What to Do When You’re on Fire….and no one seems to care
A month ago, I heard this quote related to creativity and I haven’t been able to get it out of my brain since. It’s just been playing on repeat in my head, like a Carly Rae Jepsen song, except it’s not making me want to bash my head into a wall, or slice an ear off, even though the quote comes from Van Gogh.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke – Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh was anything but successful during his lifetime — although now his paintings are worth more than Lebron James’ house in Miami — he had to rely on his brother to support him. Even though most artists today would consider him to be a genius, few, if any recognized it while he was still alive.
Initially, when I read this quote, I connected with it on the creative side of my life. I thought about how others haven’t appreciated stories I’ve written or other blog posts, and I got really sappy and felt sorry for myself and pictured this great big fire inside of me and was embarrassed others couldn’t tell it was there. It’s like I’m on fire, like I have this great blaze inside,
and no one cares.
And then I realized — I’m missing the point of the fire. We all have a great fire inside of us. Every single person. Maybe that’s the point of the fire. Maybe the fire inside isn’t meant for others to stop at to warm themselves. Maybe it’s me who should be stopping to warm myself by the great fire inside. Maybe they exist, not for the benefit of others, but for the benefit of the one who is creating.
It doesn’t matter if you write or paint or create music or build houses or file papers. We all have things we create, birthed out of the creative drives inside of us, and they feel like great fires. It’s why whenever most of us create something, we want to share it with the world, or at the very least a spouse or close friend. From books to household crafts, we put them on display, setup a chair and wait for someone else to come by and tell us how important our work is. We hope they’ll say it has brought the warmth they’ve been looking for. We hope they’ll say it’s this very fire that has sustained them through a difficult time. But no one ever really seems to understand the fire quite like we do. It seems like no matter how hard we try, we can’t get them to experience the way we feel about it.
Have you ever tried to explain something you experienced to someone else, and you didn’t feel like you had the words you needed to get them to understand what it was really like? You may have even ended up punting on the whole thing and telling them, “I guess you had to be there.” Most of us do the same thing when it comes to the things we create. If someone doesn’t appreciate our work, doesn’t seem to get it, or doesn’t seem interested, we chalk it up to them “having to be there” when it happened. We assume they don’t get it because they aren’t smart enough to appreciate it or they don’t have the “right” kind of taste. It’s a cheap cop out. We create this mythical person in our brains who will one day appreciate the fire for what it is and thank us for bringing warmth to them — but this person doesn’t exist — outside of ourselves.
I think so many of us get frustrated, like Van Gogh, because we assume the fires inside of us are meant to keep others warm. What if that’s not how it’s supposed to work? I don’t think the great fires inside are meant for others — I think they’re meant for us. They’re meant to keep us warm at night, when everyone else has long since gone to bed and we’re alone with our thoughts. They’re meant to be the coals upon which we roast the trials and tribulations of this life. They’re the purifying agent to cleanse what we take in from this world. They’re the motivation to move forward, to never settle for yesterdays and what was, but instead to seek what can and should be.
Does this mean we should never share the great fire inside with anyone else? Absolutely not! While these fires may not keep others warm, they do produce a wisp of smoke for them to see. So what’s the point if all we’re doing with our creativity is blowing smoke? Well, it’s kind of like we used to say when playing Checkers as a kid: smoke goes before fire. Your creativity may not warm someone else, but when they come in contact with the wisp of smoke, it can and often will spark their own great fires. Maybe it will remind them of the great fire inside of them that has died down to warm embers. Maybe it will encourage them to stoke the fire and begin to feed it again. Maybe then one day their fire will roar and someone else will come into contact with their wisp of smoke.
Because where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
soli deo gloria
What feeds the great fire inside your own soul? Do you have a book, song, or some other type of project that you’ve been putting off because you’re afraid no one will stop to see it?
Let me know and leave it in the comments below!