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LESSONS FROM THE FIRE: "Safe" Is Relative

by Luann Udell on 10/21/2017 6:25:02 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.



We are never truly safe. And that’s OK.

 

It’s been exactly one week since Jon woke me, telling me we might have to evacuate from the now-infamous Santa Rosa Fire.

 

More manpower and resources, and less wind, have helped to contain the fires. Last night, we finally left our home, together, for a drive to the coast, taking the dogs but leaving the cats (they do not enjoy car rides) for the first time since that horrifying day.

 

It was restorative, in so many ways: Watching the waves peacefully roll in (unusual for the Pacific Ocean!) Poking around for pretty pebbles. (I find foraging extremely soothing. Hence the thrift shopping skills...) Stopping for a beer at a local pub in Bodega on the way home. (The Casino is an unpretentious, funky little bar and grill that serves some of the best food in the county. Check them out, here! ) To our astonishment, our dinners were free. A gift to our community, the waitperson said. We were only asked to consider donating money to the fire victims aid fund, which we did with gratitude.

 

Then, just before we got home, we saw it: More flames atop the ridge east of town.

 

Although this new fire is somewhat managed, with the aforesaid manpower and resources now available, it was a sobering thought: This isn’t over. And for thousands of people, who are now homeless, or out of work, for businesses destroyed, this won’t be over for a long time. That’s when it hit us....

 

We are never truly “safe”.

 

Home again, we toyed with the idea of where we might relocate to that’s perfectly safe. Someplace without wildfires? That would eliminate the entire west coast. Someplace with no earthquakes? Hmmmm.... Someplace with no hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, ice storms, blizzards??

 

We soon realized the futility of focusing on being "safe".

 

There is actually a house in our neighborhood in Keene, NH that was a strange anomaly. It was totally made with concrete, slightly reminiscent of Brutalist architecture. A couple had built it and lived there, the story was, who were extremely paranoid about fire. So they build a house that was completely fire-proof, and felt completely safe.

 

They died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston, in 1942.

 

This sobering story is not meant to inflate your fears and misgivings. The thing is, we all walk on thin ice, every single day.  We just don’t know it! Every day, we may get that phone call, that evacuation notice, we may hear the shrill wail of dozens of sirens, or see the very flames that will drive us from our shelter.

 

But we can’t live like that.

 

In the middle of all this, I sent an email to someone at the wrong address. Three other people saw it, as they passed it on and on to the next person, before it got to the recipient. I was pretty embarrassed, and wished I’d been more careful….

 

Until I saw these words in one person’s signature line:

 

"If only this, then music. If only now, forever takes wing." *

 

In the middle of this conflagration, in the middle of our anxious days, this destruction, a stupid mistake on my part let something heartbreakingly beautiful cross my path.

 

For me, I hear, “This moment is enough. This experience will stay with me forever, if I chose to see its beauty, and if I hold it in my heart. All we ever have is “now”. Be here for it!”

 

(You, of course, may hear something different. That’s poetry.)

 

I’m not to saying, “Don’t worry so much” because that’s not helpful, or even possible. When I wrote last week about finding a tiny space of peace in the midst of chaos, I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t be devastated if we actually had lost our home, or my studio. (I keep telling people, I am not the Buddha.)

 

I just realized that worrying about it was useless, draining, unproductive. It’s just my buzzy lizard brain screaming, “DO SOMETHING! FIX THIS! FIGURE IT OUT!!!”

 

Our brains are hard-wired to solve problems. We instinctively try to find perfect, permanent solutions to whatever we face in life. Our brain spins and buzzes, trying to do the impossible.

 

When we recognize that, perhaps we can make different choices. My choice? I went to my studio, and found some peace.

 

Art and creativity, in all its forms, restores us to our higher selves.

 

If we are granted even a few moments of peace, a sparkle of joy, a ray of hope, it can inspire quiet grace. If we breathe deep, let go of the notion we can control every aspect of our lives, we can be open to those precious moments, those tiny gifts that help us go on.

 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, shown a light on people who refused to give up their humanity under horrible conditions, thus giving us all a ray of hope. Solzhenitsyn chose survival. Did that make him less-than? No! Because his choice gave him the chance to share these acts with us. Through his creative work, his voice helped us hear those other voices, which otherwise would have been lost.

 

Moments of courage and kindnesses, great and small, are found in the ashes of concentration camps. Stories of crucial forgiveness (not excusing, but letting go) allowed for the restoration of Rwanda. In the middle of a firestorm, someone gave a ride to others fleeing the fire. Someone opened their home to those who had lost theirs. In the aftermath, a local pub fed its guests, and even the waiters put their tips into the donation bucket.

 

Tiny, magnificent acts of grace, and compassion, and courage.

 

I don’t know if I would have the courage to enter a burning building, or the compassion to give up my bit of food to another, or to let go of anger when someone else deliberately harms me.

 

But I am grateful for those who do, for those who give me the knowledge that our human history is full of moments like these.

 

They give me hope. They make me want to be better.

 

Making my art, and sharing my words, is a tiny way for me to restore me to myself. And in the process, maybe I can give hope and encouragement to others.

 

The message is loud and clear: Our creative work, the work of our heart, matters. Our art heals ourselves, gets us to our best place in the world. In our ART, we are safe.

 

And when we share that with the world, it can save and heal others, too.

 

If you can, go to your studio/kitchen/garden/shop/dance floor today. If not today, then soon. Be fearless with your art. Then share it with the world. Give a little courage, and hope, and solace, today. We need it, desperately.

 

 

*Thanks to Cynthi Stefenoni, she graciously gave permission for me to share her words, part of a poem she’s written. (Yes, I’ve been twisting her arm to publish the entire work!)

 

 

-------------------------------------------

 

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Related Posts:

FIRE SEASON

LESSONS FROM MY PETS: Nick the Problem Dog

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! My birthday wish for you.

Trust Your Process


Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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 38 Comments

Laura D Jones
via faso.com
Luann,
I enjoyed and was touched by your post this time. I wished there was a 'share' button so I could share it with many people I know that can use the encouragement in their lives. It was a wonderful view - I am always thinking we live on a violent planet in this large universe where we bravely go on in spite of that - in our fragile yet strong humanity we face, and overcome, tremendous struggles that are out of our control, yet not beyond our capability for resilience and survival.

MaryAnita Winklea
via faso.com
Thank you Luann for this beautiful reminder.

Lynne D Painter
via faso.com
So beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Laura, first, thank you for sharing your your thoughts!
Second, you can always copy-and-paste the url to share, but I'll also submit your suggestion to the FASO tech team. They are AWESOME, and it's a great idea!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
MaryAnita and Lynne, I'm so glad it resonates with you! It's hard to gather my thoughts these last few weeks (and we just got another notice that fire hazards will still be in effect next week--oy!!) So it's especially restorative to hear it all made sense. :^)

Bobbi Eddy
via faso.com
Thank you Luann--I needed that reminder, (for a variety of reasons) and the timing was perfect! Today, I plan to paint..........



TARA FUNK GRIM
via faso.com
Your two posts about the fire were heartfelt and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

Suzanne
via faso.com
Just a thank you, that's all.

Joanne Ehlers
via faso.com
This is the most beautiful words I have ever heard.
We get so caught up in mundane things, we don't stop to think about the tradegys until they happen, then we forget, until the next time.
My heart always goes out, when I see loss of homes and lives
due to weather related happenings.
It's true, there is no place that is safe, we must just live in the moment and enjoy every precious day.
Thank you for sharing this story.

Dan Bondroff
via faso.com
That was awesome! I needed to read this today. Now I need to get to the studio.

Marie Thompson
via faso.com
Luann, I have always enjoyed reading your articles. We are all sorry for the stress you have been under lately. This idea may not have totally solved the problem that you and your neighbors encountered recently. My late husband, Tommy Thompson, used to tell me that his uncle who was a member of the U.S. Forest Service always said that many forest fires could be prevented if the "environmentalists" would not prevent qualified foresters from conducting regular controlled burns to remove underbrush in forests that provides extra fuel to fires, making this type of situation more devastating.

Esther J. Williams
via faso.com
Luann, I loved reading your story, it hit home in several ways. I was up there last week to see family and friends. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the friend in Napa who was almost a victim of the fire as she was besides herself in exhaustion and anger. She just wanted to be left alone to heal. So we stayed in Sebastopol for a few days in an Airbnb cottage. We had previously spent
four days in the San Francisco Bay area visiting family, so I finally found a morning paint alone along a wharf in Bodega Bay. The freedom and sense of peace I felt was huge after seeing all the devastation in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa. I wanted to paint a fishing boat on the water, it gave me a feeling of safety. The air was moist with heavy fog and smelled sweet of fresh fish underwater. It was early morning without tons of people, so I went into to my muse uninterrupted. My plein air painting is what I need to feel complete and shut out the wories of life. Funny coincidence happened though, right at the last fifteen minutes I was approached by a man who said he was a Santa Rosa fire victim. He was homeless and just had his Jeep left which he slept in at the Doran Campground. He told me a story which brought me back to reality about the fires and losing everything one has except the clothes on your back. I left there humbled and shocked for what he went through. I stopped in Bodega too the night before and saw a bunch of cars parked with people going into the Casino. My husband and I thought it must be a hopping place only we decided to head back to our cottage. We already had clam chowder and fish n chips down on the Bay.
I'm sorry for all that your community has gone through and very grateful you and many others were spared. I rode through many country roads there back in the sixties when my dad would take us from Napa to Bodega Bay on Sundays in the summer. I go there several times a year now. It's quieting to my soul to see so much is still there, unharmed. I pray for all to be safe and nature to be contained. I must spend time and paint there and in Napa just to relive my memories and create new works of art.

Susan D Gutting
via faso.com
This may be the best thing you have written yet.
Beautifully expressed.

Nancy Reyna
via faso.com
You are a wise woman, Luann! My own response to someone else's acts, creations, and words, reminds me that mine can also affect others. Since my art connects me to my self, even to my highest self, then it can offer some of the love, hope and grace that I experience. And that is good, it's valuable. I sometimes lose sight of that, the value, for others, of what I have to give; and for myself, of what I do.

Sue Visker
via faso.com
Thank you for sharing. I lived in Napa for 6 years, so all that you are talking about hits home for me. I'm also glad you didn't loose your home but it doesn't mean the fire doesn't affect you. Keep doing your art. I believe sharing it in your community now is very important. I enjoy and I am thankful that the love for each other, out there, is big.

Lynne D Painter
via faso.com
Luann, I hope you don't mind, but since you told Laura how to copy and past the url in order to share, I did so and shared on my FB page, giving you credit not only as an accomplished artist, but also someone who has the gift for writing. I told my family and friends this was well worth taking the time to read. Sending much love and blessings your way.

Aleada Aine Siragusa
via faso.com
Beautifully written Luann thank you for this. Life can be so fragile, certainly we have as a country been shown this in the last few months. This is why we show kindness to the people who enter our lives. It is called Grace, given without expectation of gain we grow our own humanity and our soul also. It is a choice.

I had a faulty fan come down in my babies room when she was a month old, my husband was holding her and just stepped away when it fell. The manufacturer had used bad metal in the connection.

While I was cleaning the top on a new set of kitchen cabinets they started to separate from the wall and came crashing down just beyond where I stood. Our daughter at the time was two and we were all thankful she was not in the kitchen at the time. The cabinets fell because the builder used the wrong screws in installing them.

So I understand the concept of not feeling safe even at home. We have had a few other near misses that make for good stories a mountain lion and fires but I just needed to say, we are all fragile on this earth and being aware of this and cherishing every day makes it all worthwhile.

God bless you in dealing with this fire and since you love the written word, I leave you with this:
Auguries of Innocence BY WILLIAM BLAKE
Joy and Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine


Susan Butler
via faso.com
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm struggling (at 70) to set up a new studio and start again creating art (the story is too long for here). Its so difficult that I decided to start with a new website and selling online. Otherwise, I just may quit because I'm thinking it doesn't make any difference whether I paint or not. Who cares?
There must be someone out there in web land that does. You've given me the confidence that there is!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Bobbi, glad you got to your easel today!

Tara, thank you for letting me know, it means so much to me.

Suzanne, you took the time to thank you. That's huge! :^)

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Joanne, I am humbled by your words. They come spilling out of me every Monday, and I never know how they will be received. Your response has lifted my heart today!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Dan, so glad you went to your studio today! The world will be a better place.

Marie, I just spoke about this very topic today during my open studio. I remember it being a 'thing' in the '70's or '80's, and now it's become passe. But not really, just harder to implement.In this case, the BIGGEST factor in the ferocity of the fires was a) high winds, gusting up to 68mph, all night; b) an extremely wet winter that spurred tremendous plant growth that then c) dried out during an extremely dry summer, added more fuel to the fire. And d) a lack of manpower and resources, because so many other fires that threatened other populated areas, our fire got 'neglected' for the first critical days. Just a perfect storm of extremes that created a fire that actually burned three neighborhoods in Santa Rosa.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Esther, thank you for adding your experiences and memories to the mix. Yes, the coast had many refugees this past week, some temporary, some not. Sonoma County has many, many parks and access points to the ocean on the coast, mostly free to all. Such a gift when the heart aches!

Many of us feel strangely exhausted in the aftermatch, and though life returns to normal for many of us, "normal" is going to be out of reach for hundreds, thousands of people. But I was surprised how many people turned out for Art Trails, and how restorative my studio was for visitors. My small gift back to my community.... :^)

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Susan, I am truly humbled by your words. Thank you!!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Nancy, you got it! I will write about it again from time to time, because this simple truth is so easy for us to forget. I'm delighted you found your own truth in the article, restored to you.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Sue, I took your advice today! My studio was filled with visitors all day, we talked and talked and talked, and yet I managed to put together a few pairs of earrings! I felt like I was in the right place at the right time for all who came by.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Lynne, and I took your suggestion for a "share" button and passed it on to the FASO team today! I'm honored you shared it with your audience, thank you!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Aleada, first I have to say HOLY COW!!!! So glad you and yours survived your own house!! AND fires?? And MOUNTAIN LIONS????

Thank you for sharing those beautiful words by Blake, they sent shivers down my back!


Luann Udell
via faso.com
Susan, I'm glad you are striving to make space for making art. It can feel overwhelming, but once you can make your work, you will feel stronger and restored to yourself.

Re: Marketing and online sales, I've dropped the ball for months now, since our second move (in 3 years!!) this spring. We had to move so quickly, boxes are still piled to the ceiling in our shed, and I can't find anything. And now knee surgery next week--oy!!

But I try to view marketing/selling online as simply another way for my audience to find me. And to do "bits" every day, just like eating an elephant--one bite at a time.

(OTOH, I would never willingly eat an elephant. Maybe we should change that metaphor to a 30 lb. bar of chocolate... Although, to be fair, I could do that in one sitting.)

Nancy
via faso.com
So glad you did not lose your home. Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written and I will share with my friends in Rockport.

Sharon Coffman
via faso.com
Luann, once again, your words resonate with me and I realize the wise message you share is one I have to internalize. Safety and control are merely illusions as there are a multitude of forces over which we have no control.
After Hurricane Irma completed her destructive path through Florida, my reptilian brain returned again and again to thoughts of "where can we go to be safe." Maybe the high desert of New Mexico, I thought. Maybe, maybe, maybe ...
But your beautiful words made me reflect on the gracious acts of kindness I witnessed after the storm, acts that connect us to the resilience and courage of the human spirit.
My response again today will be to return to my studio to create in the face of uncertainty.
And that fantasy home of mine in the high desert away from natural disasters could just likely be the very point where that Chinese satellite could make landfall!
Good luck with the knee surgery next week. And keep writing.

Cheryl C. Rogers
via faso.com
Very, very well said! Thank you!

Susann CateLynn
via faso.com
Your words are so inspirational; thank you. You articulate so beautifully.
You remind me of a favorite quote of mine, that I try to live by:
-Everything is what it is, and the only difference anything makes, is my attitude towards it.” Which I take to mean that we have a choice in how we feel and respond, to everything.
Namasté.



Catherine Martinez
via faso.com
Thank you for writing this post. We live in a culture for which "big sizing" includes what acts of love and courage we are judged to have performed. Some people respond by wondering whether their contribution of sane, creative daily living is enough. I say it is. To continue, is an act of love and courage. Returning home is an act of love and courage.

Bruce
via faso.com
You've given me the Impetus to move on with writing, to share my thoughts with others just as you have done in this post! If I can touch just one person among many, then I will consider that to be worth my efforts!


Luann Udell
via faso.com
Nancy, thank you for passing on my article!

Sharon, I'm glad you received clarity and peace in your heart. And OMG, the satellite...yikes, you're right! :^D

Cheryl, I would thank you for your thank you, but as my mother said years ago, where would it end?? But I'm delighted you enjoyed my article. :^)

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Susann, this state of mind is impossible to hold 24/7, but yes, it's a good one to strive for!

Catherine, YES, there is beauty and power in even the smallest action taken with courage and love. Nicely said!

Good on you, Bruce! Write because you have something to say, and share. I look forward to seeing where you go with this.

Chuck Clevenger
via faso.com
Luann, I was touched by the depth, empathy, and wisdom of your post. There is a quality in your writing -- and it is transferrable to the other arts -- that I want to characterize as "eloquence." Your words are restorative.

God bless you,
~Chuck

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Chuck, what a lovely compliment! You have lifted my heart today. Thank you!










 

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