WHAT DAMPENS YOUR FIRE? One Answer: Neglecting It

 By: Whitney McKendree Moore

On the “flip side” of WHAT FUELS YOUR FIRE? is the question of what DAMPENS it. I had to learn the hard way that my creativity can dwindle down to embers and flickering sparks if I am not vigilant (some would say ferocious) about keeping it from getting quenched, or drenched, or extinguished altogether.

Quenching and Drenching Your Fire

two drops of ink marilyn l davis what dampens your fire

I have to admit that most of my precipitation(s) have been generated by my own self. For example, I used to think quite highly of being busy, and did not realize that being busy is wholly different from being purposeful. By failing to discern that difference, I unwisely allowed a misty fog to roll in that became heavy, like a blanket of permeating damp.

This happened because I shifted my focus from tending my own fire onto helping other people tend theirs. Maybe I considered it rude (or worse) to decline, even things in which I was radically not interested (to echo Joan Didion).

My inability to utter the two simple words “No, thanks” ended up taking me to detours far from my own fire, and in my absence, it got drenched. Click To Tweet.

Not Saying No

Not saying no taught me to stop saying yes. I think it was Emily Dickinson who said, “The sailor cannot see North, but the Needle can.” My needle knows! It’s my True North when I find I have lost all track of time; when I’ve been so fully engaged, so totally focused (actually riveted) that plural hours have flown by. And, I’m not the least bit daunted that the problem is yet unresolved. In fact, I’m exhilarated; thrilled that I get to keep chiseling at this something I seem to have been born knowing how to do – or born to do. Bernie Siegel said, “Find the things in life that make you lose track of time, and do them as much as possible.” I steer by that compass.

There’s another kind of needle to consider, one suggested by Simon Callow, who says that being an actor came to him effortlessly, as if his “needle was in the right groove.” I can tell when I’m in the right groove. I imagine Chief Inspector Foyle would call it “right up my street.” Other people say things like, “Here. Now, please do your magic.” Except it’s not magic. It’s more innate. God-given. Something that I seem to (a) know how to do and (b) love doing.

That convergence makes for a roaring fire that is mine to attend (aka not neglect). Nobody else is the guardian of this little light of mine. Now I gladly take my place fireside because I genuinely love living “all aglow in the work.”

Bored on Boards

“All aglow in the work” is Virgil talking, but that only happens when I honor who I am and who I’m not. For example, with a few exceptions, playing board games feels like a waste of time to me (so does watching other people play games). I don’t know why I am practically allergic to “passing the time” – even to the word “pastime” — but I don’t think I need to have a reason. It helps me to recall the slogan “You do you; I do me” (as we say in recovery), especially now that I recognize “No” as a complete sentence.

I reacted similarly, the many times I agreed to serve on some Board of Trustees, where my eyes would glaze over as quickly as they do they do when I’m playing board games. Bored on boards, apparently, and entirely off course watching others relish the very stuff I do not. It’s amazing how we all bring different gifts to the table, so we always end up with a full band playing. Poet e.e. cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” I guess I’m like Popeye saying, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam!”

Stop Saying Yes

Are we born to pay bills and then die? I don’t think so. Simon Sinek writes, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” I agree. The things I am passionate about do not seem random; they seem more like my calling, my purpose. Maybe that’s why I chose the phrase “I AM A VERB” for my Linked-In profile. I need to guard how I am a verb. That’s tending my fire!

So, not saying yes is working for me, though it’s hard because “No” still feels like a swear word in my mouth. To some, my vigilance seems ferocious. Or selfish. I choose to call it “stewardship” of this fire I’ve been given. In 2002, I was handed a diagnosis of MS (the kind that can be treated, thank God). Overnight, I had a brand-new priority: to stay out of a wheelchair. It’s practically a full-time job, doing all the things I need to do for physical therapy and mental acuity (from walking to reading which, for me, is highly interactive). The hours remaining are spent tending my own little fire, singing and telling stories.

Campfire Stories

Long ago, maybe back in 1978, I heard an interview on some television show (Merv Griffin? Dick Cavett?). I remember resonating, practically vibrating like a tuning fork, when William Styron said, “I don’t understand the moderates; I only understand the excessives.” I ran to write that down so I would not forget it. Now, here it is, right where I need it forty years later, in my now-enormous collection of excerpts and quotations.

And so, excessively, I am no longer saying yes to being merely busy. I have caught on that I need to be active, but purposeful, like a needle in the right groove or aimed at my North. I won’t so much as SPRITZ my own embers anymore.

What about you? Are you dampening your own fire?


More posts from Whitney McKendree Moore 


Bio: Whitney McKendree Moore

Whitney McKendree Moore has published numerous articles in magazines such as Cruising World, Connecticut Magazine, YANKEE, Greenwich Magazine, Maine Boats and Harbors, and The Nautical Quarterly.Whitney McKendree Moore two drops of ink

In 1987, she authored a book entitled Where to Next? that focused on making a successful career change; she also co-authored a book called Academy Days, a history of the school she attended while growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has published twelve books of her own since. She also helps other people publish their stories onto Amazon using Createspace.

Whitney and her husband, Barry, have been married for forty-six years. They have just one child, a son who was born two weeks after they celebrated their twentieth year of child-free marriage. At the time, they were brand-new in recovery from alcoholism, which is a family disease. For a while, it looked like the disease might win, but God won instead. Their son is now in graduate school, so the family home has been relocated to South Carolina.


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  1. It was my first visit to Two Drops of Ink on Facebook, and I was wondering what I would say if I was blogging. And there was Whitney. Her bio tells me she is an October lady who self-publishes on CreateSpace, and helps others do the same.

    That is exactly what I was doing back in my October days. And here I am in my November (at least I hope it is) still doing the same thing……working my way through those moments when I am down to the “embers and flickering sparks”……when it feels like I am the only one tending the fire.

    Thanks, Whitney, for validating what so many of us rely on.

  2. Poet e.e. cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” I love this quote. After cancer, I decided to stop saying yes. I learned to protect me. That, in turn, gave me the time to find me. Now I think I am growing more into being me. Thanks for this post.

  3. Oh Whitney! This is a great follow-up to your first post! I can relate in so many ways. Busy is not purposeful is it? It takes more intention to be purposeful than it does to be busy. Perhaps that’s why busyness comes so easily. I so reasonated with your worlds “Not saying no taught me to stop saying yes.” Guilty! But I am so working on changing that! It’s quite hard for me to say No, but the season I am in requires it IF I am to say Yes to the things God has called me to do.
    Your post is amuch needed reminder to tend my own fire lest it go out. Thank you!

  4. Thar “…thing that I seem to (a) know how to do and (b) love doing” is magic. Well let’s put it this way the magic in the eye of the beholder. You must let them believe in the magic, everything stems from the magic.

  5. Ah, yes. Being “busy” always seemed admirable to me and defined who I thought I was for many years. It still does at times but I’ve gotten much better at following my heart. Saying “no” has become easier and feels like truth. I wrote a blog similar to yours (see link) and relate to your post in so many ways. I enjoyed reading it!

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