We in Southern California are grappling with six major wildfires.

They ignited just under a week ago, driven to extremes by our local Santa Ana winds.

  • December 4th: Thomas Fire (Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties)
  • December 5th Creek Fire (Sylmar, Los Angeles County)
  • December 5th Rye Fire (Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County)
  • December 6th Skirball Fire (Bel Air, Los Angeles County)
  • December 7th Lilac Fire (San Diego County)
  • December 7th Liberty Fire (Riverside County)

We won’t know the full damage for some time. The Thomas Fire is the most virulent, and as of Sunday, “The blaze had consumed more than 173,000 acres and was 15 percent contained as of noon Sunday, according to Cal Fire.” (1) Various authorities (including Governor Jerry Brown) speculate that all six fires claiming over 200,000 acres so far may be expected to burn through Christmas. We can expect an outpouring of California poppies this spring, always in abundance after a major burn. (UPDATE: Just in the time I’ve been writing and making art for this post today, The Thomas Fire has claimed another 55,000 acres. Stunning.)

In October, Northern California’s mind-boggling 250 wildfires (2) burned at least 245,000 acres in six counties for three weeks. Deeply scarring the Napa Valley, our beloved wine country, those fires uprooted life permanently for so many. (3) Loss of life was the largest by fire in the U.S. since 1918, at 44 known to date,with 89,000 structures destroyed, and an estimated $9 Billion or more in costs. (4)

Not to be outdone by the coastal Diablo winds that escalated that disaster, the Santa Anas, a regular feature of life in Southern California, are the driving force behind our fires this week.

I say “our fires” because I live 3.5 miles from the northern edge of the Skirball Fire Zone.

Such devastation reminds us of how fragile daily life’s routine really is.

My proximity to the Skirball Fire is an identical distance from 1994’s so-called Northridge Earthquake. I say so-called, because it’s “hypocenter” was actually in Reseda, 3.5 miles from where I lived at the time.

As fast as fires can spread, they cannot hold a candle to earthquakes, which give no warning at all, unless you count bouncing out of bed at 4:31 AM and waking up mid-air a warning. Okay, technically, it was 4:30:55 a.m., but what’s 5 seconds in an earthquake? A lot, as that urban record-setting “thrust” earthquake lasted between 10 and 20 seconds, an eternity to those of us who were there.

Earthquakes rip life apart, literally in seconds. The aftershocks are another matter. They cut deep, not only seismically, but emotionally, Many who could, drove out of the city at dawn and never came back, not even waiting for the red-tagging (no entry allowed) of buildings to begin. My building was somehow not red-tagged, though my apartment’s contents looked like they’d been put though a giant blender. It was more than two weeks before my adrenaline subsided enough to sleep not in my car or a chair by the door, but in my own bed. I stuck it out, not wanting to harbor any incompletion that might bite emotionally later on.

Evacuation Preparedness?

This Wednesday morning, I was blissfully unaware that the Skirball fire had started at dawn. Later, I got an unexpected Facebook post from a friend who lives in Las Vegas and knows that I volunteer as a document at the Getty Musuem. She was concerned for my safety. I was touched, but surprised, and a bit puzzle day her mention of the Getty. I had noticed a rush of acrid smoky air around 10 AM, and thought it was the Santa Anas carrying smoke from one of the fires already underway. I posted that I was fine, but that searched Google for the latest fire status, quite surprised by news of the Skirball fire. I promptly texted a nearby friend who is even closer to it than I am, who replied with a link to get local fire alerts directly on my phone.

Ah, the wonders and ease of modern apps! I later learned the the LAFD is using drones for the first time to identify hotspots. A day later, when a hotspot erupted two blocks from my house, the fire engines and helicopters converged far faster than seems possible, dousing it in mere minutes.

Technology is our friend, until it isn’t. This fire reminds us that good old-fashioned common sense still outranks even the smartest of apps. This news headline says it all: “LAPD warns navigation apps sent drivers into Skirball Fire zone.” (5)

Though this was my first-ever time preparing for a potential evacuation, it certainly was illuminating. (Earthquakes don’t allow for warnings or direct preparation, and in my earlier New England life, “hunkering down” was the prevailing mindset for storms of any sort.)

Like others, I was more concerned about packing photographs, computer hard drives (my business livelihood) and jugs of H2O than much of anything else. How quickly we go from caring about worldly goods, to caring only for what touches our hearts, keeps us alive, or might keep our business functioning.

Even as I packed a carry-on size suitcase with clothing, I was cracking myself up at how necessary I thought warm toasty clothing was, despite the near-80’s December temperatures we’ve got. You can take the girl out of New England, but apparently you cannot take the New England out of the girl, LOL.

My suitcases and shopping bags remain at the ready by the kitchen door, blissfully uncalled upon. And I am ever grateful for the firefighters who have saved us all, heroically wrangling fire with skill and courage beyond comprehension.

However, in talking with my brother, who was evacuated during September Hurricane Irma’s 140 mph landfall in Naples, Florida, we agreed that personal perspectives shift with lasting effect when danger comes palpably close, even if it spares you. Our fires have me thinking differently about what’s next.

The Demands of Fire

This year brought more than its share of record-shattering natural weather disasters and man-made mayhem to many corners of the country and the world.

So many people have jarringly seesawed between adrenaline and powerlessness.

  • What matters?
  • What must you endure?
  • What can you change?
  • What has shifted in you?

What does fire burn away inside us, and what does it reveal?

For many, myself included, it burns away yet another layer of illusion, the one most invisible to us from inside our customary day-to-day view. And it does so at the speed of light.

You will have your own journey, with highlights and lows along the route. I offer mine below, as a spark to your own reflections.

What matters? What possessions count?

When standing in my kitchen, realizing I might have to leave all my own artwork behind, I made peace with the prospect of losing it all, in what felt like a nanosecond. I was and am grateful to have photographs of much of it as a fallback. Alas, they are still prints and slides, which getting scanned has suddenly become a greater priority. “Just in cases!”  (Colin Firth’s housekeeper Aurélia memorably said “Just in cases!” in a climactic scene in Love, Actually. I won’t tell you any more; it might be on your holiday binge movie list.) In comforting hindsight as I write this post, it occurs to me that just as a baseball player knows there are many more at-bats in games yet to come in a season, an artist knows there are many more blank canvases to fill, with even less worry that they’ll be aged out of the game.

I am reminded suddenly of Camille Pissarro. His outdoor art experiments with Claude Monet and Pierre August Renoir in the summer of 1869 were the conscious start of a new way of painting that we know as Impressionism. He left more than 1500 paintings in his house when fleeing the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Upon his return, only 40 remained, the others all disrespectfully destroyed by soldiers who had commandeered the house and used them as butcher paper, or to cover muddy ground for their horses to walk upon. Gah! He never let that destroy him, going on to paint with notable gusto, considered to be the Godfather to Monet’s role as Father of Impressionism. He influenced and directly cheered on many a painter, including Vincent Van Gogh. Yet only a sliver of his vision is still visible to us, based on what is left of his full oeuvre. How might art historians alter their opinions of Monsieur Pissarro had the majority of his art survived? We will never know.

Writers typically have more chances for their work to survive if ever they were published. being published didn’t stop me from packing a full set of my own biz book trilogy (The Marketing Deck.) Clearly not adhering to my own logic in that moment. But i digress. in that what-should-I-pack race, I knew most of my library of books could be replaced electronically if need be. They were clearly too cumbersome to take. My own writing has all been done digitally, or scanned into PDFs. So I quickly made a new full backup of the half million documents on my hard drive. Yes, that’s half-million. It includes all my business and client documents, but doesn’t even count apps or operating system docs. I do hourly backups 24/7/365, and that drive is portable. But I made a mental note to stop fiddling about which remote backup service to purchase, and just choose one to get it happening as soon as this emergency is over.

What must you endure? And do computers have hidden benefits?

As soon as I realized how close I was to a raging fire, and how unpredictable the winds were, the day’s plans went up in smoke, so to speak. My body took over, primed for survival. Furniture, jewelry, business clothing and home amenities were of no value next to the jugs of H2O in my pantry. City mice like me don’t really “live on the land” but there I was, calling on childhood Girl Scout skills as if I were about to camp in the woods.

All my loved ones live at safe distance, so I felt free to make simple decisions, free of caretaking decisions so many face in such moments. I did need to reassure those worried about me from afar. Amazingly, no power outages interfered with phones, text for emails.

All I really had to endure was the not-knowing. Would the call to evacuate come? How long would this emergency last? When would the air quality return to non-toxic levels? Once smoky air gets inside our non-insulated houses in LA, we get phlegmy, cough-prone and nauseous. But somehow it seemed right for me to stay put, and I got a huge amount of work done with my computer blessedly humming away.Think about it: software is programmed by human brains with an aspiration to be elegant, efficient and ever-faster. It just makes sense that my mind would get into an engaging groove using the high powered graphics and website software i immerse myself in regularly.

Even the primal “Fight, Flight, Freeze or Faun” gut reactions were more malleable than I expected. Staying engaged in projects that matter to me worked like a charm. I didn’t even toss or turn during sleep. I will credit the much-maligned social media for contributing to this equanimity, as it removed the threat of isolation and gave my adrenaline nothing to panic over.

What can you change? Make a list and check it twice!

Well that’s pretty simple. You see necessary changes in a flash when you think you might be making all-or-nothing decisions. Simple things like these:

  • Don’t leave home without a supply of H2O in the trunk of your car. No excuses. Keep a couple of nutrition bars in the glove compartment for good measure.
  • Always have a toiletries kit or essentials ready to roll.
  • Always have an overnight bag with one change of seasonal clothing where you can grab it immediately.
  • Speaking of cars, it’s time to do what my Dad always did when I was a little kid: Keep the gas tank no less than half full. When it gets down that low, fill it up. Duh!
  • Make sure your list of emergency contacts is up-to-date on your phone, coded so you (or someone else) can easily find it.
  • If you own your own business, this is a big one: schedule project work to complete a day early. That builds in a cushion for emergencies in case you need to take the day and evacuate! I was lucky I had gotten ahead of the usual deadline dance that day, grateful for the unexpected ease it gave me.
  • Fill in your own extras while you have the clarity of mind to do so. Then keep your version of this list handy, tweaking as needed, until you know it so well it is second nature.

Why not give yourself some Ease of MInd? We can never have too much of that. Save the adrenaline rush for what matters, not for some mad dash like i did this time with the basics.

What has shifted in you? What’s next?

Something has shifted in me with this fire serving as catalyst, a role they often play. Let me go back a bit.

The playground seesaw has been my unconscious power vehicle. What? I bounce up and down between it polar opposites, for me symbolized by art and commerce. I’ve spent a lifetime racing back and forth between both ends, pushing off in both seats, never ready to relinquish either one. Even as a kid, I was equally fascinate by both art and commerce. Like many, kids, and even adults, I saw no clear way to unite the two.

For decades, I pushed these two loves apart, thinking it was necessary. The 20th Century lived by a code of “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”  What an awful philosophy! It stopped rational, respectful conversation in its tracks, with most people unprepared to challenge this sort of might-makes-right bullying.

Fire demands fire. Hurricanes demand more water to wreak their biggest destruction. They each capture air, swelling to gargantuan, bullying proportion.

When my brother called me from Florida before Hurricane Irma made landfall in his area, official warnings were so dire that he began the call by saying, “Well, I don’t know if this will be our last conversation.” Neither did I. We’d had an emotionally charged conversation two weeks before, requiring some cool-down time. But in this call, none of the earlier upset seemed real anymore. What did matter, and what shifted in that call, is the commanding claim made by our love and care for each other.

I am not a believer that we must have tragedy for growth, Yet I will give danger its due: my brother had his 140 mph hurricane, and I had my blocks-away fire. Each of us were spared, yet each of us feels transformed.

The best I can say at this early stage, rudimentary though it may be, is this: We feel we were given an unearned gift. A gift of time to love life just the way it is, perfect in its imperfection.

Our daily lives were not destroyed in the process, and so we have some freedom to choose what’s next. Whatever challenges were in place remain as well. What did burn was the usual sense of emotional constraint about addressing challenges.

For my part, I feel ready to challenge the fire-scorched philosophy of “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” For a year now, my website homepage has welcomed visitors with a slideshow that begins with the following statement, which I intend to highlight in many more ways:

Marketing Is Personal

Marketing is personal because each human being is unique. Since today’s fancy targeting tools undermine privacy, marketers must work harder to gain permission and earn trust.

• • •

When you have been through an unexpected chapter in life with challenges that prompt the four questions above, they also yield a “What’s Next” response. You may find yourself more strongly reinforced along current pathways in your life. You may find blockages that need untangling. You may find surprising inspiration that sends you in a new direction. More often than not, it is a combination of all of the above.

I invite you to look a bit deeper and see what you will take on next in life. Here’s what surfaced for me:

My “Next” is TimeShifting and teaching Time Mastery

Our fires have given me this Note to Self: “Diane, it’s time to unite art and commerce in a way I have not yet done. It’s time for me to ‘Opt IN’ more fully, too.”

I am open to the whispered intuitive hints this shift is offering. It’s not some abrupt turnabout. What I am doing is inviting art and commerce to stop their dizzying seesaw ride, and unite for new adventures in business with me. You can see in the collage here that the Owl and the Pussycat, with their young kids, have already taken over the seesaw and made it much more fun. The habit of being at odds with myself has lost its unconscious grip. It has shifted to what might be considered a union, or integration, of opposites. For this I am most grateful.

I accept the fiery gift of all-the-time-in-the-world, right here, right now. The first little hint has turned out to be even greater passion for my new course, Time Mastery for the Time-Sensitive. One thing this will not be is the usual time management course. There are plenty of time-tested and fireproofed tools and technique I’ll provide to satisfy your left brain. But there will also be plenty of room for your right brain to breathe freely.

As I write these words, I recall that 25 years ago in 1992, I created a work of art called TimeShifting. You have my promise that I will reveal that piece in my course.

Art and Commerce uniting!

By the way, I’m taking on the broader definition of commerce that goes beyond buy and sell transactions. It includes “social dealings between people” from the root word “com” which means “together.”

TimeShfitng— and Time Mastery— we’re on our way!

— Diane A. Curran

Footnote Citations:

  1. Christopher Weber, Associated Press, ” New evacuations issued as massive Thomas fire flares up, moves into Santa Barbara County” Los Angeles Daily News, December 10, 2017
  2. “October 2017 Northern California Wildfires”, Wikipedias.org article, an aggregate of multiple sourced articles
  3. “California Statewide Fire Summary”. CAL FIRE. State of California. Retrieved October 30, 2017
  4. Jonathan J. Cooper (December 7, 2017). “October’s Wine Country Fires Were the Costliest Ever”. TIME Money. Retrieved December 9, 2017
  5.  Meghan McCarty Carino,  “LAPD warns navigation apps sent drivers into Skirball Fire zone” December 7, 2017

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