More Like a Coal, Less Like a Match

One of my fondest memories growing up was when my father used to load up the wood burning stove in the family room with logs, kindling, and “starter” we made out of twisted bundles of newspaper, and we would all gather around to enjoy the coming fire. He’d take a wooden match from the red cardboard box—the same box I think you can get wooden matches in even to this day—and strike it with a dramatic scrape and hiss as the match flared. He’d touch it the corner of one of the newspaper bundles, and we’d all sit with rapt wonder while the first flame crept over last week’s collection of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Once the fire was towering, Dad would shut the doors of the stove with a clang, and we’d all wait for the “train.” If you burn logs in a stove, maybe you know what I mean—the way the blaze chugs within its iron confines as everything heats up from the fire’s initial roar. It was probably one of the few times there was any quiet in my parents’ household, literally brimming over with six kids.

While all this was going on, however, the family room the stove occupied remained shiver-inducingly cold. Sure, if you opened the doors to the new inferno, the gust of dry heat would suck all the moisture from your eyeballs in an instant, but once you stepped out of a small radius around the stove, the cold overtook you once again.

Of course, if we let the fire burn on, kept feeding logs onto it for a few hours, and built up a respectable foundation of coals orange with penetrating heat, and we’d end up with a room so warm we could easily sit around in shorts and a t-shirt and be content. The fire inside the stove may have grown less impressive, with less roar and dramatics, but its steady emanation of heat could beat back any chill a Pennsylvania winter might besiege with.

Sometimes when I write, I find I tend to act more like that match first struck on the box. Full of vigor and dramatics, blazing bright and burning fast for a short period. If I’m on a roll, I might be like the newspaper, which burns a little longer, but soon crumbles, weakened, into a pile of ash. I work like a crazy person for the largest majority of my waking hours I can possibly justify without being guilty of child and husband neglect, and this lasts for perhaps a couple of weeks. Then I collapse, burnt out, just like the crooked remnants of a blackened match, or the fragile ashes of newspaper that the slightest breath down the chimney scatters.

But what I want to be more like, more of the time, are the coals under the fire, which due to slow, diligent tending, burn through the night and still have the power to stoke a new fire the next morning, should someone feel so inclined to feed a fresh log onto the quietly sizzling heap. I admire the writers who methodically whittle at the many tasks one must undertake to get an idea from initial inspiration to finished masterpiece. Certainly the creative tasks I undertake get finished, and I like to hope well-polished, but this happens over several cycles of flare, fizzle, crumble, flare, fizzle, crumble. How much more would I get done without those stretches of recovery needed between burst of frantic creativity?

Some of these tendencies may be in-born, I realize, but I think the ability to be a slow burning coal, ready to kindle yet another new fire, is at least in part, a learned skill. One I intend to master. If only I can prevent myself from going after the concept with an inferno-like vengeance that will once again, burn me out.

About Rebecca Minor

Rebecca P Minor draws perspective from her pursuit of various art forms, including writing, drawing, and music (singing mostly, though there was a time when a trombone figured in.) A 1997 graduate from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Becky earned a BFA in animation. Since then, she has worked as a character animator, a freelance artist, an art teacher, and most importantly, a wife to her husband Scott and mother of three boys. She is in the process of republishing her current body of work. The first installment of The Windrider Saga, Divine Summons, is available as an ebook novella on Amazon. She also has short stories available under the umbrella of The Windrider Canticles.

15 comments on “More Like a Coal, Less Like a Match

  1. This fire analogy is really great! My dad’s a forester, so I know all about controlling fires and such. One thing I know for certain… it’s the largest and hottest flames that are the most dangerous and unpredictable. I think the same works for writing. Beware the huge fireballs! They can do no good! But if you take care of your flame… guide it and feed it properly… it can be of enormous benefit!

    • Thanks for the words of agreement, Keven. Far be it from me to be either dangerous or unpredictable. I think we’ve all met “temperamental artist types,” who, while brilliant, are impossible to manage on a social level. Eccentric is one thing…volatile is entirely another.

  2. Becky, I’m the same way. Bursts of frantic creativity, followed by a lull. Sometimes to the point that I worry I’ve burnt out completely. Eventually, though the match is struck again and somehow kindling appears where I thought there had been none.

    I love analogies :). And this is a cool one! (Or, would that be a hot one?)

    • Well, I suppose when we’re all raking in the millions per quarter in book sales, we will be able to flare and fizzle to our heart’s content. 😉 Thanks for dropping in, Kat, and confirming I’m not alone in my spikes of creativity.

  3. I do the burn quick often. But I have found the longer I write, the quicker it is for me to strike the match each time. Great post, Becky.

  4. My Dearest Becky,

    Welcome! Very thought provoking post. I like your style. You drew me into your childhood.

    • Dear mibillie2: Hmmmm. I remember you from a certain Marcher Lord Select, back in that hazy time in the end of 2009! Good to see you here as well, and thanks for the compliment on my style/ability to create the illusion. I consider that high praise from a discerning consumer of prose. 🙂

  5. My Dearest Becky,

    Guilty as charged, I must follow my child! I enjoyed your style then and I enjoy it now.

  6. Excellent post Becky. Love a good analogy.

    I know what you mean about that initial roar of creativity. I’ve spent many an hour staring bleakly out from under singed eyebrows, scraping away at a sodden matchbox, desperately trying to get another spark out of the blackened match. It’s usually at this point that I resort to cheesecake (it won’t get the fire started but you feel better about it).

    • Ah, yes, I have to agree that cheesecake has its own set of superpowers. 🙂 And I love the picture of the way we all tend to ask for a spark from a spent match. A great analogy to add to the others everyone has offered to improve upon my own.

  7. This may be coming from a lowly piece of newspaper (and sometimes a wet one that cant burn even if it wanted to) but, from the outside, Becky, I already see you as the slowly burning coal. Great post. 🙂

  8. Hey, at least you’ve got a cycle working for you. I’ve misplaced my box of matches. 😉

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