Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gratitude Part II

Ah, Seattle. The bane and source of my existence these days. I have to say I was looking forward to arriving on Wednesday. I woke up at 5:30 AM and started to take a "shower". To be clear, taking a shower in Flame amounts to squatting in an over sized sink, wetting yourself while trying not to soak the rest of the room, then rinsing off. It's cold and awkward.... and on this particular morning, I ran out of water. Awesome! So, I dressed and went about the task that I should have completed the day before. I went out and dragged the "new" used 5000 Watt generator down to the well head. I grabbed all the gear I had purchased to wire the 240 V ("220. 221. Whatever it takes" -Michael Keaton) well head so I could run it off of this generator, plugged it in and fired it up for the first time. She fired on the first pull just as the previous owner had promised. I threw the switch, the pump engaged and water began to mercifully flow from the connected hose. I filled the tank on flame. It is one thing for me to be without water, but it is entirely another for my wife to deal with it.

I grabbed my bags and left for the airport feeling dirty and half-in-the-bag. I kept looking at my watch and trying to deal with the fact that the time was just not adding up. I finally realized that I had intended to leave the house 3 hrs before the flight, not wake up 3 hrs before the flight. Jesus, I was just not firing on all 8. Then I couldn't find a fucking parking place. I arrived at the gate just as my boarding group was getting on. Suffice it say, I made it and got my isle seat, which is mandatory for me as much as I am traveling these days. I took a deep breath and sat there staring into the blackness of my own mind.

When I arrived at my little hotel in Bellevue, Andrea greeted me with a smile. She is a fixture at this place and without her I am certain no reservation would ever be successfully made. She asked how things were going and I responded with something about being excited to take a standup shower. She smiled but it was more of a grimace. I suppose she was putting herself in Kristen's shoes with the prospect of squatting in a large sink and taking a "bird bath", as we call it. I can hardly blame her.

The shower was exquisite! I ironed my clothes and headed off into the irony of my life; traveling to Seattle and living in a hotel is the most normal thing I've got going. And I have to say, this project has been the most challenging and demanding bit of work I have ever done. You can set your fucking watch by Murphy's Law on this project. We were supposed to have all development finished by COB Friday and I was leaving at 1:00 to catch my flight. Everything was going well and it looked like we were actually going to make it. Right on schedule, Murphy showed up. At 12:30 the goddam wheels came off and literally everything fell apart. I simply had to laugh. What else was I going to do? I sat and observed my physical reaction to it without engaging in the inevitable panic that was to follow. This is the gift of choice at work. I just smiled and sent a text to Kristen. I got up at 1:00, grabbed my shit and trusted that the incredible team I have around me would sort things out.

When I arrived back in Denver and caught the Wally Park shuttle back to my car, I had a chance to unwind, as I always do upon arriving. It becomes difficult to keep my eyes open on that short ride. On this trip, it was still light outside and the sweet smell of Colorado summer hung thick in the air. The familiar blackness started to settle in. WTF!? This is the human condition, "why, it's all fucked, it always has been fucked, it's fucked right now and it will always be fucked." At least that's my brand of it. A line from a Jane's addiction tune played in my head, "there ain't no wrong, there ain't no right.... there's only pleasure and pain..." Really? Do I really believe that?

I started to inquire into the blackness. I heard the quote, "There is no wrong or right, only thinking makes it so..." or some variation of that. But still it persisted. Up until now, this had been all the automatic stuff, the wiring we are born with, the survival code that is programmed into our brains. It is the "us" that most of us refer to when we say things like, "I don't feel like it," or "you really pissed me off when you..." It requires nothing from the actual US and does not even require that WE be present in the conversation. The real WE arises when we observe that reaction and begin to ponder a different one. It takes work and everything in us will scream at us to accept the status quo. It's what we know.

So, I chose to start making a mental list of all the things I was grateful for. I have to tell you, this really took some effort. I was calling bullshit on everything I came up with. "Well, I am alive and living in Colorado, I've got that going for me." And I would retort, "Horse shit. Get real. Quit trying to put lipstick on a pig." But I kept going. I listed my wife, who loves me, my dogs, my friends, our awesome little trailer on our lot, my 10 fingers and toes, my ability to listen to and enjoy music, to speak and feel connected through language... on and on. Pretty soon, the world was a sweeter place. Just taking, as Kristen would say, a simple action led to extraordinary results.

And when I arrived home, Kristen had cleaned the trailer, there was space to breathe. We had my new "man cave" placed on the pad of my burned up shed (a 20 x 8 steel shipping container). We lost nearly everything and I have the experience of having it all. I happily settled into Flames comfortable, albeit small, interior and waited for my wife to come home. We talked and snacked on the abundance of food we have packed into our small fridge. I slept until 9:00 am on this rainy Saturday and sit here drinking our fantastic coffee and sharing this process with all of you. Who could ask for more?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cautious Optimism

It seems that all the hard work and keeping this in front of the media has paid off. If not for the tireless efforts of the media and some legislators that took up our cause, we might not be here today. But, we are and I am optimistic. We had a meeting with Governor Hickenlooper last week. He has rallied the troops around a new bill that would remove the cap and immunity from instances of wildfires that were caused by the State during controlled burns. This benefits everyone that lives in Colorado, not just us. And it is a completely bipartisan bill that is supported all the way up to the Governors office and greatly reduces the bar for proving negligence. We are cautiously optimistic.

I must say that I don't care how this came about, be it political pressure, media or whatever. The Governor seems to have stepped up to do the right thing. Time will tell how this plays out, but for now my hat is off to the Governor. This is not the time to be cynical. It is time to rebuild, and that means different things to different people affected by this tragedy.

For us, rebuilding has started with total destruction. There is nary a trace of the place we used to call home. The foundation has been removed, several trees cut down and the landscape has a foreign look to it. The green grass that is juxtaposed against the charred tree trunks has a certain beauty to it, and I have started to get a bit excited about the prospect of rebuilding.

Yesterday we put our Airstream trailer, "Flame" on the lot. The schizophrenic weather cleared just long enough to accomplish the task and we were totally psyched to stay there for the first time last night. That was not to be, however. After attending the semi-sometimes-annual-or-sometime belly dancing show at the local high school, we stepped out into pouring rain. The prospect of dealing with muddy dogs that had not yet been trained to navigate the single step into the unknown was overwhelming (yes, they are pussys). So, back to Jessica's we went.

As grateful as we are to have a place to crash, it is still not our place. We had gotten somewhat used to staying at Lynn's log palace. It had taken the edge off of reality. With two big dogs to deal with, living out of our car and once again on the move, I have to say, reality has returned with a vengeance. Back to the insomnia-esc sleeping pattern... up at 3:30 am; lying in bed feeling breathless while my heart pounds out of my chest, out of bed at 4:00 am. This can stop any time. Really, I am done.

The current studies on brain science tell us that our brain is up before we are making decisions for us before we are ever aware it is happening. And we think we are self deterministic creatures. That's funny. Mostly we are like a thick fart on the wind. The best chance we have is to alter the way the world occurs for us, which is an interesting process. We have to replace the brain's current focus of survival with something else. Give it something else to work on, kind of like a dog with a bone. Our dog Tigger is a great example. We will see him with something in his mouth that his intent on destroying. Our work is to be vigilant and quickly substitute the slimy mess with something we would rather see slobbered on and destroyed.... much like our thinking.

For now, we are focusing on the two bundles of joy that are Jessica's little girls. I read Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs to Cassidy this morning. Her joy with this fairy tale was tangible. It will be the foundation for her disappointment with the reality of relationships and she won't even know why she has the expectation that some metro-sexual prince will swoop to "make her happy". Steve made us breakfast, which was such a treat. He is one of the best, most patient fathers I have ever seen and a very generous host. We could not ask for more. But we will and we are. I just want a place to call my own. I am seriously exhausted and tired of being a gypsy.

It's not all bad though, because one of the remaining possessions we have is our sailboat in the Bahamas. And we will be spending the month of August learning how to relax again in Pixies comfortable quarters. So, in a world where the most normal thing I have going is to travel to Seattle and work 12 hour days, I am ready for a nice extended time on our boat and to learn how to relax again. I am cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Last Saturday was about the best day I had had since the fire. We did not sift and we did not lament. We had a little bit of fun. We started out by going back to Rocky Top to meet with the Fire Marshall and some county officials. We had expected to hear that due to required road improvements, we would need to spend some insane amount of money to improve our jeep trail and make it into a super highway. Instead, we heard, "You folks have been through enough. We are not requiring anything but we will make recommendations." They are also going to try and simplify the permitting process, etc. Talk about relief... I don't know if it was political or media pressure and I don't really care. Someone finally stepped up and did the right thing.

In the process, Kristen got to take a ride in a fire truck. On the way down to our "house" (I will call it a lot from now on) she spotted smoke. And the fireman got out, located an underground fire, dug it up, and let Kristen hose it down. Folks, this is a MONTH later and there are still spot fires burning up there. I am not sure what anyone was thinking doing a controlled burn that was consuming 6" logs (masticated fuel) and expecting to be able to control that. But I digress...

So, today, I do not have a pit in my stomach and the world is not that dark a place. If that is just today, I will take that and I will be right here in this place today. When tragedy strikes, there is something physical that happens to us. I don't mean tragedy like, our favorite frozen yogurt flavor was discontinued. I mean tragedy like your neighborhood burns down and 3 people are killed. The physical stuff has to be dealt with. It gets into the wiring and needs to be dislodged. The rest is what WE bring to it, which brings me to the point of this post.

I have heard it said that "context is decisive." And that we create the context for our lives whether we are aware of, or responsible for that or not. It is a choice. So, what the hell am I going on about? Well, let me give you a little context.

There are many things that we hold dear and many things that simply hold us. Now that our "things" are in very short supply I have discovered something interesting. It was in the pursuit of the things that I mostly found the excitement. The pursuit of stuff and the pursuit of the life we built. When that is gone it is interesting to notice what is left. I did not cease to exist. I am not less of a person. I am not a lesser version of me. But what I thought was important and what matters has fundamentally altered.

I feel like I am staring at a puzzle. And the background picture is still there. But when I try to put the pieces together they no longer fit. In other words, the context in which my life has occurred up until now, has been shattered and what I am left with is this...

I no longer find all of the things important that I used to. And I no longer wish to waste time on things that I say are not important. I am also not interested in "pussy-footing" around with people that act with disregard to the community that surrounds them. I am creating for myself a new life framework or model for how the world works. Instead of throwing out data that does not fit my model of the world, it is time to create a new model to explain the data I have received.

Now, this implies that the data I receive is in some way "pure" and objective, which is impossible because I am a human being and EVERYTHING is already being filtered to some extent by an existing model, context or belief system. So, let's look at that first.

Belief Systems


I was talking with someone the other day and I mentioned that I felt compelled to be angry. It was like an emotional magnet that kept drawing me back to that. I was aware that I was doing it and that it was taking a toll on me physically but I kept going back to it. Here is what I discovered.

First of all, I was looping like a tape recorder (for those of us old enough to get that analogy). Every time I told the story again, I replayed the tape, got all worked up and had all the same physical reactions that I did when all this went down - adrenaline, tightness in my chest and throat and feeling like I was going be sick. And every time I did that, it made the mental path back to that stuff a little easier to get to.

Now, I am not advocating for denial, but it does not do any good for me to continually relive the experience. It actually makes it a lot harder to move past it. "But I don't want to move past it and I don't want to stop being angry." Therein lies the betrayal of the belief system. The context was one of victimization.

I discovered that I really believe that if I am not angry then the people who did this will have won and that I will be letting them off the hook. And if I let them off the hook it will minimize what has happened to all of my community and dishonor the people who died. Just that simple. I even have some rational attachment to that idea but now that I see IT I have to decide what I am going to do with IT. For me, it is unhealthy and is eating me alive. I am eating the poison hoping the rats will die. Not very productive.

So, my mission is to let go of that belief and create a new "context" for how I am going to move forward. I am not going to tell the story over and over again. I was talking with someone yesterday who I had not spoken with since the fire. He asked me how I was doing and what had happened. I said I was doing well and that I was not interested in telling the story one more time because it was causing a lot of unneeded distress every time I did. He shared with me something positive that has come out of this and what a great job Hickenlooper was doing.

This was my queue! I was on and it was time to lay waste to the Governor, the State and everyone attached to this event. But I didn't. I took a couple of deep breaths. In that couple of seconds I became aware of profound disappointment, sadness and some disgust. However, I did not need to become angry and go on a rant.

I said to him how glad I was that something positive had arisen and, in so many words, respectfully disagreed with his point on the Governor.