A Stolen Laptop, a Cautionary Tale & a Phoenix

Some Gold Mined From the Hardest Lessons

Photo by Ben White

“Where are the cars parked?” I asked the valet attendant.

“Behind the restaurant, inside a garage,” he said.

“So it’s secure? I have my computer in here,” I said.

“Yes,” he said and nodded.

For whatever reason, I felt safe enough to take his word for it. To trust.

Two hours later, you guessed it, when the same driver brought my car back around, the passenger window had been shattered and the one thing taken out of my car was the leather bag containing my MacBook Pro, which had been placed in the dark bag on the black floor, in a locked car inside their secured garage. To say I was suspicious was an understatement. And, believe me, I didn’t like feeling that way. I believe in people. I trust in people.

I’d like to say I was clear-minded, pummeling questions at the driver and his manager. I’d like to say I had the wherewithal to investigate. Instead, I crumbled, right there on the street outside The Village restaurant in Studio City. Thankfully I was with my dear friend who had a much clearer head than I did. She supervised the situation and helped me navigate.

She said, “Please tell me you’re backed up.” The blood drained from my face. Mouth cotton dry. Crying loudly on Ventura Blvd. Feeling stupid and angry at myself and then scared about the unknowns that surrounded me. Who took it? Why did they take it? Was it just for the hardware? Identity theft? It was a deep pit in my stomach.

This is what violation felt like.

Because here’s the thing. I knew the instant my computer was gone that I hadn’t properly backed it up. And, so much was lost. Beyond the photos and memories, so much deep writing. Gone. A novel I’d been working on. Gone, along with all of my notes. Drafts of screenplays. First drafts of articles not yet published. So much creation. Gone.

Then, I entered the phase of police reports and insurance claims and inquiries with the valet company and changing passwords and Lifelock memberships and phone calls to Apple and texts and calls from family and friends offering support and advice and shoulders.

This was what violation felt like. This is what being the victim of crime felt like.

And, because I have no idea if the computer was wiped clean right away or if the thieves took a tour of my virtual home, I vacillated, still vacillate, between feeling like my virtual house went up in flames, and feeling like I’m stark naked with my intimate personal info stamped across my forehead as the sleazy characters stroll leisurely around, looking at me and everything else, and I can’t cover myself up or do anything about it.

I honestly think, after a week of wondering, that it’s the former of those two scenarios. Hardware wiped clean and sold. I’m actually now praying that’s what happened.

Also, in my computer bag were three journals, two old ones, some of the source material for the memoir I’m writing, along with my newest one. I had them all with me because that morning I spent some really great time writing at Coffee Bean before heading into the office.

The memoir, and all files associated it with it, also gone. Although, the first saving grace in all of this, and there are several, is I emailed myself a draft about a month ago. Grace.

Another, for which I’m so grateful, I still have my old laptop. So, older files, photos, original drafts and records are still there. For whatever reason, it doesn’t really matter now what it was, I didn’t back up my new one, for the past 2.5 years.

I went home that night and powered up my old laptop. And, in the midst of my heartbreak, which I couldn’t yet define, a warm feeling came over me, like after being embraced by an old friend. That old 15-inch Mac, my old faithful, with the wallpaper painting that always made me smile — Vladimir Kush’s Diary of Discoveries — gave me a place to land that night. It felt like restart point, or at least a familiar resting point.

And, then, after a couple of long days and sleepless nights, when I wanted to journal again, I pulled out an old favorite and started in the middle where I’d left off back then, 15 years earlier.

We Join This Program Already in Progress

It got me thinking about where I was after the loss. My first thought was that I had to start over, with all that was gone. But, the truth is I was starting over mid-scene. Mid-step. In the middle of the dance. Midsentence. In progress. As in, we are joining this program already in progress.

I can’t pick up where I left off because where I left off, as it was all written, doesn’t exist anymore.

I found myself wanting to dig and see what was there, what is still there, of what I’d created. What would rise out of the ashes of those lost files, forgotten words once expressed to be revisited another time, characters developed, broken down plots, heroines and heroes conceived and nurtured until they were on their own, photographs flashed to capture moments now passed.

I closed my eyes and suddenly the image of a phoenix appeared before me.

The Phoenix Rises

A phoenix is a magnificent, mythical bird with wild colorful plumes that burns itself to ashes every 500 years and then is born again, signifying regeneration and renewal. If someone or something is a phoenix, it means they return again after seeming to disappear or be destroyed. Out of the ashes of the disaster, a phoenix of recovery can rise.

What happens to the phoenix after it rises? What becomes of the ashes? Does a phoenix go back and sift through its ashes for remnants of what was left behind? All questions coursing through my mind.

“You’ve seen my descent, now watch my rising.” ~ Rumi

What is my phoenix?

I had dinner the next night with some dear friends, all of whom are successful writers, working professionals. I love these dinners. We’ve been getting together, the same group, for 18 years. We always do an around-the-table catch-up and it’s been a joy to be alongside them as their careers have risen. And, these women are killing it with lots of exciting things — bestselling books, TV shows, movies — out in the world and currently in creation. Usually, I’m a much more lively participant, giddy for everyone.

But, that night I still had ashes in my head and in my ears, which made everything a bit muted and cloudy. I kept thinking about all of my own creations that were in the ashes as well. And, that victim part of me that was still very much present felt like I would never catch up because I was going to have to start over.

I thought a lot about the dinner over the weekend as I purposefully stayed quiet, in meditation, prayer and with pen in hand.

And, here’s what happened. I was visited several more times by the image of my phoenix. And each time, something floated up from the ashes.

Creation. Over and again. Creation. Create. That was the gift from the dinner with my incredibly talented friends.

Remembering that creativity is my lifeforce.

Creativity is my resilience.

My phoenix is just that.

The Phoenix of Creation

Creation and re-creation. And, the re-creation isn’t wracking my brain cells searching for the words and ideas I’ve lost. Not to wallow in the ashes of mourning. I have to believe a rising phoenix wouldn’t do that either.

But, rather to re-create is to mine the ashes, for the gold, for the wisdom that rises to the surface, and to trust that the best parts of creation will float up and remain, providing a new foundation that builds at the level of season, wisdom and embodied knowledge and ideas.

That’s where new creation begins. I can work with that. As my brilliant friend, writer/director/producer Kelli Bennett says all the time, “Create from what you have.”

I have to believe what’s coming from this will be more streamlined, focused and on purpose.

My higher-self showed me how much clutter was actually stored on that stolen laptop. I captured everything, every little wisp of an idea, saving it for a time when I’d get to it. And, most of them lived there, ignored.

It will be really interesting what plays out in all of this cleared space. One thing’s true. I can’t stop writing.

Phoenix Guiding Principles

So many things have bubbled up as a result of this crime, much of which will take some time to process and release: shame, anger and regret to name a few. But, what the phoenix is showing me, the way to heal is by remembering my own guiding principles.

To start by being present. To stop reliving the moment, rewriting the scene in my head, where I took the bag with me instead of leaving it the car. It’s over and done with. I can’t change what happened so replaying it with what I’d have done differently isn’t helpful.

And, then doubling down on the tenets I try to live by, the values that rise like the Phoenix, and take me from feeling helpless to feeling empowered again.

Gratitude
Kindness
Compassion
Truth
Honesty
Positivity
Creativity
Trust (I still do and will, only now with a bit more discernment)
Love

And, a really big one that is the gateway to finally letting go and releasing all with the ashes:

Forgiveness. Forgiving myself as well as forgiving those who victimized me. Not quite there yet, but I know that’s the key to being free to really rise.

So, please, please, please learn from my cautionary tale. Back that shit up. Protect yourself. And, listen to that little voice, the one that said ‘take your bag’, the one that always knows what’s best.

An Action Plan

If you want to further expand your thinking while your phoenix rises, plus operate your life at that higher level, check out my simple 8-step checklist that will help you get there.

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