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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Being Maguire

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 26, 2011 3:45 PM

I'm celebrating my 14-year-old puppy, the love of my puppy life, the best puppy on the planet. 

Everyday he brings joy, when he's playing, prancing, begging for cookies, especially when he's in his favorite position, sprawled on the floor, relaxing, napping, just being ... Maguire.

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The importance of being gray

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 24, 2011 9:28 PM

I have very dark hair. I have since I was a little girl, though I didn’t actually have hair until I was just over the age of one. I had a simple little curl tuft on top of my head. I looked like a bird. But once it came in, it came in dark and wavy. I got bored in my 30s and tried to go on the red side. It didn’t work for me. Then I went blonde, not bleached blonde, but very light, light brown with bleached highlights that made me look blonde. I liked it very much, especially in the summertime, but the upkeep was difficult because my roots were so dark. If I let it go too long between colorings, I ran the risk of looking like a reverse skunk.

I had gone from Tweety to Pepé Le Pew.

I eventually got bored with being blonde and went back to my natural color, and decided it was a much better shade on me. There’s a reason we have the hair color we do.

Lately, I’ve noticed some gray popping up here and there, mostly visible along my natural part line when my hair is wet, not so much when it’s dry because of that wavy/curly thing. But my right temple is where I notice it the most. It’s very odd and I have a theory that involves the whole right brain/left brain phenomenon. Because I tend to be more creative than not, I’m considered to function primarily from my right brain. And since that side gets so much more work, and stress, the hair is grayer.

Gray hair happens to just about everyone, which is why most women are so thankful for hair color. My college roommate had very dark hair, darker than mine, bordering on black. She had a lot of gray even when we were in school. About once a month, we’d get ourselves a bottle of wine and some nice bright light, and as we drank, I’d find the grays and pull them out. It wasn’t very efficient, but it did temporarily get rid of those nasty little white hairs that were twisting through her beautiful dark tresses.

She’s since given up entirely and is completely gray. I say, more power to her. But give me my hair color any day.

Gray hair is a natural occurrence, especially since all hair starts out as white. It gets its natural color from melanin, the production of which begins at birth. There is either dark or light, and they blend together to form a wide range of natural shades. As hair grows, melanin-based pigment cells called melanocytes inject color into each individual hair. As we age, melanin production is reduced, and hair turns gray and eventually back to white.

Having a teenager may also be to blame, but that’s just a theory as well.

For some reason, gray hair symbolizes old, but what is old? Is it really a function of hair color? Is it the lines around the eyes? The aches and pains that didn’t used to be there? A particular state of mind? Probably all.

Last year, when Sandra Bullock won the academy award for The Blind Side, the running meme was how incredible it was that she had won at 45. Because evidently 45 is very old. This year, when Colin Firth won for best actor for The King’s Speech, at 50, no one said anything about his age.

Interestingly both of them have lovely dark hair, with hardly a hint of gray.

Personally, my gray hair doesn’t bother me. I’m a bit intrigued by the graying temple. I still cover it all once every 5 or 6 weeks. Not sure why, other than the fact that I can. And I suppose because I don’t want to look older than I am, or certainly older than I feel.

I celebrate my gray hair. I’ve earned it; it’s important to have it. It symbolizes a basic human truth and wonder. But I’m a brunette, since I was one, and I also plan to celebrate that for quite some time to come.

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Star polishers

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 23, 2011 11:06 PM

Every night, the stars come out and shine. Their aura permeates both their immediate vicinity and all that surrounds, drenching the atmosphere in twinkling light. A star is formed when interstellar gas and nebulae, or dust, collides. The density that ensues, along with the gravitational attraction between the gas and the dust, creates a sphere. These round little globes live for millions of years and can grow so large that their internal density heats the gas to a temperature that spreads light. And a star is born.

These celestial stars need very little polishing but there are other, more earthbound stars that require more attention. Today, for instance, the star that lies at 6336 Hollywood Boulevard, between Vine Street and Cahuenga Boulevard, is shining brightly thanks to star polishers. Star polishers are volunteers who meet every month to remove dirt from the brass and terrazzo of the stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Michael Kellerman, the marketing director for Hollywood Fantasy Tours, founded Star Polishers in 1981, and to this day, these volunteers care for the thousands of earthbound stars of actors, writers, singers, directors, producers, radio talent and even astronauts, the first real star polishers. The men of Apollo 11, the men who walked on the moon – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – have stars, or rather “moons” at Hollywood and Vine, too.

The star polishers use paper towels, toothbrushes, ammonia and Brasso to make the Walk of Fame stars shine. Comet never touches these stars; nor does a celestial comet.

Star Polishers is also a whole-sale clothing manufacturer on 5th Avenue in New York.

Perhaps the best star polishers are the ones who take bent, tarnished, dirty, crinkly, broken stars; or cuddly, soft, sweet stars; even twinklers who are prickly and thorny, and buff, polish, train and teach each to be a true shining star. These polishers have the awesome responsibility of using their buffing cloth to polish the human nebulae of tomorrow so that they sparkle.

The dedicated star polisher John Peterson has just one leg, and has spent every day for the last 15 or so years polishing stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There are about 2,500 of them along nearly three miles of sidewalk. Today, he could most likely be found polishing a star that had transcended earth in search of more celestial orbits, the star at 6336 Hollywood Boulevard, between Vine and Cahuenga.

Tonight her star is shining bright, as are those of star polishers everywhere. 

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16 years

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:57 PM

It’s March 22. Sixteen years ago tonight, which was a Wednesday, my future husband and I met for a drink at Yankee Doodle at 6 pm. Just a drink. Dinner was too much of a commitment.

I think I got home around 12:30. We left Yankee Doodle - a pool hall and kind of sleazy - immediately, and went to a place called Monty’s on Topanga and Ventura in Woodland Hills. They have a great piano bar and they serve hors ‘d oeuvres. The piano player that night was cheesy and wonderful. He played “Macarthur Park” and we sang along. Yes, we’re just that weird. We hardly knew each other but we knew the words to that ridiculous song.

Three years later we got married. I celebrate that daily.

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Snow covered hills

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:54 PM

I live in Southern California. Snow doesn’t fall here, though the surrounding foothills occasionally get a dusting. The San Bernardino Mountains get several feet. All are visible from various points on various freeways.

I had to drive into town today for a meeting, and as I crested the Calabasas grade to begin the descent into the San Fernando Valley, the hills toward the east, rimming the city, and as far as the San Gabriel Valley were more than dusted. They were white. It was glorious.

I know it’s Spring, The lower hills are green, the trees are beginning to bloom, the flowers are peaking out from their cocoons. But snow fell this past weekend. It’s magical. Celebratory. Stunning.

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It's a wash

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 21, 2011 8:02 PM

Doing laundry. It’s one of those things no one likes to do, even with the convenience of a washer and dryer right in the laundry room. But how incredible that it’s that easy. Centuries ago, when people would be at sea, they would clean their dirty clothes by placing them in a strong cloth bag, tossing it overboard, and letting the ship drag it through the water for hours. Forcing water through clothes actually removed dirt. Fast-forward to 1782 and a Brit by the name of H. Sidgier who designed a cage with wooden rods and a turning handle to move water around and stir up the dirty clothes. Then in 1797, the first washing machine made an appearance as a scrub board. Somehow the sea method seemed at least more exotic.

In 1851, an American named James King patented the first washing machine to use a drum and the modern washer was born. I celebrate its invention regularly. Hamilton Smith introduced a reversing action in 1858. Not that it matters, but Hamilton Smith is the name of the English building at the University of New Hampshire.

In 1874 William Blackstone of Indiana built a birthday present for his wife that removed and washed away dirt from clothing. I suspect this is when it all began, the idea of not giving your wife appliances for special occasions.

Tiny electric motors helped power washing machines in the early 1900s, but when water sloshed over the side, sparks ensued. It wasn’t quite safe. Maytag, Whirlpool and the Schuthess Group produced washers in the early 1900s.

The first fully-automated machine was introduced in Louisiana in 1937 by the Bendix Corporation. Then came General Electric in 1947 with its introduction of five different push buttons to adjust water temperature, spin speed and agitation speed, and the history of washing clothes in a machine became complete. Fully automated, spin cycles, wringers, twin-tubs and more. All to make our lives easier and our laundry cleaner.

Today some 60 million washing machines are sold every year around the world. There are front-loaders and top-loading. They all clean clothes. I thought about that today as I threw a load of clothes into the washer and went about my work. A little while later, I came down from my loft office to throw the clothes into the dryer, a device first invented in Europe as a heat ventilator. Electric dryers appeared around 1915 and have progressed since then. Thank god. Especially since our house now sports a natural gas dryer.

I’m not a big fan of doing laundry, but I can’t imagine doing it on a scrub machine, or dragging it behind a boat. I don’t even have a boat. I love dumping clothes into my top-loading machine, starting the water, pouring in some detergent, closing the lid and letting it do its thing. I don’t care how; I just care that it does. I take the clothes out, put them into the dryer with a nice dryer sheet and within two hours I have clean clothes that smell good and are nice and warm to the touch.

That’s what I call a wash.

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What words can do

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 20, 2011 9:44 PM

I like to think that words can enlighten and confound, create and obscure, twist together to form stories, papers, letters, articles, emails, texts, poetry, sonnets, plays, song. We speak words; we scream them. We sing them. We embrace them, become them, memorize and recite them. They define our personalities, the way we speak, the way we communicate, the way we emote and feel. Words define each culture, cleverly disguised as language. Each and every one, no matter how small or how elaborate, tells a tale of romance, redemption, infidelity, joy, drama, tragedy, comedy, reality and truth. Beauty.

Most of us never even think of the words we use, but I think of them everyday, imagine how to use them and somehow find a way to put a string of them together to make a sentence or two, a paragraph or three.

In my world, words become art.

On this rainy Sunday, I give you this: Portrait of a woman of words.

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A magus moon

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 19, 2011 9:13 PM

The Magus is a novel by the British writer John Fowles. It’s about an Oxford graduate and aspiring poet who gets pulled into the web of a mysterious recluse who may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Psychological games ensue. It’s not necessarily cheery but it is fascinating, and beautifully written. A friend of mine gave it to me on my 30th birthday and I have never been able to get it out of my head.

The magus of the book’s title refers to a magician and a sorcerer, a manipulator of reality. But a magus is also an astrologer, someone who views the heavens and decides our collective fate. It’s interesting then that tonight we welcome what the magus have dubbed the super moon, so named by Richard Nolle, a magus with a flair for the dramatic. This super moon, which also happens to be a full moon, will orbit the earth much closer than usual, a mere 221,560 some-odd miles away. A lunar perigee like this, when the moon is at its closest as well as at its brightest, will also display itself bigger and brighter than normal. 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter to be exact, and yet that big brightness will be almost indecipherable to the frail human eye.

This phenomenon happens once every 18 to 20 years, though tonight’s moon hasn’t appeared quite this large since March of 1993.

It’s quite a sight when the moon rises from the horizon on a clear night. That big glowing orb in the sky never ceases to amaze and confound. There have been countless books written about it and a movie that captured its magic perfectly, Moonstruck.

On this night, our moon will be absolutely enormous as it rises in the East and sets in the West.

La bella luna. The beautiful moon. Bigger, brighter, more magical than ever.

So look up into the sky and celebrate the light it casts down upon we mortals. And celebrate the magic of being moonstruck.

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Cause to celebrate

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 18, 2011 6:53 PM

It's the end of the week, always cause for celebration. Tomorrow morning I get to sleep in a bit more than I do during the week. Another cause for joy. It's going to rain, and there's almost nothing I like more than to lay in bed on a morning when I don't have to get up, listening to the rain pounding the roof, the ground, racing through the gutters. I love the noise it makes as it pushes through the trees, gulpy and insistent, petulent in its rightness to be wet, to storm.

I'm celebrating friends and the ease we have with one another. Conversation never lags, and laughter bounces through the house and lodges up in the corners of the rafters, waiting to be called upon at another time. Like an echo, it's there to keep us company even after the friends have departed.

I'm celebrating my husband because he puts up with me and my moods.

I'm celebrating a good week of work and the possibility of another looming. Even the meetings are welcomed because there is interaction, and camaraderie, the sharing of ideas and thoughts. I relish that.

I'm celebrating my son who this week received an offer for a summer stock internship in New York, with New York Stage and Film. I'm not celebrating how much it's going to cost us but I'm thrilled for him and the experience he'll get. Experience he can use as he completes his next two years of college; experience that will propel him ever forward.

I'm celebrating my niece who is completing a play this week. She's 11, and so far away, but she's always in my heart and I'm so proud of her.

I'm celebrating my nephew because he's just so damn cute and because he's so determined in everything. It's easy to celebrate that as the doting aunt.

I'm celebrating the music pouring from the speakers in our great room, filling the house with piano and guitar, horns and drums.

I'm celebrating because I can, and that's cause enough. Life is cause enough.

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