As far as I am aware there is no psychoanalytic hero present in our current popular literature. Enter Dr. Roger Sterling, widowed, the father of two young children, Brad and Abby, ages 9 and 5, practicing psychoanalysis in the Los Angeles suburban community of Seaville, California. Seaville is located in the heart of wildfire country in Southern California, where wildfires are an ever-present danger.
On a chance encounter with the local Fire Chief, Richard Bradford, Dr. Sterling learns that the Chief suspects a serial arsonist is afoot in the community. As he explains to Dr. Sterling, 8 wildfires in one month means something. This by the way was a real encounter I had with the local fire chief outside of Bradford, California (hence Chief Bradford) way back in 1993. But I didn’t understand the significance of all this until I moved into the Santa Clarita Valley in 2001. From then on I witnessed wildfires every year. At first just seasonal, and now increasing year-round. This past summer (2020) there were 352 wildfires present at one time in the State of California costing the state millions of dollars for the damage. And the question for me: how much of this is arson and who is a serial arsonist?
By 2008 I had had enough of listening to the news and witnessing major wildfires in my own community. When a wildfire burns down your home, you lose everything. Much of which can not be replaced, never mind the loss of life. As the arson investigators explained to me, most peoples lungs are seared by the heat of a wildfire long before their bodies are burned up. This is a horrible situation that unfortunately occurs every year in California and is on the increase.
Then in March of 2008 I started writing. My idea was to create a story that would bring to life the hunt for a serial arsonist. As Dr. Sterling explained to Chief Bradford, if most of the evidence of what, or who, starts a wildfire is burned up—leaving investigators few if any clues as to whom or what is starting these wildfires—then let’s explore the psychodynamics of a serial arsonist. We can track the person, or persons, this way using the dynamics of the mind. Enter psychoanalysis! The Chief agrees!
Once I began to explore the psychoanalytic literature on arson/arsonists/pyromania I was shocked to see that in over a century of psychoanalysis there were only 30 plus articles on the subject. Eventually I came to understand that since arson/pyromania is a crime, the person is locked up and with them their information. Getting into a prison to interview an arsonist was, as I quickly found out, impossible for now.
But in what little literature there was a theme began to emerge: a serial arsonist is most often a victim of sexual abuse including witnessing the “primal scene” (the parents having sex). This connection between sexual abuse and setting fires was confirmed by the arson investigators I spoke with. Interestingly, in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) and in his 1932 article, “The Acquisition and Control of Fire,” Freud commented on fire but not directly in the manner I am addressing here. Which raises the question with me as to why psychoanalysis has not done more work with arson and pyromania?
What started out as a trilogy for me to explore all this through a story, has now become 4 Episodes. And the story takes, in the words of a good friend of mine, a huge left turn in the Second Episode. It becomes a story not only about tracking a serial arsonist, or arsonists,
through the dynamics of the mind, but a story of one community’s struggle with the drives toward sexuality and life and those toward drives toward aggression, destruction, and death. Represented so well by fire. Fire can heat our homes and cook our food. While it can also destroy an entire community generating the same amount of heat as an atomic explosion. Incredible!
The information I have from physics is that negative energy in the universe has a force factor of 13, while positive energy only has a force factor of 5. Quite a difference. In Episode Two, six months later, yet another wildfire is threating to consume the entire Seaville Valley. And Dr. Sterling finds himself dealing with aggressive and destructive forces in his community that he had no idea were there. He quickly comes to understand the impact of 13 vs. 5. As psychoanalysts how do we deal with this? Just look around at the current state of affairs in the US (January of 2021). The impact of one man’s administration and a good half of the public is threatening to destroy our country. All of which makes 13 vs. 5 very real!!
Author Stephen King has written that writing always helps us think better. In this series, writing through a lot of free association, I thought a lot about the struggle between life and death (again, represented so well by fire). I introduce ideas from the work of Dr. Burt Aginsky (hence the title of the second episode: “In Search of Aginsky’s Mind), an anthropologist who believed in psychoanalysis. And I came up with the concept of an “evolutionary chessboard” representing the struggle every community on the planet goes through to understand and work with our innate, dual, biological drives towards life and death (Eros and Thanatos).
I have written the series to bring attention to what lies beneath the surface of any wildfire. And to put psychoanalysis on the radar as the best theory and tool we have for understanding and working with the human mind/brain, individually and within our communities. It is my hope that writing a psychological, action, and erotic thriller can help to accomplish this goal.
At the same time, I am aware of the resistances we face every day as psychoanalysts in the task of bringing psychoanalytic thinking to our society and culture. My neighbor, a brief character in Episode One, and this was a real event, explained to me that after reading 2 chapters of the first novel, she had to stop reading. Too scary and too close to home, she said. I just had to put it down.
Finally, as always, I am looking for feedback. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
January 18th, 2021
In Santa Clarita, California