A gray Mercedes, three golden retrievers, a mutt and a woman named Donna

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:36 AM

Friday afternoons tend to be quiet. Most of my clients – and Kevin’s, too – are busy wrapping up their weeks and looking forward to the weekend. Starting around 1 pm, the emails begin to taper off as do the phone calls. People don’t want to review anything or discuss anything new; most everything can and does wait until Mondays. This is true in most businesses whether you’re self-employed or not. By Friday, the week is done. By Friday afternoon, the weekend has begun. For this reason, I often schedule our hair appointments on Friday afternoons. Today was such a day.

Around 2:45 we both put on jeans, grabbed a lightweight leather jacket from the hall closet, a helmet of choice from the garage (open face for Mr. Michel; closed for Mrs.), climbed aboard the big Nomad and jetted off into the Valley for 3 o’clock appointments.

The day was lovely, the sun warm, the air cool. Naturally it was warmer once we got into Woodland Hills, often 10º hotter than where we live. Still, it wasn’t so warm that we were uncomfortable in our leathers. We arrived at the salon just after 3 but it wasn’t a problem. We were the only clients Tammy had today because two weeks ago she fell and broke the wrist and elbow on her left arm. Makes it difficult to cut hair. Still, she was offering color and though we both need a haircut, me somewhat desperately, we decided that color was better than nothing. Kevin had his painted on; mine scrubbed in. For my hairdresser and salon friends: is all men’s hair color painted on? Or is it just painted on for those who have – how shall I put this magnanimously – thinning hair and receding hairlines? I mean no disrespect; I love my husband’s hair.

When we were freshly shampooed, I blow dried my own hair. Again please see broken wrist and elbow above, and we chatted for a bit longer before climbing back on the bike and journeying home. We had talked about stopping at the grocery store on the way. There’s no Fritini tonight since Bobbi has a mock test tomorrow for the second part of her testing to become a licensed therapist. Next weekend is Memorial Day so perhaps we’ll do something then; we’ll see. I had mentioned that we could just go home since there was no rush and it was still fairly early, shower and then go to the store in the car. But Kevin decided that since we were out, we should just go past the turn for the house and continue on to the light, turn left and hit our favorite neighborhood grocery.

He drove up and around the top of the parking lot, turning down toward the store at the end, looping around to the next aisle and then coming to a stop next to a gray Mercedes sedan. I slid off toward the car and started undoing my helmet strap. That’s when I saw a big blonde head, mouth open in a silly grin, big floppy ears perked forward, nose against the glass watching me from the safety of the nice leather back seat. And then there was another one, this one a little redder. They were crawling over each other, peering at the strange visitors, obviously from another planet. But they weren’t scared; rather just curious. The redder one stayed in her prone position while the blonder one stood, tail swooshing back and forth over his redheaded little sister. I was thrilled as I usually am when I see dogs in a car. I want to stick my hand through the open windows, and this car had all four windows down slightly and was parked in the shade. I want to pet them and kiss on them. But I’m smart enough to realize that that’s stupid. Instead, I grinned back and said “hi, beautiful!” and the tail wagged more.

Then, two pointy ears appeared in the lower part of the front passenger seat window. “Oh, another one!” This dog was much smaller, and hard to determine as far as breed. I suspected mutt. It would later be confirmed that my suspicion was correct.

As I was fawning over the dogs, Kevin came up next to me, a huge grin on his face as well. He started making his usual hand-gestures, sort of pointing/waving/beckoning them to come to him even though they were in the car. He wanted, like me, to just pet them, rough up their ears, smell their fur. He moved toward the back of the car so he could see them through the back window. The red one had her paws up on the back of the car and her head leaning on the back seat as she gazed out with adoration at my husband. Then Kevin made a discovery: “There’s a third one!” On the far side of the backseat, another big blonde bear of a head appeared. Three golden retrievers in the back seat of this gray Mercedes sedan and one smaller, pointy-eared mutt in the front seat who didn’t seem to want to be bothered with his brethren in the back. We smiled and laughed and talked to them as they put up with us. They were waiting patiently for their person, and I think both Kevin and I were lingering a bit, hoping said person would come out.

She did, holding two small bags of groceries. We told her how beautiful her dogs were and asked if all four were hers. Three were; the forth, the redhead with her head on the back, was not. She was puppy-sitting. The puppy’s name was Abby and she’s seven months old. As we talked to the woman we also laughed as Abby tried to push her nose through the back window. Evidently Abby had been hit by a car and left on the road with a broken leg. She was rescued, surgery was performed, they weren’t sure she’d recover, but she did and she’s a happy, healthy little girl.

The woman is part of a Golden Retriever rescue group here in Ventura County. She lives locally but she’s been rescuing goldens for over seven years. We told her about Maguire, how he was part golden/part Australian Shepherd, a big boy, the love of our lives, and I started to cry, as I do every time I talk about my beloved boy. She gave me a hug. She also gave us the card of the group, Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue, and said that if and when we were ready to let her know.

Her name was Donna. She was on her way to the dog park. We wished her and her herd well and good “parking,” and went into the store. I was still in tears but I felt better. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it was hope. 

Kevin and Lorin's wildlife preserve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:48 PM

We have a very small piece of property here in the OP. Like many who live in Southern California tracts, our house is up against other houses, on both sides. We’re separated by six foot concrete walls that have been erected to provide some sense of privacy. Kevin likes to joke that when Dave, our neighbor on the right, sneezes, Kevin can reach out the window and hand him a tissue. I’m not complaining. We have a lovely little house on a lovely little piece of dirt. How little? 5039 square feet according to zillow.com. Which is what makes my news even more amazing: it appears that we have our own special wildlife preserve right here on Wiggin Street.

This is news because most wildlife preserves are bigger. The smallest one I can find that has received the official wildlife preserve designation is the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. It’s just over half an acre, around 22000 square feet, and consists of two small islands on Mille Lacs Lake where several threatened bird species like ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, and double-crested cormorants live and breed. The refuge was granted its official status on May 14, 1915.

We have not applied for such a status ourselves but given the happenings around here, I anticipate having to file the necessary paperwork any day now. To wit: a Red-tailed hawk who regularly perches on our wall, in various places. Sometimes he’s right outside the greenhouse window in the kitchen. Every time he does that and I walk into the kitchen not knowing that he’s re-established residence, he scares me. Or maybe he’s a she. I have no idea which and don’t really need to know. He/she also perches on the wall just outside Kevin’s studio, one time complete with prey. I don’t remember what the prey was and I didn’t look too closely. I’m suspect it was a bird. But he placed said prey on the wall next to him, and proceeded to survey his/her kingdom in that steely hawk way. Like a statue, the bird didn’t move. Only his head pivoted, in slow motion, from right to left. Then he snatched up his dinner and off he flew.

Then there are the coyotes. While they don’t spend a lot of time on the refuge they do spend a lot of time on the periphery. I remember taking Maguire out one night before we all went to bed. I always checked for other dogs in the vicinity since other dogs and Maguire didn’t get along. As we were standing there in the front yard, the vintage puppy and I, I was doing my best impersonation of the red-tailed hawk, my head pivoting from side to side as I continued to make sure no canines approached. My head stopped; I stared. Coming down the sidewalk was what looked to be a dog, sans its person. I grabbed Maguire’s collar, and he looked at me with disdain. He wasn’t yet finished. I pulled him inside the house and then went back out. If there was a loose dog, I was going to grab him and call his owner. But it wasn’t a canine; it was a canis latrans. A coyote. I stood on the sidewalk. He veered from the sidewalk and moved to the middle of the street, trotting along, his eyes never leaving me. He stopped in front of me. For a minute, I wondered: should I be afraid? I continued to stare and he continued on his merry way to wherever. In the dark, from the shadowed hills, we hear others like him cry.

There are any number of other species of birds who hop about the yard; Squire and Mrs. Squirrel live there. Many lizards dart across the patio; a collared lizard stuck in the track of the screen door got quite irritated with Kevin one Saturday and hissed his way into the back yard. A rabbit or two has been known to show his cottontail. One appeared the night after Maguire passed. I caught a glimpse of him as I wandered aimlessly around the house, looking for my best buddy knowing he was lost forever. I noticed something odd on the sidewalk in front of the house, illuminated by the soft light of the garage lanterns. I walked to the window; it was a rabbit, poised, beautiful, still.

This morning, just before 9 am, Kevin started to go out the front door and immediately closed it as if he’d been stung. He motioned frantically, silently for me to come, quickly. I set my coffee cup down and went to see what he was so excited about. I peered through the long window next to the front door, the window that had previously shown me the rabbit. Just off the front stoop, sitting in a puddle of sprinkler water was a mother duck and six babies. We were astounded. Kevin ran for the camera as I watched the mother duck rise, shake her feathers into place and turn toward the road. She glanced back. The little ducks rolled over themselves as they tried to get ready to follow their mother. In a nice line, they trooped off, no doubt looking for a bigger puddle.

We couldn’t help but imagine Maguire, who even in his vintage days would bound out of the house into the front yard. He would have started, and then stopped short. We could imagine him looking back at us, then looking forward, the ducks frozen in fear of the big dog. We could hear him say: Hey. Did you guys know there were ducks out here? I like ducks. I really like baby ducks. Hey. The sidewalk smells a little like baby duck butt. Ducks are kind of like chicken aren’t they? I like chicken. A lot. So I’m pretty sure I like duck. But Dad? Why are there ducks on the sidewalk?

We would give anything to have heard him say that today, here at Kevin and Lorin’s wildlife preserve.

Mom's acorn stew

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 12, 2012 11:47 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

The squire here. Seeing as how it’s really close to mother’s day, I thought I’d talk a little about my own mom. She’s really cool and probably one of the best squirrel’s I know. I never knew my dad much. Mom said he got hit by a car before I was born but she used to talk about him a lot and tell me stories about how he was one of the bravest squirrels around, crossing busy roads to get acorns and other stuff. He built a really good nest and he took really good care of mom. She missed him. She used to say that I reminded her of him.

I was thinking about that today when I was in the tree. It was a super nice day here. Not hot at all. The breeze was making the leaves tickle me. I like it when leaves tickle me. It makes me think back to when I was just a little squirrel hanging in the tree with my big brother. He lives in a big oak tree in Old Agoura now. He has a bunch of baby squirrels of his own.

Me, as a baby. 

Mom moved to Santa Barbara a few years ago cause she likes it where it’s a little cooler. She’s pretty gray now. I think that means she’s old. I miss her because I don’t get to see her very much but every time I gather up a bunch of acorns and pine needles to take home to Mrs. Squirrel I think of mom because she always made the best acorn stew. She used to cut the nuts up just perfect and soak them in a rain puddle for about three sunrises. Then, when they were nice and soft, she’d mix them up with some rose petals, bee pollen, and leaves, then top it off with just a sprinkle of pine needles. She said it was the OP pine that gave it the best flavor. I need to get that recipe so me and Mrs. Squirrel can make us some stew.

So there I was thinking about my mom who lives so far away and who would really like some grand-squirrels, and it got me to wondering. Sometimes when the sun is warm but not hot and the breeze is tickling, I get to thinking about stuff. It was a lazy kind of afternoon, kind of quiet. She was in the house and I could see her doing something with a pair of His shorts. I think she was putting a button back on. She had music on. It was pretty good, with guitars and pianos and stuff but it was nice. Perfect for our lazy kind of day. Then the mail came, and you know how much she likes the mail. She opened something that looked like a card and there was a picture in it. She smiled really bright, like the sun was shining from inside, and I twisted my head so I could see what it was. It looked like it was three ladies. Two of them looked kind of familiar. They were here just a few weeks ago. The other lady was a little older but looked kind of like the other two, and Her. Oh! That’s HER mom.

Me, hanging in the tree today.

I smiled but I was a little sad too. This is the first mother’s day without the big dog and I know She’ll be sad. And that red-headed guy, he’s not here either. He was here a while ago, but he’s not here very often at all. So she’s kind of alone on this mother’s day.

He’s here, though, and I know he went out to the store to get some cards and stuff. I saw him leave on the motorcycle saying “I have some stuff I need to get. Do you need anything at the store?” That’s how I knew he went to the store.

I didn’t send my mom a card because it’s really, really, really hard for me to get to the store. Ever since I was little and she told me those stories about my dad getting squished, I’ve tried not to cross too many busy streets. It’s scary enough around here with all the kids and bikes and skateboards. But hopefully mom will read this post and know that I’m thinking of her.

Maybe I can convince Mrs. Squirrel to try some of that acorn stew, just like mom used to make. I like acorn stew.

Mom with me and my brother. That's me, on the bottom.

So happy mother’s day, mom, from your littlest pup. And happy mother’s day to Her, and to all the mothers out there whose pups are with them and whose pups are far, far away. Hope you can have stew, too, cause stew is really, really good.

Did I mention it was good?

Big paws to fill: observations from outside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 28, 2012 8:19 PM

Guest post by Squire Squirrel

 

Just last week, I was lying on top of the little house in the backyard. I like it up there. The sun hits it just right and it’s warm and makes me feel cozy. I can lay flat, too. I like to lay flat. It makes me feel invisible, then I can observe stuff.

Anyway, there I was, flat, and listening to their conversation. She was talking about who she might get to be a guest blogger once in a while because it took some of the pressure off of her to always get a post done. I don’t really know what a post is, other than a part of a fence, but the more I listened the more I thought: hey, I could do this guest blogging thing. I mean, how hard can it be? She does it every day and I know that big old bear that used to live here did it every once in a while. He was really smart, that guy, you know, for a dog. We even got to be friends. Oh, sure, every once in a while I’d tease him but it was just to keep him on his toes. I’d sneak up on him, creeping across the wall, and then I’d jump into the tree and he’d look up. When he saw me, I swear he’d smile. Then he’d jump up and I’d hang down off of a branch and he’d rear up like a horse and I’d bark and he’d growl. That was a lot of fun.

I miss that guy.

Me, in the tree

So I got to thinking that I could be the guest blogger. I wrote a quick message and put it in an empty shell and dropped it down from the gutter just outside their bedroom window. I heard her say “what was that?” and He said “probably that damned squirrel.” I smiled. I do like to be a little mischievous and I love to take a flying leap from the wall and land right on the roof of the little house. The little house is His. She has the big house. That’s how it is in my family, too. Mrs. Squirrel gets the big den; I get a little hole in the dirt outside.

My message in an acorn must have been received though cause I heard Her laugh. I grabbed hold of the gutter and hung over it upside down so I could see her. She was thinking about it, I could tell. She had all kinds of looks on her face. One minute she looked like she thought it would be fun; she was smiling. Then she kind of cocked her head to one side like she wasn’t sure. But the smiling fun face won and I got a message back in my acorn asking me to be a guest blogger and did I have any ideas for topics.

I didn’t. But She said that was OK because sometimes topics just present themselves when they’re ready. I asked what the Big Dog used to write about and she paused for a minute and then she said “he wrote about his life here with us.” He was really smart.

I miss that guy.

We were friends. He was the knight and I was his squire. I looked it up and it fits. Squires were like apprentice knights. They were responsible for keeping the knight’s armor and stuff in order. With the Big Dog gone now, that really kind of makes sense. One of his “stuff” was him being a really good guest blogger. Now it’s up to me to keep that guest blogger thing going so that it’s at least kind of as good as his was.

Yep, I have mighty big paws to fill. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to give it a try.

I’m Squire Squirrel, guest blogger in training. I sure could use some pointers. Like, for instance, how the dog was able to get his big paws to hit all the right keys. My much littler paws are all over the place. Practice makes perfect. That’s what the Big Dog woulda said. Then he would have yawned and rolled over in the sun.

Yep. I miss him.

So I’m going to write about stuff I see from the outside, like observations. See ya next time!

Paws and effect

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 23, 2012 11:07 PM

I have a new piece of jewelry. It’s a small silver triangle, hanging on a 16” chain. On the front, there is a smaller black oxidized triangle with a silver paw print in the center; on the back, the name Maguire is etched into the silver. My sister and niece gave this necklace to me when they arrived on Thursday night. It’s made by a company in California called 4 Paws Forever that was founded to celebrate and remember the lives of pets that have passed away. Their craftsman use traditional methods of making jewelry using Earth-Friendly materials. Each memorial is designed to celebrate a pet that has passed. The piece currently hanging around my neck is the perfect way to celebrate my wonderful boy and to keep him close to my heart.

I’m forever amazed at the generosity of people when it comes to the loss of a pet. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows the joy they bring, the complete love they offer and should be given in return. Anyone who has lost a pet can immediately access the feeling of loss and despair; anyone who has a pet looks at him or her with the knowledge that someday they’ll have to endure the profound sadness that supplants the current joy. Knowing that others get it and are willing to share it with you – in this case with me – helps. It helped when we lost Maguire; it helps every day.

My sister is a big animal lover. She and her family lost their dear Hogan about four years or so ago. He was twelve, a shepherd mix, and they had had him since he was a puppy. The loss was profound as it always is. But when the time was right, they got a new puppy, a border collie/Australian shepherd mix named Lucky. She’s a spazz; she’s a good girl.

Khris gives money to animal rights causes; she gets incensed by cruelty. We saw a dog in the back of a pickup truck this weekend while she was here and both of us wanted to chase the guy down and tell him that if he couldn’t take care of his dog correctly perhaps he shouldn’t even have the dog. We didn’t. But we wanted to. When I found a site a week or so ago called Old Dog Haven, she and I shared long distance tears for the old dogs, our vintage puppies, that we’d lost. The dear old souls, with faces that seem so full of wisdom and sacrifice, humility and love, make me feel both sad and grateful. Sad for the fact that many have been tossed aside by owners; grateful to have known the wonder that comes from having an old dog. We’re both going to sponsor a vintage pup in memory of the vintage boys we’ve lost.

The joy that our pets bring is forever. Remembering them, keeping them close, wearing remembrances like this necklace help when they’re gone. I still want my Maguire to be here. I’d rather have my boy than the necklace, a sentiment I know my sister understands. But if I can’t have him, I can have my beautiful Paws Forever necklace, hanging close to my heart, bringing me comfort, and filling me with love. That’s always worth celebrating.

Tomorrow my girls leave, and I’ll be sad again. But I’ll wear them close to my heart, too. Forever. That’s paws and effect.

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live out loud | relative celebrations

Celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 11, 2012 8:16 PM

The hug is that most human of responses, one we use in both joy and sorrow. We reach out our arms to say hello to a friend we haven’t seen for months, or just since last week. We reach to comfort. We hug our family close, our children closer. We give a perfunctory hug to colleagues. Sometimes we pretend to be so happy to see them we also throw in a little pretend air kiss. But perfunctory hugs are different than other hugs. The arm motion is wrong. The hugger sort of loops his or her forearms through the huggee’s to apply just the smallest amount of pressure to the huggee’s back. A hug given to someone you know and are happy to see is a full-blown expression of love, a big wrap of the arms accompanied by a squeeze.

This is also the kind of hug most people give to their creature-comforts. You know, those of the four-legged and furry variety. Hugging a dog or a cat, or gently giving a squeeze to a puppy or kitten is one of the great joys of being a person, in this writer’s humble opinion. It’s one of the things I miss most about Maguire. I miss so many things of course, but not being able to sit on the floor and put my arms around him is what made National Hug Your Dog day so heartbreaking.

Yes, I’m a day late on celebrating this wondrous day, a day when it’s OK to hug your pup, as if it wasn’t OK any other day. That wondrous day when you shouldn’t wear black because you’re going to be wearing your animal’s fur after engaging in that hug and the person behind you in line at Starbucks will smile knowingly and ask: “How many pets do you have?”

April 10th was National Hug Your Dog day, per Beneful dog food, but according to a survey of U.S. dog owners, 68 percent of respondents actually hug their dogs more than they hug their people. Thirty percent admitted that they hug their dogs more than any of their other family members and 26 percent said that they hug their dogs more than they hug their best friends. Except that dog is often referred to as man’s best friend, so I think that statistic is a bit suspect.

The most cuddly breeds of dogs are evidently cocker spaniels. They require a great deal of human interaction. Retrievers, specifically of the Labrador variety, are also extremely loyal and loving. Beagles, gentle, sweet, sociable creatures that they are, are also highly affectionate. A Bichon Frise is happy to be hugged and hugged often, as is a boxer who gets five out of five paws for affection by WebVet.

My personal feeling is that it doesn’t matter what the breed – Maguire was, after all, a mutt, an adorable concoction of golden retriever/Australian shepherd and maybe some Akita and perhaps a bit of Chow Chow – they’re all infinitely huggable and fabulous.

And if you have a cat, that hardly matters because cats are dogs, too, just more aloof versions. As the saying goes: dogs have owners; cats have staff. But you can have wonderful relationships with people who work for you. Cats love their people and cat people love their cats as much as dog people love their dogs. I had a cat before we got Maguire. I lost her to cancer but I loved that beautiful little girl; I was devastated when she died and I couldn’t hug her anymore. She actually liked to be hugged, to an extent. When I would get home at night, to my townhouse, I would stand in the entrance way and wait for it. Sure enough, after about 30 seconds or so, I’d hear the soft thud as she jumped down from her sleeping position on the corner of my bed. Soon, she’d come slinking down the stairs, meowing the whole way, and then do that great little cat strut over to me, rub against my leg while stiffening her tail. I’d pick her up and she’d put her front paws around my neck, one on either side, and bury her gray and peach-colored fur head under my hair as she purred. She hugged.

Roy and Maguire

Maguire hugged too, by putting his head under my chin and pushing up against me. He was a hugger from the moment we got him, all 10 pounds of stinky fur, burrowing up against my chest and pushing his head up under my neck. As he got older, he did the same thing, though usually when he was sitting and I was sitting next to him. He hugged. I miss those hugs.

Today, I’m celebrating hug-your-furry-family-members day. I celebrate dogs and cats every day, and I celebrate the memory of hugging my boy. I still think he’s here with me sometimes, laying his head against me, hugging me back in the only way he knows how. It gives me a bit of creature-comfort just thinking about it, thinking about him, hugging him still if only in my dreams.

On writer's blocks

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 4, 2012 9:55 PM

One of the wonderful gifts I received for my birthday in December was a set of three blocks. They’re 3.5” squares of aged wood and each one contains pictures, artwork and flowingly wonderful words for inspiration. Roy and Bobbi gave them to me, so each is also personalized. They contain wonderfully obscure phrases, poetry, dialogue and capsules of stories. They also contain images of some of the things I hold most dear. New England, Roy’s artwork, the moon, a Black Bear Block wine glass with just the barest hint of a Syrah swirling in the bottom; my beloved Maguire in his vintage years, his beautiful silver face framed in sunlight. They’re on my desk. I stare at them often; I play with them sometimes, stacking them, rearranging the images, reading the text. I find myself doing this on those days when I’m procrastinating and especially on those days when I’m trying to figure out what to write.

Suffering from writer’s block when you make your living as a writer can be fairly detrimental to making a living. Playing with writer’s blocks, however, can have a completely different effect.

I don’t remember playing with blocks when I was a kid. Do all children play with blocks? I guess if they do and I didn’t, it could explain a lot about me and how I see the world. I do seem to remember a photo, though, of me as a pup. The picture is black and white, and there are blocks in the foreground, near my little toddler feet. According to experts, blocks encourage children to build social, emotional, physical and even cognitive skills. They also help with problem solving, symbolic thinking and math. Most experts also think that blocks motivate creative thinking because it involves planning. Kids also learn about things like physics, patterns and nature. They’re building things using their blocks, yes, but ultimately they’re building things using their mind. It’s quite a concept.

All of this started in 1693 when John Locke, the philosopher as opposed to the Lost character, discussed how “dice and playthings, with letters on them to teach children the alphabet by playing” would help children to read. In 1798, the book Practical Education by Maria and R.L. Edgeworth called blocks rational toys that taught kids about gravity and spatial relationships. S.L. Hill patented ornamenting wood in 1820 and produced blocks with multiple colors, and by 1850, Henry Cole, aka Felix Summerly, was writing children’s books that discussed terracotta toy blocks and included actual blueprints for building.

How do writer’s blocks figure into this? I have no idea. Writer’s block is one of those semi-serious afflictions that hits wordsmiths from time to time and is characterized by a writer’s sudden loss of the ability to write. It can be a trivial condition, when a writer is only temporarily sidelined by feelings of inadequacy, often brought on by exhaustion. It’s nearly impossible to create something from nothing – which is basically what any type of art is, including writing – when you’re tired. The brain functions but it doesn’t function creatively, at least mine doesn’t. And if it does, it’s forced, convoluted and ordinary. The words that begin in my brain and travel the short distance to my fingers, exiting out onto the word document, are serviceable but they don’t sing, they don’t have power.

But my blocks have power. They must. They are covered with words and art and my beautiful boy looking back at me.

My blocks on a notebook with my scribbles, on my desk

There are writer’s who have been so incapacitated by writer’s block that they don’t write a word for years or have given up writing altogether. The great F. Scott Fitzgerald was said to suffer from writer’s block, a condition first chronicled in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, seven years after Fitzgerald died. He even wrote a book on it: The Writer and Psychoanalysis in 1949. Perhaps if he had used blocks to help his writer patients, he could have had a real breakthrough. Imagine the theories that could have come from getting adults to participate in a game for toddlers in order to break through a closed psyche. Freud or Jung or somebody would have had a field day.

Dorothy Parker famously said that writing is “the art of applying the ass to the seat.” It’s not always that easy.

Luckily, I have my blocks to guide me. Once my butt is in the chair, of course.

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live out loud

Three weeks

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 27, 2012 8:04 PM

It was three weeks ago today that we lost our beloved Maguire. Twenty-one days since we last smelled his fur and stroked his head, since we could lie down on the floor beside him and hug on him. We’re doing better but we’re not great. I find myself in tears at the strangest times, and I struggle with thinking that it’s OK for me to still be so destroyed by his loss and feeling that I really need to move on. I wonder if it has to do with so much of society still thinking that the loss of a pet doesn’t truly constitute the loss of a family member. But Maguire was family. In many ways he was better than most people I know. His love was unconditional; his presence constant and reassuring.

We still come into the house quietly so as not to scare him. Once he started to lose his hearing we had to be careful. More than once, we’d just open the door normally, barreling in from the garage or through the front door and he’d react, even if just for a second until he realized who it was, with fear, jumping up, ears pinned back, tail tucked. But we learned quickly. He would sleep on the rug just inside the door and we always checked to see if he was awake. If he wasn’t, we’d call his name quietly, which is funny because he couldn’t hear it, and we’d tap gently on the floor. What he couldn’t hear he could feel. Those big beautiful brown eyes would roll open slowly, focus, and I swear he’d smile. Hi, guys.

Kevin still comes into the house at walk time, catching himself just before he says: “HB? Wanna go?” HB is his pet name for me; wanna go was code for time to trot the pup. Trot the pup being a code we came up with after Maguire learned, many years ago, the word “walk.” We couldn’t say it, in any tone of voice, without him starting to spin in circles and prance in place. He could be upstairs, asleep on pride landing, and I’d say the word ‘walk’ downstairs in the bedroom and I’d hear the rumble of his 80 pounds flying down the stairs. We started spelling it, but he figured that out too. Trot the pup was our last code, and it worked because he started to lose his hearing. Then we made walking movements with our fingers. Maguire, it seems, knew sign language.

Each time I walk down the stairs from my loft, I expect to see him sprawled on the floor in the living room, somewhere between the bottom of the stairs, the back door and the kitchen. He always picked the most strategic spot so that both Kevin and I would have to walk past or over him in order to get anywhere. Most of the time, he’d wake up, raise his head and give us a look that said: “Where are you going? And will there be cheese?”

I am forever disappointed by these descents because he’s not in the living room, nor is he in the bedroom. I don’t hear him slurping up his water and then stopping for a bit of voyeurism as he stared out the kitchen window watching the neighbors, in their cars or on foot, go by. Eventually he’d make his way around the table and back out into the room. The kitchen table is a pub table so it’s high. It sits in our bay window in the kitchen and he could always walk behind it, next to the window. He used to be able to back up but once his rear legs stopped working as well, backing up became more difficult. Sometimes he’d get caught under the table especially if one of the chairs was pulled out slightly and he thought he could go through rather than around. He’d stand there patiently until someone noticed his predicament and moved the chair out of the way so he could saunter off and find a toy.

I miss the sounds he made, the harrumph exhale as all the air pushed out of his body when he laid down; the clank of his tags on the floor. The sigh, like his life was so hard. The way he clicked across the floor, jazz puppy, his front feet high-stepping, his back sort of dragging. It was like listening to a drum and a brush. The way he’d stop at the entrance to the bedroom at night as we were getting ready for bed. He’d had a drink, he’d checked to make sure all the doors were locked, that the house was secure. And then, once he had our attention, he’d bound the short distance toward his bed, which still sits in the corner, and ram it with his head, lifting it up again and again, spilling all of the toys onto the floor. Then he’d look at us: “My job here is done.” And lay down to sleep.

I miss … him.

Three weeks since he left us. Each day gets a little bit easier and little bit harder. I suspect it will for a while yet. My brain understands he’s gone; my heart still breaks in a million different ways. I know it but I don’t want to believe it. I guess that’s called grief. It will pass when it passes. In the mean time, I will celebrate the memory of our boy. I will celebrate the joy he brought. I will celebrate the incredible effect he had on all who knew him.

I will celebrate Maguire.

Drawing by Maguire's best friend and second dad, Roy Guzman

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live out loud

Streaming Sunday

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 18, 2012 10:31 PM

It’s 9:49 pm, and I’m sitting on the couch. Usually by this time I have a blog post drafted, sometimes even posted. Tonight I’m just finally starting. At now 9:50. I’m on the couch. The wind is blowing outside and it’s cold. 40º and dropping, but dry. It’s been cold all day, and I love it though it’s a little late in the season. It’s nearing the end of March and winter has finally decided to show up. It’s a little too little, a little too late.

There’s a fire blazing in the fireplace, smoke also drifting out. I don’t like smoke; it freaks me out. But the heat is nice. I just turned up the gas under the logs to goose the fire a bit, to hopefully eliminate a smoke I can’t see.

9:54.

We’re watching the last part of The Good Wife, one of our favorite shows. We love it. It’s sophisticated and sexy. Just love Christine Baranski. And I’m a big fan of Chris Noth, even though he’s not on tonight. I also like Julienne Margulies. Kevin wasn’t a fan when she was on ER, thought she was cold, but he’s decided he likes her now.

After The Good Wife we’ll probably surf and find a re-run of something like Law & Order: SUV. It’s Sunday night and we’re already missing the weekend.

The heat just kicked on. I can hear it whistling through the vents. It’s helping a little. So’s the smoky fire.

I’m behind on work and should have gotten more done today. But tomorrow is another day, Scarlett.

I talked to Pam earlier. Three plus hours. We had an issue that developed over the weekend. I was mad, not at her but at a situation. We talked, we laughed. All is cool. Kevin came in and asked if we “kissed and made up.” We did, albeit (I’ll be it – that’s for Bobbi) long distance.

Even earlier than that I dabbled online. We had a nice breakfast, an omelet, turkey bacon. Read the paper, accompanied by a hot cup of coffee.

I miss my dog. I miss him all the time.

SVU just started. Big surprise; it’s one we’ve seen. Good thing I have a blog post to write.

Speaking of blog, Kevin has been working on my upgrade and re-design this weekend. I’d like to launch it soon. We’re hoping that what he and his IT dudes do will eliminate the comments-going-AWOL issue. Two went missing from last night’s post. I saw them this morning: one from Pam; one from my mom. Then they left and didn’t come back.

I wonder where they go.

And who they’re with.

Maybe Pam’s comment and Mom’s comment are out having coffee or wine and just lost track of time. Maybe, since it’s Sunday, they each decided to just go back to bed. Either way, it’s unacceptable.

I love my husband.

I missed talking to Shawn today. Her phone evidently died, and she didn’t get my message until too late for her to call.

The SVU is the one with Lena Olin. I liked her when she played Sydney Bristow’s nasty mother in Alias. Great show, the first two and a half seasons.

I’m tired. The smoky smell is starting to burn, leading me to believe that even though I can’t see the smoke, it’s there. I think I’ll turn the gas-starter off and take my chances. I’ll listen to the cold howl of the wind and half-heartedly watch the re-run of Law & Order, relax and mentally prepare for the onslaught called Monday. It was a nice weekend, though not long enough – is it ever? – and tomorrow starts the long slog toward next weekend. But it’s OK. Monday signifies renewal and another chance to get it right. I welcome it, I celebrate it; I vow to live it out loud.

10:13.

And scene.

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live out loud

And they call it puppy love

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 17, 2012 10:35 PM

Regular readers know I’m a dog lover. Regular readers also know we lost our beloved Maguire almost two weeks ago. Time is helping though his presence is missed greatly as is his personality, his beautiful spirit, the sound of his tags hitting the floor as he rolled over or tapping the ceramics of his water or food bowl as he munched.

My friend Diane is a great friend to all creatures, especially those of the rescue-dog variety. She has long been active in the animal rights movement and has put in more than her share of years working to help neglected, abused and abandoned animals. She herself has two wonderful dogs: a poodle mix (at least I think he’s a mix) named Henri, a very distinguished little guy with curly white fur and big dark eyes, and Tommy, a pit bull with maybe a little boxer thrown in for good measure. He’s a stout little dude, sort of brown and white, with the large head – pumpkin head, Diane calls it – of a pit bull. But he exhibits none of the characteristics. He’s docile, gentle. And he’s having some joint issues so today he was hobbling around. Maybe it was the rain. Diane also has two cats, Fiona who’s black and Roswell who’s white.

Terrier mom

And in her garage, she fosters moms and their puppies until they’re all healthy and old enough to be adopted. She is one of the first calls for certain groups who patrol “kill shelters.” Evidently there are a number of shelters that quickly euthanize female dogs that arrive with tiny puppies in tow. Diane to the rescue. Dog bless her.

Her current litter is of the terrier and retriever persuasion. Or maybe it’s cocker spaniel. Either way, there’s a lovely and timid mom who has some terrier in her as well as something else, and her five rambunctious puppies. Diane emailed me earlier in the week, asking if maybe a romp with some little fur balls might help to ease some of our sorrow. I’ll admit, I was hesitant. Was it too soon? Even for bouncing, biting balls of fluff? I decided I could handle it without falling apart.

Kevin was going to come with me, but he’s been having a hard time the last few days. He misses his boy and sheepishly told me last night that he just doesn’t really want to see any dogs right now since he can’t see his own. I understand. We all process grief and loss differently.

Today was cold, windy and brutal with rain. Torrential at times, it bounced off of our street, blasted the roof of the house, knocked incessantly at the windows to be allowed in. I did some Saturday morning things around the house, changed the sheets, did some laundry, washed the wine glasses that don’t go into the dishwasher and collect, instead, on the counter. Showered, put on a little makeup, pulled on jeans, a sweater and boots, and off I went.

Waiting to come play

Driving east on the 101, the rain clouds were heavy and black, nearly touching the road in front of me. To the north, the sun was streaming through, glinting off the wet pavement. I exited at Laurel Canyon, went north and within minutes I was in front of Diane’s house.

I had packed up all of Maguire’s food and cookies. We didn’t want to just throw it away and with all of the dogs lucky enough to stay with her and Gene even for a short while, we thought she might be able to use it. It was Kevin’s idea; it was a good one. She met me at the car and I handed her a huge bag filled with dry food bags, unopened canned food, and dog cookies. She gave me a hug and we started toward the garage where she keeps the puppies, walked in and there they were, all lined up, ready for some puppy love.

It was just what I needed, to sit on an old fleece blanket on the cement floor and have five squiggly, wriggly puppies climb on me, claw at me, bite on me and hop around aimlessly on the floor, fall over, crawl over and yip and elicit quietly ferocious puppy growls as they rolled all over each other. For an hour their energy level was high, and then, they were done. Two of them snuggled up on my lap and started to snooze. Mom disappeared behind the kennel to get away from them, one tried in vain to keep his eyes open and the other two curled up on Diane. These little warm bodies, barely six weeks old, taking short little breaths, creating a surprising amount of heat.

On my lap

I felt some of the sorrow leave my own body. There was something cathartic about spending a couple of hours in the presence of new life. It didn’t diminish the loss of Maguire – I know we will always miss him – but it did reinforce the truth that life goes on. Today, life was embodied in these five little dudes and their mom. Tomorrow, who knows?

As I drove home with the sun once again glaring down through the rain, making it nearly impossible to see the road, I smiled. I miss my boy terribly; he still breaks my heart. But tomorrow will be better.

And today, there were puppies.

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live out loud

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