Shepherd’s Phantom Zone

My piano teacher had unbelievable handwriting and she was the one who inspired how I draw the ‘A’ in my signature. Every week was another set of instructions penciled in on a seven day check-off list: the scale I would practice, the technique, usually Hanon, and the repertoire… all of it written with perfect penmanship.

I hated how she used those beautiful letters.

There was always an end-of-season classic our class attended. I think I saw ‘The Nutcracker’. I think there was a Swan Lake, a Sleeping Beauty and so many other things but they were always so similarly alien – memories of costumes, orchestras, long rides in a crowded van with other girls much older than I was… All of the best, all of the finest, tallest ceilings, velvet seats, all of the dresses and days having to pull on tights and go, go, go wherever we were all headed – they all blended in.

Culture, with its heart stripped away.

I remember looking down at the walkways a lot as I was being taken here and there. My mother’s hand was there for much of it – sometimes it couldn’t be, and that was when I’d lift my head up. That was when I had to be careful and excellent.

Going room to room, my stomach muscles always locked tight, one test after another, sometimes pencil and paper, sometimes a board of adults I walked past and sat down at an unknown, dark piano to play for. The best performance I ever gave had nothing to do with the music – it was behaving as though nothing ever seemed wrong. That everything happening felt normal.

Because that ill sort of fit never felt right, I decided that it was enough. I’d decided it early on – but was pushed into it longer with lectures about contracts and money. As if I’d be a burden to stop. I was never one of those girls who flubbed their music mid-way and ran off crying into the pews. But after the last part of my final piece was entirely made up, with the audience clapping and me taking a bow like the winner just the same, my instructor knew there was nothing more she could do.

I never went back to the Owosso School Of Music.

Some weeks after my departure a letter arrived with that one-of-a-kind writing. I remember my mother opening the card inside. There were a few lines of words. Something about how my teacher had once taken a break… and there was a good deal of cash money lying there.

Refund for Phantom Tickets!

Just another idea that had been someone else’s. I hadn’t cared that they had been on reserve. I didn’t care that I was no longer going. I was happy to see the money returned to my mother after all of that manipulative pressure about cost and who owed what. It would be a while before I ever walked over to the piano again and touched it with an intent that was solely my own.

Even as my fingers ran over the dusty jewel cases at our old district library and I went from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky to musicals and that double-thick CD case of Phantom, I never pulled it off the shelf. Sometimes I would hear snippets played by other people or a song thrown on a compilation. Maybe a title in a large book of sheet music where I spotted the name. A stranger who would come my way, obsessed with mystery, who I would see dressed the part. Who would show up at night and put the music in an online stream for me to hear. That I hit ‘play’ for about 2 minutes and pretended to have listened.

Having likened the story to me… was all the more reason why Phantom sounded like something I should stay away from.

“I saw an old program book for the play some years back at a garage sale. Cheap, too.”

“You should have bought it.”

Bought it, so I could have given a little something more to the beckoning void, I suppose.

My co-worker is telling me about this police officer he bought breakfast for, who returned the favor with a dish of pork and beans, to his uttermost disapproval.

“That is a fuckin’ side dish, Autumn! You know what I’m sayin? I bought this bitch a full-on meal and then walked across the street and bought her fine-ass sandals because she said her feet hurt. Smooth shit. PORK AND BEANS? That’s when I knew – this chick was going straight into the Phantom Zone.”

“Phantom Zone?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s what I call it when I decide that a girl is never gonna get it. So we’re just gonna be friends and fuck and whatever, but she’s never gonna get ME.”

Jesus. The crass disregard for you. The shadow in the sound. It sounded like a terrible place to be.

I’ve known 10 words in the whole thing for the majority of my life: 1. The 2. Phantom 3. Of 4.The 5. Opera 6. Is 7.There 8.Inside 9. My 10. Mind. My mind? Your mind? I don’t know. I don’t intend to learn any more.

The tiny thumbnail of a mask in my Netflix suggestions this morning. Just enough so that I don’t forget.

I remember the bad times. The strange times. I remember the envelope, where I got the A in my name. The green bills, unfolded, refunded.

Like an award.



No Control

The closest thing I ever feel is beyond me

happens after being woken up in the middle of the night like this

With something burning

That defied all logic and reason

Every code I made, every game we played

And it says that there was a reason

There was a reason why

I reached out to you.

Give me this space,

Give me this space,

Give me this space until I die.

Send this message, say the words

No borderlines or warning signs

Can stop me from getting through

When everything is said and done

In the end

I will stop

And look over



In Which Authority Is Not Always Necessary

Salesperson: Why do I have to answer this same question, again?

Autumn: Our team is struggling to get the info down but it’s really important. Do you know what the ‘O’ in the acronym is for?

Salesperson: No. Do you know how to hyper-thread on a dual core processor?

Autumn: I can get back to you on that.

Salesperson: (laughs) Okay then.

Some opportunities turn out to be worthwhile. The following day I sent an e-mail to that employee, which was also sent to his supervisor and manager.

Thank you for inspiring me to learn about the early dual processor and how it evolved to dual core (or should I say “multi-core” because there are typically 4 or more cores involved) with shared cache, how hyper-threading makes it more like one shared core with twice the feed rate, how hyper-threading is a cost-efficient way to improve your processor by delegating tasks and allowing multiple processes to run because there are twice the streams of info grabbing the data required for execution…

As well as the difference between the i5 and i7, how more professionals might prefer the i7 for heavier tasks although the i5 can switch programs, video chat and play most games just fine. With an i7 you see an incremental difference of about 5fps or 20% improvement unless you’re looking to run intense 3D graphics or video compression, in which case an i7 is ideal. You might as well opt for it unless you see it as an unnecessary expense better spent, for example, on gas for a trip home from college – or towards future repair in the event that something goes wrong!

Hyper-threading allows you to use more of your processor and creates an overall better performance. That is, as long as you make sure you’re not getting a previous generation chip…or you’re not just one of those people who is likely fine using one core 100% of the time. It sort of all depends but is nevertheless very interesting.

So let me know when you get around to your required training.

The ‘O’ is for Ownership,


He never replied, but his leadership team certainly did. Someone I hadn’t even sent it to told me how the e-mail had made him laugh.

“You were just doing your job and he said ‘fuck you’ so you said ‘no, fuck YOU’ in a HR-appropriate way. Good job.”



I handed off my Tamagotchi in a challenge to see if another person could keep it alive. During the months I took care of it I told myself that I would reveal many things – that I would be able to say something for having incorporated the virtual pet into my life. I also swore that I would 2. Conquer the game and 3. Become awesome.

I obviously had very high hopes for this venture.

For a child who has ample free time, running a continuous program is fun and easy. I found that with places to be, responsibilities and pressure from my own peers, Tamagotchi is rough. You start off uncool right off the bat and there are various questions as if you [secretly] have a profound reason for playing with the toy. So you defend yourself in the challenge, reach for rationalization that was probably never there and by the time you figure out how to keep the digital creature alive you have realized how many people you’re surrounded by are judgmental, selfish assholes.

Occasionally someone would see the toy lying somewhere and go, “Oh my GOSH is that what I think it is?! Ohh that is so cool!” and I would get a glimpse of the sort of spirited person that I should have been friending throughout life.

Even though the game was in a language I couldn’t read, I figured it out through trial and error, pictures and memorization. I’ve never been good at associating names with people or places so the words didn’t really matter. What I struggled with was remembering to take the toy with me when I left the house…or even remembering that I had to tend to it at all. It became apparent to me, in the form of losing that challenge over and over, that I needed to stop regularly ignoring the tools I needed to succeed day to day.

Since keeping the Tamagotchi I’ve stopped losing my wallet and keys. I’ve learned to think about what it takes to be prepared. I think about where I put something down. I check in with myself more and depend on other people less. I practiced careful timing (i.e. how not to hatch a newborn in the middle of my shift). I learned to develop that perfect science and eliminate the inconveniences I was always suffering from.  And I believe that the issues we have, the important ones we really need to address, are especially easy to see when we’re trying to goof off.

So today, because it had all become easy, I challenged a coworker to take on something that he found rather silly. Will there be a bigger lesson, an underlying purpose in the concept of Tamagotchi?

Or will he just hand it back, dead.

When Always Grows Tired


These are my brother’s hands holding on to a maple leaf with tar spots.

If anyone else out there in Michigan has noticed this happening to the trees, please tell me. I pointed the disease out to my brother as it is alarming to look at, and we are worried about the maples that surround our home. They never used to have these spots.


The general state of things can be hard to ignore. My family is separately living out of a different room… my mother, in my room, with her own bed. My father, in the living room because he needs a chair and machine that breathes for him at night. My brother, in the dark bedroom belonging to my parents, which is filled with their belongings. They are home, in their spaces, but it’s as if they do not have their own…place.


I look at the way nature is growing over the things that have always been there. I see new clutter from dead grandparents and garage sales, and it feels like an invasion. Sometimes the items have their own appeal and sometimes the corners are piled with too much randomness to be attractive. It’s as if it cannot be helped, or controlled.



You probably don’t know about the trailers on our land.


My old bedroom closet door is now blocking the outside stairway when my dogs visit. It looks like Chris found some Dodge decals at one point. I’m not sure why the door was ever torn off, but I think it was because of the mirror on the other side.

Our stories are everywhere. Stability is giving way. Sometimes it is all very difficult to see.

Pink For the Win

Pink Mayhem returned to us forever students, now in the adult world, working. By ‘Pink Mayhem’ (see the active link to a previous chapter) I am referring to a time when the drastic color came under fire by authority for being, well, pink.

One of my colleagues showed up wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. He looked good. When I went over to greet him he got cocky though, and asked where my pink shirt was, knowing how the branded garment is not easily attainable.

I knew where some were. And I also knew that I had recently asked a manager if I could take some new shirts (ones that fit better and weren’t falling apart) from the closet. So I appeared a few minutes later wearing pink and bumped my colleague shoulder-to-shoulder.

“Let this be a lesson. You will NEVER be one of a kind.” My joke made him laugh. He said ‘I know’ and I had to point out that I wasn’t serious – that he would always be unique – and we bonded in boobie pink goodness.

Then I realized that half of the leadership team was against the pink, lecturing those who were wearing it and going on about dress codes and uniformal attire and team alignment and yadda yadda yadda. Whoops – when I’d seen the other guy wearing something, I’d assumed that it had already been approved, like every other policy and decision that I find out about after-the-fact in the story of my time with the company I work for.

So I complied with the nay-sayers and vowed to show up the next day in my usual clothing, all the while that voice rising up from inside… Really?! Pink MAYHEM?!?! For the meantime, I rocked it out. And it felt amazing.

Isn’t that the lesson, though? If you ask, you get told ‘No’. On some occasions your teachable point of view will suffice, but nothing really beats doing whatever you believe you should do and going WHAT? WHAT? WHAT ABOUT IT. I think it all comes down to what you can afford and what you’re worth.

Day 2 in a row, my one-of-a-kinder (hash tag, hero, #ballsymofo) showed up wearing pink again and strutted right into the middle of a leadership meeting. All eyes were on the head boss who calls the shots, as he turned around to greet my colleague.

“Oh, hey there! I like your pink shirt. That reminds me that I gotta put mine on tomorrow.”

We celebrated afterwards. The Pink Mayhem had once again been defeated – in support of breast cancer awareness and survivor support. With the best intentions, for better or worse, there is all of this authority, the thought-out enforcement by people who middle manage, every law and rule, and then there’s always that little voice rising up from inside.

Keep on rising.