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. 

I scents something in the air

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 21, 2013 1:12 AM

This past week was busy, as usual, but it also saw the acquisition of two new clients, one of which is a company called Aquiesse. They make absolutely exquisite candles, delicately fragranced and always with an unexpected twist to each fragrance-cocktail. They have been in business for several years but they have never crafted their company story. They’ve hired me to do just that; to give them a voice; to make sure that all of their communications – from the website to their packaging – sound like they’re from the same company. That’s not to say that everything carries the exact same message. Rather, it’s to ensure that certain cadences, phrases, words, humors are always used so that someone can read something and instantly know that it is Aquiesse. The gold standard for this is Apple. From looks to language, you always know an Apple commercial, ad, brochure.

Aquiesse is all about home fragrance, not just ordinary candles. I have the collection in my office and it’s possible to get lost in the scents of each one. When Kevin comes into my office for whatever reason, he often finds himself in the black chair in the corner, next to the box of candles and as we talk about whatever, he goes through the box, twisting off each lid and raising it to his nose. Often he’ll pass it toward me with a comment about how fabulous this one smells; try it.

I haven’t written anything yet. I’m currently in the thinking stage. Trying out various words, phrases, ideas in my head. I often do this when I’m starting a new project. It’s important to get the ideas right before I start writing. I need to know what and who my character is. It’s very similar to writing a story. In this case, the character is the company. Who is it? How does it speak? What is it trying to communicate? Is it young or old? Male or female? What is its history; its past? Where is it going? Does it have a sense of humor or is it deathly serious?

These are some of the questions that were percolating in my mind today when I was on the back of the motorcycle. It was a stunning day here in Southern California, warm with a breeze, the perfect day to go for a ride. We climbed on the Kawasaki around 2 o’clock and took off to go through Hidden Valley, on into Camarillo and then back into Thousand Oaks. Kevin asks me all the time what I do back there. I watch for road hazards and it’s my job to act as the on-board GPS. But when we’re on long roads that wind through a canyon or to nowhere in particular, I can simply sit back and enjoy the ride. Which I do. But it is nearly impossible for me to turn my brain off and since I tend to have an hour or so of relative silence, the roar of the engine and the rush of the wind not withstanding, I can often work out creative problems and discover the answers to my questions.

I never know the direction my brain is going to go but one of the ways it often travels is toward an idea. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas on the back of the motorcycle, unencumbered by anything save the beauty of the day. I’m not distracted by my cell phone or my computer or music or the television. I simply exist with the road. Today my thoughts drifted to Aquiesse and I started tossing ideas around in my head while we traveled. Because the brand is so much about the experience as well as the fragrance, I couldn’t help but notice the scents as we drove along.

The citrus groves, heavy with fruit and smelling of a curious combination of orange and jasmine. Fresh and gorgeous. The strawberry fields of Camarillo lofted the fragrance of dirt and strawberries into the air.

There was the diesel exhaust of an old Chevrolet pickup, mingling with other fossil fuels. Hot tar. A skunk. 

Driving past a Mexican restaurant I smelled the grease and the spice of carne asada and fresh tortilla chips. Somewhere, further out on Upland, someone was cooking with onions. It was there and then it was gone with the wind.

There was the smell of the sea and the scent of agriculture, musty and damp and growing. There was honeysuckle and horse manure. There was sunshine and fog, and the distant fragrance of trees. Wet asphalt, damp dirt, the far-away smell of fire, charcoal drenched in lighter fluid. Saturday.

We finally got to our destination in Thousand Oaks and once again Kevin asked me what I had been doing back there. I was brushing my hair, having shaken it loose from the helmet. I smiled and told him that I’d been making scents of the day. That I’d been celebrating creativity on the back of the bike because there was something in the air.

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live out loud

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 narrative of observation

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 9, 2013 11:38 PM

It’s amazing what you can sometimes see when you aren’t even looking, the stories that present themselves right in front of you and all around. There was a line in the remake of the film Sabrina where the title character said something along the lines of “every time I look through the lens of a camera, I find myself in the middle of a story.” I always loved that idea, how a compressed vision of the world lets you into a little piece of it, a place where people are living their lives, where others are engaged in their factual stories, where those on the outside looking in craft their own fictional stories of what’s going on.

These fictional stories are based on absolutely no information at all other than a visual. Take today for instance. Along the very busy thoroughfare known as Lindero Canyon, here in the land of the OP, two travelers trudging through the dripping sunshine in search of food and sustenance and the local Pavilions grocery store, happened upon quite a scene.

From the looks of things, a monkey had somehow managed to fall into the bushes below from the trees above. He evidently had consumed a great deal of champagne because an empty bottle was lying nearby in the dirt. Based on where he was sprawled, information was pieced together regarding what had happened.

He was on a branch, high in one of the fir trees that line the big canyon. His girlfriend had left him and moved in with an orangutan down the block and around the corner. He could hear them from his perch, laughing and snorting and chirping. She didn’t even sound like a monkey anymore. And what did HE have that he didn’t have, other than really nice orange fur.

He had graduated top monkey in his class. He could swing through the trees, reaching from branch to branch to branch better than anyone else. He could peel a banana and eat it at the same time. No one else he knew could do that.

He thought they were happy. But evidently he thought wrong. So last night, he had swung into the local liquor store, picked up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut with a yellow label. He couldn’t pronounce it but it was on sale for $44.99, so he grabbed a bottle and swung back. The sun had set not long before and the sky glowed at the horizon. A bird flew by in silhouette. A squirrel taunted him. He didn’t care. He was too miserable.

He climbed his favorite tree, half way between the ‘fieds, Rockfield and Bowfield, found his favorite branch and hooked his tail around it. When he opened the bottle, he sent the cork skyward. He thought he heard some glass break but he didn’t care about that either. If someone lost a window, it was nothing. He had lost his heart.

He raised the bottle to his mouth and sucked on it. Soon, he was hungry and as he reached for a banana hidden in his stash behind the pinecones, he lost his balance. His tail unhooked from the branch and he and his banana ended up in the bushes below.

At least that’s what the narrative of observation told us when we happened upon a monkey, stuck inside his banana and lodged in the bushes on the south side of Lindero Canyon, with an empty bottle of champagne thrown to the ground to the right.

Either that or someone drinking champagne drove by and threw both out the window in a fit of giggles and anger or both.

Celebrating the stuffed monkey stuck inside a banana stuck inside a flowering bush along Lindero Canyon Road this afternoon. At least he had lived it out loud recently. 

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What Kevin wants to know

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 8, 2013 11:41 PM

Every once in a while the conversations in the Michel household turn to wistful wonderings about things we will never know. These conversations are almost inevitably started by the mister part of the house and always digress into discussions on what he wishes he could somehow find out. We talk and twist our way into a conclusion that invariably concludes that he will probably never know but we have the discussions anyway and they are usually quite interesting in a Groundhog Day kind of way.

A digression: Don’t you just love how Groundhog Day, an actually charmingly amusing little Bill Murray flick, has become synonymous with the same thing happening over and over and over again with the thing never getting resolved?

OK. I’m back.

Today’s Groundhog Day conversations happened because of Cooper. Somehow we were talking about his past and how we’ll never know anything about how he was raised, where, or by whom. This led to a conversation about Maguire and how we got him at 8 weeks old but from the Agoura Animal Shelter and how we couldn’t believe that someone had actually found him in their bushes, here in Oak Park, and had taken him to the pound rather than keep him.

That’s the story we were told at the shelter when Kevin discovered him that fateful Saturday morning in February 1997. He was 10 pounds of rolling, bouncing fur, the cutest thing Kevin had ever seen, and then the cutest thing I had ever seen. We wanted to know how he came to be at the pound, alone. Often times, a mother and her pups will end up at a shelter, or a litter of pups will end up at the pound because someone is trying to get rid of them. But one lonely puppy seemed odd.

Did I mention he was cute?

We could hardly believe he was still available for adoption. Turns out he couldn’t be adopted for two more days because someone had just dropped him off on Friday and they had to wait three days in case someone owned him and came looking for him. The shelter staff said that the person who brought him in found him behind some bushes somewhere in Oak Park. It didn’t make sense to us then; it doesn’t make sense to us now. And it haunts Kevin.

Me being me and a believer in everything happening for a reason as well as when it’s supposed to long ago decided that he was there on that Saturday because he was meant for us. He had been found because we were supposed to be with him and he was supposed to be with us. That’s how my mind works.

Kevin’s mind spins differently. While my mind hotrods forward on my 255/55R19s, Kevin’s got the big studded tires climbing mountains in four-wheel drive. He digs it out; he obsesses. I just go with it. He needs to know the answer to a question that we will never know. How did Maguire, who wasn’t Maguire at the time, come to be at the shelter? Who found him? Was he actually found or was he a present for someone who decided they didn’t really want a puppy because puppies are a lot of work? Was he tossed aside? Did he escape from someone’s yard? Was he really found in Oak Park? How could someone throw him away?

Usually I’m the control freak in our family. When we’re going somewhere, I need to know how we’re getting there. On Saturdays, I need to know what we’re doing for the day even if we’re not doing anything. I like to know what I’m making for dinner so I can think on it, mull, and do it differently than I’ve done it before. I plan; I control.

Kevin is much more easy-going, except when he’s not. He plans things because he has to for work or for when he’s building something. But he can get on the motorcycle and just go without needing to know where he’s going or how he’ll get there.

But when it comes to Maguire, he needs to know. I suspect it’s because he never will.

He also wonders about the Kennedy Assassination and the grassy knoll and what really happened; if it’s what the government has long concluded or if there was really someone else shooting other than Lee Harvey Oswald.

He wonders who killed Roger Rabbit, if there really were aliens in Roswell, New Mexico, and if the Skunk Works plant in Burbank, where they built the SR-71 spy plane, is still operational even though supposedly it isn’t.

He wants to know these things. And who am I to discourage his curiosity? Maybe someday, if he looks long enough and finds the people who have the answers, he’ll find out how Maguire got to the shelter. After all, at the end of Groundhog Day, there was a change. There was resolution. Bill Murray got the girl. Maybe there’s hope that Kevin will get the story on the puppy, the wondrous little ball of fluff who grew up to become Maguire. 

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Some thing is out there

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 8, 2013 12:16 AM

Every day, I troll the paper and the internet; I mine the episodes and hours of my life for something celebratory to write about. Every night, one of the last thoughts I have before I finally drift off to sleep is tomorrow’s blog topic, something fun, perhaps different and hopefully interesting. It is sometimes a challenge and I’m sure it shows in those posts. Other times, a topic presents itself so effortlessly that writing it is much the same. I also have no doubt that those posts flow better than others.

Sometimes I have to ask my husband for ideas; other times I ask my “work” buddy Bobbi. Some of their ideas have led to really interesting posts. Several weeks ago, Bobbi and I were talking about the arguments being made in front of the Supreme Court regarding gay marriage. That led to my post on the Human Rights Campaign’s red equals sign.

Sometimes I remember a book that I’ve read, one that haunts my dreams and continues to rattle my consciousness. I write about that. Or perhaps a song is stuck in my head, one I used to love, and then I hear it again and realize I still love it. I like to share the love; I like to find things I love to share with others because sometimes it inspires a memory for another.

It’s this idea of finding some thing you love that I find the most intriguing. Everyone loves something, some thing; many are lucky enough to do it for a living. Everyone loves someone; many are lucky enough to marry that person. There was an article today on a site called Hello Giggles. I wasn’t familiar with the site. Based on its name I’m going to assume that it’s about happy things. The section of the site for the article I was reading was called “Teaspoon of Happy,” so I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume that my assumption was correct. For further evidence, the article was about finding your happy place and letting it take you in the direction you’re supposed to travel.

Entitled “That thing that everyone says you’re supposed to do” it is essentially about discovery. It’s about change. It’s about nurturing the thing you love so that it can grow. The writer is a woman named Sarah May Bates who is a comedy writer, recovering vegetarian, yogi and lover of all things delicious. She had me at recovering vegetarian, not because she’s no longer a vegetarian but because she added the recovering part. That’s how I feel about my Catholicism. I’m most definitely recovering from the religion of my childhood.

Ms. Bates writes that, when you pursue what you love, what ‘you’re supposed to do,’ that “what you might soon discover is that your life will take new bends toward this thing you’re great at. You will become something of a magnet for more opportunity, and it will feel natural and easy; almost magical or fated.” I think what she’s talking about is giving it up as opposed to giving up. When you give it up for something or someone, you are acknowledging appreciation, excitement, possibility and yes, love. Giving up is something else entirely.

Long ago I decided I loved writing. This was after I was going to be a famous actress and then a rock star. Some days I’m actually good at the word-thing; other days I totally suck at it. Much depends on how much sleep I had the night before and my general mood.

But I write every day. If nothing else, I post to this page every day, and it makes me feel good. Even if the posts are mediocre, I still feel that I accomplished something, some thing; I wrote words, I put a mini-essay together; I pursued my love, or at least one of my loves.

Ms. Bates goes on to say that “if you are authentically yourself in everything you do, your path will lead you closer to the things that reward you.”

I found this inspirational, and once again I thank Bobbi for posting the link on Facebook. As I was trolling for a topic today, I happened upon it, read it and was inspired by it.

It’s much like what my blog is about in that it urges a celebration of the whatever. Paint, write, sculpt, build; open an animal sanctuary, make wine, sing. If you want to do something, some thing,  with your life, it is never too late. It is always too early to give up and the best time to try is right now. Or even tomorrow. But find it, grab it, hold onto it with every ounce of energy you have and enjoy every miserably wonderful meaning you decipher from it. It’s about that thing, that magical, allusive, fabulous thing.

I could write multiple posts on that. In fact, you just wrote one. I’m celebrating that today. I’ll write again tomorrow, about something else, and I’ll celebrate that, too. It’s my some thing

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live out loud

And just like that another week comes to an end and it’s April

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 6, 2013 1:47 AM

Something occurred to me this morning as we were walking the dog in the quiet and the sun was streaming in from just over the rooftops to the east, painting five majestic trees in a magnificent white and yellow and gold. Once again, everything was still. There were no children, no other dogs, few cars. It was just lovely and soft, and that’s when it occurred to me that it was Friday. That somehow we had made it through another week. Another week of emails and phone calls and not enough sleep. Another week where I got work done but not enough. Another week where I got precious little personal writing done. Another week when I dreamed of Tucson and the ocean.

I am forever amazed at how quickly time moves through the hours, the days, the weeks. Just last week it was March. I kid, because I’m a kidder, but seriously, when did it become Spring? When did the flowers start to bloom and the trees bud? When did the sky become bluer and all of the birds return? When did it happen that Monday turned into Friday?

Don’t get me wrong. I love that Monday has turned into Friday, seemingly overnight. I love that by Friday afternoon, the number of emails wind down and the phone stops ringing. Even if I’m still working, which I do on Fridays until at least 5, it’s easier somehow. Because it is quiet. Because there are birds singing in trees. Because my dog is dreaming on the floor next to my chair under the lazy turn of the ceiling fan. Because we have no plans for the weekend and I’m actually quite excited to wile away two days. It doesn’t mean that we won’t do anything. We’re not the kind of people who do nothing well. We’ll go to the store. We’ll cook; we’ll clean up. Maybe we’ll do some things around the house. We’ll enjoy the still, and the beginning of April.

Two weeks ago we put our cabernet sauvignon into the French and American oak barrels that we have for aging our wine. We’ll taste it to see what it’s been doing in there for 14 days. It was just after the middle of March when we put it in to age. Now it’s Spring time and the wine is blooming alongside the daisies, the pansies, the soon-to-be-roses.

I am celebrating this Friday simply because it’s Friday. Nothing special has happened other than another week has come to a close, but nothing special happened all week. It was a week like last week and much like next week will be. I don’t know how to make weeks different. I suspect most people don’t. Each flows into the next like a river flows to the ocean. It moves forward, always forward, in order to reach somewhere and everywhere and nowhere in particular. That’s life. That’s this day, this week, this first Friday in April.

I’m celebrating today because it is Friday. I’m celebrating the week, the first of April. I’m celebrating Spring and the coming weekend and the idea of doing nothing and everything and anything.

I’m celebrating time because even though it is relentless it is also precious. It is what we have, every day. It is our constant guide to who we have been and where we are going. It is us.

I’m living it out loud at the end of this week, and enjoying the time I spend, today, tomorrow and yesterday. I hope you are enjoying yours as well. 

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live out loud

In which I lament the fact that I’m excessively cranky and think that maybe it’s because the gates of hell have actually been discovered and they’re calling my name

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 2, 2013 11:55 PM

I’m having one of those days, a day when I am so cranky that the sun shining irritates me because it’s in my eyes. And the warm weather makes my hair flip. And the birds singing makes me want to close the window. I look at my husband and I want to snap at him and he hasn’t even said anything. I’m having one of those days where I am so cranky that I can’t even stand to be around myself so I can only imagine how others – thankfully, in this case, “others” include only my aforementioned and much put-upon husband – must feel. I growl, I squint my eyes and squinch my nose. I’d bark at the moon but it’s not yet out. Instead, I’ll howl at the squirrels.

How did I get into this state? Well, it’s actually quite complicated and involves a vampire, a werewolf, lack of sleep, and hormones.

It’s one of those days where it doesn’t matter how lovely the weather, how cheerful the birds, how little sleep I got last night, how fat I’m feeling. All that matters is that somewhere in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis in southwestern Turkey, archeologists have located Pluto’s Gate.

Pluto's Gate, in a computer generated photo, as it might appear today

Pluto’s Gate, also known as Ploutonion or Plutonium, is an ancient pilgrim site, a small cave that sits near the temple of Apollo. It has literally and long been dubbed the “Gate to Hell” because the cave was filled with poisonous vapors, and was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology. Two columns inscribed with a dedication to the gods of the underworld – Pluto and Kore – stand in front of the gate, a place that was fully functional until the 4th century AD. It was a site of important pilgrimage destinations for the pagan intellectuals of the Late Antiquity. Christians attempted to completely destroy Plutonium in the 6th century. Earthquakes evidently completed the destruction.

Earthquakes make me very cranky.

The site was founded somewhere around 190 BC by Eumenes II, King of Pergamum and given over to Rome in 133 BC where it grew into a flourishing Roman city, with temples, a theater and popular hot springs believed to have healing powers. When pilgrims would visit the site, they were given small birds to use for testing the hellish effects of the cave. Priests hallucinated and sacrificed bulls to the god Pluto.

The Greek geographer Strabo, who died in 24 AD, wrote that “this space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.”

Which would definitely make me cranky.

The site was a famous destination for rites of incubation. Pilgrims would take waters from the pool near the temple. They would sleep near the cave, and while asleep, they would receive visions and prophecies. But they didn’t enter the cave for fear of death because anyone who entered the cave expired. Only the eunuchs of Cybele, an ancient fertility goddess, could enter the hell gate without any apparent damage.

Pluto's Gate, as discovered

Strabo attributed this to the fact that they would hold their breath, or perhaps they possessed physical powers that acted like antidotes to the hallucinogenic gas and vapors.

The vapors were probably carbon dioxide fumes, but they must have been quite forceful. Powerful enough to kill, and to transport the victim straight to hell.

Now those people would have reason to be cranky, too. Perhaps I should drink a little happy juice and get myself out of this funk, lest I get me to hell. Is it too early for happy juice? Nah. It’s never too early to be happy.

Celebrating hell today, because I’m cranky as. 

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live out loud

In his dreams

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 30, 2013 9:34 PM

It starts with a subtle twitch of the feet, first one, then another and another and another in quick succession. Before long all four are galloping through the air as the dog lies on his side. Then the ears start to move, the breathing increases and he’s off and running. In his dreams.

When we had Maguire, we used to love to watch him dream. He didn’t dream a lot but when he did we just knew he was running through tall fields of grass bathed in sunshine, a warm breeze tickling his fur, his feet barely touching the ground. If his dreams could have been filmed they would have been in slow motion. He was such a happy go-lucky boy. Since we had him from the time he was about 10 weeks old, we knew exactly what had transpired in his life and that it had all been good. Oh, there was the time he and I were out walking one night in July, minding our own business and an off-leash dog came racing up the street and attacked him. That was bad, but for the most part, his life was one filled with naps and cookies and walks and hugs and constant kisses from his mom and dad. His good life was, we believe, reflected in his dreams.

By comparison, Cooper’s dreams regularly take him through Dante’s inferno. He howls, screeches, puffs and barks. He bares his teeth; he growls. His feet don’t gallop at a leisurely pace; they race as if he’s running for his life. If his dreams were available to screen they would be in 3-D with fire-breathing dragons singeing his tail.

We’ve only had Cooper for five months. He supposedly had a home for the first years of his life but for close to the year and a half before we rescued him, he went from foster home to foster home, five in total. We have no idea what those homes were like. All we know is that when he came to us, he was a little high strung, and appeared to be very aggressive especially toward other dogs. Actually appeared is probably too nice of a word. He acted very aggressive to other dogs. We came to find out that he is terrified and he masks his terror by being overly demonstrative, biting, snarling, threatening; standing his ground when no one is threatening him. The perception of a threat is his reality. We’re not sure why; we’ll never know. In much the same way we’ll never know what he dreams of. We just know that he dreams and when he does, it appears to be scary for him.

According to psychologist Stanley Coren, the brains of dogs are similar to those of humans. When dogs sleep, their brain wave patterns are similar to that of people, going through the same stages of electrical activity. Dogs aren’t the only animals that dream, either. Two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compiled evidence that the brains of sleeping rats function in such a way as to suggest dreaming. I’m not sure what that means, but since they’re from MIT, who am I to question?

Much of the way we dream as humans is associated with what we’ve done during the day. If we were out driving all day, we might dream of driving while we’re asleep. MIT researchers studied rats in a maze during the day and theorized that rats probably also dream of going through a maze while they sleep. In fact, the researchers found that the rodents’ electrical patterns were quite specific and identifiable based on recordings done while the rats were awake. When they were asleep, the electrical patterns were such that researchers were able to tell where in the maze the rat would be if it were awake.

Coren also found that big dogs, like mastiffs and Great Danes dream every 45 minutes for about 5 minutes at a time while smaller dogs, like terriers and poodles start dreaming every 10 minutes but their dreams only last for about a minute or less. Cooper falls somewhere in the middle.

Charles Darwin believed that proving that an animal dreams also proves that there is conscious thought. And conscious thought means being aware, of thinking of what you’re thinking.

Anyone who has a dog knows this already. They are aware. Maguire was aware of everything right up until the three days before we lost him. We could tell him to get a specific toy and he would. We could talk about going for a walk, simply mentioning the word in a sentence, and he knew what we were talking about. He was aware; he was safe. Cooper is aware, too, though less so. Still he is aware of his toys, of his kennel, his space. We haven’t yet spent enough time with him to teach him, to show him that he’s OK, that we’re here for him, that we’ll always be here for him, and that life as he knew it is over. Soon he’ll be aware that he has a forever family who loves him. Soon his dreams of being chased will turn to dreams of rolling around on his back in the grass. He’ll dream of the same tall fields that Maguire graced. He’ll run free.

In his dreams. 

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live out loud

Surviving survival town

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 25, 2013 9:57 PM

It was a beautiful spring day in 1955. The desert stretched as far as the eye could see, and in the middle of nowhere, a collection of homes and businesses, populated with plastic people, stood welcoming and ready. It was called Survival Town and it was destined to be obliterated on May 5 when the Apple-2 test was conducted at 8:10 am. The winds had calmed when the Army gave the all-clear signal and an atomic bomb was detonated. It weighed 31 kilotons. The blast area extended 3 miles out and essentially destroyed the “people” and the buildings.

Survival Town, however, still survives. Several of the town’s buildings actually withstood the blast, including a structure called Behlen, a corrugated steel structure that was only mildly dented during the explosion, even though it was just 6,800 feet away. Another house still stands starkly in the middle of the desert grass and yucca trees. The windows are gone but the window structures remain. A brick chimney still reaches toward a blue sky. Roof tiles are largely gone, as is the door, but the steps leading to the front door still lead to oblivion. It’s a ghost of a house.

Other bits of structures remain as well, largely gutted. They simply sit on the flats of the Nevada desert, remnants of a nuclear program when we knew what we had but didn’t yet know its devastating power. The Nevada Department of Energy still conducts tours of what still stands, though no cameras are allowed, visitors must be over the age of 14 and pregnant women are advised not to make the trip because of the bumpy bus ride.  It’s like the time that land forgot.

The desert is home to many such times and places. We see them when we drive through the Sonoran desert to Tucson. Discarded homes in the middle of what used to be someplace but is now only on the way to somewhere else. The Nevada desert, in addition to being the birthplace of nuclear bomb testing, is also the home of the infamous Area 51.

Area 51 is an air force base that’s near Edwards Air Force Base. It’s located in a very remote area of the Nevada desert near the dry bed of Groom Lake. It’s probably the most famous military installation in the world that doesn’t officially exist. It doesn’t appear on any public US government maps. For decades, conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists have speculated that the government uses Area 51 to experiment with extraterrestrials and their spacecraft. This is largely because of an alleged government cover-up in 1947 when an alien spaceship supposedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. Others have even gone so far as to claim that the moon landing was staged there.

I don’t know all of the details about Area 51. I have read books and heard interviews by a woman named Annie Jacobsen who wrote an uncensored history of the base. She conducted interviews with 19 men who served there for decades, eye witnesses to the area’s history. Most didn’t cop to little green men but did talk of top secret spy planes developed in a program known as Oxcart. One such plane was the Archangel-12 which could travel at speeds of more than 2000 miles per hour and take photographs from an altitude of 90,000 feet. The SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter were also conceived and tested in the place known as Dreamland. These air craft are probably the reason so many desert drifters have sworn they’ve seen UFOs in the area.

The desert hides all the sins of man, burying them in amongst the sand and cactus, the blowing winds and the debilitating heat. There is history there. Here. Great accomplishments have happened; greater disappointments have taken place. It is the land of imagination, both horrific and incredible. It is a place where survival is never assured but if achieved, can be both devastating and glorious. In that way, the desert mirrors life. It can be frighteningly beautiful and disastrous, ugly and lush, full of love and death. And it can all be seen from satellite images, and from the heart.

I am fascinated with the desert, with its history, with its beauty and its unrelenting desire to capture its prey. Again, like life. For that reason, it’s a place to celebrate, for its strength, its character, its soul, its harsh reality, its ability to survive. And so I do, tonight and always. I am a desert rat, after all. And I am living it out loud. 

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