by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 20, 2015 10:04 PM

Last night, Kevin and I were volunteering for the Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue group, wrapping presents at Barnes & Noble. It was my third time; I’m getting to be a pro. We were there from just before 4 to just after 6. The last gifts we wrapped were for a couple, the wife of which I had spoken to earlier when she walked by the table and asked: “Are you guys wrapping presents?” I replied that we were indeed. She could barely contain her joy.

Shortly thereafter a gentleman came to the table and asked that we wrap a book for his wife. As we wrapped, I asked if he wanted to pick out a to/from tag and he said: “No. It’s just the two of us.” As we were finishing his book, his wife came up to have us wrap her book, the same woman who had asked about wrapping. That’s when she told us the story of Jólabókaflóðið.

Iceland is one of the most prolific countries in the world when it comes to book publishing. Each year, between October and November, the majority of new titles are published in preparation for what it known as the flood of books. Jólabókaflóðið. 

This flood is what sustains the country’s publishing industry, which publishes approximately five titles for every 1000 residents. It is fueled by the Icelandic tradition of buying books to be given and read on Christmas Eve. Nearly all Icelanders receive at least one book for Christmas, and at the end of the evening, most retire to their beds to read. 

Iceland has a long literary history that dates back to medieval times. They have several books from that time period that are still published and read. Many are published in the native Icelandic language, one mostly spoken only by the 319,000 people who live there. One of the local city libraries regularly loans out 1.2 million books a year, and there’s a television show called Kiljan, devoted entirely to the wonder and joy of books. 

I loved this story. As I was wrapping her book, I asked if there was a particular genre of book that seemed to dominate and she said that it was usually fiction though biographies were popular, too. She showed me the app on her phone. Jólabókaflóðið has been happening since World War II, when there were strict money restrictions that limited what could be imported into Iceland. Paper wasn’t one of the items restricted so books became the Christmas present of choice. Icelanders inside and outside of the country have been honoring the tradition ever since. Every year, a Bokatidindi, or catalog, is published showing hundreds of thousands of new titles. It is distributed to every Icelander. 

The gifts are always hardcover books because books are such an important gift, that they must also be physical. They have to feel substantial. Paperbacks are rare and e-books are non-existent, at Christmas, because that doesn’t fit the tradition. 

I finished wrapping the woman’s gift. We put a lovely gold blow on it. Her husband had moved over the newsstand and was waiting for her to finish. They had come together and then split up in the store with the express purpose of buying each other one book to give on Christmas Eve. They will open them and then spend the rest of the night reading to themselves, reading to each other, enjoying the written word. 

She thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas. Gleðileg jól. I smiled and wished her the same, and a Christmas Eve in particular filled with the wonder of the books they will gift each other. Filled with a celebration of stories. Sounds like my kind of Christmas.

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Write when prompted

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 8, 2015 10:22 PM

One of the pages I follow on Facebook is The Writer’s Circle, for obvious reasons. They post daily inspirations and funny anecdotes, information about other writer’s and more. I rarely comment or post but I do very much enjoy it.

They often post writer’s prompts. It’s actually kind of a cool way to jumpstart creativity. A writer’s prompt is just like it sounds. It’s creating the beginnings of a scenario; it’s giving a sentence to finish; it’s urging someone to write the next paragraph.

Several years ago, for Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we started writing a short story that would have 50 paragraphs, each with 50 words. We did it daily and it was a great and creative way to start every morning. We started it with my prompt which was this:

Below, fog was thick and ghostly under the moon. He could hear the water as he leaned out, grasping the slippery cable behind him. The rain hit his face and he snatched at it with his tongue, laughing into the darkness, into the cold, as he shouted, “I am—

Today, on The Writer’s Circle, the prompt was this: “You’ve been lost for days. This is the only house for miles. What do you do?” The picture was of an unkempt house, neglected. Perhaps scary, perhaps simply run-down.

For kicks, I decided to write something.

It had appeared in the distance, a beacon, welcoming. A sanctuary promising shelter from the coming rain. But as she approached, she felt an increasing apprehension. The paint was peeling, part of the roof appeared to be caved in. Wild vines grew up the side. There was an eerie sense of calm about this decaying place, and something seemed wrong. Was it the fact that all of the windows appeared to be in tact and clean? Or perhaps it was the image of another, watching from the dormer. She shivered in the warmth of the day and was about to turn back when the image waved and beckoned her inside. She walked forward to the door and stopped in the threshold, her hand on the splintered handle.

It wasn’t great, but it was fun. And even better, it was a wonderful way to start off my day. It made me think differently. It got me out of my head, out of my many email programs, off the internet. It made me feel creative, even though it was kind of schlocky.

I brought up the 50 words, 50 paragraphs thing to Bobbi today, along with the other prompt I did. I mentioned how fun it was and she said we should do it again. We write well together, Bobbi and I. Unfortunately, we do it rarely because we both have so many things going on. But 50 words every other day is doable. It will be fun. We bought a domain today and we’re going to post directly online.

Stay tuned.

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mots du jour

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:57 PM

I started this blog four years ago this month. I did it as a respite from the drowning news of the day, of every day. It occurred to me then, just as it has every day since including today, that the news was always bad, mean. Horrible things happening to people all over the world. People doing horrible things to other people. Politics. Animal cruelty. Natural disasters. I suppose the news channels and the Internet sites get more clicks for horror than sunshine and daisies. I understand that. I click on some of the stories, too, as if to convince myself that yes, people really can be that despicable.

I have posted everyday since February 29, 2011. Some of my posts are contemplative, some are stupid, some are (hopefully) funny, some are commemorative. Some posts have featured guest authors, namely Maguire, Cooper and Squire Squirrel. I’ve had fun and I continue to do so.

I read other blogs, some daily, others only occasionally. I think the Internet has become a powerful tool for finding new and exciting voices. It has also become a place for the lowest, vilest trolls to take up residence. If you’ve ever read the comments on just about anything you know what I mean. I am forever amazed at how nasty people can be. I wonder if they’re like that in real life or if the Internet gives them cover, allows them to troll in complete anonymity. On one hand I am forever appalled that people can and do think and write such things, and usually write them badly. I’m not sure why trolls have such bad grammar and sentence structure. Perhaps it’s because they were raised under a wet rock.

On the other hand, I am forever in awe. People are writing and interacting. While I think a great deal of that interaction is counterproductive, it is still interactive. The Internet has made us all more isolated while also bringing us together with people from all over the world. I suppose in a way, we’ve all become a bit troll like, since my definition of troll is a small, horrid creature that exists on the periphery of civilization.

One of the blogs that I have read several times each day is the Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan. He’s quite a prolific writer, a British ex-Pat who is conservative by nature. I don’t agree with a lot that he writes but I love reading his point of view. He has brought style and grace into the vitriol of politics and religion and I have often turned to the Dish first after any type of big event, especially one that involves politics or religion. He announced yesterday that he’s done. After 15 years of blogging daily, he is hanging up his website, taking his ideas and going home to be with his husband. I respect that. I will miss him and his insights greatly as so many others will.

His blog has nearly countless posts each day. I don’t know how he has done it, and the truth is, it has obviously taken a toll. My little blog doesn’t take a toll at all. Whereas his became a chore, I still look to mine as a refuge. After writing all day for others, these short blurbs about my life and observations give me an outlet. There are days when I say, grudgingly “Shit. I haven’t even started my blog” and then I think, maybe I won’t do it today. After all, there aren’t that many people who read me. Maybe no one will notice.

But I would notice. It is a commitment I made to myself, an opportunity every day to write about nothing and everything and whatever. It’s a bit like the 1980s and 90s when I kept a journal. I loved writing in my journal. Small story ideas, lists of things about other things, observations, musings, confessions. I filled up I don’t know how many volumes. I kept every one. Maybe someday I’ll go back and revisit. Maybe there’s a novel lurking in those pages. More likely though, there is nothing but the scribbled words of the day.

Words of the day are what each post is. Words that find their way into sentences that wrap into paragraphs to eventually become a post. It starts with a title. It ends with something to celebrate.

Today I’m celebrating the idea of words of the day. Mots du jour. Somehow when you put it into French it seems loftier, pretty. Commémoratif.

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The plight of the uncreative

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 16, 2014 9:24 PM

I am, on this day, faced with the reality that I am uncreative. I am hoping that it is but a temporary affliction. It happens occasionally, like waking up with a headache or a cold. As I lie in bed, I can feel the pressure of a temporary malady pushing on my temples from the inside, making my sinuses ache dully. I want to sleep but I can’t because of the nature of the plight. In the case of a headache, I simply take three ibuprofen, one more than the recommended dose. The recommended dose is never enough. A cold must run its course, a saying I’ve never liked but that I know to be true. There’s not much that can be done other than to ignore it, suffer in silence, and blow my nose frequently.

What to do when I awake to find the uncreatives knocking?

There are several choices. I can roll over, pull the covers up and hope that the air conditioner kicks on soon because of the stuffiness of the room. Body temperatures always rise upon awakening and thus the room suddenly becomes thick and warm. If the air comes on, I can sleep a bit more and perhaps re-awaken to find that the uncreatives, like the Jehovah’s Witness, have gone to the next door in hopes of finding someone to pester.

I can get up, pull together some type of lazy wardrobe, and ignore the uncreatives. I find this to be a useful tactic for many things in my life that I’m not crazy about. Stressed about money? Don’t think about it and know that the mailman will eventually produce a check or five from delinquent clients. When the enormity of the house project threatens to overwhelm me, a curious and cataclysmic storm of fear and self-pity, I practice active denial. It’s an unrecognized psychological technique, invented by me when I was feeling more creative, and shared with colleagues who have also adapted it as a general rule of avoidance.

I can pretend. Pretending works quite well in other aspects of my life. I pretend daily with clients, convincing them that I’m creative, that I’m a nice person, that I’m funny; that I’m worth their investment. I scare myself sometimes. I have no doubt that I frighten them as well. But the pretending appears to work as I remain busy and active. I can pretend on this Saturday that I am actually creative, if not talented. Sometimes, in the right light, when I’ve remembered my glasses, I can see talent from my back patio.

I can succumb, wallow and finally accept. The problem is that I’m not big on wallowing. It is hugely unproductive. And acceptance is something I’ve long had a problem with. It’s right up there with contentedness. I’m content in some things, not in others. I accept that the day is lovely. I do not accept the uncreatives who have arrived to play.

Therein lies the plight. Uncreatives usually happen when I’m unusually tired. I say unusually because I spend most of my life in a state of tired. I have long teased that I was born two weeks early and have been trying to catch up ever since. Though given the size I was as a baby, I think it more likely that the doctor’s calculations where off. After all, it was a small town in 1961. Technology wasn’t even as advanced as what we see on the Showtime series Masters of Sex, an extraordinary recreation of Ben Masters and Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson fame.

That’s a creative show. The writers on it obviously don’t suffer the plight. What’s this writer to do then, on an otherwise beautiful Saturday? I think I might go to the mailbox, then to the bank to deposit the checks I’m sure are waiting for me; to the grocery store where I hope to be inspired to cook something luscious for dinner. I will ignore and actively deny the uncreatives and hope that they find no refuge anywhere else in the neighborhood and are instead forced out of town.

There. That will show them.

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Is it weird that I’m totally jazzed about an eraser?

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 5, 2014 10:42 PM

I have a pencil that is my version of a blankie. I can’t come up with an idea without it; I can’t even work without it. I don’t always use it but it has to be on the desk next to me. Or on the eat-at bar next to me when I move my laptop out of my office in order to feel like I’m having more of a life. In the morning, when I come into the office, I have a ritual. I open the Mac and hit power. I open the PC and hit power, then type in my user name and password. Then I locate my pencil, which is often on top of the pile of papers and notebooks stacked on the right side of the desk. When my desk is relatively clean, which it is right now, it’s easy to locate. When my desk looks more like a third-world country, I often have to lift and move and peer and scour before I locate it. But I simply cannot start work without it on the desk in front of my Mac.

Yes, I realize this makes me borderline pathological and paranoid and obsessive compulsive. I have a sister who is a therapist and a best friend in the profession as well. They are both simultaneously shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, furrowing their brows with worry and laughing out loud. In no particular order. Ladies, remember that furrowing causes wrinkles. But feel free to have your fun.

My pencil is blue. It is mechanical, taking 0.7 size lead. It was made by Pentel, in Japan, and probably came in a package with at least three other such pencils. I care not a wit about the fate of the others. I have no idea where they journeyed to, or if they still survive somewhere in the house. I suspect they’re in Kevin’s office as they are not in mine. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have a number of other pencils.

The drawer in the credenza part of my desk is home to several old-fashioned #2 wooden pencils, in varying states of sharpness. Somewhere in one of the other drawers is an unopened package. I have several other mechanical pencils as well. There’s a turquoise one from Staples; lead size .05. I have three Bic Pencil #2s, taking 0.7 lead. Their only difference appears to be the color of the clip. I have one that is purple, one that is yellow, one that is black. The body of the pencil is a clear gray. I also have a Pilot Pencil #2, extra fine with a 0.5 lead size. It is the color of a school bus. I have nothing against any of these pencils and have used them on occasion. But they do not retain favorite status. That is reserved for my Pentel.

According to pencyclopedia – and yes, there are evidently many others like me out there, breathing oxygen meant for sane people and panting about the whereabouts and whatfors of their own mechanical pencils – there are no less than 44 separate models of mechanical pencils, in more than 150 variations including length, width, color and lead size. There are pencils for professionals and for amateurs, for office dwellers and even for collectors.

The first pencils people used were actually very much like mechanical pencils. Pieces of graphite were wrapped between some sort of wooden holder so that people’s fingers wouldn’t get messy. The first mechanical-type pencil was found aboard the wreckage of the HMS Pandora that sank in 1791. The first patent for a refillable pencil was issued to Brits Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in 1822. More modern types sporting thin lead were pioneered in Japan by Tokuji Hayakawa, a metal worker, who made some improvements. Though it wasn’t immediately successful, Mr. Hayakawa did eventually find some success with a little company he started called Sharp.

I don’t know how long I’ve had my precious blue Pentel. I know we’ve been together at least five years and probably longer. The padded, soft rubber grip is worn and spins a bit off center. The eraser was been used so much that it was worn flat. Note the use of the word “was.”

This morning, my husband went out to run some errands, one of which was to stop at Staples in order to print our wine labels, something he was going to do yesterday but never got around to. He came back a short time later and came into my office. He had something small grasped in his closed fist and a big grin on his face. Without a word he leaned over and kissed my cheek while simultaneously depositing a brand new Pentel mechanical pencil eraser on my desk. I burst out laughing and quickly went about removing my flattened eraser worn black with work and replacing it with the spanking white eraser. I giggled and clasped my hands together, a five-year old finally getting her Easy Bake Oven.

Tonight, as I write this, my trusty pencil is in front of the keyboard as always. It has always helped me to think better. Now with its new eraser, it will also help me to delete those thoughts that aren’t really working. That’s always worth celebrating.  

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In praise of Byliner

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 17, 2014 10:16 PM

As everyone knows, a byline is just that. A writer’s name below an article. This piece written by. A line on which the name appears. It’s a big deal, a byline. It always has been. It lends credibility and helps a writer to build a reputation. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists have powerful stories associated with them, by them. Knowing who wrote a piece is how someone is nominated.

There is now a site called Byliner.com and it is a recent find of mine. I am absolutely addicted. I stumbled across it several Saturday’s ago when one of the blogs I read, The Dish by Andrew Sullivan, linked to a piece. Byliner is subscription only, but each Saturday, Sullivan has been able to make one piece available for 24 hours, free of charge. I read that first piece, an article written about the writer Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It. I was riveted. A week later I read a piece about Boyd Martin and his horse Neville Bardos, and the horrific fire that occurred in Martin’s barn several years ago, a fire that left the horse nearly dead. Again, riveted. I subscribed to Byliner that day.

From an article in Forbes: “While e-books are not killing the paper book just yet, there can be no arguing that digital is indeed the future, and one of the early changes that the growth of e-books is bringing is an embrace of shorter-form content. One publisher focused exclusively on this digital short sweet spot is Byliner. According to the company’s CEO, John Tayman, Byliner publishes books designed to be read in two hours or less.”

Today I read a piece called The Man with the Electrified Brain, a short memoir by the writer Simon Winchester. It chronicled his sudden, inexplicable and recurring bout with mental illness and how he was eventually “cured” in the late 1960s by electroconvulsive therapy. Again, riveted. The first paragraphs:

“I was standing on the very edge of the crevasse, an edge sculpted smooth by years of blizzards and sunshine until it had been chamfered to a near-perfect glassiness, its surface like pure white obsidian. The edge arced down from the Greenland ice cap into a blue abyss of incalculable depth, out of which echoed the sounds of meltwater torrents raging far down at the base of the glacier. To slide down into the gash would be instantly and horribly fatal—and yet, in my strangely floating state of mind, detached as I was from the scientific inquiry that had brought me to the Arctic, I just then didn’t seem to care. It seemed so easy simply to slide away into the comfort of the deep. I wasn’t deliberately suicidal. I wasn’t frightened. It was that I didn’t appear to care what happened, so long as what was just then discommoding my mind could be somehow made to go away.

“Some months before this expedition, I had begun to experience what would turn out to be a prolonged and debilitating disarrangement of my brain. As it happened, I survived the Greenland incident. But for the subsequent four years my life was ruled by onsets like this of an unpredictable malady, one that I have never fully understood. For decades afterwards—and still today, given the persistent mysteries of the brain and the attendant complications in mapping it—I have worried that the debilities of those years might return. To some bizarre degree I have blamed this fear, irrational though it may sound, purely and simply on the writings of Somerset Maugham.”

Byliner site offers articles by some of the most exquisite writers. It offers short books by some of the world’s most prolific writers including Margaret Atwood and the late Christopher Hitchens, and Andrew Sullivan, whom I mentioned earlier. I’m just learning the site, and I’m currently on a “free” subscription, meaning I’m signed up and they have my credit card but I can cancel within 30 days and nothing gets charged. I have no intention of canceling. I’m enjoying it way too much. As a writer, the opportunity to read good, clear, pristine writing by others is like the chance to explore the minds, imagination and thought processes of those I most admire, and to meet some others along the way.

I’ve had many bylines myself over the years. It’s a good feeling, no matter how many times it happens, to see your name in print. By Lorin Shields-Michel. There’s pride there, accomplishment. I hope to someday get my byline on the site as well. Until then, I’ll read the bylines of others, revel in their words and celebrate the prose. It’s one of my ideal ways of living out loud, silently.

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Invoice therapy

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 6, 2014 10:34 PM

I’ve had one of those days where I have too much to do and no energy to do any of it, and no creativity to create. This is a problem when one creates for a living. I have this problem at least once a week. I work 12 – 14 hours a day and sometimes I don’t sleep well and after several days of working like a nut and sleeping like a baby – which, let’s be honest, should not be a metaphor for sleeping well because babies are up all the time. I use it here as a metaphor for being up too often, and without feedings – I stumble into my office as I suck down the first of too many cups of coffee. I fire up by Mac and in the few seconds it takes for that to spring to life in all of its symphonic glory, I turn on the PC. I always have both going because I need the PC for the content management work I do on four hospital websites and I never know when or if I’m going to need it so I turn it on just in case. Four days out of five, I need it, some days more than others.

While the PC finds its way from sleep to morning, taking an interminable amount of time to finally get to where it’s useable, I sign into iChat, then begin checking my four email accounts. I answer a few that need answering right away, then I peruse several website. I click through The Animal Rescue site, clicking to give free kibble; the Breast Cancer site, clicking to give free mammograms to underprivileged women; the literacy site, clicking for books for kids. I check the news, sometimes I look at Facebook, sometimes I forget. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I love to see what’s happening with my friends, but sometimes I find it too full of stuff I don’t care about, at least not at that moment.

I have found myself taking these ridiculous quizzes on Facebook lately, though. Last week it was what 70s celebrity would you be and I was Cher, based on my answers. Bobbi took one of the quizzes today, one about your dream profession, and she posted that she would be a writer. She’s a good writer. We’ve written together and talk often about writing together again. But I chuckled a bit. Right now she spends all of her time therapizing, but she should be a writer. I clicked to take the quiz myself.

Then my smile faded as I thought what if I shouldn’t be a writer? What if I should drive a garbage truck or be an electrician, neither of which appeal to me in the least. What if I should be an architect or a lawyer? Again, yuck. What if the quiz told me I should be a therapist? I like being a writer. I can’t imagine being anything else.

I took the quiz. I should be a writer. Phew. Crisis averted.

That would have been the high point of my day but then, after too much time doing nothing, I decided to do some invoicing. I’m already late for the month. It should have been done over the weekend but I’m sure something came up. I just can’t remember what it might have been. When one works for herself, invoicing is paramount to liquidity. If I don’t invoice, I don’t get paid. And if I don’t get paid, I can’t pay the bills. It’s that simple.

So I engaged in a bit of invoice therapy today. I wasn’t doing much of anything else which always makes me feel guilty. Invoicing assuaged some of that. It was a bit like therapy.

I’m not a therapist but I’m writing a book with my sister and perhaps another soon with Bobbi. I engaged in some invoice therapy. Maybe I’m a therapist after all.

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Busy busy busy and there’s not bee in sight

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 8, 2014 9:34 PM

When I was in college, I took a number of literature classes. As an English major, even with a concentration in creative writing, this was required. I didn’t have a problem with it because I love to read, and many of the assigned texts I hadn’t had the occasion to open. For instance, until I was in college I had never read Shakespeare. Now I can scarcely get enough of the Bard. At some point, I also read The Canterbury Tales, or at least some of the tales since no one knows for sure if they were ever actually finished, and because they were composed as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they journeyed to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. There are over 20 stories, all written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century during the Hundred Years’ War waged by England for control of the French throne. The war was between 1337 and 1453, not quite a hundred years but that’s picking nits. It was still a long damn time.

I’ll be perfectly honest. While I absorbed Shakespeare, I didn’t take to Chaucer. I didn’t mind it; I just didn’t love it. Maybe it’s because as an English major, I was expected to love Shakespeare because of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and my personal favorite Much Ado About Nothing. I have grown to love Shakespeare even more thanks to Kenneth Branagh. Chaucer hasn’t been as lucky in having a film auteur turn his tales into cinematic treasures.

One of the anxiety dreams I have when I’m extremely stressed takes place at Ham-Smith, formally known as Hamilton-Smith Hall, at the University of New Hampshire where I received my degree. Ham-Smith is the English building. It even looks like a place book worms would hang out. Next to the library, it just looked scholarly even for a school that was founded in 1866. Gray stone exterior with small, arched windows, marbled columns in front. Wide cement steps leading up to two main doors. I spent hours and hours and hours in that building.

In my anxiety dream, I show up for class but I haven’t been there all semester. I have trouble finding the room, and then when I do, I realize that I haven’t done any of the reading, I don’t know any of the material, and there is a test and I don’t have a pencil and then I wake up.

Luckily I don’t have this dream very often and it’s not because I’m not stressed. I am, just like every other functioning adult in the country. It’s because I’m generally not anxious. My stress comes from the usual suspects. Too much to do and not enough time to get it done; generally things I can control. Anxiety comes from things I can’t control. Like when I get paid, or the building of a house.

I’ve been swamped lately. For about the last two or three months I have had a ton going on, almost too much if there is truly such a thing. As someone who’s self-employed it’s nearly impossible to turn down work since I never know when it will come my way again. I have many regular clients that I’ve worked with for years and some new ones as well. There is always time. I find it; I manufacture it if I need to.

I was thinking today as I was ping-ponging between clients and jobs that I’m flat out. Busy as a bee. Which got me to thinking because this is the warped way my brain sashays from one thought to another: Where did such a statement originate?

Which led me to The Canterbury Tales.

It seems that the first person to use the phrase “busy as a bee” (which means very busy and dedicated) or at least close enough to count, was none other than Mr. Chaucer in the Squire’s Tale:

Ey! Goddes mercy!” sayd our Hoste tho,
Now such a wyf I pray God keep me fro.
Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees
In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees

Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,
And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.

And by this Marchaundes tale it proveth wel.

You can also see why I never really took to Chaucer. It bee-eth a tad too hardeth to, you knoweth, read. Eth. 

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Things sound so much better in French

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:08 PM

One of the great romance languages is French. No matter who is speaking it, it just seems to sound sexy, even as you catch certain syllables and consonants in your nose and utter something guttural in response. I don’t speak French as I’ve said before. I can only pronounce certain things by rote. But put something in front of me that I’ve never seen before and I have no idea what letters get pronounced and which ones get swallowed, or where the accents are. I know in Spanish and I know in Italian, another of the great romance languages. I love Italian even though I don’t speak that either.

Yesterday Justin, who is cruising the Caribbean on the Norwegian Sun, as their lighting technician, was in St. Thomas. Or maybe it was St. Lucia. It was one of those small islands in the Lesser Antilles. He posted on Facebook that he was having a banana shake and a croque-monsieur. I smiled. Leave it to the French to make a grilled ham and cheese sound so beautiful. Granted, they often use Gruyère cheese (a personal favorite in a sea of fromage). I’ve made grilled ham and cheese with Gruyere, too, and I live in the land of the Spanish-speaking southwest. Manchego doesn’t melt as well.

Evidently and by the way, if you throw a fried egg on top it’s known as a croque-madame. In this country we call that an Egg McMuffin which is called a Croque McDo in France.

We serve hors d’oeuvres instead of snacks; we’re entrepreneurs instead of self-employed. We order things à la carte rather than just on the side, or à la mode rather than simply with ice cream. We ask about the soup du jour. Some ask about the soup du jour of the day as well, but that just shows pure ignorance. We say bon appétit rather than saying eat good.

Art innovators are avant garde, high fashion is haute couture, we take carte blanche, we eat fine cuisine. Kevin and I live on a cul-de-sac instead of a short road with a nice round-about at the end. I experience déjà vu on a regular basis. My mother has always loved pot-pourri rather than a bunch of dried flowers and spices mixed together. I got an invitation the other day, and we will RSVP, or réspondez, s’il vous plaît

The words appear sexier even when writing them. Maybe it’s the little accent marks. Maybe it’s knowing that I actually know how to pronounce these words because they have been co-opted by the English and the Americans. I mean, who would have thought that saying yes could sound even better when you say oui? Somehow in French it has that certain je ne sais quoi that’s indescribable.

Also redundant, that.

The only word of ours I can think of that the French use is no. No seems to be no in just about any language.

Au contraire, you say? Well, quite to the contrary my friend. But c’est la vie. Such is life.

On this Saturday, after eating a jamon et fromage quesadillas, which I’ve named croque Lorin (because I grilled it and because I used French Canadian bacon) I say celebrate something. Or as the French say, joie de vivre.

Vive la diffèrence.

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live out loud

Losing the idea

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:17 AM

It occurs to me that I haven’t had a good idea in a long time. This is quite disturbing to me. I used to have ideas all the time and while not all of them were good, many of them had potential to develop into something decent. They would simply appear to me, these ideas. I would be sitting on the back of the motorcycle as we zoomed through the back canyons in the sunshine and I would have an idea for a short story. Another time, I had an idea for a novel. I’ve written neither but the ideas are good, they’re sound, and I have extensive notes.

I would wake up sometimes and have to reach for a pen and paper because I had an idea. Sometimes before I went to bed I would do the same, have an idea and scribble it down before sleep. Lately it seems that I lie in bed and do things like stare at the ceiling fan as it spins lazily. No ideas are presenting themselves and if I try too hard to have an idea, I feel as if I might rupture something. Maybe the fan is taking my ideas and lazily spinning them out into the ether where someone else will have them.

It scares me, this lack of good ideas. Not scares me in an I-better-get-a-gun-in-order-to-protect-myself kind of way; more in the holy-crap-what-happens-if-I-never-get-another-idea-then-what kind of way.

I voiced this concern to Bobbi today. I felt stupid as I typed the words. I feel stupid now. I’m in an idea rut, I’ve lost the idea, I said. What do I do? Naturally, she didn’t have an answer, nor did I expect her to. I think I just needed to vocalize my idea deficit in order to make it real because if it’s real then maybe I have a chance of turning the deficit into a surplus.

Years ago when I watched The West Wing, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, played by Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff respectively and scripted by Aaron Sorkin, discussed how they felt they had lost their talent. It was during the first season of the show, in an episode entitled Enemies. In it, Leo gives his daughter Mallory tickets to the Chinese opera and Mallory promptly asks Sam to accompany her which leads Leo to give Sam the assignment of writing a birthday message for someone. There is this exchange between Toby and Sam:

Toby: All right… It couldn’t have gone far, right?
Sam: No.Toby: Somewhere in this building… is our talent.
Sam: Yes. 

They’re obsessed with writing this message and it’s not coming out as lyrically as they’d like. I get it. There are many times when I write something and I know it’s fine. It’s just not great; it doesn’t sing. I think what Sam and Toby had really lost was the idea. The talent was there. If you have it, it’s always there. But without a means to express it, without the idea, it too seems lost.

My stream of ideas has become more of a trickle. Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing such a horrendous drought out here in the west. Maybe if we get some more rain my ideas will begin to bloom again.

I know this is all just temporary and that it happens to all writers, artists, musicians. A dry spell; that’s all it is. Bobbi thought maybe it was because I saw Alice Hoffman this weekend. Maybe. It makes sense when you see someone you so admire, someone who does what you do and so much better, that you suddenly feel inadequate. The problem is that I started feeling this way long before this past weekend.  

How is this good? Why am I writing about it on a blog that shouts “celebrate something?” I suppose it’s because it gives me an opportunity to think differently, to try harder, to strive for better. And that’s always something to celebrate because all three – thinking differently, trying harder, striving to be better – have to lead to something new, toward somewhere I haven’t been before, preferably to the ideas I have somehow lost in the last few months. We’ll see, but I’m open to having those ideas back, if the ideas are open to coming back. If they are, I’ll be living it out loud again soon. 

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live out loud

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