In which it is hot and I celebrate the first heat wave of the season

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 30, 2013 1:12 AM

I don’t believe that A. A. Milne, one of my favorite writers because of his devotion to a bear named Pooh, a small swine named Piglet, a morose donkey named Eeyore, a wise Owl, an irritating Rabbit, a bouncing Tigger and a boy named Christopher Robin, ever wrote about excessive temperatures. All of his wonderful characters lived in the Hundred Acre Wood, where they got into mischief, and supported each other, happily. Mr. Milne always started his chapters with the trope In Which. I always loved that and evidently I’m not alone. I see this phrase used a lot around the blogosphere as people describe something that is about to happen, thus moving the conversation forward.

In which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place. In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump. In which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One. In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water.

I have to say, that after the last couple of days out here in the west, I’m envious of that little insecure pig in his striped shirt. To be surrounded by water when one is surrounded by crippling heat might be a good thing.

Which is why we are moving to the desert.

It was 102º today in the OP. Bobbi said it was 109º in the valley where they live. A friend of mine who lives in Scottsdale said it was 116º in the shade. The southwest is bathed in a heat wave and it has been sizzling for days. Can’t walk outside barefoot kind of sizzling. Feel your hair color evaporate kind of sizzling. In other words, warm.

Las Vegas was a balmy 117º while Phoenix hit 119º in the middle of the day, breaking a record that has stood since 1944. Much hotter and Sky Harbor will have to ground the planes. Something about not being able to get enough lift when it’s hot like this. I always thought it was because the planes sunk into the tarmac, emphasis on the word ‘tar.’

The appropriately named Death Valley was on track to hit 128º today. Death Valley, a barren but stunning piece of land far to the east of us, has the distinction of being the hottest place on earth, having once clocked a high temperature of 134º about a century ago.

It was hot and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. We like the heat but this kind of heat is rather oppressive. We also like to be outside and you can’t really do anything outside. The sun burns your skin the minute you leave the shade. I already mentioned about the hair color problem. It seems almost impossible to get enough water.

It was into this furnace that we ventured several times today, with a little boy in fur, as people came by to take a look at the house, which is currently for sale. We pulled up some shade where the temp dropped to a near-cool 99º maybe. We took water and a bowl for Cooper. Our real estate ladies were so worried about him that on their third trip to the house this afternoon they brought him a travel water bottle, a bottle that hooks into its own trough for easy dispensing, storing and sitting outside in the shade for 20 minutes or so when the temperatures are in the triple digits.

We like the heat. It’s why we’re moving to the desert. But liking the heat and understanding that it can be dangerous go hand-in-hand especially for dogs. I don’t worry so much about cats because they instinctively know how to find the safest, coolest place to be. Dogs just want to be with their people. But their pads can burn and get blistered if they’re on asphalt. Whenever I see someone walking their dog when it’s hot like this, I think they’re idiots. In Arizona, it is literally considered animal abuse, one of the few laws in Arizona I agree with.

Cooper and his dad (Kevin), in the shade

As the day progressed, the temperature remained constant. I thought about Piglet, surrounded by water. I thought about the introduction of new characters, In Which Kanga and Baby Roo Come to the Forest and Piglet has a Bath. More water. New characters in our lives are always good. We have new characters in the guise of our real estate ladies, Debbie and Hillary, sisters who love dogs and love our Cooper.

Tonight, after we’d gone to the store and the temp had dropped even further, down to the low 90s on its way to the high 80s and eventually into the 70s we finally took Cooper for a shortened walk. The sun was setting, bathing the neighborhood in shades of pink and peach and pomegranate. The birds were out, kids had ventured onto the street to skateboard, or play bad mitten, air conditioners clicked off and the world became more normal. It was an every day life in the OP.

It was hot today. Sizzling, oppressive, evaporative, feverish, devilish, blazing, blistering, broiling, scalding, sweltering. Tomorrow promises to be worse.

And that’s OK. We have each other, we have water, we have AC. When it’s hot, we’re ready to live it out loud anyway. But just in case, here, have some water. 

In difference

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 27, 2013 12:48 AM

I am always struck by our vast differences. In this country alone there are some 332 million people, living in cities, towns and rural areas; along the coasts, in the mountains, on the plains, in the desert. On islands, on parcels not far from Russia. These areas are all completely different from one another. The Pacific coast is different than the Atlantic. The Florida coast is different than Cape Cod than Maine, and then there’s the Gulf Coast. The land is different, the water is different. On the Pacific, the coast in San Diego is different than the coast of Big Sur than the coast of the Pacific northwest. The temperatures vary. It can be 90º here and 60º in San Francisco. It can be 95º in Miami and 58º in Kennebunk Port.

In the middle of the country, the steel belt is different than the farming belt is different than the plains is different than the mountains. The desert is different in New Mexico and Arizona and Nevada.

And inside every one of these enclaves are different people. They have different skin colors, hair cuts, religions, politics. There are differences in how we dress, how we think, whether we like dogs or cats or turtles or fish. There are differences in the music we listen to, the food we like, the places we travel, our heritage, our age, our taste in movies, if we like wine. Do we prefer coffee or tea? Sparkling water or flat? Red or white?

Inside every person is the same, in terms of how we’re designed. The hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone and all that jazz. We all have the same organs. A heart to keep us running, a brain to keep us thinking, muscles to keep us moving. We have eyes to see, ears to hear, noses to smell. We have mouths to talk, to taste, to eat; to kiss. We have hands to touch, to grasp, to type, to write, to paint, to create, to play.

We have desire; we have will.

Only the outside appears different and yet it isn’t, not really. We all have two arms, two legs, ten fingers and ten toes. Finger nails and toe nails. A head, sometimes with hair. Skin. We wear clothing of some sort, shoes maybe. Hats, jackets. We are human beings and there really isn’t much that’s different about any of us.

Some are old, some are young; some are female, some are male. We are one or the other, but even as a male or a female we still have all of the same parts. Only the reproductive organs are different.

And yet, for all of our sameness we are, actually, completely different. We have unique personalities and thoughts and dreams and jobs and possibilities. We want and we need. We think differently, we have different desires. What makes us different may be the soul. At least that’s what some people think it might be.

I’m not sure what it is but as same as we are I also realize we are completely different. We live in difference, we exist in difference, we are in difference. That’s what makes us, as a species, so incredible.

To have indifference to something is to not care. But in difference, there is cause for celebration. Finding joy in what makes us different is what makes us human. I find joy in that daily. I celebrate the fact that we all think differently, want different things, need different things; that we all live differently; that we love differently.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but as I look at those around me, at my husband, my friends, my family, and I see that we are all human beings and thus the same, I also see that we are completely different. I love that. I love that we are different in our sameness. I love that we are merely human.

It’s the kind of in difference I can get behind. 

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The many people inside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 22, 2013 11:22 PM

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “writers aren’t exactly people… They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” It’s a rather schizophrenic metaphor for what turns out to be a very schizophrenic lifestyle because writing truly is a way of life.

I’ve written here before that writing is not simply what I do but rather who I am. I’m writing constantly, even when I’m not typing or scribbling. I’m having ideas for stories or scenes for a story. I have characters present themselves to me in dreams or when I’m cooking dinner. Suddenly, there is a new person who has found his or her way into my imagination. My dreams often play like movies, stories that make perfect sense sometimes and at other times, no sense at all. And definitely no sense once I awake.

I always have something on which to scribble or write. In my purse, there is a small notebook and pen. Next to the bed, numerous loose pieces of notepaper and notebooks, and a pen. In my office, nearly infinite pieces of paper and pens, and my favorite mechanical pencil.

There is also my computer, my iPad with its trusty Notes app as well as my iPhone with its Notes app. I have become very adroit at “scribbling” with my thumbs.

I have scribbled things on paper that reside in the pockets of all of my jeans, at least until they go into the wash. The small bag I carry on the motorcycle has paper and pens as well, scribbled thoughts and notes and ideas, though I don’t use them as often because of the Notes app on the iPhone which now goes with me everywhere I travel.

I write and often when I do, I am not writing as me. I’m writing as a character, or as the beginnings of a character. Being present at the birth of a character can be an unpleasant experience, sometimes even a messy one.

Here are some of the characters that I currently have living inside with me:

There is Katherine, known as Kat, a woman who lost her daughter and then loses her mind. Hunter who is searching for the meaning of her life now that she has turned 50. Charlotte who is dying and desperate to make sure her husband has someone to make him happy once she’s gone.

There is Peter, an artist, who takes his horribly burned daughter from the expert doctors who aren’t helping her in Boston to a Medicine Woman who lives just outside a reservation in Arizona.

There is Simon who loses his wife and daughter and tries to rebuild his life by rebuilding a broken down old house.

There is Laurie who is raising her stepson with her husband and must confront all of her feelings about that fact when her husband dies and the boy’s biological mother, Zoey Ray, wants the boy back.

There is Evelyn Halloran who is eight years old and witnesses a murder in rural Pennsylvania in 1927.

There is, there is, there is.

And there are others that I’m writing for other people, like the historical fiction/memoir about a couple in Chicago who were separated by World War II, married after knowing each other just seven days and built a life together. They aren’t my characters, but they are still characters that are inside of me, fighting for space in my tiny little brain, living their lives and just waiting for me to set them free on paper.

It’s a weird way to live, having all of these people inside. The difference between being a writer and having schizophrenia is that schizophrenia is somewhat treatable. When one suffers from multiple personality disorder, it is also somewhat treatable.

I don’t believe anyone has yet found a cure for being a writer. Though I believe the cure can be found in the pages of books where some of the world’s greatest, most enduring people have lived sometimes for centuries. Letting the characters out so that they can take up residence in a story is the only cure I know of. And it’s one I celebrate every time I meet another character in the walkways of my mind, when we happen upon one another, nod in acknowledgement, shake hands. It’s often at 2:30 in the morning, when all the best people and characters are living it out loud. 

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How to clean out a closet

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 16, 2013 1:06 AM

Today was a very ambitious day. Because I got rid of my cleaning people some time ago, it falls to Kevin and I to keep the house clean. We do a fairly good job, but I’ve been so busy with work lately that I’ve neglected my chores. Everything has been in its proper place, and to the casual observer, the house looked fine. Clean, even. But to me, it was dusty. The bathrooms were dirty.

And I desperately needed to clean out Justin’s closet.

Now before I go any further it should be noted that I despise cleaning. It makes my hair hurt. But I do it because it’s easier for me to do it than to pay someone especially because I tend to do a better job. As long as I do it, of course.

The only thing I hate more than cleaning in general is cleaning in specific.

Exhibit A: the aforementioned closet.

His closet has been something I’ve wanted to tackle for a while. Sort of as a precursor to the other closet I desperately need to clean out, which is the closet in my office. It’s an unmitigated disaster, filled with samples of printed pieces from twenty years ago, tax returns, empty boxes from old computer equipment, and wooden crates filled with every word I have ever written since I was a child. All of my short stories, my college papers, my hopes and dreams, and disappointments. Yes, my rejection letters are all in there, too. There’s a lot to go through; a lot that can be tossed. I won’t get rid of all of my past work but the old print samples, the excess boxes, the old magazines. They’re history.

I’m going to need a dumpster.

But I’m not quite ready to dive in there yet. I need a warm up. Hence Justin’s closet. I went up the stairs with several trash bags. Cooper padded along next to me. I put the bags on the bed. Cooper laid down outside the door in the hall. He knew better than to come in there when big trash bags were involved. He might be tossed out, too.

I opened the closet door, stepped back and exhaled.

Then I went downstairs to make some coffee. It seems that you can’t properly clean a closet without the appropriate amount of caffeine. Cooper came down, too, and nestled onto his blanket while the coffee sputtered and spit and gurgled and promised something wonderful with its deep, fresh-roasted smell.

I waited, inhaling the fragrance. Finally, five beeps sounded, signifying the end of the brew cycle and the beginning of the sip cycle. I poured some half and half into my mug, topped it off with coffee, took a sip and allowed the wonderful liquid to warm my body. I sipped a bit more, I listened to some music, I talked to my husband, I talked to my mother, I petted my dog. I poured a bit more coffee and then up the stairs I went again. The door to the closet was still open. The bags were still on the bed. I stood staring, holding my steaming hot cup of coffee, and wishing it was after five so that instead of coffee I could be having wine.

Wine, I’m convinced, makes everything easier. Even cleaning out closets.

I eventually cleaned everything out, loaded up bags of trash and bags to take to Good Will, and then I reorganized. I’ll eventually have to weed through the books that he left behind when he moved out and take most if not all to the library. I’ll have books from my office to take as well.

The way to clean out a closet is to ease into it. Don’t get too bogged down reading things like high school journals that talk about how horrible parents are. Have a cup of coffee. Keep sentimentality at bay, and just be logical, rational; make decisions. Trash, Good Will, other. Separate and conquer. After not too long, the task was accomplished.

And I was ever so much closer to a glass of wine.

That’s when I decided to clean the master bath. Because after that, I could definitely have a glass. Maybe even two.

Celebrating a clean house and one clean closet on this Saturday. I’m definitely living it out loud. 

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Blame it on the hormones

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 13, 2013 12:41 AM

One of my clients is the Pituitary Network Association. They have hired me to do a number of things, one of which is to write a book for patients dealing with hormone issues. It’s entitled The Definitive Guide to Sex and Hormones: What they are, why you have them, how they affect your desire for sex (physically and mentally), and how it’s all related to the health of your pituitary gland. It delves deeply into all of the hormones that race through every body on any given day, explaining their role, where they originate (many in the pituitary) and how an imbalance can wreak havoc in a life.

It’s not just women, regardless of the stereotype of “she’s just hormonal.” I use the stereotype myself sometimes, and sometimes, it’s actually true.

Today comes news of a study by University College London which has evidently linked the phase of a woman’s reproductive cycle to going a little mental. By mental I mean vulnerable to some of the psychological side-effects associated with stressful experiences. The research, using 41 women between the ages of 18 and 35, is the first to pinpoint a window into the prevention of common mental health problems in women.

Evidently a symptom of mood and anxiety problems is the tendency to experience repetitive and unwanted thoughts. The researchers call these thoughts “intrusive.” In their study, each woman watched a 14-minute film that contained a death or injury. Immediately following the viewing of said film, the women provided a saliva sample to assess hormone levels. Over the course of the next few days, they were asked to record instances of unwanted thoughts about the video.

Women who were 16 to 20 days past the start of their period had three times as many bad thoughts as the other women. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj, said that this information could help the way women are treated after experiencing a traumatic event.

Women are 40 percent more likely than men to experience psychological disorders. And the World Health Organization claims that incidents of major depression are twice as common in women as they are in men.

Hormone issues are also common in women. But they’re common in men, too. And in teenagers. Hormones affect everyone. This study is interesting because it shows that hormones can lead to unruly behavior. This study is also irritating because it plays a bit to stereotypes. Women have long been faulted for being hormonal, a malady that strikes most women of child-bearing age in one form or another. Hormones do rage when women are ovulating. And because they’re raging, sometimes we’re raging too. But men have raging hormones as well, causing them to be more aggressive and even violent.

So when people act out, yes, hormones can be to blame. But here’s what I’ve learned from my work with the Pituitary Network Association, from editing a professional book where most of the text was penned by world-renowned physicians, surgeons and psychologists, and writing the current book I’m working on: Hormones make us work, make our bodies function. And they drive us crazy, sometimes literally.

But ultimately the reason we are who we are is because of hormones. They regulate our blood sugar, our thyroid levels, how we think, how we feel, how we react to stress and process adrenaline; how we develop into thinking, feeling, reacting human beings.

Yes, women are hormonal. We all are. It’s something to celebrate because it means we’re alive. So go ahead and blame it on the hormones. That’s living it out loud.

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You’ve lost that living feeling

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 3, 2013 12:54 AM

I’ve written before about my love of abandoned things. I find them haunting, magical, full of mystery and even of life. They’re also filled with stories that used to be. Stories of people, of what happened to drive the people away.

On Pear Blossom Highway that runs east in the high desert toward Victorville and ultimately Las Vegas, there are places where houses used to stand. Now there are shells, fireplaces, sometimes the foundations or stone walls of where a family once lived. When we drive east toward Arizona, past Palm Springs, through the Sonoran desert, there are abandoned homes and cars. People used to live there though how I’m not sure since there is literally nothing around for miles. No food, no gas, no civilization. Maybe that was the point. Maybe that is the point.

On Mulholland Drive, out toward Malibu, there is a Ferris wheel. It’s part of Calamigos Ranch. I don’t think it’s abandoned, but it looks like it, tucked as it is amongst the tall grass and unkempt trees. There are abandoned Ferris wheels all over the country – all over the world – frozen in time, mid-ride. If I try, I can still hear the giggles and laughter, the shouts to those on the ground from those up above. You should see the view.

Along the roads, there are abandoned pieces of furniture. Shoes, lost soles, litter the lanes. Sneakers, loafers, slippers, flip flops, boots all poised to take off for somewhere other than where they are. I see them everywhere and I wonder how they got there, if they were just tossed aside, if they left on their own. As if they’re people, as if they have a story to tell. Wait ‘til you hear.

The abandoned are still viable, still have history, a past that is there for us to see, a future that only exists in our imagination. In my imagination. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have the majority of humanity disappear but still have the air remain healthy, for there to be no danger. In essence, I would be alone with only those I choose to travel the world, finding homes to live in, any home at all. One overlooking the ocean, watching the dolphins swim and the whales spout; the seagulls lazy in the sky. Another home in the mountains with the snow white and untouched, owls in the trees, deer grazing on the protruding grasses. I don’t think of this as gruesome or grisly because I really don’t want to be without human contact. I think it’s just a writer’s fascination with the impossible possibility. And a love of amazing houses.

What would happen if? How would I deal if? Where would I go if?

I wonder if it has anything to do with my fascination of post-apocalyptic fiction. Two of my favorite books take place in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that destroys most of civilization and leaves the rest to try to make a life out of nothing. The Stand by Stephen King, written in 1978, deals with a virus; The Road by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006, deals with a blinding light that is never explained. In these books, civilization has been abandoned. There are homes and cars in The Stand but electricity is gone; there is no phone service. In The Road, there is literally nothing, including the sun. The world is gray and cold; no live trees or vegetation; no animals. Only sporadic surviving humans searching for life and fighting to stay alive.

Abandonment and apocalyptic scenarios are frightening, but they appeal to us because of the maybe, the what if, the what would we do. I blame human nature and our constant flirtation with destruction.

Most writers have this fascination. Maybe it has to do with the Bible and the supposed Rapture, but since I’m not religious, I don’t think so. Some have speculated that it’s about good triumphing over evil, but in far too many of the books (The Stand notwithstanding) there is no definitive good or evil to triumph over. It’s simply a battle to survive, of finding the will to do it under unimaginable conditions.

I think it has to do with the possibility of reinventing the world as we would like to see it. Sometimes it’s dark and scary; other times it’s bright and full of opportunity; full of hope.

Either way, I’m pretty sure that my fascination with abandonment and apocalyptic scenarios will undoubtedly continue, not because I’ve lost that living feeling, but because I continue to have that loving feeling. It’s called loving it out loud. 

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Sol searching

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 14, 2013 1:08 AM

With the passing of winter comes summer. In some parts of the country, and the world, there is a lovely breeze of a season known as spring. Not here. Here, in the golden state, we go straight from chilly nights and frosted mornings to heated days. Yesterday and today both topped out at 102º in Oak Park.

We like the heat. I’ve said before that I believe I was born to live in the Southwest. The climate suits me. There is no snow to speak of, unless one travels to the mountains to ski. And that is where snow should be. Not clogging the roads that lead to the mall or to work. It should only bury the areas where one can slap a board or boards to one’s feet and shoosh down a hill.

I like the dry heat of an environment where the daytime temperatures can climb to over 100 but the nights cool down to the low to mid 60s. Yes, it’s hot. The house gets oppressive and we’re not big on air conditioning (I suspect that will change if and when we move to Tucson) but once it cools and the air starts to flow through the open windows, it becomes comfortable. At night, we still usually need a blanket on the bed when we sleep.

The sun and I have a long history together. I grew up when there wasn’t so much sunscreen as there was suntan lotion and oil. Most of it smelled like coconut and salt water. If we were going to the beach, we slathered on the oil. If we were laying out by a pool, we used lotion because oil left a film on the water. If we didn’t have Coppertone, we used baby oil. It was all about the tan.

It’s no wonder that I have had skin issues with bad moles and a non-staged melanoma. The dermatologist and I are good friends.

I don’t “lay out” any more. I simply don’t have the time, nor the desire to waste precious time doing nothing but burning my skin. But I still love the sun, that low-mass star that sits on the outer edge of the Milky Way, some 93 million miles from California, and consisting of mostly hydrogen (74%). The rest is helium (25%) so that it floats, and 1% of something else undefined. It’s 4.5 billion years old, and still looks fairly good for its age. It rotates completely once every 26 days, which evidently is one reason it is considered a fairly mediocre star. I’m not sure why since it completely supports life on this planet; without it, none of us would exist. Neither would the plants, the other animals or even the life in the oceans. At this point in its life, the sun has another 5 billion years in its own lifecycle before it starts to substantially change. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be around to see it.

At the rate we’re going, the human race won’t be around to see it either.

Perhaps then it’s time to do a little sol searching, to find what it is that is most important to us, to discover the lives we’re meant to lead. To change when we need to change; to think differently. To embrace the sun; to live, truly, soundly, roundly; out loud. Our lives may be predestined by fate, or they may be changeable. I believe both, just as I believe in helping keep the planet cool when and where it’s supposed to be cool, and warm and tropical when and where it’s supposed to be such; and blistering hot under the dusty desert sky of the Southwest.

I’m not searching for the sun today; nor will I for several months. I search instead for the clouds that offer a brief respite. I search for the shade on a hot summer day; for the breeze to cool the air. I know where the sun resides and I am happy to see it every day. It fills my soul with its sol, and even though the heat has been blistering these last two days, I celebrate it. I love it.

Because I love the desert Southwest. I was born to live here.

The simple joys

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 11, 2013 10:42 PM

Every once in a while I realize that I have a pretty good life. I have a family that is filled with good, decent and loving people. I have friends who make me happy that we are able to spend time together. I have a son who has turned from a teenager with little direction to a young adult with passion to a man who is ambitious, loving, thoughtful and funny. I have a husband who makes me laugh and who loves me even when I'm not particularly lovable. I have a dog, a home, some dirt in the desert, and a career that I actually like. I am blessed, and I know it.

Today as I was outside, enjoying a warm May Saturday, a light breeze trying desperately to cool the 85º air and failing miserably, it suddenly hit me. My life is good and the joy I get from the simplest things in that life are enough to make me laugh out loud. A wash of contentment came over me. It happens sometimes and at the strangest times, and almost always when I’m in the middle of doing next to nothing. Perhaps it’s because those are the times when I actually have time to contemplate.

Simple joys are those that you don’t have to work at and sometimes don’t even plan. Like washing the car today. I get tremendous joy from lathering up the paint, standing on the step ladder to reach the windshield and the roof, rinsing it, drying it and then admiring how good it looks. Today, it also got vacuumed, thanks to Kevin, so it’s pretty inside and out. I felt accomplished.

I get some of my greatest joy when I’m eating, especially when enjoying a meal with friends or family. Relaxing, talking, laughing, having wine with music on in the background. This is my idea of the perfect way to spend time.

Did I mention the simple joy of wine?

I love experimenting with a new recipe. Taking the time to put something together, smelling garlic or ginger or whatever as it fills first the kitchen and then the house, knowing that if it tastes as good as it smells, we’re going to have a fine meal. That fills me with joy.

When I can’t see someone but can talk to them, spending even just a few minutes or as much as several hours, enjoying each other’s stories, sharing each other’s lives, it makes me happy.

I love texting with my sister on a near daily basis, just to say ‘hi,’ ‘thinking about you,’ ‘how are things there?’ It makes me feel closer to her somehow, like we’re together more than we actually are. Technology has done that for us, and that makes me happy, too.

Music is one of my greatest joys. Depending on my mood, the day of the week or the time of day, I almost always have music playing. Jazz, the standards, coffeehouse rock, classic rock, new age. Music is, to me, as necessary as sunshine.

Freshly ground and brewed coffee.

Cantaloupe when it comes back into season. Ditto peaches and nectarines.

A perfectly ripe avocado.

The simple joy of going for a ride on the motorcycle, of walking the dog, or watching a really good rerun on television, of getting lost in a phenomenal book, especially if I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it turns out to be. These kinds of things are the meaning of life.

The exquisite joy of having ideas. I have them all the time, especially ideas for things to write. I scribble notes on the paper next to the bed, as I did this morning, getting them out of my head and out onto a place where they can be seen, analyzed, interpreted and hopefully developed. I believe that the constant flow of ideas is a source for the constant maybe of possibilities.

And all of the possibilities that life continually presents may simply be the greatest joy of all. 

Joy in a growl

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 24, 2013 11:41 PM

I am in love. It has happened gradually and yes, a bit unexpectedly. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to love again but it snuck up on me and now I can hardly stop smiling. I whistle during the day. I find myself singing sometimes and I don’t sing. I laugh out loud for little to no reason at all. It is joyous, this love, for it is new and bubbly and fun, and growing.

The love of which I speak? My Cooper.

When we lost our Maguire last March, I could hardly imagine ever having another dog let alone loving one. And yet, within months of losing him, I was lost. I was lonely. I missed the jazz feet on the hard wood, the drool across the floor, the toys, in various states of disarray all over the house. The wonderfulness of fur. Everywhere. I missed my Maguire, and I still do, but by October of last year, I was ready to try again. To heal my broken heart. To fill the empty place with a beautiful new face.

I found Cooper on Pet Finder. He was a rescue and I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I looked at him for weeks before I even told Kevin that I was thinking I was ready. Kevin, of course, was not ready. He was prepared to never be ready again. He loved Maguire fiercely and the thought of another made him almost angry. No one could replace Maguire.

I explained that I didn’t want to replace Maguire, that no one dog could ever replace such an amazing animal, the love of our lives. But I needed to have a dog in the house. I had found one. Would he at least take a look? Begrudgingly he agreed. We met Cooper, then Andy, and made the decision to take him. It was not love at first sight. It wasn’t even love after a week. For a short time I worried that I’d been too hasty. That I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. The memory of Maguire and his Maguireness was still too fresh. After all, I could still smell his fur if I tried hard enough, and truth be told I didn’t have to try very hard.

We had our fair share of issues with Cooper. I worried and stewed. I wasn’t feeling the rush, the heart palpitations, the sheer bliss of seeing his little face and hearing his feet as they danced across the floor.

But then something happened. Things changed. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was kiss his nose. And hug him close, and rub his belly. And play with him. And take care of him, to let him know that after years as a foster puppy, he had finally found his forever home.

Tonight, I met my friend Connie for a glass of wine. We laughed and talked and exchanged stories about family. We had a great time. While I was there I got a text message, from Cooper, relayed through Cooper’s dad, that he had gone for a walk, that he and dad were doing fine and that he’d even had dinner and it was good. I smiled.

When I got home and came in from the garage, a little red and white face was anxiously awaiting my arrival. His tail was thumping against the wall. We exchanged a pet and a hello, and then he took off like a shot, looking for a toy, any toy but most likely Wubba. He was excited! Mom was home! Life was as it should be! His family was complete! And he needed to share his joy via his toys.

Wubba was still in my office so he couldn’t quite find him, but he found two other toys that he proceeded to growl at as he tossed them round the room with great joy. I watched it all with amusement and, yes, love. As I watched him racing around the room, throwing his toys through the air with wild abandon, all because he was just so damned excited that I was home, I was suddenly overcome. I realized that I had fallen completely and totally, head over heels in love with my dog. I don’t know exactly when things changed but they did.

Maybe it’s the complete happiness he has in playing with his toys with both me and his dad in the room. His life is complete. And now, again, ours is too.

Somebody once said something along the lines of “once you have loved a dog, your heart will never truly be full again until you allow another in.” It’s a bad paraphrase but the sentiment is a good one.

I have allowed another in; we have. And my heart – our hearts – are all the better for it. Maguire would understand. And I think celebrate it with us.

Even though he was never much for other dogs. 

Interview with a Squire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 13, 2013 11:02 PM

He shows up on time, dapper in his gray fur tipped with hints of black. It is darker nearer his body, and it occurs to me that he is aging the opposite of humans and even dogs, or at least the late Maguire, the one he dubbed his Knight. He has been known ever since as the Squire, the ever-present attendant and companion to the noble dog, the one who helped get him ready for battle and in the end, helped him prepare for the inevitable.

He settles himself into the corner of the branch of the birch tree in the back yard. The sun streams down through the trees, the leaves around him rustle slightly. He pays them no attention. Pulling a nut out from his cheek he starts to nibble.

“You don’t mind if I eat, do you?” he asks politely. “I’ve been traveling and I lost a little weight. Now the missus wants me to get healthy. She doesn’t like me skinny.”

I assure him that it’s perfectly fine for him to eat and nod, agreeing that he looks a bit thin but that he also looks good. Perhaps it’s just that it’s been a while since I’ve seen him haunting our trees, racing along the walls and dancing atop Kevin’s – Hey, Kevin – studio. I ask him where he’s been. Between bites and acorn chews he tells me.

“I got a job,” he says. “Some squirrels from Washington contacted me through squirrel mail and said they were getting ready for this thing called Squirrel Week. And I thought, come on. There’s a week celebrating me?”

I say that I’ve heard of that but didn’t know much about it.

He chews for a minute, bringing his little squirrel hands up to his mouth, and then he swallows. He tosses the rest of the nut to the side. He starts to speak again and then he freezes. Suddenly he is on high alert. His fur stands on end, the black tips at attention, his black eyes straight ahead, his ears perked.

Inside the house, the new dog, the knight-wannabe, stirs. I am out on the patio with a cup of coffee and the new dog, known as Cooper, wants to be outside with me. He is rather attached to me, as it turns out. But as I am having a chat with the Squire, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have him racing around, trying to cause trouble. I tell Cooper to hush and assure the Squire that we’re cool.

“Sometimes he makes me wish I was a flying squirrel,” the Squire mutters.

Squirrel Week, it turns out, was started by The Washington Post to celebrate the much loathed and more beloved rodents –

“Rodents,” he repeats. “Piiittthhhh.”

– who are descended from the Sciuridae family from some 40 million years ago. There are 285 known relative-types and most live in either terribly cold climates or exceptionally hot areas. They like to eat birdseed and nuts, they scavenge and forage for food and they love to play chicken with cars. I have seen too many relatives of our beloved Squire end up splat on the road. It’s not pretty. I see them dart out from seemingly nowhere and as they start across the asphalt I find myself cheering them on: “Go squirrel, go!”

“We’re creative in our approach to life,” the Squire says after a few moments of silence. “If we need to get someplace, we get there. We call it the squirrel squirt. If we need to extract a nut, we figure it out. It might take a while, but it happens. It’s about overcoming challenges. You know, like being called a rodent.”

That is a challenge, I agree. As the fictional Carrie Bradshaw once intoned: squirrels are just rats with cuter outfits. I admit that I’ve always found that funny. The Squire looks at me steadily. I can tell he’s trying to decide if he should be insulted. I assure him he shouldn’t be. I also laugh at jokes about Italians and about women, even sometimes about Italian women. He smiles. He says it’s good to be back and that his job didn’t really pan out. I ask what it was.

“Getting all 285 to pose for one picture,” he says. “Wasn’t happening. Not even close.”

I have one more question for the Squire. How is he getting along without his Knight?

“Oh, you know, it’s hard,” he says sadly. He’s quiet then, lost in squirrel thoughts. “I miss the big guy. And he was a really good guest blogger. I have trouble with that sometimes.” He pauses.

“I guess I still have big paws to fill,” he says with a smile.

And with that he is up off the branch and scurrying up the tree. I watch him go, wondering why the Washington Post felt the need to have a Squirrel Week and if Cooper will ever be the knight we hope he’ll be. I’m lost in my own squirrel thoughts when I hear my name:

“Hey Lorin,” he says. I look but can’t find him. “Sometimes you just gotta let the nuts fall where they may.” I smile. “And May will be here before you know it! Bye!”

His voice disappears then, too. But the Squire is back, and I for one am celebrating him – and all of his brethren – on this Saturday as we are all living it out loud … in cute outfits. 

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