Our town

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 13, 2016 10:15 PM

We went out today in the middle of the day. This is fairly unheard of for us, but we have people coming for dinner tomorrow night and I wanted to get what we needed at the store so that I have tomorrow to work and prepare. As we so often do, we grouped our errands together. 

First stop: gas. We try to fill up the Sport as soon as if begins to hover around a quarter of a tank. It’s a habit we developed in California, a habit I actually started years ago when I lived alone. I decided that if we ever had an earthquake, like the “big one” they’ve been predicting forever, I might need to get out of town. To do so, I would require gas. The idea that any gas stations would be functional after a devastating quake is laughable. And even if it was, the idea that it would be easy to get gas is downright hilarious. Everybody in Los Angeles would be trying to get gas. So whenever my tank got to around half, or just a hint below, I’d fill up the tank. Yes, it meant that I needed to go to the gas station more often, but it also meant I was prepared. 

We don’t drive much anymore. Nearly all of our work is now done via phone and internet. No meetings. I go to the grocery store once a week. We run odd errands as necessary. Occasionally we actually go somewhere, but not that often. A tank of gas lasts us at least a month, and that’s in a 5500 pound car. We also don’t have earthquakes here, not really. Still, it’s a good idea to keep gas in the car just in case. 

We had filled the tank at the local Shell station and were just getting ready to climb back into the car. I heard Kevin say “Hey there,” and I turned to see our friend Julianne. She too had come to get gas. We chatted for a bit, said ‘see you soon’ and then she pulled around to the pump and we got in the Sport and headed to our next stop. 

We went to Dickman’s to pick up some steaks. Kevin went to the credit union to pay the motorcycle payment. He then dropped me at Safeway while he went to drop some stuff at Goodwill, take some things to Justin’s storage, and go to Ace Hardware. Armed with my canvas bags, safely tucked into my cart, I started shopping where I usually start: produce. Everyone has a way they shop. It’s a routine. Me starting in produce is what enables me to get everything on my list easily and quickly. I can blow through the store, doing a full order of groceries, in less than 40 minutes. 

I was picking out potatoes so that I can make twice-baked tomorrow night. I thought I heard my name, but ignored it. There weren’t that many people in the store at 1 pm on a Thursday afternoon. The chances of someone actually knowing me were slim and get the hell out of my office. Then I heard it again. I turned. And there was Shana, another friend of ours.

We talked about their trip to San Diego tomorrow for the weekend, about football, about assault weapons and that they really should be banned, about getting together for dinner up at our house sometime in early November since we’re all busy until then.  

When we lived in LA, we never ran into anyone, not even in Oak Park which was fairly small. In all the years we lived there, I never once ran into a neighbor in our local grocery store. Today, I saw two of my friends in different places within a half hour. I couldn’t help but smile.

This is reason 1,372 why we love Tucson. It’s a small town. It’s our town.

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live out loud

Reading and writing

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 12, 2016 7:41 PM

I’ve been reading about writing lately and it’s fascinating. I love to read but I’ve long believed that if I’m reading, I’m not writing. This is a ridiculous belief and I fully admit it, though I justify it by saying that I don’t have very much time to write. But you write all day, you’re thinking. And you’re correct. I do write all day. But I don’t always write for myself. That’s one of the reasons I continue to write this blog. It gives me my outlet. I can write anything I want here, and often do. I’ve used this space to write about my dogs and their adorable behavior, and when our first two passed away. I’ve written about friends and family, about Justin, about Kevin. I’ve written about wine and cooking and food and cactus. I’ve written about creatures. I’ve written about politics. 

But my reading of late has been abysmal. (An aside: I just love that word “abysmal.” It’s one of those words that has a very visceral, textural feel to it.) I continue to buy books and they continue to stack up, mostly in my office. Since we moved, I’ve been trying to keep my stacks out of the public view. It’s a nice house; we’re trying to keep the clutter down. Sometimes we succeed. 

That leaves my office, which thankfully is fairly good size. I have books stacked on my desk, in my book shelves, on top of my book shelves, in the closet.

It also leaves our bedroom where I have books stacked, neatly, next to my side of the bed. Eventually I will get through these books, in addition to the dozens that are still safely packed inside boxes inside my closet. 

I’m taking a class, as I mentioned, and for my class I have two books, and each week I have readings. This is good because it is forcing me to read because it’s homework and I have to say, I’m loving it. One of the books is by a favorite author of mine, Anne Lamott. It’s her book Bird by Bird, Some instructions on writing and life. Her observations are often exactly how I feel, and I find myself nodding along, underlining passages and wanting to read more. 

The other book is The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Short Stories since 1970. We have one or two to read each week, and while some are more enjoyable than others, they’re wonderful. I’ve long had a fascination with short stories. As much as I love novels because they allow me to immerse myself into a different world, into other’s lives, for a longer period of time, the idea of a short piece that is a temporary escape is so luscious and fun. 

The anthology contains stories by authors whose novels I’ve read. Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, Jhump Lahiri, E Annie Proulx. As I scan the table of contents I just want to kick back and read. Which of course, I can’t because I do have quite a bit of work as well.

But I’m reading again. And because of the class, I’m also writing. It’s the best of both worlds. And I’ll get through the other books and I’ll do it, as Anne Lamott writes, relaying a story her father told her brother when he had waited until the last minute to start a report on birds: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” 

How to read, and how to write for sure. And definitely how to live it out loud.

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live out loud

Little solar powered lights

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 11, 2016 8:04 PM

Last December – can it be nearly a year already? – we had a solar system installed on our roof. This one didn’t include planets and stars; rather some 30 panels meticulously placed in order to capture the power of one particular star, the sun. Each day we capture somewhere around 49 kWh of power each day. It’s enough to power our house and then some. Each month, we actually produce more than we need so we “bank” it with the electric company. At the end of the year, they’re supposed to issue us a check because we gave them some of our power to use for other homes. It’s an amazing system that only costs us $126 a month regardless of the time of year, whether we are running the AC 24/7 or the heat (which we also have hooked up to run on an electric pump). It’s a good deal. It’s cheaper than electricity. It’s environmental. It’s good and great, respectively.

We love it, so much so that we’re now using mini solar powered lights around the property. We found them at Lowes months and months ago, though they can be found just about anywhere. Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and any other home improvement store. Justin had the idea when we first moved in of wiring the hillside behind us, dotting the landscape with lights to illuminate some of the saguaros, ocotillos, and mesquite trees. We also figured we could do the same with the hillside that falls away from us below. But wiring it seemed difficult. 

Enter solar. While we haven’t yet placed all of our mini solars on the hillside, we have started the process. We placed two in the center of the driveway where we have three saguaros, one that towers above the house and two smaller ones along with rocks and other cacti. We also have created a planter for a replanted tree on the way up the road toward the house. Our property – indeed the entire area – is nothing but rock so it’s easy to find loose rocks with which to build. Kevin has created a rock curb, again leading up to the house. We have built a rock wall behind the driveway to divert rain water as it gushes down from above. Kevin has used rock to create swales, again for the diversion of rain.

I have used rock in our two planters that stand guard in front of our front door. These rocks hold rusted metal plant sculptures, agave. The rip rap below the house, on the hillside, again to divert water this time from the scuppers, is partly from rock found on the property.

We found a big, almost triangular rock that we’ve placed in front of the replanted tree. On that rock, we’ve attached an ‘M,’ and in front of the ‘M’ we’ve placed a small solar powered light.

Every night, as the sun goes down and the two massive inverters in the garage power down, our small solar lights power up. They shine on our house numbers, on our cactus, on our ‘M.’ It’s a subtle and exquisite way of lighting up the desert without hurting the dark skies ordnance of the city. And without having to create and use more electricity. Definitely something to celebrate.

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In which Yellow goes camping

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 9, 2016 8:30 PM

So Riley has a new toy. It’s an oversized, stuffed Crayola crayon that we have dubbed Yellow for obvious reasons. It’s brighter than the sun. We got it just days ago, from PetCo. Every time I go to PetCo to buy dog food, which is roughly once a month, I also stock up on whatever cookies-treats we’re low on and I usually buy a toy. Our little blonde nut goes through toys fairly quickly. Excited to get something new, he sits as I remove tags and stickers, his tail sweeping the floor, his eyes hyper-focused. He vibrates with anticipation. Finally, the time comes. I present the toy always by naming it as I give it to him. We started that habit with Maguire. We introduce toys with a name in the hope that when we say “go get Yellow” or “get Wubba” he has at least a clue as to what – who? – we’re asking for. 

Riley sniffs, licks and then grabs the toy, rising, turning and racing off into the center of the house. He whips the new toy back and forth, growls and then settles down to start chewing, squeaking, destroying. We try to distract him, but we’re not always successful. If a toy can make it 24 hours, it has a chance of making it for a week or two. If not, it’s usually gone within the hour. 

Yellow was purchased in the reduced price bin because of the destruction factor. Yellow was $4. We like Yellow. More importantly, Riley likes Yellow. After the ceremonial handoff in the kitchen, he and Yellow have become nearly inseparable. Yellow gets carried around the house. Riley sits at the front door, watching out through the glass, holding Yellow. When we go out to pee, Yellow comes with us. It’s his new BFF. Oh sure, he still loves Wubba, but Yellow is bright, shiny –

SQUIRREL! 

Where was I? 

Ah, yes. Yellow and Riley, sitting in a tree, p-l-a-y-i-n-g. They were out on the deck last night, Riley down on the tile, looking out over the deck, a sphynx overseeing his desert. Yellow was next to him, not really paying much attention to the desert, content to be with his new friend. 

I’m sure if Yellow could talk, he would have gushed about how excited he was to be in his new home, how much he loved his new friend, and how great the desert was. In fact, he didn’t have to gush. Because Yellow actually decided to go and explore it a bit. In other words, Yellow went camping. 

I went out to check on Riley and he was standing at the railing, looking down and whining. I went to look and there was Yellow down on the rocks. 

“We have a Yellow down,” I called to Kevin. “We have a Yellow down.” Good dad that he is, he laced up his hiking shoes and trudged down under the house, down onto the rip rap to rescue hapless Yellow. He handed him up to me through the railing and I promptly handed the toy back to Riley who was overjoyed. 

Within two minutes, Yellow had been tossed and nosed off of the deck again, this time rolling under some of the brush down below. Riley stood and whined. Kevin and I looked over and shook our heads. 

The sun had gone down and there was little natural light. We tried to explain to Riley that it was probably best for Yellow to stay outside overnight… 

*whine* 

… that we’d be sure to get him in the morning … 

*whine wine * 

… right after our walk. 

*whine whine sniff snort whine yip* 

I guess this is what happens when a best friend decides to go camping and leaves his puppy behind. There’s a lesson in there someplace. I’m just not sure where.

 

Postscript: Yellow was successfully rescued this morning making a certain puppy very happy indeed.

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My Levi’s jacket

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 7, 2016 10:13 PM

There used to be a used clothing store on Sherman Way in Sherman Oaks called Aaardvark. I’ve been there exactly twice. Once was when I was still on staff at Sebastian. My friend Diane, who was a freelance graphic designer in the art department, and I went there one day during lunch. I don’t know that I was looking for anything in particular. I don’t know if she was either. But I remember finding the perfect Levi’s jacket. I’d never had a Levi’s jacket that was just right. Usually they were too new, too blue, too not cool. Aaardvark had an entire circular rack filled with nothing but used denim jackets. While Diane looked for whatever she was looking for, I browsed the rack, my hand casually pushing each hangar along the bar. Then one caught my eye. I have no idea why. It just seemed perfect. Perfectly faded, with just enough fraying around the collar and the elbows to make it well lived in. I tried it on. And it was a perfect fit, a perfect look. I bought it. 

I still have that jacket. It’s a little more frayed than it was. The elbow on the left arm has worn all the way through. Now there are just errant strings and treads holding that part of the jacket together. I still love it. I still wear it. It’s my pride and joy. And still the perfect denim jacket. 

I was reminded on my Levi’s jacket and Aaardvark today when Kevin and I went out in search of parts for our Halloween costumes. We started out at a thrift store that we hoped was like Aaardvark. Aaardvark always had the best 2nd hand clothing. Choice material, literally. Kevin got his lightweight leather jacket there. Like my Levi’s jacket, he still wears it. 

This thrift shop was going out of business which we didn’t know until we got there. It should have been our first clue. Our second was when we walked in and it smelled bad. We looked around. I need a motorcycle jacket for my Halloween costume. Now, dear readers who know me, you’re thinking, you’ve been riding motorcycles for years, Lorin. Why don’t you have a motorcycle jacket? 

The truth is, I do. I actually have three. But they’re really not conducive to my costume. One is a lighter weight black leather jacket with purple roses and fringe; another is a heavier jacket, for when it’s colder, with red roses and fringe. One is a short jacket with lots of buckles; the prototypical motorcycle jacket. But I think it’s too short. Considering I’ll be wearing a body suit and stockings and that’s about it, I’d like my jacket to at least come to my hips.

I browsed through the jackets. Found one. But it smelled funny, so we left. 

We went to another thrift store that was much better but they didn’t have any jackets, didn’t have any thigh high boots – yes, I’m going as a hooker – and didn’t have any cowboy boots for Kevin. We went to a Goodwill store that was better. We found a pair of boots for me and a black cowboy hat for him.

As I pushed through the racks, pushing coats past, I smiled. Once again, I was at Aaardvark, looking at denim jackets. It was great then; it was still great today.

Now if I could only find a motorcycle jacket to sort of cover my a$$.

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Getting our boo on

by Lorin Michel Thursday, October 6, 2016 9:05 PM

A number of years ago, we went to a Halloween party. There was no criteria, no theme other than to dress up. We brainstormed for a number of days, perhaps weeks trying to come up with an idea and finally settled on Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. We were and remain big fans of the film, and quote it regularly. Kevin can lower his voice still and imitate Dr. Lecter, especially with the line: “Oh, Senator. Love your suit.” It drips with venom and sarcasm and fright. 

That line became the catalyst for Kevin’s costume, or rather the scene for that line became the catalyst. For those who haven’t seen the film, Dr. Lecter is brought in to speak with the senator whose daughter has been kidnapped by Buffalo Bill. Lecter has promised he has information to share. They’re all in an airplane hangar and Lecter is wheeled from the plane, in a jumpsuit and a straightjacket, essentially strapped upright to a dolly. He is wearing a mask on the bottom half of his face, ostensibly so that he won’t bite anyone. Hannibal the cannibal and all. 

The first thing we did was find the mask, which was surprisingly easy. We made a straightjacket out of an oversized white sweatshirt. We bought an orange jumpsuit and he wore a pair of black shoes. We rented a furniture dolly, which came with straps and with a little hair goo to slick his hair back, he was ready to go. 

I found a dark straight-haired wig. We bought a blue windbreaker and with white duct tape, made the letters FBI for the back. We made an FBI badge and an FBI ID, using Jodi Foster as Clarice Starling (rightly so). The hardest thing to find, interestingly, was a toy gun than looked somewhat realistic. Eventually we did, along with a clip holster.

The wig itched terribly. And Kevin being strapped down, with his arms tied across his chest, was uncomfortable. When we arrived at the party, we wanted to make an entrance, with me wheeling him in the front door. But I wasn’t strong enough. Luckily, we ran into Dracula in the front yard who graciously made the assist. We entered and were an instant hit. In fact, we ended up winning most creative costume. 

Eventually Kevin removed the mask so that he could have a cocktail. Naturally I unstrapped him and untied him. I took the wig off. But we had a blast. Unfortunately, we haven’t been to a Halloween party since. If memory serves, we got invitations but for whatever reason, weren’t able to go. 

This year, we have a party to go to. It has a rock icons theme, though you don’t have to stick to it. We’re going to, and can’t wait. Today, we finally figured out who I was going to be and so now we can go about trying to find everything we need to transform ourselves into other people. 

Kevin is going as Willie Nelson. I’m going as Turn Back Time Cher. Kevin has already tracked down a battered old guitar. We found a place for a long gray haired hippie wig which we’ll braid. He found a place to get the stuff to make a guitar strap like Willie’s and he’s started tracking down black cowboy boots. I have a slightly more difficult task, trying to find the slinky, sequined body suit, thigh high hooker boots and slightly oversized motorcycle jacket. I’ve located a place to get a wig and a white sailor’s hat. The jury’s out on whether I’m going to a) show my butt and b) put fake tattoos on said butt. I’m leaning toward no. Maybe if my butt was the butt of 15 years ago. Not sure it would hold up under scrutiny now. 

This party we’re going to is a very big deal. People spend months on their costumes. We have a little less time. But I feel confident we can do it. And I’m starting to get excited. 

If I could just figure out a way to turn back time on my butt….

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I think I will never see

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 5, 2016 9:33 PM

There is a childhood poem, the gist of which is this: I think I will never see, a poem as lovely as a tree. We all learn it. Decades later, we can still recite it, or some semblance of it. When we learned it as children, the only thing we cared about was the rhyme. We didn’t know about cadence and rhythm. We just liked sing song.

Diane Rehm used this nursery rhyme type poem this morning on her show as she and her guest were talking about trees, and about the wonder of what they bring to our lives. I hadn’t thought about it before. I love trees as much as the next person, but I rarely spend time thinking about them. Maybe it’s because of where I live. We don’t have a lot of trees here, at least not of the towering type, like what you get in New England, or along the eastern seaboard, in the mid-west, even the northwest, and of course the mountains. 

I grew up in the north east, surrounded by trees. It never occurred to me that they weren’t simply everywhere, thick and lush in the summer, hiding birds and nests, and bugs, turning unimaginable colors in the fall before losing their leaves, as if they were shedding their skins or their clothes. Still they were huge, even naked, the branches jagged across the sky, shaking spindly fingers in the wind.

In the winter, the trees, so vibrant during the spring and summer, seem almost angry. They turn gray, like much of the world. I always used to joke that everything in New England became a lovely shade of dull during the winter months. It was like living in a black and white television without any contrast. The trees were gray against a gray sky. The cars were all black and white, painted gray by sand and salt on the gray roads. The people were gray. Even the snow became a muted dusty shade of white from car exhaust and life. 

Still, the trees had presence. They had majesty, pomp and circumstance. They towered above we mere mortals. 

In Southern California, we have trees, too, but they’re different. Because we’re part of the desert, the trees are not dense and tend more toward the palm type. There are also huge, exhaustive oaks that have been there for centuries. It is illegal to cut down oak trees in certain parts of Southern California. They’re glorious, these trees. Gnarled and cantankerous. The palms wave happily above the world providing a different take on life. They’re lofty, superficial. As much as I love them, and adore what they symbolize in terms of the tropics, there’s just not much there there. 

Here, in our beloved Tucson, we have trees, too, but they’re spiny, spiky, mean. Mesquite trees are the old and wise while the palo verdes are the young upstarts, the teenagers challenging authority. They grow but they never seem to tower, not like the mighty oaks and maples and pines. Even the dogwoods of Washington are taller and glorious in their blooms, cotton candy blossoms promising sweet beauty. 

To look at any of these trees and to appreciate them for what they are, and what they do in our lives is to be filled with awe. Regardless of where you live, you can marvel at nature, and feel the rush of calm that comes from sitting still and basking in their unique and individual beauty. This is the mental health expertise dispersed by nature in general and trees in particular. I think I have seen and embraced, the poetry of the trees, my stress erased. 

Not as good as the childhood poem but still something to celebrate.

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I heard the news today oh boy

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 4, 2016 10:59 PM

My first year of high school was spent in Columbia, Maryland. We moved there the summer of 1976 when the country was celebrating its bicentennial. It was odd to be so close to the nation's capital at that time – Columbia is only about 45 minutes or so from DC – and odder still that I don't remember going into Washington at all that summer. On television, there were parades and fireworks, live shots of ancient ships in harbors in New England. The country was 200 and shouting about it. I was 14 and miserable.

We lived in a very nondescript white house with black shutters. Directly across from us was a pale yellow house with black shutters. They had four kids, one of whom, Carol, was my age. Up the street was another girl my age, Pam. We became friends fairly quickly. All of us started high school at Wilde Lake, and on weekends and after school we'd hang out. Carol’s family had a camper parked in the driveway. We spent hours in there, just talking. 

My family was only in Columbia through 1977, moving away shortly after Elvis Presley died. This time we settled in New Hampshire. My dad’s job was in Boston, his office actually in one of the surrounding towns, and many people who worked in Massachusetts lived in New Hampshire because of the taxes. I didn’t know that at the time, and honestly don’t know if that’s one of the reasons my parents chose New Hampshire. I suspect my mother just liked it better; she still does. All I know is that I was miserable again. I hated having to move at 15. I had just started making good friends and now I was again in the situation of having to make friends again. I wonder now if it’s one of the reasons why I keep people at a distance. It takes me a long time to make friends. Subconsciously I suspect all of the moves, especially as a teenager, made me cautious. 

Gradually, I lost touch with everyone I knew in Columbia only to reconnect years later. I had made my life in the west, where I’ve been since 1984 having moved of my own volition this time. Then along came Facebook and I was able to re-establish friendships, albeit mostly of the virtual kind. I found Carol and through Carol, Pam and we all became “friends” once again. Then we decided to move and Carol told me that Pam lived in Tucson now. I still have the Facebook Private Message she sent me on February 23, 2010, after she had tracked me down through another Facebook friend’s page. When we moved here, I contacted Pam and over the last couple of years, we’ve met for happy hour four or five times. 

Two weeks ago, I had to cancel our planned cocktail because a huge project had landed on my desk. We rescheduled and were supposed to meet tonight, at 5:30. Kevin and I got up and walked the dog. It was cool, 51º, and for the first time this season, I wore a pair of sweat pants rather than sweat shorts. It made me almost giddy. We talked about what we had going on for the day, as we often do, a way of mentally preparing ourselves for the onslaught of emails, phone calls and projects. I mentioned that one of my emails was down and that I had to call GoDaddy when I got back to my office. Oh, I said, I’m also meeting Pam tonight at the Yard House. 

But when I got back to my office and fired up my computer, I found a Private Message on Facebook, once again from Carol: I don't know if you heard, but I thought you should know. Sadly our friend Pam passed away suddenly last Thursday from a heart attack. 

I sat back in my chair, astounded. Shocked. Not knowing how to feel or even how to react. I immediately sent a note to Carol. Can you call me? After 30 some years, I heard the voice of a friend I made back in 1976. We talked about Pam, about the shock. I just kept shaking my head; I could see Carol, by the tone of her voice, doing much the same. At the end of the conversation, we talked for just a few minutes about our lives, our kids, ourselves. And then we said goodbye, hoped to speak again soon. 

I’m left with a sadness. Pam and I weren’t close, but we were friends. And the shock of someone my age passing away so suddenly struck very close. It reminded me of the fragility of life, of the randomness, of the fleeting nature of our time. I often joke that no one gets out of this alive, but it’s said flippantly, tossed off, a flat stone across an invisible pond. Something I don’t think about.  

But I’m thinking about it today. And I’m sad. I’m grateful for having reconnected with Pam again, for having been able to share a glass of wine a couple of times. If I’ve learned anything today, in this life, it’s that every day is precious. It’s an opportunity, a possibility, and a responsibility to grab it, shake it, embrace it. And live it out loud.

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I’m listening to the wind howl

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 3, 2016 9:45 PM

In the late afternoons, as the sun is listing toward the western horizon, right before it melts into the mountains, the air becomes incredibly still as if everything is afraid to move lest they disturb the beauty and tranquility of the desert. And then at the exact moment the sun disappears, the wind rears up in protest. Don’t go. But it goes anyway and dejected the wind dies down, leaving the desert darkening and quiet once again. Or at least it does usually.

Sometimes, the wind gets angry early, for no apparent reason, or if there is one, it’s lost on me. Today is a day like that. This morning was quiet and gentle, barely a breeze. The air was thicker than usual, like it had rained over night, though we didn’t hear it. If the rain falls in the dark, and everyone is asleep, does it still ping the skylight? There were still some residual clouds, left over from yesterday’s rain, but they were scattered, unable to regroup before the sun made them dissipate. 

By 11 am, though, when I walked down the hill, the wind was starting to blow. I had to take care of my neighbor’s dogs again. She had to drive to Palm Desert unexpectedly to care for her aging mother, and her dog sitter wouldn’t be able to get to the house until later. Would I mind? Of course not. It’s a welcome break, a reason to get up from my desk and go outside. It also doesn’t hurt that I can build up my step count on my fitness tracker. I told her that and she laughed. I know she feels like she’s intruding, but she’s not, at all.

I walked down, and then down again. If it’s possible, their drive is even steeper than ours. I let myself in, and promptly got pretend-mauled by Brody. Jax simply sat down, staring at he through his big brown eyes, his Rottweiler head steady and calm. I always wonder what he’s thinking when he sees me. He’s so gentle but is he secretly thinking of ways to attack? I have no such wonder when it comes to Brody. He’s a big goof of a boy, a black golden doodle and he happily jumps and growls and air snaps. 

I gave them some water, gave them some pets, and then bid them adieu and perhaps later. (Turns out I didn’t need to go back as the dog sitter arrived mid-afternoon.) I trudged back up the hill, into a wind blowing stronger than when I got there, and I’d only been inside for 15 minutes or so. By the time I got back up to our house, winded and hot, the desert was blowing at me pretty good. 

Strong and whistling, making my wind chimes hit the wall and the glass of the windows, clanging rather than just singing prettily. By the time the sun began its trek toward the west, the whistle had turned to a sorrowful howl, a wounded animal in search of attention and love. It will get none from me. I don’t like wind. I find it rude and intrusive, sometimes, depending on the gusts, I find it dangerous, strong enough to rip trees from the ground, to make the solar panels on the roof moan with the struggle to stay attached.

It’s amazing to me how alive something so invisible can be. How alive and vibrant and terrible and tyrannical. I’ve never understood why wind needs to be so forceful, not when a nice breeze will do, thank you. But blow and cuss it does. And so I sit here, listening to its jangly song, watching as it whips the buffelgrass and the fountain grass and the ocotillos and the mesquite trees, watching the saguaros sway. And I celebrate the fact that while it is blowing it out loud out there, I am perfectly protected in here, and that makes me happy.

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by Lorin Michel Monday, October 3, 2016 9:48 AM

When Justin was little, back to school entailed going to Target. With him leading the way, we found the boys’ department and proceeded to go through, finding jeans and shorts, t-shirts and long-sleeve shirts, socks, boxers, a new belt. We’d find a new hoodie. Then we’d go over to the shoe department so he could pick out sneakers and a pair of work boots for rainy weather. Just before school started, we’d go see Tammy so he could get his hair cut. Occasionally we needed to get him new glasses. Finally, we’d go to Staples to buy school supplies. This was my least favorite thing to do because every other parent and their child was in Staples, picking out notebooks and pencils and whatever else was needed. And making a huge mess. But it was all part of the ritual. 

Years ago, Staples started running a back-to-school commercial that was laugh-out-loud funny for the simple reason that it was true. Exasperated yet glowing parents and petulant, sad children would race and trudge, respectively, through Staples, shopping to the well-known Christmas song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The juxtaposition was something any parent could understand. 

I haven’t been to school since I graduated from college in 1984. I was always a good student in high school, straight As, a member of the National Honor Society. Because I didn’t have to work very hard, I developed poor study habits and so in college I was just an average student. My dad always used to joke: “Imagine what you could do if you just applied yourself a little more.” It used to make me mad, probably because I knew he was right.

When my first husband and I split up, I thought taking a UCLA extension class might be cathartic. I went to one and it was not for me. Rather it was for people who’d never been to school and were just playing with a new hobby. I commend those people, but I wanted more. If I was going to take classes, I wanted something more substantial, something more school-like.  

In those days I also took a course through the Director’s Guild called Robert McKee’s Story Structure. It was fascinating and I loved it. I was dabbling in writing the greatest screenplay ever at that point, and even though I eventually decided I was more of a long-form writer, much of what I learned in that class was universal and invaluable. About plot, about protagonists and antagonists. About flow.

As I write this, Justin, who graduated from college summa cum laude, is on a Cathay Pacific 747, flying from Hong Kong to England. Or the United Kingdom. Or Great Britain. I suppose it’s technically all of the above. He’ll be in Manchester for a bit, then various other places in the Kingdom. He’s there through New Year’s when he heads to Stockholm. It’s part of his continuing tour with Disney’s Frozen on Ice. He is putting his education to use. 

And while I put mine to use every day, I’ve also decided that I need to challenge myself more, so I’m now taking a writing class for the first time in decades. It’s online but it’s exactly what I always felt school should be. Interactive, fun, and as I hoped, challenging. It makes me want to write more which I didn’t know was possible. 

I’m getting back to basics and back to learning, back to expanding my mind and back to good habits, or perhaps developing them for the first time. Somehow it’s easier when you’re older and understand the ramifications more. 

I’m also back to realizing just how much fun it is to be in school. I don’t remember thinking that when I was in college. Most of the time I spent trying to just get finished so I could get on with the rest of my life. I’ve been getting on with my life now for quite some time, and it’s time to do something different, to flex the creative muscles. 

The idea of learning and expanding both terrifies and excites me. But it’s all part of getting back to living it out loud.

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live out loud

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