My Jar of Fireflies

I wrote the essay below a couple weeks ago, when I was feeling melancholy. Nothing particularly painful caused the melancholy, it was just a mood I was nursing. That mood extended into some doubts about writing, and the feeling I’m sure many writers have, where they wonder if the words they write are better kept to themselves. Writing the essay below helped me feel better, and in line with its thesis, I wanted to share those words with you. I also want to add a P.S. to other writers reading — I hope you’ll share your words as well. Have a good Tuesday, everyone.

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My Jar of Fireflies

When I was little, one of my favorite summertime activities was catching fireflies. I was fascinated by bugs that glowed neon green as they flitted by. I had to catch them in my hands, watch their wings unfold and shine their light upon my palms.

Like many little girls, I liked collecting bugs in jars. Fireflies were no different. I’d place them in a jar with holes on top, making sure my flying lanterns could breathe. I put the jar in my room one night, hoping for a night light. This didn’t work, as the fireflies began to climb out of the holes. I took them outside before they could escape in my room. I knew a holeless lid was out of the question, as the bugs would suffocate and not light up at all.

I accepted that the best way to enjoy the fireflies was to catch them, then let them go. They glowed their brightest when they flew from tree to tree, sparkling in the blue summer nights and cutting through the fog of humidity that defined July in the southern areas I grew up in. To this day, a wide smile will cross my face when I walk home and see the familiar green glow of a firefly cross my path. It’s the first sign of summer, and the beginning of nights warm with light and conversation.

I found myself remembering the jar of fireflies as I thought about my writing. My thoughts tend to float in and out of the air, and sometimes, writing is the only way I can catch them. I write them down, place them in a paper jar, then hold that paper jar with all my might, keeping it in my room and hoping the lid will keep them safe.

I know deep down, though, that that is no destiny for ideas. In order to glow, they have to be released. I can poke holes in the lid, and the ideas can seep out in bursts — a stray quote to a friend, reading a couple pages to my husband, discussing ideas with my editor. But in order to fly to their highest peaks, they need to be released.

It’s something I try to remember as two of my pieces approach completion. It can be hard to let go of something that brings me such personal joy, especially into a world where they’ll fly free of my own hold. But removing the lid, and learning to let them go, is what will ultimately help them glow — and make me smile when I see them flying by.

5.10.17