On Fire

malibufire
Orange glow over Santa Monica Mountains south from Woodland Hills to Malibu, about 15 miles away.

Smoking In Bed is supposed to be funny.  Of course, it’s up to  the reader to decide if it’s actually humorous on purpose or by accident.  But no matter. My “agent” tells me this blog should be funny too, at least a bit, to showcase the humorous aspect of my writing and prove it’s not all random.  Unfortunately, when I sit down to write, whatever is on my mind, which is in itself random, is the subject matter.  And sometimes, no matter what, what’s on my mind isn’t funny at all.

So, it’s Blogsday Wednesday and the winds are dying down, the same off-shore winds blowing from the desert that fanned the original spark in Bell Canyon (5 miles from our home) that quickly evolved into the Woolsey fire that has so far consumed over almost 100,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and devastated tens of thousands of lives.  And then there was the Camp fire up north that wiped the town of Paradise, CA off the map. Over 50 lives have been lost to these fires.

Most of those who lost homes or had to evacuate are not known to us.  Regular people, living their lives, working hard to maybe buy a house and make it into a home with a family.  And they lost all of that in an instant.  The lucky ones escaped with their lives and their families and pets.

firehiddenhills
Smoke from the Woolsey fire threatening the community of Hidden Hills, as seen over the 101 Freeway.

A lot of very expensive properties owned by wealthy and sometimes famous individuals were lost in the flames.  Some older people who made their money in entertainment and other businesses, younger families who have had financial success, several movie stars, and one of my personal heroes, Neil Young.  Some people have less empathy for these folks because they can’t relate to that kind of wealth.  But that shouldn’t matter. Losing everything hurts, even if you have the means to rebuild, and have homes elsewhere.  Of course, that might make it easier to bear such a loss.

But just because the land is expensive doesn’t mean all the people on it are rich.  Near Sequoia Springs, a small community somewhere in the mountains near Malibu, an entire mobile home community burned to the ground, turning many middle-income families homeless.  In Thousand Oaks, the community hit hard a week ago by a mass shooting at a popular local bar, 100,000 people had to evacuate.  100,000!  That’s bigger than most towns in the US.  People of all kinds and all levels of  income.

I’ve been thinking about these people, at the same time trying to figure out what the heck I was trying to say in my novel, Smoking In Bed, because we have a reading this week at Book Soup in West Hollywood, and my “agent” cautioned that someone may ask what the hell it all means.

Back in college and graduate school, we’d spend entire classes, days, weeks, months, discussing books and asking, over and over again, what did the writer mean when he wrote this?  Of course, sometimes the writer meant literally what is written on the page.  But most of the time there is an underlying theme, or motivation, or message in any written work, especially fiction, that might not be spelled out in so many words.

That’s when I realized, not long ago, that the interconnectedness of all humans, and the “interbeing” (see Thich Nhat Hanh) of all entities and things, is really what I’m writing about. And come to think of it, this might be what I’m always writing about.  Maybe what we’re all writing about.  Sure, we might talk about relationships, or politics, or sex , or theater, or publishing… the point is, all of these things are also interconnected.  If you write about people, you are probably going to at least touch on many of these things and others.  So rather than being about any particular thing, Smoking In Bed is about how we are all interconnected at least in part THROUGH those things.

Kiki and I live 3 miles from an evacuated area, and less than 4 miles from an active fire zone. We drive through Calabasas to Mailibu through Malibu Canyon almost weekly.  The entire area is burned. The wind was not blowing in our direction, which is the only reason I’m sitting here writing this instead of staying with friends until the evacuation is lifted.  Just a little thing like wind direction. The Butterfly Effect.  But even if someone is closer to the butterfly and feels the effects more, it still affects everyone.  For instance, right now, you’re reading about those people losing everything and it affects you even if you’re 2,000 miles away.

The Butterfly Effect is a physical phenomenon, whereas interbeing is emotional, energetic or spiritual.  Written words in L.A. may not lead to a larger effect that eventually changes the weather in Chicago, but words written well can have an effect on someone reading them far, far away.

That said, it would be great to reach a point in social evolution where people want to take care of each other and care about each other without needing a disaster first.

To end on a positive note, when I was in law school, I took a class called Law and Literature. Yes, I thought it would be an easy A.  It was, sort of.  At least compared to Property I.  It was one of my favorite classes.  We read a lot of books and short stories, including “Billy Budd” and “World’s Fair.”  Herman Melville died before Billy Budd was published. Fortunately the great 29th Century novelist E.L.Doctorow (“World’s Fair,” “Ragtime”) was at this time still living in New York City and teaching at the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

pyramindslaguna
Escaping the smoke we visit The Not-So-Great Pyramids of Laguna: what did they mean, anyway?

My law professor, Dr. Richard something or other, I’ll remember eventually, oh yeah, Weisberg, called Doctorow to invite him to our discussion of his novel.  This was a seminar of 12 students.  Doctorow came to our class (it was an evening session) and sat at the conference table with us.  He was a soft-spoken, nice, slightly unkempt older Jewish man with a Bronx accent.  We had already discussed his book the week before so we all had some questions, which he patiently answered, and Prof. Weisberg and he discussed writing in general and how law or legal concepts may have informed some of his writing.  I frankly don’t remember most of the discussion or why we read that particular book although I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.

What I do remember is that toward the end of the class, Prof. Weisberg asked all of the students to ask a question, based on our discussions, about the meanings or messages of the book or what a particular character might represent, or what part of the author was reflected in any of the main characters.  And we all took our turns, asking a form of the question “is that what you meant” in this passage, or chapter, or whatever?  These were based on our discussions from the week before, and we had a pretty good feeling that we completely got this book!

I mean, here was our chance!  After years of literature classes deciphering the works of Shakespeare, Twain, Stendhal, Flaubert, James, with no way of  confirming our thoughts and theories of what these great minds were trying to say, here was the chance to ask an important and influential writer, “isn’t that what you meant here?”

And one by one, nicely but directly, Mr. Doctorow, when asked if that was what he meant, responded.  “No.  Not exactly.”  Pretty much every time.

Which makes one question the point of English Literature classes, since you can talk about what someone meant but you can never really know, and sometimes, the writer doesn’t know what he or she meant either.  I don’t.  But I’m starting to get a handle on it.  And maybe one day I’ll be able to explain.

That’s all for this week.   Hope everyone reading this is safe, and please do your best to stay that way.

Please come on down to Book Soup on Sunday, November 18 at 3 p.m. so you can try to figure out what I meant.

Smoking In Bed reading at Book Soup!

Also, the updated paperback with the new cover is now available on Amazon, along with the kindle ebook.

Smoking In Bed – available on Amazon.com

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