Friendly celebrations, part 1

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:09 PM

There is a wonderful scene in the wonderfully bad movie Tequila Sunrise that comes near the end. Raul Julia’s “Carlos” and Mel Gibson’s “Mac” are discussing money, drugs and women. Carlos looks at his buddy and says:  “Friendship is the only choice in life you can make that's yours! You can't choose your family! Goddamn it, I've had to face that! … Friendship is all we have. We chose each other. How could you fuck it up? How could you make us look so bad?”

Crude, but accurate. Robert Towne, the writer and director of that horrible movie, knew what he was talking about when it comes to friends and friendship.

Who were the first friends? No one really knows, but we all remember our first best friends. Mine was Kathy Kalenbaugh in kindergarten. We met on the first day when we were both wearing the same hot pink pant’s suit. Every one of us knows the power that flows through friendship. There is sheer joy in being in one another’s presence. Every time you’re with a certain person, with that friend, you feel better having been there. It doesn’t have to be laughter and happiness. Sometimes there is joy, but just as often there is sadness, but there is a strength of feeling and love, of sharing, that comes through every time. That’s what makes it real and special.

Facebook has become the de facto “friend” network, but before that we had Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Starsky and Hutch, Riggs and Murtaugh. Do men have deeper friendships than women? Only in film and on TV. In real life, many men, my husband included, seem to go for years sometimes without connecting with their closest friends. Roy is the exception for Kevin, and vice versa.

Are there great female friendships in history? Thelma and Louise come to mind. Still, women are different. There’s something about women and friendship that is more emotional, almost more sensual. We’re not afraid to show our feelings, and we’re not burdened with having to play tough. If we love someone, we tell them, without fear.

Most of us would die for our best friends, just as we would die for a child, or a husband. We would die for anyone we love, and we love our friends. The term best friends forever, ridiculously trivialized in texting vernacular as BFF, is often true.

The French writer Anais Nin wrote: "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."

Over the years, I’ve had many close friends, women I couldn’t imagine my life –my world – without, and yet many have disappeared. I think as we mature, we become more sure of ourselves and thus more sure of the people we want around us. The fun-loving college roommate who could drink with us, isn’t as important as the friends we can now laugh with, bitch with, share with and travel with. Traveling with a friend and still enjoying your time together is one of the truest tests of friendship. I’ve traveled with several and it can define the relationship in both a good and bad way.

I celebrate my friends, my closest friends, my “sisters,” those in my past and especially those in my present for these are the women who will be with me in the future. We’ll grow old together, drink wine and whine together, celebrate birthdays and holidays…

In future posts, I want to chronicle the women who are most important to me. You know who you are: Bobbi, Diane, my sister Khris, rediscovered Pam. I don’t have many but those I have I cherish. I would do anything for any of them. And I know they’d do the same for me.

As Hafiz of Persia wrote: Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.

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The first Monday in April

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 4, 2011 10:32 PM

So it’s Monday. Some people say it’s the first day of the week, others say that Sunday holds that honor. In some ways, it’s both. The Romans named the days of the week after the seven planets of classical astronomy and numbered them beginning with Sunday. Slavic languages used a different numbering system and began with Monday. Many cultures now actually use both, with Sunday the honored day of rest and Monday representing the first day of the workweek.

I actually like Monday because it means the week is full of opportunity and possibility. Imagine what can be accomplished with a brand new, shiny week. Five days that are blank slates, waiting to be filled, wanting to be created as individual works of art. Days that can become historic, exciting, the best days of our lives. Like today, for instance. It was a nice slow start. Emails but no phone calls. Lots of work but no intrusions. And the ideas were rushing forward and forcing themselves through my fingers onto word documents.

It wasn’t as painful as it sounds.

I started notes on some ideas I’ve had for a trio of books. I always have too many projects going at once but I know that if I keep moving forward, through every Monday, that things will happen. I know that dreams are born on first Mondays; they become realities on subsequent Mondays.

And so it’s the first Monday in April and I’m cruising toward, well, the second Monday, and then the third. And then it will be May and a trip to Tucson to visit our kid and our property. Then the Mondays will roll into summer and fall, then into winter. Hopefully all my ideas and dreams will roll with them toward prosperity and hope.

Mondays are a way of keeping track of our lives, not just our calendars. They come and most aren’t happy about it, if only because it usually means work. But work is good. Work allows us to make money, to live our lives, to plan our futures. Mondays are a new beginning every week, a chance to do something we haven't done before, to focus on something different, to celebrate the idea of what could happen if only we believe.

I believe that today is something to celebrate, that it represents opportunity and possibility. That it’s only the beginning of what could be, that I can make of it what I will. And that’s celebratory.

What will you make of this Monday? What will you make of next? 

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Shower art

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 2, 2011 10:42 PM

We have glass shower doors, and when we take a hot shower, they steam up nicely. Which means while we’re standing under the water, letting it beat on our shoulders and back, rinsing shampoo from our hair, we also have the opportunity to do a little drawing, make a little art. Using our fingers to slice through the steam on the doors, we're creating our own medium.

We design new pieces of furniture, Kevin gets ideas for web design, I work out ideas for stories, books and more. The entire wall of glass is sometimes taken up with calculations, crudely drawn pictures and charts. Sometimes we sign our names. Sometimes I revert to the childhood game of Lorin + Kevin with a nice, non-symetrical heart drawn around our names. Eventually and rather quickly, the steam fogs the art, all of it, and it fades away until tomorrow’s session. 

I'd post a picture, but today's art is gone now, like every day's session, squeegeed away.

I celebrate shower art, and wish there was some way to preserve it. We could be famous.

Though I can't imagine how we'd get it to hang in a gallery. 

Just a little something to ponder on a Saturday night.

 

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Pop's 'sicle

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 1, 2011 7:32 PM

San Francisco can get cold at night. In the winter temperatures can hover in the high 30s/low 40s. Not quite freezing, but chilly. But on a particularly frigid night in January 1905, the temperature plummeted to freezing. A boy by the name of Frank Epperson had been out with his buddies and as night fell, he rushed home, dropped his bicycle in front of his house and went inside. His mother didn’t like him drinking sugar water, so he left a cup containing powdered soda and water that he mixed using a wooden stir stick on the front porch, figuring he would get it in the morning.

That night, the wind howled, the air froze, and the fog swirled higher than normal. The next morning, 11-year-old Frank stepped outside to grab his soda. It had frozen around the stick. Frank had invented the Epsicle.

By 1923, Frank was married with his own children. He frequently froze Epsicle’s for them, but they preferred to call them “Pop’s ‘sicles.” He changed the name, applied for a patent and introduced the frozen drink on a stick at Neptune Beach, an amusement park in Alameda, California. Popsicles, available in seven flavors and discovered on a cold, cold night many years earlier, quickly became a summer-time staple.

In 1929, broke and desperate, Frank sold the rights to the brand name Popsicle® to the Joe Lowe Company in New York. Popsicle Pete, a mascot, made his debut on the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century radio show in 1939, and during World War II, the Eighth Air Force Unit chose Popsicle as a symbol of American life.

I remember eating popsicles as a kid, breaking the twin halves in order to share with my brother or sister, slurping them quickly as the ice began to melt, running down onto our hands. We always saved the sticks to build houses, Christmas trees, ornaments and serving trays that I’m not sure ever got used. No matter; it was fun to create, and gave us a great excuse to eat more.

My husband always has at least one box and usually three of natural-flavored pops in the freezer. He likes to think of them as fruit, and since cherry is the number one flavor, he could be onto something.

We don't save the sticks anymore, though. Maybe we should. You never know what we could build!

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Date night

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:56 PM

Back before we had a kid in college, we used to have date night on Friday. We’d go out to dinner, often to an Italian restaurant, have appetizers, sometimes order the special, definitely a bottle of wine, even a nice crème brulee for dessert. It was expensive but a great way to end the week.

Then came out-of-state tuition.

Now date night is Thursday night at a local wine tasting place called The Wineyard. It used to be a Taco Bell but the owners gutted it and transformed it into a mini wine shop and tasting bar. Every Thursday and Saturday, they taste four wines from a chosen winery (usually from California and often a very local winery). They have cheese and crackers, sometimes bread and different kind of dipping oils. Tonight’s was a garlic oil with a slightly sweet flavor as well. Some kind of sugar maybe? Still, garlic. Good thing we were both there!

It's also just $10 each.

We look forward to our Thursdays every week. On Mondays we ask “is it Thursday yet?” not just for the wine but for the opportunity to get out of the house for something fun and not work, be in a social environment, enjoy something different. Mostly just getting out of the house.

Sometimes we even buy additional wines but not always. Sometimes we discover a phenomenal winery but rarely. Always we enjoy the two owners, women who turned their passion for wine into a viable business. That’s worth celebrating.

As is date night. And Thursday nights at The Wineyard. And take-out salads on the way home. We’re at the end of the week and life is good. 

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Celebrate something glorious

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 30, 2011 9:01 PM

My mother has never truly been able to understand my love of the west and the desert Southwest in particular. She loves her four seasons and pine trees, her crisp air and challenging weather. She doesn’t like the heat, the dryness or the palm trees. I’ve been out west since a week after I graduated from college and I’ve never regretted it.

We have four seasons here, too, jokingly referred to as summer, fire, rainy and pre-summer. And yes, sometimes the near constant sunshine can get a little dull. I get positively giddy when there’s so much as a cloud in the endless blue sky. When it rains, I can hardly contain my glee.

But the other thing I just love about the west is the stunning, fiery display of prismatic light and color at sunset. Such a display happened tonight and I was in awe. Kevin and I actually stood in the driveway when we returned from our nightly stroll with Maguire and allowed ourselves to be bathed in the exquisite beauty of the sky. There were some high clouds all day and those clouds tonight were soft pink, then the hottest fuscia with just a hint of gray that became purple. Suddenly, the sky was ablaze in a pinkish orange that looked as if it could burn if you touched it. It was almost close enough.

Palm trees stood in silhouette, and patches of blue peeked through, first light, the palest cornflower, then darkening toward midnight as the sun dipped into the ocean. The sky to the immediate west was a translucent turquoise, like water in the tropics, right up until it wasn’t.

Sunsets like these don’t happen every day, but when they do, they are more than something to celebrate. They become a phenomenon to absorb. It reminds me of why I moved west, where the sky is always both a little closer and yet farther away, where the seasons are sometimes defined by something as simple as the depth and strength of a glorious evening sky.

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A tale as old as time

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 29, 2011 7:52 PM

I'm a big fan of animation. It has become so amazing over the years, nearly rivaling live-action. 

Twenty years ago, an animated film became the first ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. It didn't win, and didn't really deserve to (The Silence of the Lambs won; it deserved it big time), but still... the movie was astonishing, appealing to children and adults. The story was an old one, as old as time, but the telling of this tale was fresh and moving. From the beginning's nearly real stained glass sequence to the end and its revelation, it holds your interest and makes you care, proving that animation wasn't just for cartoons anymore.

The detail, the movement, the seeming camera angles in this one scene are simply stunning.

I'm tired tonight, and not feeling terribly writerly, so I'm celebrating the dance of Beauty and the Beast because it always makes me shiver and smile.

[youtube:9qtTPTxvoPA]

The movie took over four years to produce with more than 600 full-time animators, artists and technicians who hand-painted over 226,000 individual cells, and created more than one million drawings and 1,300 backgrounds. The dance in the ballroom was the first to use a computer-generated background that was both animated and fully dimensional. The background was moving and the animators animated to it, giving it those sweeping camera moves, perspectives and theatrical lighting. It still takes my breath away. 

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Book'em

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 28, 2011 9:57 PM

At any given time, I have three to four books at varying stages of being read. Occasionally I open a book and cannot put it down, though that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I think the last one that caught me up like that was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Chilling. Currently, I’m reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, When you are engulfed in flames by David Sedaris, and I’ve just started The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. She’s one of my favorite writers though she hasn’t written any of the books that are currently in my top five books of all time.

I also don’t read as often as I’d like. Like many writers, I have this weird phobia that dictates that if I’m reading I’m not writing; if I have time to read, then I must have time to write. Never mind that it’s much easier to read what someone else has written rather than pen something myself.

Still.

There’s something about the feel and smell of books that I just love. I have book shelves in the house and stacks of unshelved books in every room. I’m a book addict. Hello, my name is Lorin and I just can’t stop buying books. In fact, I may have more books that I haven’t read than books I have. I love children’s books, coffee table books, non-fiction and fiction tomes. I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a Kindle or a Nook, and someday I might, but as convenient as they are, they’re not books.

I realize that the words and the works are still there, inside. But something about reading a book on an electronic device means losing the magic of turning the page, of putting a bookmark in the gutter to mark my place. Reading a book for me is a sacred time. It means I’m not working, I’m away from my computer. I want to feel the weight of the novel, I want to feel the pages rustle heavily between my fingers as I turn each one. I want to disappear inside the hard covers and discover a new town, meet new people, be engulfed in their lives, caught up in the intrigue, dabble in a forbidden romance and even murder someone if I’m so inclined.

There has been speculation for a while now, ever since the Internet took over our lives and since Kindles rushed the scene, that books would disappear but each year has actually seen growth in the number of titles published. According to Bowker’s book industry statistics, in 2002, there were a total of 247,777 new titles world-wide; in 2008, there were 560,626. According to Business Wire, about 150,000 new books are published in the United States each year, and the major book publishers make some $27 million.

All of which means that books are here to stay. They’re profitable, they’re fun, and people obviously still buy them, still love them. Been to a Barnes & Noble lately?

Here's hoping they never come up with a 12-step program for book addition. 

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March gladness

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 27, 2011 7:55 PM

It’s Sunday night, the last Sunday in March. The year is flying by and while I’m never sure if that’s a good thing, I do know that it means we’re all still here and enjoying the view.

Rain has given way to cold clouds and warming sunshine. The air sears the skin, lifts my hair and makes my nose run. As the dogwoods blossom and the African daisies flirt with a new season, it seems official. Spring has sprung. Leaf-less trees are budding, the thorns on my rose bushes are more prickly than usual as they get ready to blast forth with flowers of blood red, lemon yellow, lavender sterling and hot pink. The backyard is waiting patiently, as am I.

Across the street, the neighbor’s new puppy is blossoming, too, bigger every day and looking like a polar bear with a dark brown face. March madness is in full court – I can hear the boys next door shouting and cheering and swearing – but I’m not a basketball fan.

Instead, I’m waiting for the birds to sing, for the warm days to ease into cool desert nights, for the stars to dance in an endless and darkening sky. I’ll hear the squirrels chatter in the trees and listen for the newborn chirping of baby birds tucked safe in the nest above the porch pillar just below the roofline, safe from predators. Little tufts of feathers that grow quickly to become majestic.

Soon the air will be full. Sprinklers will start to run again, sending sprays of water into the atmosphere to create miniature rainbows. And before I can say March gladness, summer will push spring aside. I can already hear shorts and flip-flops calling my name. I’ll answer as soon as it’s warm enough to do so. Until then, I’ll simply enjoy the sound.

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Of pen and paper

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 26, 2011 7:59 PM

The art of putting pen to paper now seems quaint. Since the advent of typewriters and then computers with integrated keyboards, most people rarely pick up a pen to actually handwrite a note, a letter, a poem, a story. I fall into that category myself, since I can type much faster than I can scribble. But there is something organic and lovely about physically handwriting something. It’s a process unique to civilized humanity and it puts us deeply in touch with what we’re saying.

Putting pen to paper requires focused and sustaining thought. There is no delete key, so it becomes a much more deliberate process. And that alone makes it worthwhile. To be deliberate is to engage almost all of the senses in order to create something that can live forever. You can see the words as they appear, and hear the silky, scratching sound the pen makes on the paper, paper that feels good under your fingers. Ink has a gentle, oily fragrance that floats in through the nose and settles on the tongue. You can taste the smell of good ink. Imagine the men who penned the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and how the scent and taste of ink must have wafted through Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

It was the Phoenicians who first developed a system of letters for writing, albeit one without vowels. The Greeks added vowels to this alphabet in the 8th century BC, influencing the Hebrew and Aramaic scripts that followed. The Romans adopted a modified version by the Etruscans and virtually invented cursive writing, an informal style of writing that began as a derivative of capital letters that was much less precise than ever before. Charlemagne, the commanding Roman Emperor, also conquered handwriting, commissioning a new style called Carolingian minuscule. Gothic script evolved from there as did copperplate engraving, a process that better produced the flourishes in handwritten script. It was known as Spencerian, Getty-Dubay, Icelandic, Zaner-Bloser, and D’Nealian. Penmanship.

Some of the greatest dictates and professions humanity has ever known came from putting pen to paper. The first Bibles were handwritten, often in the original Greek. Proclamations of war and declarations of love were all handwritten; many still survive today. The letters of Napoleon Bonaparte to his beloved Josephine can still be read. The musings of Benjamin Franklin are still on display. Jane Austen hand wrote all of her novels; Emily Dickinson all of her poems. Museums house both and more. Since 2004, football great Peyton Manning has been handwriting letters to retired players he admires.

I find it almost impossible to come up with an idea without a pen or pencil in my hand. It helps me think, it spurs creative thought. I know there are people who think and create just fine with a keyboard, as do I on many the occasion, but there’s something comforting about holding a writing instrument, about the power it possesses to change the world with nothing but a simple movement of the hand.

I’m writing this blog post on a keyboard and I wouldn’t trade my Mac for anything, except maybe another Mac. But here on the desk beside me is an assortment of pens and pencils. In the drawer ahead are even more. Loose papers and notebooks are stacked on the floor. In every room of the house, there are pens and paper just waiting to be used.

Because you never know when inspiration might strike, and I believe in always being ready.

Pen on paper by Selinah

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