Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gripe Reform, Fashion Lesson, Half-Assed Movie Review, and that Time I Didn’t Jump Into Greenlake in My Underpants

I’ve noticed that I cycle through a routine litany of complaints on this blog based on the seasons. After nine years (!) of blogging here, I’ve become absurdly predictable: Sun, heat, no professional hot-weather clothes, allergies, allergies, fatigue, bad knee, cold, Christmas, weight gain, hormones, work stress, can’t find decent fill-in-the-blank consumer good, Mr. Typist leaves his stuff all over, cat, knee, allergies, cat. So I am not going to bitch yet again about the disgusting 90-degree heat. I will exercise constraint. I’m not going to rant about how I didn’t move to the Northwest so I could be subjected to L.A. weather, how the relentless sun and lack of rain is killing my soul, how I miss boots and sweaters, and how unfair it is that as a Northern European, blue-eyed red-head I am probably going to get skin cancer living in, of all places, Seattle, where it’s supposed to be gloomy and gray all year round, but wherein the last few summers have been dementedly hot and sunny for an area in which only two percent of the domiciles have air conditioning. Nope--I’m not going to gripe or moan about any of that. AND, I’m going to share a sartorial victory—around this time last year, I wrote an angry screed about the lack of professional hot-weather clothing for women. But just today, I trundled off to Fred Meyer and found a plethora of….drum roll please…breezy, light-weight, professional tops I can wear to work for the summer! I was so completely delighted I didn’t even mind that the place was jammed full of mean, crabby, sweaty people who were obviously just there to get out of the heat and scam some free air conditioning.

If I may channel Tim Gunn for a moment and lay a fashion lecture on you: The blouse pictured here is decidedly not a drippy blouse. It is a decent work blouse you can wear in the heat. It does not contain extranea. It is not garish. It is not burdened with a bejeweled neckline or frivolous bobbly things on strings. It has tasteful pattern that can be combined with neutrals, blues, or blacks, it is nicely gathered in the center. It has shape and structure, yet it flows. (I like my clothes to flow.) I bought five such blouses today. Not five of the same blouse, obviously, but five different blouses that meet that criteria. I guess that’s pretty much what I’ll be wearing for the remainder of this hideously scorching summer: All of five non-drippy blouses in varying shades of purple, neutral, and blue. Woot!

When I started this blog post, I was in the middle of watching a rental of “While We’re Young” on my tablet.  I had about a half hour left to go in the movie, and I didn’t love it. I don’t mind sad movies, but I have grown weary of hopelessly unredeemable sadness, both in my life and in my media. There is a certain type of indie movie that seems to be popular now, with people being sad and wistful. They are sad and wistful at the beginning of the movie, and then slightly more sad and wistful at the end of the movie. In between, not much happens. But I took a break from writing this post to finish watching the movie, and the ending really pissed me off. I have a personal pet peeve around redemption narratives that involve pregnancy or adopting children. It’s a lazy, cheap way to create meaning in a character’s life, and I really dislike it as a device. Of all of the things that happened to these characters--of all of the ways they could have found a creative outlet for their ennui and hopelessness, of all of the ways they could have corrected their mistakes, they just to get to erase everything with the easy cultural shorthand of having a baby. Because we all know that fixes everything. Ben Stiller didn’t have to figure out a way to make his incredibly dull, pedantic documentary shine, and his sad shell of a wife never found her own voice or a way to differentiate herself from her famous, lauded father, but hey, all of that would have been too complicated to work out narratively, so let’s just have them adopt a foreign baby, and, bam, everything is sunny and sweet and okay now. It’s an insta-fix. I don’t understand why acquiring an infant is considered a way to solve everything, both in fictional narrative and in real life. But I really resent being dragged through a painfully awkward ninety minutes of stilted Millennial hipster-vs-Gen Xer conflict, only to have everything wrapped up neatly with the baby-bow trope. I think writer/director Noah Baumbach could have done better.

Continuing with the formal verse series and the theme of regret and failure, below is a poem about another fail: The day Ididn’t jump into freezing-cold water in Greenlake for the Poet’s Polar Bear Plunge. Even though I wrote an overly-dramatic poem about my lack of spontaneity, I know deep within my heart I that I made the right decision in that specific circumstance. That water was cold, swampy, and infected with god-knows-what, and every single person who jumped in got sick the next day. Risk-aversion has it’s perks!


UPON AVOIDING THE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE

Time once, my heart would court and take
The black burn of the freezing lake,
And love the fight, hard and bold,
Against the alchemy of cold.
But now my veins are lax and weak;
My soul is flaccid; my mind is bleak. 
Courage fled me long time past,
And my mettle was long surpassed
By remittance of fearful debts.
For all one gives to life, one gets:

I watched the others risk the pain,
And ached to feel that free again;
To toss off fear and grab the heart
Of this frigid, giddy art!
To dunk my dullish, talking head
In living waters and dare tread;
My body's furnace roaring heat
To fuel my hubristic feat.
I could have chanced this dare--and more,
But I'm afraid I've lost the war

Against the gods of angst and qualms:
I've traded in my nerve for alms,
And spent the coin on safety nets
And hedged or reneged all my bets.
The world is divided so
Between those who live life in flow;
Who embrace the water's passion--
And those who prudishly ration
Their fulfillment for protection,
But take no joy in its collection.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Formal Verse Series #3, I Read Poetry on a Poetry Bus, It’s Starting Already

Today, I was at Anderson Park in Redmond for Poets in the Park. I was double-booked to read for both Rose Alley Press and the new anthology “Raising Lily Ledbetter” from Lost Horse Press, which published one of my poems from “The Acme Employee Handbook”. When it comes to public displays of myself, I’m a bit of a Nervous Nellie under the best of circumstances, but all of the unknowns involved in reading at this event conspired to make me an anxious wreck: The event was outdoors, and I’ve never read poetry outdoors in the daytime before. I didn’t know the layout of the park, I didn’t know where I would be reading, what the acoustics would be like, and how many people would be there. And I didn’t think my selections were suitably summery, but I do not have any summery poems, as I am decidedly not a summer person. (I have few poems that speak bitterly of Spring, but that’s about it.) It turns out that the first reading for Rose Alley Press was on a literal poetry bus, one of the Metro buses that displays poetry from their awesome “Poetry on Buses” Program. So all of us poets were reading poetry--on a poetry bus! Which is pretty poetic when you think about it.

The only problem was that the space was cramped, as buses are, and I was all tied up in nervous knots because of how intimate it was, and I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body I was shaking, which made me self-conscious that everyone was thinking I wasn’t cool because I was shaking, and I don’t feel like I turned in a great performance. But Mr. Typist assured me I was “fantastic”, which is what spouses are for. I felt a little better about the Lily Ledbetter reading, which was on a proper stage, but then I found out later that I mispronounced a word in one of my poems. Pshaw, whatever. Then, as we were driving home, Mr. Typist informed me that my black tights were “a bit sheer” and that while “it’s nothing to be embarrassed about” I should be aware of that. I wore a blouse and a long, light sweater that I thought adequately covered my assets, but apparently maybe not. I didn’t delve too deeply into his comment, but I’m going to assume that at least one point, I inadvertently flashed some cheek. So that’s it. It’s starting already. I’m the spaced-out, eccentric poet-lady doddering around at public readings mispronouncing words, completely unaware of the inappropriateness of her clothing.

But the good thing is, there was another female poet who read on the bus, too--who had something like seven Master’s Degrees--and I loved her poetry! I talked to her briefly in the bathroom, but I had to get ready for the other reading so I didn’t have time to get her contact information. But when I got home, I had a Facebook invite from her, so yay!

Overall, the event was very inspiring, and has me thinking about a possible new poetry project.

Continuing with the Formal Verse series, below is an early formal verse poem of mine called “Miss America”, which I now feel a little bit ambivalent about. It’s not that I don’t like it anymore or don’t think that it’s a good poem (it won third place in a contest once if that means anything), I just feel like it veers uncomfortably close to being a cheap shot at a group of people who are just trying to make their way in the world the best they can, and if that involves grubbing for diamond tiaras and touting world peace, who's really the worse for it? It’s satire, but I do have a slightly more nuanced perspective on the whole thing now. And full disclosure—I was absolutely captivated by the Miss America competition as a little girl. I think it was mostly because of the red roses. If the winner hadn’t gotten that fat bouquet of beautiful, deep red roses, I don’t think I would have had quite the same interest. At my wedding, I had a huge, “let me walk around it”-sized bouquet of velvety red roses, and I loved them with all of my heart. Anyway, I hereby present you with “Miss America”:

Miss America

Crown me, beautiful me: America in an evening gown.
Awed to be chosen, ready for service in the army of cheer,
The icon of our personification, our collective noun.
Even my teeth are graceful, and my humble tears shimmer as clear
As diamante on my cheekbones, as I drift like sunlight down
The holy strewn walkway, floating in the winner’s blessed sphere.
In a flashbulb storm, I’m dazzling yet yielding as a willow:
I’m your pristine sweet queen, clutching twelve red roses like a pillow.

How you love my fragility; I’m as cherished as blown glass
With my innocuous intelligence, my benevolent flaws,
My love of all the needy children, and my plucky southern sass.
I love you back, America. I’m you. I’m gorgeous, with a cause.
You acclaim my scholarly ambitions and my pert, pretty ass.
I’m offering my unmarred soul to your expectant, open jaws.
I’m riding the glazed slip-stream bliss-wave of your self-adoration.
I’m the promised maiden-mother of our loneliest nation.

Pay no attention that sullen girl hunched in the front row.
My unknown sister, this defeated American, a renter
Who can only dream in gray and white, and who never had my glow.
All my lessons on womanly charm don’t seem to reach her center.
I’ve warned her; she is what happens when a woman lets herself go.
She’s got nothing to show for her life except the love I’ve lent her.
But she goes on unshaven, wearing used clothes and reading old books
And strange of all, she’s lost her fear of losing her declining looks.

She watched her mortgage, her mental health, her second marriage, all fail.
She’s not us, America. She just quit; just dropped out of the fray.
Now she sings jazz songs on the street corners and throws away the mail.
All out of options, she acts like she’s onto something anyway
As she scribbles poems in the bars at night and sells her verse for ale.
She says she feels so damn free since she’s lost her American way.
But don’t doubt yourself, America. My flag will always billow.
I’m your pristine sweet queen, clutching twelve red roses like a pillow.



Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sun Assault, Creative Incubation, Formal Verse Series #2

June in Seattle usually mopes around in a cloud of sullen, chilly rain, but this June sashayed in bursting with sunny good cheer and warm temps. And I, for one, feel completely assaulted by it. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time has probably surmised by now that I’m sun-averse, and I resent having an entire extra month of it to deal with. I have to put sunscreen on before I leave for work, and before I leave work for home, because even a 20-minute walk to or from downtown leaves my skin lobster-red. I detest the slimy feel of sunscreen, but if I don’t use it, I end up with a perma-burn. My sinuses are chronically infected because of allergic irritation due to the lack of rain, and I have the added burden of having to keep track of sunglasses. Bleh. I want the drizzle and overcast skies back.  

Right now, I’m in a period of creative incubation. The novel is effectively complete, and I don’t have any new poems or short stories on the horizon. I have plenty of ideas, but nothing that I feel compelled to plunge into just yet. I feel intuitively that I need a creative rest break right now. It doesn’t feel like a block—I haven’t been blocked in some time—I just feel like I need time to let the soil regenerate and allow space for something new to form. It’s like being on creative vacation, or perhaps hiatus is a better word. In the meantime, I have a few things pending: I’ll be reading next Saturday at Anderson Park for the Poets inthe Park celebration. I’ll be doing two spots, one for David Horowitz of Rose Alley Press, and for Lost Horse Press’s “Raising Lilly Ledbetter” Anthology, which published one of my poems from “The Acme Employee Handbook”.  And speaking of “Acme”, I have re-submitted it to several publishers, and got one bite so far…I’m being very careful this time, so we’ll see how it goes.

Continuing with the formal verse series, below is a sestina that was included in my first chapbook, “The Goatfish Alphabet”:


A Sestina for St. Clare of Assisi

At twelve, I confirm my devotion.
Priests announce they have confirmed
my devotion. I am free to unbuckle
and walk about the aisle. Saint Francis
was devoted to Clare and Clare to poverty,
to St. Francis and to God.

My sash says St. Clare in yellow felt. God
is pleased with my dress and my devotion.
All us Yeses line up nice, in Godly poverty.
The 9:00 a.m. flight from my heart was confirmed
and scheduled for departure. St. Francis
cherished Clare; Clare cherished God; God unbuckled

Clare's heart and let her walk about the earth, unbuckled.
Poor Clare, devoted to prayer, to poverty, to God.
Hair, clothes, beauty, father,  mother, house: St. Francis
let you give it all up in devotion.
Clare said the royal Yes; Clare confirmed
her vow of Godliness and poverty.

Dear Clare, I am shrunken with God-poverty.
I come to you undone; unbuckled.
I regret that I have been unable to confirm
my devotion to St. Francis, to poverty,  to God.
Poor Clare: such heart to spare! Devoted;
praying and singing the prayers of St. Francis.

I, too, have sung prayers to St. Francis
and staked my claim on a kind of poverty,
my cheekbones sunken with my devotion
to elaborate self-denial--enough in fact to unbuckle
body, brain; but it never got me all the way to God.
Priests regret to inform me they were unable to confirm

My devotion, though I stood at Confirmation,
gazing through my tears at the sculpture of St. Francis
who was devoted to Clare, to poverty, to God.
God unbuckled Clare, and Clare undid her hair and married poverty.
I wish for God to do the same for me: to unbuckle
my heart and gasp at light of my devotion.

But God has been unable to confirm
my devotion, though I kneel before St. Francis,
in savage poverty, my soul unbuckled.



 --Kristen McHenry

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Formal Verse Series #1: The Skin Stealer: A Story Told in Letters

A few years ago, I went clinically insane for a brief period of time and decided it would be a great idea to write a formal, rhyming, epic poem about the Selkie myth. I had almost forgotten about that poem until last week, when I met with my writing group and we spent a good chunk of time discussing the joys of writing formal poetry; of how limitations force creativity. When I first started writing poetry, I wrote only formal verse, and I miss it. I might try my hand at formal-verse poetry again now that the novel is almost ready to go. But just for fun, I think I’ll post some of my early formal verse on this blog in a series. Here is the first, and by the far the longest of that series, entitled “The Skin-Stealer: A Story Told in Letters”. Enjoy! Or run away screaming. Either way, you can read more about the Selkie myth here if you want some context for the poem. 

This poem was originally published by Moon-Drenched Fables.


The Skin-Stealer: A Story Told in Letters


Dearest Ian,

She calls herself Leahla, her name like a wave;
Eyes: a dream to drown in, and her shape--
the Venusuian form that I crave.
I kissed her, brother Ian, on her gentle nape,
And she fell over me like water.
She has held me in her dark cocoon.
She's the ocean's soulful daughter,
my cooling storm, my bright monsoon.
We'll be wed at September's bright crisp end,
Our blood and bones at last to blend.

Dear Finn,

But at twenty-one you're yet so young!
Don't be fooled by the newest ripe lush sweet,
For your heart could be so easily stung
While your passion is fired to a crimson heat.
You have many women yet to love (and lose).
This woman has charmed you, and you've been led.
So, indeed let this Lealah be your muse,
But not the one that you love and wed!
A man must dance with many a girl
To find the most worthwhile pearl.

Dear Ian,

She appeared to me in the mystic night,
A specter on the darkened beach.
She knew my name and spoke it right,
Then clasped herself to me with her plump reach.
She said that she had waited these many years
Wandering desolate, alone and lost
Drenching the earth with her wretched tears--
And now she'd found me, our fates to cross!
“I am yours, I am yours!” she cried to me,
“I'll serve with only your love as fee.”

Dear Finn,

Such a seduction is a cunning stroke
I see she's gripped you with her yielding ways
Mother says you've wed since we last spoke
Brother, I wish you happiest days!
You've become a man in your own right now.
I am proud of you, my dear, grown Finn.
Be strong and true and keep your vow
To love this woman as your heart's own twin.
If she serves you well she's a worthy one.

Dear Ian,

Yes, brother Ian, she's a gentle bird;
A dreamy girl—soft and genial.
Never a says petulant word;
Refuses no task as beneath her or menial.
She lives her days to serve my meals and tea,
And keeps our home with pious grace.
But she spends long stretches staring out to sea.
At times there's such wistfulness on her face
That I wonder of whom she is dreaming--
Another she loves? It leaves my heart teeming!

One night she vanished with no word or kiss.
I searched for hours to find her alone,
Swimming naked in rapturous bliss
On a stretch of sea that like green glass shone.
Her hair was with broken seaweed salted.
I wrapped my coat around her curvy sway.
She took my hand, but froze and halted,
Loathe to let me lead her away.
Ian, at times I fear I cannot please her.
The good home I provide does not appease her.  

At night while I'm up late and reading,
In the darkness hear her faint keening,
And the sound of her prayers, like soft pleading.
I hear only her tone, not the meaning.
Ian, I fear that that she mourns a past love--
Though she swears to me her fierce devotion.
I must get control of this stealthy dove,
For her eyes tell of a darker emotion--
And a worthy man takes his wife in hand,
Her heart and loyalty to demand. 

 Dearest Brother,

Finn, there's no man whoever demanded
The love of a woman, who received her full heart.
Authentic love's not a thing commanded,
But a rich, mysterious course to chart.
When two are faithful and industrious
Time, trust and experience prime the heart.
In time love comes, bright and  illustrious,
To weave tight your souls, as a work of art.
But jealousy is a poisonous fire
That burns the object of its desire.

Dearest Ian,

I am sickened with the dregs of rum.
My behavior leaves me crushed with shame!
All night I imbibed, my pain to numb--
And I struck sweet Leahla with clumsy aim.
My dearest Leahla, my suffering one!
Her pain so quiet, yet such a thief.
And now I have left her soul undone.
I'm a monster trapped in helpless grief
I love and hate her with equal measure;
This mad wench; my hearts' curse and treasure.

Tonight I found her in the attic, frantic,
Her eyes glossed not with anger, but pleading
I was shocked at her hysteric antic!
She paced and scratched her arms to bleeding,
Insisting that I have---stolen her skin!
I fear she is mad beyond all mending.
What on earth does she speak of, my wise kin?
I know not of a skin, of no such rending!
I have taken from her nothing, but given all
And now in grief, it seems we both shall fall.

Telegram: Finn have you ever taken a skin from the beach. Stop. You must tell me at once. Stop. Very important. Stop. Ian

Damnit, Ian!
Why do you ask me such things? Please, I implore!
My head aches again and I'm on the brink
With Leahla's wailing on the ocean's shore.
Long ago at the cabin at Gavin's Drink, 
At  twilight, I snuck from my child's bed
Out to the seashore to watch the night stars
And seek Cassiopeia's shining head.
I found a fur blanket on the sandy bars,
And wrapped myself up and slept under the sky.
What of a fur borrowed, now years gone by?

Dear Finn,

Do you recall the stories Grandma told?
Those “tales of fancy,” as you so dismissed?
She told of the Selkies from the seas of old
The Seal-women who rise from the early mist
Then shed their skins to take human form
And lounge on the beaches, nude and free. 
If a man steals the skin of one so born
She must become his wife, and cannot flee.
Never to return to her home again,
Unless she should find her hidden skin.

Finn, she's been yours since that childhood day!
But until now, you've not been age of to wed
She'd been left to wander, wait and pray
that she'd find you—both her fate and dread--
So she could serve as wife, yet plot her flight.
Her mourning is not for some lover past,
but for the lost sea;  her refugee's plight.
To live without home is a dreary fast.
She's beholden to you until her skin is found.
You've taken her soul and kept it bound!

Brother Ian,

I am a scientist, not some damn fool!
I will never abide such nonsense tales.
Grandmother was mad, and you are cruel
to spout such rot! My mind simply fails
To comprehend your rambling missive.
I need you rational and clear of head--
Not  superstitious and derisive!
I am trapped in hell with a woman bred
For endless sadness, pain, and grieving,
But no love for me, no rapt receiving 

Of my tender care and adoration.  
At just twenty-one, my face is aging.
Ruddy with drink and dark creation.
You must help us stop the war we're staging.
Please come at once, so your peaceful ways
might soothe our ire and contain my drinking.
And you'll be a distraction in Leahla's days--
She'll have a new guest to serve and clean for;
A task to keep her from the tempting shore.

Dear Ian,

Grand to hear of your imminent calling!
I've told Leahla to take a fine shopping spree,
And prepare a bounty of goodness sprawling.
And Ian, I have begged her to forgive me
And she held me tight and whispered thus: 
“Dear, I cry for you, in my helpless love.”
You see? Already you're a charm for us!
Perhaps like long-hidden sun through the gray above,
Your mere presence will warm our troubled home,
And curb Leah's lustful urge to roam.

My Dear One,

Finn, you cared for me as a cherished guest.
Thank you for kindness while I was there.
I hope your lovely Leahla will take some rest,
For so attentive she was to my every care
That I worried for her own well-being.
Indeed, she is a rare gem to cherish;
Care well for her or your bond will perish!
I hope to hear by post in a fortnight's time
That your marriage is in it's loving prime.

Dear Ian,

Return at once! For I'm sick with grieving,
Leahla has been gone--five days duration!
I can find her nowhere, and since your leaving,
Your absence dampened our first elation-- 
The poison resentment returned unpurged,
She mourned again, so I grew enraged,
And my unwitting fists rose fast and surged
To strike her again! I fear she has fled
Dear Ian—forever! And I am dead.

Dear One,

Finn, you must accept the hand you were dealt.
But you will not forgive me this, I think:
I returned to Leahla her stolen pelt
I sought in the cottage at Gavin's Drink,
Packed in a crate, long forgotten by you.
Finn, from when I very first read your letters  
I fell in love with Leahla, and that love grew.
Yet I held my passion in iron fetters
Out of respect for you, dear brother Finn
But a love so ardent will always win.

It seems she chose to return to the sea,
Rather than burn her pelt and stay your wife.
But had you listened to her painful plea
For the freedom to return to her former life, 
She would have felt that you esteemed her so
That she'd have come to love you true.
But in your rage, you made her grief your foe,
And when at last she got her pelt, she flew
To the seaside, where into the sea she dove
Beneath the waves, to her seal-home's cove

Dearest Brother Ian,

When you read this, I shall be drowned.
I will follow Leahla into the sea's cold black 
I'm sorry, my dear brother, but I have found
Not a moments' solace with Leahla's lack.
In hell or heaven, it will be the same
This sickening loss of my priceless wife
And it's my fault alone; my deepest shame
I cannot thrive without her--my life!
Nor will I forgive your betrayal, brother.
I will die hating you in the sea's thick smother.


 --Kristen McHenry



Sunday, May 31, 2015

Disrupting “Disruption”, Silence vs. Violence, Query Letter Hell

There is a an irksome trend in advertising and corporate-speak that I propose banning immediately: The use of the buzzword “disrupt”.  For example, “ABC Kitchen Inc. is Disrupting the Spatula Industry in America!”, or “Acme Razor  Disrupts Shaving for Men Nationwide”, or “Shelly’s Shoes Will Disrupt Your Morning Jog Forever”. It’s pretentious and eye-rolling. If you’re a corporation, you’re not “disrupting” anything. You’re participating in exactly the same capitalist system that everyone else is. Your goal is the same—to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t co-opt language from radical movements and slap it onto your ad copy because you think it will make your company seem dangerous and edgy, instead of the same old conformist drone factory it actually is. You can't subvert the paradigm when you are the paradigm. It’s against corporate interests to create any kind of meaningful change, so just stop with the use of that word. It’s lazy, meaningless, guru-consultant speak, and it makes me cringe. Apparently, there’s still enough of a vestigial counter-culture rebel in me to be seriously annoyed by this. You can take the girl out of The Evergreen State College, but you can’t take The Evergreen State College out of the girl. ****Breaking post addendum: After I wrote this rather anemic little rant, I came across this substantial and well-written article in the New Yorker by Jill Lepore. She does a great job with the topic, and unlike me, she's not a year behind on spotting this trend: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine

I took a class in communication at work recently, and I discovered, to my total non-surprise, that my communication style under stress is “silence”. According to Crucial Conversations®, when people get stressed, they tend to choose either “silence” or “violence”. Silence people shut down and withdraw, while violence people get verbally forceful and double-down on pushing their viewpoint onto others. Several of the people in the violence camp seemed strangely proud of it, as though they figured out a long time ago that this is a winning strategy, and tough luck for us wimpy silence folks who just fold like a deck of cards at the first hint of conflict. Which is why I go through life feeling like no one ever listens to me. But it’s all going to be different now that I’ve taken the class. Look out, world, because this intrepid typist is gonna be swaggerin’ around speaking her truth like crazy now!

I’ve mentioned before that I have a friend who’s going to help me with a query letter for my novel, but as a challenge, I tried my hand at a draft of my own this weekend. The next scary step that I haven’t quite gathered the nerve for yet is to submit it to “Query Letter Hell”, an online forum where actual agents critique your letter to death. They’re clear up front that they’re not going to pull any punches or couch things nicely. In other words, you should be prepared to have your letter torn to critical confetti, and to be reduced to a gelatinous mass of tears. I plan to submit mine by the end of the week, so if my next post is “GAH! I Suck!” written 2,500 times, don’t be surprised.

To start your week off on an educational note, here’s a fun animated video of Brene Brown speaking about blame. It’s a sequel her video on empathy, which you can also find on You Tube.


  --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Scary Movies, “Acme” Reboot, Lady Superheroes

This week, Mr. Typist and I re-watched “The Sixth Sense”, which I hadn’t seen since it first came out in 1999. I didn’t remember much about it, not even the big twist. I’m not sure that I fully grasped the subtleties of this movie when I first saw it way back then. I remember liking it and being spooked by it, but I had no idea how good it actually is. This movie is a full-on masterpiece, and bad on me for thinking all these years that Bruce Willis is just a lunkhead action-movie star. He’s an amazing actor, and I’m sad he hasn’t gotten his full due. I was also left a bit worried about the mental health of child actor Haley Joel Osment. I was emotionally exhausted by this movie, and I can’t imagine what that kid must have gone through to perform this role—he’s constantly terrified, tormented, and sobbing into a sleeve or blanket. Shortly into the movie, I remembered what the twist was, and I actually think that knowledge made watching it a more moving experience. Then I was left scratching my head at what the hell happened to director M. Night Shyamalan over the years. How he went from “The Sixth Sense” to that train wreck “The Happening”—at which point I gave up on his movies completely—is beyond me.

Speaking of movies from times long ago, the Poltergeist re-make looks truly awful. I was fascinated by the original Poltergeist and probably saw it at least a dozen times. I have no idea why anyone felt the need to re-make it, and why, oh why, it includes the scary-clown trope. Can we just all agree that scary clowns are played out? The whole thing just looks like an over-the-top yet lazy special-effects frenzy. Special effects are not what makes a movie scary! The best horror movies use subtlety—like “The Sixth Sense” which manages to be deeply spooky with very little blood and gore, and the original Poltergeist, which didn’t rely on a huge special effects budget in lieu of good storytelling. Other subtly scary movies include the original “Paranormal Activity” from 2007, “The Blair Witch Project” from 1999, and reaching way back into 1973, “Don’t Look Now”. There are more—one of these days, I’ll compile a list, complete with links!

My poetry book “The Acme Employee Handbook” will soon be removed from its current press’s site, where it’s published as an e-book. I’m going to be re-submitting it to print publishers in the hopes of getting actual print copies published. I’ll be spending most of my time this weekend compiling my publication credits, researching publishers, and writing submission letters. I’m excited about the possibility of getting it into the hands of a motivated publisher. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

My writing group has been on a superhero kick lately. One of the members is putting up daily superhero writing prompts focused on female superheroes. I wrote a guest prompt about Endurance, the superhero who can sustain indefinitely through inordinate suffering: Endurance is a fevered saint. Tell us her story. Does she have the legs of a mountain goat? The chest of a rhino? The heart of a hummingbird? What are her greatest feats? How will she save us? Who does she love, and for how long? Also, I would like to know about her hair. Write your response in the comments section!

And now, enjoy a cheesy Poltergeist trailer from 1982. It's a little slow to start up, just give it a few seconds:



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Attack of the Scrubblies, Swim Redeux, Pant Rant

On Thursday, I read at a poetry reading organized by David D. Horowitz of Rose Alley Press. It was a nice, laid-back evening with some terrific poets. I took a risk and read a new, unvetted piece that would probably best be called a short story. As always happens before these things, I got a sudden attack of the scrubblies. What are the scrubblies, you ask? The scrubblies are my low self-esteem demons. They’re hairy little things, about the size of gerbils, and they have jagged brown teeth and wild gray eyes and they swarm around me in packs growling things like, “You’re stupid and your work is stupid and you shouldn’t read it because it’s stupid.” Or, “You’re not really a writer.” Or, “This is crap. Hahahhahha! Everything you write is dumb.” The scrubblies are a nuisance. They almost won this time, but Mr. Typist convinced me I should go ahead with reading it. Fortunately, it seemed to be well-received, and I’m glad I took the chance. Since the novel is almost complete, I’m going to be freed up to start writing poetry again, and I’ve resolved to get out to more open mics to test-drive new work. I’ve come to the conclusion that being a near-recluse, while comfortable, probably isn’t serving me well in the long run.

My weight’s crept up a bit, most likely from noshing with abandon on Mr. Typist’s homemade tapenade, (worth it!) so I decided to go back to swimming a few times a week…which so far so has only been one day a week because I don’t have the will to care that much anymore. I was going to a water aerobics class for a while, but I quit because they played way too much Beatles music and it depressed me. I can tell I’ve lost some muscle strength from the times when I was swimming three or four times a week. I’d like that muscle strength back, but without having to do any real work or go out of my way in any manner. I'll keep you posted on how that works out.

My left knee has been killing me lately, due in part to cheap shoes with no arch support. So I finally sucked it up this weekend and took a long-dreaded trip to the mall to buy decent shoes, and to replace a pair of brown slacks that have gone shiny and pilly in the seat. Naively, I didn’t realize that brown pants are now a highly exotic item on par with albino peacocks or ruby-encrusted oil infusers. Full-length pants of any color were nowhere to be found, while bloody Capri pants, those sartorial monstrosities, colonized every rack. I guess buyers have decided that it’s Spring, so no one could possibly need real clothes. In the one store I found that did carry a few pairs of full-length pants, the clerk shrugged and said, “Oh, we don’t have any pants in brown. We get tons of people asking for them, but we don’t carry them.” No, of course not. I mean, why would you stock an item that your customers actually want? That would be madness. I swear, one of these days I’m going to get desperate enough to learn how to sew.

--Kristen McHenry