Ideas Like Fireflies

“Set your ideas into the wild.” It was just a sentence fragment I read on a blog today, but now, hours later, it still resonates. What a wonderful image–taking your ideas and setting them free against an autumn sky, to soar away.

The memory of fireflies, Ink on paper. © Quinn McDonald

You lose control over them, but you never really were in control of your ideas. You just kept them, like fireflies in a jar,  until you had filled your eyes with wonder, and then you let them go, because they weren’t really yours to begin with.  But you never forgot the glow in the dark and the churn of comfort and power you got from opening that jar and having the fireflies crawl to the rim, lift their wings and blink up into the grassy-smelling dark night.

Our ideas are ours to nourish, marvel over, and set free into the wild. You write a book, you teach a class and your ideas float across space and time, to be caught, transformed and set free again, in different spaces and different times. You may not even recognize it when it comes back, but as it passes you on the street, dressed in a suit and formal with design, you’ll smell a hint of summer grass and catch a slight wink of light, and the memory will still be there.

The experience of recognition, the experience of power and joy, that makes setting free your ideas all the more worthwhile.

–Quinn McDonald has a jar of ideas on her desk. She remembers it once held fireflies.


31 thoughts on “Ideas Like Fireflies

  1. My first thought was that some days my ideas feel more like dragons than fireflies. Of course that took me onto the “which side the fire is on” train of thought and sent me into a set of mad giggling.
    *Inner Critic nudges Paula on the shoulder and sisses, “She´ll take you out of her smart people list. Delete that right now!*

  2. Quinn..Such a picture now to carry along…that little mason jar filled with my firefly ideas is telling me it needs to be opened.. …to allow those little gems to float freely and attach to whatever calls them; creativity can bloom fully only when there is provided a canvas on which to express.
    Yes, my mason jar will now call me to take off the lid and watch freedom moving through my space as I allow for it to be my partner on this journey. Thank you for a most deliciously attractive visual stimulator.

  3. Thank you Quinn – and for including “teaching a class” in the ways we set those radiant fireflies free. It came on a day when I’d just received a bit of negative feedback about some work, which was in danger of fuelling my inner critic. You’ve reminded me that not all my fireflies might be appreciated, but I can go on learning and setting them free – plenty in my jar! – to light up the night. Blessings to you – and thank you, Susannah, for your reminder about sharing not hoarding.

  4. in Jamaica, fireflies are called peenywallies.. my brother, who makes jewelry and designs hydroelectric plants has an email of!! I well remember catching them in a bottle when I was a small child. memories of a kinder, gentler Jamaica!

  5. I don’t think of ideas as “mine”. I don’t create them and I don’t own them. I become aware of some of them sometimes, but I don’t seem to have any control over that process either. It might just be a reflection of them becoming aware of me.

    I have some unsupportable wild-eyed speculation about the physical processes behind representing ideas as external to brains, but it’s all post-facto reasoning; I remember writing a little story in about 5th grade or so about somebody who could see ideas flying around and sometimes entering people’s heads or hands. Like all the ideas I’ve jostled with — a couple of which have actually had significant effects — I don’t know where this one came from, or why I became aware of it.

    That’s a really interesting illustration, by the way! It says “ink on paper” but is it black ink on white paper, or some other combination?

  6. Thank you so much for that. You remind me that, when you have a talent, a gift, you’re meant to share it. God gives us those gifts, not to hoard in miserly fashion, but to pay it forward, and to bring all of us together. I love your painting, by the way. It’s very evocative; it as a sort of brooding note to it–but the brooding of the bird, on her clutch of eggs, waiting for them to hatch.

  7. I don’t know why, but this post makes my eyes grow teary. I’m thinking because my body recognizes the truth in it. The stinging eyes are its way of saying, “Yes. That’s it, exactly.”

    I love this, Quinn. I’m printing it out and hanging it somewhere that will be visible-but in a place that will also be surprising so that it doesn’t lose its impact when I read it.

    It makes me feel more confident about producing something instead of just thinking about it. Braver/more confident about making a mark on the page instead of hiding in the corner. It’s just the shot-in-the-arm that I needed. Mahalo for that.

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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