to tell me “YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD DO” instead? The answer is too many. TOO MANY TIMES.)
My point is:
I can help. And you can do the same for me.
We can extinguish the flames in each other before it consumes us.
If “Fire” is the way I’m choosing to represent stress/or being overwhelmed by expectations, then I can’t really get mad at it. Fire is a demanding element. It consumes and takes, and needs constant attention.
Just like our society, and expectations of ourselves and others. It’s equally demanding. It also consumes and takes and needs constant attention. But if I stop and shake my fist at it, then I’m only gonna get burned.
But if a friend notices I’m standing in the fire pit, they can lend me a hand, and help me out.
They can say, “Hey. Let me take those straws with me to class. I work with first graders and I know a game we can make out of em. They will be perfect!”
Watching the fire for you for a minute so you can rest.
Or they could say, “Your straw problem sounds like my bag problem… together we can make the world’s worst tent.”
Joining you by the fire, because many hands make small labor.
Or even, “Hey. It’s okay to throw those straws away if you need to. I can see you trying, and I know where your heart is. We’re all just doing our best. And everyday we learn more.”
Recognizing when it’s time to put the fire out, because it’s plenty warm in here already.
So what does the fire, and straws and Danish proverbs have to do with being stressed and over-committed and guilty etc?
Well, I think this is my way of saying that sometimes it’s hard to give yourself grace. And for as much as we value self-sufficiency in this country, we can’t always do it alone.
There really is value in giving each other “A PASS” once in awhile. Because I know how fickle fire can be, and I know how fast it can get out of hand.
So here is my pledge to you:
If see your coat is on fire, I will help you help extinguish it.
And you can do the same for me.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get through this together.