The great first paragraphs from "The Magus"

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 10, 2011 2:29 PM

"I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.

"I had long before made the discovery that I lacked the parents and ancestors I needed. My father was, through being the right age at the right time rather than through any great professional talent, a brigadier; and my mother was the very model of a would-be major-general’s wife. That is, she never argued with him and always behaved as if he were listening in the next room, even when he was thousands of miles away. I saw very little of my father during the war, and in his long absences I used to build up a more or less immaculate conception of him, which he generally – a bad but appropriate pun – shattered within the first forty-eight hours of his leave."


The opening lines from The Magus by John Fowles, published in 1966 but begun in the 1950s. It’s a fascinating story of physiological illusions that can and do become increasingly dark and serious.

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great first paragraphs

Into the wind

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 1, 2011 9:46 PM

The winds have been almost violent this weekend, upwards of 54 miles per hour according to the National Weather Service. The trees have been whipped soundly and branches litter the ground. New leaves have been ripped from safety, thrown to the ground and pushed up against the house, both the front door and the back patio. I like to think that they’re seeking sanctuary.

The temperatures have been warm enough to have both the back slider open and the front windows as well, creating a nice feel inside the house. When I opened the front door though, the back door sucked the wind through the house. Pictures pulled away from the walls. It was very dramatic.

I’m not a fan of wind. A nice breeze, fine; a little gust every now and again, OK.  But harsh winds are dangerous and a little scary.

I am, however, a big fan of my wind chimes, as many know. I love to listen to them throughout the night, in the morning, during the day, and this weekend they have been positively symphonic. I have six separate chimes that hang from the patio cover, ranging in size from rather large to tinklingly tiny. The larger ones are a copper color, its tubes stretching to nearly 4 feet in length, the hollows are about 2”. They hang suspended from a teak circle, a wooden sphere hangs between them, three-quarters of the way to their end. The sound is rich, and deep, spiritual, almost Celtic. A shorter chime is silver, its tubes about three feet in length though its hollow thicker at nearly 2 ½”. A still shorter chime is about a foot long and the tiniest one is perhaps 6”, its tube no thicker than a pencil. I also have a pyramid-shaped piece of steel, long rusted, with a single clapper hanging from its center. It takes a strong wind to get it to ring and when it does it sounds a little like a cowbell, though its sound is deeper and resonates for longer. Another odd little chime hangs in the corner, left over from the house’s previous owners. It has a bell shape and from it hang about six strings, at the end of which are flat, pewter shaped shells. When the wind blows, those shells clink together. It’s not my favorite, but when it’s added to the mix, it contributes another layer of texture.

Tonight is Sunday. The chimes are mostly quiet now, just the faintest hint of tone, so soft as to be a whisper. It’s my friend Bobbi’s birthday; it’s the night that the President of the United States announced that Osama Bin Laden is dead. There is so much to celebrate.

I feel blessed and happy and inspired. And so we move forward, into that fabulous wind. Let the chimes ring!

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Live it out loud

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 27, 2011 10:18 PM

Every day the sun rises, the newspaper lands with a thud – some days with a bigger thud than others – and the dog stirs. Time to get up and see what wonders the day has in store.

It can be hard sometimes to find the good things, the things worth celebrating, but I have come to believe that there is always something that makes it all worthwhile, that gives purpose to what I’m doing, that brings joy and puts a smile in my heart. I believe that everyone can find one such something every day.

I have friends who are having difficulties and I know at such times, when financial worries crowd out all pleasure, when physical pains can be overwhelming, when it feels like the sun didn’t rise at all, this is when we should remember that we have people who love us, that we have people who like us, and that we will get through whatever the world has planned. Because we’re here together. Because we’re a ‘we’ in these circumstances, not just an ‘I.’ Friends are one of the biggest causes for celebration.

I’m celebrating my life here in California, which began so many years ago when I drove across the country with my mother after I decided to move my life with no job, no friends, nothing but the sheer audacity of youth. I thank my parents for not standing in my way, as hard as it must have been for them. I thank my mother for making the journey with me; for believing in me. I still can see my dad’s face, tears falling, as we pulled out of the driveway that June morning. But I’ve never looked back and I celebrate the decision daily.

This is my home, even though I miss my mother, my sister, her family. It is where my friends are, even when they’re far away. They are all in my heart, and embedded in my soul, always. This is where the good grapes are cultivated and great wine is made to be poured. It’s where I live, work and play; where I met my husband and my son; where I love.

This is when I celebrate, not just the glory of the day, but the beauty of the life I lead. Because even when lives can be interrupted, or when they can challenge our very core, I believe that we all came to live our lives out loud.

And so I find cause to celebrate.

Yesterday I blogged about a special dog named Tucker, a therapy dog who works with children with cancer, and I celebrated him, his mom and all of the children he has walked with. But I also celebrated a conversation with my mother even if she began to yawn half way through. I didn’t take it personally; there is a three-hour time difference after all.

Today I’m blogging about nothing and yet everything, about the seemingly innocuous realities that happen every day; about finding the something. The feel of that newspaper and the slight ink stains on my fingers after I read it. The fact that I’m in flip-flops again and the days are warm. The idea that I’m going to change my hair, because I can. It’s been long, it’s time to go short. Maybe I’ll even go blonde. Probably not. That friends and family are finding things to celebrate, too.

I’m celebrating discussing with my husband the duties we have as parents, which today included deciding on a model first and then ordering a new computer for Justin. We also talked about which iPad I’m going to buy, what to have for dinner, if it was time to walk Maguire, what came in the mail and if there was anything worth opening. A funny email, a touching note from a friend with an idea to celebrate called operation beautiful. These are tiny things, but they’re life. They’re my life; they’re everyone’s lives.

And every single one of us came to live it out loud. Celebrate something.

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live out loud

In which I cheat and order pizza

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 25, 2011 9:25 PM

We’ve been doing the low-carb thing for a while now. Some weeks we do better than others as far as keeping the carbs to a minimum. I’m a potato freak. A pasta freak and pizza freak, too. Basically all of the really good Ps; all of the exceptional carbohydrates.

We do reward ourselves each week though, regardless of whether we really deserve it or not, with a cheat night. Cheat night means carbs galore. Pasta? Forget the whole-wheat stuff and bring on the enriched white flour kind. With lots of cheese. And garlic bread. Maybe a cookie for dessert.

Or something on the grill – the usual suspects apply: chicken, ribs, steak – accompanied by a twice-baked potato. With lots of butter and sour cream mixed in so it’s nice and creamy.

Or pizza. 

Ah, pizza. That most delicate of dishes from, well, everywhere according to its rich, storied and tomatoed history, a history that begins in the Mediterranean centuries ago when the Greeks and the Phoenicians indulged in a flatbread made from flour and water. They soaked it and cooked it on a hot stone before seasoning it with herbs. The Greeks called it plakous, and it was a bit like our current focaccia.

The word pizza comes from the Latin word pinsa, meaning flatbread. One particularly interesting legend has Roman soldiers acquiring a taste for Jewish Matzoth while stationed in occupied Palestine. Recent archeologists actually discovered a perfectly preserved Bronze Age pizza in the Veneto region. What I’d like to know is… why wasn’t it eaten?

By the Middle Ages pizza began to resemble the pizza we know today, with dough flattened and covered with olive oil and herbs. Indian Water Buffalo cheese gave pizza mozzarella, an ingredient that no good pizza today would be caught preserved without.

Tomatoes were introduced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the starving peasants of Naples started using the fruit they considered dead (!) in many of their foods. It soon became a staple of Naples, with street vendors offering it to customers for every meal. By 1830, the Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba of Naples was born. It was the world’s first true pizzeria.

Said world would never be the same.

The pizza Margherita made its debut in 1889 when Italy’s Queen Margherita visited Brandi Pizzeria and Rafaele Esposito, the pizza maker, created a pizza in her honor, one showcasing the three colors of the new Italian flag: red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella) and green (fresh basil).

I bring this up because I just ordered a pizza in the Queen’s honor, though I had them throw some mushrooms on it as well. And we went with the thin crust rather than deep dish.

Pizza came to the US in the late 19th century and took up residence in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and of course, Chicago, where the Chicago-style deep dish pizza first made an appearance in 1943 when Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno. It’s still one of the best places for pizza in the country, along with its sister restaurant, Pizzeria Due.

It’s hard to find good pizza in LA, but after 14 years here in Oak Park, we finally found one that’s close by. Tomorrow we’ll feel guilty for having cheated on a Monday rather than a Friday, but only slightly. Because we’ll have indulged in one of the best Ps around.

Pizza, thick or thin, meated or vegetarian, Quattro Formagi or cheeseless, is always worth celebrating. 

I think I hear the doorbell…

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You need me on that wall: Vintage puppy edition

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 22, 2011 8:58 PM

Lately, Maguire has developed an interesting routine. Every night, when it gets dark, he rises, a bit painfully, from wherever he’s been sleeping, often on the hard wood floor, shakes his fur into place as he arranges his legs in order, and marches stiffly – good little soldier – into the bedroom. Which is dark. And evidently populated with all manner of evil just waiting to reign down on our heads. Only Maguire Michel can save the day.

He stands in the dark room and barks. And barks. And barks. And barks. And just about the time we can’t stand it anymore, he stops. Then he starts again until finally one of us braves the evidently bad, bad, bad men or boys or girls or animals or ghosts and walks to the door way. He’ll inevitably be in one of three places. At the back slider, his head nudged between the vertical blinds, barking toward the neighbor’s yard and the fig tree silhouetted in the evening sky.

Frightening.

Or he’s standing next to my side of the bed, his big bear head mere inches away from where my much more delicate head would be nestled into the pillow, were I there.

Terrifying.

Or he’s facing into the master bath, the impossibly long tiled entry leading toward the sunken tub, miles and miles away. Wait! Is that something in the mirror?

Oh. My. God.

We tell him to knock it off and he looks at us innocently before turning to follow us back out into the family room. Within moments, though, he’s on high alert. He looks to Kevin first – Dad! Did you hear that!? – and when Kevin didn’t hear anything worth worrying about, the gaze switches to me. Mom?

And then he decides that the only way to protect the house and his parents is to go back in. The routine begins again. A dog soldier at his post.

Because we need him on that wall. We WANT him on that wall. And deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, he is the great defender.

I salute you, my vintage puppy. Thanks for keeping us safe.

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The sounds of a Sunday morning

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 17, 2011 2:37 PM

There is something uniquely peaceful about Sunday mornings. I don’t go to church or practice any particular type of religion, so it doesn’t have anything to do with that. Rather, it’s the gentle awakening of the world to this singular day, the one day of the week that is truly meant to be restful and lazy.

It was warm here yesterday, unseasonably so, and we slept with the window open. There is little noise at night, but oh, this morning. This morning, various sounds wafted through the bedroom, sleepily making their way into my consciousness.

Under the back awning, the wind chimes touched their long cylindrical, copper and aluminum tubes together for a quiet song. The new spring leaves rustled in the trees just off the patio. Someone in the distance decided it was a good time to cut the grass as a lawnmower roared to life. Sprinklers next door hesitated, sputtered and then burst across the neighbor’s yard. A dog barked and barked and barked. The children three doors over laughed and giggled in that little kid way where the world is just one delight after another, wonder waiting to make their day.

I heard the door to my husband’s studio open and breeze closed, a soft thud. His voice on the phone talking to one of his programmers somewhere in another part of the country, the words indecipherable. Laughter. Something good had happened.

The coffee machine purkled. In the street, a car roared by. Mike in his bright red M3 coupe. Hi, Mike. Another car raced by, faded into the distance, then came back, slowing in front of the house. The newspaper landed with a thud on the driveway. I love the Sunday Times.

Maguire, on the floor, stretched and sighed. I, still in bed, followed suit. Time to get up and celebrate the day.

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Word salad: observations from the freeway

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:10 PM

I watched the birds darting through the air this morning as I made the crawl to Glendale. Traffic, as usual, was thick and cranky, carbon dioxide billowing into the air, music thumping from surrounding vehicles, people talking on their Bluetooths and on regular cell phones, against the law – or is it, when traffic isn’t really moving? – and even texting, also illegal even though I was doing a bit of it myself. Rocking out to songs streaming from my iPod after I got bored with NPR, something that rarely happens, but there was a little too much politics and budget talk and I needed to veg so that I wouldn’t explode. Music is better for vegging than politics; also better for driving. There was a blue mustang to the left. The guy was pounding on his steering wheel. A truck driver in the Atlas moving van on the right was smoking a cigarette, the smoke wrapping his baseball-capped head in carcinogens.  A motorcycle, brilliant green with black trim, roared up behind me, splitting lanes as I moved toward the moving van to let the guy squirt by. The red Nissan Maxima in front of me was not so courteous and deliberately twisted his car toward the bike. The biker flipped him off. I smiled and reached for my coffee, turning up the music, an old Blood, Sweat & Tears tune You made me so very happy, and casually glanced toward the illuminated CalTrans sign telling me how much more time I had to sit there until I reached the 134 split. 20 minutes. Thank you baby, thank you baby.

I hoped I wouldn’t have to pee.

I inched toward my goal as the sun split through the clouds, streaking toward the ground, so anxious to get there already and warm up the day.

And as I sat there, noticing all of the surrounding cars, I also found myself studying the birds as they suddenly took flight from a nearby electrical line, top of a freeway-adjacent building, or a palm tree as if startled. They would take turns circling, bursting forward with incredible speed, and then diving toward the cars before pulling themselves up just before crashing into a windshield. There were at least thirty, maybe more, black silhouetted wings, tiny Mavericks, fighting the gravitational pull of the 101 and hissing at the cars below, cars that were spoiling their otherwise peaceful day of chirping, worming and whatever else birds do in the morning, playing chicken with semi-trucks, sports cars, SUVs, sedans, vans, pickup trucks, motorcycles.

Fascinating creatures, birds, majestic even. To watch them soar, the air itself holding them aloft, and then to float as if in an invisible sea is to lose myself in the moment. In the middle of one of the biggest cities in the country, if not the world, on a busy Wednesday morning on a freeway heading east, with thousands of cars carrying individuals to destinations unknown, the most natural elements of this amazing planet took my breath away

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The first Monday in April

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 4, 2011 10:32 PM

So it’s Monday. Some people say it’s the first day of the week, others say that Sunday holds that honor. In some ways, it’s both. The Romans named the days of the week after the seven planets of classical astronomy and numbered them beginning with Sunday. Slavic languages used a different numbering system and began with Monday. Many cultures now actually use both, with Sunday the honored day of rest and Monday representing the first day of the workweek.

I actually like Monday because it means the week is full of opportunity and possibility. Imagine what can be accomplished with a brand new, shiny week. Five days that are blank slates, waiting to be filled, wanting to be created as individual works of art. Days that can become historic, exciting, the best days of our lives. Like today, for instance. It was a nice slow start. Emails but no phone calls. Lots of work but no intrusions. And the ideas were rushing forward and forcing themselves through my fingers onto word documents.

It wasn’t as painful as it sounds.

I started notes on some ideas I’ve had for a trio of books. I always have too many projects going at once but I know that if I keep moving forward, through every Monday, that things will happen. I know that dreams are born on first Mondays; they become realities on subsequent Mondays.

And so it’s the first Monday in April and I’m cruising toward, well, the second Monday, and then the third. And then it will be May and a trip to Tucson to visit our kid and our property. Then the Mondays will roll into summer and fall, then into winter. Hopefully all my ideas and dreams will roll with them toward prosperity and hope.

Mondays are a way of keeping track of our lives, not just our calendars. They come and most aren’t happy about it, if only because it usually means work. But work is good. Work allows us to make money, to live our lives, to plan our futures. Mondays are a new beginning every week, a chance to do something we haven't done before, to focus on something different, to celebrate the idea of what could happen if only we believe.

I believe that today is something to celebrate, that it represents opportunity and possibility. That it’s only the beginning of what could be, that I can make of it what I will. And that’s celebratory.

What will you make of this Monday? What will you make of next? 

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Celebrate something glorious

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 30, 2011 9:01 PM

My mother has never truly been able to understand my love of the west and the desert Southwest in particular. She loves her four seasons and pine trees, her crisp air and challenging weather. She doesn’t like the heat, the dryness or the palm trees. I’ve been out west since a week after I graduated from college and I’ve never regretted it.

We have four seasons here, too, jokingly referred to as summer, fire, rainy and pre-summer. And yes, sometimes the near constant sunshine can get a little dull. I get positively giddy when there’s so much as a cloud in the endless blue sky. When it rains, I can hardly contain my glee.

But the other thing I just love about the west is the stunning, fiery display of prismatic light and color at sunset. Such a display happened tonight and I was in awe. Kevin and I actually stood in the driveway when we returned from our nightly stroll with Maguire and allowed ourselves to be bathed in the exquisite beauty of the sky. There were some high clouds all day and those clouds tonight were soft pink, then the hottest fuscia with just a hint of gray that became purple. Suddenly, the sky was ablaze in a pinkish orange that looked as if it could burn if you touched it. It was almost close enough.

Palm trees stood in silhouette, and patches of blue peeked through, first light, the palest cornflower, then darkening toward midnight as the sun dipped into the ocean. The sky to the immediate west was a translucent turquoise, like water in the tropics, right up until it wasn’t.

Sunsets like these don’t happen every day, but when they do, they are more than something to celebrate. They become a phenomenon to absorb. It reminds me of why I moved west, where the sky is always both a little closer and yet farther away, where the seasons are sometimes defined by something as simple as the depth and strength of a glorious evening sky.

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Cause to celebrate

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 18, 2011 6:53 PM

It's the end of the week, always cause for celebration. Tomorrow morning I get to sleep in a bit more than I do during the week. Another cause for joy. It's going to rain, and there's almost nothing I like more than to lay in bed on a morning when I don't have to get up, listening to the rain pounding the roof, the ground, racing through the gutters. I love the noise it makes as it pushes through the trees, gulpy and insistent, petulent in its rightness to be wet, to storm.

I'm celebrating friends and the ease we have with one another. Conversation never lags, and laughter bounces through the house and lodges up in the corners of the rafters, waiting to be called upon at another time. Like an echo, it's there to keep us company even after the friends have departed.

I'm celebrating my husband because he puts up with me and my moods.

I'm celebrating a good week of work and the possibility of another looming. Even the meetings are welcomed because there is interaction, and camaraderie, the sharing of ideas and thoughts. I relish that.

I'm celebrating my son who this week received an offer for a summer stock internship in New York, with New York Stage and Film. I'm not celebrating how much it's going to cost us but I'm thrilled for him and the experience he'll get. Experience he can use as he completes his next two years of college; experience that will propel him ever forward.

I'm celebrating my niece who is completing a play this week. She's 11, and so far away, but she's always in my heart and I'm so proud of her.

I'm celebrating my nephew because he's just so damn cute and because he's so determined in everything. It's easy to celebrate that as the doting aunt.

I'm celebrating the music pouring from the speakers in our great room, filling the house with piano and guitar, horns and drums.

I'm celebrating because I can, and that's cause enough. Life is cause enough.

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