• Emily Arden Design

Fire Starter

I lit a fire last night. And believe me, you’ve never seen fire-making quite like this...



The house my dad and I lived in burned when I was a kid. It was one of thousands, during the Oakland Hills Fire of '91.


I haven’t been comfortable lighting anything on fire ever since.

We weren’t home, and no one was hurt, thank goodness. Miraculously, and very much in pre cell phone times, we were somehow even able to connect with my mom and that side of my family after evacuation. We had been on vacation (In Bakersfield, of all places, to see Christo + Jeanne-Claude's Umbrellas. Not exactly the Disneyland of every little girl's dreams, but makes so much sense now, if you know me, and the trajectory of my career! Site-specific art, anyone?!)


We could start to see massive amounts of smoke from quite far away, as we drove back towards home. And my recollection is that we turned the radio on as the person reporting pinpointed our almost exact street location as one that was being engulfed in flames. (I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it’s been part of my story of that day, all these years.)

Side note, I drove through Bakersfield again a few months ago, during COVID and also during the most recent bout of raging CA wildfires. On top of the eerie, apocalyptic feeling so many of us are having these days, it also was the first time I can remember where I did have a moment of catching my breath, feeling... something, about that day.

Otherwise, I don’t think about it much.

I don’t talk to people about it much, either. My sense is that the collective pain of that time was covered over, healed, just as the scarred hillsides eventually were. I am not consciously aware of any lasting effects. But apparently, becoming totally fire-shy is how little-me manifested the trauma. And it’s been stuck, deep in my bones, all this time.


I didn’t light candles until my late 20s.

And literally last night was the first time I’ve started a fire. Ever. [Ironically, though, I've always collected matchbooks - like from restaurants, hotels, etc. Figure that one out, Freud!] Don’t get me wrong, I love the romantic glow of candlelight. Bonfires by the water are some of my favorite high school memories. I love sitting around a campfire as much as the next person. I just have this completely irrational fear of being the one doing the lighting.


I haven’t ever thought of it as something that’s been holding me back. [Although now that I think about it, we had just moved in, it was a rented house, and we never went back, so perhaps the lack of closure stayed with me?] What I do know is that letting go of it feels big. In a way I can’t yet fully comprehend. It feels big and monumental on its own, and also part of the larger transformation that’s been taking place within me these past few months. I wasn’t actively trying to ‘cure’ my fire fear. It was simply a natural progression, a part of my chrysalis state. Do caterpillars know they are becoming butterflies before their wings appear?


What better time than now - than the end of this shitty year - to let go, release all that’s not serving us, and fly into the life we have only up to this point dreamed about... right? I couldn't think of a better metaphor for this forward momentum, than lighting my first fire.

My colleague/friend - a filmmaker - suggested I document the experience. It’s not something I ever would have thought to do before. I feel completely vulnerable. And. I’m choosing to share it anyways, because it’s all part of my truth journey. This is who I am.



An after thought: The fact that I am struggling so intensely in the video [and having a major Amelia Badelia moment - shout out to all the kids + parents who get that reference!] with this seemingly simply task [and believe me this is the edited version!] maybe offers a little perspective...


We all operate from our own place of knowing / feeling / experiencing. We can’t ever know how or why someone is showing up the way they are. Sometimes we don't even know why we are reacting the way we are.


What we can do, is work to meet each other [and ourselves] with grace and compassion. <3

Thank you to C + A, my third family, for the compassion and moral support you offered me, in walking me through my fire-starting lesson. I'll be lighting another one soon.


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