Once again, Liz Dexter has done me a favor by featuring eDitmore Editorial Services in her “Small Business Chat Update” on her LibroEditing website. Hard to believe, but this is the seventh time I’ve participated in these chats, which Liz began to help small business owners learn from each other.
Over the years, I have found these updates extremely beneficial as they prompt me to take stock in my past year and think about the future. This year provided an even bigger opportunity—a chance to publicly discuss some traumatic experiences that happened in my community in November. Answering Liz’s questionnaire allowed me to put those events in some sort of perspective about how they affected me and my work. As I told Liz, these events taught me lessons I never wanted to learn about how trauma and stress can affect my ability to focus, which is essential to editing and writing.
Tragedy, Followed by Tragedy
In November, a gunman walked into Borderline, a popular nightspot in a few miles from my house and murdered twelve people, including a sheriff’s deputy and a young woman who was a student at Pepperdine University, where my husband is a professor and my son is a student. Less than 24 hours later, wildfires ripped through both sides of our southern California community, threatening our home in Newbury Park and thousands of others in surrounding cities and neighborhoods. My husband and I were rousted out of bed by a 3 a.m. phone call warning us that the our neighborhood was in danger and in a mandatory evacuation zone, so we packed up what we could and left. Our son spent a long day and night helping to run an emergency shelter at the Pepperdine campus in Malibu, as flames from the Woolsey fire burned to the edge of campus and within a few yards of his apartment.
We were able to return to our home in less than 24 hours, but the fires continued to burn for days, shifting and growing as high winds whipped them unpredictably, pushing them in new directions. Although our neighborhood and the Pepperdine campus ultimately were spared from major damage, the fires burned through large swaths of the community, killing three people, destroying more than 1,000 homes, and scorching tens of thousands of acres of state and national parkland, campgrounds, hiking trails, vineyards, and open space.
It’s difficult to adequately describe the impact these overlapping events had on our lives and on the lives of our friends and neighbors. Thousand Oaks is a fairly small place, so it felt like everyone knew someone who died or was in the club at the time of the shooting. Our son knew two of the young men who were killed and others who had escaped by jumping through second-floor windows. And everyone had a story to tell about leaving their homes in the middle of the night or as flames roared toward them. About 75% of Thousand Oaks and neighboring cities were under mandatory evacuation orders at some point during the Hill and Woolsey fires.
A couple of nights after we had been allowed back into our neighborhood, my husband and I attended a memorial for one of the young men who had been killed. We stood in the park where our children had played many a soccer game, listening to a grieving father while we watched water-dropping helicopters attacking flames that had topped a nearby ridge.
Although my family and our home remained physically safe, I was deeply shaken by both the shooting and the fires, and I found it impossible to concentrate enough to edit or write for several weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about the grieving families or seeking out information about the fires or visiting damaged sites. Fortunately, my clients were completely understanding—coincidentally, two of them were authors writing about traumatic events in their lives, and one gave me advice about dealing with my own stress.
I was able to focus and work again eventually, but it took me much longer than I had expected. Ultimately, I learned that I cannot force concentration in times of stress and that berating myself for my lack of productivity only makes things worse. I had to give time and attention to myself, my family, and my immediate community before I could find any attention span for work.
I know these kinds of events do not affect everyone the same way, so I can’t compare myself to how someone else reacts. But I have realized that I simply must respect my own feelings and start from there.
It’s been a tough lesson to learn—and it’s one I hope I don’t have to practice very often.