The Smoky Ruins Of A Saturday

It was a good morning. Make that a superb morning. Early. Quiet. Cold. I made a pretty picture of the light. I wrote splendid words and luxuriated in the bliss of coffee plus peace plus sourdough toast.

And then shortly after toast I got very angry. Livid. Volcanic. I snapped. Zero to fury in four seconds. One moment serene. The next moment beside myself, as they said back in the day. Unhinged.

Yelling, cursing, slamming, throwing things. So mad I shook with fury. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that I responded by losing my shit. When both the dog and the cat started crying, I stopped. Right in the middle of a screaming rant, I stopped. I sat with my rage, shaking, heart pounding, head throbbing, stomach threatening to send back the sourdough.

I thought about what I said during my outburst. I decided I wasn’t sorry. I thought about what I did. Butter knife thrown in the sink. Items slammed back into the refrigerator. Door slammed. All punctuated by my bellowing. Screeching even. I decided I wasn’t sorry for any of that either. Maybe I was harsh but nothing was broken or damaged and I told the truth. Borderline violence, yes. I chose it. Also my truth. A full 24 hours later I still don’t regret it.

I was sorry I upset the animals but that was the extent of my regret. Later I would see by my fancy running watch that I spent 40 minutes in the High Stress zone. I spent another 60 minutes in the Medium Stress zone. I ended up sorry I upset my heart and my nervous system, but only much later; certainly not in the moment. I wondered if it would have been worse to hold in that anger though, as opposed to expressing it. I can’t be sure, though I suspect my outburst was a consequence of regularly holding it in. Holding it down. Nice big swallows, reasonable, sensible, control. Day in, day out. Maybe so.

After I calmed below physical hysteria I remained mentally enraged about the reason it all happened — the principle of the whole thing. The big picture. I went about my business still carrying on a silent debate about it in my head. This must have been the Medium Stress period. I tried converting this energy into weekend chores. Spent hours getting shit done, fueled by my refusal to let the initial conflict go. I wouldn’t release it. I just kept working and fuming. Not eating, not drinking, cleaning everything in sight but ruining my own Saturday with my stubborn grip and the stink of bleach.

hipstamaticphoto-595639481.586472By early afternoon it occurred to me that to release my ire I would need to make fire. Making a fire always makes me feel better. I love the ritual and all the companion metaphors. That fire pit is a happy place even if it is surrounded by concentric rings of dog shit and the nosy neighbor’s security cameras. I scavenge wood all year so I’ve always got it on hand. I went outside and made flames.

Hella fire. Hell fire. Big fire. Hot fire. Not a tidy fire, an unapologetic messy one. Cane poles and termite wood and my other neighbor’s poisoned tree. I burned everything poppy and snappy and sizzly and mouthy I could get my hands on. Stuff from storm damage, stuff from winter pruning, stuff killed by frost, fallen leaves, crap blown into my yard, chewed up dog toys no longer bringing anyone any joy. Everything into the flames.

Burn, burn, burn.

You’re thinking its a pyromania thing. It’s not. After the initial blaze-up it is the tending of the fire which soothes me. Managing the fire makes it therapeutic. It’s the process of making it, coaxing it, feeding it, fanning it, working the coals, choosing the next fuel, moving things around, getting the air flow right; this is the medicine. The meditation. It works every time. It takes the venom out of my anger. It takes the anger out of the conflict. I wish I had figured this out earlier in life. It would have saved me a lot of hangovers.

You may remember the year I wrote my end of the year regrets on pieces of wood and fed them into a fire on New Year’s Eve, saying a prayer for each person, making spiritual amends. I take this fire therapy seriously. Yesterday’s fire was not about regret though. It was about release similar to a hard ugly cry and then solace. It feels important to explain that fire therapy isn’t one-dimensional simply because it is simple. It may be the same element each time but employed for different reasons based different emotional needs.

It gets witchy when you know your wood pile as well as I do. Since all my wood is scavenged or donated to me I get familiar with how each kind burns as I add it to my blazes. I pay attention to what certain pieces do to the fire. The end of the fire is deliberate, and as I mentioned above, chosen based on a specific need. For a solace fire I needed to end it with a lingering comfort. Something that would take a while but provide reassurance, I’m still here, no hurry, stay as long as you need.

The leavings of one particular tree in the pile doesn’t burn in a satisfying way. It doesn’t make flames. It smokes and smokes and smokes and turns black and then hours later it transforms into a giant glowing ember, barely changing shape at all, simply growing softer as it cooks. I don’t know its name; only by the grain and the bark when I grab it from the pile. This was the finale of my solace fire. I watched the smoke rise as the sun went down on my anger well-diffused and then for hours I could glance over at the pit and see that steady red glow. The remnants of my anger now ash white below.

Think about it. The hug you get from a loved one after you’ve finally stopped crying is different from the hug you get while you are crying. One feels interventional; the other consolational. The long hold when all the words are gone. Steady but not quite as tight. No urgency. The body cloaked in comfort as the emotions settle. So it was with the ending of my anger fire. Chosen for the long deep radiance which doesn’t get doused. I stay and see it through to the end. Then go inside and wash off the smoke, eat pizza, and wait for Sunday.

— Mercy




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