Spring rain in the desert

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 19, 2014 8:06 PM

In the desert, rain is sporadic. In Tucson, we only get about 12” of rain or so each year, most of it in August, and then January and February. This year has been a bit of an anomaly. Like most of the southwest, our rainfall was pathetic; snowfall even worse. Yesterday was overcast and in other parts of the country, you could be forgiven for thinking it might rain. Even though most of the time when there are clouds here it portends the coming of rain, because of this year’s lack thereof, I didn’t believe it. The wind whipped up once or twice and I heard the heavy thud of a dozen raindrops as they smacked the skylight but that was all.

This morning, we woke up around 8, which these days is sleeping in. Kevin took Cooper out and then went to make coffee as Cooper came in to snuggle for a few. He climbed his stairs and went straight to Kevin’s side where he curled up to gaze out the window. Cooper loves our bed. It’s the only piece of furniture he’s allowed on, like Maguire before him, and he takes full advantage of it. But whereas Maguire never stayed on very long unless he was completely alone and could sprawl to his heart’s content, Cooper would stay all day as long as I stayed there with him. I’ve never seen a dog so comfortable as Cooper when he stretches on one side or the other and rolls his eyes back to sleep.

Kevin came back with coffee and his phone, and he sat at the end of the bed, his legs under the bathrobe I always keep thrown over the footboard. It’s a habit I developed in California. If there’s an earthquake in the middle of the night, it makes it an easy grab for something to wear, especially if it’s cold. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand. This is what the modern couple does now, or at least what we do. We check email, we look at seascanner, we surf the ‘nets. In the past we used to turn on the television and look for a Law & Order marathon, maybe NCIS. Something mindless. Now we have the Internet.

The wind started up slowly, ruffling the leaves. The birds scattered for cover. Cooper picked up his head and glanced out the window. He yawned and stretched and flopped his head back down. Within seconds, he was sleeping again. Kevin was reading my blog. He often binge-reads, and often uses Saturday morning to catch up on the week previous. I was looking at Facebook and the news and looking for a restaurant in Tubac since we were planning on a road trip for lunch.

Then came the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of raindrops on the skylight. Soon there was the roll of thunder and then the deluge. Rain poured from the dark clouds above, swirling the trees. In through the open window came the earthy smell of parched earth tasting a drink of cool water after a very long drought. Dusty and damp. I love that smell.

It lasted for nearly 30 minutes. We were so surprised we both left the bedroom temporarily to glance out the window in my office. Sure enough, rain was drowning the pavement, bouncing off the asphalt. In the southern sky, there was sunshine. To the north, over the foothills, heavy clouds.

It rained in the desert today. Unless you live here you don’t know what a huge story that is. Mother Nature decided to live it out loud on this Saturday and we welcomed her with open arms and a big kiss. Rain. Wet. Wonderful. Something to celebrate. 

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The air feels alive

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:45 PM

A storm approaches slowly. The air is crisp though warm, puffy clouds float amongst the blue of the sky. In the distance, darker, more ominous clouds are gathering. They say it’s Armageddon. I suspect they’re wrong. There will be weather but there is supposed to be weather this time of year. Since we haven’t had any of late, it’s much bigger news that it might otherwise be.

I love when the air feels alive. I actually heard somebody say that the other day and it rang so true. The wind blows. There is an electrical charge that pulsates throughout, like static electricity. Touch something and it snaps and sparks. The air flicks.

The wind swirls and gushes, teases the trees and the flowers, ruffles the hair. Birds flaps and fly, and soar, chasing each other up and down and around before coming to a screeching halt atop the building. You can hear the sound of their wings as the pulse through the air.

Butterflies hover and alight. Moths do the same. Small flying insects cruise about, looking for access to the light, the house. The wind helps them as well.

Sunlight streams through the upper windows of the house, the windows up near the ceiling some 16 feet up. Maybe even higher. They cut across the wall, horizontal glass that’s been UV coated so as to hopefully curb some of the fading that inevitably occurs because of the sun. Below, dust particles dance in each stream. I am forever amazed at how much is actually inside the air, things we can’t see until we can.

I am dust particles in sunlight, I am the round sun.
Say I am You, by the 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

I used to joke to those back east that I didn’t trust air I couldn’t see. They thought it was hysterical, given that I lived in Los Angeles and LA had long been known for its smog problem. When I was in college and visited California for the first time, I spent a day or two in Los Angeles. I remember driving up from San Diego thinking that the air must be so dense with emissions tat you couldn’t see anything. A really dirty fog bank.

It was nothing like that of course. The sky was blue. Yes, there was a bit of smog but it hardly affected the views or visibility. I saw an article today about China and their horrendous smog problem. There was a picture of a man walking his golden retriever. Both were wearing surgical masks to block out some of the bad air. All around them was smog, making visibility only about 16 feet or so. Scary stuff. The air in China is alive in a completely different way; not a good way.

Clouds are rolling in over the desert, filling the air. Those that were fluffy and white seem to have left for drier prairies. These clouds are heavy, a brownish gray, ready for rain. The air is getting thicker even as the winds pick up. A storm is coming and it will be glorious.

It will drench the earth, cleanse the soul. It will be difficult while it’s happening, but once it’s over the air will be clearer, cleaner; crisper. Reborn like tomorrow.

The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami wrote: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Another metaphor for life, much like the air being alive. A living, breathing entity that surrounds us, keeps us true, it can spark with furry and dissipate in the wind. And then, it can dance in the shafts of the sun. That’s what life is all about.

Dreams of my ...

by Lorin Michel Saturday, October 20, 2012 10:42 PM

On this late, groggy Saturday night, I’m reclined on the love seat in the great room, my slippered feet stretched out over the edge, my body wrapped up in sweatpants and an oversized flannel shirt. My laptop is on my lap, living up to its category, and I am listening to the sounds of sweet jazz and the remnants of rain, leaves heavy with moisture dripping down onto one another and finally to the ground. The skies are cloudy. From my perch I can’t see them but I can feel them, the heaviness of the sky invades the backyard and oozes in through the sliver of the sliding glass door that’s open and inviting the fresh damp air.

It’s been a long day. The grapes were pressed this morning and we now have nine gallons of syrah grape juice. The fermenter and various pieces of equipment are clean and stored; the juice sits in glass carboys on the workbench in the garage. It will sit there for several days before entering the next phase of its young life.

Once we returned from our pressing journey, we showered, changed and went out again for a phone bank for Organizing for America, calling people to urge them to continue their support of President Obama. My friend Connie went with us. For three hours we dialed phone numbers on provided sheets in the hopes of someone picking up on the other end to speak to us nicely, without malice of interruption, without having decided to vote to the right. It was an interesting atmosphere. The building we were in was a call center by trade. Each day, dozens of people sit at the same desks we occupied and call people to try to sell them, convince them, connive them into buying something they’re not sure they want or to support something they’re not sure of. The irony was not lost.

I found myself drifting into daydreams several times as I waited for someone to answer a number I had dialed. In my dreams, I saw the rolling desert of Tucson, covered with Saguaros as they reached for the sky, and Kevin and I in our new home, waiting for the wonder of an encroaching thunderstorm, enjoying the anonymity of our home on the hill. I saw my niece at her Halloween party last night, dressed as a flapper and enjoying herself with her girlfriends. I wondered what she looked like and sent a text to my sister between phone calls. She promised to send photos.

I let my mind wander to my family, so many of whom are no longer with me, with us, and I wondered how they would see the world these days. The anger, the resentment, the entitlement, the hope. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, who died in 2001 at 93. I wondered if she was a democrat and decided she probably was; she had been a teacher. My great aunt, my dad’s mom’s sister, who died just a couple of years ago, also in her 90s. I wondered how she saw the world when she was still in it. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, who died several years ago as well, at 91. I wondered if she had ever really enjoyed her life. I wondered if any of them had.

My thoughts drifted then to my dad, who died in 2002, and who would have absorbed the news of the day with hardly a mention of how it made him feel. I admired that in him, and yet, I think keeping all of that in – his joy, his anger, his hurt, his dreams – contributed to him dying at such a young age.

How had any of them dreamed of … ? Had they dreamed at all?

Today I dreamed of grapes and wine, of rain and wondrous gloom, of phone calls to strangers who became instant friends, albeit virtually, and co-conspirators in this 17 days until the election. I dreamed of spending time with friends, of sharing wine and cheese and politics and more wine and funny stories. I dreamed of my future and my past, of my father, my grandmothers, others lost, those still living and full of love. My mother, my sister, my niece and nephew, my brother; my son. I dreamed. They dream.

“With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.”

The quote is from page 163 of the book Dreams from my father by Barack Obama. I don’t know if it’s foolish to dream or foolish not to. But I do believe in magic, and I will cling to it as long as I have dreams.

On this Saturday night when the weather is drifting and the air is chilled and fine, I am dreaming of so much.

I am dreaming of … 

Of wondrous desktop images and savvy screensavers

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 27, 2012 8:28 PM

In May of 2009, we went to Napa Valley with Roy and Bobbi to celebrate Bobbi’s birthday. We had been there previously, and had stayed in the quaint town of Yountville, inside the valley itself. This time, we decided to do something different. We rented a house. It would be so much easier to rise, shower, meet for coffee and bagels in the kitchen before heading off to wineries, returning sometime after 4 to relax, maybe in front of a fire, while we cooked our own meal and ate it in a homey setting. The last thing any of us wanted to do after a day of tasting would be to go out to dinner.

Our criteria was simple: two bedrooms, two full baths, a nice kitchen, private and near the Silverado Trail. The Silverado Tray is where all of the high-end red wine producers are located. Wineries like Heitz Cellars, Chimney Rock, Silver Oak and so many more. We spent much time on the VRBO website and discovered an incredible house atop a hill just off the trail, surrounded by 25 acres of grapes. According to the pictures, it was spectacular, complete with a baby grand piano. And the price would be less than we paid to stay at the Yountville Inn. We decided to go for it.

My Mac desktop photo, from Napa Valley

The pictures did not truly do the place justice. It was beyond spectacular as to border on exquisite, incredible, earth-shatteringly fabulous. We couldn’t believe our luck. The house was so amazing we almost didn’t want to leave it to go wine tasting. I said “almost.” From the road, a long drive wound through some farmland, past a big gray cow who would stand near the road and simply stare as we drove by, and up the hill to where the house awaited. From the front of the house, vineyards stretched further than our eyes could see. From the back of the house, the farmland and valley would be seen. Inside, were two bedrooms, each with its own bath. There was a bar, a living room complete with aforementioned piano, a huge kitchen, attached great room with high ceilings and a fireplace. It was perfect, as was the entire trip. It will probably go down as one of my all time favorites.

I see the vineyards every day, the early morning sun drifting through the trees to alight the thick-with-grapes vines. It’s my desktop image on my Mac. It brings me peace; it makes me want to open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, perhaps a syrah, and sit back, relax, listen to some music and transport myself back in time, up to that house on the hill.


On my PC, my desktop is a huge picture of my beloved Maguire, lying on his rug in his sphinx position, his front paws crossed – he was always such a gentleman – his beautiful brown eyes alert and looking directly at me, his nose wet. I can almost feel how cold it always was. The sign of a healthy boy.

I think the images we choose for our desktops as well as for our screensavers say a lot about us. They define us. Computers come with a number of photos and background colors from which to choose. Wet pebbles in a stream, a beach at sunset, deep space, a distant landscape. The flat colors are turquoise, orange, red, blue, purple, the colors of the rainbow and beyond. I’ve never been interested in just having a boring desktop with a pre-determined photo. I look at this computer screen all day and into the night. I want it to be an extension of me. It is; both are.

When my Mac has been sitting idle for more than 10 minutes, the screen simply goes black. A touch to the track pad and the sundrenched vineyard reappears. On the PC, the screensaver is a 3-D high-chrome apparition of Microsoft Windows. A touch to that track pad, and my beautiful boy is back.

Screensavers began in the late 1980s because the tubes used to light computer monitors were vulnerable to damage when the same pattern was displayed in the same position for extended periods of time. These monitors were called CRT screens for cathode ray tubes. Some thought the image on the screen, whether it was words or graphics, would be burned into the monitor; others said that portions of the screen would gray out. In actuality the whole process was caused by phosphor compounds illuminating when hit by high-speed electrons. Manufacturers originally developed screensavers that made the screen totally black but in 1989, the “Magic Screensaver” was created. Developed by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald, it showed images and patterns interchanging and overlapping, changing constantly in order to keep the screen healthy.

My beautiful, beautiful boy as he appears on my PC desktop

The screensavers of today are even more complex, with animations and multiple settings for control. They’re created by programmers who often design and build them for the sheer joy of the creativity. I say, bravo.

But I’m still partial to the black screen of the Mac that eventually returns me to Napa. It’s a bit like time travel, which could be the best screensaver ever. I’ll have to talk to someone about that. We could all go back to Napa, to our house on the hill, and this time, we’d take Maguire, and his healthy wet nose, with us. What’s a wine house without a dog, right?

The dark night rises

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 22, 2012 11:33 PM

The news for the past two days has been filled with Aurora, Colorado and rightly so. Each time I wake up to news like this blaring across my computer screen – BREAKING NEWS – my heart breaks anew. It happened many years ago when Challenger exploded upon ascent – Roger, go at throttle up – though we weren’t working on computers then. Someone came into my office in Phoenix and said the space shuttle had just blown up. I don’t know that any of us knew the shuttle was even scheduled to launch that day. We had become complacent about space travel. That was a man-made tragedy but not a planned one. It somehow makes it easier to bear. And harder.

We see devastation around the world and here within our own shores. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, tsunamis. These events take lives, too, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives, but not on purpose, with the possible exception of fires caused by arson. We are capable of such greatness, and yet…

When news broke of the shooting at Columbine – via radio and television – we were numbed. It was 1999 and we could watch it on both the TV and the Internet. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered by two high school boys that day.

September 11, 2001 was a glorious day across the country until mad men hijacked airplanes and killed more than 3000 people. I’ll never forget watching those events unfold – Here’s what we know – and feeling the terror. It was both individual and national.

Thirty-two people were killed and 17 more were wounded in 2007 at Virginia Tech. Thirteen were killed and 29 were wounded on a beautiful fall day in 2009 at Fort Hood, the country’s most populated military base. We watched it all on the Internet, as Breaking News gave way to more Breaking News.

On a Saturday morning in January 2011, a town hall-type event was being held in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona when a man opened fire, wounding 19 people including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six died. We got a text message from Bobbi that morning – There’s been a shooting in Tucson – and we immediately reached for the remote. There was our beloved Tucson, under the national glare because of an impossible event. We called Justin, who was there at the time, knowing he was nowhere near but because we had to make sure. We woke him up.

We were horrified, afraid, and yet felt as if we were somehow becoming immune to it all, a fact reinforced in July of last year when 77 people were killed in Norway, 69 at a summer camp for teens. We wanted to shout, to scream – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? – but of course we didn’t. We held it in and whispered those same words, because no one hears; nothing changes.

In 2012, a football coach at one of the most prolific colleges in the country was found guilty of systematically raping children, convicted on 45 of 48 charges. And on Friday morning, all of the news sites, NBCNews.com, CNN.com, WashingtonPost, NYTimes, and others were bursting with the blood-red banner, again. Breaking News. 12 dead, dozens wounded in shooting at midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Breaking News. Broken lives.

I wonder. How do some of us become weapons of mass destruction? I wonder if people who are capable of such disregard for their fellow human beings know this from an early age, or if something in them suddenly snaps and they become monsters. There’s every indication of both. I wonder what makes a person become that way, what is inside them that makes it ok to kill people in a school, on a base, at work, at camp or in a darkened movie theatre at midnight while a fictional battle between the hero and villain rages on screen. 

This is the kind of breaking news that breaks my heart, breaks all of our hearts. Or at least most of our hearts. Those who don’t find this story tragic, well, those are people I don’t want to know. People who I would worry – and do – greatly about.

I may be naïve but I don’t believe we are born to kill one another and yet it’s surprising how many do just that. Last year in this country alone, 31,593 people died from gun violence; more than 12,000 of them were murdered. These statistics according to the Brady Center. James Brady was shot in the head in 1981 when he was press secretary for then president Ronald Reagan. He and his wife have been fierce advocates for gun control ever since.

Is there any good that can come of this? I wonder about that, too. Perhaps, someday.

And on that morning, when from the dark night rises beautiful sunshine, we will welcome a new day. A day to celebrate, a day to embrace each other, a day to welcome one another with open arms and hearts. A day when there is no Breaking News of tragedy, but rather only stories of happiness and joy. Stories of living it out loud.

Crossing over into the downside

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:28 PM

I have a philosophy. I know; I seem to have a lot of philosophies. I think some of them are even almost if not entirely valid. Plus, in my selfish way, I figure that it's my blog and I'll philosophize if I want to, which is, incidentally, a derivative of it being my party and crying, updated for the 21st century.

Where was I? Oh. Philosophizing. Again. Here's my latest: at noon on Wednesday, the week officially flips toward the weekend. In the morning, it's still early in the week, the weekend is still a very long way off. But miraculously it crosses over and the weekend starts to come into view. I've dubbed this "crossing over into the downside." Clever, don't you think?

This amazing thought was actually verbalized today on our walk, under a very strange sky, dirty cotton clouds stretched thin, the sunlight trying desperately to pierce through. It was humid but the breeze was cool. It felt almost as if it might rain but it didn't and it won't. Still, the threat was nice. We were on our way up one of the nasty little hills here in the 'hood, one we affectionately call lil' EBH (for energizer bunny hill because it keeps going and going and going). Kevin was being uncharacteristically quiet, which didn't keep me from rambling on about my morning, my phone call with my sister, what was coming up for the afternoon. I was getting mostly grunts and one-word responses.

"Did you leave your conversationality on the floor of the salon last night?" I asked. He finally got a haircut yesterday. His hair was so long he was starting to need barrettes and banana clips.


"Are you having a bad day?"


Hmmmm. "What time is it?"

"1 o'clock." He speaks!

"It's official, then. We've crossed over into the downside." Coincidentally we were also crossing over the crest of the hill and were finally starting on the downside of lil’ EBH. The analogy was not lost. My husband looked at me out of the corner of his eye. We used to call it the side-eye when Maguire would do it. I knew that meant "what are you talking about because if it's this hill, you're kind of stating the obvious." We have a nice short-hand, my husband and I.

"We're more than half way through the week."

Philosophy is defined as love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral discipline. It's also defined as the investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. In other words I see therefore I know what I see when I see it so there.

Midway through the week is Wednesday at noon. Once one has gotten past 12, the slide toward the weekend begins. The downside. In this case downside is a good thing. It represents the upside of working hard and steady and strong. It elevates what was groundward; it gives rise to even greater optimism and cause for celebration. I could almost see us skipping down lil’ EBH, hand in hand, shouting “the weekend is coming! the weekend is coming!”

Luckily, we don’t skip. Which is a whole other philosophical discussion to have at another time in another post. For now, I leave you with a humid, cloudy Wednesday afternoon and two of the OPs most intrepid residents, sliding – but definitely not skipping – toward Fritini.

Grunt, sayeth the husband-unit. But then, just for a minute, I’m pretty sure I saw him skip.

Waiting for the rain

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 9, 2012 9:01 PM

I consider myself to be somewhat of a philosophical person. I like to think and to reason, to see if I can find the logic behind an event or a conversation, even an argument. Many see philosophy as the study of problems, but I actually view it as the focus on solutions. I like to think that I have an open mind, at least about most things. You’d be hard pressed to change my political persuasion or my non-religious persona, though I might be open to hearing an opposing view that’s interesting and makes me think. I can’t imagine changing my allegiance to my beloved Patriots, even when they play badly. But I’m the first one to say that they have played badly and I’m willing to talk about it. I’m not blind, just loyal. Naturally I feel a certain way about my husband, son, family and friends, and it would be difficult to change my mind about any of them. You’ll never convince me that Maguire isn’t the greatest thing to ever happen to four feet. Still, having discussions, welcoming conversations, exploring communication and embracing the wisdom of others is, I think, a good thing, a worthy thing.

I also think that thinking differently can be very open-minded and responsible. Looking at a situation and seeing it in full-dimension, in all of its glory, rather than just the flat, one dimension we often resort to is the smart way to approach most of life. One dimension is easy; lazy.

I was thinking about this last night while not sleeping, a relatively common occurrence. I was cold then I was hot, then the wind blew and the chimes sang and I couldn’t get comfortable. It went on like this for some time. The winds usually mean there is no rain in our foreseeable future. Evidently they blow it all away, out to sea or inland towards the mid-west. All I know is that the winds mean sun, and sun means warm, and warm and sunny means no rain. I love the rain. I obsessively watch the weather on the evening newscast, a cast I otherwise cannot stand for its relentless ridiculosity and drama. Everything is reported in the anchors’ best doomsday voice, even a closure on Pacific Coast Highway because of a traffic accident is nearly apocalyptic. But I love me some Dallas (Raines, one of our local weather dudes) and we watch him, well, religiously. Waiting for the weather; waiting for the rain.

I wonder sometimes why I’m waiting. Is it because I crave a change, from the dull sunshine? It could be because I simply love it, even when it’s pre-rain, when it’s cloudy? I especially love it when the rain is nearly torrential. I love standing in the kitchen with a hot cup of coffee and watching the sheets of rain rain down on the street out front. The drops bounce up from the impact to meet the drops falling down with equal velocity providing endless fascination for me.

There are people, I’m sure, who view the coming rain as something to dread. When the sun ducks behind the gray clouds, the mood also changes. It becomes gloomy, cause for sadness and impending doom. I felt like this sometimes when I lived on the east coast simply because it rained a lot. I think my mother still feels a touch of the gloom when it rains for extended periods of time. And I can see her point. The brightness of sunshine brings more than vitamin D. It also brings a brightness to the mood. As the sun shines, the doom and gloom retreat until the rain rains down again.

Conversely, rain can be about cleansing and rebirth. A washing away of the doom and gloom that’s settled around us. The rain appears, first in the form of clouds, a promise of what’s to come, namely clarity and renewal. This is how I see rain, though philosophically I can see how it can also be construed as dark and stormy. I’ve spent many an hour jammed with thousands of my fellow drivers on rain-drenched freeways that aren’t moving; I know doom and gloom. I’ve seen it’s mean-spirited face.

But when rain arrives and I’m home, even in the darkness of it, I allow my spirit to soar. And so I wait. It’s coming. I can feel it.

Maybe it’s just arthritis.

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live out loud

78 degrees

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 29, 2011 7:23 PM

It’s December 29th, a time when much of the country is experiencing some cold temps. In New Hampshire where my family lives, the nights have been so frigid that the news reports suggest bringing any domesticated animals into the house. Outside dogs and cats will freeze to death if left to their usual devices. My mother has a cat, a beautiful Maine Coon affectionately known as Chow Mein for reasons unbeknownst to me, who cats around outside all year long. In the winter, she used to curl up in the space under a spare room my mother calls ‘the shed.’ My brother lived there for a time, even though it has no heat and no plumbing. Luckily it’s not far from the main house. Since my brother moved out and got his own place, Chow Mein likes to sleep on the screened-in porch. In the winter the screens are replaced by storm windows. Regardless, it’s freakin’ cold out there. Freeze-the-water-in-the-cat’s-bowl cold. My mother puts a heating pad on one of the benches and the little miss curls up happily for a good night’s sleep.

78º as painted by artist Mike Glier

The point is, everything is frozen. The world, at least that part, has turned to gray. It’s the time I always disliked most when I lived there. The leaves were long gone so the trees were gray. The sky was always trying to snow, so it was gray. The roads were gray because of past snows and ashes and salt. Even the people were gray, all bundled up in black boots and black or gray wool coats and hats. It was like living in a black and white movie. Interesting for a while but then I started to crave Technicolor.

I have that in spades out here in the southland. The palm trees sway in the breeze, all misty green. The hills, so brown and desolate in the summer months when they get no water at all, blossom in the cold and the wet. Even when we don’t have much rain, just the fact that the nights are in the 30s somehow feeds needed moisture into the ground. Everything becomes more lush. Granted the lawns begin to get more brown. Even the sprinkler systems can’t seem to keep the blades of grass from going into hibernation. And yes, many of the trees also lose their leaves so the branches stand silhouetted against the sky, but the sky is mostly blue, the sun golden and the air warm. This is winter in California, and while it may not necessarily seem festive to those on the east coast, it is for us. There’s nothing like seeing a palm tree decorated with white lights to get someone in the holiday spirit.

By artist Mike Glier

Today was a typical late December day in LA. Warm with just a hint of a breeze. The sky was painted light blue with a few streaks of high white clouds, enough to diffuse the sun ever so slightly. When I drove from our house in the OP into Woodland Hills for a meeting, it was 78º. Not quite warm enough to put the AC on; the windows or in my case, the open sunroof was enough to keep a nice cool air circulating through. It was lovely. It made me appreciate the desert southwest. It made me celebrate the quietness of the week, this week between Christmas and New Year’s when there’s not a lot going on other than what I really choose to have go on. It’s a nice reprieve, an ideal way to say goodbye to one year and to welcome another. So I’ll take my 78º today and tomorrow, and maybe even on Saturday. And as the clock rolls from December into January, I’ll raise a glass (if I’m even still awake) and welcome what’s coming.

Even if it’s rain. Especially if it’s rain.

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live out loud

The purge

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 17, 2011 7:55 PM

My office is probably like many offices. I have current client folders and past client folders; I have sample products and sample gifts, samples of printed pieces, books galore, a wooden duck, two computers, one portable DVD player, an intercom system, speakers, some toys, and a phone. And that’s just on the desk. Don’t even get me started on the floor around my desk or my closet. It is an unmitigated mess. My piles have piles, which I realize is a personal problem.

I try to keep it organized. I pretty much know where everything is in order to get my hands on it quickly, if I need to. Occasionally I get to the point where I just can’t stand it anymore and I go through the accumulated mess that sits underneath one of my computers and to the left and right of my main computer, my beloved Mac. Yes, that is his formal name. It’s usually right around the time when I can no longer see the wood of the desktop. Every day after Thanksgiving while much of the world goes shopping, I have my annual “Lorin cleans her office day” in which I go through everything on the desk and the floor around the desk, throwing out barrels full of stuff no longer needed and shredding that which can’t be thrown away. I dust everything including the shelf at the back of my desk, and all of the various other pieces of furniture in the office. I even vacuum. Then I stand in the doorway and feel very proud.

But lately, doing just enough to see the top of the desk and the annual Lorin cleans day isn’t cutting it. Maybe it’s delayed spring cleaning; maybe I’ve lost that nesting feeling. But I’ve decided that a person can’t live like this any longer. When one can’t even open the doors of one’s closet in order to extract whatever is needed without worrying about the entire contents of said closet falling down on one’s head, something needs to be done.

Let me say this now. I am not nor have I ever been a hoarder.

This is not my office

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain further. As a writer, I have many written things. Some of them by me, many by others. Those ‘by others’ are usually in hard cover and stacked nicely in the book shelf behind my desk. In the closet, which makes me nearly break out in hives when I have to go inside, there are many, many, many boxes containing things I have written throughout my career. Hell, throughout my life. I’m fairly sure the notebooks that I used to scribble my stories after I’d climbed my favorite tree in order to gain some privacy are in there. Those stories, which may go back to when I was 6, were usually about a girl named Julie. I have no idea why. Evidently when I was 6, I thought Julie was about the coolest name a girl could have. Perhaps because of The Mod Squad. Those notebooks, small enough to fit into the back pocket of my overalls, were my lifeblood. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

I digress.

Yesterday I had an epiphany. The skies parted and the sun shone down, angels wept with astonishment over how incredibly brilliant I was. The epiphany? I could clean out my office a little bit at a time.

I’ll pause while you, dear reader, also bask in my brilliance.

Imagine the joy. I no longer had to spend an entire day going through one or two piles; I no longer had to quiver at the very thought of prying open the dreaded closet doors. Or tackling the mess that hides – very well, I might add – behind my door. I didn’t have to put the whole room off until I had time that would never manifest. I could simply start with one small section, clean it out, and then be done for the time being. I began with three of my desk drawers. I went through everything in them and discarded most of what resided there. I had date books from 1999. Yes, I am embarrassed.

But I’ve begun the purging process. I feel elevated. I feel strong. I feel that if I do this often enough, eventually, I’ll even get to the closet.

Then again…

The talent of obsessing

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 28, 2011 9:00 PM

It’s always interesting to me when people write about the creative process. I’ve never been entirely sure that you can write about something like that. How do you qualify it? It’s like knowing where ideas come from. I read a book years and years ago that talked about how easy it was to discover the creativity that’s buried deep inside each one of us. I don’t remember it specifically discussing talent, as if talent was incidental or assumed; as if being creative was what produced talent. The book was called Dancing Corn Dogs in the Night. It was written by movie producer Don Hahn, and it listed some of the forces that drive creativity, namely balance, chaos, persistence and truth. I think he also threw in chocolate and coffee. To the list, I’d add obsession.

There is something about the creative process that nurtures and feeds obsession. If you paint, you must paint. If you draw, you must hold pencils. If you make music, you must always be composing. If you write, everything is a story, a possibility, a potential scene, a headline, an intoxicating sentence that channels Dostoyevsky, transporting the reader.

Obsession has somehow become a bad word, and in the case of Calvin Klein, an over-powering fragrance, but I don’t think it is a bad word. I think it’s a word about focus, about drive, about the relentless pursuit to make the world better through the creative process.

A word cloud of the next paragraph

The dictionary defines obsession as the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image or desire. The word’s origins, dating to around 1510, are from the Latin obsessionem, meaning a blockade or siege. It was also discussed as the hostile action of an evil spirit, rather like possession but without the body and soul invasion. That’s pretty much right on. When I’m obsessed with something, it takes over my entire being. It’s all I can think of, all I want to do. I get that way about writing, but not enough. Because it scares me. Not the obsession, but the act of writing. And yet I do it everyday. Still, to be obsessed is to open myself up, to unzip the tight emotions and influences and thoughts and ideas and let them out to play. They race from my head, down my arm, through my fingers and out onto the keys of my keyboard where they miraculously appear on a word document. But putting them out there, allowing their early release from the prison of my imagination, sets me up for failure. It puts me out there for judgment.

I believe that’s why so many people don’t pursue their creativity and don’t channel their talent. It’s scary to put yourself out there in the world for review because what if the reviews are bad? And they will be, because I’m not good enough for them to be good. And what if they are good? Then I’d be terrified that I have only one good thing in me and then what if more is expected? What if I really do have talent? What if I really don’t?

This is also obsession. The need to obsess about the possibilities while obsessing about the realities, and then wondering which is which and what is what.

No wonder so many of history’s most creative souls were insane.

I have heard that the way through this is to simply do it, which for someone who’s obsessed is actually easy. I’m terrified to write so I write every day. I write while I sleep. I write because I have no choice. I keep a pad of paper and a lighted pen on the table next to my side of the bed in case I have an idea that absolutely must be written down before it escapes my mind and through the tips of my fingers because that’s it’s usual path, and if there’s nothing at the end of my fingers to catch it, where will it go? And if it leaves, maybe that was The One.

So I obsess. I believe that anyone who dreams obsesses, anyone who possesses the myth of talent obsesses because maybe that talent is real. Oh. My. God.

And maybe it is a myth after all.

So I obsess some more, and I write for myself and I read it myself and then every day I let a little tiny bit out into the world to have others read it, and then I obsess about what they think. But having an audience of only one can be lonely. Creativity should be shared, celebrated. As should the talent of obsessing. 

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