Some thoughts about Justin

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 30, 2013 8:08 PM

Justin has been here for the last week and today we take him back to the airport. He’s on a plane at noon, back to Buffalo, via Las Vegas. We’ll miss him as we always do but he’ll be back in three weeks, on December 22, for Christmas. Next time he arrives he will be officially finished with school. He may have a job waiting for him; he may have two. It’s a very exciting and nervous time.

Last night, after we returned from wine tasting, and had munched on some dinner, we all sat here at the bar in the kitchen, drinking wine and listening to Justin tell us about how his chosen career will unfold. Union work versus non-union work. How to get into the union and how hard it is. How expensive New York City is but how that remains the center of the theatre universe. How he doesn’t really want to live in New York because it’s so expensive.

He talked about getting on a tour that might take him all over the world. He talked about how hard his chosen profession is on a relationship; about how he doesn’t want to get into anything heavy until he’s a bit older, has some money in the bank and the possibility for a more steady work environment, something that doesn’t take him away via air, train or boat.

It’s a very transient life he’s chosen, one with so much potential to see the world, to explore all that there is out there, but one that has perhaps more ups and downs than the ordinary boring life the rest of us lead. A six-month job can be very lucrative, but then it ends and he starts all over, looking for another gig, another month, or three or six, until that too is over and he begins yet again. There is little job security. There is little grounding. And he’s very excited about it all.

We listened to him and asked questions. Once again, I tried to impress upon him the idea of saving. He’s not a good saver, by his own admission, and given how sporadic his work life could end up being, he really needs to change his pattern of spending most of what he makes. Since he went away to college in 2009 I’ve been sounding like a proverbial broken record: you need to put money away when you’re working for when you’re not working. That was even more clear last night as we listened to the life he will lead, work and personal wise.

Justin, yesterday, with the winery dog at Keif-Joshua

It’s exhilarating and terrifying, as parents, to watch your child head out into the big bad, cold cruel and every other cliché world. For his entire life (and for me, most of his entire life) we have been there to take care of him; to feed and clothe him, get his hair cut when it needed it; to buy toys and school supplies; to get him new computers; a car when he started to drive; assistance with college applications and visits and interviews with schools that accepted him. In college, we paid for the majority of his tuition, and all of his books and living expenses. We had him take out a student loan because Kevin felt that it was important for him to have “skin in the game.” It needed to be Justin’s nickel as much as it was ours. We’ll probably help him pay his loans though he doesn’t know that. We want him to understand that being in the real world has real consequences and real responsibilities. The minute you’re out of school it begins. You may end up staying with your parents temporarily but kids don’t want to do that any more than parents want them to. It’s time to be, finally, the adult he’s been preparing to be; the adult that he wants to be. The adult that he, in many ways, already is.

I was up half the night last night. Part of it was all of the usual anxiety that swirls through my head about getting my work done, paying my bills, living a good and true life; a celebratory life.

It occurred to me that Justin, too, will soon be partaking in this dance. He will have sleepless nights wondering where his next job is coming from, if he made the right decisions, what the next year or three or ten will look like. He can’t wait of course because it’s time. But part of me wants to hug him and protect him and spare him from the rigors of being all grown up. But then he also wouldn’t have the joy that accompanies living a full life out loud. 

A song for you

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 18, 2013 10:07 PM

I am a woman of limited interests and I’m just fine with that. I like wine, I like writing and reading, I like dogs. I hate to admit that I’m a bit addicted to politics. I’ve tried very hard to not be but it keeps sucking me back in. I also like the desert and am fascinated by its complexities, by its harsh reality and its incredible beauty. In that way it’s much like life, both difficult and uplifting. It’s also much like love.

I also love music of all different genres. Classic rock and standard jazz. I like new age and fusion jazz and rock and roll and oldies and even some country. It all depends on my mood.

Lately I’ve been alternating between several stations on my live365 feed, one of which comes from Ontario, Canada. It’s called KMan, and they play music from the 70s and 80s, mostly what is derogatorily labeled as soft rock. Phil Collins, Elton John, Hall & Oates (a guilty pleasure) and Simply Red. This morning, there was a version of A Song for You playing and I found myself reaching over to the volume control, cranking it up and sitting back to listen. I wasn’t sure who it was at first and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to let the clarity of the voice and the haunting melody wash over me.

I remember the song first as something sung by The Carpenters. I admit to liking some of the songs of Richard and Karen but much of it was way too sappy, even when I was kid. I tended to like songs of theirs that bordered on darkness, if you could ever label the Carpenter’s music as dark. I always liked Superstar for instance, and even Rainy Days and Mondays. You can keep We’ve only just begun or Close to you. Ditto Sing. They did a cover of Ticket to Ride that I actually liked quite a bit.

A Song for You was written and recorded in 1970 by Leon Russell. It was a slow and painful plea for forgiveness and understanding from an estranged lover. It is one of Russell’s best known songs and in addition to the Carpenters was recorded by everyone from Joe Cocker to Doc Severinsen to Willie Nelson to Whitney Houston to the group that I heard this morning on KMan, Simply Red.

Simply Red, an English soul band, stopped producing music and touring in 2010. Up until that point, they were known for their blue-eyed soul, a new take on rock and even occasionally their foray into reggae. In 2005, they released Simplified, an album billed as featuring new rearrangements of some of the band’s old songs as well as some new songs and two covers, one of which was A Song for You. Where Leon Russell’s voice is deep and gravelly, a trip through dark terrain, Mick Hucknall’s is lyrical, rich, like a reed. He makes this song his own, in ways Karen Carpenter never did. While I always loved her voice, her delivery was always too clean, too devoid of any emotion. It was like she was holding herself back; there was no passion, no soul. It was just technical precision. Simply Red’s version is haunting in its clarity. It made me want to get the whole album.

So here’s a song for you, my loyal readers. Enjoy Mick Hucknall singing it out loud. 

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live out loud

I hear the sound of my husband’s motorcycle approaching

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 11, 2013 10:53 PM

Kevin and I are motorcycle people. We love them. He had bikes in the past, before I came into the picture. I always wanted one. I had friends in college who had bikes, sport bikes – or crotch rockets as they’re affectionately known – and street bikes. Cruisers weren’t really all that popular until the last 15 years or so. Two of my guy friends in college, Kevin (no relation) and Mac, had the same street bike. It was a Kawasaki 450, if memory serves. One of them was black, the other blue.

I tried to have a motorcycle when I was married the first time, but husband number one was more interested in fast cars and particularly in Porsches. I was OK with that as I’m also a car person. I love old cars, new cars, sports cars and classic cars. I love our current 1987 Porsche turbo. It’s my second Porsche. My first was during HNO (husband number one) and I had to sell it when we got divorced because I couldn’t afford the maintenance. I wish that I had the foresight to keep it. I babied that car; it would still be a great car. The turbo was not babied until we got it. We think of it like a rescue.

A number of years ago, when Maguire was still young and Blockbuster Video was still in business, he and I went for a Sunday morning Rover ride to return whatever we had rented. On the way home, stopped at a light on Agoura Road, two cruisers pulled up alongside of us, each being driven by a guy; each with a chick on the back. They looked comfortable and cool. They looked relaxed. They looked like they were having fun. When I got home I told Kevin that I thought we should get a motorcycle. We had one the following weekend, a beautiful silver Suzuki 850 Intruder. But it was too small, so within the year we upgraded to a Suzuki 1500 Intruder, but we never really fell in love with it. It was awkward, oafish. One summer, in 2007, while Kevin and Justin were in Illinois visiting Kevin’s family, I was standing in the kitchen perusing Motorcyclist magazine and there was an ad for a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1500. A gorgeous bike with sleek lines, and built for two. It came with foot panels for the passenger and hard saddlebags, and a backrest. When Kevin got home, I broached the subject of maybe looking at one. We found a used one shortly thereafter and bought it. Metallic black, with lots of chrome and white-wall tires.  We’ve had it ever since.

Today, he had to run some errands and as he often does when it’s a beautiful day, he took the bike, roaring out of the driveway and down the street, the powerful growl of the engine disappearing into the desert as he rounded the corner and headed east.

I worry when he’s out by himself. He’s a great driver and beyond careful, but people don’t always see motorcycles and that leads to stupid accidents. When he goes off without me, he promises to text me whenever he arrives at his destination. I usually get nothing more than a simple “here.” He texts me again as he moves from place to place, keeping me updated so I know he didn’t go splat.

Kevin, returning home this afternoon

Sitting in my office this afternoon, the windows once again open, the cool of the day once again drifting in and around the room, I listened for the sound. Low and powerful, a lion’s purr, it’s very distinct. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but smile. He has returned safely on this fine piece of machinery, one of the finest we’ve owned. Sleek as a cat and ready to cruise, it’s joy on two white-walled wheels.

I hear it now. I hear him approaching. I smile. Soon, I’ll be smiling broadly, enjoying the view as he pulls into the driveway, safe at home. Definitely worth celebrating. 

The Day Begins

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 6, 2013 12:31 AM

It’s Saturday and that means we’re working. It shouldn’t mean that of course. It should mean that we’re lounging about, going for a long walk under a blue sky with the breeze ruffling our hair; with Cooper trotting merrily along, stopping every now and again to inquire as to what is under a particular bush. It should mean a leisurely morning of coffee followed by more coffee. Perhaps reading the paper and sharing stories, a peculiar habit we’ve gotten into in the last years. Oh, honey, listen to this.

We should decide somewhere around lunch time to go out for a motorcycle ride to take advantage of the beautiful temperatures before it gets hot again or before fall and then winter finally decide to do more than tease us with cooler days and nearly perfectly chilled nights. We should ride along the foothills and through the twisting roads that lead to nowhere and everywhere, where traffic is scarce and the roads are open and free. We should decide that we’re hungry and go for lunch to either a little motorcycle dive place we’ve been just dying to try because they’re always the friendliest with the best food, or just to someplace new. Someplace where we can get an ice-cold beer and a somewhat healthy salad or sandwich where we only eat the filling but not the bread. Someplace we can just hang and talk for a bit, share ideas and get fired up about the what if. Kevy, what if we did…?

We should travel to our favorite grocery store to get something really exotic or at least somewhat good for us for dinner. Maybe a nice piece of fresh-caught, never farm-raised, salmon that I can stuff with spinach, garlic and feta cheese, and serve with stuffed portabello mushrooms. We would eventually wind our way home to find a waiting dog with a tale thumping mercilessly against the wall. After spending time with him, rubbing him up and down and kissing his nose, asking him where he’s been all day – Where have you been, baby? – we would take a shower, take the dog for another walk and then as I put dinner together, Kevin would go to the wine vault and find a delicious wine, perfectly chilled, that goes lusciously with fish and vegetables.

We would perhaps find something to watch on HBO or Showtime, a movie maybe that we’ve been wanting to see for a long time but that we keep missing. We would sprawl on the couches, opposite each other, Kevin on the long couch, me on the love seat, Cooper on the floor between us. Hopefully we would like what we were watching. Either way, Kevin would fall asleep while I finished the movie, perhaps surfed the internet a bit, maybe did a little writing.

That’s how Saturday’s often unfold. Not so today’s Saturday. We have a huge project we’re both involved in and there is a presentation on Monday, a presentation for possible funding, so we have been brain-deep in creating a script, a powerpoint presentation and soon to be, a website. We had our walk and some coffee but were both in our respective offices by 10. We had more coffee, eventually we pulled something out of the fridge for lunch. We didn’t go for a motorcycle ride to absorb the day; for dinner I’m making zucchini pizzas because we didn’t get to our favorite store and I already have the ingredients.

All day long, music played. At one point The Moody Blues song The Day Begins came on and I was enthralled. I am not a Moody Blues aficionado. I have never had particularly strong feelings about them one way or the other. I am familiar with several of their songs, most notably Nights in White Satin because isn’t everybody. But this track was something I didn’t recall. It was lush and melodic. It filled the house with a sense of the sun’s rise, waking the earth, alerting the birds, creating a feeling of rebirth, a sense of time starting again; of possibility. I wanted it to go on and on. It didn’t, of course, and instead went into a horrible song about Loving You, something that made my teeth hurt even when it was popular back in the 1970s.

But The Day Begins made me feel as if infinite joys lay ahead, if I was just able and willing to take advantage, to welcome them, to embrace the lifting notes of something beginning, with sun drenching the ground, the sky painting from gray to soft blue to vibrant life in a matter of hours. It all felt so positive and possible that it didn’t even bother me that I was working. I was living it out loud through my imagination. And sometimes, some days, that is enough. 

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live out loud

4:20 am and the phone sounds

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 2, 2013 1:06 AM

There are few things that can rouse a person out of a deep dream-state in a split second. An earthquake, the sound of glass breaking somewhere in the house (often synonymous with an earthquake) and a ringing phone. In the days before cell phones, an old-fashioned phone was usually propped on a bedside table. If its ring shattered the silence, it was just jarring enough to cause instant panic. Who died?

These days, many people no longer have landlines, Kevin and I included. Cell phones and all that they can do – and let’s face it they can do everything but go grocery shopping – have rendered landlines virtually extinct. This summer, after several years of threatening to pull the cord, we did, eliminating both our private line and our two business lines. Now the cell phones go with us everywhere, held in our hands or tucked in a pocket or a purse. They move to the coffee table at night when we set up to relax and watch a little tube before going to bed. Then they move into the bedroom, each taking up residence on its owner’s table, hopefully to be silent until the morning.

We’ve had telemarketing calls come in fairly early, around 7 am. That’s obnoxious, but we’re usually not in that dead-like sleep where the real world has ceased to exist and instead has been replaced by strange happenings that seem, remarkably, normal. Being in the same space with a group of people I haven’t seen since college. Driving a car that isn’t mine and that I’ve never seen before and trying desperately to find my lost candy bar. The possibility of time travel where my dad is still alive and young, as are my brother and sister, but where I’m the same age or older than I am now. A story is born.

I can imagine that in this state, my eyes are engaged in the rapid movement scientists often discuss. I know that this morning at 4:20 I was deep in the zone. I have no idea what I was dreaming about but I know it was interesting in that way that dreams have of being just fascinating and making perfect sense while you’re in them. It’s probably one of the reasons they dissipate so quickly upon waking. They want to leave you with the feeling of wow rather than the more apt thought of WTF.

At 4:20 am, there was a loud bloutzel blang, the sound that Kevin’s phone makes when it is getting a text message. Both of us sat up immediately, terrified. Hearts pounding. A cold sweat breaking out. Hair standing on end.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Your phone,” I said, hyperventilating. “I think it was a text message.”

“What time is it?”

“I have no friggin’ idea. Who is texting you at this hour?”

“Where’s my phone?”

“It must be over there. I heard it.”

“I heard it, too. Shoot. Where’s Cooper?”

Cooper was snoring. My heart was pounding as was Kevin’s. He reached for his phone to find out who was texting us before 4:30 in the morning, interrupting our dreams, our sleep, our night. Jolting us awake in the same way as an earthquake or glass breaking or the old-fashioned jangling phones of old.

“Justin. He needs rent money.”

“At 4:20 in the morning?!”

Granted it was 7:20 for Justin since he’s in New York. Still. We both slid back down into the bed, under the covers. Cooper sighed. Seriously? We’re up and talking? It’s still dark out. After a while, we both drifted back off to sleep, back into dreamland, and back into the night. 4:20 is early to be so rudely awakened but the ability to get back to sleep is always something worth celebrating.

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live out loud

A day in the lush life of Cooper Michel

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 22, 2013 12:25 AM

It occurs to me that in my next life I would like to come back as a dog. Naturally there are conditions. It would have to be in a nice house with really good puppy parents who would insist on spoiling me constantly. I would like the water in my bowl to always be cold, fresh and full. I would like to have good food supplemented with chicken and cheese, not necessarily together but if they are, all the better. I actually came to this reincarnation theory many years ago when I would watch Maguire. I am punctuating it today as I watch our Cooper navigate his way through a typical day as the dog of Kevin and Lorin Michel.

It begins thus: he rises to the cooing of his parents saying good morning, baby did you sleep good? followed by a quick squirt in his backyard and then the first walk of the day. Granted he has to endure the attachment of a pinch collar due to the incident, but pinching is rarely applied. Leading the way from the front door, the walk commences. It is his time. The pace is mostly set by him unless he gets the nut on, which happens usually after he has sniffed the essence of another dog or sees another dog on the horizon, an apparition that seems to taunt him mercilessly. We walk on, he pees and sniffs and whatever and we eventually make our way back home so that he can break the long fast of the night. Thirty seconds later, he's licking his chops and racing toward the bedroom to push his face into the bed.

Who knew a California King could also double as a dog’s napkin? At least he's cultured and civilized.

The day proceeds. Over the course of the ten minutes following the napkin-use, every toy he has is ceremoniously pulled from his bed, whipped around in a frenzy, and trotted out to the great room where it is deposited onto the rug. Tired from all of that, he settles down, often atop the toys, for the first of numerous naps.

I realize as I'm typing this that my reporting is nothing new to other pet parents. I report; you nod in recognition.

Lunchtime means snacking on some of the same things we’re eating. Often there is chicken involved. Sometimes cheese. Occasionally tuna fish. He loves all three. He’s a little disappointed when we have salad as he’s not a big fan of tomatoes and lettuce, though he does like cucumbers and avocado. And the saving grace is that there is usually some sort of cheese involved.

After lunch, he goes back out into the backyard for a bit, usually to roll around on his back in the grass, growling and snarking and play barking as he does. Then it’s back for another nap or three. Later, there is another walk followed by dinner followed by our dinner. His dinner, then, functions more as an appetizer, a cup of hors d’oeuvres to munch on while he awaits the real food.

We are the type of parents who have no qualms about giving the dog people food. I realize there are many who don’t believe in doing this and I respect that. My justification has always been that their lives are short and a piece of cheese or chicken is not going to hurt them, and if it helps make them live even happier, what’s the harm? We don’t do bones. And I have read about the food items that are generally considered bad for dogs so we don’t share those.

Maguire lived to be over 15 and for his entire life he ate people food in addition to his dog food. On Sunday mornings when I would make us breakfast, he got his own plate. I would make him his own egg, his own piece of turkey bacon. If we were having waffles, he got his own waffle with just a hint of syrup.

Now it’s Cooper’s turn. He too gets his own plate on Sundays, and during the week, he gets a taste of whatever is for dinner. Then he settles on the rug as we all watch television a bit before it’s time for one more supervised spin around the backyard before bed.

It’s a tough life. It’s a lush life. It’s the life of Cooper Michel, as it was the life of Maguire Michel before him. 

I’ll tell you. A dog with a good owner in a nice house with lots of food and water and toys. Not a care in the world other than what time we’ll be leaving to embark on our next walk. Not a bad way to live. Not a bad way to live it out loud. 

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live out loud

Damn that was fun

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 16, 2013 10:49 PM

Every once in a while a weekend is so good that when it’s over you’re even more blue than when a regular weekend ends. Such was the case with this past when we played host and hostess to our best good friends and family, Roy and Bobbi. They arrived late Thursday and we proceeded to spend the rest of the weekend visiting, laughing, enjoying wine and art and our friendship. They left this morning and I admit to being a bit blue. But instead of wilting and allowing the blue to completely envelop me, I’ve decided instead to embrace it just as I embraced my friends, literally and figuratively.

In my world, friendship is the glue that holds me together. Because I’m so far away from my family and because I’ve lived west for the majority of my life, friends are what I have out here. People I’ve chosen and who have allowed me into their lives; people who have been with me through some of the darker times, of first husband, of job changes, of the loss of beloved pets; and my father.

There are some people who have a lot of friends. I’ve never been one of them. I used to wish I were, back in high school. I was envious of the populars who had seemingly dozens of friends. I thought that was what I should have; I’m not sure why. Somehow a lot of friends would mean that I was more normal I suppose; more accepted for who I was.

Who I am.

After I graduated from college, I realized that it wasn’t the quantity of friends that mattered. It was the quality. Since then I have gone about collecting some of the finest people in this world as my friends. There are not many of them but they are the best. I hope they know who they are. They are my people, my confidantes, my west coast family; my lifeblood. It’s why after such a lush weekend – and I do not use the term to describe our wine consumption, even though it was plentiful – I feel a little down and lonely.

Friends are like air. And Roy and Bobbi are the freshest air. We have traveled together, we have helped each other move. We have consumed wine and started businesses together, sometimes over wine. They are the original Fritini participants. They are Justin’s official west coast aunt and uncle. When we lost Maguire, they were nearly as heartbroken as we were. They were there the night we brought Cooper home for the first time. They are my oldest friends in California. They are the truest of people, the kind that leave footprints in your heart.

We are lucky to have them. We are lucky to have all of our friends. And we celebrate each and every one with each and every waking day. While we can’t always be physically together, due to the circumstances called life, we are always together spiritually, emotionally; online.

This weekend was about friends and family, about discovery and good times. It was relaxing and easy. It was perfect because of our very good friends. And while I’m sad that I won’t see them in person for a while, I am blessed to have them in my life. I am honored to call them – all of you – good friends.

Groucho Marx once said this about a good friend: “When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, ‘Damn, that was fun.’”

It was. It was.

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friendly celebrations | live out loud

It's always a good time for wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:26 AM

As you know, dear readers, I am a wino. I make no apologies about this. I am actually quite proud of my status. I flaunt it whenever and wherever I can, usually with a bit of inky dark syrah or cab franc swirling in my glass. I have come to the realization that wine is life.

Not meant as a biblical reference at all, though if Jesus Christ really could turn water into wine, I might have to rethink my no-religion mantra.

Tonight, I was texting with my friend Pam who mentioned that she had been nursing an emotional headache for about two weeks. I know she’s hurting, in pain, and I wish there was something I could do to help. I also know that no one can really help; something she also knows. It’s all a process, this grief/healing thing, and she’s getting through it as best as she can because as she likes to point out “what choice do I have?”

Wise woman, my friend Pam.

I asked her if wine helped and mentioned that wine is always a good idea. She graciously responded that this was but one of the reasons we’re friends. Pam, it should be told, was the first person I got drunk with. We were stupid kids, 15, who had finished just one year of high school before we decided that we needed to know what it was like to have a cocktail. We went to a liquor store near a mall if memory serves (and it doesn’t always) and managed to get some guy to buy us a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine. The beer I believe was Michelob. Or maybe it was Coors. The wine was Boones Farm Apple.

We were very sophisticated for 15 years olds.

We had no idea that mixing cheap beer with cheaper wine was a bad idea. We knew absolutely nothing about drinking and even less about wine. We proceeded to drink both and promptly got sick.

It’s a fond memory.

This was my first introduction to wine and one would think it might have soured me on the attributes of this finest of beverages. It didn’t. I went through many years of drinking Lancer’s. I just hope it was the one in the red jug and not the white jug. I honestly don’t remember. I do remember drinking Riunite in college. It had a screw top. Even in college I knew it was horrible but it was all I could afford.

Eventually I moved to California and discovered that wine can be better than that, much better, even though while I was in San Diego I remember drinking a great deal of something called Blue Nun. I think it was a Gewurztraminer. It was sweet and I loved it, but I was 22 and didn’t know any better. Witness the Michelob and Boones Farm episode.

I don’t know when I began drinking red wine but I was still in my 20s. I eventually discovered that red wine can be an amazing thing, a life-altering universe of flavor. Some still say that red wine gives you a headache but I contend that it doesn’t have to. In fact, if it’s good red wine, it will never give you a headache.

Unless you drink too much. And anything you drink too much of will give you a headache so you can’t really blame red wine.

The point is, and I do have one, wine is a good time and it’s always a good time to have it. Especially if you’re having it with people you love. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything much better in the world than sitting with friends on the back patio, with a couple of exceptional bottles of red wine on the table, a menu of tapas, and a conversation laced with laughter.

That’s the kind of drunk I do now. And it’s the best kind there is. 

Arrogance as virtue

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 12, 2013 10:51 PM

I’m always in awe of the things we can accomplish as human beings. Technical marvels, revolutionary changes in the way we travel, communicate, listen to music, watch movies and television, drive, eat; live. We build skyscrapers, we construct dams to hold back rivers, we create ships that sail around the world and airplanes that travel at 38,000 feet. We send rockets into space, and we have a space station where people can live for a year in weightless suspension. We use our arrogance to defy gravity and fault lines and Mother Nature. I think that’s awesome. If we didn’t have that arrogance as a species, we wouldn’t accomplish anything of greatness.

Arrogance has a way to looking at something and seeing how it can be better. Never mind that it hasn’t been done before, forget that no one has ever tried it. It matters not that everyone says you can’t because arrogance says you can.

Don’t get me wrong, arrogance can also be arrogant, which is a quality that isn’t very attractive. I think having arrogance means you are fearless and completely non-self-aware. I think being arrogant is that you have no respect for others. There’s a difference.

Arrogance leads to tall buildings and space flight. Arrogant leads to believing nothing can send those building crumbling in seconds during an earthquake, or to a ship disintegrating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Arrogance allows for us to rebuild and re-fly; arrogant is over-bearing about it, self-important.

I like to say that no one is irreplaceable. Of course, that’s not completely true. When we lose people close to us, they remain irreplaceable though it doesn’t mean there won’t be another in our future lives. But when it comes to people who build things, who make things happen, who change the world as a whole – as opposed to those who just rock our individual worlds – they are all replaceable. Therein lies the difference between arrogance and arrogant.

Arrogance does something. Arrogant thinks no one else is capable. To which I respond that we replace the President of the United States, who many would argue remains the most powerful, influential human being in the world, every four years. It’s arrogant to think otherwise.

In 1928, Henry Ford was troubled by what he perceived to be the high cost of rubber for tires for his cars and so he decided he make rubber cheaper. He bought 6 million acres of land in the Brazilian rainforest, planted rubber saplings, and shipped dozens of employees from Michigan to manage the small town he dubbed Fordlandia. He built houses and a plant to make the rubber. He insisted that all personnel, both American and native Brazilians, abstain from smoking and drinking, and that they attend poetry readings and sing-a-longs. Eventually, everyone rebelled. The Americans who hated living in the jungle and the Brazilians who weren’t big on wearing nametags and learning to square dance. The rubber plants were overcome with insects and leaf rot. Fordlandia was abandoned in 1930, just two years later, when the Americans were chased away with machetes. It was arrogance that had the idea.

As humans we are constantly trying to change the world, to better ourselves. For those who have outlandish ideas, there must be arrogance. It makes people do outrageous things that sometimes are audacious enough to work. It’s how the world was built; it’s how we evolve and challenge the status quo.

Arrogance then is a virtue, as long as we maintain the humility to see that we’re not invincible. For a minute or two, there is a power that rages through us and we can do anything. It’s a good feeling.

Are Kevin and I being arrogant thinking we can change our lives? Is it arrogance that is driving us forward? We have looked at our world as it is and said it can be different, it can be better. It hasn’t been done before but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done now.

Maybe that’s the ultimate virtue of arrogance. Charging ahead, consequences be damned, because we can.

I don’t know. Is that arrogant?

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I'm down with that

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:49 PM

It occurred to me once, not too long ago, that I am associated with some places that have some pretty depressing names. I’m not sure why this occurred to me. I have no idea what was happening in my brain at the time, though I suspect both a bunch and not very much at all. I could have been thinking about what to make for dinner, or if there were any soon-to-be-released movies that I’d like to see. Suddenly, there it was, knocking at my imagination and making me wonder.

I was born in Olean, New York which is in the southwestern part of the state, just over the border from Pennsylvania, the state where both my parents were born and raised, in various places with dread-type names. One literally has the word “dred” in it as in Eldred. It’s a tiny little berg in Pennsylvania, where my dad was from. There aren’t many people who lived there then or now. For the first year of my life, my mom, dad and I lived in a very small apartment on the second floor of some sort of an equally small apartment building. I think they had a washing machine but no clothes dryer. My mother used to tell the story of how she would have to hang the cloth diapers out on a clothesline where they would freeze. She would bring them in, sheets of ice, and lean them up against the furniture to thaw. I suspect she used to dread having to do laundry.

When I was three or four, we moved to another slightly eerie place, minus an ‘e.’ Erie, Pennsylvania. I don’t remember much about Erie. I have fragments of memories. Like Andrew and Gigi who lived behind us on Kruger Avenue. We had an apartment; they lived in a big dark house at the end of twisting driveway. I’m sure it was neither big, nor twisting, but that’s my memory of it. I remember a house burning down just across the street because of candles. It makes my memories of Erie sort of eerie.

Then we moved to a suburb called Fairview. A much nicer sounding name but I don’t remember it much at all. We built a house. It was a ranch, with three bedrooms. Scott was little. I think Khris was born there. I remember sharing a room briefly. There was wallpaper. I think yellow daisies.

My mother grew up near a place that, at the time, was sort of the pits, literally and figuratively. Pittsburgh. Back then it was a steel town. The big factory chimneys of U.S. Steel plants belched a constant stream of black soot into the air. My mother used to talk about how black the bottoms of her feet would get. I remember the same when we would visit my great aunts, Beryl and Eleanor, who lived in the big brick house up and across from one of the three rivers that pulse through the city. I’m sure the river, too, was grimy. I can’t imagine how it could have been any other way. We would race through the house and the bottoms of our feet would get black, too.

I didn’t mind it as a kid but as I’ve grown, I realize that it really was the pits. At least when I was little. Pittsburgh has since become a much more fashionable city, a much more cultural place; cosmopolitan. It started many years ago, I know. It was the most livable city in the country in 2007.

But I don’t visit Pittsburgh anymore. I have flown through it; I have changed planes. The airport is decent. I’ll be there tomorrow night as I fly in for the weekend, to help my mother clean out Aunt Beryl’s house, the one up and across from one of the rivers. I won’t get to spend a lot of time experiencing the new Pittsburgh but I will embrace it anyway. I love that they were able to reinvent themselves. I wish that all places and people could do the same.

It’s probably not the pits anymore. I have no idea if Erie is still eerie; probably not. The last time I was in Eldred, when my grandmother died in 2001, it was still a little backwards, a little quiet; much the same as it had been when I would run through the fresh cut grass that would turn my feet green.

That appears to be another running meme in my life, places that change the color of my feet. It occurs to me now that that’s a whole other chapter, another story lodged in my mind. I wonder where it might take me.

I wonder what I’ll discover when I get there.  

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