Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tending the Fire

For all my touted agnosticism, there are times when I know The Universe has sent me a clear and undeniable message. Tonight was one of those times.

As a "writer," I often deal in metaphors. The Universe conferred my talent upon me, and It knows that metaphors are often the best way to slap me upside the head with a message that I really need to get.

Recently, I’ve tumbled headlong into the pit. Life has chewed me up, spit me out, and left me feeling like a failure. Fifteen and a half months into my "dream come true," I can’t honestly state that I have mastered, conquered, or even held my ground against the challenges with which I have been presented. The best I can say is that the restaurant is still open, we haven’t gone bust, and we haven’t poisoned anybody (as far as I know…) But we sure haven’t set the world on fire. In fact, we aren’t making money. We’re losing a dollar or two or a couple hundred every month. AND I continue to be plagued by labor woes. AND every time a new restaurant opens anywhere in the county, or an existing one comes up with a particularly hot promotion, we slide right to the edge of the abyss.

I have a stack of things—important things—piled a mile high upon my shoulders. Marketing. Labor. Hiring. Training. Menu. Ambience. Christmas catering. Holiday time off requests. How to survive during the slowest months of the year when the busiest months didn’t quite get us to where we needed to be.

So I’ve felt those shoulders giving way. Felt that burden driving me to my knees. Threatening to lay me flat on my face. Yes…all these things should have been part of our original "business plan." But I had no idea what I was going to be up against until it was staring me in the face. Ignorance is…well, in this particular case, it certainly isn’t bliss.

With too many things clamoring for my immediate attention, I have finally, in the past couple of days, simply shut down. I have sat back on my haunches, looked up at my huge mountain of responsibilities and, for the first time, entertained the thought that there is no way in hell that I can do this. Any of it.

This evening, after ducking out of the cafĂ© early on a disappointingly slow Saturday afternoon, I sat in the family room with my computer in my lap, preparing to compose an Autumn essay to post on my blog. I laid the computer aside for a moment to attend to the business of lighting the pellet stove. It’s not really cold, but a cheery fire usually puts me in a properly prose-worthy mood.

I’m searching, here, for a way to explain to anyone not familiar with the beast, what a pellet stove is and how one goes about making fire with it. Because without this knowledge, you won’t understand the message the Universe chose to confer upon me this evening.

Pellet stoves are contraptions that create a cozy, house-warming fire by continuously feeding themselves little compressed pellets of sawdust. Theoretically, one merely needs to fill the hopper with these magic pellets, press the "on" button, and sit back to enjoy the warm, cheery flames. At least, that is the intention. The reality is, the newest incarnations of these little buggers are equipped with so many safety features that it is anybody’s guess whether you are really going to, in fact, get a fire when you want one. As often as not, you push the button and ten minutes later are staring at…darkness. Because the stove has decided it has gotten too hot during the ignition process and has shut itself off. Superfluous safety feature to the rescue!

Back to this evening, and me, my burdens, my pellet stove, and my message.

I poured in a bucket full of pellets, pushed the button, went back to my seat on the couch and returned my attention to my laptop. Taking for granted that when I next looked up from my work, I would see bright orange flames dancing behind the glass of the stove door. Ten minutes later, I glanced up to see…darkness. Nothing. Damn.

I shoved my laptop aside and went to the stove, where I saw a last few glowing pellets dwindling in the fire pan. Yep. The stupid thing had shut itself off. I reached for the "on" button, hoping the situation wasn’t beyond hope…that if I started the flow of pellets again, they would catch and I might possibly save my fire.

So the pellets began to feed, a dose every ten seconds or so, on top of those last half-dozen weak red embers fading in the bottom of the firebox. With every feed, the glow of those last embers became dimmer and dimmer. Finally, I was convinced that all was lost. I was going to end up with a pan full of cold pellets, and my fire was going to go out. And yet… And yet… Still they glowed. And then they smoked. Until the view through the glass was all but obscured.

All at once, a ball of flame burst from beneath the mounting pile of cold fuel. And I knew I was going to have a fire. As surely as I knew I had been sent a message.

Yes, I am going to have stuff piled on me. Enough stuff to convince me that I can not endure. And yet…and yet…I will not be snuffed. I will catch fire. I will achieve my goal. It will simply be a matter of….tending. No, it won’t be automatic. I’ll need to pay attention; push the buttons and open the damper at the appropriate times. And I’ll get where I need to be.


  1. Lisa, I'm glad you got the message, because underneath your writing I hear you loud and clear.  You want this to work and you will find a way.  

    I have a saying.  It's not particularly special, but I've used it so many times through the years when I am facing what appear to be insurmountable goals and asperations with Miss Em and school.

    'The only failure is in not trying.  All else is success.'  

    It became my mantra for years as I plowed through beaurocracy and administrations and budgets and, and, and.  I knew that if I didn't try I was failing miserably.  From all my false starts, naive thoughts and beliefs came the successes.  

    You can't be snuffed out unless you let yourself be.  

  2. I now long to hear The Doors singing "Come on Baby Light My Fire." LOL!

    Whatever you do, it will be the right thing and keep in mind all the stress and struggle you go through in having your own business, you do for you. In the past as a restaurant manager, you probably dealt with all the same stressors yet didn't reap the end rewards, whether small or large.

  3. You'll make it, one way or another. I have faith in you.



  4. I love this analogy.  Burn baby....


  5. I love this analogy...

    Beautifully written.