The end is nigh

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 21, 2017 9:58 PM

There is actually a doomsday clock. It was started in World War II, after we dropped Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan, and is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board. It has long represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear way though since 2007 it has also been adjusted to reflect catastrophic changes in our climate. Should the clock ever get to midnight, we’re f&#%ed. In 1947, it was set at seven minutes to midnight. It has moved 22 times with the closest we ever came to midnight occurring in 1953 and the farthest away in 1991. Since January, it has been set at two and a half minutes. It advanced with the inauguration of the biggest threat to our survival I have known in my lifetime. Before that it had been at 3 minutes. It was at 14 minutes to midnight in 1995.

I had a friend in 1995 who believed that the world was coming to an end. She blamed Bill Clinton, who was then president, largely because she was a republican so naturally a democrat would hasten the destruction of our planet. Funny that it’s the republicans who refuse to believe in global warming and climate change and who are actually the ones hastening the end of our lives as we have come to know them. I asked what her evidence was and she cited an earthquake in Turkey and torrential rains, horrendous storms, biblical flooding. Obviously the end times.

At the time, I pointed out that I suspected those things had always happened but that they seemed worse now because we got news about them instantly. Then, it was 24-hour news organizations like CNN. The minute something happened, it was reported on the air. It’s only gotten worse with the advent of Fox News and MSNBC, all cable news networks that have 24 hours each day to fill with news. It’s fairly obvious how they salivate when there’s a natural or manmade disaster somewhere. The coverage is wall-to-wall. Most times there is a logo and theme music and the ever-present “Breaking News” banner. Enter the internet and calamity can’t be far away. 

Lately the world seems to be on the verge of ending. Again. In the past month alone, there have been devastating hurricanes (Harvey and Irma), flooding, and disease spread by the rising waters. There have been earthquakes and there is never-ending war. Famine spreads through Africa, still. War destroys families and cities in eastern Europe. Most people are blissfully unaware. It’s sad how unengaged people remain. Perhaps disengaged is a better word. People don’t want to know, don’t want to be bothered, so they don’t and aren’t. That apathy led to the single most destructive human being (and I use the term “human” lightly) to ever sit behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. 

I despair. 

Health care access and insurance is once again under attack for reasons that I admit I honestly don’t understand. Why do republicans want to eliminate people’s ability to get good affordable health care, to be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions (including acne. Acne!), to condemn the poor to death? Dramatic, I realize. But if someone makes no money and is diagnosed with a disease, how do they afford treatment? If someone could explain to me the rationale for denying Americans the ability to have good insurance, I would truly love to hear it because all I hear today is that they promised for years they were going to do it, so they have to or else they’ll lose their re-election prospects. 

Losing their re-election is obviously much more important than ordinary Americans losing their health insurance. 

I despair.

Climate change is a hoax. Scientists are to be ridiculed. World leaders are to be mocked. Threats are made easily. 

So I find myself wondering if maybe the end really is nigh this time. This week, the toddler went to the United Nations and proceeded to embarrass us yet again, threatening to destroy a country. Interestingly, what he said is exactly what the regime in North Korea has been telling its people for decades. Now they have footage that doesn’t even need to be edited to show that they have always been right. Does he think this will end well? 

I’m no longer friends with the woman who was, once upon a time, concerned that the world would be ending soon. I couldn’t stomach her politics anymore. I have friends now who are republicans and I have no trouble with them. But there was something about the doomsday attitude, coupled with supporting people who were bringing it about that just rubbed me the wrong way.

If the world ends soon, I will have been proved wrong and my once upon a time friend will be exultant. But we’ll all be dead so it won’t matter. And at least I won’t have to worry anymore about affordable health insurance.

Tick tock

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Back to wonderful school

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 20, 2017 10:56 PM

Every year, in August, the country is subjected to flyers and commercials about getting the kids ready to go back to school. New clothes, new shoes, and of course, new supplies. I remember when I was little and going back to school. I’m sure we had to get new shoes and new notebooks and pencils, but I don’t remember it being a huge deal. It was just the end of summer and therefore, the end of freedom as we knew it. When Justin was little, back to school was different. At the end of each summer, we’d trot off to Target and outfit him with new clothes and shoes. Then we’d go to Staples to get whatever school supplies he needed. Notebooks, pens, pencils, calculators. As he got older, computers were involved.

I haven’t thought about back to school much since we sent him off to college. Once he was gone, he was gone. He never came home to live again. We helped with money, but he bought his own stuff as needed. It’s as it should be as you get older.

There used to be some great television commercials about back to school. The one that always comes to mind is the one with the Christmas song “the most wonderful time of the year,” with the parents experiencing sheer bliss while the kids are dragging their feet as they go through some store (maybe Staples?). It works because all parents get it. After having the kids home all summer, it’s time. It also works because of the juxtaposition. Kids are usually the ones who are excited, because of Christmas. But with the Christmas song used for back to school, it’s the parents who are excited.

On Monday, I’m going back to school. Last spring, I applied to a writing program at Stanford University and I was accepted. It’s a two-year program, done entirely online. Each semester is a quarter so there are four quarters of class each year. I believe I’ll be in school for seven of the next eight quarters. I thought I’d be in school for eight but I found out that the classes I’d taken previously fulfill an elective requirement which would have taken up one of the quarters. 

I didn’t buy new clothes, though I did get new sneakers. I’m still using the same computer; I didn’t need a new notebook or pencils/pens. I have plenty of both. But I feel like a kid again. The summer is winding down. The heat has begun to dissipate. The days are warm but the nights are cooling. The days are shorter. It’s dark earlier.

Today the first lecture and assignments were posted. I love that they tell us that each week is only 4 – 6 hours. Because what they tell us is wrong. Our first “assignment” was an introduction and an elevator pitch for what we’ll be writing about during this program. Then there is reading and two other writing assignments along with several discussion points. Just next week. Each week is going to be like that.

And I can’t wait. Bring it on. Because I’m going back to school and that’s something I’m celebrating. It’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

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The myth of a middle aged white woman

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 15, 2017 8:52 PM

I am a middle-aged white woman. There, I said it. I have hair that needs colored, and lines around my eyes and mouth; my neck is starting to get that weird crepey thing as women’s necks do. I don’t feel old though I fear I’m starting to look it. I don’t care that much; truly. But you can’t work in the beauty industry as long as I did and not notice these things, and feel just a hint of self-consciousness, a twinge, like when you get up after sitting too long and your knees aren’t happy. Like when you stub your toe and you have a moment, a short lag time between “this is going to hurt” to “Jesus Christ that hurts!” 

I get my hair cut and colored every five weeks. I’m not as gray as a lot of my friends, or so my hairdresser tells me. I can’t really see it because the lighting in our bathroom isn’t great for seeing gray hair, and neither are my eyes. I try to exercise, I attempt to eat somewhat healthily, though I could be better at both. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that I just don’t care that much anymore. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Just a thing I guess. 

It’s Friday afternoon, and as I so often am at this time of the day, I’m sitting at my desk. The sun has started its descent into the western sky so it’s bathing my desk. It’s hot but not unbearable. Kevin is out running errands. Up until a few minutes ago, I was working but it’s after 5 now. All of my clients have left for the weekend. Right now it’s just me and Riley, awaiting the return of the husband/dad unit so that our weekend can begin as well. 

This week, I spent three days in Sacramento, at a training with one of my clients. The interesting thing about my job is how many clients I have that I’ve never met. I talk to people on the phone; I text and email. We work together for years and there’s really no need to get together. But this weekend required face time, and I did wonder if some would find me too old. I needn’t have worried. Nobody seemed to care, and there were many my age. I boarded a plane on Monday, flew first to Phoenix (a whopping 22-minute flight) and then connected to Sacramento. I flew home Wednesday night, getting in at 10:45. Yesterday was a little blurry – two days of 8 am to 5 pm meetings are a bit exhausting – but today has been better. Yesterday, my eyes were glassy, my skin felt thick. Even my hair was tired. Today was better. Today I felt more human.

I got up a little later than normal but the day was cooler than it has been. I slipped into shorts and a tee, laced up my new white and gray Adidas shoes and with husband in tow, off we went to walk the dog. It was breezy, only mid 70s. We saw no one and encountered no creatures. Back at home, we made coffee, Kevin cleaned up last night’s dishes and I watered the plants on the deck. I went to work and spent the day happily ensconced there, at my desk, surveying the desert, watching the wind blow the trees, marveling that my new sneakers are so comfortable I hardly know I’m wearing shoes. Even by sneaker standards, these are more like slippers.

What does it mean to be a middle-aged white woman? I honestly don’t know. I suppose it means acceptance of certain things, of not apologizing for the way you are. It means not really caring that you have a few gray hairs or lines around your eyes. After all, having those things means you’ve lived long and hopefully well. It means it’s all good, and if you have a view and really comfortable sneakers, it’s better than that. It’s living it out loud.

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I can not

by Lorin Michel Thursday, September 7, 2017 10:09 PM

Children are very quick to use the word “can’t.” It’s easy. To say you can’t is to not have to try. It compensates for trying and failing so why try at all? Life is scary and “I can’t” keeps the fear away. I think children say “can’t” in much the same way they say “no.”

When I was little my mother used to say that can’t never did anything. It’s true, of course. At the time, I hated that phrase, but I understand it now. I used it a time or three on Justin when he was little. When my mom used to say it, I thought it was one of those motherly pearls that only she used. I’ve since found out that it’s a relatively common phrase, employed by parents the world over.

Whatever its origin, the philosophy it expounds is a good one, and something I long ago took to heart. To coin another over-used phrase, I developed a “can do” attitude. I moved west and made a life for myself when I knew virtually no one and had no job. We wanted to build a house and rather than thinking we can’t do that, we decided that we actually could. I started my own business, I’m going back to school, I divorced a man who made me unhappy and married one who makes me very happy, all because I can. 

But there are times when I just can not …

I can not get over the horrific fires burning in so much of the west, and that they are getting almost zero coverage from the national media. I can not understand why so many people refuse to believe that there is climate change when the climate and the weather is so clearly changing and not for the better. 

I can not believe where we are, what we’ve become, who is in charge, why we are here.

I can’t stand the constant whiplash, the fear, the need to constantly check the news to see where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re threatening, if we’ve carried through on any. One day one thing is said, the next a new thing is said superseding yesterday’s thing. One day there is an accusation, the next it is rescinded or doubled down on, or forgotten altogether. I can’t believe that so many don’t seem to care. 

Someone with no beliefs can’t truly be trusted. That’s not to say that everyone knows exactly how they feel about every given topic. I’m on the fence about Indian food, for instance. Ditto watching and rooting for football. Also skittles. But I know how I feel about climate change and abortion rights and animal safety and water preservation and solar power. I know how I feel about mornings (bad) and Saturday nights (excellent). I have no doubt in my mind that I would give my life for my family, friends, and dog. 

But someone with no beliefs is someone with no center, no moral code, someone who doesn’t care enough to have an opinion. That scares me, and I can’t understand it. I can’t embrace it. I can’t respect it. I can not. 

I’m talking about big things here. Things that matter, things that are life and death for hundreds of millions of people if not billions around the world. I’m talking about being cavalier with nuclear annihilation, and the fate of children and young adults. I’m talking about not really caring if the poorest among society have access to health care. I’m talking about telling everyone to have a good time after they’ve lost their homes, their everything, including, for some, their lives. That scares me, and I don’t respect it. I can not. 

I know that can’t never did anything. I believe in a can-do attitude. I try to live on the positive side of life. But sometimes, some days, I feel overwhelmed, and I can not. 

So instead I look forward to starting school. I mark the calendar days leading to our next trip wine tasting. I watch the storms roll up from the south and sit at my desk, surveying the view from my office, a rolling sea of green desert punctuated with flat roof homes in the valley below. I listen to good music. I think about maybe trying Indian food again. I look at my dog, sleeping in front of the fan, the manufactured wind blowing his fur, and I smile.

Because I can.

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Sometimes I wonder

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 4, 2017 10:24 PM

My Aunt Beryl died in late spring/early summer of 2013. I miss her. She was, to use an over-used word, a character. Self-sufficient, well-informed, well-traveled, she had lived alone for decades having lost everyone close to her including her husband, her sister, even her beloved dog, Pepper. She rattled around in a four-story house above the river in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in sight of the shuttered steel mills where she worked for years before retiring. The house had been purchased for her mother, and for a while, the family lived there. My mother spent the first few years of her life in that brick house. My mother’s father, a turret gunner, was killed on his first mission in World War II. 

Aunt Beryl married later in life, becoming a wife to a man who was much older and already had children from a previous marriage. She never had children of her own but instead doted on my mother, her niece, and on her dog. She was cantankerous and socially awkward, and always engaged. She absorbed everything and had working knowledge of most things, especially when it came to popular culture and politics. 

I don’t know when she and I started talking on a fairly regular basis. There were times I saw her number come up on my caller ID and I let the call go to voice mail, mostly because I knew that if I answered, I’d be on the phone for several hours as we discussed everything from the current occupant of the white house to what she heard on one of her radio programs to the status of her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Before the election of 2000, she and I had a number of discussions about George W. Bush. I didn’t like him; I didn’t trust his eyes. I thought he was a weasel. She liked him, and I didn’t push my opinion. At that point, she was in her early 80s and I thought she’d earned the right to hers. Plus, I just didn’t have the strength to argue about how awful I thought Bush would be for the country. It wouldn’t have mattered; I couldn’t possibly have changed her mind. Several years later, after the Iraq war debacle and torture and countless other atrocities, she and I were having a discussion on a Sunday. 

“You were right about that Bush,” she said in her gruff tone. “He is a weasel.”

I couldn’t convince her but I give her all the credit in the world. She listened, she read, she was open to changing her mind when presented with factual information. 

She knew about the singer Pink and really liked that “John Jovi,” otherwise known as Jon Bon Jovi.

An avowed movie buff, she had no use for bad language, sex and violence. She preferred her old movies, especially anything with Clark Gable. She and I shared a love of Gone with the Wind. But she did love “that Russell Crowe.” 

In her house, the radio was always on and if it wasn’t, the TV was. She read the newspaper and numerous news magazines. She consumed the news and knew a little about a lot and a lot about a little. 

She didn’t love President Obama, mostly because he was a democrat but a little bit because he was black. There was an undercurrent of racism that ran through Pittsburgh and McKeesport in the way back, and it stayed with her. We almost had an argument once about black football players and how, to her, they only played football so that they could have the money. The white players played because they loved the game. 

Aunt Beryl died while Obama was still in office, and I know she liked and appreciated some of what he did, like getting Bin Laden. She didn’t like Michelle because she didn’t see the First Lady as worthy. She knew I was a huge fan of both Obamas and she respected that even if she didn’t agree.

I wonder, sometimes, what she’d think about what has happened in the country since Obama. I wonder what she’d think about a reality show second-rate star occupying an office that she revered. I suspect she would have voted for Trump; I also suspect she would now be appalled. Sometimes I wonder what she’d say but I can hear her voice. It’s saying “Oh, my.” I can see her shaking her head.

I wonder sometimes.

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The Saturday of a Labor Day weekend

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 2, 2017 8:25 PM

On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, we finally moved into the house on the hill. Building had commenced on December 1, 2013 and Architect Mike thought maybe we’d be in by Christmas of 2014. We never really thought that was possible, but we hoped. December 2014 moved into January 2015. Mike said maybe the end of the month. January became February and Mike said the end of February. Then it was March, and we told him we had to move in. We had people coming to stay with us on March 24; we were throwing a party on Saturday, March 28. The truck rumbled up the hill early afternoon and the guys proceeded to unload it with me standing in the middle of the house directly traffic.

Roy and Bobbi got to the house around 11 pm. I had managed to get the bed set up and made in the guest room; put towels and a bar of soap in the guest bath. Ditto our own room. The kitchen was relatively put together because I’d been moving a lot of that in for days, taking Rover loads to the new house and arranging what I could. The rest of the house was a sea of boxes.

Over the next few days, I unpacked what I could but mostly stacked the boxes so that they at least looked neater. We put the couches, the floor lamps, the coffee table in place in the great room. We arranged the dining room table and chairs, and the hutch. We put together the new bar stools, and when the patio furniture arrived, we put that together. Because we were going to have a house full of people.

Kevin’s office stayed mostly a mess but mine had to be more put together because we had more people coming to stay on Thursday. I pushed the desk up against the wall, and we put together the spare bed we keep in the storage area. It’s a full size. I found more towels and another bar of soap. 

All of my boxes of books got stacked in the closet and there they stayed for the next two and a half years. The office itself has been highly functional though lacking some personality. The two bookshelves I had against the wall stayed there but mostly empty other than the errant stuff I stacked. The shelves stayed shrink wrapped in the hall closet. 

Several months ago, I started thinking that I might like to re-arrange my office. I had the desk at an angle but I didn’t like it. The empty book shelves were on the west wall, but I didn’t like those either. There was a lot of mess and no feng shui. I’m not necessarily a practitioner of feng shui, but I do know when a room feels right, and mine was just feeling off. But work is busy and I’ve had school, and my weekends come and go and nothing happened in my office. The top of the desk became a sea of papers that I needed to go through but didn’t. Dust gathered. 

For years, the day after Thanksgiving was my designated day to clean my office. I actually looked forward to it every year. But for the past four or five years, we’ve been going to Paso Robles for Thanksgiving, which means on that Friday, I’m happily ensconced in a winery or four, tasting wine and enjoying life while my office languishes.

This is another long weekend, and earlier this week I decided that I was going to use some of the time to clean my office and re-arrange the furniture. I started late yesterday afternoon, going through the mountains of papers on my desk and throwing out most of them. Then I decided to move the desk to in front of the window, the shelves to the east wall, and put my black chair and ottoman on the west wall. The corner shelf that had previously held a number of products from clients that I’m no longer working with got completely cleaned off. I put photos, and my 1920s typewriter, on that. I hung my cowboy hat from the corner. 

Then I ran out of time. But this afternoon, I ventured back in and started pulling boxes of books out of the closet. I opened each and decided which I wanted on the book shelves in the office, which I wanted on the shelves in the closet, and which I really didn’t need at all and could go to Goodwill or the library. I worked for hours, emptying countless boxes, and ended up with four boxes to donate. I pulled the shelves from the hall closet, dusted them off and put them in place. I arranged books. I dusted. And when it was all done, I stood back to admire my work. And it was good. 

On this Labor Day weekend, I labored to finally clean and re-arrange my office. It’s something to celebrate.

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The shadow cast

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 31, 2017 8:51 PM

I’ve written before about the creatures we encounter in the desert. Most of them are on the ground, but we do have plentiful birds and flying bugs. One buzzed by me this morning and I noticed that it cast a shadow. You know something is big when it casts a shadow. I don’t know what type of bug it was and I honestly don’t care. I’m not a big fan of bugs on the ground; less so of ones in the air.

It made me think though. Shadows are fascinating changes in the light. While they seem to block the light entirely, in effect they really only hide it, temporarily, and even then only some of it. If there’s enough light to cast a shadow, there is enough light to dance in the shadow. Every day, I look at the shadows cast by the towering saguaros in our driveway and watch them drift from west to east as the sun moves from east to west. This isn’t exactly news to anyone and I don’t mean it to be. It’s more of an observation. In those shadows and in others, there is still light. It’s just taking a break. 

I watch sports and am amazed when the baseball hit to deep left field or the deep pass thrown toward a sprinting receiver disappears in the interplay of shadow and light within a stadium. It’s there one minute; the next it’s hiding in plain sight only to drop out of the sky, often into a waiting glove or the capable hands of the receiver. I wonder how the players keep their eye on ball, how they find it in the interplay of light and darkness.

I marvel at the moving shadows cast by the ravens and falcons, the occasional hawk and the even more occasional osprey as they float across the desert, sometimes so close I can see their eyes, count the feathers in their wings. Depending on where the sun is, the shadow they cast can seem like a mini-eclipse. Even airplanes, high in the sky, when moving past the sun in just the right way, can shadow the earth below. It’s eerie and wondrous, dare I say illuminating. 

A person can stand and cast a shadow. A house casts a shadow; ditto a car. A dog casts a shadow; a cat, too. Deer, javelina, tortoises cast shadows here in the desert. Saguaros, ocotillos, prickly pear; mesquite and palo verde, even palm trees. And bugs.

The particular bug this morning was black and winged. Might have been a beetle, definitely wasn’t a grasshopper. As we trudged down the hill, it was coming up, flying against gravity. It buzzed up and around, a tiny Cessna, a single passenger bug-plane, and as it neared, it’s shadow buzzed along with it, beneath it, on the pavement, not quite keeping up but close. 

Then it buzzed by, taking its shadow with it, and I was left with a sense of awe as I so often am in the desert especially in the early morning when the sun has just started to warm the day and the shadows cast to the west are long.  Awe at the nature of it all.

I don’t know why this struck me today. There are shadows every day; sometimes there are shadows at night, if there’s a full moon. But I couldn’t help but notice, and think that if something casts a shadow, that means there is light behind.

There is a shadow cast across the country now, too. But somewhere there is also still light above. I’m not at all religious, but that light? It gives me hope.

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I made the bed

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 26, 2017 7:58 PM

I made the bed this morning. This is something I do every morning without fail. I get up, pull on some clothes and pull up the sheets and the comforter. I walk into the bathroom and begin the three-trip task of retrieving the additional pillows: shams the same color as the comforter, European shams in taupe, and three throw pillows. A made bed feels neater to me, makes me feel as if the day has officially begun. I blame my mother, and a touch of OCD. My mother was a stickler for a made bed. As kids, they had to be made before we went to school in the morning. I may have rebelled a bit in college but I don’t think so. It became habit, one that stuck with me and my brother. My sister is not as much a stickler. Sometimes I envy that. 

Perhaps it’s also a control thing. After the Northridge earthquake in January, 1994, the first thing I did was make my bed. I learned later that I wasn’t the only one. The quake struck at 4:30 in the morning, the darkest part of night. It shook the city, and each individual home; seemed to shake the world. I stood in the doorjamb between my bedroom and bath on the second floor, gripping the sides and listening to the roar and the crash, the violence of breaking glass. When it was over, I looked at the clock and as if to reassure myself, said out loud that “it couldn’t have been that bad. We still have power.” The numbers on my clock were glowing red in the darkness. Then there was a loud pop as transformers blew in unison and everything went black. I knew my house was in shambles; I knew that what awaited me downstairs was a sea of glass and the contents of bottles splashed and strewn across the floor. But it was dark. I couldn’t see to clean that up. The only thing I could do to seem like I was OK, like I was making progress, like I was still in control of my life was to make the bed. 

One of the other things I learned from my mother was to always make the bed first when moving into a new place. That way, after spending a day moving and then unpacking, when it comes time for bed, when you’ve reached peak exhaustion, the bed is ready and waiting. It seems logical – I suppose many others do it as well. But it has stuck with me and I tried to impress that upon Justin, too. 

Yesterday, Shawn moved into her dorm at the University of New Hampshire. My sister posted photos on Facebook of Shawn sitting on her made bed. I don’t know if she’s a bed maker. She’s a college student and a teen so she’s probably not especially neat; most people aren’t in college. She probably will wash her sheets only when they get gritty and smelly, maybe once a month if the sheets are lucky. But for yesterday and for last night she had a clean bed with crisp sheets made up nice and neat.

Making the bed makes sense of a nonsensical world. In these nonsensical times, it helps me to believe that I can maintain a little control, a little bit of say, the smallest bit of honor and order in a country that daily careens toward oblivion and irrelevance. I wrote the other day, asking how much longer this can go on. I fear the answer. I fear that the divide being created, indeed nurtured and coddled from the oval office – the oval office – is one that will not soon go away, will be hard to tame and soothe. We are spiraling and there is a part of the country that thinks that’s good and that terrifies me. There are people who cheer the pardoning of a convicted law enforcement officer, who believe that people of different color, religion, sexual orientation, and sexual identity are to be feared. Worse, ostracized, demonized. There are those who believe that they and they alone are right and just and those who think differently be damned, and in the toddler they have found a champion. I fear for who we are fast becoming.

And so today I made the bed. I pulled the comforter taut and smoothed the wrinkles. I arranged the pillows and as I often do, I stopped to look at how pretty it looked against the newly painted wall behind. For just a few minutes, I controlled destiny.

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How much longer

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 23, 2017 7:35 PM

Are we there yet? It’s an age-old question, asked by many a child on a long road trip, tucked into the back seat, staring out the window as blurred scenery rushes by. Are we there yet? I have to go to the bathroom. How much longer?

I don’t know if children actually ask this question or if it’s one of those old-wives tales that has been passed down through the generations. I ask it now, sometimes, when Kevin and I are in the car on an especially long road trip. Are we there yet? How much longer? I do it for fun and it’s often followed up by the other old standby from years ago: Don’t make me stop this car. 

When we were kids, we never flew anywhere. That was a luxury normal people like us, middle class but nothing more, could never hope to afford. It never occurred to my parents that a family vacation would involve buying five round-trip airfare tickets to somewhere. Instead, we always climbed into my dad’s company car, always a boat of a vehicle, and off we went. Often it was to Maine, to a little place we found on the water in Prout’s Neck called the Braden Cottage. It was an odd house, upside down in a way, with all of the bedrooms and one large bathroom on the ground floor and the living room/kitchen above. I suppose it was like that because the view of the water was better from up there. We always went in June, because it wasn’t yet high season. We always drove.

When I was nine, making my brother five and my sister three, we took a big road trip south, to Florida. The destination was Disneyworld. This was long before there was Epcot Center. It was probably 1971. It took us at least two days and probably three to drive all the way down the east coast to Orlando. I remember my mother, who was always prepared, having created daily packets of stuff for each of us to do while safely ensconced in the backseat. Crayons and coloring books, small games, and other assorted distractions. Anything so as not to hear three kids continually whining: How much longer. 

This morning I read the news. As usual it was filled with chaos and strife, gnashing of teeth and shaking of heads. There was no immediate crisis, just the rolling continuation of this abhorrent presidency. The toddler came to Arizona yesterday, dropping down into the valley of the sun – a balmy 107º – to bring his particular brand of hate and crazy into a state known, mostly in the suburbs and rural areas, for both. Phoenix, like Tucson, indeed like most cities in the country, is a bastion of blue, a melting pot of people and cultures and ideas. I think it’s one of the reasons people congregate in cities. They share a love of differences, and enjoy celebrating that. 

Not our president. I shudder that I even have to type those words because he is so obviously and completely unfit and unwilling to actually do the job to which he is assigned. He celebrates only one thing: himself. He has a pretty high opinion of himself. He’s in the minority. He’s a petty, vile, ugly little man. 

As I read about what he had to say – I didn’t watch the rally (definitely not a speech) and refuse to ever watch him if for no other reason than to keep my blood pressure low – as I read about how he lied about what he has actually said recently, about how unfairly he’s covered when what he actually says is broadcast; when I listened to him rail about trade agreements and race and crowd size and pardoning a despicable man of law enforcement who broke the law repeatedly; as I looked at his bloated, orange buffoonery, his stupid little hands, the thumb and forefinger perpetually pressed together, all I could think of was how much longer. How much longer can this go on? How much longer can we stand it? How much longer before something horrible happens? How much longer before he does lasting damage to us, and the world? How much longer?

Are we there yet?

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live out loud

I can’t today. I have to go shopping for my Bitmoji.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 20, 2017 8:40 PM

Evidently, bitmoji was all the craze a number of years ago. I was a little late jumping onto the wagon, but ever since I was introduced, I have been a fan. I love using these rather ridiculous and not-very-close-likeness mojis of, well, me to communicate. I can tell someone happy birthday, happy weekend or wine time. There are any number of emotions to send, some joyous, some angry, some just fun. I can be a Game of Thrones character or my own version of the Terminator, Scully from the X-Files, or batman, superman or a (wo)man in black.

For the uninitiated, a bitmoji is basically your own personal emoji. Rather than use one of the regular emojis that comes with your phone, you can download the app and create an “expressive cartoon avatar.” Because what I always wanted to be was an avatar. You can choose your sex, hair color, your facial shape, skin tone, whether you wear glasses or makeup. Bobbi first introduced it to me and I’ve been hooked virtually ever since. My friend Shana, here in Tucson, also has a bitmoji. We’ve had many conversations with just bitmojis and their accompanying phrases.

Along with creating a bitmoji that fits you, you also get to choose how you’d like your avatar to be dressed. In the winter, you can wear long pants and a sweater, or a snow suit; in the summer, shorts. You can change into a bathing suit, should you desire, or something more formal. 

Today I fired off a bitmoji to Justin after he’d said that he was tired after a long day of furniture assembly. He’s in Atlanta now, actually Smyrna, in his new apartment, a ground-floor apartment in a house in the ‘burbs. He loves it and has been decorating for days now, shopping at IKEA and Target and Walmart, getting pieces of furniture that have to be put together, usually with an allen wrench or hex key. 

I was looking at my Too Tired avatar, which doesn’t look nearly as tired as I actually do, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t a fan of the outfit, so quite innocently, I announced that I had to find something new for my bitmoji to wear. This sent my husband into fits of laughter. 

“You’re going shopping … for your bitmoji?” he asked playfully. I started to laugh, too. 

“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I can’t play with you today. I have to go out and see what I can find for my not-real, one dimensional, virtual self to wear.” 

“You’re mocking me,” I said. He nodded, grinning.

But I went shopping anyway, which consists of opening the app and looking at the different outfits that are available. I went from a tank top, skirt and flip flops to a more safari look, and sandals with heels. 

It’ll do for at least a couple of weeks. By then, the temps might adjust, and I’ll have to dig into the fall wardrobe. Jeans and boots. Hey, my avatar is a fashion plate, even if I’m … not.

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live out loud

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