What dreams are made of

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, July 20, 2011 8:40 PM

The question comes up quite a bit between my friends and I. What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question as old as time, I suspect; one we’ve all heard since we were children. It started with adults asking how old we were and what were our names, and the minute those same adults suspected we had grown enough to answer a more thought-provoking question, they asked it: What do you want to be when you grow up?

We were conditioned to think we could be anything and most especially President, boys and girls alike. And as we grew older we decided we knew exactly what we would be. A teacher, an astronaut, a meter maid. I wrote a paper in 8th grade about becoming a photographer. I don’t believe I had ever taken a picture before in my life but it seemed like a very cool thing to be, a photographer. I would travel the world, go on safari, photograph giraffes and lions on the Serengeti; I would photograph the Eiffel tower and the Coliseum and Half Dome, only mine would be better than Ansel Adams. I outgrew that fairly quickly and then decided that I was born to be on stage before transitioning, effortlessly, to film. Or maybe I’d be a rock star. Never mind that I couldn’t sing. It was the dream of it all that mattered, the possibility.

In college, I temporarily lost focus and my dreams clouded. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I started out as an art major and I was, at best, mediocre. I also didn’t have the passion for it. I had always excelled in English and in writing and I found myself leaning in the direction of Shakespeare and Faulkner, of Eudora Welty and Maya Angelou and Mark Twain, of DH Lawrence and Henry James. My major shifted to English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. I had no idea what I would do with such a degree when I graduated from college but like the great heroine of the quintessential Civil War-era, Southern novel Gone with the Wind famously posed: I would simply think about that tomorrow.

But what happens when tomorrow comes and then the next day?

Each one of us has dreams, some we’ve acted on, some we haven’t. I know I still do. I dream of writing a beautiful novel, of spending my days creating a reality that exists only in my head and transferring it perfectly, exquisitely to paper (metaphorically and literally). I dream and I refuse to stop.

I know so many people who are doing things to change their lives, to change the world. I’m writing several books for the man who started an important and non-profit health organization. His name is Bob Knutzen and he started the Pituitary Network Association to help spread the word about the incredible prevalence of pituitary disease. He’s passionate about it.

A woman I worked with years ago at Sebastian, Adrianna Reo, was laid off after 19 years and took a good portion of her severance to start The Reo Bakpak Company to provide homeless kids with good, strong, and even cool backpacks so that they feel more empowered when they go to school.

There’s a dog rescue in Washington State called Second Chance Dogs, a group of women who have dedicated their time and energy to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing abandoned, abused, and neglected dogs.

My friend Bobbi is a perfect example of someone who understands the importance of dreams and not just because she’s a therapist. She never went to college, but in her 30s, decided that she was going to become a psychologist. She went through an undergrad program, and then got her master’s degree, and then had to complete 3000 hours of interning in order to take the test to become licensed. She did all of this while also working full time as a graphic designer. She’s also started, with other therapists, a group called The Conversation Group. I don’t think she realizes how inspirational she is.

Or her husband Roy, a fine artist who made a living for years as a creative director and an art director. Now in his 60s, he’s returning to his first love: art. And creating with a passion I’ve rarely witnessed.

There’s a man named Charlie Annenberg, a vet (I believe) who founded a non-profit organization, with his golden retriever Lucky, to provide therapy dogs to soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s called Dog Bless You.

And my buddy Tucker, a therapy dog who, along with his mom Dr. Wendi Hirsch, works to help kids fighting the debilitating effects of cancer and its treatment to feel a little bit better because of a snuggle and a kiss from a beautiful blonde, furry boy.

I have a client who is committed to raising funds for cancer research through one of her products, Cure. Her mother died of breast cancer; her sister has successfully beaten it back twice.  And my friend Pam in Maryland, whose salon, Mason and Friends, participates in Cuts for Cancer each year, a local fund-raising event. She’s a cancer survivor, too, and a former dancer. One day, perhaps, she’ll dance again if for no other reason than because she can, and because she dreams.

My husband ditched his corporate career some ten or so years ago to go into web development, web design and Internet marketing. He also builds furniture and dreams of making wine.

Even while doing all of these things, each of these people – and so many, many more – myself included, continues to dream of what we’ll accomplish, what we can do, how we can change the world, what we will be when we grow up. That’s why today, I’m celebrating all the dreamers, because they are the biggest believers in the possible.

As the great writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote: “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

What is your dream? What is it made of?  I would be willing to bet that it’s made of hope.



In which I return home

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 5, 2011 10:34 PM

Home. It’s a word that conjures up images of familiarity, warmth, and comfort. It is intensely personal, with an outer dwelling not always chosen because of its exterior but made special by its interior. A home is different than a house. A house is simply a place; a home is an experience to be shared with those you prize most. Some are lucky enough to have several homes, vacation or second homes. Others view where they’re from, or where their parents live, as their ultimate home. “I’m going home to visit my mom,” or “I’m going home to visit my parents” is a common phrase. I use it myself.

I’m home tonight after a trip home. Home is where I live, where my husband and son are, where my dog slobbers the floor.  Home is also where the mother is. I remember many years ago having this conversation with my mother as she was preparing to sell the family home in New Hampshire after she and my dad divorced. She was concerned that I wouldn’t feel like I was coming home anymore and that, somehow, it would influence how often I actually made the journey. I assured her then and believe now that home is not a dwelling. It’s a feeling. Interestingly my mother used that same logic on me years later when I was getting divorced and was selling my first home. She pointed out that I was actually selling my house; the home I took with me.

According to Wikipedia, a home is most often where an individual or family can rest, relax and store all of their personal property. Photographs, books, furniture, accent pieces like antique toys, throw pillows, clothing, pets. But it’s not just people who make homes. Animals make homes, too, sometimes with their humans, sometimes on their own and often in the form of dens.

It seems to be instinct to inhabit a space in order to feel safe. Maybe that’s why there are sayings like ‘home is where the heart is,’ or ‘you can’t go home again.’ There are group homes, nursing homes, retirement homes, senior homes, foster homes. Home can influence behavior, emotions and emotional health. Perhaps that’s why being homeless can wreak such havoc. As human-animals, we need to be home. We can be homesick and home-makers. Aspirational homes are model homes. Some people are even homely, which is another idea entirely.

The word home has origins prior to 900 AD, and can be found in any number of languages including Middle English, Old English, Dutch, Norse, Danish, Swedish, German and Gothic where they called home haims, something akin to a haunt. There are single-family homes, military homes, multi-family homes, custom homes and tract homes, condo-homes and townhomes.

I went home to visit my mother this past weekend even though my home is here in Southern California with my husband. This is where I’m most at ease, where my stuff is, where my dog is, where my life is. I’m home tonight, on my couch, feet up, computer on my lap, TV tuned to a rerun of Criminal Minds because nothing says home like serial killers; Kevin is on the opposite couch, Maguire on the floor. The windows are open, a cooling breeze is sneaking in.

I’m exhausted but content. And that, ultimately, is what home is all about, contentment. Because as Dorothy Gale put it so perfectly: There’s no place like home.


Click your heels together and celebrate.

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Paying it forward

by Lorin Michel Thursday, April 28, 2011 10:56 PM

We went to our favorite date night place tonight, The Wineyard. They do wine tastings every Thursday night, usually from a specific winery and that winery is almost always from California. Tonight was from the Ancient Peaks winery in Paso Robles. And it was good.

But what was great was the conversation we had with the owners, Stacy and Steve. They have a daughter who’s about to embark on her freshman year of college in the fall. They’re a little apprehensive, and don’t know what to do about certain things. Should they allow their daughter to have a car on campus? What about living in an apartment?

We talked to them for a while, sharing our experience with sending a kid off to college, how to let said kid “go,” to have their new life while still maintaining a bit of control. We told them some horror stories about what could happen – she could lend the car to someone; she could drink and drive – and how they can do certain things to minimize the risk. They hadn’t even thought about some of what we told them.

Kevin said we were paying it forward.

When we sent Justin to college, we had Roy and Bobbi who had been there before us with Michale, who shared their wisdom. I remember listening to their stories, thinking about each point they brought up. Ultimately we made our own decisions based on our kid and what we felt most comfortable doing. What works for one family doesn’t work for another, not in its entirely. But having as much information as possible at ones disposal is key to making the best possible decision.

Paying it forward at its most basic means that when something good happens, you in turn do something good for someone else. It was something initially used as a key plot element in a comedy called Dyskolos in Athens 317 BC. Benjamin Franklin rediscovered the concept in 1784 when he wrote a letter to politician Benjamin Wood. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to someone.”

In 1916, fiction writer Lily Hardy Hammond wrote: “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” This philosophy was also adopted by Woody Hayes, the Ohio State football coach, but with a slight variation. He used to say “you can never pay back; but you can always pay forward.”

There were various alterations throughout the years that culminated in the not very good 2000 movie: Pay it Forward. It described a person’s obligation to do three good deeds in exchange for each good deed received.

I didn’t particularly like the movie though I wanted to. I think what I really liked was the concept of being good, doing good, and helping others completely unselfishly, about using your good fortune to help another reach theirs. I don’t know that there are many things in the world that are better than that. It’s a variation on the old golden rule of do unto others.

Helping people by sharing knowledge is what it’s all about. We felt so good tonight being able to tell Stacy and Steve about our experience sending an 18 year old off to college, about helping them as they struggled with a completely unfamiliar situation, like college. We liked sharing what we knew, and they appreciated hearing it.

Helping others, sharing experiences, wanting to make it better. That’s paying it forward.  And that’s an amazing concept. One worth celebrating.

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