Tag Archives: quest for fire

The Gift of Fire

Myths abound of the writer who began producing stories from an early age – the writer whose parents showered his every effort with praise and encouragement, who attracted notice in school for his precocity, who won awards, and who ended up with a book deal by age twenty-two. Perhaps they are destined to be one-hit wonders (anybody remember Anita Loos?), or perhaps they did have a spark of genuine talent.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

You mean this was a book?

The Mozarts of the world aside, our precocious preschooler has no greater talent than you did at that age. Maybe, when you were five, you did think you wanted to write stories. Maybe you even wrote some. But unlike the guy with the book deal while he still has acne, no one encouraged you or took interest.

It’s a bad deal when that happens – but it happens to a very many individuals. Probably most move on to something that they were encouraged to do and are perfectly happy with whatever that is . . . but then, I can’t count how many people, eyes downcast, have murmured to me, “Yeah, I always wanted to write a book. . . .”

A movie metaphor does well here. At the beginning of the 1981 movie Quest for Fire, the Ulam, a tribe of early Homo sapiens who has thus far only managed to gather fire from natural sources, habitually keep embers in a bone cage and tend it at all hours. When the tribe is driven from its shelter at the start of the movie, filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud emphasizes the importance to the tribe of saving this fire-containing cage – especially when it ends up falling in a marsh. Thus, the tribe sends three of its best to find fire; the men, Naoh, Amoukar, and Gaw, battle nature and other human species in their quest and eventually do return with a burning ember tucked away in the bone cage.

Fire good.

Fire good.

Throughout this movie, fire – whether an ember or a bonfire – is literally the most prized “possession” of the Ulam. How does this illustrate my main point? Well, as Picasso said, every child is an artist – every child has the divine fire of creativity. Some children are fortunate enough to be born to parents who stoke that fire; most of us aren’t. Most of us find ourselves hunched in a wasteland with a bone cage containing one . . . tiny . . . burning ember.

That may well be you. Maybe one, tiny, burning ember is all you have –- but you do have it. How many times have you had to cross rivers while you carried that cage aloft, or hidden in caves to keep it dry while the heavens rain down torrents?

Well, you did that for a reason. You could have done as so many others do and moved on, but you didn’t. You didn’t, because like the Ulam, that creative fire was your most prized possession. Do not tell yourself that the Universe is against you, that if only your parents had encouraged you, that if you had only been able to go to college. Because the Universe started you out with the gift of fire, and the reason you’re reading this right now is because you still have it.

You don’t need to be young to stoke that fire. You don’t need a degree in Creative Writing. You don’t need money. You certainly don’t need your parents to back you up. You don’t need anything but the will to preserve that ember and the patience to fan it into a bonfire.

And this is the day you start.