Reflections

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 25, 2012 9:43 PM

It is Christmas night and our day has been filled with presents and conversation, laughter and wine, good friends close and family far away, and our new boy, Cooper. It’s been lovely, a cool overcast day. We’ve had a fire burning all day, just enough to take the chill off, and music playing. Tonight, the four of us … Kevin, Justin, Cooper and me … are sitting on the couch watching In Excelsis Deo, the Christmas episode from the first season of The West Wing. We’re basking in the fabulousness of the day.

We got up early and walked Cooper. To him it was just an ordinary morning, evidently it was to others as well. There were many dogs and their parents out walking as well. When we returned, Justin was still in bed so we made coffee and fed Cooper. Soon enough, Justin’s door opened and downstairs he came. We filled our mugs, we lit the fire, and put on some music. We started to open some presents. Our ritual has always been the same. One person and one gift at a time. This allows us all to see what everyone has opened as they open it, to see the expression on faces. It takes a bit longer but it’s very worth it.

Cooper got his first toy around 9 o’clock, a plush Abominable Snowman from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special of so many decades ago. The toy, from my mother, was cute. It was also completely destroyed within 15 minutes. Shortly thereafter, we gave him another toy, this time Yukon Cornelius from the same show. This one lasted 20 minutes. It came from my sister’s dog, Lucky, and I texted a picture to Khris commemorating the toy’s untimely death. It was sad and hilarious.

We opened presents, we had more coffee and coffee cake, we went through our stockings, we cleaned up, all the while enjoying the spirit of the day. We’re not religious but there is something about the quiet joy of Christmas that makes me reflective.

My husband is the love of my life and each day we spend together is another day filled with happiness.

My son is an amazing young man. It’s so hard to believe he’s a senior in college, nearly 22. So smart, so funny, such a loving and kind person. I couldn’t be prouder.

My family is incredible. I miss them all the time; I love them. It’s that simple.

My friends are joyous.

My dog is adorable.

On this Christmas night, as I sit with my boys, I’m also remembering my beloved Maguire who would have been 16 today. I wear a remembrance of him around my neck, a sterling silver paw print with his name engraved on the back. Several times today I found myself wrapping my hand around it, found my memories drifting to him. I miss him.

But having Cooper has helped to heal the pain. He’s such a good boy.  

On this day, this Christmas 2012, I am celebrating my boys, my family, my friends; I’m reflecting on my life. I hope your day was filled with love and joy as well. 

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friendly celebrations | live out loud

The power of education comes into sight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 23, 2012 11:22 PM

Justin is home for the holidays and it’s wonderful. He wasn’t home last year, for the first time, and it was a little strange. We were OK. We didn’t dissolve into a little mass of goo; we didn’t cry and whine and kick and scream. We still had our beloved Maguire and we decided to make a new tradition. We got up when we got up, we went for a walk, we put the Yule Log on television and Christmas tunes on the stereo, opened presents. But it wasn’t the same. This year, Justin really wanted to come home. It depended on how much time he had between finals and starting work. If it was only two or three days, it wouldn’t have made sense since he would need two of those days for travel. Luckily he finished finals early and he doesn’t start work until December 28th. He flew in on Friday night, after many delays first out of Buffalo and then out of Las Vegas where he changed planes. He was supposed to get in around 8; he finally got in after 10. We got home close to midnight. No time for visiting; we all went to bed.

Saturday, though, was a new day. He was up early and just relaxed for the day. Kevin and I had a Christmas party to go to. Justin was invited but we told him that he probably wouldn’t know anyone and since he was tired, and had traveled literally all day on Friday, staying home with Cooper might be more fun for him. It was, as always, his choice. He chose to remain home. We drove, we holiday’d, we drove back and then we made dinner last night for all of us. Barbecued ribs on the grill, garlic fries and white corn. Simple, but one of Justin’s favorite meals. I always try to make his favorite meals when he’s home.

As everything was cooking, he brought his computer down to the kitchen to show us some of his design work. We had never seen any of his designs before so this was new territory. He showed us two things: first his design for a morning scene and an evening scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He had a rendering of the stage, research boards to show the mood he was trying to create for both types of light, and finally, the light, using a drawing mannequin for his subject since he doesn’t draw and is the first to admit it.

It was so interesting to see it, with all of its intricate layouts and notations. The main portion of the design was large and involving; a panel on the left had all of the details written out, the position of the lights, the angles, the instructions, even a disclaimer. It was so professional. Kevin and I stood in awe. This was his lighting final for the semester, and he got a 98 out of 100. Wow.

Then we moved on to a CADD drawing. This was his Computer Aided Drafting and Design class and had more interesting notations and light placements, all based on something provided by a set designer.

We had no idea what we were looking at and yet it was fascinating. To hear him describe what he had created was exhilarating, to hear him talking about how all aspects of the theatre must work together in order to achieve the best for any given production was amazing. It’s ultimately what life is all about, working together, compromising, explaining, creating to make a production.

He spoke with passion about what he’s doing. He showed it off with pride, as well he should. And his dad and I could only stand there and marvel. At one point, Kevin looked at me and said, quoting the ever articulate George W. Bush: “Our children is learning.”

Indeed.

As parents, it is always fulfilling to see your kids excelling in their lives. As parents of a college student, it’s even more fulfilling to see your kid learning things you don’t know and thus fulfilling the enormous tuition bills you pay every six months. We were so proud and so excited to see everything he has learned, to be part of everything he knows.

I’m not going to preach as I don’t believe in it but I am thrilled to know that the power of education is still strong. It’s something we’ve always believed in and when we see it in action, in the guise of our son’s knowledge, in his passion, in his eyes, we celebrate.

It’s an amazing feeling. It’s the feeling of him living it out loud.

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live out loud

The isle of Oak Park

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 21, 2012 8:32 PM

People speak of the glowing green hills of Ireland in hushed tones. I haven’t been lucky enough to visit the place called the Emerald Isle but everyone I know who has says the same thing. It is stunning. Awe-inspiring. Pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-ground beautiful. Rolling and lush grasses, waving in the gentle ocean breeze, the sea snarling into the rocks below. Sheep grazing on the hillsides; castles dotting the cliffs and tucked into the crevices of the valleys. Lads sidled up to the bars in the pubs, raising a pint of Guinness or Smithwick’s, dogs lazing at their feet lapping up the spillage. Sun glinting off this mystical land.

Today was sunny here in Oak Park, the first such day in quite some time. We’ve had rain it seems for weeks, and if not rain, heavy clouds and heavier air, the threat of moisture thick. The temperatures have been cold as well. The nights get into the low 30s, the mornings stay there. We’ve walked Cooper this week early and it has been 32º, 34º, 36º. The grass on the lawns is covered with frost, ditto the fallen leaves and branches, the pinecones and needles crunch. The puddles aren’t frozen but they’re cold; the moss on the sidewalks is slick as ice. It’s a little like New England with palm trees. We bundle up with heavy coats and gloves and off we go.

The temperature at lunch today was around 50º so it was nearly balmy. It’s not going to last. Weather is coming in tomorrow with rain promised for tomorrow night, Sunday and Monday, partly cloudy on Christmas and then more rain immediately following with high temperatures at 57º during the day, 30º at night. We decided to take advantage of the relative warmth and set off on a walk. Soon enough we were quite toasty. Up the Bowfield hill we trudged, cresting the top and marveling at the sun and the lack of wind. The air still had a hint of cool but the sun was warm and lovely and as we started down the other side, toward Rockfield, I happened to notice one of the many hiking pathways that lead up into the canyon foothills. During the summer, these pathways are dusty, the foliage brown and dry. Rattlesnakes curl up on the edges; sometimes they stretch across sunning themselves. In the winter, they’re hibernating in a hole somewhere. And the paths are lush with a near phosphorescent green grass, the kind of grass that grows spontaneously after a long hot summer when the ground is suddenly and completely saturated with water.

The sun was streaming down from a near cloudless sky. In the distance wisps of rain were beginning to gather, thin and harmless, at least today. The brush and bushes were still; birds hung in the trees chirping. I stopped and for just a minute, I had a fleeting glimpse of Ireland. In my imagination, in the stories I’ve heard, I knew that this is how beautiful that land must be.

It’s the Winter Solstice. In Ireland people gather at the ancient site of Newgrange, a rock formation whose rooftop opening allows sunlight to penetrate the passage and chamber beneath as the sun rises on each Winter Solstice. At approximately 9 am on the morning of the solstice, a narrow beam of light filters through to the floor and gradually extends toward the back. As the sun continues to rise, the beam widens to illuminate the chamber. For 17 minutes, this light warms the earth and proclaims the arrival of winter. Built over 5000 years ago, Newgrange remains one of the most prolific and gorgeous places on earth to feel the power of the sun, and of this new season.

We’re far, so far from Newgrange here in Southern California. There are many places of great beauty but none so exquisite, perhaps because of the mysticism surrounding Ireland and the Celtic legends, perhaps because it is simply from another time and so much of what we have here is from this time, this now.

On this Winter Solstice, I’m celebrating a beauty I didn’t see but also one that I did. It filled me with a sense of wonder. Something to be grateful for, to embrace during a season that has been filled with stress and angst and indecision. The sunlight on the isle of Oak Park made me happy, put me in a festive mood, and allowed me to celebrate this 21st of December in emerald isle style.

Santa Claus is coming to my dining room table

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 19, 2012 8:18 PM

Once upon a time, somewhere in the 4th century, there was a man who lived in southwestern Turkey. He was known as the Bishop of Myra and was credited with a number of miracles mostly involving sailors and children. After his death, he became the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. He was also given his own day of feast, initially celebrated on December 6th, and his name became Saint Nicholas.

After Pope Julius I decided to assign December 25th as the official celebration of the birth of Jesus, attempting to Christianize what had until then been the date of a pagan midwinter festival, Saint Nicholas’s day of feast also was moved to December 25th for consolidation purposes and the connection was established. A tradition soon developed that had Saint Nicholas visiting the homes of small children on the eve of December 24th. Eventually Saint Nicholas became Sinter Klaas who became Sancte Claus and finally Santa Claus.

It wasn’t until 1810 that Santa Claus was shown – in a drawing by Alexander Anderson – depositing toys in children’s stockings that had been hung by the fireplace. Soon he had transportation, desperately needed in order to reach all of those children, in the form a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, at least according to the song. He moved to the North Pole, thanks to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was commissioned to do a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly starting in 1862.Nast also is credited with creating the toy-building workshop and for the naughty or nice mantra. As for his lovely red and white outfit, it was Norman Rockwell who dressed Mr. Claus for a 1921 cover of The Country Gentleman magazine. By the time Coca-Cola showcased its famous depiction of the man in the red suit, his colors had already been well established.

I write all of this because I am a Santa Claus fan, especially when it comes to decorating our house for the holidays. I’m not one of those people who get out of control when it comes to decorating. In fact, I think I’m pretty tame by many standards. Outside, we hang some white lights in several of the trees and shrubs leading up to the front door. Two small white-light laced Christmas trees guard the entrance to the walkway and over the garage door, white icicle lights twinkle. I also put a wreath on the front door. It, too, has white lights. It’s actually quite subdued and lovely.

Inside, we have a 7-foot artificial tree decorated with grape-cluster lights; at the top is a Santa. A heart-shaped Wine Lover sign hangs from his mittened hand. Naturally, stockings are hung by the chimney, and placed strategically throughout the living and dining room are my Byers’ Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these wonderful little hand-painted, hand-assembled singers since the late 1980s and have currently amassed at least 30. Almost all are dressed in Dickensian England attire. There are men boldly singing, others singing while holding Christmas trees, still others with ice skates. There is a chimney sweep and his apprentice (naturally, they’re on the fireplace mantle above the stockings). There are children and dogs and cats. There is a woman selling wreaths and an old Christmas witch. And there is my finished collection of A Christmas Carol, all first edition, with Scrooge and Marley’s ghost, the three ghosts (of past, present and future), Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim and Mrs. Cratchet, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig, the boy with the goose, and a redemptive Scrooge with Christmas presents. They are arranged on my music cabinet, complete with another Caroler wearing a sandwich board for “A Christmas Carol.”

When Kevin completed my collection several years ago, we almost didn’t know what to do. For years, every Christmas, his goal was to find another missing piece of the story, again as a first edition. He’d buy from sellers on ebay as well as in different stores across the country. He’d start in September, making phone calls. With the last Caroler – we think it was Mrs. Fezziwig – we looked at each other. He enjoyed the hunt; I love the Carolers. Now what?

I had bought myself a Santa Caroler years before, and my brother had bought me a Santa in a sleigh being pulled by a single reindeer. A new collection of Santas, also first edition, began. They are from all different times, wearing any number of Santa-approved outfits. They now grace the dining room table. I have six plus an elf plus a really big Santa in the background. Several years ago, my mom and sister sent me another big Byers’ Choice-type Santa who had previously been used only for display in stores. He stands, as big as a small child, on an antique wine box in the entrance way, welcoming visitors.

Santa Claus may be coming to your town but as far as I’m concerned he’s coming to my dining room table, and I’m thrilled to see him. In any incarnation.

The allure and wonder of children's books

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:36 PM

I discovered children’s books at a relatively late stage in development. I think I was about 35. I’m not sure what finally made me realize how wonderful and insightful they can be, but I distinctly remember one Christmas when I decided that what I was going to get all of my clients was a children’s book that had something to do with either what they did or how they lived their lives. I went to Barnes & Noble and settled into the children’s section in the back of the store. I knew I was going to be there for a long time and I was right. I had at least 15 people I was buying for; that meant 15 different books.

I sat on the floor for hours, studying titles, admiring illustrations, reading the stories. I had three piles. One for absolutely positively. One for maybe we’ll see. The third for no way no how. The third pile consisted of books that were mostly too literal and too childish. I know it’s odd to think about since children’s books, by nature and title, should be somewhat childish. But many are quite profound. Many are perfect for adults. Though most are more of the Goodnight Moon variety and definitely for someone who’s 3 and not 30.

I found some wonderful books by Jamie Lee Curtis, some by authors I didn’t recognize. Many of those I chose had watercolor painting illustrations. I gathered up books on color, on questions, on love, on ideas, on creativity, on sharing. Some I bought were Caldecott winners; most were not. I wasn’t looking for award winners; I was simply looking for books that touched me, that talked to me, that rang true.

From Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth

The thing about children’s books is that most do ring true. You can’t be false with children, or at least, you shouldn’t be. You should be straightforward and lyrical, fun but not afraid to be somber, honest and real. Children have a unique way of knowing when something is false. It’s what I admire most about children. It’s what I love about them. Their truth, their forthrightness, their ability to see things for what they are as opposed to what they wish they would be. That kind of cynicism comes later but not much later. It begins before they’re 10, on average, and continues to grow, unabated, until children become adolescents become adults become children again.

Perhaps that’s what I like most about children’s books. They are cyclical. We all start out helpless; we all end that way as well, at least to an extent. It’s the cycle of life. The best children’s books have something to do with that cycle in some way or another.

When Bobbi graduated from Pepperdine University a few years ago, with her Master’s Degree in Psychology, I knew exactly what I was buying for her graduation gift. There was a party for the graduates and their families at a restaurant not far from here. Pepperdine is on the cliffs above Malibu, also not far from here. The restaurant is called Zin Bistro. Bobbi’s parents were in town for the big event. It was a small gathering, and we weren’t going, but we still wanted to be there. I went to my favorite children’s section in my favorite Barnes & Noble, sat on the floor and went through dozens of books. I couldn’t find one that rang true, though I found many that were lovely. I was about to give up. My mind had already started thinking about what else I could do. I started to panic, quietly. When I’ve decided that I know what I want to do and can’t find what I need, I get antsy; I get manic. I got up from the floor, I stood in front of the hardcover section, I turned around to face away from the books and then turned back. Something inside me whispered “it’s there, right in front of you.” This has only happened once or twice before, where I just get a feeling and know that I’m about to find what I’m looking for. The other time was when I wanted to find a 1961 Pebbles Flintstone doll for my sister at a swap meet. In the last row, near the last booth, there she was, waiting for me on a folding card table.

I reached out my hand and pulled Zen Shorts from the shelf. It was perfect. Bobbi loves Buddhism, her online name is zenspeed, The story is simple. A panda named Stillwater befriends three kids and teaches each valuable lessons to help them handle the events in their lives. He uses classic Zen teachings to challenge perspective on our own lives through emotions like anger, worrying and jealousy.   

Like I said, perfect. I bought it, wrapped it, and dropped it off at Zin Bistro before the party.

Maybe it’s because of the holiday, maybe it’s because of the horror in Newtown, but I find myself drawn to children’s books again this day. I find myself celebrating their wonder, their joy, their purity of spirit. There is no better way to live it out loud than through the truth of a simple, profound and simply profound tale.                              

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live out loud

I'm an addict

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:13 PM

As a writer I love books. My house is full of them, with hundreds in my office alone filling two bookshelves, and stacked in nearly every corner. I have additional ones stacked on the desk. Downstairs I have 11 on the coffee table in the living room and another 20 or so stacked up next to the antique music stand. Most of those are books about different types of architecture or wine. There is the biography of Steve Jobs and several books on antique toys; one on a round-the-world motorcycle trip taken by the actor Ewan McGregor; another called Full Moon. On a chair is a book on the art of Vladimir Kush, one of our favorite surrealistic painters. On an ottoman there is a book on wizards.

The bedroom sports a stack of books in the space between my side of the bed and my nightstand; more still on the shelf of our credenza/dresser. In the kitchen there are multiple cookbooks as there are in many kitchens. There are 10 to the right of the cooktop; in the cabinet above, another 10. In the drawer next to the sink, another five or six, mostly paperbacks that I rarely use unless I need a temperature for cooking something like a roast. I rarely cook roast.

There are books in the garage, mostly auto repair and about different tools; tiling and painting.

Kevin’s office also boasts dozens of books, many stacked up in the corner near his desk, some under the credenza, others on a book shelf.  Like me, he still has at least one dictionary and thesaurus; like me he never uses them, but neither one of us can bring it upon ourselves to throw them away. Throwing away books is sacrilege, especially to a writer. Or a writer’s husband.

I have probably said this before but I am physically incapable of not having too many books. Is there such a thing as too many? I buy books on Amazon at an alarming rate. Many remain unread for years but it doesn’t stop me from buying them anyway. Some I start to read but don’t get very far. At any given time, I may have three or four books in progress. Sometimes it’s because I don’t really like them; sometimes it’s because I like them but don’t love them enough to devour them. And I can devour a book in one setting if it grabs me. This happens often with any Alice Hoffman book; it happened with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I literally can’t put the book(s) down for fear of not knowing what is going to happen. Then, at the end, while I’m sorry to bid farewell to characters I’ve come to know and sometimes love, I usually feel a sense of deep satisfaction. It’s similar to seeing a deeply effective film, something that doesn’t happen often enough. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last one I saw where I left the theatre thinking and feeling content, and wanting to talk about it. That’s, to me, the mark of a strong film. The last one Kevin and I talked about at length after seeing it may have been Cast Away.

I digress.

I can’t go into Barnes & Noble without leaving with a bag of books that cost a minimum of $100. It’s a sickness, an addiction. Hi, I’m Lorin and I’m a book addict. I have no intention of going into any kind of a 12-chapter program. I am perfectly happy to wallow in my addiction, to drown myself in pages and pages of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I don’t want an intervention; I know it wouldn’t help because I’m not ready to surrender to the disease. It can’t hurt me; it can only expand my mind and fill my soul. It can’t destroy me; it can only make me stronger.

I am a book addict. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a dozen or so books calling my name.

The voyage of discovery

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 15, 2012 11:20 PM

Kevin and I braved the crowds today and went shopping. We do this about once every holiday season, usually the week or so before Christmas. We don’t go to the mall; we’re not that brave. But we do go to some of the nicer strip malls in order to find some of what we’re looking for now that it’s becoming too late to order online, or what we’re finding online is simply too expensive.

We went first to Office Depot, then to Best Buy, took a detour into Total Wine since it was right next door and why not. Then we took another detour to Pep Boys to buy a new battery for the Porsche (evidently even classic sports cars think they’re entitled to a Christmas present) since it was dead in the garage and it really needed to be driven. Finally, we ended up at the Promenade, one of the nicest open-air malls in the area. All of the trees in the parking lot were dripping with white lights. In the center of the mall was a live tree standing at least 30 feet tall. It boasts thousands of colored lights and serves as a beacon for shoppers. Holiday music flowed through invisible speakers; people were lined up outside of Santa’s workshop, their children bouncing up and down with excitement to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. People were friendly, and bundled up. It was overcast; another storm is coming in tonight. The temperature hovered around the mid 40s but it was a cold mid 40s under cloudy skies and inside damp air. We went into Cost Plus World Market to gather some goodies for various people on our list. The line to check out reached nearly to the back of the store from the front, but everyone was nice and cordial, festive. As we stood in line with a basket full of what we wanted to purchase, we chatted while watching all of the people streaming by outside the floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows, all of our fellow shoppers inside, stopping at displays, picking things up off of the shelves, smiling or frowning or both.

Above the door was this quote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” It was by the French author Marcel Proust. I found myself staring at it. I wasn’t sure why at the time but it completely captivated me. One of the check-out guys said: “Next in line. I can help you here, ma’am,” and just like that the spell was broken. We put our stuff on the counter and off we went.

The quote rambled around in my mind the rest of the afternoon. I’m not a big fan of Proust though I respect and admire what he did in his relatively short life. He died at 51 in 1922. I tried to read his work in college but found it heavy and cumbersome. But he was clearly brilliant as evidenced by his legacy. This quote of his affected me for reasons I suspect are related to the last few words. New eyes.

It’s an optimistic quote, about not just opening your eyes to what’s around you but also ridding yourself of preconceived notions of what you’re seeing. I saw Christmas lights today and lots of people shopping, but perhaps what I really saw was people deciding to give something back to their community, to share their love and spirit, to celebrate the truth of the season not just the consumerism of it.

I saw clouds in the sky but perhaps what I really saw was the earth getting ready to cleanse itself.

I saw a homeless man wrapped in a blanket standing on the side of the road and imagined what it was like to be him, and I understood.

I traveled to the next town but actually went round the world.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am always in search of something to celebrate, something that’s positive rather than negative. It can be difficult sometimes and on some days, like yesterday, but I have long believed that humans are good and kind and happy; that life is positive and joyous and worth discovering.

Life is a series of discoveries, some wondrous, some heartbreaking. Often times these discoveries don’t even entail leaving the comforts of your home. You can discover things about yourself, see that perhaps you’ve been doing things wrong and realize that you can change and do it differently. When you do, when you decide to see beyond where you are, to see life as it can be rather than life as it is, you are opening your mind to possibilities. You have found new eyes, you have seen new landscapes. What you’ll discover with those eyes is yours and yours alone. It could be very exciting. 

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live out loud

Parenthood

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 15, 2012 12:03 AM

I had planned to talk about a television show tonight, one called Parenthood. And I still will, but its relevance and significance takes on new meaning on this December 14, 2012. When I opened a browser this morning to search for something innocuous, I was confronted with a red breaking news banner that told of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. As the events unfolded, and as I turned on the news to listen, I was shocked. The news was devastating; the feelings overwhelming. As a parent, I was almost literally sick. As a human being, I was ashamed.

This shooting seemed different somehow, more visceral, more devastating. This is not to diminish any of the other shootings that have happened in our history, and especially of late. Oregon, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona. They are all heinous; horrific. Devastating for the families and for our nation. But this one ate at the country’s collective soul, gnawing on it like a dog that won’t relinquish a bone. 20 children dead, most of them kindergartners. Teachers, a principal; others. Stories of bravery amidst tales of horror. I was transfixed. I was mortified. I was so very sad.

I am a parent and while Justin is now nearly 22, I remember all too clearly when he was an innocent little redhead of 5 or 6, happily talking about Disney movies and what he wanted Santa to bring for Christmas. I remember the wonder of him, the purity of his thoughts and love. My heart breaks for the parents tonight who are trying to deal with the unspeakable. Can you deal with it? I don’t know, and I wouldn’t know how. I am ashamed and tired and horrified and sick and saddened and and and.

I am a fan of the show Parenthood. There aren’t many of us; we are rather a cult. But we are faithful and devoted to a show about parenting, the pain and joy of it, the irritation and chaos, the fear, the truth, the realness of it. The show follows four grown siblings and their lives and children; their parenting. They are the Bravermans and they are all in their mid-30s to mid-40s, all with children, all trying to navigate the un-navigatable waters known as parenting. At the head of the large brood are the grandparents, who were, once upon a time, parents to the four who are now immersed in parenthood themselves.

Whether you’re young starting out or grandparents watching your own kids have kids, this show rings true like few shows I’ve ever seen, certainly more than the so-called reality shows which bear no resemblance to any reality I know.

It’s based, loosely, on the movie of so many years ago that was directed by Ron Howard and starred Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Weist and a young Keanu Reeves and even younger Martha Plimpton. It was good; but I didn’t love it. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I wasn’t yet a parent and couldn’t relate.

Over the years, the networks have tried to reproduce the film and all have failed. This most current incarnation is succeeding, albeit barely. It is in its fourth season and there are hints that it may be back for a fifth. It is undoubtedly inexpensive to produce, and aside from salaries, probably has very little excessive cost.

It encapsulates what it means to be a parent in today’s age. Drug and alcohol use by teens, underage sex, a bi-racial child and what that means for him and his parents, adoption, health issues, job issues, wanting to do more for your children than you’ll ever be able to do financially and even emotionally. Like sending a child – Haddie – to Cornell University in New York and having no idea how it will be paid for, and at first saying no, but then figuring out a way. It can drain the soul, as when Amber, a troublemaking teen who has since blossomed into a lovely young woman, ran away and her frantic mother searched everywhere only to finally find her in the town where they used to live, alone in a diner in the rain.

The rain was an apt metaphor. It was cold and dismal and seemed hopeless but it was also cleansing, ridding Amber of the past and of her problems. I am not naïve enough to think that rain can ever heal what happened today in Connecticut. I can’t imagine the sheer terror of the parents, nor of the children. My heart is broken. I wept.  As a parent, you are not supposed to get a phone call saying there has been an incident; you are not supposed to race to the school where your kindergartner should be happily finger-painting to make Christmas ornaments to see if he’s alive. You are not supposed to lose your child to the whims of a gun-wielding maniac.

You are not supposed to be gunned down by your child either, like the teacher whose son was responsible for the murder of at least 27 individuals, 20 of them young children.

You are not supposed to. He was not supposed to. We are not supposed to.

How would they handle something like this on Parenthood, the exquisite drama that graces NBC each Tuesday night? I honestly have no idea, because it’s too real to imagine. It would be too heartbreaking to watch.

Perhaps they’d have a way of making it all make sense. I suspect that they wouldn’t, though. They would let us into the drama, the tears, the anger, the wrenching emotion that is too overwhelming to imagine, and they would let us become part of it. That’s what happened today. We became, sadly, part of it all. And we are poorer for the experience. I find nothing to celebrate in that, other than to wish we could all raise our voices so that perhaps we are finally, finally, FINALLY heard. This gun violence must stop. As a parent, I hear that call clearly. I will shout it myself; I will live this pain and fear and horror and hope for change out loud. Finally.

Dog bless.  

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live out loud

Oh

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 13, 2012 10:18 PM

I was reminded today of the extreme power that a small word can provide, and of the immense guilt or emotion it can cause in the recipient of said word. I speak of the word “oh.” We have long teased my mother that she can use this word better than anyone to convey an entire book of information. Whenever she has a visceral dislike of something, her immediate response is a patented “Oh,” with the ‘o’ very high and the ‘h’ as low as the ground. She also drags it out ever so slightly, like Ohhh. I have never met anyone that does the “Oh” better than my mother. She’ll often precede it with a brief pause, as if to inflict maximum angst in the recipient. She often follows it with another pause before an also patented nose wrinkle. She does it when she doesn’t like a particular clothing choice, or the color you’re painting your kitchen, or the car you’ve decided to buy.

The “Oh” has all the power of mom rolled into two letters. So does the word “No” if it’s done in much the same way with the “n” being a little higher and the “o” drawn out for maximum martyrdom. This was evidently something that Kevin’s mother mastered. An example: Mom, let me clean up the kitchen. “Noooo. I’LL do it.” Kevin uses this tactic on me quite often. It does not often work.

The smallest of words can deliver the biggest emotional bang. Take the word “fine.” It’s a word that any woman in a relationship has mastered. In fact, she probably mastered it in high school when dealing with parents that wouldn’t allow her to do everything in the world that she wanted to do simply because she wanted to. If you’re a woman, you remember. I want to drive to New York City with my friends for a rock concert. No. Fine!

Fine can actually be used two ways. It’s most potent is when it’s used to effectively end any conversation or argument. When used thus it is laced with hatred and bile. This is the kiss-my-ass fine that means the polar opposite of fine but signals there will be no more discussion. I.e. It isn’t fine and you suck.

The other fine is actually fine, as in oh-that’s-good. Whenever I hear “fine,” I almost always ask which fine it is, especially it not readily apparent. Which it usually is.

Another good word is “interesting” because it’s often used to signify something is anything but. It’s often said for something ugly. Men sometimes use it to describe a woman they don’t seem to find especially attractive. She’s “interesting.” My mother has used it along with “oh” when she really doesn’t like something. Well, it’s … interesting.

Still, “oh” remains my favorite probably because it comes from my mother.

Oh. (Is that what you’re wearing? This after you’ve spent an hour and a half in the bathroom getting dressed.)

Oh. (Are you really going to buy that? This after it’s already on the conveyor belt headed for the checker.)

Oh.

Really?

Well.

Fine.

OK.

When you can use one word to communicate a complete sentence, paragraph and page, you are very powerful indeed.

Yep.

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live out loud

Star turn

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 11, 2012 8:34 PM

Every time there is a natural catastrophe, the best in human nature becomes evident. This is a good thing because for many, each normal day is filled with stress and angst; put us behind the wheel and throw in some road rage and hate can become the norm. Hating traffic, hating your job, hating your co-workers. Hating your life. Your miserably normal, uneventful, paycheck-to-paycheck, un-famous life.

We worship celebrities in this country. More people know what’s happening with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s love life than know who’s on the Supreme Court. We love to watch their exploits, revel in some of their tragedies; laugh at them, cry with them. Love and hate them with equal intensity and at varying intervals. People love to listen to them talk about their lives, and yet many cringe when celebrities talk about causes that are close to them, as if because they’re celebrities and famous, they’re no longer allowed to be caring citizens.

It’s never bothered me. I actually think that anyone, regardless of what they do for a living – or even if they’re homeless or jobless, or both – is still entitled to be involved. I especially believe that if they’re lending their name and celebrity to a worthy cause.

Many individual stars have long sought to raise awareness and money for the charities they hold close to their heart. Elizabeth Taylor was often credited with raising awareness for the AIDS crisis and for lending her star-power to an as-then taboo subject. She got involved when her friend Rock Hudson was diagnosed. George Clooney has long been involved in raising consciousness for the suffering in Darfur. Paul Newman was a pioneer in lending his name to raise money for various charities through his Newman’s Own brand of food products and the Newman’s Own Foundation. Sting has been actively involved in saving the rainforest. Angelina Jolie regularly visits missions around the world, largely to raise awareness of the plights of children in third world countries. Bono co-founded the ONE Campaign, among other non-profits, to raise money and awareness of impoverished countries. His EDUN line of clothing, created with his wife, works to bring about positive change through its trading relationship with Africa. The late Princess Diana was one of the best fundraisers the Royal family has ever had, and both of her sons seem to be following selflessly in her footsteps, steps that included working to ban the use of land mines.

Many also get involved in politics, lending their names to politicians, in some cases even helping campaign for their candidate of choice. Bruce Springsteen touring on Air Force One with soon to be re-elected President Obama comes to mind. They lend their name because sometimes it helps. And I applaud their efforts even if I don’t always support their particular causes. I like to think that they are rising above their own fortunes and fame – in fact using their fortunes and fame – to help others less fortunate. How can that be bad?

One of the most influential ways that artists have to help various causes is to band together. It’s a phenomenon that started in 1984 when Irish singer/songwriter Bob Geldof and Scottish guitarist James “Midge” Ure formed one of the first charity supergroups. Called Band Aid, they gathered together some of the biggest names in music and recorded a song called Do they know it’s Christmas to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia. In July 1985, the same group held a Live Aid dual-venue concert in Wembley Stadium in London and in John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. They played to 72,000 and 100,000 respectively, and through television broadcasts reached nearly 2 billion people in 150 countries. An estimated $242 million was raised.

Live Aid was followed by Farm Aid, a concert organized by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young in September of that same year to help raise money for farmers in danger of losing their farms. That first year, they raised over $9 million. They’ve had a concert every year since, except for 1991, including this one, always with the same three participants as well as others.

Another of the original supergroups was the group that recorded We are the world in 1985. The song became a historic event, bringing together huge recording artists. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, and included solo performances (in addition to the writers) from Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Darryl Hall, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and others. Some of those in the chorus included Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Bob Geldof, the Jackson brothers, Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters and Smokey Robinson. Since its release, the song has raised over $63 for humanitarian causes including African relief and homeless programs in the US. In 2010, We are the world used its 25th anniversary to stage We are the world 25 for Haiti to raise money for the devastating earthquake that struck the impoverished country on January 12, 2012, killing more than 230,000, injuring more than 300,000 and leaving over 1.2 million people homeless.

There have been star-wrapped fundraising concerts to save the planet (Live Earth), Katrina and Japan. On December 12, another such fundraising effort takes place. Called 12-12-12, this concert, to be held at New York’s famous Madison Square Garden, may be one of the biggest gatherings of some of the most talented musicians to ever grace the same stage to raise money for a cause, in this case relief for Hurricane Sandy. Some of those participating include Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Eddie Vedder and Roger Waters. Actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Rock, Susan Sarandon and Kristen Stewart will also be on hand. The concert is expected to reach at least 2 billion people. Ticket sales alone have already topped $30 million, all of which will be donated to help victims of the storm.

As a fellow citizen of the country and of the world, I say bravo. These people we love to watch are using their celebrity and their talent to help those who are watching, those who have been harmed; those who are in most need of help. Perhaps this star turn by each of these mega-watt stars will bring some relief. Perhaps it will make the stars in the sky shine a bit more brightly tomorrow night. Perhaps it will allow we mere humans to share the stage equally for just a few hours as we band together with music for a worthy cause.

And perhaps we will all find joy in being able to make a difference for our fellow humans. That is the nature of the season, and the nature of living it out loud. It is written in the stars. 

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live out loud

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