This is it: I AM Grown Up

every child

Crayon image courtesy of http://www.public-domain-images.com

This is how I remember our house in 1977: green shag carpet, a brick fireplace in the center of the family room wall and padded bench seats built in on either side. I kept my paper and crayons inside one of those benches. I had a little table in front of the bench, and that corner of the room was my artist shop. (I was only five, so I didn’t know that artists have studios.) My mom would place orders for pictures and I would draw them for her.

Once, instead of a piece of paper, she let me draw on a long envelope. Because of the shape of my “canvas,” I drew a parade. I have a fragment of memory of that drawing, pencil horses attached to a circus wagon. In my memory they look just like high-stepping white horses with pretty arched necks. But I know if I were to get my hands on that drawing today, they would probably look more like kidney beans with legs.

I was going to be an artist when I grew up.

Like every kid, I changed my mind about this pretty often. I went through phases: a veterinarian, an actress, a truck driver, a writer. (The truck driver phase was inspired by “BJ & The Bear,” a television show about a truck driver who had a chimpanzee. When I understood that the chimp wasn’t standard issue, I let that one go.) But my earliest aspiration was to be an artist.

Fast forward 37 years and here I am, doing marketing for a specialty contracting firm. It’s not awful, but it’s a far cry from art. Over the last couple decades as a working mother, there’s been little time for creative pursuits. There have been scrapbooking sessions with my girlfriends and the occasional art class or workshop—those have been some of the brightest stops in the march of my days. But the truth is that art—the regular practice of it—has been missing, and I feel the lack in an anxious, pent-up way, like a dog that’s been kenneled too long.

My easel is collecting dust in a corner. My paints are dried up in a drawer in the garage.

This is not acceptable.

Today’s prompt in the writing challenge was to write about loss—and make it the first of a three-part series. I’ve written too much about loss already; I’ve wallowed in loss these last few months. I don’t want to write about loss anymore.

Instead, I’ve chosen to write about things that I plan to find again, losses I can take back. Art is an easy one.

I began this blog as a way to examine some of the questions of midlife, and here’s a good one: now that my kids are grown and my time belongs to me again, what am I going to do with it?

I’m going to make art, damnit. I’m going to set up a little corner artist shop like I had when I was five, with art supplies at the ready, and I’m going to default to my easel or my journal instead of my television at night. I’m going to draw and paint and collage and whatever else I can get my hands on.

I believe that the beauty of art is as much in the practice and meditation of creating it as it is in the finished product—in my case, probably more so. I think it’s important to flex your creative muscle whether you produce something “good” or not. So I’ll post about my process and how I’m taking back my inner artist. I’ll even show you my crappy circus ponies or whatever else I churn out.

I would love to hear from any of you who have managed to maintain a regular artistic practice. How do you incorporate art into your daily life?

 

Weekday Escapism: Bat Swimming in Baja

The air in Baja may be thicker than the air here in Orange County. I remember it heavy and soft like a blanket. When we deplaned onto the blazing tarmac, it hit me smack in the face, smothering, like my older brother had jumped out of nowhere and thrown it over my head. But that night by the pool, the blanket was cuddly and lightweight and welcome, sweet to the touch.

Of course, I was pretty drunk.

I could only feel the air on a portion of my face, the rest of me being submerged. When I relaxed completely, only my nose and lips broke the surface. Back arched, I floated dreamily as the glowing, balmy water lapped around me, filling my ears with those rushing, underwater sounds. The pool was empty; at two in the morning, most of the resort guests were still in the disco or paired off and cavorting somewhere.

I will never forget the view, straight up from the center of the pool, in the wee hours of a Mexican morning on that resort in Loreto. An enormous full-moon overhead, palm trees soaring on either side, their fronds fringing the edges of my vision, and something—I thought it was a bat, and I like bats—something swooping over the surface of the water.

The bat—it could have been a bird, though I know not many birds fly at night—was diving at the water. My impaired reasoning told me it was hunting, snatching up the bugs that floated on the surface.

There weren’t a lot of bugs. This would not be a pleasant recollection had the water been bug-ridden. As I recall it, however, with the good-natured bat hunting for appropriately distant bugs, this is one of the most relaxing memories I own.

Do bats eat bugs? I don’t know that either. It wasn’t important at the time.

I was twenty-seven, and it was my first time on a resort. My employer had taken the whole company on an incentive trip. As I have been most of my life, I was a broke, single mom and I left for an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico with fourteen dollars in my wallet and zero dollars in reserve, trusting that they really meant it when they said ALL expenses.

I wasn’t disappointed. Having grown up as one of six children, I was not accustomed to travel or resort vacations, or vacations at all, really. While I understood the concept of all-inclusive resorts, the pleasure of it didn’t really sink it until I got there. Yes, there really are unlimited free tacos and unlimited Coronas, even first thing in the morning, and you can pick any restaurant on the resort and yes, it’s actually free. Wake up in the morning, decide if you feel like swimming or kayaking or watching a show or doing a dorky activity and no, there’s no charge for that. Do whatever you feel like doing and it’s all free. I was in single-mom heaven.

At night we went to the disco on the resort, a place with air conditioning so violent it would have frozen me solid if I didn’t rush to the dance floor. Earlier that day we’d learned how hard it is to catch a buzz in Mexico, the common theory being that in 110-degree weather, you sweated it out before it hit your system. (Science!) I subsequently learned that gin will get the job done in any weather. Since dancing, in my case, requires a fairly significant level of intoxication, I ordered the resort’s featured special, the Singapore Sling, and proceeded to get my groove on.

The disco throbbed with bass-heavy dance music and sweaty tourists. I contributed my own gin-fueled moves to the melee, shaking it with friends, co-workers and strangers in a big, rhythmic huddle that even that ferocious air conditioning couldn’t penetrate.

Several Samurai Slings later, dripping with sweat, holding my heels in my hand, I padded out of the disco barefoot and swooshed back to my room. (When I am drunk, I have a heightened awareness of my feet propelling me forward, and I feel my deliberate, hurried walking like a swoosh.) It must have been 85 degrees in the dead of night, and though 85 was a delicious break from the scorching day, my disco-fever demanded a remedy. Only a night swim would cure me.

In my hotel room, I peeled off my sweaty clothes and tugged on my still damp bathing suit. I watched my feet propel me, swoosh, down to the pool deck.

It didn’t occur to me that swimming alone while schnockered was not very wise. The water felt substantial, dense like jello. I floated without trying. My hair spread out around my head like a mermaid’s, and my limbs were weightless.

I don’t know how long I floated. Five minutes? An hour? To this day, however, I clearly recall the thought that finally motivated me to clamber out of the pool. I became concerned, as I floated there with only my nose poking out of the water—I feared the bat might mistake my nose for a bug. They don’t see well, you know. I like bats but I didn’t want it to eat my nose.

There were several all-expense paid trips to Mexico from that employer, whose M.O. was to grind employees to an exhausted, stressed-out pulp, until we were all ready to quit, then revive us with margaritas and poolside limbo contests. Each year we swore we wouldn’t fall for it again. I fell for it for four years.

But to this day, when I am broke and stressed and longing for escape, I flash back to that tipsy swim in Loreto, alone with the bat and the moonlight.

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!

 

 

Swoony McLovestruck Writes Again

So, if you read my last blog post, you know that I met someone super fantastic and I got all loopy for him. Despite my chronic worrywart headtripping, everything is going great.  I’ve seen the inside of his car, his freezer and his closet, and he has no stash of human heads or carcasses of any kind, even though we met on the interwebs. So far so good.

Seriously, since that last post, if I relayed all the cutesy-wutesy that has transpired, you would get a toothache. But I am going to tell you about one great day, because a team of romance writers could not have scripted it more perfectly.

Saturday it was “cold” here in SoCal: sparkling sunshine, light winds, dry air— highs hovered around 60 degrees. Brrrr!  That’s a wintery day for us–we break out the scarves, hats and boots the minute the thermostat drops below 70. I got all bundled up in my warm hoodie, and I wore real shoes and socks instead of flip flops.

Mr. New Guy loves to be outdoors, and he will actually PLAN things to do. (Tip for guys: chicks dig it when you plan.)  He suggested Crystal Cove State Park, a place I had never been, even though I’ve lived in Orange County for over 30 years.

Crystal Cove has sandy beaches, tide pools, acres of hiking trails and a restaurant and visitor center that showcases the vintage 1920s cottages.  In case you failed to get sufficiently excited by that sentence, I just want to reiterate BEACH and VINTAGE. Also TIDE POOLS.  And for the rest of you, the restaurant serves bloody marys on a beachfront patio.  You can’t lose in this place, I’m telling you.

We walk a short trail down to the visitor center and spend a little while poking around the gift shop, where Mr. Wonderful talks about art with me, because he’s actually interested. We check out the historic cottage display, which makes me nostalgic for times I never experienced, and then we canoodle under a tree in a surprisingly cozy Adirondack loveseat. When I remark on how comfy the loveseat is, he suggests that we try to build one together sometime. I am not making this up. When he comes out with stuff like that I want to look for hidden cameras. How does he know?

So then, no shit, we hold hands and jump across a little stream of water to the beach, because we are some kind of walking romance novel cliché and I’m just going to accept that now.

The beach is gorgeous and perfect, see?

We walk down the sand, not talking because when you’re at the beach you don’t need to talk, and then we crouch over tide pools for a time, looking for tiny sea creatures and poking anemones. Tidepools make me feel like I am 10 years old again.

One more perfect beach pic. (He took the pictures. I’d give him a photo credit but I’m trying to keep him anonymous.)

Beaches make me feel like nothing, in a good way. I don’t have any words for them because that is the effect they have on me. So I will skip to the Thai restaurant part now.

He takes me to his favorite Thai place in Costa Mesa called MaDee Thai Kitchen. As we walk in, they call out his name from the kitchen, and I feel a little pang of pride—not because I feel important, but because I’m with a good guy, someone who bothers to know the people he encounters in his daily life, someone who’s curious and considerate about the experiences of others. That’s huge for me—to be friendly and to really know people.

These people are worth knowing.  Tony and Sue, the owners, talk to us about the long hours they work in the restaurant and their plans to finally take time off over Thanksgiving. I like to listen to non-native English speakers when they put words together in ways I wouldn’t. When we ask if it’s been busy, Tony says, “Not too busy. Just easy coming.”  That expression makes perfect sense to me and I stash it away for future use. Tony talks to us while we eat, about cooking, about the ingredients in his baked mussels and where he learned to prepare them that way.

I learn that I do not like mussels, but holy cow, the Pad Thai is good. So is a dish called Crying Tiger, which does not involve tigers or crying.  It’s beef, served with greens and a yummy sauce.

On our way out, my new guy spots this on the counter:

It’s a graphophone, like a primitive record player, from the 1880s. New Guy points it out to Tony and Sue, and they call up their friend (relative?) Jay from the kitchen. Jay is an older Thai man with limited English and a face like a laughing Buddha. He’s so excited about the graphophone that he whips out his iPhone and flicks through pictures of his extensive phonograph collection. I laugh at the incongruity of his age and passion for antique technology, and his obvious iPhone proficiency. Without words to explain how he feels about the collection, he repeats in his thick accent, “I VERY CRAZY. You see? Very Crazy.”

While we’re talking and laughing, Jay opens a small canister with an Edison label and takes out what looks like a thick vinyl cylinder, but according to my in-depth Wikipedia research is more likely either tin or cardboard with a wax coating. He cranks the machine up, slides the cylinder in place, and everyone stops talking as the crank unwinds and a perfect, plinky tune wafts out from the cone-shaped amplifier. Magic. Auditory time travel.

The sound is so sweet and I want to hear it again, but I feel like it would be greedy to ask, like maybe there are only so many times you can listen to magic before it’s used up.

Instead we thank them, chat a minute longer and then head out into the chilly afternoon. In the car I am quiet, which isn’t normal for me, so he asks if I’m sleepy.  Not for the first time that day, or the last, I grin and shake my head. No words.

I very crazy, too.

Notes from the Flip Side: Meg Gets Loopy

When I wrote my last post about misadventures in internet dating, I got commiserating responses from fellow internet daters, and a note of fear from one dear friend who is “just dipping his toe” into the online dating pool. “You’re scaring me,” he said.

Of course, I graciously reassured everyone that there are plenty of nice people in the internet dating pool—heck, I’m in it, right? Mostly it’s decent human beings out there, and everyone is looking for the right match. Sure, I sniffed, I haven’t found mine yet, but I still believe he’s out there.  Then I poured another cocktail and tried to laugh it off.

Well, everything changed, the very day I published that post.

Today I can hardly write because I can’t see out of my heart-shaped cartoon pupils. No kidding. I’m pretty sure there are birds and maybe even squirrels singing happy little tunes right outside in the parking lot of my office building.

I met someone. I mean SOMEONE.

Normally, I meet nice guys on internet dates— guys who are pleasant and reasonably attractive and have jobs and all their teeth and I think, “Okay, Meg…this could be viable. There is nothing wrong with this guy. You should give this one a shot. ” And I try to send some moderately enthusiastic text messages to indicate interest, and I try to pencil him into my schedule within a reasonable time frame, and I walk this weird line of trying to keep him interested while I try to talk myself into being interested. Try, try, try. So much work!

You can imagine how attractive I am while I’m doing this ambivalent crazy-dance. Invariably, the guy senses that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, or I sense that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, and back to the drawing board I go. Yes, I’m a head case. I keep thinking that maybe if I just give one of these guys enough time, some kind of spark will ignite.

Apparently, sparks don’t require much time to ignite. I met this new Someone one time, and BAM! Two weeks later, I have become a 16-year-old girl. I haven’t been this attentive to my phone since EVER, because maybe he sent a text! Maybe I should send him a text!! Maybe I should write our initials in a heart on a Pee-Chee folder!! With lots and lots of exclamation points!!!!

That “maybe you should try” voice is drowned out by the “WHOOOOEEEEE!” voice and now there is a new one chanting, “Slow down slow down slow down.”

Look, Voices– I am a grown-ass woman and I can handle this.

It is hard to be 40 and 16 at the same time. I’m flip-flopping between giddiness and eye-rolling at my own insipid state. There’s no way to erase all the lessons I’ve learned about rushing into things, or people not being who they appear to be at first. An overthinker/worrywart, I tend to play it close to the chest.  So now, I have this constant argument in my head between the infatuated teenager and the cautious adult.  And you thought I was crazy already. Ugh.

The good news is that the Someone is also loopy. He’ll send a message saying, “I’ve been wanting to text all morning, but I’m trying to maintain composure.”  Or he’ll follow some sweet sentiment with, “Am I being pathetic?”

So we discussed it, this delightful Someone and I—we had an adult conversation about whether we are being reckless. Should we be mature about this and take a step back, perhaps?  Do we need time to cool off?  After thoughtful consideration, we decided HECK NO! THIS IS TOO FUN! Who cares about tomorrow because TODAY ROCKS!

In a week or two or six, if I post again about how internet dating sucks, please forgive this brief, moony-eyed lapse into smarminess. I’m not in my right mind. And I really, really hope I get to stay this way.

The Joys of Internet Dating

I swore I would never do this– write a post about the men I encounter on internet dating sites. It’s cheap and low brow, and I am a classy girl. More than that, I recognize that I am potential fodder for someone else’s jokes. I realize that a chunky, 40-year-old mom trying to rustle up some action with her not-so-sexy pics could be pretty amusing to a lot of people, so I vowed not to throw rocks from my glass house.

I can’t help it. There’s just too much material.

For starters, at least I know I’m a chunky, 40-year-old mom. I’m nerdy. I like to read and garden and I make that very plain on my profile. No cleavage pics, no sexy pouting, no enticing descriptions of a wild, party-girl alter ego.  Which is why I’m shocked when I’m approached by guys like this one, who actually emailed me this morning:

I’m sorry, Natural Born Hustler; did you mistake me for a hoodrat honey? Do I appear to be thuggin’?  Cuz I ain’t, Hustler. Although I cannot see your pants in the picture, I’m sure that you need to pull them up.

Holy cow, I could write a whole post about this guy and how I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Not him, not the tattoo, not why he approached me at all. Do you think he wants to rob me?  I just don’t get it.

Then there are the screen names. If your screen name is, “4U2SEXWITH,” I don’t want to meet you.  And because I am crazy, the thing that bothers me most about that screen name is not the inherent sexual proposition, although that is extraordinarily tacky. No, the thing that bothers me most is the use of the word “sex” as a verb. I hate that, because when “sex” is used as a verb (all by itself, with no preposition or helping verb—yes, I am a grammar geek), I always interpret it as “to determine the sex of.”  Since I don’t have a litter of puppies or a batch of chicks at the moment, I don’t need anyone to sex with.  I don’t need to sex at all. By the way, “4U2SEXWITH” is a real screen name from a real person who actually emailed me. I have no idea what the email said.

Another recent email came from a guy with the screen name “Footguy.” He wants to know what color my toenails are painted. He wants to know if I like foot rubs and he hopes I am enjoying a relaxing evening at home, barefoot.  Criminy.

Then there is the massive barrier that results from trying to communicate with someone in writing. This morning a man—a good-looking man with nothing offensive or off-putting in his profile—attempted to contact me through the dating site. The conversation looks like this:

Man: Hi pretty

Meg: Hi there 🙂

Man: Your pretty

Meg: Thank you. I think you’re cute, too.

Man: I like your profile

Man: Can I call u

This guy is trying to be nice, but he’s certainly no conversational wizard. Yes, the incorrect “your” is his error, but I try really hard not to tweak on that. Plenty of intelligent people make that mistake, and I know some very smart people who can’t spell. The problem could also be typing. Some people, especially those who don’t work on computers, have to type everything with two fingers.  If they tried to be dazzling and eloquent, it would take all day. I’m really trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, but still, this is all I have to go on. I can’t form an impression from this grunting sort of communication.  Am I the only one who reads that exchange in the voice of Animal from The Muppets? “YOU. WOMAN. PRETTY.”  I don’t want to be critical, but I really don’t know what to say in response to that. Hi. Thank you. No; it’s probably better if you don’t call me.

Then there is the flip side: flowery messages by romantic men who are trying to woo women they know nothing about. One guy signed his sticky-sweet but generic email, “Captivated by you.”  Really?  Was it my sexy mom pics or my list of exciting domestic hobbies that were captivating? Do tell! One guy sent me the message, “Hello, Beautiful. You have a very enigmatic smile.”  If you know me, there is really nothing enigmatic about me or my smile. I have a pronounced overbite and I’m a goofball, so what I have is a dorky smile. I’m fine with my dorky smile, but I know damn well it isn’t enigmatic. How to answer that email? Should I flutter my eyelashes and say, “Aww, shucks, I bet you say that to all the girls?” Because he does, apparently; a week or so later I got the exact same email from the same guy. That’s his form letter.

While I was writing this post, I received a message from a guy who is 21. TWENTY-ONE PEOPLE-YEARS OLD, messaging a clearly-labeled 40-year-old on a dating site. With an age gap that big, it’s not even flattering; it’s just baffling. He is new to the area and wants to know if I will “hang out” with him.  Poor lamb– I suppose if he is lonely I could set him up on a play-date with my 19-year-old son.

Oy vey.

One perk about online dating: the longer I do it, the more I am content to be single.

Nothing Charming: Meg’s New Old House

I just moved. More precisely, I finally finished transporting my enormous mountain of largely superfluous personal possessions from a two-bedroom apartment to a tiny, three-bedroom house. I am exhausted and more than a little scattered.

When this little house became available, my dear friend, the property manager, told me about it with a hint of reluctance. “We have a house opening up that might work for you. But…you should see it before you get excited. It’s very old.” She must have seen my eyes sparkle (I love old houses) because she added, “No, there is nothing charming about this house. Believe me. It’s just old.”

It’s 87 years old, to be exact. It was built in 1925 and it’s just outside the historic district of Old Towne Orange. Peeling paint, abundant chain link fencing, a freestanding garage that doesn’t look as if it will be standing much longer—this is not Better Homes & Gardens material.

Some of the windows won’t open. Some won’t close. Many will open but will slam shut again unless you prop them open with the nearest object. Viewed from the outside at night, my new house looks like a strange, light-up showcase for bottled water and cleaning products.

There is no hallway; there is just one bathroom in the center of the house with doors leading to the kitchen, middle bedroom and back bedroom. The back bedroom (that’s mine) is only accessible via the bathroom. The bathroom is ginormous, relative to the house, and it is so oddly shaped that it has eight walls and no place to put anything.

Then there is the garage, which I am afraid to enter at night. A power cord dangles from the ceiling, and if you plug it in, a dim, flickering fluorescent bulb provides just enough light to dismember someone by.  If I have to go in there at night, I open the dilapidated garage door, back my car into the driveway, and make my daughter press on the brakes so my taillights shine into the garage*. (There is no way I’m feeling around for that dangling cord in the dark.) Then I sprint in, grab whatever I’m after and sprint back out before I feel the cold, clammy hands closing around my throat….

The garage is fondly referred to as the “Murder Shed,” thanks to my friend Lauren, who calls it like she sees it.

*I don’t know why I didn’t pull into the driveway and use my headlights. Why did I reverse? I just realized how dumb that is as I was typing the above paragraph. That’s how fried my brain is. Criminy.

Also, some classy individual wrote “FUCK” on one of the garage walls in marker. It’s sort of a decorative, bubbly lettering style. If it weren’t such a cute sort of lettering, I would have to believe it was someone’s last word before being dismembered. You can’t vandalize if you don’t have hands, punk!

In 1925, when the house was built, people didn’t amass boatloads of crap the way we do now, so closet space wasn’t a big deal. Consequently, I don’t have a lot of closet space. Other things not planned for in 1925: dishwashers, garbage disposals, or doorways big enough to slide a refrigerator through.

But it’s not all bad—obviously, I rented it for a reason. Most importantly, it’s cheap. I have my priorities, you know. Second, it’s not an apartment. Hooray! Also, it has a big back yard for my dogs.   It has washer/dryer hookups, so no more community laundry room. The scary garage is perfectly acceptable for storage (provided I access it during daylight) and the driveway has plenty of space for me and a guest to park.

You know what else it has? Charm. Sure, it’s hidden under the catastrophic paint—flaking off on the outside and layered thick on the inside—but there is plenty of charm to be found. There’s a huge front porch and tons of windows. We are already picturing our carved pumpkins out on our front porch, and our Christmas tree in the front room with all those windows.  Oh, and there’s moulding everywhere: big chunky baseboards, window moulding, door moulding— a girl like me gets pretty excited about moulding. And that chain link fence is perfect for sweet peas. Spring is going to be fun. The yard is really sunny, so I can plant herbs and tomatoes again…summer is looking good, too.

To be honest, I’m kind of excited about the whole mess.  I love fixing up old stuff. One of my favorite things is to find an old piece of furniture and paint it or repurpose it. Now I get to do that with a whole house.  I can’t spend money on it, because it’s a rental, and the whole reason I moved in was to save money (and escape the apartment).  So I will have to do it on a shoestring, which is another backwards pleasure of mine. I am the queen of frugality. Bring on the thrift stores, garage sales and Craigslist! Give me your oops paint, your castoffs, your unused plywood longing to breathe free!

I may be romanticizing a bit. Okay, I may be romanticizing a lot, but I find something loveable about this weird old house.  In a few months I may be cursing the wonky walls and pitching floors and longing for the relative modernity of my apartment.  But for now, while the house and I are getting to know each other, I will keep my rose-colored glasses firmly in place.

There it is, under the peeling paint and behind the chain link fence: something charming. See?

A Sneak Peak at Empty Nest Syndrome: UGGHHH

My daughter’s been away at camp all week. I’ve been home alone since Sunday. Usually, this means a good time for me. This week, not so much.

I’ve been a single mom for about 14 years. For most of those years, when my kids went away, it was kind of a treat. Judge me if you will, but every parent needs breaks and single parents need them even more. So I would pack their little overnight bags and bundle them off to Dad’s house with lots of love and kisses, and then PAR-TAY!! Momma’s alone for the weekend! YESSS!

Let me tell you, some of those weekends I got pretty crazy. I could sleep with ALL THE LIGHTS OFF AT ONCE. I could pee, or even take a whole shower, with no one walking in. Leave the TV off for the whole weekend. (Is there any sound more grating than SpongeBob?) Not have to make anyone pancakes. Not have to break up fights. Not have to share. It was awesome.

But things are changing at Casa de Meg. My son moved out two years ago. My daughter is almost 17 and about to begin her senior year in high school. She’s like a roommate now- albeit one I cook for and drive around, but still- it’s just she and I in our two-bedroom apartment. And she’s away fairly often these days, so I’m grateful for her company when I get it.

Last week, I tried to plan ahead for this kid-free week. I figured I could line up some internet dates—at least it would be blog fodder to entertain you with. Or maybe I could work out a whole bunch, try the gym by my house like I’ve been meaning to. I could catch up on paperwork. Paint something, maybe.

OR, I could—and by “could” I mean “did”—sit on my couch and drink and eat fast food and watch crappy TV for four days. I suck.

Here’s the problem: when my daughter leaves, it’s no longer a getaway from my single parenthood; it’s a glimpse into my future. That future is an empty nest. EMPTY NEST!! EMPTY NEST!!! (<——that is me shrieking crazily like Chicken Little).

Remember those cartoons where the guy would dive from the ridiculously high platform into the ridiculously tiny bucket? They would show the view from the platform down into the bucket before he jumped, and there would be clouds halfway between because it was so high up. That is how I picture the empty nest: way, way, down at the bottom of a very high cliff. One day, approximately 395 days from today, my daughter is going to leave for college and I am going to have to jump off that cliff.

Melodramatic? Me? Okay maybe, but I am really that apprehensive.

I had my first kid before I turned 21. I don’t know how to be a grownup without being a mom. I always figured I would raise my kids and then resume my regular life– catch up on all that stuff that normal people do before they have kids. Only now they’re grown and I don’t know what to do. Or maybe there is so much to do I can’t decide what to do. And I don’t have anyone to do things with and I don’t have any money to do them and waah waah waah… Is there any beer in the fridge? TV sounds pretty good.

One day at a time, Meg. I have books to edit, college to finish, dogs to walk, blog posts to write, practically ARMIES of WINNERS on the internet just waiting for me to date them… there’s plenty to keep me busy when the kids are gone. Maybe I will find someone new to make pancakes for. Or better, someone to make pancakes for me.

And anyway, there’s still a whole ‘nother year before I have to jump.