The dance

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 15, 2012 8:08 PM

I am not a dancer, though I have a good friend who was and is. Once a dancer always a dancer. When we were in high school, I was amazed at her ability to move the way she moved. I was envious. To move so easily, to glide, to get one’s body into the contortions often needed to become a great dancer was beyond my body’s capabilities. But I admired and continue to admire those who could and can. I remain to this day a lover of dance, though I confess to not going to live performances often. Full disclosure: never. Not anymore. I love to watch films, even bad ones, where the main characters dance and dance well, or at least at the level they’re suppose to dance. I remember The Turning Point from 1977 and White Knights from 1985, and the films that came before. Singing In The Rain and Top Hat. Then there was Saturday Night Fever, Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, the Julia Stiles film Save the last dance. I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars or So you think you can dance.

But there is another aspect of the dance that I love as much as the physical movement and lyrical flow of the body, and that’s the metaphor it gives to life. William Carlos Williams, one of my favorite poets, wrote two poems entitled The Dance. One talks literally of a dance as painted by Pieter Brueghel called Kermesse. But the other talks of love, loss, hope and despair, and possibility. In part it reads:

But only the dance is sure!
make it your own.
Who can tell
what is to come of it?

in the woods of your
own nature whatever
twig interposes, and bare twigs
have an actuality of their own

this flurry of the storm
that holds us,
plays with us and discards us
dancing, dancing as may be credible.

In my interpretation he means to give yourself up to what is in front of you, give yourself up to the storm of life and embrace it, celebrate it.

The country western singer Garth Brooks had a fairly big hit early in his career with a song called The Dance. In it, he sang of love and loss and that for all the pain caused by both, by living the life chosen, he wouldn’t have missed any of it. For to change what has happened is to miss what forms us forever. This is the dance we all engage in every day, the dance of life.

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance

I wonder if there isn’t some kind of poetry in the exquisite movement and flow of dance and the intricate movement and flow of life. We are but vessels, navigating our way through channels, tributaries and great, vast oceans, and in every one there are shallow spots where we engage in light banter and frivolous anecdotes, parts of life that won’t change much or anything but are necessary to the day. And then there are the deep-sea interactions filled with hypnotic conversations and want, with the need to connect with another and the elation that occurs when that happens and the utter despair that rakes through us when it doesn’t; or worse, when it happens and then falls away.

It is the dance we do each and every day of our lives, connecting with some people, disconnecting from others, searching and finding what we need or what we think we need. Moving and flowing and being. If we’re lucky, there is music involved.

I have been blessed in my life to dance with extraordinary people, people to laugh and cry with and about, pets to laugh and cry over, choices that have helped me soar and others that have made me crash. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I believe that everything happens for a reason, that things happen when they’re supposed to, often for reasons we don’t yet understand but will eventually. I believe in only regretting the things I didn’t do, rather than those that I did that perhaps didn’t work out as I had hoped. It’s called living, and it’s the dance I celebrate today just as I celebrated it yesterday and will again tomorrow. It’s the dance of living it out loud. And it’s all the better because it is forever left to chance.

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In the stillness

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 9, 2012 8:42 PM

The air is not moving today. I don’t expect it to last but right now as I sit here in front of the open window, waiting for some sort of a breeze, I am struck by the nothingness. The trees, usually the best gauge for seeing if there’s any sort of wind approaching, are still. The plants sit quietly. No dried leaves are blowing. Instead, they simply lie on the grass under the equally dormant trees from which they came.

There doesn’t appear to be any life in any of the surrounding houses. No cars meander by, either on their way to church or the store, or back from a soccer game or tennis. No dogs are barking, no children squealing. I haven’t even seen the Squire.

The only movement comes from the fan blowing the air around here in the kitchen. The edges of the newspaper rise and fall as if breathing. If Maguire was here, he’d be lying on the title on the floor, right in front of the fan, panting, and it would be rippling through his fur. Memories fill. The plants are dancing ever so slightly. Funny to have air movement inside but not out.

The television is on. My Patriots have been moving down the field. As I write this it’s half time and the score is 21 to 3. As you read it, I’m hoping they will have won decisively.

The clouds that are blocking the sun are hovering. The world is still.

Perhaps it’s an opportunity for introspection. It’s time to be quiet and enjoy that quiet, to live in the moment and not worry about the next one, to sip a cup of coffee and savor it, to allow for a wandering mind and not care where it goes; to follow it regardless. It’s a time to relax and not need to do anything but nothing; a time to smell the flowers, the jasmine in the air, the fragrant eucalyptus trees; to accept the humidity and not complain, to welcome the heat and understand that it will pass when the time is right. It always does.

As I sit here, sipping my coffee, watching the breathing newspaper, missing my puppy, and enjoying the stillness, I can’t help but wonder: Is this what it’s like when the world ends? According to some, we’ll find out on December 21. This is sometimes the kind of weather that precedes an earthquake, of which there is nothing still. Still. If there is stillness that precedes the end, why does everyone automatically think that it will be accompanied by rage? It could just as easily be gentle and soothing.

We’re so used to everything moving, moving, moving always flying around our ears at mach II that when a morning like this one arrives, it is palpable, the stillness. It is welcome. It is a little weird actually. But I’m loving it because of the weirdness, because of what it symbolizes. It’s perfect for a Sunday.

And that’s why I’m celebrating the stillness of this morning. Because it’s Sunday and Sunday should be a little slower, a little quieter, a time when the world isn’t angry or busy, but rather, simply, is still. Even the air concurs.

As I finish this post, the leaves outside have begun to stir. I feel the beginnings of the breeze’s hot breath as it sneaks through the window. A car goes by and another. I hear a motorcycle in the distance; a dog is barking. On the television, the Patriots have scored again, and inside, we’re having breakfast.

The stillness may have begun to move but we’re still loving our Sunday morning of peace. Living it out loud very quietly.

In which I suffer from part-timers as I try to remember if what I remember was a dream or if it happened and who are you anyway

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 8, 2012 10:28 PM

Every once in a while I have a day where my brain is fuzzy. Usually, and I suppose thankfully, these days tend to be on Saturdays. I don’t know if it’s a culmination of the week and that I’m just flat out exhausted by Friday night and thus into Saturday, or if it’s a function of losing my mind. But sometimes I can’t quite get my brain to fully engage. It’s like first gear is broken and I have to try to start moving forward in second or even third. It works, just not very well. Such was the case today.

I think, therefore I can’t remember how to describe these occasional sojourns into the “did that really happen or did I dream it” fits. I call it part-timers, with absolutely no malice meant for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or for those who have relatives suffering from that dreaded and horrific disease. I call it part-timers because it only seems to happen once in a while, with no schedule though almost always on the weekends. Which is good. Because suffering from part-timers could have a disastrous effect on my productivity.

I can hear it now. Client: “When are you going to send me that thing you said I’d have yesterday?” Me: “What thing?”

Great. Now I’m hearing voices.

This weirdness that I’m experiencing is, I suspect, a combination of lack of sleep, too much wine and overflowing hormones. I find that when I have something weird happen to me it’s almost always best to blame hormones because it is usually hormones that are at fault. Of course, only women can truly use this excuse. When men use it for us, it’s just insulting because what do they know about hormones anyway.

The brain fuzz of part-timers is often described by the mental and brain experts as fog. It’s an actual affliction that isn’t necessarily anything to worry about unless it is. The clinical definition of brain fog is as follows: feelings of mental confusion or lack of mental clarity. Check. It’s called brain fog because it can feel like there’s a cloud in your head reducing the ability for the brain to see (read: think) clearly. Check. It’s actually quite common, affecting thousands of people, even children, contributing to school and work problems, low self-esteem, accidents, unhappy relationships and can cause intense frustration. It can have many causes but the most common is a nutritional or biochemical imbalance.

Blah blah blah blah fog blah blah blah what blah blah blah

Here’s what happened to me. I woke up this morning and I was already tired. This is never a good sign. Sleep is supposed to alleviate that particular feeling, but for whatever reason last night’s sleep did not seem to help. Maybe it was because I went to bed late. Maybe it was because it was the end of the week and I needed more than my usual 6 to 7 hours. Saturdays are my day to sleep in and recover but this morning, while I stayed in bed longer I didn’t get any more sleep than usual.

I read the paper. I had coffee and then I couldn’t quite get my head around what I was thinking, what I was seeing, what I was remembering, did I dream that or did it happen, who I was and who the man was who was with me. Kidding. I knew he was my husband. I just couldn’t remember which one. Again, kidding.

Here’s how that conversation went: Husband: “What the hell is wrong with you?” Me: “Who the hell are you?” The look I got was fairly priceless. A look that said, are you kidding; you’re scaring me a little; don’t do this to me; this is like my mother. As I said earlier, I mean absolutely no disrespect to those who are or have suffered the indignities of Alzheimer’s, including Kevin’s mother. It is an insidious disease, one of the worst in my opinion. To rob someone of their mind, their very being is the ultimate in cruel. Torture would be better. I suppose the only saving grace is that the sufferer doesn’t know. Still. 

At least my affliction was only temporary. I took a nap, at my mysterious husband’s insistence, and my part-timers receded with the day. As I write this, the fog has lifted, the fuzz is now tucked way away in the corners (not that corner, the other corner) and I’m back to my old (!) irritable albeit positive self.

If I could just figure out who this handsome dude is across from me, with the scruffy face and the tousled hair, I’d really be living it out loud.

The conversation would go something like this … 

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The best part of a wedding is the marriage

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:55 PM

Today our dear friends Roy and Bobbi celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. What an accomplishment. It speaks volumes to their love and commitment as well as to the sometimes precarious state of marriage in general. Like everyone, they’ve had times of strife but never enough to do harm. Today they are two of the strongest, most loving people we know. They are individuals, but just as importantly, they are R & B. They spend every day together, working side by side, and it has made them closer than ever.

Bobbi posted photos of their wedding from 30 years ago on Facebook. It took place on an impossibly hot day in an un-airconditioned church called the Little Brown Church in the Valley. This then non-denominational church was founded in 1939 right in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, in Studio City. I’m not sure why Roy and Bobbi chose it for their nuptials since neither of them is religious. Perhaps its because Ron and Nancy Reagan also got married there, thirty years earlier, in 1952 – actually thirty years and six months to the day (Ron and Nancy were married on March 4) – and I know both were big fans of the Reagans (Bobbi will not be speaking to me by tomorrow).

Bobbi and Roy, September 4, 1982

We didn’t know them when they got married. I met them in 1989 when I started working at Sebastian International and Roy was the art director. I was able to go to their 10-year anniversary, though, quite the soiree at the Doubletree Hotel in Pasadena. Bobbi posted pictures of that today as well. We were all so young and beautiful.

All of this got me thinking about weddings and marriages. Yes, this is where I get philosophical; you’ve been warned. Bobbi mentioned today that the wedding was fine, but. It’s the ‘but’ that I find so interesting, because it’s something that I share. Weddings are fine. They can even be fun, but ultimately they’re not important. We spend a great deal of money on them, some of us more than others. There is a huge build-up, there is much angst and stress. Dates must be chosen. Venues must be visited, agreed upon, and rented. Invitations must be created and mailed. Registries are registered for. Bridal parties are chosen. Caterers are interviewed and hired as are bands. Dresses must be shopped for; tuxes must match. Families must be coddled. Weight is lost without trying sometimes so much so that dresses have to be re-fit right before the big day.

Within hours, the whole thing is over and you’re left with a big mess. Luckily, you’ve also hired someone to take care of that.

And then what you’re left with is a marriage. I have long been of the opinion that weddings aren’t important. It’s the marriage that counts. The wedding is the denouement, the pièce de résistance, the icing on the courtship cake. It’s what you do after you’ve been dating for a really long time (usually); the next logical step. It’s the build-up. Sometimes the marriage can then be the let-down. That’s what happened in my first marriage. But more often than not, the marriage is the grace-period.

Ron and NancyMarch 4, 1952

A grace period is, by definition, the time past a deadline where a penalty that would be imposed, isn’t yet. I know it’s an interesting way to think about a marriage but bear with me because I prefer to focus on the word “grace.”

Grace is simple elegance. It’s giving honor and credit to another’s presence. It is love that is given you when you have nothing to give in return. It is perseverance, dedication, commitment, forgiveness. It is paying the mortgage and getting the kids to school on time. It’s burying family members. It’s fighting and laughing and crying and rejoicing in everything and nothing. It’s money problems and cash windfalls, new cars and new houses, old friends and true beauty. It’s living it out loud every day, every night, every week, every month, every year.

A wedding is a beautiful day but a marriage is a beautiful life, if it’s done correctly. And that’s something worth celebrating. 

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Dogs, politics and wine

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 3, 2012 8:29 PM

It occurred to me recently that one of the most interesting ways to tell what is important in your world, other than your family, friends and career, your hopes and dreams, your infinite possibilities, is to take a look at your Facebook page. I’ve discovered that mine is nearly equal parts of “likes” for dog-related information, Democratic-related politics and fun wine pages. This doesn’t take into account my friends. These are strictly the pages that I have liked and that seem to post quite a bit.

Some will undoubtedly begin to taper off in about two months. Once the presidential election is over, I expect many of the political pages to not be as lively, and by that time I won’t much care. Depending on the outcome (full disclosure: I am a proud Democrat and have been for my entire adult life), I may need to ramp up the wine pages. And the dog pages.

I don’t use Facebook a lot. I post things occasionally. This blog has a page, and I have a personal page. I don’t have hundreds of friends. I look at my page in the morning to see what everyone has been up to; I look again in the afternoon and usually before I got to bed. When I post on my Live it out loud page, it’s usually a link to my actual blog. When I post to my personal page, it tends to be photos, usually of dogs. Sometimes I share photos of dogs that other people have posted. Once in a while I find a video on one of the political sites I visit and I share that, and it’s almost always a video of dogs.

Sensing a pattern?

Ever since we lost Maguire, my need to see dogs online has increased. I can’t give it a percentage because I only deal in anecdotal evidence, largely because math has never been my strong suit. Still, I’d say that I now have at least 10 more pages than I had before. I had long been a fan of Dog Bless You but then I also added Warrior Canine Connection (who trains service dogs for returning veterans and who, together with Dog Bless You, runs the puppy cam showing Holly’s Half Dozen), and one of the puppies – Abby – now has her own page as well because she is now with foster parents as she starts training. I’m anxiously awaiting the page for Lucy – who has also left to live with foster parents to start training. I just love Lucy.

I have A dog’s purpose and Tuesday; I have Tucker Hirsch, a therapy dog in Honolulu, and Old Dog Haven. I like Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue in Ventura County, The Animal Rescue Site and others.

They all make me smile. They also make me miss my boy. But seeing dogs daily, even if it’s just online, makes me feel a little less lonely. The adoption sites make me want to adopt them all, especially the dogs that are on Old Dog Haven. I see those wise, grizzled and gray faces and I’m ready to load up the Rover and bring them here. (Even my car has a dog name: “Rover,” albeit a really unimaginative dog name.) We’re not ready to adopt another dog yet – the grief is still too pitched – so when I’m feeling down, I look at puppies to feel better.

I look at puppies a lot.

I also look at wine pages of which there is no shortage. They keep me distracted when I’m missing my Maguire, and they make me happy in a different kind of way. Political pages do not make me happy but they do feed my addiction. I admit to loving politics, to Being Liberal and to wanting to Re-Elect Obama.

Wine pages also make me wish for a deep red wine, swirling in a glass, the bouquet wafting up and filling me with impending joy. There’s Wino Barbie, and The California Wine Club. There’s Magnavino and Baldacci and Lido Bay and Zaca Mesa and Niner and LaBelle in New Hampshire. The Frugal Wine Snob points me in the direction of a good red under $20.

Then there is the Wandering Dog Wine Bar that neatly combines both my love of dogs and my love of wine. If there was a way to get politics in there, it would be the trifecta. Might I suggest Wandering Dogs Against Romney Wine Bar? I think it has a nice ring to it. It swirls nicely in the glass. When the light hits it just right, I think I can see my boy’s wise, grizzled, gray mug, proudly wearing his Obama bandana.

The running man

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 1, 2012 9:13 PM

When I lived in Calabasas, after I got rid of husband number one, I used to see a man running. Every day, he would be pounding the pavement, always in black shorts, his long brown hair pulled into a ponytail that hung to the middle of his back. On cooler days, he wore a t-shirt, but when it was warm, he wore only his shorts and running shoes. And he would run and run and run. He had headphones and he carried a walk-man. Then he started running with a black doberman, on a leash that attached around his waist. The dog was huge and the man was small. The dog seemed hardly to have to work at all to keep up. But the man was dedicated. Rain or shine, he was there, running down Las Virgenes Road, up Agoura Road, and from there, who knew? My world, in those days, didn't go north of Las Virgenes Road; there was no reason.

When Kevin and I got together and he lived with me in my townhouse for a year or so, we'd both see the running man. Then my world did expand and we ventured north of Las Virgenes, eventually buying a house off of Lindero Canyon Road, in Oak Park, about 10 miles from the townhouse. Damned if I still didn't see the running man and his dog running down Lindero. Again, it seemed to be on a near daily basis. I had no idea where he started from; I had no idea how far he went. But as I saw him on both roads and they were ten miles apart, I figured he was doing close to 20 miles if not more nearly every day.

I wondered who had that kind of time.

I wondered who had that kind of stamina.

I wondered if he had a job and if he did, what it was since he didn't seem to be running at the same time each day, just every day, and never at night.

I marveled at his dedication. And that his knees were still holding up.

I was impressed with his stride. He didn't have the incredible lightness of being that most marathon runners possess, as their feet barely seem to touch the pavement as they bound and propel themselves forward at an unheard of pace of 4 minutes a mile. But his stride was easy and steady, never seeming to vary in form. Just a constant movement. He was wiry and thin; that helped.

After a while, I only saw him and wondered about his dog. I was never crazy about the dog running with him anyway. I always try not to be too judgmental of people though I confess that I am not always successful. Still, I don't like to see people running with their dogs. Dogs are not meant to jog. They are not marathon runners. It is not good for them. I feel the same way about people who ride their bikes and have their dog running alongside, tethered to a leash. I always want to say something. I don't. I wondered if maybe the dog had simply gotten too old and could no longer run the ridiculous distances that his master did. I hoped that the dog was just waiting at home, napping on the cool tile, waiting for his dad to finish his daily routine.

I have to admit that I was also a bit envious of the running man. I used to be a runner. I began when I was about 14, a freshman in high school, and I ran through my 20s and 30s and into my early 40s. I was never a huge distance runner, only doing 3 to 5 miles at a time, but I loved it. I always felt my best when I was running; I looked my best, too. I'm tall and relatively thin. Running kept me thin. My jeans always fit better when I ran. My metabolism seemed to function at a higher rate when I ran. But then, a couple of years ago, my right hip started to bother me, and I thought that perhaps the running was starting to wear down some parts so I decided it was probably best to find another form of exercise. I stopped running and started walking. I still feel pretty good, but not as good as when I would lace up my Aiscs, stick my iPod ear buds in my ears, crank up the tunes and go out and run, toes pushing off the pavement, pushing forward, cresting hills and coasting down again, always pushing myself a little bit further, a little bit faster.

Running is aerobic, meaning that it helps the body develop a lot of resistance to physical work. It increases overall energy and improves cardiovascular, muscular and lung capacity. As for metabolism, the rate increases exponentially so runners can eat more without worrying about gaining more. No wonder I loved running so much. And because of the increased energy and metabolic rate, the body stays leaner, more toned and in better shape. Running is considered one of the best exercises to burn fat fast hence the reason most runners tend toward the lean and mean side. It also builds bone, in addition to muscle, helps you think faster, stay sharper, see better (people who run 35 miles a week are 54 percent less likely to suffer age-related vision loss), live longer (19 percent less likely to die prematurely) and sneeze less (18 percent less likely to develop upper respiratory tract infections). For that reason alone I should reconsider.

I hadn't seen the running man in a while, probably because I'm not often out on Lindero during the day. I had forgotten about him completely. But this morning, as Kevin and I were walking, on Lindero, he was there, too, running in the opposite direction, running past us. Still running in just a pair of black shorts, sans shirt, still with his dark hair in a ponytail hanging down to the middle of his back. Still rail thin; not an ounce of fat on him.  He didn't have a dog. He no longer had a walkman. Instead, he had an iPod strapped to his arm and ear buds in his ears. Other than that, he looked exactly the same as when I used to see him on Las Virgenes 15 years ago.

Running, evidently, also keeps you young. Maybe I should re-think the hip thing, lace up the Aiscs, strap my iPod to my arm, slip the ear buds in and crank up some Rob Thomas This is how a heart breaks, probably the best running song ever, and hit the pavement again. Then again, doing so might change my tune to "This is how a hip breaks."

I'll just stick to watching the running man while the husband unit and I stay the walking couple. Happy, healthy and living it out loud.

Off the grid

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 23, 2012 10:17 PM

Every once in a while I get the urge to go off the grid. It doesn’t happen often and I freely admit that I am a technology junkie. I love my computer – love – and have no problem admitting to my infatuation. Ditto the internet. On the now rare occasion that it is “down” I am literally paralyzed. I don’t know what to do with myself. How can I work if I can’t be constantly checking email and sending email and looking at the latest posts on Facebook and seeing what’s happening in the world courtesy of my browser home page NBCNews? Perhaps this is infatuation bordering on addiction, another malady I freely admit to. However, when the internet is down and I’m working, it really does hinder the flow of work. Most of what I do for work travels back and forth through the ‘toobz, with a client sending me information and me sending a document back.

Today, on our walk, we were behind a lady walking her dog. As we all trudged up the hill, under an 82º sun with a tickling breeze, all we could hear was her half of a conversation to someone named Ruth. She was on her cell phone. I was thinking “can’t you even walk your dog without being connected, to take just a few minutes to simply be?” I admit to being a bit on the cranky side, mostly because I didn’t sleep well and lack of sleep makes Lorin a somewhat cranky girl, but this lady was out for a walk. On a beautiful day, with her adorable dog who was having a helluva time running through the grass and stopping for the more than occasional sniff. The woman was walking her dog; this was a good thing. But she wasn’t living in the quiet, in the moment.

When Maguire was alive and I would walk him in the evenings, before he got older and Kevin went with us each night, I took my cell phone, but only in case there was an emergency. I never spent my walk time with him talking to someone else. It seemed rude. When I go for walks now, with Kevin or even sometimes alone, I have my cell with me, but I never use it. Again, it’s in case something happens. A twisted ankle, witnessing an accident. But never just to chat aimlessly.

I don’t mean to impose my own idiosyncrasies on anyone. I realize there are many who don’t like to be. Be without external stimulation. Be without cell phones or computers. Be without all of the modern wonders of our modern world. As I said, I can be one of them. But I also believe that to be can provide much needed “me time.”

This is why I love to go off grid. To not have the computer on, to not speak on the phone, to not check email; to not need electricity in order to entertain myself. It’s a little like camping, I suppose, though I am adamantly opposed to camping. That’s a little too off grid and I never feel the need to sleep on the ground, in a sleeping bag, to cook over a campfire and listen to the howl of the coyotes in the hills. I much prefer a bed; I like room service when I travel. I can hear the coyotes from my porch.

I have no desire to dismantle my connection to the world, made largely through gadgets and technology. I love that I can talk to my son, my mother or sister at nearly any time, all the way across the country without delay. I love that I can get information I need within seconds of typing the right words into Google. I love that we can be so interconnected to the ones who are important, the ones we love, without thinking about it. Pick up the phone, chat instantly online, send an email. It’s so wonderfully easy.

But to curl up on the couch with an actual book, with no external stimuli, not even music pumping through my iPad when it’s connected to the stereo; to not be on the phone, to not feel the urgent need to check email, to simply be with me and exist in that time in that moment. To disappear into my imagination and enjoy nothing but the words on a page, the ideas in my head, the possibilities of wonder… sometimes there’s nothing more celebratory than that.

Interestingly we lost power briefly today. No idea why. It was there one minute and with a few beeps from the microwave, suddenly it was gone. Kevin thought maybe he’d do some yard work; I thought, maybe I’d do some scribbling, the good old fashioned kind, on a pad of paper with a pencil or a black fine point felt tip. Then, as quickly as it was gone, it was back. Again the microwave beeped to let us know. Our plans were thwarted but the idea was a good one. It made me want to live it out loud very, very quietly off the grid, even for just a little while.  

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Watch this

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 17, 2012 11:43 PM

Kevin found a watch this morning on our walk. I’m not sure how he saw it as it was off to the side in the foliage, and it was green. He picked it up; it was still fastened as if on a wrist. It had no face. His temporary ‘cool’ was replaced with ‘oh, well.’ He stuck it in his pocket until we got home and then he tossed it in the trash.

Kevin is a big watch person. He has an old watch like his dad used to wear and we hunted for a long time to find a band that had a vintage look. He also has my dad’s old watch, one with a silver and gold face and a metal elastic band. He doesn’t wear that one as much because it grabs at the hairs on his arm making it a little uncomfortable. It brings up a good point, though. How does anyone wear a band like that and not have the same thing happen?

Kevin's watch, only his band is blue

Many years ago I bought him a beautiful watch with a gold and silver face and a rich, brown leather band. On its face was one of our favorite cartoon characters: Mr. Bugs Bunny. There’s a Swiss Army watch with a big, bold white face and a thick silver band. I wear that one sometimes. I like the bulk of it. But his favorite watch is the one I bought him when we got married.

We had gone to a local jeweler in Westlake Village, DeJaun Jewelers, to pick out wedding rings; actually to pick out a wedding ring for him. My engagement ring was/is such that a ring needed to be designed to fit around it. Kevin had designed it; we just needed someone to craft it. We found him a plain platinum band with just a hint of gold around the edges. DeJaun then took a mold of my engagement ring, along with Kevin’s design, and made mine. It took 10 days.

As we were in the store, waiting to pick up both rings, we were browsing the cases. So much of the jewelry in jewelry stores is not to my taste. It tends to be heavy on precious stones, too heavy, and I’m more of a minimalist. My engagement ring has a solitaire stone of about one karat, with five tiny stones on each side that curve up and down and eventually form the perfect circle of the ring. That’s plenty of bling for me. My wedding bands (yes, two) are gold and platinum, one of each. But both Kevin and I love watches. We’re fascinated by them, and while some can border on too much, many are stunning in simplicity, color and detail. We’re partial to TAG Heuer. I’ve had one since 1990. It has a thick stainless steel and gold serpentine band; the watch face is round and white. It’s simple and still beautiful. In the TAG display case was a man’s watch with a sapphire blue face, encased in high chrome with diver’s marks all around. The band was thick, navy blue leather. He was in lust. I went back several weeks later and bought it for him for a wedding present. It’s still his favorite.

This is an $11 million watch.

Watches evidently fell a bit out of favor for a while but they’re making a comeback. It seems that with the proliferation of cell phones and even mp3 players, all equipped with time that syncs to the world atomic clock in Greenwich, England (Kevin calls it the mother ship), many people stopped wearing watches. If they needed to know what time it was, they simply looked at their phone. If they had a pre-determined appointment somewhere, they set their phone’s alarm.

But watches are back and boasting new retro styles and equally bold designs. The fashion designers are including sexy new time keeping devices on the wrists of male and female models strutting down the runways in New York, Paris, Tokyo, London and LA. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reports that watch sales are the highest they’ve been in 20 years, with exports from Switzerland surging 19.2 percent last year. Sales of watches up to $300 increased 22 percent; watches $300 to $1000 increased by 25 percent. Swatch and Fossil had increases of 40 percent in sales.

Men’s watches are selling faster than women’s, though it’s not just men wearing men’s watches. Women are also buying men’s watches because they’re bigger and bolder. They’re like the new version of the boyfriend jeans. Remember the 1980s when women wore their boyfriend’s jeans and just cinched the waist tight with a really cool belt? Yeah, I know. But we all did it.

Watches range from cheap to absurd with most people wearing something that falls in between. Many are like tiny mechanical sculptures – pieces of art – for the wrist. Some have enormous faces that seem to engulf the arm. The cheapest seem to be made by Casio; the most expensive are made by Patek Philippe at $11 million. Yes, you read that correctly. Many are analog rather than digital, with arms that can even make intellectual statements while telling time. A watch by Mr. Jones called The Accurate, which sells for $189, has a hour hand that reads “remember” and a minute hand that reads “you will die.” Not exactly cheery though I prefer to think of it as more of a carpe diem message.

Since none of us knows when our time is up, seize the day (and subsequently the time) and live life out loud. Just watch the time.

Dear diary

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 7, 2012 8:24 PM

The entry begins with these prophetic words: “If I can get on to my sofa and occupy myself for four hours, at intervals through the day, scribbling my notes, and able to read the books that belong to me, in that they clarify the density, and shape the formless mass within, life seems inconceivably rich...” They’re hopeful words from a diarist known mostly as the daughter of Henry James, Sr. and the sister of psychologist William James and novelist Henry James. She was Alice James, a troubled soul who kept extensive and explosive diaries that chronicled her desire to kill her father, her sexual attraction to her brother William, and her suicidal thoughts. Knowing all of that it’s odd to comprehend that she also penned words that “clarify the density” so that “life seems inconceivably rich.”

Born on August 7, 1848, in Boston, James’ diaries weren’t published during her troubled life. She was diagnosed with violent hysteria when she was just 20, a common diagnosis for women in the mid to late 19th century and a catch-all that put a name to what is now referred to as sexual dysfunction. In reality, she suffered from psychological and physical problems for most of her life, a life that lasted only 43 years. She never married, taught history for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, sought affection from both her brothers and her female friends, lived with her parents until they both died in 1882, and suffered numerous breakdowns.

By all accounts she was a misunderstood and largely unhappy woman, perhaps born at the wrong time in history. But she found solace in the written word. She started keeping a diary in 1889 only three years before her death when she managed to write page after page after page chronicling her life and mostly her feelings. Her writing was witty, acerbic and insightful. It was also painful and sharp, highly charged with decidedly not nice comments about a number of people who drifted in and our of her life.

Alice James

Her father was an American theologian and Swedenborgian, a religious view given to the prediction that God would replace the traditional Christian Church, establishing a new church that would worship Jesus Christ. He surrounded himself with some of the time’s most famous literary giants, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Makepeace Thackeray, Walt Whitman, and Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May). These were the men who graced her early childhood.

Her brother William was a psychologist and philosopher; Henry was a writer of some renown, penning such known works as The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady and The Wings of the Dove. The James’ were wealthy and highly intellectual, with Alice being perhaps the most intellectual of them all. It seems as though she was at once in the wrong time, the wrong century, and yet completely of both. In another time, she could have lived her life out loud, perhaps found the help she needed to get well. She could have written with wild abandon and had her works published while she was alive, consequences be damned. She may have written more than ‘dear diary,’ words she probably never actually scribbled but that have come to symbolize the rich desire many have to confide our deepest thoughts, desires, and fears to a blank page. Today we call them journals. On the Internet, we call them blogs.

Upon her death from breast cancer on March 6, 1892, brother Henry wrote of her writing “that the extraordinary intensity of her will and personality really would have made the equal, the reciprocal life of a ‘well’ person – in the usual world – almost impossible to her.” It was because of her illnesses that she was able to write.

When she was suffering at the end of her life and sought solace and relief in opium, William wrote to her advising her to “look for the little good in each day as if life were to last a hundred years.” I don’t know if she was able to, and knowing what I do, I would doubt it. But would that she could. Would that we all could, even when the darkness has been pulled over us like a shroud, blocking the sun, the moon and the stars and leaving us with nothing but our brutal imaginations. The power of the mind is a strange and mystical thing. We can convince ourselves of so much when the mind is left to wander unabated, unfiltered. Alice wrote of her mind being “luminous and active and susceptible of the clearest, strongest impressions.” Impressions of a better life, a healthier life, a different life.

Would that we could all have such impressions, and convince ourselves that we can do what we truly want to; that we can overcome adversity; that we can rise above. That we can fly.

Celebrating the twisted darkness of a fellow tortured writer, the diarist Alice James, on the 164th anniversary of her birth. 

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live out loud

Someone saved my life tonight

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 3, 2012 11:26 PM

In 1975, I was 14 and in eighth grade. We lived in Hyde Park, New York, in the Hudson Valley, near the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Vanderbilt mansion (not sure which family member) and another very gothic mansion called Ogden Mills. It was a strange area, part of it stuck in a time-warp and across the street, sometimes literally, was the 20th century.

It was the year before the coming bi-centennial celebration and Gerald Ford was president, at least for a little while yet. I didn’t care about either of those things. I was a budding teenager and starting to discover what I believed to be real music. I had already fallen in love with Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run album; ditto Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run; Frampton Comes Alive and Frampton’s next album I’m in You would soon follow. I remember my mother hated Peter Frampton. She thought he was scrawny and looked dirty all the time. I think it was because of his hair. That and the cover of his second album was a close up picture of him, shirtless. I thought it was amazing. Her dislike didn’t stop her from purchasing the album for me one day when she was shopping in Barker’s.

Barker’s was very much like today’s Target. It had a bit of everything. Clothing, shoes, electronics, toys, music. Mom came home with it one Saturday. I thought it was the coolest thing she’d ever done. As I said, I was 14 and still relatively shallow.

I was also starting to develop a real love of Elton John. I had heard of him but it wasn’t until I was babysitting at the Martel’s that I decided that this guy was pretty cool. Mr. Martel had an amazing stereo system and he showed me how to use it. He didn’t mind me playing his records at all. It was in that house, after I had put their two little boys to bed, where I learned about the beginnings of great rock. I would go into the living room, sit on the floor and play album after album. It was in the Martel’s home that I discovered Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Guess Who, Kris Kristofferson, and Elton John’s Empty Sky, a very obscure album recorded in the late 1960s before he was ELTON JOHN. I had a copy at one time but I must have lent it to someone in college and it never came back.

Somewhere along the way to becoming 15, I had also acquired Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player, and Tumbleweed Connection. I heard somewhere, perhaps on the radio, that the new album was coming out in the spring. I begged and pleaded and whined and stomped my feet. One rainy evening in late May, I think it was a Friday, my father came home with two copies of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. One for me; one for my friend Colleen.

In retrospect, and even at the time, I thought my parents were pretty cool about things like that. Neither one of them listened to “cool” music. The only thing I ever remember hearing in the house was Barbra Streisand, Robert Goulet, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet, and Johnny Mathis. But they both understood that I was a teen and that teens liked their own music.

Captain Fantastic soon became my favorite album. Evidently I wasn’t alone. It debuted at number 1, the first pop album to ever do that, and stayed there for seven weeks. I listened to it over and over again. It was haunting, melodic and I didn’t understand most of it. That was OK. I still appreciated it, especially the song Someone Saved My Life Tonight. I heard that song today and it brought back memories of playing air piano in my room, singing along with Mr. John, always emphasizing the words “Damn It” in the third stanza. “It’s four o’clock in the morning; Damn it listen to me good.”

I’ve since come to know that this was a largely autobiographical album, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin and music by Elton John, chronicling the struggles of the two in London between 1967 and 1969. Someone Saved My Life Tonight was the story of John’s engagement to a woman named Linda Woodrow, who was fairly wealthy (“clinging to your stocks and bonds”) and his related 1969 suicide attempt. The “someone” in the song title is Long John Baldry, the blues singer, who convinced John to break off the engagement rather than ruin his music career for an unhappy marriage. Even though the phrase “Sugar Bear” doesn’t appear in the official lyrics, it was also a reference to Baldry. “Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear.”

Listening to it today, cranking through my desktop speakers, I was transported back to that first rainy night, holed up in my room downstairs off of the finished basement, having ripped the cellophane away and placed the brand new 33 rpm on the turntable, reading the liner notes and accompanying booklet, marveling at the pictures, thinking how cute both Elton John and Bernie Taupin were. It was a dramatic song on a non-dramatic night for me, but it saved my musical life in some small way.

It was a good memory of a still great song from an album I haven’t listened to in years. I need to dust it off and put it on the turntable again. Maybe I’ll turn off the lights and remember being 14 and just discovering that music could tell stories, that it could change lives. That it was and is, perhaps, the truest definition of living it out loud. 

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