The simple joys

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 11, 2013 10:42 PM

Every once in a while I realize that I have a pretty good life. I have a family that is filled with good, decent and loving people. I have friends who make me happy that we are able to spend time together. I have a son who has turned from a teenager with little direction to a young adult with passion to a man who is ambitious, loving, thoughtful and funny. I have a husband who makes me laugh and who loves me even when I'm not particularly lovable. I have a dog, a home, some dirt in the desert, and a career that I actually like. I am blessed, and I know it.

Today as I was outside, enjoying a warm May Saturday, a light breeze trying desperately to cool the 85º air and failing miserably, it suddenly hit me. My life is good and the joy I get from the simplest things in that life are enough to make me laugh out loud. A wash of contentment came over me. It happens sometimes and at the strangest times, and almost always when I’m in the middle of doing next to nothing. Perhaps it’s because those are the times when I actually have time to contemplate.

Simple joys are those that you don’t have to work at and sometimes don’t even plan. Like washing the car today. I get tremendous joy from lathering up the paint, standing on the step ladder to reach the windshield and the roof, rinsing it, drying it and then admiring how good it looks. Today, it also got vacuumed, thanks to Kevin, so it’s pretty inside and out. I felt accomplished.

I get some of my greatest joy when I’m eating, especially when enjoying a meal with friends or family. Relaxing, talking, laughing, having wine with music on in the background. This is my idea of the perfect way to spend time.

Did I mention the simple joy of wine?

I love experimenting with a new recipe. Taking the time to put something together, smelling garlic or ginger or whatever as it fills first the kitchen and then the house, knowing that if it tastes as good as it smells, we’re going to have a fine meal. That fills me with joy.

When I can’t see someone but can talk to them, spending even just a few minutes or as much as several hours, enjoying each other’s stories, sharing each other’s lives, it makes me happy.

I love texting with my sister on a near daily basis, just to say ‘hi,’ ‘thinking about you,’ ‘how are things there?’ It makes me feel closer to her somehow, like we’re together more than we actually are. Technology has done that for us, and that makes me happy, too.

Music is one of my greatest joys. Depending on my mood, the day of the week or the time of day, I almost always have music playing. Jazz, the standards, coffeehouse rock, classic rock, new age. Music is, to me, as necessary as sunshine.

Freshly ground and brewed coffee.

Cantaloupe when it comes back into season. Ditto peaches and nectarines.

A perfectly ripe avocado.

The simple joy of going for a ride on the motorcycle, of walking the dog, or watching a really good rerun on television, of getting lost in a phenomenal book, especially if I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it turns out to be. These kinds of things are the meaning of life.

The exquisite joy of having ideas. I have them all the time, especially ideas for things to write. I scribble notes on the paper next to the bed, as I did this morning, getting them out of my head and out onto a place where they can be seen, analyzed, interpreted and hopefully developed. I believe that the constant flow of ideas is a source for the constant maybe of possibilities.

And all of the possibilities that life continually presents may simply be the greatest joy of all. 

Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

Interview with a Squire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 13, 2013 11:02 PM

He shows up on time, dapper in his gray fur tipped with hints of black. It is darker nearer his body, and it occurs to me that he is aging the opposite of humans and even dogs, or at least the late Maguire, the one he dubbed his Knight. He has been known ever since as the Squire, the ever-present attendant and companion to the noble dog, the one who helped get him ready for battle and in the end, helped him prepare for the inevitable.

He settles himself into the corner of the branch of the birch tree in the back yard. The sun streams down through the trees, the leaves around him rustle slightly. He pays them no attention. Pulling a nut out from his cheek he starts to nibble.

“You don’t mind if I eat, do you?” he asks politely. “I’ve been traveling and I lost a little weight. Now the missus wants me to get healthy. She doesn’t like me skinny.”

I assure him that it’s perfectly fine for him to eat and nod, agreeing that he looks a bit thin but that he also looks good. Perhaps it’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen him haunting our trees, racing along the walls and dancing atop Kevin’s – Hey, Kevin – studio. I ask him where he’s been. Between bites and acorn chews he tells me.

“I got a job,” he says. “Some squirrels from Washington contacted me through squirrel mail and said they were getting ready for this thing called Squirrel Week. And I thought, come on. There’s a week celebrating me?”

I say that I’ve heard of that but didn’t know much about it.

He chews for a minute, bringing his little squirrel hands up to his mouth, and then he swallows. He tosses the rest of the nut to the side. He starts to speak again and then he freezes. Suddenly he is on high alert. His fur stands on end, the black tips at attention, his black eyes straight ahead, his ears perked.

Inside the house, the new dog, the knight-wannabe, stirs. I am out on the patio with a cup of coffee and the new dog, known as Cooper, wants to be outside with me. He is rather attached to me, as it turns out. But as I am having a chat with the Squire, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have him racing around, trying to cause trouble. I tell Cooper to hush and assure the Squire that we’re cool.

“Sometimes he makes me wish I was a flying squirrel,” the Squire mutters.

Squirrel Week, it turns out, was started by The Washington Post to celebrate the much loathed and more beloved rodents –

“Rodents,” he repeats. “Piiittthhhh.”

– who are descended from the Sciuridae family from some 40 million years ago. There are 285 known relative-types and most live in either terribly cold climates or exceptionally hot areas. They like to eat birdseed and nuts, they scavenge and forage for food and they love to play chicken with cars. I have seen too many relatives of our beloved Squire end up splat on the road. It’s not pretty. I see them dart out from seemingly nowhere and as they start across the asphalt I find myself cheering them on: “Go squirrel, go!”

“We’re creative in our approach to life,” the Squire says after a few moments of silence. “If we need to get someplace, we get there. We call it the squirrel squirt. If we need to extract a nut, we figure it out. It might take a while, but it happens. It’s about overcoming challenges. You know, like being called a rodent.”

That is a challenge, I agree. As the fictional Carrie Bradshaw once intoned: squirrels are just rats with cuter outfits. I admit that I’ve always found that funny. The Squire looks at me steadily. I can tell he’s trying to decide if he should be insulted. I assure him he shouldn’t be. I also laugh at jokes about Italians and about women, even sometimes about Italian women. He smiles. He says it’s good to be back and that his job didn’t really pan out. I ask what it was.

“Getting all 285 to pose for one picture,” he says. “Wasn’t happening. Not even close.”

I have one more question for the Squire. How is he getting along without his Knight?

“Oh, you know, it’s hard,” he says sadly. He’s quiet then, lost in squirrel thoughts. “I miss the big guy. And he was a really good guest blogger. I have trouble with that sometimes.” He pauses.

“I guess I still have big paws to fill,” he says with a smile.

And with that he is up off the branch and scurrying up the tree. I watch him go, wondering why the Washington Post felt the need to have a Squirrel Week and if Cooper will ever be the knight we hope he’ll be. I’m lost in my own squirrel thoughts when I hear my name:

“Hey Lorin,” he says. I look but can’t find him. “Sometimes you just gotta let the nuts fall where they may.” I smile. “And May will be here before you know it! Bye!”

His voice disappears then, too. But the Squire is back, and I for one am celebrating him – and all of his brethren – on this Saturday as we are all living it out loud … in cute outfits. 

The therapy of music

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:45 PM

The British orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski once said: “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”

I interpret this quote as saying that both are art forms, both start from nothing but a thought, a desire, a feeling. A painter has something tangible in front of him, something he can touch. A writer is much the same, with a piece of paper, or a computer screen. A musician has her instruments. They exist in the quiet until she gives them life and their melodic sounds paint the air with song.

Our house is often filled with music, chosen for the time of the day, the day of the week, and the mood of the house. On Sunday mornings, when the sun is lazy and we are equally so, I usually put on a Live365 station called Seascapes. It’s a blend of new age and instrumentals, a bit of jazz. It’s very mellow and non-intrusive. During the week, I play a variety of jazz, 70s soft rock, and whatever hits me as being interesting. Sometimes I opt for the silence rather than the paint.

On Friday nights, we flood the house with standards. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, and more current crooners like Steve Tyrell, Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., and Diana Krall. It’s the kind of music that goes exceedingly well with martinis.

When Saturday rolls around, we tend to blast out classic rock, as if we’re reliving our youth. When we’re working on a house project or even cleaning, we tend to put on the Los Angeles radio station – yes, actual radio with commercials and everything – KLOS and it always plays exactly what we need. We sing along, we dance, we get stuff done.

Music can make you fall in love. Actually it’s probably your hormones making you fall in love but music helps set the mood. When Kevin and I had our first date, we went to a place called Monty’s, at the corner of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards. There was a piano player, a lounge act, who played a lot of covers, one of which was the stupidly and unnecessarily majestic MacArthur’s Park. But we both found ourselves singing along to it and generally loving it as if it had been composed by Mozart. We knew all the lyrics. I think we started to fall in love during MacArthur’s Park.

People have a “song” that is theirs; they don’t have a painting or a book. They have music that defines their relationship. Ours is not MacArthur’s Park. It is the song Get Here by Oleta Adams. I don’t remember how it became our song – perhaps my husband does. But I do remember that it’s ours, and every time it comes on, we stop whatever we’re doing and crank the stereo. It was the second to the last song that played before we walked down the aisle. (The song that played when we walked down the aisle was George Winston’s Canon.)

Music can break your heart. If a relationship you’ve been in ends, every song you hear after that breakup seems to have been written only for you. It’s as if the musician took up residence in your heart, in the space where your love used to reside.

Music can make you angry. Loud, pulsing hip hop music irritates me. I can’t listen to it. It raises my blood pressure and not in a good way. Roy and Bobbi live in an area of the San Fernando Valley where the proximity to other homes and apartments is incredibly close. They have a neighbor that blasts Mexican polka music that makes their teeth hurt.

Music can soothe your soul. It can send you soaring to incredible heights or crashing to depths of despair. It’s important at weddings, and at funerals. It sets the stage for a life, and it celebrates the end of one. During the film (a personal favorite) The Big Chill, the song that plays during the funeral at the beginning is an organ version of The Rolling Stones’ You can’t always get what you want. The organ version eventually and fairly quickly becomes the Stones’ version, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Music is therapy. It sets the mood, enhancing or squashing. It permeates a room, it helps you drive, it gets you through the day. It flows over you and settles the soul.

The 19th century German poet Berthold Auerbach wrote: “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” That’s a song worth celebrating, one worth singing out loud. 

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