Saturday, March 30, 2013

MY YEAR OF LIVING CONFEDERATELY: WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT FIRE



I finally moved out of the suburbs last August: a reprieve from HOA conformity in order to regather my clever wits about me. When I first moved into my suburb over nine years ago, I thought I was going to be experiencing something we had been "missing" while holed up in a condo. They called it "community", one of those "filler" words people use to capture the idyllic essence of something they read about in a British novel. So after nine years of experiencing our nascent cul de sac neighborhood grow into a dictatorial monstrosity of sectarians, gossips, and tattle-tales that resembled something like the farming communities of early Greek history, we realized we were out of our league in the "community" scene (my wife uses our suburb as the backdrop to her book DAWN HYPERDRIVE & THE GALACTIC HANDBAG OF DEATH at http://www.dawnhyperdrive.com/).

We landed in this beautiful 1847 antebellum quite by accident (but that is a story for another time). No longer being in the burbs, we decided that it was up to ourselves to thrive.



I quickly learned how ignorant I was about the "laws of the farm." Because a quick learning curve is vital when you are on your own (our house sits on 600+ acres), I was forced to face the myths I've carried around with revival-like certainty for 30+ years. Like fire.

When Fall came, I took apart the wood stove in the kitchen to clear out the flue (I previously thought the flue to be the "flute" because it carried air. Which illustrates my pre-antebellum ignorance).

This picture below is me thinking I'm cool because I'm about to do a man's job. The soot on my face was a nostalgic but nonsensical thing to do as I grew up in Germany with the tradition of St. Nick leaving coal in your shoes at Christmastime if you were bad.



This is the wood stove taken completely apart.



This is a picture because I have a curious three-year-old who wanted to intervene somehow.



Now I'm serious.



I took a picture up the chimney to see how blocked it was with soot.



So I scrubbed and scrubbed like I've seen them do on the BBC movies in Charles Dickens' television specials. And down came all the soot.



Then I cleaned out the stove proper. Part of what you see is the remainder of a bird. Cooked, I think.





After clearing the stove out, I began to make my fire. My first fire lasted for a little bit. But ultimately my first few fires failed.

Here is a critical point to understand why I believe this lesson was an important one for me. When I believe that a natural law (like fire-starting) happens one way and it doesn't work for me, I don't immediately think there is fault with me. I tend to believe the fault lies with the natural law. So you can imagine how frustrating it is for me to be instructing the fire on the eleventh failed burned that it has a "serious problem" and "what the hell" and "dammit." Especially with a three-year-old around. 

That's because I'm very optimistic about the things that I do. And that includes the ignorant things. However, when I watch someone else do the exact same thing I have done (and was optimistic about) or am doing (and am optimistic about), I immediately notice their stupidity. For me, the rule has been to try it out several times, and after I've had a good cry to read the directions. The directions on starting a fire, however, came from a boy scout who came to my house with his parents several weeks later.

We were out in my yard this time, and I was trying to show off, starting a fire in my mobile fire pit (by this time 2 out of 5 times my fire would start but not because I knew what I was doing wrong. I was just lucky). The boy scout watched me use several matches. And then he said a very profound thing. In fact, it is still so profound to me that my eyes almost tear up each time I hear these words in my head: "Fire goes up."



I asked him to clarify, and he told me two things: 1) fire follows the laws of gravity, but being lighter than a solid, it goes up and 2) start a small fire first. 

So, first, if I am to "feed" my fire I need to make sure that the "food" it will eat is "above" the fire. Secondly, I need to curb my ambition and make a small manageable fire (furnace). Once that catches, I can build a larger fire (furnace), and so on and so forth. And it works more times than it did before.




I said at the beginning that I carried around a wrong notion about fire. What the payday has been for me is that I had a similar wrong notion about business. 

For example, combining a match with a stick (or anything else) does not automatically and necessarily produce a fire. You have to have proper conditions to start and sustain a fire just as you need proper conditions to start and sustain a company. First, one has to be aware of the laws of business (like the laws of thermodynamics): like the idea that a "need" is only a "need" if someone finds it "necessary." Second, to start a business you need "food" for your business to grow. I don't know how many businesses I've come across that don't have a clear product for sale or a clear demographic who needs the product. So they have no food and they have no hungry people.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, not only do most of my fires burn longer and stronger, but my business sense burns  as well. But only carry my analogy about fire and business halfway or you'll have nothing but ash!

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