Yes, We Do Have Fall in Southern California

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

I will have Autumn even if I have to make it myself.

People say we don’t have seasons in Southern California. After nearly forty years in Orange County, I disagree.  Sure, if you’re waiting for flaming maple trees and frosty mornings, I suppose you might be disappointed. But I can testify that we do indeed have a fall season, distinct and beautiful in its subtlety.

It was 97 degrees here today, and it still feels like fall to me. You just have to know what to look for.

Fall is in the slant of the light this time of year, the way the sunshine is particularly golden and the shadows particularly long. Fall is the shortening days and the rush to squeeze a walk into the last of the daylight savings twilight.  Fall is thirty-degree temperature swings that bring cool evening breezes and damp, dewy mornings when you can’t decide whether to run the heat or the air during your commute. Fall is the Santa Ana winds threatening in thick, dry breezes that crackle with electricity, then gusting into chaos and returning the smell of wildfires on amber afternoons.

Fall is school kids lingering at bus stops and traffic doubling as colleges return for the semester. Fall is the smell of hot, dry grass, taking me back to my brother’s football practice, triggering a double-edged nostalgia for junior high, with all its painful insecurity and hopeful possibility.

Fall is resisting the rush to sweaters and boots and embracing those last hot days in your sandals, though you’re longing for the temperature to drop, knowing that in a few months you’ll miss these sun-drenched days.

Fall is gambling on whether the last heat wave has come and gone, risking that your pumpkins will rot and your mums will wither if you put them on your porch too soon. And then, when you can’t take it anymore, fall is scattering bright autumn leaves that you bought at the craft store, lighting your apple spice candles, hauling out your Halloween trappings, stubbornly cooking chili and baking cookies with the air conditioning on, and making your own cozy season—regardless of the weather.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

Butternut squash chili and pumpkin beer taste good no matter how hot it is outside. Really.

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Head For the Hills

crow-456996_1280

I haven’t written a poem in at least 25 years. But, because it’s National Poetry Month, and because the world seems to be falling apart and writing a normal post seems preposterous anyway–what the heck. Here’s a poem.

A Sunday night crisis after a beery afternoon
soaking up sunshine and friendship
dipping my toes in drunken escapism
then fading back down the jagged path toward home,
that giant pit of need.
The impendence of Monday
slams up in my throat
with the dreadful certainty of morning sickness:
Oh God, not again.
And then a revolt—no really, not again
commandeers me back to my car.
Auto-pilot through miles of tears and stoplights and strip malls
Until concrete gives way at last to earth,
to gentle, grassy slopes,
the calming rhythm of winding roads
and cool, deep canyons where the sunset darts in and out of view.

In the gravel lot of a roadside café I stop to breathe and recognize
and breathe again.

A sleek crow hop-hobbles towards me through the half-light,
waits, watches, cocks his head sympathetically,
but I know better.
You don’t fool me, Crow.
I would give all the shiny things I own
to trade places with you:
my hands for your wings.
And your greedy corvid heart would take the deal, wouldn’t it?
What treasure you could amass with these strong hands,
these opposable thumbs–
Bigger and better. More and more and more.
You’d gloat on your stockpile
til the day you realized
that for a lifetime of grabbing,
of hoarding sparkly trinkets,
you bartered away your birthright:
Flight.

 crow

Thoughts on Graduation: At Least They Don’t Eat Bugs Anymore

A momentous occasion is happening today: my youngest child is graduating from high school.

As usual, the clichés are all true. It really does seem like just a short time ago, she was following me down the sidewalk with a lunchbox bigger than her five-year-old head.  This post isn’t really about that, although I’ve been shaking off those thoughts all morning.

The thing that’s freaking me out is this: although my daughter is almost 18, and my son is 20, suddenly I feel like a brand-new parent all over again.

When each of them was born, I felt excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—like every other new parent.  The stakes were high: life and death. If I slept too hard, they might suffocate in their crib. If I chose the wrong foods, they might have an allergic reaction. If I failed to pay attention or made the wrong decision, I could ruin them or even lose them for good.

To make matters worse, it seemed like for the first few years of their lives, they were actively trying to kill themselves. You know how it is with babies and toddlers: turn your back for a second and they’re sticking their fingers into light sockets, wandering out into traffic, trying to eat toxic substances….remember?

You probably see where I’m going with this.

Parenting an almost-adult feels exactly the same. The stakes aren’t life or death anymore, but they’re still high. Decisions my kids make at this stage will absolutely impact the quality of their lives for years.  In some ways, early adulthood is a trajectory, and a degree of difference now can have a big impact on where they wind up in a decade or so.

There are the big life decisions, like where to go to college, and what field to study. Whether they’ll follow their passions or follow a paycheck. Then there are those insidious, spur-of-the-moment choices that could change their lives forever: driving drunk, just once. Skipping the condom, just once. All the time, every day, whether they realize it or not, my newly adult children will be making choices that determine the courses of their futures.

So yeah, I’m not sleeping very well these days, just like when they were babies. I’m constantly second-guessing myself, just like when they were babies. And some days, they seem like they’re actively trying to ruin themselves, just like when they were babies.

They don’t stick their fingers in light sockets any more, but some of the choices they make are just as stupid. And just like “Don’t eat that bug” didn’t make sense to them when they were toddlers, my pearls of wisdom are lost on them at this age, too. They speak English now but they don’t speak Perspective. I probably sound like an adult from a Peanuts cartoon: “Wah wah wah, wah wah, wah.” I want so badly to help them through these tough years, but I can’t. They have to grow up on their own.

I don’t mean to sound negative—this time is very exciting! It’s like when they were learning to walk: they fell down a lot. I wasn’t any less proud of them for it. (Can you imagine? “Get up, you little hobo, learn to walk right!”). It’s worrisome and frustrating, but that’s what kids do when they’re learning to walk. At this age, they’re kids one minute and adults the next, and I love them either way. They make me angry, sure, but they also surprise and delight me with the people they’re becoming.

Last night I went to my son’s apartment—his first—and there he was, living like a starving twenty-something, nothing in the fridge.  He’s working, going to school and barely scraping by. I’m so proud of him I could bust. I’m so worried about him I can’t sleep. He’s right where he’s supposed to be, and I guess is this is probably just how I’m supposed to feel.

And today my daughter will graduate. My heart’s all swelled up with tenderness for her. Like when your baby starts to smile and coo—you knew it was coming, and every kid does it, but there’s something so magical and heartwarming when it’s YOUR kid. I know I’m going to lose it when I see her in the cap and gown. I’m excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—just like 17 years ago.

Congratulations and good luck to all the graduates in the blogosphere today, and to their parents, too.

Meg for Hire: Now with Big-Girl Pants!

I’m job hunting– blech. But this time, I’m going at it a little differently– and the process has got me thinking. (Thinking happens right before blogging, usually.)

When I first started working, I was a receptionist for a real estate investment company. I knew nothing about real estate or investments. One day, I heard some managers complaining about writing investor newsletters. In my naive, twenty-something confidence, I said, “I can write. I’ll write your newsletters.”

They let me write the newsletters. I just figured it out as I went along. Their existing newsletters looked kind of stupid, so I taught myself some desktop publishing software and redesigned them. Then, since I knew how to create newsletters, they started letting me create marketing materials.

Fast-forward eight years: I had become the marketing communications manager. I was thirty years old, with no degree, purely self-taught. I was hiring, training and managing a team of employees. I was responsible for all marketing and corporate communications company-wide. I sat at the conference table with the bigwigs, and I held my own—on the outside, anyway.

On the inside, I still felt like a receptionist. Like I was at that table to take notes, not contribute. I felt like no one took me seriously because I was “just a receptionist” who got promoted.

Never mind that they paid me seriously. Never mind that they trusted me to run a department. Never mind that I wrote a training class designed to introduce newbies to the business.  My self-confidence never caught up.

When I left that job, I believed my success at the real estate investment group was just a fluke. I felt like a sham. “I’m not REALLY a marketing communications manager…I couldn’t actually just do that job at any other company…I just got lucky.” I began to believe that no one would hire me at management level; I’d have to start small and work my way up again.

Self-fulfilling prophecies suck. It’s been 11 years since I left the real estate group. Since then, I’ve held some lesser communications jobs and done lots of admin work. The recession didn’t help, and some of my stagnation was due the lousy job market. But mostly, my lack of self-confidence is to blame.

My current job allows me some freedom to pursue other avenues of income, so I’ve decided to try some freelancing again. I shined up my resume and enlisted my boyfriend to help me set up a web site. I began to dig through my files, looking for work samples for my portfolio.

It’s been quite a dig, uncomfortable and encouraging at the same time. With the perspective gained over the last decade, I feel more objective as I look through my old work samples. I’m surprised to find that I still like them—they’re pretty good. I look at my resume and think, wow—I really did all that stuff! Why did I think I wasn’t qualified? I did the work, I did it well, and I did it with little formal education or training.

All that insecurity—where did it come from? I was focusing on what I lacked—a four-year degree—instead of what I had. What I had was the ability to figure things out on my own. Is there any more valuable skill? Well, maybe the skill to develop a network of experts to help you when you’re in over your head—oh wait! I did that, too!

So here I am back on the market, with a few more years under my belt. I’ve worked a lot of places and I’ve sat in a boatload of meetings. I’ve met plenty of bigwigs and worked on plenty of projects doing all kinds of office-y things. Here is what I’ve learned: most of corporate America is essentially faking it. The posturing, the lingo, the warrants of expertise—that’s how people stall while they figure out what to do next. Everyone is figuring it out as they go along. It’s all about how fast you learn and how well you can flex to each new scenario, each new personality, and each new environment.

In other words, I’m totally qualified.

Some people have more education than me. Some people have more specific experience. Some have certain talents that do not come naturally to me. But I can sit at a table with any one of them and contribute—because I bring my own combination of education, experience and talent, and I can figure things out with the best of ‘em.

I know I sound a little like Stuart Smalley here. (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”)   I don’t care. Job hunting is very hard on the ego. If I have to give myself a little pep talk every day to get through it, I will.

Here’s the shiny new portfolio site: www.megfaulkner.com.  My resume is on there, too. But only you, blog readers, will know about my little self-confidence issue. Everyone else will only see my big-girl pants.

A little positive self-talk can't hurt. I will avoid the jazz-hands.

A little positive self-talk can’t hurt. I will avoid the jazz-hands.

Meg’s Helpful Holiday Hint (Just one, really.)

toffee

Homemade toffee– I make about ten trays of this every season.

I love Christmas. LOVE IT.  Bring it on—sparkly lights, crowded stores, Bing Crosby…I want all of it. I don’t have a Bah Humbug bone in my body.

Here is my secret to a stress-free holiday season. When you find yourself getting stressed about Christmas, remember my one helpful tip: BLOW IT OFF. NONE OF THIS IS ACTUALLY IMPORTANT.

It’s December 12. Here’s what’s left on my to-do list:

Put up the tree. Usually, it goes up the day after Thanksgiving, but this year, it didn’t, and guess what? No one seems to have noticed. My tree is fake and pre-lighted, thank-you-very-much.  People get so worked up about having a real tree, but not me. Fourteen years ago, for my first post-divorce Christmas (I wonder if Hallmark makes a commemorative ornament for that one?), I tried to buy a real tree. I nearly died trying to straighten it in the stand. After the spiders all crawled out and the water sloshed on the carpet and the needles accumulated for weeks, I determined I would never have another real tree. I love my fake one.  I light a pine-scented candle, and that is plenty festive for me.

Make Christmas cards. I hand-stamp them. This also should have been done by Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t.  I could go buy cards like a normal person, but making cards is way more fun than sending cards, so why bother sending them if I can’t make them? Now that it’s mid-December, the pressure is on. Making Christmas cards under duress is less fun, so it might not happen, especially if something more fun comes along…then I will blow those Christmas cards right off. And you won’t even notice if you don’t get a card from me. Because WHO CARES? It’s just a Christmas card!

Shop. I don’t actually shop for very many people. One bonus of being a perpetual hardship case is that my friends and family have pretty low expectations. This works for me, because even when I have money, I don’t always find something worth giving, and I’m not buying some stupid Snuggie/ singing fish/ Chia Pet just to check someone off my list. Besides, if you can’t say to your friend, “Hey, I ran out of money/time/ideas and I didn’t get you a present– let’s just have a drink instead,” then that friend doesn’t deserve a gift anyway.

Wrap. Wrapping is like making Christmas cards: it’s fun to be creative, and I enjoy it when I have time. If I don’t have time, no biggie. I just obscure the gift with some kind of opaque covering and no one cares whether it’s a masterpiece. Also I’m not willing to spend a bazillion dollars on something that gets immediately torn up and thrown away.

Make toffee. Toffee has four ingredients and takes about 15 minutes per batch, plus cooling and bagging time. It’s delicious and pretty, and people go crazy for it and make me feel like Martha Stewart whenever I give them some. So really–let’s be honest–this is about my ego.  Toffee will happen, because in a pinch, it can replace shopping and wrapping and baking—I could just hand everyone toffee and that would get me off the hook.

Bake cookies. Despite the extensive toffee-production that occurs in my kitchen, my daughter still expects me to bake. So, for her sake, I will spend at least one or two days knocking out five or six kinds of cookies. Okay, the truth is that I bake because I cannot let the year end without consuming at least three dozen Molasses Crackles. Have you had those? Best cookie ever, with the possible exception of Finish Ribbon Cookies. And Chocolate-Covered-Cherry Cookies. Anyway, I have to bake the cookies so I can eat the cookies. This one is kind of time-sensitive because if I don’t bake and eat all the cookies before the January diet kicks in, that would suck. But the world would not end if I missed a cookie binge.

Host an intimate yet elegant holiday gathering. Just kidding. I do love to entertain. The ghetto cottage is tiny but it’s getting cuter and more comfortable every day, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I want someone to come over.  I envision a swanky little cocktail party with delicious finger foods and pretty stemware. In real life, I would shove all the wrapping paper off the dining room table into a Hefty bag, lay out some tacos that I picked up on the way home from work and then struggle to find the beer opener in the middle of the baking mess. Feliz Navidad. Watch for your invitation in the mail, sometime after the Christmas card shows up.

Okay, so that’s a lot to get done in two weeks. It’s not likely to happen, and I don’t care. If I stress about what’s not getting done, I will ruin all the wonderful things that are.

Christmas is something to enjoy, not something to achieve.  I’m not falling for the myth that I must be the perfect shopper-decorator-craftypants-baker. Just because there are one million adorable and affordable homemade gift ideas on Pinterest does not mean that you or I are required to execute them.

Instead, I will do what I enjoy doing to the extent that I enjoy it and give what I can give without stressing myself out or going into debt. If it doesn’t happen, guess what? The deadline is COMPLETELY ARTIFICIAL. There are 364 other days in the year. All of them are also excellent days to celebrate, decorate, bake, sing, give and show your loved ones that you love them.

See? No pressure. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Time Warner Cable: A Study in Nomenclature

This post contains the F-Word. I’m sorry, but I’m writing about Time Warner Cable, so the F-word is absolutely necessary. If you have ever interacted with them, you will understand.

I originally wrote a 1,200 word post describing my ordeal, but you don’t really want to read that, do you? Believe it or not, I try to distill these posts of mine to just the funny parts or the parts where I learned something. I’m trying to be either entertaining or helpful— that’s my goal.

Hey—that should be TWC’s goal, too! Someone should tell them that! Only you can’t tell them anything, because there is no way to communicate with Time Warner Cable. You can call, email, walk into the store, actually scream and cry, but no information will be received by anyone with a soul or a sense of accountability.

Over my two-month struggle to regain internet access, I have realized that Time Warner Cable needs a complete overhaul of their entire organization. Let’s start calling things what they really are, Time Warner. Here are some suggestions.

National Help Desk: The National Help Desk is neither helpful nor anywhere in my nation. I’m not sure what nation it’s in. I suggest we call it the Foreign Frustration Desk.  I have called the Foreign Frustration Desk at least 50 times in the last few months. I received no help, only frustration. The frustration delivery mechanism is superbly effective: a protracted automated answering system subjects you to the same recorded advice each time you call (Reboot your modem! That’ll fix it!) until your call is finally answered by a Frustration Specialist who barely speaks English but has been instructed to apologize excessively while calling you ma’am until she transfers you to another Frustration Specialist who  makes you repeat all your identifying information and tell your entire story again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Service Technician: Again, there is no service actually being provided by these individuals. These are the guys who show up to your house, plug and unplug some things, tappy-tappy-tappy on your keyboard, and say you are up and running. Then they leave and you lose connectivity again. I have had at least three of these guys out in the past couple months. One of them (in collusion with the Foreign Frustration Specialist) told me that the problem was my computer. Everything was fine on Time Warner’s side, so it must be my old computer.  I actually bought a new computer, but guess what? He was wrong. I spent $1,300 and I still couldn’t connect.  These “service technicians” don’t actually have any technical skills, either. I hereby dub them “Workload Shufflers”.

Local Cable Store: Okay, this isn’t actually a misnomer, because I suppose you can buy stuff at the Cable Store. Maybe you can even buy cables there. But these should actually be called Local Apathy Centers, because if you go in there, they don’t give a shit. I went in and desperately pleaded for some help after weeks of no service. Apathy Centers are staffed by Customer Deflection Specialists, who are trained to make sympathetic noises while tapping on their keyboards (aka “updating your account”) and saying whatever is necessary to make you leave the store as quickly as possible.

Supervisor: At the Apathy Center, when I asked, “Who can help me? Who can be accountable and get me some results? Nothing I try is working.” They said, “Well, you can call our Supervisor.”  “Is she here?” I asked, believing that supervisors, well, supervise. But I have been to the store three times and left two voicemails for Supervisors, and they have yet to materialize. I think the supervisors are actually Voicemail Decoys, tricks employed by the Deflection Specialists when you become too persistent.

Construction:  After I bought a new computer because TWC insisted that it was my problem, and I still couldn’t connect, I called the Foreign Frustration Desk and they said, “Oh, we’ll have someone check the line.” Excuse me? You didn’t check the line before you told me it was my computer? This is CABLE INTERNET and you didn’t check the CABLE?  They sent another Workload Shuffler to check the line but he couldn’t solve the problem (shuffle, shuffle) so he placed a work order with “Construction,” who was supposed to replace the line. “They’ll call you,” the Workload Shuffler said.   I would rename Construction, “The Magical Internet Fairy,” because it doesn’t actually exist. No one called; no one came. Ever.

Customers: This one is easy. More than one person told me that if you want results from TWC, you have to freak out and throw a fit. That is not my style. When I am interacting with customer service or retail workers, I try to remember how it was to be the front line—you make very little money, you have no authority, and you take all kinds of crap. Low-class people love to lord over receptionists, retail clerks and other people who are required to interact with them; I am a classy chick and I try to treat others with respect.  There is a limit, however. If you offer a faulty product and appalling customer service and provide no means for resolution, you leave your customers feeling utterly powerless and they become Ticking Time Bombs.

So, after countless hours on the phone with the Foreign Frustration Desk, three visits by Workload Shufflers, two new modems and a brand new computer and still no internet, my fuse was just about gone. I went to my Local Apathy Center and explained the problem to a Customer Deflection Specialist. He scheduled me for a visit from The Magical Internet Fairy the very next Saturday. And on Saturday, I, a Ticking Time Bomb, opened to the door to another Workload Shuffler.

“Are you from Construction?” I asked him.

“No.”

“Do you know what’s going on with my job? Did they tell you anything?”

“No.”

“Someone is supposed to replace the outside line. Someone from Construction. Do you know about that?”

“Construction?”

I started to lose it.  My voice began to escalate as I repeated my story for the 743rd time.

He went outside to call his Voicemail Decoy. My mistake was that I tried to call the Frustration Desk while he was gone. “For technical support, press 1.” “Most problems can be corrected by restarting your modem.” The automated voice-recognition system goes into panic mode when you scream at it. “I’m sorry…I didn’t understand that. Please try again. To cancel your appointment, say, ‘Cancel.’”

I was in full-fledged Automated System Rage by the time the Shuffler returned.

He told me–this was his mistake, using these words–that someone from Construction would call me.

At this point I can no longer accurately relay what happened, because I lost my fucking mind. I’m not kidding. I was shaking and shrieking and probably frothing at the mouth. I heard myself screaming but I could not stop. The kids rushed downstairs to stare and the dogs cowered in the corner of the yard. The Shuffler turned to flee. I chased him out the door and kept yelling. He tried to reason with me. There was more screaming and I’m pretty sure I told him to “stop fucking lying to me and give me someone’s phone number who will actually help me.”

I never saw that Shuffler again; he got in his TWC van and drove away from the crazy lady. But guess what? That very afternoon, some guy showed up to replace the line. The guy said he was from “Quality Control.”  Another giant misnomer: Quality? Control? At Time Warner Cable?  REALLY??

Feeling exhausted and broken after my morning rage, I meekly relayed the story of my TWC ordeal. The guy poked around outside for about 10 minutes and returned with a length of cable that looked as if it had been gnawed by a beaver. “Here’s your problem,” he said, “I don’t know why no one saw this before.”

So in about 20 minutes, this guy—who seems like a figure in a dream; I wouldn’t believe he actually exists except that the internet works now—fixed the problem that I had been fighting for months. All I had to do was make one more trip to the Apathy Center for another modem since the one they’d given me a month before was defective, of course.

The moral of the story is this:  avoid all contact with Time Warner Cable if you can. If not, try screaming first. And please, let’s all call things by their proper names.

Notes on The Avengers: Lots of Superhotness

It’s been a while since I posted. You may have noticed that despite the title of my blog, I don’t have many adventures. And by adventures, I mean dates. Or any other interesting occurrences, really…nothing much goes on in my life. I could change the title of this blog to The Midlife Musings of Meg, which would be nice and alliterative, but I’m still hoping for some adventures (dates) to kick in sometime soon, so I’ll leave it for now.

Anyway, it’s been a dry couple of weeks. In the meantime, I did go see The Avengers today. I watched something adventurous; that will have to do.

Since the movie has been out for weeks and anyone reading this probably already saw it, I will not attempt to review it. I did make some observations, which I will share now for your reading pleasure.

  1. I like superhero movies. Anything can happen in a superhero movie, without any concern for realism, and I like that. I get enough reality every day. I want unreality, served up with snappy one-liners, please.
  2. One true-to-life aspect of The Avengers is this: the smart, funny guys are the hottest, even if they are not the biggest or buffest. Yes, Thor’s spectacular biceps inspire some lusty sighs. But for me, the sexiest scenes are Bruce Banner and Tony Stark talking tech in the laboratory. Hubba hubba. If I am ever about to be slaughtered by horrific animatronic alien death machines, I hope I am rescued by a dreamy brainiac with great comedic timing. That would be way cooler, in my opinion, than being rescued by a plain-ol’ beefcake superhero.
  3. Who is hotter, Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson? It is a tie. I am a heterosexual woman. Still a tie.
  4. Regardless of how dramatic the action is, or how fantastic the effects are, or how dire the stakes—really long, uninterrupted action sequences bore the shiznizzle out of me. Another explosion! Oh, here come more alien soldiers! And more alien soldiers! What, the portal in the sky is still open? Whatever…are there more Junior Mints? Because I just lost interest.
  5. Black Widow= totally badass. I love that she has knock-down drag-outs with demigods and fights alongside superheroes, but she herself doesn’t really have any superpowers, except some bio-enhancements to slow down aging and reinforce her immune system. Black Widow is just a highly-trained, well-equipped woman. Imagine that.
  6. Speaking of women, we really need to start a movement to banish high-heels. Yes, they’re sexy. But the whole time Loki’s forces were attacking New York City, I kept thinking of all those women trying to flee in high heels. It just isn’t fair. We do everything with our feet contorted and our balance thrown out of whack. Normally we take it in stride—maybe that’s every woman’s superpower—but if the sky is falling and we have to dodge bullets and climb through rubble, we need to be prepared. That means sensible footwear.

So there you have it: one white, middle-aged, suburban mom’s response to the cinematic phenomenon that is The Avengers.  Also, I want an outfit like Scarlett Johansen’s; maybe then I could get some “adventures.” But I should probably lay off the Junior Mints.