The Virtue of Cheat-Sticks

Before I preface this post, I must pre-preface it by saying that I have decided that I will endeavor to express more gratitude in these posts. There are so many people without whom I wouldn’t have gotten as far along this journey of life, let alone my reinvention as an actor, and I will try to point out at least one such person in every post from here on out.

Now, on to the post-pre-preface, otherwise known as the preface: when I was growing up I was in the Boy Scouts, and my scoutmaster, Walter, was one of the best adult influences I’d had at that time. Of course, he taught me all the usual Scout stuff, such as knot-trying, flora/fauna identification, citizenship and so forth. But he also taught me right from wrong, to take responsibility for my decisions, to help those in need, and overall how to be a functional decent human being. For all of this, I am eternally grateful – thank you, Walter.

Okay, now for the post-preface: One of the things Walter taught me was how to get a campfire lit and going with only various-sized pieces of wood (and maybe a match if we were lucky. I have always been very proud of this ability, which I have used from time to time over the years. One such incident was over the last week while at my sister’s house.

She has a wood stove in the basement, which is nice to have running when the basement is occupied. When I’m there, I usually lit it up in the tried-and-true method (with matches though), and had no problem getting it going. This one particular time, however, most of the wood hadn’t had a chance to dry out completely, so most of the tinder (the thinnest wood that is used first, from nearly hair-thin to almost thumb-width) and pretty much all of the kindling (the slightly larger wood to put in once the tinder is going good, from about thumb-sized to around two inches thick) was at the time unusable. So to have some way to jump straight to the fuel (anything larger than kindling) without using any smaller stuff.

So I reluctantly go to the store to get what I call cheat-sticks. They are pieces of wood on the border between tinder and kindling in size that have been chemically treated to burn really hot for a while. Put about three at the bottom of a pile of split log pieces, light the ends, and you will have a fire. Yes, extremely powerful tool to have, but as you can imagine being forced to use them did rankle my Boy Scout instincts quite a bit. I even posted a funny little quip on Facebook about being “sullen and unclean” having used them.

Then I got to thinking, the situation was something of a metaphor for what some of us actors face in our careers. We may find it necessary to used the cheat-sticks from time to time, and if they are like me, an actor will likely let pride or some other feeling take over, and end up doing whatever it was the hard way, sometimes the extremely hard way.

Those aren’t cheat-sticks. That is help. There is no dishonor in accepting help, just as their is no harm in asking for it. None of us can do it alone (no matter what ‘it’ is), and from time to time we have to put our personal issues aside and take what help is given. I have learned this through my own error many times, and I think I am at the point that I recognize help for what it is, and take it as I need it.

Cheat-sticks aren’t a magic wand, either. You need to know what you are doing, be prepared ahead of time, and follow directions in order to get optimal effect from them. And they don’t get you anywhere you can’t get to by doing it the hard way; they just make it a little easier to get there.

So, use the cheat-sticks when you have to. It’s okay. That’s what they are there for.