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.


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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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.


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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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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