A Rustic Metaphor for Artistic Possibility and Growth

Chopped wood / via

Something from the vault this week; I wrote it about three years back.

I’m looking at one of those rare free days.

Story continues below.

Chopped wood / via

Ten thousand things to do, of course, but no conference calls or meetings or pitches or deadlines looming. I need to work on this new thing I’m writing, smooth out the beginning and figure out what the hell it’s trying to be, start this crazy big project I cooked up with Martin Denton yesterday, try to scare some money out of thin air to fund The Extremists, The Apocalyptic Road Show and maybe keep the lights on, but the day is essentially unscheduled.

One thing I know I’ve got to do is chop wood.

No metaphor there; I’m going to go out in the yard with an axe and turn some fallen trees into firewood.

These days when Spitfire and I don’t have to be in Rat City we hide out in the country. Came out on Monday, here for a little stretch. And one of the real glories of the hide-away is the fireplace. Nothing like a blazing hearth when it’s dark and backwoodsy outside and you’re huddling up with the cat and the wife with nothing but HBO and Showtime and other premium channels to get you through the night.

Those of you who know me well will appreciate the heartbreaking hilarity that hung in the air the first time it was just me and the axe and the log.

An axe? Clancy with an axe?

Well, this can’t end well.

My Mom was horrified when I told her.

You’re going to cut your leg off! An axe? You have an axe

But I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Like everything in the world, you’ve just got to do it for awhile and then keep doing it and eventually you find you’ve figured it out.

But the first few times, man, you’re standing out there with your work gloves and your safety glasses and a fucking axe eyeballing a tree, thinking:

Nah. Never going to happen. Someone could do this, this is something that people can do, obviously, but there is no way I’m turning this tree into something I can throw into the fireplace tonight .

And the first five or six or twenty swings of the old axe prove you right. It bounces off  wrong and scares the hell out of you, you chip a little bit off the log, the axe bites into the wood and holds there and you’re trying to wiggle it out like Jeremiah Johnson never had to do, you’re just grateful there’s no one but the deer to witness the sad parody of self-reliance you’re enacting out back.

And it’s hard, even when you’re doing it wrong. You’re out of breath, your back and shoulders start seizing up, it’s work, man. But then the log splits, you’ve got two logs and then they divide and after a little bit more back-breaking terror, you’ve got firewood at your feet.

Rural Hearth via British Library
Artist’s conception of the author’s rustic hearth / via

And you do it again. And you’ve got a fire that night. And it gets to the point, like right now, where you’re actually looking forward to that axe and that log and your gloves and safety glasses.

It’s just like that first or second or thirtieth blank page the writer stares down. Like every first rehearsal the director walks into, every opening night the actor hurtles towards. You know in your bones that you can’t do it, someone else can, sure, it can be done, but no way I’m going to pull this off. But you do it. Maybe badly at first, but everyone else is staring down at their own log, judging themselves, so no one calls you out or laughs, so you do it again.

And at the end of the day you’ve got firewood and if there’s a fireplace to throw it in you’re watching the blaze with your honey, warm and happy and tired and thinking about chopping wood tomorrow.