Thursday, August 04, 2005

Don't Stop Me If
You've Heard This One Before

Here's a little somethin' somethin' I wrote a couple of years ago. And as with every other humilating, over-exposed piece of writing I offer, this really happened.

Process of Illumination

ER had just started—a new episode. The ice storm that had kept Joe and I homebound all week was on the thaw, slow but sure. Just when we thought we might get through the whole mess unscathed, but for a mild case of cabin fever, the electricity went out. Flashlight in hand, I scrounged through drawers and cupboards looking for the zillions of votives and tapers I had collected over the last decade.

Candles! I grinned, my thumb already puckered from repeatedly flicking my Bic. Starting in the living room, I trimmed wicks, peeling away curled, deformed edges before lighting the dusty, wax pillars. Finished, I admired my little paraffin lanterns flickering on shelves, the piano, the fireplace mantle, the kitchen counter, the bathroom, and my bedroom. The house illumined like a cathedral at vespers.

Rooms bathed in odors of spiced apple and mulberry, nag champa and pear, while I relaxed on my bed, cocooned under blankets and a comforter. In lieu of my missed ER episode, I squinted through deliciously graphic pages of Body Trauma: A writer’s guide to wounds and injuries.

Every few minutes, my concentration stuttered when sheets of ice crackled at the insistence of climbing temperatures—sliding off the roof when gorge winds gusted from the east. Ah, how rustic. How Little House on the Prairie. How quiet, the solitude and darkness of a winter’s night. How gray, the snow and icescaped street— its slick surface no longer agleam under great orange gas lamps. How long until I can turn on the heat? The TV? How long until I can watch the rerun of the ER episode I'm missing?

Joe interrupted my pessimistic spiral by yelling from the living room “What is this thing you have about candles?”

I didn’t have a ready answer. Candles are such a “chick thing,” but I’m not typically into chick things. I can’t say it’s the mood lighting that appeals to me—the dancing shadows are unnerving, and it’s already hard enough to see what I’m doing. Is it the fragrance? Some candles smell ok, but most of them burn my allergen-hating nostrils, the synthetic, spicy ones especially. And once they’re extinguished, smoke and carbon monoxide adhere to lungs like black wallpaper.

Maybe I liked the hypnotic pulse of the teardrop-tapered flame, and how it lulled me into a monk-like trance.. Years ago, after converting to Buddhism, I was so excited about putting together an altar. It would have two milky tapers on either side of a gold casket in which incense would be burned.

The butsudan was the coolest piece of furniture I had ever owned— exotic, holy, monolithic. My room became a temple. Lighting candles and incense before my daily recitation made me feel downright papal. Certainly, I must harbor some spiritual affinity to candles—those blue and orange lights licking heavenward. I gazed into the yellow flame of a tinned candle I read by. Nah, that wasn’t it either.

I’ve made my own candles on a few occasions. I helped my neighbor, Maxine, pour Kool-Aid colored liquid into Folgers cans one Christmas season. I’ve made herb and oil infused candles as a project with my old coven, the Martha Stewart Witches (we put the craft back into witchcraft).

In hindsight, furniture refinishing is something we should have put on our project list, because I’ve ruined all manner of wood finishes from molten wax overflow (Oh, so that’s what they mean by never leave candle unattended). There’s all that scraping, remelting, chipping of wood, and wedging who knows what under your fingernails. So what does one do with the blighted tabletop? Why, put another candle over the tell-tale scratch or smudge, of course.

I still didn’t have an answer for Joe. Maybe I didn’t like candles after all. Is it possible that I’ve succumbed all these years to peer pressure just to blend in with the bath salts and candle crowd?. Perhaps I went along with this particular girly thing to offset my disdain for romantic comedies and the absence of glitter body lotion from my collection of self-esteem remedies. Maybe candles were my concession to the list of Things Chicks Dig so that I wouldn’t have to fake a cloying affection for stuffed animals.

Who am I kidding? I’ve never felt pressured to fake anything. So what, , if I’m a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet away from lesbianism? I refuse inclusion in that whole salad-eating, self-loathing, scale-fearing, yogurt-sucking, Trading Spaces-watching club. So, what is it with the candles?


No electricity yet, but the 60 watt clap-on bulb in my head still worked. Finally, the process of elimination— every bit as agonizing as it was efficient, brought me to my answer. There was a genuine appeal, a real desire behind all those glowing, dripping, marbled, scented, occasionally attended lights. I snapped my book closed and called back to Joe.

“I like to start fires.”


Blogger KlevaBich said...

Well, there you go again. Not so much the candle theme (though it fits). Hell, it all fits. But the book on body trauma?

Distinctly I remember a few years back, sitting in Powell's Technical Bookstore. Gleefully thumbing through pictures of everything from subdural hematoma to amputation, whilst my mate-at-the-time shook his head and wandered away.

Well, I guess if this is older material you've already been inside my brain awhile. I must have left the door unlocked. Hope you remembered to wipe your feet before entering...

12:54 PM  

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