Earlier today someone on my dashboard posted “Often I wonder what would happen if I set this thing on fire. Most of the time the answer is ‘It will be on fire’”. Often I have thought something similar, although my thought processes are generally “If I do this thing, this thing will be on fire. Is this thing a candle or a house?”.
Usually, I use words to light fires. I find words amazing, when they dance to my command. I can play with phrases and sentence flow for hours without actually improving the meaning or making anything better, or deploy the exact words to destroy a thing beyond repair. It’s a life skill, and the candles light my life, and the house-fires destroy it.
(There’s a story of P.G. Wodehouse, where he would pin the pages of his novel in a ring around his office, and move each up or down as he evaluated the language and flow of each one in relation to the others. It would not go to the publisher until the every page touched picture rail. Somewhere between Wodehouse and Douglas Adams lies my aim, because if I’m going fall from the shoulders giants, I want a long time to consider my life before I hit the ground).
I can trace almost everything I think I’ve done wrong by lighting the wrong house, or leaving a candle alone. Today I lit a house on fire, and it burns brightly still. I’m trying to save the contents, to put out everything I can, to douse and defuse the flames, but the flames dance merrily in the starlight, and it will take a while to rebuild.
I try to live with the spirit of the staircase, L’esprit de l’escalier, the french phrase for when you figure out the perfect retort, the mot justice, on the stairs down from losing the argument. It’s been a good night for the right words, but it was a bad morning for the wrong ones, a worse evening for the inflammatory ones, and a good afternoon with nothing catching on fire.
I’ve been asked if I’d like to speak at my grandfather’s funeral, to which the answer is Yes, and so now I need to find words, and actual real meaning. And nobody will think less of me if I back out, except me.