Of fire, frailty and the craft

Originally published November 6, 2007

I am preparing for the cold. I am hunkering down. I must stock the shelter and prepare for the annual armageddon that is winter in Michigan. It’s more of an atomic bomb, frozen, so it hurts more. I need new gloves. I should make soup, a big pot, something hearty, something chock full of strength, full of all-over warmth. I will need this soup not only for physical comfort, from the bone-chilling fuck you cast upon this arctic place, but as compensation. Soup is a counterweight. For some it is skiing, skating, ice-fishing, traditional family outdoor Christmas type things complete with Rockwell scenes and crooners crooning. For me it is soup.

Upon those days when I break from chipping two inches of ice from my car in the pitch black of the early AM to scream aloud at God for dumping this frozen torture upon us – right after I promise myself I will move from this place – I think of soup. Then I eat it. Not always right away, but as soon as possible. My belly gets warm, my nose runs from the steam and soft vapors, skin turns a hazy red, the feeling returns in my digits and I recognize there is hope. At this point, I think back fondly to nights such as this one.

It is not cold, it is chilly, a phrase only a mid-westerner can truly understand. The life-cycle of winter starts now, but it is early enough in gustation where the conditions are more than palatable in the proper circumstance. Such as with fire. Fire good.

There was wind today, fierce at times, but not kissed with the icy lips of noreasters and Canadian cold fronts – this is autumnal wind. This wind paints the yard with leaves from the trees. This wind moves life without ending it. This wind has a pleasing and robust aroma.

The smell of wind in fall in the yard is reminiscent of the deeper qualities of everything I love. It is primal. It is genuine. It is the essence of the thing. At least I am reminded of this by the wind, so much so it seems real, a delight for multiple senses.

This is why I stay here. Well, partly. I stay here for Opening Day, that glorious early April weekday when my beloved Detroit Tigers take the field for the first time, when hope springs eternal and hot dogs are hot. I stay here for the water, pungent blue against sand and driftwood along the coast. I stay here for the brilliance of hammocks in campgrounds in summer. I stay here for beers on patios. I stay here, because I am here. I belong. I fit. The other 4-5 months of the year, in this winter thing, I hold on. I make the best of it. I may cry foul aloud but I need it. It is also a counterweight, designed to provide balance. If Bell’s Oberon could be brewed well all year it would lose it’s splendor. Could I walk in shorts outside on New Years Day then I would never appreciate doing so that first May day each year. I need this rebirth. I crave it. I am it.

But with it comes responsibility. As everything around me changes I must hold tight to the middle of me. I can not let the sweet winds of fall carry away this phoenix rising mentality. It is vital. I need it. I must accept new developments in my life as they are, even when difficult, especially when difficult. I must be Lazarus, even when it’s cold outside.

How do I do it?

You’re looking at it.

Through words I can be reminded of that which is gone from physical sight. Photographs can serve the same purpose but they capture only surface. Photography may invoke emotion, but it is not derived from it. Words define emotion, in any way I choose based on how I assemble them. Words are my Legos. I fucking love Legos.

By creating a record, by letting the words come, I explode with the essence of the thing. I build from the inside-out. The edges grow slowly, maturing just so, when ready, when appropriate. It is done without rushing. It is a singular thing that begat everything around it so quickly that it appears 3-dimensional.

It is when in the midst of this meditation on the essence of the thing that I find myself thinking about the craft, about the process of writing. I pull focus to sharpening the tools at my disposal, to precision in the abstract and meaning in the mechanisms. I grow. I lose touch with how others will perceive it just long enough to allow the work to be unfettered and pure. I am a big boy. If the work is poor I can take the beating, but were the work shallow and not genuinely mine I would suffer to live with that.

Albert Camus once wrote: “All writers write to be read, let’s admire those that say the don’t, but not believe them”.

This is true. I believe it to be so. I understand the need to have my voice heard and freely admit it is important to me. However, the day I allow that need to be read to influence the work itself is the day I soil myself as an artist. I put the words together because they need to be assembled. I say it because it needs to be said. I need it. I need it. I need it. I fucking need it.

I accept that what I need is not always what you need. You are not always my audience. I don’t write for a demographic, I write for me. If the work is good enough the audience will find it. I hope that audience grows. I hope to do it well, a little more so every season. I hope to hone my craft. I hope to find the epicenter of my voice.

I hope someone asks me what my best work is so I can answer “I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet”.

That is when the winds of each season pitch and dive in rhythm and rhyme, carrying me and the words through the peaks and valleys, that constantly changing point of view of the same thing. That’s where I hope to find myself, some distant spring morning, as much so as I do on this autumnal night. Again and again, over and over – moving through the change, taking from it things of value, new tools for the box. I have to do this. It is what keeps the essence of the thing alive in the first place. Should I ignore it, by choice or by apathy, then it dies. Then I die, a little every day. I won’t stand for that. I have too much left to learn. I have too much left to write. I have too much left.

I have too much left.


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