Burn it up: impermanence and playing with fire

I was talking to a friend about how much I like to burn my writing.

I don’t burn it all the time, but when it’s something I feel like I need to release, it’s incredibly powerful cathartic ritual. That got me thinking about a wedding I attended two years ago.

I didn’t want to go to the wedding because I had nothing to wear.

It’s humiliating to admit that. It’s such a frivolous, stereotypical girl excuse. I’d been to a million weddings, but nothing quite like this. There were going to be a lot of people there and my social anxiety was running pretty high.

It was silly to think that I was worried looking out-of-place…with a bunch of people who take looking out-of-place very seriously. The wedding was done “burner-style” (think Burning Man) and grounded in the spirit of community, art and self-expression.

When we arrived at the farm in rural Virginia, there were tutus and masks and glow in the dark hula-hoops. There were hot pants and frilly bras — and the women’s outfits were even more eccentric. There were also 60-year-old women in lawn chairs wearing Laura Ashley dresses that would have been right for a church picnic. There was literally nothing that I could have worn that would have been inappropriate. And if I had worn literally nothing, I suspect that would have even been okay, too.

People had set up camp for a week and there was swimming in the river and fire dancing and a tent full of dress-up clothes. There was home-brew and dune buggies and of course, there was a wedding ceremony, in front of a two-story temple that our friends spent months building from scrap wood and fallen trees. We placed paintings, poems and wishes for the couple inside the temple, hanging them from branches.

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And after the ceremony, after the “I do” and the kiss – we burned it all to the ground.

There was such joy in watching it burn. It was a profound sense of release.

Of letting go. Of surrendering to life and the inevitable destruction.

Because eventually, everything deteriorates and falls apart and there is no sense clinging to it. Permanence seems comforting but it’s an illusion, and that makes this moment now even more precious. You have to love it with all your heart while it’s here. Because one day, it won’t be. And neither will you.

Letting go means opening up more space for joy. Not even love can survive if you cling too tightly. Love works when you let the other person be who they need to be and love them through it. As my friend said in his vows “I love you and I will love who you become.” Nothing is static. People change.

What a profound statement at the beginning of a marriage.

This wedding was full of joy. The bride wore a purple top. They danced down the aisle and basked in their weirdness. I have always been ashamed of my weirdness, and it did me good to see people so comfortable with theirs. I cried happy tears from beginning to end of the ceremony.

It was just so very them.

We let it all go, and we burned it all up.

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13 Replies to “Burn it up: impermanence and playing with fire”

    1. I’d say just burn the stuff you want to emotionally let go of. I find half-completed works tend to be full of things that might be helpful later…

  1. Nice piece Lisa. Just a side note: might wanna add a missing “L” in this opening line –
    “I was taking to a friend about how much I like to burn my writing.”

  2. Lisa,
    This post came to me at the exact time I truly needed it. I experienced a major loss in my youth, and ever since then, I’ve been a bit of a “permanence junkie” (for lack of a better term). I am constantly finding myself wanting everything in my life to stay stable and, well, permanent. And I don’t do well with change. I cling to things fiercely and it always proves to be an exercise in futility, because change is inevitable. Anyway, your message means a lot to me because it reminds me to be open to change, and how revitalizing it can be. Thank you so much. ❤️

    1. Pardon me Kathryn; you don’t know me from Adam, but your post inspired me- terrain! Short of an earthquake, the land itself never changes, or changes exceedingly slowly- it’s effectively permanent. This means maybe your back yard, or your favorite park, or wherever you walk/run on a regular basis. I gave up where I had been exercising for years, and I think I miss it in some subtle and profound way.

  3. This one is interesting… You’re written a lot of things I’ve enjoy greatly and other things that have resonated deeply. However, this is not one of them. For me, and I want to be clear here, this is purely for me and not a criticism of you or the other posters who feel the same way, destroying items from the past is not embracing change. To me, destroying items is in no way freeing. I feel like it actually creates permanence.

    As Kathryn wrote above, life is change. In my case however, I’ve understood that for as long as I can remember. I sometimes get frustrated when people try to stop or deny change. Sometimes I try to talk to them get them to help them realized that but it doesn’t usually help. Which just goes to show, some things don’t change. :-p

  4. I love this post, Lisa! It resonates with me very strongly and I identify with the themes. I am the most nostalgic person I know. I cling on to memories of days gone by almost too hard and hang on to things that have the silliest of meanings, well, just because! I have been making a conscious effort this year of looking forward. The advice I was given earlier this year is that whenever I feel myself slipping back into thinking about or dwelling on the past, to come back to the moment I’m living in. If i’m cooking and start to think about the past, I should think only about the smell of the food to bring myself back into the present moment. It was quite an interesting way of being more ‘present.’ I love the thought of burning things and the symbolic nature of the way in which things burn. The fascination with fire and watching the flames dance definitely resonates with our inner caveman/woman! I especially love the marriage vow of your friend and think that it is perfect. Really enjoyed this piece, Lisa. 🙂

  5. Social anxiety and a bridesmaid’s dress that required an abundance of cleavage to fill it out, kept me from attending my best friend’s wedding.

    I couldn’t afford to travel to the wedding, but I was willing to hitchhike if necessary, without letting anyone know. But the dress (that my best friend paid for, with the stipulation I pay her back) badly needed to be altered, and one seamstress I talked to said it would need a “major overhaul” to accommodate my flat chest.

    And it needed matching shoes. I had no clue what to do about that.

    The wedding guests included lots of people from high school I didn’t want to see. They had thriving careers and happy relationships. And it was in my hometown, which meant I would have had no choice but to stay with my parents.

    I hated everything about myself back then. There’s nothing like a wedding to throw all of that in your face.

    My friend and I only talked once since then.

    I’m very ashamed of my selfishness. But I do suffer from anxiety and sometimes wonder why people like me are shown so little grace. I had to be selfish and not go. There just weren’t any other options, nothing to help me because it was all about the bride and her big day.

    I’ve tried not thinking about this over the years, but your post brought it all back. I’m kind of glad for that.

  6. You are such a beacon of open badassity that it makes my heart want to burst. Burn it up and burn it down, let it flow and let it go. A-Ho. PS What did you end up wearing, anyway?

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