This little light

by Tulasi-Priya on Saturday 17 December 2011


That’s what was marked in Sharpie® pen on the Pier One gift card I’ve been carrying around in my wallet for about seven years. I stood at the register while the sales clerk attempted to verify the balance, studying his profile under his Santa hat. Although quite good-looking, his ridiculously pointed nose and straight dark bangs flopping over his eyes put me in mind of an elf, only taller, and he wore those baggy jeans that sag down to the knees. It was not looking good, he reported: my ancient card had been deactivated by the company. He sweetly shooed me away, telling me to go browse while he worked on bringing it out of forced retirement (I suspect that the card was so old it was no longer useable, and so Elf-Boy and the manager simply gave me a new card with $13.20 on it, in the hope that I would spend substantially more than that while holiday shopping). I wandered off in search of . . . I didn’t know; I had come in with no definite desires or needs.

I found myself in the candle section, which I usually avoid. Candles are not the problem—it’s the ever-intensifying American penchant to douse them in scent. I’m sensitive to smells (seat me in the public library next to some unfortunate who hasn’t bathed in a couple of weeks and I will stagger home and take to my bed for the rest of the day), especially artificial ones. It’s like being attacked by chemical weapons. I get headache-y and nauseated. But today I found myself in a section where the candles did not exhale fumes at me like Apple-Spiced dragons or Fresh Linen demons. On a shelf before me—a clearance shelf, to boot—were a dozen unscented candles.

I knew I would buy the fat pillar as soon my eyes rested upon it. It was as tall as my forearm, the color and diameter of an old elephant’s tusk. Warily I sniffed it: no scent. Twenty-five percent off.  I looked on the underside:

“Burn within sight. Keep away from children. Avoid drafts.”

And this:

“Average burn time is 197 hours.”

I can write a thousand words in an hour. This candle’s life span was approximately equal to hundred and ninety-seven thousand words. A book-length manuscript. SOLD: this would be my writing candle. I would light it when I sit down to work on my memoir. A draft that need not be avoided, but embraced. A first-draft candle, my totem and familiar.


In spite of my ancient religious practices, I’m not a person who hews much to ritual. I tend to avoid anything that smacks of regulation, routine, or schedule. I suffer for this rebellious refusal (although I don’t know what I’m rebelling against) to live my life in harmony with, as Kenneth Atchity puts it, the “clock of life.” It’s too painful right now even to write how I have suffered.

It wasn’t always this way. There was once a glorious, brief period in my life when I would go to bed by nine, then get up at three or four. Immediately upon waking I would write for about an hour, then do my morning meditation, then either drive up the mountain for services at the temple or do worship at home, then breakfast and chores, and by 11am I was done for the day. All obligations, taken care of. I didn’t work at the time, but was in the process of applying for a job as a motel manager for a national chain. The motel was in a non-touristy area, and didn’t seem to be very busy. I considered the possible effects of the job on my productive schedule and decided I could handle the work load, with my husband’s help.

But for reasons that remain mysterious to me even now, I did not take the job. Instead, I moved away and surrendered myself to a situation in which I could not get up early due to exhaustion, was frequently on call, and completely lost my motivation to write. That was eleven years ago, and I never got back on track. I suspect it was a major seizure of resistance to writing which led me to make that choice.

But lately things have been inching back toward that ordered world of early-to-bed, early-to-write. I’m still staying up late, but I signed up for eight weeks of yoga class, so I’ve made a commitment of sorts. And I started keeping this blog, though not daily.

But there is still a long way to go. I had planned on being in bed by 10:30 tonight, then got waylaid by—you guessed it—the internet. My distractions are no longer mere diversions, but have morphed into self-destructive habits. Still, I’m not beating myself up over it, just slowly trying to nudge out the misuse of time with more productive engagement.

The tall, shadowy ivory pillar will stand on the dining table like a beacon, a sentinel. It’s meant to be an invitation to let my own light shine, and also a reflection of it. It could easily become a reproach if I don’t, a darkened mirror in which I, like a ghost, do not appear. But even in a unfulfilled state, it will remind me that something is there, waiting to be set aflame.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah W December 17, 2011 at 8:52 am

How beautiful!

When I had a small home ‘office’ to write in, I bought beeswax candles to light in preparation for writing. When the candles were lit, everything else was set aside.

I’d like get back to my old writing habits, too—I spend far too much time doing anything other than putting words into my MS. One quick check of my e-mail can take up an hour of writing time. And I’m also swapping early morning peace for late nights.

I think I’m going to buy a candle (or perhaps a hurricane lamp, so the cat won’t light himself on fire) and re-establish my writing ritual.

Thanks, TP, for the reminder!


Averil Dean December 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Like Sarah, I’m now heading off in search of a candle. I will put it by my bed, which is where I do my writing, and let it serve as a reminder and eventually a stubby reward for all the words I’ve laid down.

What a beautiful piece of writing, Tulasi-Priya. What a shame it would be for your candle not to melt.


Tulasi-Priya December 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Candles are appropriate for saints. The candle also reminds me of people like you who light up my life. (Oh, Lord, remember THAT song?!)


Tulasi-Priya December 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm
Averil Dean December 19, 2011 at 1:51 am

Oh, painful. I used to play this on the piano. Badly.


MacDougalStreetBaby December 18, 2011 at 6:24 am

Your writing is gorgeous, TP. I love how you made the connection between the candle’s potential and your finishing a novel. That right there was a beautiful dose of creativity.

Thank you for letting us in. It’s clear how difficult this is but you’re doing it right. Slowly, without undue expectation or self flagellation. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and sending you gazillions of positive vibes.


Tulasi-Priya December 18, 2011 at 7:21 pm

You are such a doll, MSB, there are no words to adequately thank you. This was the first thing I read this morning and it made my whole day!


anna December 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I recently had to lay off the Scrabulous and Wordscraper because they were taking up too much space in my head. Plus, I’m not allowed to check Facebook until after I’ve written for at least an hour (usually, that gives me time to get on a roll and forget about FB altogether). I say “I’m not allowed” because I have to be my own very sadistic whip-cracking boss or nothing will ever get done around here.


Tulasi-Priya December 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Facebook, ha! I had my husband change the password and not tell me what it was, then sign me out. Now if I want to waste my precious life, he has to sign me in, which makes me think twice about it. As a result of this restriction, I’ve gone WEEKS without FB (and started writing more!), but then he forgot to sign me out, so it’s creeping back up on me. I don’t have no truck with ANY kind of games; that would be the death-knell of my sanity, marriage, and writing aspirations.


amyg December 19, 2011 at 12:51 am

i love love love the candle as a measuring tool for writing time. so rich, metaphorically, process-wise, logistically.

and who isn’t mesmerized by a good, solid candle flame.

i’m glad you’re back to writing.


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