When Bob Dylan writes, in his book Chronicles, about how much he admired Joan Baez before he met her, and says, "I'd be scared to meet her. I didn't want to meet her but I knew I would. I was going in the same direction even though I was in back of her at the moment. She had the fire, and I felt I had the same kind of fire," we don't question what he means by fire.
We all know what it is to have that same fire, no matter how briefly.
* * * * * * *
How do I light that fire within me? How do I light it again?
It's a funny thing about fire. It takes fire to light it.
I go to the fireplace to start a fire. I put newspaper crumpled up under the kindling. Then I put the logs over the kindling wood. How do I start this fire?
I need a match. Or a lighter You have to have fire to start a fire.
Ironic? Paradoxical? Counter-intuitive?
Fire is fire, whether it's in the fireplace or in me. It starts the same way.
The other day a friend of mine said, "You're on FIRE!" He was referring to the fact that I'd just sent him a flurry of book ideas, written copy for things we were selling, recorded audio programs, and a number of other activities and actions.
How did I set myself on fire?
One action led to another and I wasn't afraid to rise early and work. I made myself exercise. I made myself do devoted work instead of allowing distraction. Work (as it always does when you throw your entire self into it) became more fun than fun.
And I'm playing off the quote of playwright Noel Coward who said, "Work is more fun than fun."
It is when you do it. It is NOT fun when you think about it. Especially when you think about it ahead of time.
* * * * * *
The hypnosis of circumstance
People believe there is some generalized state of mind called happiness that they must find a way to achieve. So they begin arranging outside circumstances to match up with a vision of happiness they might have. They get a spouse and a house. A dog and a baby. A job and a car. They keep adding circumstance on circumstance. Soon it's a boat and a second home. Why a boat and a second home? Because the car and the first home didn't do it. It didn't make them feel generalized, consistent happiness.
Then one day a storm hits the town and the house across the street has a giant tree fall on it. Children are trapped inside, and you race across the street, crawl into the wreckage, and pull a child to safety.
As you sit on the lawn receiving hugs from the mother and father of the child, you are happier than you have ever been.
Why can't you use that memory to find the true nature of happiness?
Why are you, two weeks later, looking for a new house, a new spouse, a new car or a new counter top?
I once wondered what work I should do. I had been in the world of advertising, writing ads and commercials but I lost my job when the company went under.
What is my true calling, I wondered? What is my real work?
I decided to take a long walk and think about my past. When was I happiest? Most excited? Most lit up? When could I say that I was really on fire?
And the answer came. One night during my recovery from addictions I was at a large meeting hall and they asked me to be the speaker. Who, me? I wasn't at all prepared. And I also had the flu. So I felt awful. I also had a huge fear of public speaking. A bad mix of circumstances. I said no.
They pressed on, and they said COME ON! They said there were newcomers to recovery who were scared too, but they were scared that they couldn't live without their drugs and alcohol. That they probably were not going to have any life at all. And what are YOU scared of exactly? That you'll look foolish by not being a good speaker? Stop thinking of yourself and think of them.
That persuaded me.
So I pushed past my fear and my fever and I walked up the steps to get to the podium to face that huge hall of people. I started hesitantly. Then I remembered what my sponsor had told me just before I got up there. "Just tell the truth," he said. "Just tell everyone what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now."
So I started telling the crowd what it was like. All the tragic and comic death-defying dysfunctions I participated in while drunk. The blackouts. The time in jail. Standing before the judge. The lies and sickening betrayals. And for some odd reason the people in the hall were roaring with laughter. There was something about my story, my sad life, that made them laugh and laugh. I looked out over the audience and saw the happiest faces I had ever seen.
What was happening? I was just telling the whole truth. And maybe my fever was helping me, was feeding me with a weird kind of manic energy.
Then I told what happened. The miracle of recovery. The total eclipse of the heart. The turnaround of a life. And now clean and sober and free with three lovely daughters and a second chance. I told how I did it. How the steps of recovery were taken.
And after that talk I was given a standing ovation and surrounded by people for an hour afterward. They said I explained how to take the steps better than anyone they'd heard in a long time.
What was the formula? Mix fever with fear and add a huge shame-based desire to help the newcomer to recovery?
Steps were the formula. The steps I walked up to the podium... the three steps of a connective talk that were told to me ahead of time by my sponsor, 1) What it was like, 2) what happened, and 3) what it's like now. Steps.
Steps Michael Jackson takes moonwalking to Billie Jean. Steps Tom Brady takes before he passes the ball. Steps. Action steps.
Save the last dance for me.
So thinking about what work, what steps, make me happy I thought about that night and I decided right then and there that I would be a teacher of recovery. But not just from alcohol and drugs. But from all the other less lethal addictions, like sadness, regret, procrastination, lack of wealth, lack of clients, career problems and inadequate goal achievement.
And so it happened that knowing where happiness comes from by allowing my own life to be an experiment... by testing it rather than trusting all the books, I found my work.
You have to have fire to start a fire. Only a match, only a flame, can start a fire.
* * * * * *
When did your sparkle turn to fire and your warmth become desire?
(Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986), U.S. songwriter. "Gigi," Gigi, Chappell & Co. (1957). Music composed by Frederick Loewe (1901-1988).)