Back in eighth grade, a kid in my class set the school on fire
because that was how you expressed helpless rage in the 80s,
It seems old fashioned now, another time,
before school shootings even existed in our collective consciousness,
before they became part of How Things Are.
No one was hurt,
the building, made as it was of cinder blocks and steel, was unharmed,
school was closed for a couple days
and I haven’t thought about it since
GET OVER HERE, WE HAVE A SCOOP!
That’s what Marlene said when I picked up the phone,
she was the teacher in charge of the school newspaper and
also, I realize now, in charge of keeping me safe,
my personal guardian angel, self-appointed.
She always knew, seemingly by magic, when gym class would involve dodge ball
or some other game invented by bullies for bullying
and she would rescue me.
The gym teacher would scowl and tell me to go,
and I would exhale in relief,
realizing Marlene had conjured another “important” mystery that
urgently needed investigating,
and I see in retrospect many things that I could not see before,
and which did not even have names.
Without the why
Anyway, Marlene called me
and this is how E and I ended up wandering the smoky halls
of an empty school, accompanied by fire fighters, men, in yellow,
surveying the damage.
We wrote a front-page full-page article with the headline “FIRE!”,
wherein we compiled the uninteresting and inconsequential details of
where the fire originated and how much damage was done,
with quotes from the fire fighters.
We covered the who/where/what/how,
though not the why,
and there is another mystery
why we did not go near the why,
maybe because it seemed too obvious?
My mother said that boy must have had “problems”,
I think all the grownups were very bewildered
by the question of WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING
but we didn’t need to ask why,
who didn’t want to set that place on fire,
and he had more reason than any of us.
I know why I never set the school on fire
other than in the realm of fantasy
over and over again
blowing it up on repeat
absolutely no idea how to go about doing it
really just not brave enough
numb and defeated, etc.
But still, setting that school on fire seemed to me
a very logical response
to being in that school.
The kid who set the school on fire didn’t have a Marlene
to rescue him over and over again with well-timed notes,
deus ex machina.
And I never got made fun of for having clothes that came from Kmart,
or the wrong shoes for gym,
the prejudice and classism that made him a target
did not touch me.
I remember feeling terrified all the time,
and I remember wanting to disappear
so the scary things would stop happening
but his approach actually makes more sense than my wish:
make the place where the scary things happen disappear.
The wrong question
Adults experienced other things
parental emotions which made no sense to me at the time —
fear, anger, worry, and, most of all, confusion
why would this happen
how could this happen
why would someone do this.
But we felt thrill and admiration
he did it he did it he did it he did it
he set it all on fire.
There was no way to explain to them
that this was the wrong question, and
adults being adults couldn’t understand.
they wouldn’t have dreamed of asking how was your day,
and they also would have been able to interpret the requisite shrug-response:
well unfortunately no one burned it down today
so gotta go back tomorrow, and ugh, fuck everything…
We built an enormous fire in the Utah desert this weekend
and sat around it telling stories
or, really, listening to stories,
drinking whiskey under the stars,
four of us,
from different places and times.
This is what we are meant to do,
said the cowboy, who was very drunk
and suddenly enthusiastic about everything
instead of not caring about anything.
He is right, there is something wonderfully human
about fire and stories,
flames and embers, under the stars.
I have been thinking a lot about Operation Turning Fiery
aka the various missions related to being forty,
and how my life wishes have basically distilled themselves:
Breathe, be outside as much as possible,
be a Total Fucking Badass (TFB)*
and take exquisite care of myself
I find myself wanting to burn things,
to go back and rescue past versions of me,
to be my own angel Marlene of miracles,
to set more things on fire.
A path of fire
The man at the supermarket steps too close to me,
and I move away, instinctively, automatically,
brandishing a red pepper and not sure how to use it,
but in my mind I stand my ground and say BACK OFF, CREEP
RESPECT THE PERIMETER
THIS IS MY SPACE
and then I set the whole produce aisle on fire with my mind
just so he knows who it is that he is not to fuck with
A man in a white Ford pickup with no license plate on the front
is watching me as I walk past warily
with a tote bag of groceries in each hand,
everything about him and how he
looks at me creeps me out
and I set his truck on fire too.
In my mind I breathe fire,
I call it into being,
leaving fiery paths in my wake,
sending meteors through space and time
Middle-aged white men, all day, every day,
they look at me and I set their world on fire.
Here is my compass of Turning Fiery
aka being a total badass who is forty
and could definitely set things on fire with her mind
but doesn’t even need to.
North I AM FIERCE
Northeast I AM FEARLESS
East I AM POWERFUL
Southeast I AM STRIKING
South I AM OF THE EARTH
Southwest I GLOW
West I AM WILD
Northwest I DELIGHT IN LIFE
And all possible combinations and forms, may these now be my superpowers forever
grounded and glowing, wild delight in life
Delighting in life, wildly glowing,
from the earth I strike, powerful and fearless.
I am fierce in my power, fearless in my striking,
wild and of the earth, glowing aliveness and delight
Fiercely of the earth, fearlessly glowing,
Powerful and wild, striking and delighted
How do I want to use fire?
Powerfully, and in my fiery fierce fearlessness,
and also for joy and pleasure, under the stars,
letting it reflect everything that needs reflecting,
letting it warm me, free me, illuminate desire.
As a door: look, I walked through [experience x] and
I AM STILL HERE.
With presence and intention,
let this burn away all that is done,
in front of me above me
behind me below me and in all directions
writing words in the air with incense
and powerful knowing
that whatever wants saying
needs room to be said.
How do I want to use fire?
Fire in my editing
(battlecry: burn it all down!)
goodbye, six hundred more words,
and fire in my writing
whatever wants to be told or named,
hello, resurfacing stories,
I will sit by your fire
Fire in my dance
and on the pole
and through the ground
and in my burning desire to learn more
(and more) (and more) (and more)
and fire in a shared moment of play.
Fire in firing myself
from jobs that are not my job
(possibly most jobs)
and a path of fire to create openings
where none were before.
Is there anything else in this wish-vision?
Let’s burn it all down and find out,
burning to reveal essence,
undoing structures and assumptions,
willing to find out what wants to come next.
Invitation: come play with me…
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And of course it’s always okay to comment under a made-up name, whether for play and delight, or in the interest of Safety First.
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We remember that people vary and my process doesn’t have to be yours, and this is a good thing.
Here’s how we meet each other: with great kindness and appreciation and awe, whispering (and sometimes shouting) oh, wow what beautiful wishes!