Lighting Fires


Autumn! It’s fire season!

Do you own a fireplace? We have one in our house but didn’t use it for the first two years we lived here because we hadn’t had it cleaned (although my husband and I aren’t the most rustic people in the world, we had enough sense to not start a fire in a fireplace that hadn’t been used in a great many years.)  And when we did finally have it cleaned and it was ready for use, I spent the next few months waiting for it to be cold enough to actually start using it — and I started dreaming about all the things a fireplace meant.

Like sitting by the fire!  Reading by the fire!  A hot drink by the fire!  Everything by the fire!

And I did get to enjoy those things.  But what really got me about the fireplace was that…well, fires take work.  It’s not like in the movies or in books when you put a log or two in there, walk away, and the thing puts itself out before you go to bed.  You’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough wood (or not too much wood); you’ve got to make sure the wood is dry; when the fire gets puny, you’ve got to reposition the wood, poke at it a few times, blow some oxygen in there, and pretty much stay awake past the point of delirium to make sure it’s out before you leave it alone so it doesn’t burn your whole house down.

Is it fun? Yes.  Is it the most romantic thing? No.

But isn’t tending to a fire like so many things we tend to in our lives? Think about a dream you’ve always had, especially creative things — finishing that quilt, selling that painting, or pitching that great idea for a business.  Writing that book.  Can those things be fun? Sure.  But it’s mostly just work.  I mean, I know that you knew that getting into the project meant you’d have to put effort into it, but sometimes things are harder than they seem.

When we light fires in the fireplace, my husband often takes care of them, so he mostly does the work and I reap the benefits.  But he had to run some errands tonight, and I noticed the fire was dying down a bit, so I took the tools, got in there, jostled the logs around, and somehow got them catching again.

There are few things in life more satisfying than growing a fire after you’re sure it’s been put out.  It’s pretty awesome.  But just when I got settled again, up I got to keep it going.

And the lower the flame got, the harder it was to keep it going again.  I know you know the feeling — you wait too long to write the next chapter, and it feels that much harder.  You skipped your workout on Tuesday, so it’s that much harder to get back on track on Wednesday.

But as long as there’s a little bit left, all hope is not lost.  You can get that fire back.  It does take a little more effort at first, but once all those logs are lit, you’ll feel really accomplished.

When you feel as though you’re completely burnt out, take a little bit of time to quietly refocus.  Picture yourself shifting some pieces of wood around in those embers.  Find your spark — even though it’s little, it’s still there! And let’s say that your fire is completely out.  You’ve metaphorically gone to bed and there’s nothing left in all that wood, but you want to light the fire again the next day.  Find what inspired you in the first place to start the fire and begin again.  Attend that poetry workshop.  Rejoin that playwright Facebook group.

Begin again.  The world will greatly benefit from what you have to offer it!

Until next time, be well!

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.

Working with Your Inner Critic

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Nothing’s either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare

Our inner critics (I call mine “Chuck” for reasons too lengthy to explain here) relish our thoughts, especially the “irrational” ones. What makes something good or bad? Despite what my ego tells me, it’s not my thoughts. Our personality structure consists of the Body, the Ego, and the Spirit all working in tandem, at least on a good day. This has important consequences for the creative process. Creating is often pre-reflective, non-verbal, being present in a very committed and intimate way that is unconditional and removed from the everyday “stuff” that constitutes are thinking, rational ego.

Consequently, talking too much pulls one toward ego. This is an important lesson for all those who engage in a creative endeavor. Writers, poets, painters, dancers, musicians and, yes, even therapists are at their best when they are mindful to the art of silence. It is the sense of risk that our inner critic fears the most and consequently this is part of the arsenal he or she will use against us at our most vulnerable moments.

We learn very early in life to pass judgment on those parts of ourselves that don’t meet the expectations of others and, thus, fulfill a self-prophecy to live through a very tiny part of our totality while casting other “unacceptable” parts of ourselves into the shadows, where we keep them hidden in the darkness. There are many ways of exposing this inner critic, which Psychologist Carl Jung coined the “shadow.”

Jung held that the unconscious could be an attentive companion and mentor to the conscious and that psychic wholeness or individuation comes from bringing equilibrium to the unconscious and the conscious. He professed the foremost way of doing this was through dreams. I believe that this relationship is also part and parcel of the creative journey. The key is navigating the strict chart that the rational, conscious mind, the “I that I think I am”, has mapped for us.

Here are a few pointers when dealing with your inner critic:

Give a name to you inner critic. Just like a pet, you name it, you own it! Personification will assist you in dealing with negative thinking. This way, you are more likely to begin a personal dialog between you and your “shadow.”

When struck by a negative thought, ask your inner critic for her or his hand to dance. Sound silly? Do it now, and while you’re at it, gently, seductively whisper into her or his ear that you are taking the lead in this dance. By integrating these mental gymnastics into your creative life you will be open to the possibility of experiencing creative freedom, and then the true dance can begin!

Challenge you inner critic by giving shape to the existentials of life, “What does the warm, engrossing blackness where creative ideas spring from look and feel like?” Draw it, write it, map it, BUT don’t think about it!

Successful artists are successful for a number of reasons, but here are five to remember:

  1. They are passionate about their work.
  2. They are risk takers.
  3. They are technical experts at their craft.
  4. They feel comfortable with failure.
  5. They are “strange and unusual” and damn proud of it.
  6. They consign art and creativity to the theatre of everyday life – something they do with every nuance of their existence.

Creativity is important to our health. Never underestimate the power of a journey. And if you feel at times that you’re not up to the test, remember this: if you don’t risk the journey, you risk even more.