Cut my thumb open trying to create a notch for thumb-guides to practice with the hand-drill. Stupid as that was, that wasn’t the stupid part. The stupid part was after pouring hydrogen peroxide over the cut, I flicked-flacked my hand in the air to dry it off except it was still bleeding still wet and I flicked a thousand bloody drops all around my bathroom which I couldn’t see at the time because I didn’t have my glasses on. Just went to the loo. Sigh.
Been promising to put up pictures of me creating fire, or at least my fire kit and the positive proof of results, but I’ve been too busy dealing with being angry and running away from my anger.
How’s that for honesty?
(they’re below the fold, if you want to peek ahead!)
When I actually created my first flame on Saturday evening after a long day of wrestling with my demons I nearly cried. I lit the candle to commemorate my dad, and then when that burnt low I lit another one and put it on top to keep it going. I wished he could see it. Having finally discovered a way to get close with him, even simply to interest him in what I was doing, it was so hard that he died and was gone when I needed him so much. The flame made me so happy.
My last visit to him in the nursing home consisted of this: I brought him potato latkes, mushroom and rice stuffed cabbage, potato/cheese and mushroom pierogis, and some jelly donuts. We washed it down with med cups of Ulovka vokda. Afterwards, during the demos we ate bar snacks: nuts, wasabi peas, raisins, crunchy things. I didn’t want his last meal to be fucking cottage cheese, if it was going to be his last meal which it was with me. He didn’t like the donuts. Whatever, dad.
I showed him the fire tongs I had made which I was going to use to burn out my bowl. I showed him the bowl I started in class, a project that would have to wait until after I was able to prove I could create my own fire. I showed him the fishing spear I was carving in my living room, and described the wood chips flying all over my rug as I whittled away to the tv. Master wood sculptor that he was, he smiled. “Yes, dad, I know it’s stupid. I’ll turn it off next time.” His hands absorbed the texture and symmetry, the voice of the wood. It was only my first try, but I think he approved. I showed him the knife I was using, and the knife I started with that he gave me as a teenager whose handle he burned my name into for me. I pulled the cordage I’ve been making from my bag and gave it to him to feel. Having practiced making rope from raffia, cambium, grass from the lawn, and cat fur (combed from semi-willing cats), I had all kinds of textures for him to explore. I took some napkins and whipped together a few inches of rope right there. All of these things he got to see, and though he said little, he smiled.
And then I brought out my bow-drill and its pieces.
Obviously, I’ve been practicing on the same fireboard since then. [Hint: it’s so much easier and faster just to create a new spot. Not sure I would bother reusing one if it’s not been working for you, or you’ve already used it. Maybe I’ll save that for a later experiment.]
Anyway, so there we were. My dad’s in the hospital bed, basically unable to move. People walked and rolled up the corridor outside of his room and we didn’t have much time because his silent roommate would soon come back. I knelt on the floor, set up the kit and started bowing away.
“Can you see it, Dad? Can you see what I’m doing?” I asked. “No,” he said, “But I hear it.” I laughed. It wasn’t working. He couldn’t see it, I wasn’t doing anything useful, and there were limits on how much trouble I was willing to chance. The spindle got hot, though, which he could feel, and the corner smelled like campfire, reminding me of the family camping trips he took us on when we were kids. His smile was big, and we laughed and I promised him that when I came back in two weeks, I’d show him pictures to prove I could do it.
Three days later he went into a coma and the next morning he was dead, December 22, 2012.
I bent over the bed to say goodbye. His hug back to me was so tight. I asked for a kiss and he kissed me. I awkwardly told him I loved him, and he awkwardly said it back. As I was leaving, I looked him in the eyes, and said, “Dad, I’ll be back in two weeks and I want you to know that the time I spend with you is the best part of my two weeks, and what keeps me going the whole time.”
“More the opposite.” He said. “Huh?” I thought, way to blow a moment, Dad, really? After the snack, the demo, the snickering, the bonding, I’m so moved I’m practically in tears, was he really starting in with the weird?? Now? Again?
“What do you mean?” I waited, tense.
“Wish it was more of this.”
And so I got it. Actually, I got it the next day, but that doesn’t sound as good.
He wished we had more time together like this, and less of what we had had which was mostly not pretty. That was how I learned that my father truly did love me. For that, I am so grateful.
It could have been otherwise. It’s possible that he could have died without my learning that. It’s possible he could have died without learning to love me, too. Certainly I spent most of my life thinking he did not. But now I know that he did, for however long that he did. Now that he is gone, part of my mission is to accept what I have without measurement or judgement, to let myself love and be open to more love, to let pain and rage show me my own soft heart so I can see those of others and above all, to breathe, to live and to shine.
This is for you, Dad.
I nearly peed myself when I realized there was a decent amount of heat coming from between my feet. Stopping my sawing on the bow, I peered down and frantically started blowing on the tiny ember cradled in the tinfoil. I didn’t think I’d get this far and there was no tinder substitute near me. I pulled open my lumberjack drawer and pulled out what I thought was a tinder bundle I’d made earlier just in case. No, it was some of the fur I’d combed off my cat and was twisting into yarn. (More on this later). Cat fur doesn’t smell much better than human hair when it burns, or fizzles, in this case.
Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t get it to chirp into a teeny flame. Not even a small one. And then the rest of the evening, nothing, barely even any smoke, mostly just the irritating squeaking. And I had to drill a couple of new holes in the fireboard, too, as well as new spindlepoints. At this rate, I’m going to run out of spindle and fireboard before I ever create anything that could light a candle.
Last night I tried again, and this time achieved a nice big ember. And then nothing. I fed it proper tinder (over my sink, for safety), I blew on it, I talked pretty to it, and nothing. It split in two, shrunk, darkened, split in two again, darkened and went out. As it was late, I sharpened up the spindle, again, in preparation for the new spot on the board I’m going to have to drill, again.
This project is kind of the cornerstone of my moving forward. Making fire from nothing? Come on. That’s like magic even if it just reclaiming technological skills that are everyone’s birthright. I’m telling myself this is the part of the superhero’s story when her training just sucks and she can’t think she can do it. Sucking at it doesn’t mean you stop. It just means you wipe your sooty hands on your pants and keep going.
The house smells nice!
“Where’s there smoke, there’s fire.” That’s bullshit. Thus far, my tenacious sawing in my apartment has brought me smoke, and a pleasant campfire and s’mores aroma that makes it quite the pleasure to come inside. But not all the time. Sometimes all I get is a high-pitched “ee-ee, ee-ee” sound that I’m sure is driving my downstairs neighbors crazy. They didn’t appreciate my occasional hammering with my rabbit stick when I was working on my fishing spear (pictures to come), and I’m guessing are even less pleased with the squeaking. Assuming they can hear it, I’m not going to guess what they think I’m doing up here. I wish.
A couple of friends said, “You’re trying to start a fire? In your apartment?!” Yeah. It took me two weeks to learn how to get smoke. It still doesn’t even always work. Even Jeremiah Johnson (my pseudonym for my teacher) looked awfully nervous performing his demo and when he finally did, miraculously, create with slow care a boisterous fire it was only after considerable time and many steps. Me, I just want to get an actual flame and so far, it ain’t happening. My drill kit looks cool though, and I made it myself. (pictures coming)