Don Rogers: Of albatrosses and candle flame
May 3, 2018
This weekly column is my mythic big boulder, though I don't remember how I earned this cruel punishment. Something bad, I'm sure. Very bad.
Finish the task and it just rolls back to the bottom of the hill again. Waiting for me. Every week.
My reward is a freshly blank page. Nice job on the last piece! Now go ahead, big shot, fill this one if you can.
Or maybe mandala is more fitting. No punishment. This is worship of the highest order. Wax on. Wax off. I see a monk in orange on his knees, getting a line of yellow sand in the design just right.
Then it blows away with the printing, the posting. Gone. Start over. There's more where this came from, surely. You must have faith.
I look for inspiration to Rumi — "a candle loses none of its light by lighting another" — and the Buddha — "thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened" — and Father James Keller — "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" — and the Bible — "thou wilt light my candle: God will enlighten my darkness."
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All this candle talk. All this flame freely shared. But really, I'm reaching for Maya Angelou's plain talk: "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Sure hope so.
I read her words. I see a candle tipping, bright and yellow against the dark, wax dripping, to light up the next.
That's my hope for the next column, facing that awful blank screen, bearing that damned boulder.
I try to listen to local author Josh Weil's advice: Avoid leaping for the first thing that pops in your head. Tough, on these deadlines.
But maybe I do this in a way by blasting out what I call column seedlings whenever, wherever my muse alights.
Some memory or issue gets me thinking. Or an image — lighting candles, for instance — takes sudden hold. A sentence flashes. I write it down. Then a second sentence comes, and I write that down.
I peck words into existence on my computer, my notebook, by texting myself. Audio recording doesn't work for me; this is finger stuff, where my brain, such as it is, works — ASDF on the left, JKL… to the right, though I'm not looking at my keyboard but the candle burning, burning in my imagination. Now, write all that in some cogent way. Good luck.
Sometimes I'm running a trail or snowboarding, say, and repeat that first sentence, then the second and third to myself over and over again until I find relief in a notebook. There's always one in the car.
But most all of these promising bright sparks will fizzle. Turns out I'm not lighting wicks, but fuses.
All these scraps, these seedlings, wind up in a file. Some will develop into a column, and many more will sit in that folder on the computer euphemistically labeled "Columns in Progress," though "What Were You Thinking?" is more accurate.
That's how I keep first ideas both at bay and alive for future cultivation.
Tell me, what's your muse and your fuse? What keeps you going, maybe whining about your boulder but mostly delighting in your means of illuminating your tiny part of the universe? What's your art, I guess I'm asking.
For some friends, this requires climbing mountains or running ungodly distances. Their art concerns their own body as brush and canvas. Others create useful things: fine cabinets, gardens, beer, bonsai, music. Coding fits in here with all the wonders programmers are spinning up, and speaking of sharing flame, setting up machines to spin up minds of their own. Talk about your fuses.
In my case, it's the most humble of essays, the column. Every week, ready or not. No waiting for inspiration or candles to light themselves.
For me, ultimately, it's about strapping on the boulder, trusting I'll build my strength just enough to carry through this week. Next week will have to take care of itself.
It's not so bad.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Truckee Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.