Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2010/ Candle


I don't know whether I have a favourite time of the year, but I know November is not in the running. Gardening is over, which means I am exercising less and eating more high-glycemic foods. It's as dark as midnight by late afternoon; if I did not come to work late every morning I might not see daylight at all. It's irrational, but the dark seems darker than the rest of the year. Maybe it is just because the dark hangs around for so long.

Soon there will be snow, but that is nothing to look forward to. Thanks to albedo, the landscape will lighten up, but the costs are high. Soon I won't be able to bike. Soon the grey slush will seep through my boots. Soon we all get to deal with the hassles of snow shovelling and slippery sidewalks.

Today I lit a candle and let it run all day, doing my part to contribute to global warming and societal collapse. The candle is in a plastic cup with a paper label that reads "International Human Peace Sign - Kitchener 2007". The candle was never very good; it refused to stay lit on the frigid evening of March 16. The wick had sunk beneath the wax; I had to improvise: matchsticks, lollipop sticks, strips of cloth cut from old pants. The strips of cloth worked best -- probably too well. The flame was so strong it melted the sides of the plastic cup while I was not looking. This is the sort of mistake that leads to house fires.

I have gone through candle phases before. When I visited India (over 20 years ago now) I became fascinated with Diwali candles. I used to take bits of wax from burned candle stumps and melt them into new candles. A few years ago I used to burn candles regularly in my attic apartment. One of my most treasured gifts consisted of two huge beeswax candles, given to me shortly before I moved to Waterloo. I regifted one of those candles to a Winter solstice party and the other to an anti-war protest -- two events that I associate with feeling accepted into a community for the first time in my life. (Why did I take those candles? There were so many other gifts people offered in good faith that I jerkishly rejected.)

It is difficult to believe that people read by candlelight. When the candle is lit I can make out objects in the room, but reading is a chore. Still, light is much better than no light, and even though the electricity is on and my compact fluroescent light is burning bright, I find the candle comforting. How many generations of human beings have found comfort in candlelight and lamplight?

I don't believe this little flame is driving away bad spirits, but it is driving away the dark.

Also it makes me appreciate fire. Fire is dangerous. It could have burned my house down. But fire is magical; knowing that it is superheated gas makes it no less special. Fire empowered us to cook food and keep ourselves warm. It simultaneously disconnected us from nature, blurring the distinctions between day and night, between warm and cold weather, between freshly-killed harvest and food stored for months. Has this been a blessing, or has it been our undoing?

Then there are all the metaphors that involve candles. It's 3am and I have to be at work tomorrow; I am burning the candle from both ends. Life has been more unpleasant than usual lately; is it such a crime to snuff out the candle before it has burned down? None of us has infinite wax. Is it better to burn brief and bright, or slow and quiet?

Enough. My little candle has almost burned itself out. I have burned up another day without anything to show for it. It's time to sleep.