I have this scene from an old draft of a novel that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use, but it’s one of my favorite scenes ever and it speaks so deeply to me now. In the scene, the devil’s son is telling the MC about the phoenix cycle, how so many people are in love with the idea of rebirth, of starting fresh, even of ending. But while people recognize the beauty of the conflagration, they don’t like the moment when everything burns away.

They don’t like to think about being the ashes.

As the new year has rolled around I’ve been met with a slew of beautiful, inspiring words and blog posts about rebirth and change and fresh new beginnings. I’ve read a lot about how people have been tempered by the fire, how they’ve grown and become stronger, how despite the losses and challenges endured in 2013 they’re focused on what they’ve gained and what they’ve overcome.

But I am still only ashes.

2013 was the year of “I never thought this would happen to me” in all the worst ways. There were highlights–getting fired was awesome, and having months to work on myself and my writing was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. And I definitely grew closer to the people I care most about. But I also lost someone who, for what is ultimately only a handful of years, was once the most important person in the world to me. At the moment of truth, I was unshakable and powerful–I was the fire, vivid and pure. But now, that fire has consumed everything. There are only ashes left.

Ashes don’t doubt. They don’t regret. They just are, for better or worse. But ashes are delicate. They are stirred and swept away by the lightest breeze. They can be lost and scattered, and never found again.

And yet, ashes hold the seeds of what will come. The phoenix always rises again; the forest regrows after the fire. And with each regeneration, they are different. They are changed. They are that tempered sword that people speak of when they’ve come through the other end of their crucible: bigger, better, stronger.

Instead of a sword, I have this vision of myself as a painter–finger painting, actually. Except instead of a spectrum of rainbow colors on my pallet there are only two things: clean ashes and purifying water. I make watercolors from the two, in all the shades of gray. And I paint a picture, hands blackened, sweeping soot over a huge and pristine canvas to cleave an image out of empty white.

I can’t see what it is yet. But I’m painting it, and that’s all that really matters.

Happy 2014. May this year be a year of regeneration, and not of crucibles–of becoming the painter, and not the canvas.

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