Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More




Flames In My Rearview Mirror

Santa Barbara, California, USA

October 11, 2017



"The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent." ... Stanley Kubrick

This essay, Flames In My Rearview Mirror, is the sixteenth in a group of sixteen written in Santa Barbara:
  1. Santa Barbara
  2. Unbelievable
  3. Give Me Money (That's What I Want?)
  4. True Gold
  5. Getting Into Your World
  6. You Say Stop: About Resisting Transformation
  7. The Cavalry's Not Coming
  8. On This Team Everyone's The Leader
  9. Fireside Chat
  10. The Next Best Thing
  11. Full Circle, Full Spiral
  12. Truth, And What's True
  13. Snowflakes In A Furnace
  14. Something In The Air
  15. Vocal Prowess
  16. Flames In My Rearview Mirror
in that order.

It is also the second in a trilogy on the North Bay Firestorm:
  1. What You Can't Live Without
  2. Flames In My Rearview Mirror
  3. Repainting Life On A (Suddenly) New Canvas
in that order.

The trilogy on the North Bay Firestorm is the prequel to Still Standing Still.




It's a question you and I never ordinarily consider we'll ever have to answer. No kidding! The question is "What's the right time to evacuate from a firestorm?". It has variants like "Should we stay longer?" and "Should we get out now?". There's also the unimaginable  "When is too late too  late?". Well, I figured it out: the answer is a matter of risk tolerance. Although conditions were not exactly hospitable (try living with your head wrapped in a wet bandana for three days, including when you sleep ... and that's chickenshit  compared to having to shelter all night nose deep in a swimming pool as flames roar overhead), things were starkly quiet and peaceful. I was actually getting a lot of work done which I always said I would do if I only had "more time" to do it (and who would have ever thought that the "more time" I got to do it, would look like this?). There was a stark, severe, spartan  component to it all which (strangely) brought out awe, reverence, and even inspiration in me.

If your risk tolerance is low, you may get out sooner. If your risk tolerance is high, you may wait and try to stick it out. When it comes to investing for example, I'm not high risk. I'm quite pedestrian actually. I'll go for lower yielding reliable returns rather than possible high risk windfalls. But I've no experience of my risk tolerance under threat of the worst firestorm in California's living history (who does?) so the level of how much of this  risk I'm willing to tolerate, gradually came into focus.

Long after thousands of others evacuated, I stayed three days, not sleeping at all, getting up every half hour around the clock to go outside and check for windblown embers and sparks, and to see if the huge walls of flame were getting any closer. What finally got me to leave didn't come from observing any of the above.

In the end, what got me to leave wasn't the imminent threat of the fire itself. What got me to leave was the dwindling choices of escape routes. It was the inexorable closing of the roads out of harm's way which had become risky to a point beyond my tolerable risk. One by one (as I watched the local news) the roads out of the Napa Valley were closed as they were consumed by fire. When there was only one  road open if a rapid evacuation became necessary, I decided it was time. Really.

Photography by Breakthrough Racing

Laguna Seca, California, USA

June 1979
Werner Erhard

Packing was no problem. I'd already completed that interestingly, painstakingly, carefully discriminating task days ago. I rearranged things (just as I would have before any other departure) ensuring they'd be just the way I like them when I return. I looked around one more time (just as I would have before any other departure) to see if I'd missed anything. Then I locked the door behind me, wondering what I'd find when I return (which I've never done before any other departure), and slowly walked to my car, got in and set off down Hillside Drive calmly and ordinarily as if I was driving to the village to do an errand.

Flames in my rearview mirror starkly underscored a past which until just a few meager days earlier, was never going to have been there. Now they dictated an unwavering order for an impelling future which was also once never going to happen. Here's what's interesting: that future is one which is now given to me, and yet I'll still have to invent it out of nothing. I had already begun contemplating images of the phoenix rising out of her ashes - but it's too soon  for that, yes? There are other things which will have to come first. And even though I'm not yet clear what they will be, it's 1,000% certain they're coming my way.

Driving the first thirty miles out of the Napa Valley along that one last open road together with everyone else who'd also exceeded their critical risk tolerance level and were also leaving, took two hours. Then, three hours after that, I noticed a strange smell coming into my car. So I rolled down the window trying to determine what it was. It was fresh air! Just fresh  air. Delighted, I breathed lungfuls of it over and over and over again, like someone who'd just traversed the Sahara desert on foot may gulp fresh water ... and that's when I really knew  things were going to be alright. I reached Santa Barbara two hours later where my daughter Alexandra had left a key to her place for me, took a shower, lay down on the couch, and immediately fell asleep for almost twenty four hours straight. It was one of the best sleeps I've ever experienced in my entire life.

Santa Barbara on any occasion is a great place to be. I'm in no hurry to leave. Much of what I do in the Napa Valley is contingent on showing visitors around the wine country, a business which for obvious reasons is now (temporarily) on hold. This is a good time to stay, a good time to enjoy Santa Barbara, to enjoy every proud parent's fulfilling "three sixty": being hosted by their own children, and to write here and conduct my business from here for while. I could get used to this. Seriously.

This is a tipping point. Really  this is a tipping point - of historic, epic  proportions. We talk about tipping points in life without having any real facility with the term. If you look up "tipping point" in the dictionary, you may see a photograph of the North Bay firestorm. This is truly life altering. How it alters your life and how it alters my life, will pivot ie will tip on the choices we make from now on, inventing a future from which to live (that's not a typo, by the way: I do mean "a future from  which to live not "a future into  which to live"). Flames in my rearview mirror, is the past. Straight ahead is nothing, the empty future, the space to live from, what's next.

This is the universe in which we live, Ladies and Gentlemen. Firestorms aren't out of place. Neither is our fear of them nor our powerlessness over them (not that the latter two win the universe's pity, mind you). The universe isn't hostile: it's simply indifferent  (as Stanley Kubrick may have said). Nature is a fierce trainer sometimes.



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