Snow days long past

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 5, 2014 11:58 PM

Like many kids in the northeast, my sister’s are home from school today. As I write this, they’ve received 8 inches this morning and it’s still snowing. They’ve had many snow days so far this season. When I talked to Khris yesterday, she mentioned that they were probably going to have another day off today. For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about that and remembering the snow days we used to have when I was a kid and lived back east.

In those days, weather was forecast on the radio and the television. And the sky; always the sky. Incoming snow has a very distinct look in the sky. The clouds are more of a blanket, think and cottony. They look cold. Rain clouds are more formed and become black on the bottom. Not so snow clouds. They gather and knit together. The temperature drops, the air feels almost dry. When it starts to snow, it’s with just a flurry or two, as if it’s testing the idea.

When I was young and snow had been forecast, I would periodically flip the light on outside the front door and peer through the glass sidelight, out into the blackness, straining to see a flake. If I did, I knew the weather reports were on target. Regardless, I’d go to bed hopeful that the morning would bring enough snow to warrant a cancellation of school. In the morning, my mother would inform us that it had snowed and we’d put the radio on. The local news channel would read the list of school cancellations. We had to wait until they got to our district as they’d be announcing for essentially the whole state. When they got to ours and our school was mentioned, excitement ensued for everyone save my mother. When we weren’t included on the list, we begrudgingly got ready for school. We felt cheated as if we were owed a snow day.

Technology has progressed to where mass phone calls and text messages are now sent by the school district in the event of a school closure. I got such a message in the middle of one night when Justin was still in high school. The phone rang around 3:15 am. Any time a phone rings at 3 in the morning, it’s cause for alarm. I grabbed it only to hear the voice of Tony Knight, the superintendent of the Oak Park School District, informing me, as the parent of an Oak Park school student, that due to the fires burning in Oak Park, school would be closed.

It was the fires burning in Oak Park that got me up and out of bed in a big hurry. When I had gone to bed, there were no fires burning. I went out into the back yard and sure enough, the sky was orange, the air thick with smoke and ash. I knew we weren’t in danger of catching fire, but I could see why they cancelled school. I went back in, closed everything up, went into Justin’s room and turned off his alarm so he could sleep in. He was a teenager. If his alarm didn’t go off, he wouldn’t get up.

I miss having snow days. I’m sure my sister, much like our mother, isn’t so fond of them because it means having the kids home when they shouldn’t be, and thus disrupting her day. Until we had our fire day, I hadn’t really thought about it from a parent’s point of view. I did that day.

Snow days were cold and cozy. My mom used to make us a hot breakfast. We’d have hot chocolate and toast. I always loved dipping my buttered toast into my hot chocolate. I loved the silence of those days, the way the snow quieted the earth. When I remember those days now, it’s with nostalgia and not just a little bit of want and wanting to once again live it out loud under the peace of the snow.

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live out loud

Up, up and away

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 27, 2013 11:37 PM

In 1967 the pop-soul group the 5th Dimension released a single called Up, Up and Away. The lyrics talked of drifting up and away “in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.” I like the Fifth Dimension though I have no idea why. I think it’s nostalgia. I remember when I was a kid and visiting the big brick house in McKeesport where my Aunt Eleanor and my Aunt Beryl lived with their husbands.  The radio was always on in their house. It was a big console radio that sat on the floor under the window that overlooked the Youghiogheny river below. To the right and left the steel mills, then still producing, would belch thick plumes of smoke into the air. And from the radio, I remember the lush tones of Marilyn McCoo singing about marrying Bill (I would find out later that she was, in fact, married to Billy Davis, Jr) and about not getting to sleep at all the night before.

This morning, we took Justin to the airport and on the way back, to the east, three hot air balloons hung suspended in the sky. The sun had come up not much earlier and was blazing across the desert from the east, golden red and cold. The air was still.  The balloons lazed high above the earth, high enough so we couldn’t make out the people, the size of the basket or even graphics on the balloon itself. They were off in the distance; we were on the freeway. And they were majestic.

I wondered what it might be like to hover above the desert in the morning when the sun is just beginning to warm the ground, to alight on the cactus, to make the sand dance and send any creatures scurrying. I love the desert. Love its peace and majesty, its magic and spirit; its mystery. Even its danger. In the summer, under unrelenting temperatures it can destroy every living thing caught in its thunderous heat, with no shade or water for miles. Only cactus and reptiles seem to survive and even thrive. When winter descends, those once scorching temperatures plummet past freezing. People and animals can succumb to exposure if not careful. The desert can kill you easily and in a hundred different ways. I respect its power even as I marvel at its beauty.

Hot air balloons floating above this danger seems a complete dichotomy. No one thinks of danger when they think of hot air balloons. They’re too peaceful to be dangerous; too eerily beautiful. That’s a misunderstanding. Anything that floats above the earth at heights reaching thousands of feet is vulnerable. There is propane gas that ignites to heat the air inside the balloon, keeping it aloft. The wind can come up suddenly. My mother was a hot air balloonist for years and knew of several accidents, a number of which were catastrophic. As with anything wondrous and mysterious, there can be an undercurrent of the unknown. It’s that unknown that keeps many people away even as it attracts so many others.

The song Up, Up and Away was written by Jimmy Webb. It celebrated a genre called sunshine pop, cheerful and upbeat with warm squishy music and vocal harmonies dripping from the vinyl on which they were recorded. It also celebrated hot air ballooning and went on to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards the year it was released.

I thought of the song today as I watched the balloons hang in the air, as we flew by and left them behind too quickly. As we did, I knew that Justin, too, was up, up and away, on his way back to New York to start his post-college career. Like the balloons he was here and then, he was gone. But we’ll see him again soon. And perhaps we’ll see the balloons, too. Perhaps when they next make an appearance, it will signal Justin’s impending arrival. As they descend slowly, drifting lazily to the ground, Justin too will descend and then we’ll all celebrate with champagne and orange juice.

At least that’s how my mom’s crew celebrated the end of a successful Up, Up and Away ride.   

Tonight the son shines

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 23, 2013 12:06 AM

I’m going to gloat. This past Friday, after four and a half years of college, Justin graduated with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in Theatrical Production with a concentration in Lighting Design and Electrics. What a long strange trip it’s been. On one hand, and I know it seems like a cliché, it seems just yesterday that he was a little boy, riding in a car seat and just 35 pounds. Going to Disneyland, staying for the parade and Fantasmic and having him fall asleep. Kevin and I shared the responsibility of carrying him. It was like wearing a virtual heater in the summer.

There was camp and basketball and the time I found him and his girl friend in the back seat of my BMW, kissing. They were eight. I hardly knew what to do. I wasn’t prepared for this to happen at eight. I was prepared for 14. There were the family vacations to educational and fun places, and then just fun places. Starting high school, learning to play trombone – badly – and joining the jazz band only to quit because he couldn’t read music no matter how many private lessons we took him to.

There were soccer tryouts and an earned spot on the team. There were girlfriends and friends, and trouble in high school and getting in trouble for stealing hood ornaments off of parked cars and pushing over trees in one of the local parks. There were emotional issues and fights where he hated us and we weren’t too fond of him. There was therapy and there was enlightenment. And then came theatre. Theatre was his salvation. Once he discovered the fun and wonder and joy and heartache and creativity of what it means to be in theatre his whole life changed.

He started out building sets. On many an afternoon, he would call Kevin to ask for advice and sometimes help in building a particular set piece. Kevin would pack up tools and off he’d go to the high school.

Theatre introduced Justin to the possibility of making new worlds; to literature. He devoured it all, inhaled it, embraced it and came to personify it.

In 2009, he started his college career in Tucson at the University of Arizona. After two and a half years, he found a school that better fit his concentration of lighting and electricity, and settled into State University New York at Fredonia where he truly excelled. He was on the dean’s list. He designed several shows. He found a small theatre on Long island where he has worked for these three years.

Now he’s done and starts his next life. The first part of that next life begins in a month or so when he starts as a lighting tech on the Norwegian Sun, a cruise ship with Norwegian Cruise Lines. It’s a whole new world that stretches before. New people, new places, new shows. What a time of life.


Justin and Cooper tonight, watching football

Tonight we celebrated his graduation. We gave him the new iPad Air and he’s thrilled. We’re thrilled for him, and so excited to see him go off into the world to make his way, to discover more fun and different and creative things in theatre, in his life. He’s going to shine, I’m sure of it.

Tonight I’m celebrating my son and his new life, living it out loud. 

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live out loud

Some thoughts about Justin

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 30, 2013 8:08 PM

Justin has been here for the last week and today we take him back to the airport. He’s on a plane at noon, back to Buffalo, via Las Vegas. We’ll miss him as we always do but he’ll be back in three weeks, on December 22, for Christmas. Next time he arrives he will be officially finished with school. He may have a job waiting for him; he may have two. It’s a very exciting and nervous time.

Last night, after we returned from wine tasting, and had munched on some dinner, we all sat here at the bar in the kitchen, drinking wine and listening to Justin tell us about how his chosen career will unfold. Union work versus non-union work. How to get into the union and how hard it is. How expensive New York City is but how that remains the center of the theatre universe. How he doesn’t really want to live in New York because it’s so expensive.

He talked about getting on a tour that might take him all over the world. He talked about how hard his chosen profession is on a relationship; about how he doesn’t want to get into anything heavy until he’s a bit older, has some money in the bank and the possibility for a more steady work environment, something that doesn’t take him away via air, train or boat.

It’s a very transient life he’s chosen, one with so much potential to see the world, to explore all that there is out there, but one that has perhaps more ups and downs than the ordinary boring life the rest of us lead. A six-month job can be very lucrative, but then it ends and he starts all over, looking for another gig, another month, or three or six, until that too is over and he begins yet again. There is little job security. There is little grounding. And he’s very excited about it all.

We listened to him and asked questions. Once again, I tried to impress upon him the idea of saving. He’s not a good saver, by his own admission, and given how sporadic his work life could end up being, he really needs to change his pattern of spending most of what he makes. Since he went away to college in 2009 I’ve been sounding like a proverbial broken record: you need to put money away when you’re working for when you’re not working. That was even more clear last night as we listened to the life he will lead, work and personal wise.


Justin, yesterday, with the winery dog at Keif-Joshua

It’s exhilarating and terrifying, as parents, to watch your child head out into the big bad, cold cruel and every other cliché world. For his entire life (and for me, most of his entire life) we have been there to take care of him; to feed and clothe him, get his hair cut when it needed it; to buy toys and school supplies; to get him new computers; a car when he started to drive; assistance with college applications and visits and interviews with schools that accepted him. In college, we paid for the majority of his tuition, and all of his books and living expenses. We had him take out a student loan because Kevin felt that it was important for him to have “skin in the game.” It needed to be Justin’s nickel as much as it was ours. We’ll probably help him pay his loans though he doesn’t know that. We want him to understand that being in the real world has real consequences and real responsibilities. The minute you’re out of school it begins. You may end up staying with your parents temporarily but kids don’t want to do that any more than parents want them to. It’s time to be, finally, the adult he’s been preparing to be; the adult that he wants to be. The adult that he, in many ways, already is.

I was up half the night last night. Part of it was all of the usual anxiety that swirls through my head about getting my work done, paying my bills, living a good and true life; a celebratory life.

It occurred to me that Justin, too, will soon be partaking in this dance. He will have sleepless nights wondering where his next job is coming from, if he made the right decisions, what the next year or three or ten will look like. He can’t wait of course because it’s time. But part of me wants to hug him and protect him and spare him from the rigors of being all grown up. But then he also wouldn’t have the joy that accompanies living a full life out loud. 

The upside of the downside

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 7, 2013 12:17 AM

One of the downsides with your kid living on the other side of the country is that he might as well be on the other side of the world. You never get to see him. Since the advent of email, smart phones and skype it’s at least easier to speak to him. We don’t skype often; he’s usually in between classes or in one of his tech labs. We text and we have nice long conversations. Justin has been in New York for the last two years, largely year round. He started school there in January of 2012 and works there in the summer. We see him for holidays, like Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas, depending on whether he has to work, and when we get back there which hasn’t been often. We were there in May to see one of his stage productions where he was the lighting designer. We miss him but we understand that his life is there. And when he graduates in December, his life may still be there, in New York. Or perhaps it will be in Chicago, or San Diego, or Orlando, or Moscow. It’s the life he has chosen; the one he wants to live. Still.

My mother has long understood this dynamic. When I went to college, I was still in the same state as my family, but after my sophomore year, I rarely went home. I was working, I had an apartment; even in the summer I stayed at school because that’s where I lived, in my dinky, run-down horrid little apartment. Then I graduated and moved west. We talk on the phone all the time, but I only get back there about once a year and she gets out here even less. We’ve never really talked about skype; I wonder if she’d do it.

Justin is a lighting designer and a master electrician. His life is the theatre. He’s good at it and more importantly, he loves it. When I listen to him talk about what he does, I can honestly say that he might as well be speaking Japanese, but I’m still fascinated, riveted even, because he is so passionate about it. It means that he was lucky to find what he truly wants to do with his life early in his life. It means he made the right choices, first by going to the University of Arizona and then to State University New York at Fredonia, where he transferred.

Tonight one of the shows he designed premiers on campus. It’s called The School for Scandal and according to what I’ve read it’s about scandals and lies amidst the upper crust. It was originally written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan and first performed in London, at Drury Lane Theatre, on May 8, 1777. I think it has been updated since then.

The school is streaming it live so we get to watch tonight from out here, very far away from our boy. Kevin put it on in his office; I put it on in mine. There’s a time difference, after all, so we’re still working while it’s on. But we get to see his show, see his work, see what he’s been doing and some of what we’ve been paying for.

This is yet another wonder of technology. Tonight we’re watching The School for Scandal in the west, the sun having just started to set, while it is playing live on stage in the nighttime of the east. We’re able to share in Justin’s triumph and his final lighting design of his senior year of college.

There are many downsides to living so far away from our kid, from anyone we love. But being able to see what he’s been doing happening at the same time that it’s actually happening is truly remarkable. It’s the upside of the downside and something worth celebrating.

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live out loud

In which Justin gets a job interview

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 27, 2013 11:59 PM

Justin graduates in December, after four and a half years of college. He started in the fall of 2009 at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in the College of Theater Arts, studying technical production. He quickly became enamored with lighting design and electrics and because the program at U of A isn’t as strong in that area as he would have liked, he transferred after two and a half years. Because he’s getting a BFA, his new school, State University New York at Fredonia required that he be at the school for at least two years. The end of December completes that obligation, though obligation seems much too harsh a word. He has been so happy in New York. The program has been everything he wanted. He was able to concentrate heavily on the electrics side of lighting and because the school is much smaller than the U of A, he has also been able to do more hands-on work.

For the past three summers, he has worked at a theater on Long Island, near the Hamptons. The first year he was an intern, earning $100 a week. The second year, he was a second year intern, earning $150 a week. Then they asked him to come back during their winter season, which runs over Christmas and New Year’s, and they hired him as an assistant master electrician (AME). This past summer he was also an AME, earning about $350 a week. He loved it; he may go back this winter season if they need him.

In the mean time, though, he’s been hard at work looking for work starting in January. As soon as he went back to school this semester, traveling across the state from the tip of Long Island to upper Western New York, near Buffalo and Niagra Falls, he has been ready to be done. It’s what I remember about my last semester of college as well. From the time I went to my first class in that January, I was already done. Trying to stay focused on classes and studies and papers and exams when the mind has already departed is difficult. He’s been having much the same issue. He’s doing well – all As and Bs according to the mid-term grades – but he’s done. His heart isn’t in it.

About a month ago he started focusing on his job hunt for after school. He drafted a cover letter that could be modified depending on the job and created a spread sheet to track jobs he’s applied to, when and status, including follow-up. He scoped out job boards for his industry and he’s sending out nearly one query a day. I get emails with a simple request: “Hi, mom. Can you look at the attached cover letter? I’m applying for a job at a cruise line and wanted to know what you think and if you see anything I should change. Thanks. Love you!”

I love those emails.

Yesterday I got a text that one of the places he had applied to, out on the North Shore of Long Island, at another school, wants to interview him. This week. For a real job.

Our little boy, the one with the glasses that were often too big for his face, with his fine auburn hair and his skinny little legs, has blossomed into a strapping young man with glasses that fit his bearded face perfectly, his fine auburn hair now a curly brown over his pierced ears, and his skinny legs no longer skinny. He’s a man. And he is ready to start his career.

Hopefully my next post on Justin will be titled “in which Justin gets a job.” Stay tuned. In the mean time, today I’m celebrating the tenacity and proactive approach of my kid. I’m very proud.

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live out loud

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