The Autobiography of Fire

If this moment were a few weeks later, I would sing words from Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.” But it’s early December and I’m not on Clinton Street. I’m not in New York. I am alone in the woods and there is no music; just silence, interrupted by the sounds a twenty-five year old house makes under the combative influences of Mother Nature’s low temperatures and a heat pump striving to strike a comfortable balance.

The wee hours are well-suited to introspection and writing. If I were more energetic, I might take my computer and sit in front of the fireplace, letting the flames mesmerize me into writing the autobiography of fire. But I am not warm enough to be energetic. I am unwilling even to search for a sweatshirt to warm me; the search would expose me to the chilly confines of a closet. And my search would remind me that, as much as I might enjoy a fire, I have done nothing to make the flames dance. I’m not doing much writing, but I am thinking about my tiny place in the world, hidden from everyone but myself.

I like the idea of writing the autobiography of fire. The concept suits me. Fire draws us in, pulling us closer. But fire refuses to let us get too close. We cannot be close enough to safely understand the rage of combustion; we can only guess at how fire feels, what occurs at the precise moment when something solid becomes a superheated gas that disappears into smoke. Fire embodies passion. Raw, unbridled passion.

But, if I were walking on a deserted beach this cold and unforgiving early morning, I would ask the waves, “what the hell I am doing here? Why am I alone on this beach when the sky is just as empty and far more inviting, in spite of its rain and clouds? What possessed me to wander aimlessly on wet sand that captures my footprints, when I could have gone aloft in a hot air balloon that leaves no traces?”

That balloon would have let me disappear into the sky for a time before plunging me into a hungry ocean ready to consume me and my remains. Some would have us believe beaches are romantic places. The sky is desolate, but it’s full of free passion. The sky’s hunger is raw and unforgiving. The sky is like fire in that sense. Both are mysterious and attractive, yet dangerous and sinister. Yet they are pure and unmuddied; unlike the way beaches often are.

The beach pretends to be tender and caring, but it is too close to humanity to care. The sky, though desolate and awash in passion, is an enigma. The sky is love in another form. In this cold predawn darkness, I feel the sky’s tender but passionate embrace. And I feel the beach spray sand into my eyes, too. The beach and its watery witness holds us for a while, but eventually we transform into vapor. The beach is, in that way, the edge of the sky. Water, then, is kin of fire. I may one day write the autobiography of fire. Water will factor into the story. How could it not?


Back in the real world, I curse myself for ignoring my intent to visit a chiropractor or buy an electric muscle stimulation (EMS) therapy gadget. I feel the tension in my shoulders and back pulling my muscles in directions they were not meant to be pulled. The tightness is not necessarily painful all the time, but it is most assuredly uncomfortable. I’ve been advised to use a heating pad, a cold press, and to take a hot bath. I do not take baths (unless I am provided with a hot spa in which to bathe). I’ve been told I should invest in an EMS, go to a chiropractor, or stop complaining. All good advice, I’m sure.  For the time being, though, I will gripe and moan, giving air to my grievances.


Words with Friends kept encouraging me to play against someone (I forget his name) whose “skill level” mirrors mine. I finally relented and started a game with him. I got a message this morning saying he had declined my invitation. What the hell?! WWF tries to hook me up with someone who has no interest in playing with me? I get rejected by an unknown stranger, with no explanation. The unstated message, obviously, is this: “I don’t play with riff-raff like you. Bug off.” I feel rejected on so many levels.


My wife’s phone was out of power when I went to visit her yesterday, so I did not get to talk to her during my visit. I did drop off additional some clothes, though, as requested by the nurse. And I asked that her phone be charged so I could call her in an hour. Which I did. But when I called, the nurses said she was sleeping very soundly, suggesting I not insist on waking her. So, I did not speak to her yesterday. Today, the nurse told me, the Nurse Practitioner will try to draw blood again. If she is unsuccessful, they will have to send her to the hospital again. Before they do that, I will speak to someone who can explain their plans for dealing with this issue in the days ahead; a trip to the hospital every time a blood draw is needed is unacceptable, in my view.


Several days ago, I cancelled my Little Rock follow-up appointment with my surgeon’s nurse practitioner, scheduled for tomorrow morning and asked whether I could do it by phone, instead. I got a call yesterday, telling me the appointment has been rescheduled as a telemedicine visit at the same time as the original appointment. I like those kinds of appointments.


Yesterday, I did not have breakfast because I was instructed not to eat or drink anything for two hours before my 8 a.m. CT scan. The day before, I had bran flakes cereal. This morning, I will exchange those two days of good behavior for a few strips of bacon. If I hurry, I can finish breakfast before 5:30.

And I did! But not just bacon. A full-scale breakfast sandwich.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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