Burning Towers

A fire needs three things: oxygen, fuel, and a little heat. I think flame is a fine analogy for inspiration. I guess many others also, hence the commonplaces “flash of inspiration” and an imagination “sparked” (I see inspiration and imagination as family).

I used to think inspiration was the sudden spark. I’d try to find it in booze, pain, anything. I thought nothing could fire my cold, inert fuel of retail experiences.

Now I think inspiration is all of it: the fire, the fuel, and the very air we breathe. The analogy is far better than I had once seen. Inspire, as the antonym to expire, holds within it the meaning of breathing in, and the implication of life.

What if inspiration is not found, but made? I stopped waiting for an explosion and started rubbing two sticks together. I took my eyes off the horizon and found the world extant on a blade of grass at my feet. I stopped lamenting the banality of my existence and sought to make the meaningless full of meaning.

On the till, in between customers, I would churn out blank till-paper upon which to write bad poetry.

My present job on the shop floor allows me to try arranging the overpriced gifts into an aesthetic whole, and the constant depletion of stock serves as an excellent reminder of the ultimate disappearance of all art.

I observe, I think, I make little experiments concerning human psychology. I come up with hypotheses as to why a certain item sells more. I think the Mensa IQ test sells more than the Mensa Puzzles because people want a number to demonstrate a quality to the outside, not a practice to improve an ability on the inside.

To return to our analogy, we have vast amounts of the material of our lives forced upon us. The trick is to take what we haven’t chosen and then choose it anyway.

We want to be a forest fire but we cannot choose where some careless idiot drops a cigarette. If we cannot burn fast and bright, then we must smoulder and spread. Inspiration is not only material but process. One can take control of the process and become better at it. Inspiration is not purely external. There are perspectives, ways of being, that help it to be. More important than the materials offered to you is the careful management of your form of fire.

When all seems dark, burn long and slow; it’s your best chance in a cold world.


One day your flames may flicker against those of another. Your material is their process and their process your material: a wildfire, a conflagration. This is where inspiration is found and made at the same time. I call her Anna.

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