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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Knock-kneed Herons of the Apocalypse

I am happy to report that I have been painting. I promised to show you the fruits of my creative efforts, even the bad stuff, so here it comes.

For months, I wanted to paint something to fill the big blank space above my mantel. I’ve been stalling because big canvasses are expensive, and if I invest in one, I need a plan so I don’t screw it up.

However, plans and pressure suck all the joy out of painting. I like to paint because it’s meditative and freeing for me—but only if I’m not trying to achieve a perfect outcome.

While cleaning the garage, I found a possible solution: two plywood crate lids that my ex had left behind. They were each 3’ x 2’, so I figured I could make a diptych (two-part work of art). Free “canvasses” mean I don’t have to worry about screwing them up!

So, one Sunday, I sat in the garage and painted for hours. I set the two lids next to each other, top-to-bottom, and painted them like one big canvas. Freely, meditatively, I layered on base colors and then stretched big swaths of contrasting colors over them. I played with different brushes, different strokes, and different amounts of water. I got some good stuff.

I made a spirally sun and I liked it.

Then, like a dork, I got out a t-square and painstakingly laid out a compass rose in one corner. (If you’re trying to be free and meditative, don’t get out a t-square. Duh.) I painted it with metallic gold paint. Since I’m going for a travel/adventure vibe in my living room, I thought it would be perfect, but it looked really stupid. It pretty much wrecked one of the lids—I’d have to paint over it and then it wouldn’t match the bottom piece anymore– so I figured I’d just paint them separately and ditch the diptych idea. Diptych is such a ridiculous word anyway. Who even wants a diptych? I painted over the stupid compass rose.

On the other board, now a solo project, I thought I’d try to paint the silhouette of a heron. For some reason, I kind of want a heron in my living room, too. I don’t know where any of this comes from.

The heron started out awesome, but ended up looking like it was doing a pee-pee dance.

Hmmm. What do you do with a knock-kneed heron? You don’t hang it in the living room, that’s for sure.

I wasn’t thrilled that I’d jacked up both my free canvasses. In fact, I was more than a little disappointed. I set the boards aside and began to clean up my work area.

A little while later, I turned around and there they were, leaning next to each other, not top-to-bottom as I’d originally planned, but side-by-side—a different perspective all together.

knockneed heron

And they looked kind of cool.

I called Maddy, my 19-year-old, whom I can trust for an honest opinion. She said, “Well, it looks like a spaceship is going to abduct the heron. And it kind of looks like the apocalypse.”

Okay. I can see that. All valid.

But I was still excited. Not because I want to hang it in my living room, but because it helps me know what works and what doesn’t. Yes, I do want a big heron in my living room. No, I don’t want a compass rose. I like the rough texture and not the smooth, I know which colors work, and I have to watch out for the apocalypse effect.

See? Progress! I actually feel like I could drop $50 on a real canvas now and paint something living-room worthy.

That’s the beauty of letting go of ideal outcomes—you can engage in the process without fear of failure, and find value in whatever results.

I so often hear, “I want to try that, but I’m afraid it’ll turn out terrible!” People who have great stories are afraid to write them. People are afraid to try painting, crafting, whatever—because it might turn out shitty.

So what? Make something shitty! Get it out of your system. Use it as a practice run. Use it to determine what you DON’T want. Not only is it acceptable to write shitty dialog or paint ugly birds, it is often necessary. And sometimes, you make something and feel lousy about it, until you step away from it and give it a little distance…and then you find something redeemable in it. Maybe even something awesome.

Gotta save up for the big canvas. When I make my masterpiece, I’ll let you know.