Sunday, December 1, 2019

Chin Music at Chin Music, Crowd Consternation, Pixel Puttering

I was honored to be invited to read my work at a poetry reading at Chin Music Press this weekend in celebration of the new Rose Alley Press anthology, “Footbridge over the Falls.” I haven’t been out and about much in the poetry world over the last few years, and it was nice to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and hear some great poetry. This is where I could ponder some truths about why I have self-isolated from that sphere over the last several years, but instead I am going to complain about the massive overcrowding at the Pike Place Market and the near-panic attack it caused me. I avoid downtown Seattle as much as possible these days, and I had forgotten how profoundly and I would say even dangerously overcrowded the Market has become. On my way to the venue, I was trying to center myself and focus on my reading, but instead I found myself getting wildly disoriented and panicked by literally having to shove myself through the teeming crowds and deal with the cacophonous racket of thousands of people crammed into too small of a space. Aren’t there fire regulations? It just seems really dangerous to me. That whole structure is extremely old and made out of wood, and I didn’t see any sprinklers or fire extinguishers. One errant spark would be very bad news. 

By the time I got to the venue, I was a trembling wreck, but I managed to pull myself together and not completely decompensate in front of my fellow poets. That was a rough ride though. I’ve never been much suited to normal existence in a city, and I’m becoming less so as I get older. I totally understand why the late Mary Oliver lived out her days in an isolated cabin deep in a Florida outpost. I am not in any way comparing myself to Mary Oliver, I’m just saying that it’s looking more and more like an isolated cabin is in my future. Ah, yes...I can hear the quiet now.

Now, the news that you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for: I got through the crocodile challenge referenced in last week’s post, (and as predicted, Not-At-All-Shady Ed bailed on his promise the second he got what he wanted,) but ultimately, I gave up on that game. It was far too much work. Not only did it require me to micro-manage my own character with Excel-level analytics, it turns out I had to do that for all four other of my “party members” too. I know some people really enjoy that kind of detailed, mathematical stuff, but the last thing I want from a video game is a mental challenge. I have enough mental challenges. I am in fact one big walking mental challenge. I want a video game that will allow me to shut my mind off and escape into an alternate world for a while. Right now, I’m escaping into “Conan: Exiles” which is sort of like the Minecraft of ancient Mesopotamia. It’s essentially a putter-er. You gather and make things and occasionally get whacked by an invading barbarian. I’m on easy mode, so it’s hitting the mark as far as the mindless requirement goes.

I’ve finally whittled my Youtube fitness video subscriptions down to a few trusty and knowledgeable folks, so instead of multiple subscriptions to the sketchy and over-testosteroned, I now subscribe only to power lifter Meg Gallagher (“Meg Squats”), and this guy named Jeff Cavalier who goes by the moniker of Athlean X. I know, it’s eye-rolly, but Jeff is a physical therapist, so there’s no bro science in his videos—he actually knows what he’s talking about and backs it up with evidence and facts. Don’t get me wrong—he’s clinically insane, like all hard-core fitness people are—but he does give decent advice on form and such. Sometimes I go and look up his videos between sessions with my trainer if I forgot how to do something correctly. But his last few have been laughably over-the-top. No normal person needs to be able to do ab crunches with a fifty-pound barbell plate on their stomach or do the same workout as an NFL linebacker. Most of us are content to work out just enough to avoid completely falling apart as we age. Chill out, Jeff. Tight lower abs really don’t matter that much. But I’m not in a music mood this weekend, so for your edification, here is video by Jeff on how to do exercises if you don’t feel like dragging yourself to a gym and listening to the grunters on the weight bench. Enjoy!


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Poem-Induced Head-Banging, Crocodile Wars, Clothes Complaint

This weekend, I find myself banging my head against the wall over these new poems I’m working on. With both of them, I think I’m trying to do too many things in too small of a space, and I’m getting all tangled and twisted up in confusing metaphors involving fire and churning waters and clarity of mind and the Trapezius. (That’s the big triangular muscle in your upper back, in case you didn’t know.) Also, Glut Bridges, although that’s a separate poem and will be a bit more...cheeky. Ha! (If I can’t write a proper poem I can at least crack myself up with a terrible pun.) I know it will all come together, but I’m very frustrated at the moment. It’s all in there, I can feel it, but it won’t come out right. Argh! I need a writers-frustration helmet to keep me from bruising my forehead.

I’m also frustrated about the crocodiles. Of late, I have been playing lots of vintage Tomb Raider while waiting with baited breath for the award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 2 to go on sale...and it finally did! I downloaded it with great excitement, only to find that’s it just as hair-pulling as trying to write poems. This is directly related to the crocodiles. You see, because one bad apple summoned a demon, an authoritarian government rounded up all of us sorcerers and stuck us on a prison island and put sorcery-inhibiting collars on us so we can’t sorcer-er properly. But this one guy, we’ll call him Not-at-All-Shady Ed, claims that he knows of a special artifact that he can use to teleport us off the island. Only there’s a catch: It’s hidden on a crocodile-infested dune. So I was all like, pfhht, crocodiles, who cares, I can take down some crocs, no problemo. And I marched off to said dune and proceeded to get my ass handed to me repeatedly. These crocodiles are mean and they are equipped. They set me on fire, chomped me in half, and may have possibly electrocuted me. And my super-special spell barely puts a dent in them. This is one of those times when I remember why I got married. I poured out my crocodile woes to Mr. Typist, and he has promised to watch the next battle with an eagle eye and give me pointers. So maybe at least one thing will go right this week.

I know that complaining about clothing shops has become a cliché on this blog, but I must once again gripe about the appalling state of retail in this country. Mr. Typist and I headed off to Ubiquitous Big Box Store recently to replace a glass light dome that alarmingly fell and shattered into pieces in the dead of night in our kitchen. Since we were already going there, I announced my intent to buy A Few Items to Freshen Up My Wardrobe—because apparently, I am a fool who never learns. The selection was a disgusting, utterly uninspiring collection of the boring, flouncy, dull, frumpy and totally unimaginative. I couldn’t bring myself to purchase a single thing, despite my daily despair when I open my closet and stare at the same fifteen to twenty items I’ve worn repeatedly for the last nine years. I think some of my issue is that due to my childhood, I feel extremely self-conscious about wearing the same clothes too many times. My mom reads this blog sometimes and I don’t want her to feel bad about this (Hi, Mom! Don’t feel bad!), but there were five children and obviously as a result not a lot of money to spend on flashy designer wardrobes. And kids are total jerks and savages, so I got made fun of and bullied constantly for wearing the same things over and over again. But my personal childhood shame nonetheless does not excuse retailers from doing their due diligence in at least providing something wearable to their customer base. Even Mr. Typist gave up in frustration—as I was looking for clothes, he was desperately trying to track down an employee who could tell him where to find a light cover. He finally gave up and cited his quite accurate analysis of the issue: As more people shop online, there are fewer resources to hire people in retail shops, so fewer customers go to retail shops, because there is less and less help available for them to find things like light domes. So true. 
 
Since this has been kind of a gloomy post, here is Chris Isaak’s rendition of Blue Hotel. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 17, 2019

I Miss Cats, Anatomy of A Poem, Puttin’ Some Stank on It

Facebook in it’s infinite wisdom recently pasted one of those “See Your Memories” posts on my feed, where they dig out one of your posts from ten or twelve years ago and thrust it front of you with no regard to the emotional or psychological consequences. I ignore most of them, but this one was about when our cat Yoshi (now deceased) got stuck in a tree, and it was a funny memory so I re-posted it. I have no idea why Yoshi decided to climb up a tree that day, as he had expressed no previous interest in trees whatsoever. But climb he did, and when he realized he was stuck, he yowled like a banshee from hell and upset the entire neighborhood. That was quite an afternoon. We finally gave up on trying to get him out of the tree and decided he could either figure it out himself or just live the rest of his days out up there. Sure enough, he did manage to get himself down, then came to the door and stalked into the house, silent and dignified, as though nothing at all had happened and he hadn’t spent the last three hours crying like a little bitch. I love cats and I miss having them. But alas, my heart has been shattered too many times and I cannot love again.

The poem that I was somewhat more satisfied with last week underwent another procedure this weekend, and is again transformed. It’s interesting what time and distance will do in providing solutions to tricky poems. One of my co-workers recently ask me how my poetry was going, as she knows I have a reading coming up soon, and I told her that it was going okay, but that writing poems isn’t the sort of thing that you can do effectively on a strict production schedule. I’m finally starting to accept that poems evolve, ever so slowly and in their own time, and pushing the process is almost never effective. Part of the strain for me is this entirely self-created pressure to ensure that I have something “new” to read, because I feel like such a failure for not have written much poetry over the last few years. But I am trying to let go and trust in the poems to reveal what they need to bloom.

At my last session, my trainer told me that I had finally locked in good form after months of practice, and therefore I didn’t have to be quite as measured during my sets and that I should start “puttin’ some stank on it.” I didn’t ask for clarification because I’m proud and there was no way I was going to stand there soaked in sweat and tell some youth with two percent body fat that I’m too old to understand his street lingo. I nodded knowingly and gleaned internally that the general gist of that phrase meant that I should “go faster” and “be more aggressive” during my sets. Upon looking up the phrase up in the Urban Dictionary when I got home, I was heartened to discover that I wasn’t far off:

Put some stank on it: (phrase), (sl)- Phrase meaning to add a personal flare or special ability to any given task or action. As in throwing an especially fast fast-ball, or making a difficult billiards shot. This can be applied to almost anything where talent is a factor in achieving the desired result:“I've never seen such a shot pulled off under those conditions! He really put some stank on it that time!”

So, now I am puttin’ some stank on it. Gettin’ my swagger on. Trying to be "explosive” or at least go a little faster, I guess. I don’t enjoy this. I liked my measured, slow-pokey sets and now I sweat a lot and feel like a bit of a maniac. That’s the problem with progress. It just causes entropy.

While I am enduring a cat-free existence, I can at least live vicariously through Simon’s Cat videos:


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Map App Stalking, Truth in Poetry, The Blood of My Foes

I had a creepy encounter with my phone recently involving a visit to McDonald’s. Yes, I went to McDonald’s. I was running late and I was really, really hungry and I had a work training downtown that afternoon and I wasn’t going to be able to eat until way later that night and I’m literally hungry all of the time now with the weights and I don’t have to explain myself to you. Anyway, I went in and paid a startling amount of cash for a cheese-less burger and a small fries. About twenty minutes later as I was hoofing it up the hill to where the training was, I got a text-y looking message on my phone asking “How was your visit to McDonald’s?” I blinked. At first I thought Mr. Typist was trolling me, but then I remembered I’d paid cash and there was no way he could have tracked my purchase. Then I wondered if someone I knew from work saw me go in there and was just being conversational. Then I worried that maybe I’ve had a stalker all this time and he finally decided to escalate. When I looked at the text more closely, I saw that it was actually some sort of automatic notification from a map app. I briefly considered tooling around with my privacy settings, but then figured that ship had long sailed. However, in answer to the app’s question, my visit to McDonald’s was highly unpleasant. It was dirty and smelly and crowded and way too pricey (since when is a burger and fries over twelve dollars?) Also, the bathroom was dangerously dark and had these weird blue glowing not-lights on the ceiling, and there wasn’t a paper towel to be found. There’s your answer. Now please stop creeping on me, map app.

In more pleasant news, I retooled the poem I mentioned last week that I wasn’t happy with, and I am happier with it now. There’s still more work to do, but it’s getting there. The last few lines are not hitting the exact note I want them to, but maybe the answer will come to me in a dream. It was interesting to discover in the editing process that the problem was simply that I wasn’t telling the full truth in the poem. It showed. Once I got down to what was true, the poem came into focus and had more energy and dynamic force. I also started a new poem along the same theme. I don’t want to be prematurely optimistic, but I think there is a possibility that I have enough material in me for a new chapbook. That makes me excited, because I haven’t had that feeling in a very long time. Poetry is making its way back to me, and this seems to be directly tied in to the strength training. Quite unexpectedly, the grueling but relatively straightforward act of strengthening my body has opened up a whole new avenue of creative thought.

For some reason, the other day Mr. Typist and I got to talking about colors, and he said that violet is the most high-energy color in the spectrum. I found that interesting, because purple is my favorite color. I asked why he supposed that men liked the color red on women so much. I don’t wear red very often, but when I do, I tend to get a lot of compliments from men. “It’s biological,” he explained confidently. “We associate it with the blood of our enemies. When you wear red, it looks like you conquered your enemies in battle because you’re splattered with blood of your foes.” I immediately resolved that the next time a man compliments me on my red skirt I will graciously reply, “Why, thank you. It is drenched in the blood of my foes.” I cannot wait to see his expression.
 
Enjoy this high-energy ditty about the Battle of Verdun by the peerless Sabaton:


--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Petty Complaints Sunday

Among the list of things bothering me this week are bad health teas, dry hair, writing insecurities, and as always, Youtube, which I am compelled by law to watch obsessively. I shall expound:

Mr. Typist has taken to a certain type of tea, and he recently ordered an entire case of it directly from the company. He urged me to go to their website and look at their products because he thought I would get excited about all of their teas. I used to get excited about teas, but I don’t anymore. Over the last few years, I’ve completely lost my taste for most teas. They all taste strange to me now and the only kind I still like is peppermint and good old-fashioned Lipton. But I have been curious about Chaga, which is a mushroom drink that’s become quite trendy of late. I found some Chaga tea on their website, but the description really turned me off. They literally decided that the selling point of this Chaga tea is that it tastes like a tree:

“Brewing tea from a substance that grows on the side of a tree results in an earthy flavor profile. Imagine yourself sitting under a birch tree, the warmth of the sun gently kissing your skin. You can smell the moist earth underneath, as the quiet of the forest envelops you in peaceful bliss.”

 
Yuck. I’m quite fond of trees, but I’d rather not drink something that tastes like it was steeped in bark. And, and as turns out, Chaga tea tastes like nothing but warm water. Even after I steeped it for a full fifteen minutes, it could barely muster up the flavor of warm, brown water. All in all, very disappointing.

My hair is dry. Really, really dry. Crackling, static-electricity dry. Like, dry to the point that I didn’t wash it for five days because I was afraid it would fall out. I use a coconut shampoo and coconut leave-in conditioner, and a shockingly expensive oil from Habitude, but my hair is still absurdly dry. I can’t even brush it without it getting all crazy and fly-away. I hope that it’s just due to this severe cold snap we’re having in Seattle and that it’s not a permanent condition. Otherwise, I’m going to chop it all off and go with a pixie cut again, which I sported for many years with varying success.

I’ve agreed to read some of my work at a poetry reading coming up at end of the month, and I really want to have some fresh material written for it, but my poem confidence is lacking. I don’t like it when emotionally fragile poets like me whine about their writing insecurities, but here I go: I’m not sure about my work. As I mentioned on this blog some months ago, I’m writing about the body again, but in a way that’s different from my previous work. I’ve become very interested in physical strength and power, in what the body can do rather than what is done to it. I’m worried that my writing lacks clarity. My latest poem is about the back muscles, but it might be nonsensical to anyone but me. I suppose time and the poetry reading will tell.

This isn’t really a complaint, but I finally figured out why all of those aforementioned fitness expert/bodybuilder guys on Youtube are so angry all of the time. It’s not testosterone. It’s hunger. They are very hungry indeed, and as a result they are filled with resentment and rage at non-gym people, who they fantasize are stuffing their faces with whole pans of lasagna and drinking red wine at 10:00 a.m. (which sounds marvelous, actually.) I don’t know who these straw gluttons are that these Youtube bodybuilders are raging about. Most non-athletic, normal workaday people I know simply eat a meal of reasonable nutritional and caloric content when they are hungry, then move on with their lives. But in the minds of Youtube body builders, the world is of full of two types of people-hyper disciplined athletes, or monstrous gluttons who are constantly cramming their faces with jalapeno poppers and deep dish pizza and laughing at them. I’d be pretty angry if I thought that, too.

Since strong backs are on my mind, here’s a old, sweet song from Natalie Merchant. I love the lyric, “My back is sturdy and strong.” Enjoy!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Adventures in Bureaucracy

In life, I’m generally a rule-follower, not out of any deep sense of moral principle, but more out of the desire to take the path of least resistance. It takes energy to be a chronic scofflaw, and I’d rather expend my reserves on other things. However, in my dotage, I am losing more and more patience with annoying bureaucratic hoop-jumping and clunky, overly-complicated processes that slow down the implementation of my agenda. My actual place of work is a relatively small campus, but it’s part of an extremely large and complex regional system, and out of necessity, most of us who work there have become geniuses at the subtle art of the “work-around.” I don’t want to go into too much detail because I don’t want to give away my game, but I’ve gotten pretty adroit at…let’s just say circumventing certain things. Not breaking any rules, mind you, just creatively making things move a little more efficiently.

However, I recently learned to my hair-pulling frustration that there is no circumventing when it comes to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Believe me, I tried: It was time to renew my driver’s license, so I went resentfully online, signed up for an account that necessitated an absurdly complicated password, and filled out their numerous forms, only to be told at the very end that I was “ineligible” to renew online and had to do it person. This was hurtful, but I figured a few phone calls would straighten things out. It turns out, there is no such thing as phone calls to the Department of Motor Vehicles. After several hours of obsessively trying to find a workaround, I gave up and realized that I was going to have to kill a morning busing downtown and standing in line like a chump for God knows how many hours to take care of this task.

I whipped off a whingy text to Mr. Typist about my impending ordeal, and he offered to come with me and share in my misery, which I immediately took him up on. The next morning we trundled off at the appointed time, me barely keeping my seething resentment in check at this outrageous interruption to my morning routine. When we arrived at 9:00 a.m., there was already a line forming, but the doors hadn’t opened yet. I checked the hours on the door, which indicated that the opening time was 9:30, even though the website had clearly said 9:00 a.m. I was incensed. Mr. Typist thought it would be prudent to just wait in line outside, but I was having none of that. I hotly told him that I was not going to stand in line in the rain like this was Soviet Russia and be controlled by the state like some puppet on a string and I was going to go get a cup of coffee and come back, because that would show them. He shrugged and we trudged off to a coffee shop, only to find a very long line there, too. I waited in line so long for the coffee that by the time I got it, it was almost 9:30. I took two sips, left the cup on the table, and stalked out, prompting Mr. Typist to ask how much the coffee cost. “It cost whatever coffee costs now,” I snapped.

We got back to the building just as the doors were opening. I was placed in the “express line”, which made me feel a little better. When I got up to the counter, the guy was cheerful and efficient. He asked me if I still wanted to be an organ donor, and when I told him yes, he instantly whipped out a laminated sheet of paper that pictured a pipe organ and said, “This is the only kind of organ we accept.” I couldn’t help it, I laughed pretty hard. He was so committed to his his joke that he actually laminated it. I like that in a person. By the time our interaction was over and I left, I was feeling quite uplifted. Here’s a person with a dull, process-oriented job who has to deal with crabs like me all day, and yet he managed to remain chipper and inject a little levity into our interaction. It gave me a glimmer of hope.

On the way home, I apologized to Mr. Typist for being such a grouch, (except I didn’t use the word “grouch.”) He took my hand and told me that it was okay, because he had a great morning since he got to spend it with me. Forget couples counseling--it is these such moments that sustain a marriage. I can’t believe I managed to squeeze an entire post out of a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but there you have it. My apologies.

My most recent go-to Spotify channel for gym listening is called “80’s Anthems,” so here is sexy as hell Billy Idol, Billy Idoling it up in the most 80’s way possible. The hair alone is glorious. (And no, I still can’t do a pull-up but I can hang from the bars and get a slight crook in my elbows for half a second now.)



--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Naked Spa Day, Baggage vs. Luggage, Badge of Strength

Because of a looming date of birth that involves a daunting number and its attendant psychological burdens, I have been a bit glum lately. However, one of my co-workers who I have become friends with offered to take me to the Korean spa to celebrate said date of birth, and no matter how glum I may be, I am never going to turn down a day at the Korean spa. I love it there. I hadn’t been for years and I don’t know why I don’t go more often. They have these dark, quiet, beautiful rooms with magical healing properties (the Salt Room is my favorite) and it’s warm in there and it smells good and they have hot tubs and a sauna and aromatherapy body wash in their showers. The only slight drawback is the nakedness, which is required in the tub room, but you get used to it. I got a salt scrub, which one also does naked. You lie there totally exposed on a rubber table for God and all to see while a wiry Korean woman diligently scours five layers of skin off your body and periodically pours a tub of hot water over you. It’s amazing. Afterwards you feel like a newborn babe and your skin glows like the moon. I had a great day and came home and took a nap-- all that sweating and relaxing really wore me out.

Many years ago, I wrote a poem about baggage, called Baggage. Over the weekend, I started working on a new poem about luggage. I like the word “luggage” because it’s more evocative. That’s what we do with it, lug it around. Pull it and push it and attend to it because it must be attended to at all times. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped lugging my luggage around, but I don’t know how. I’ve lugged it with me for so long that I would feel slightly bereft without its burden. We’ll see where this goes poem-wise.

I feel dumb and I never know what’s normal with all of this physical training stuff, so when I talk to my trainer, I frame my most awkward questions in deflective terms because I'm crafty that way and it totally fools him: Do people ever develop body image issues as a result of you making them look in the mirror all of the time? I’m not saying I have that issue, I’m just asking. Do people ever start crying in the middle of a set, not that I’m going to, but do they? Do people have to fight the unhealthy tendency to compare themselves to others who are better and stronger and more competent at this than them? I’m not saying that’s my issue, but is that normal? And most recently: Do people ever get to where they can do pull-ups? I’m not saying I will, but do they? Most of the time, he indulges my inquiries with pragmatic efficiency and we get right back to work, but at the mention of pull-ups, I could almost hear the brakes screeching. He looked like he’d seen a ghost, and he got uncharacteristically jittery and said that pull- ups are very, very hard, particularly for women, and that some people never achieve them, even if they are super-strong, and that he wanted to be sure he was managing my expectations properly.

I don’t have any expectations—I’ve barely gone from train wreck to fender-bender in six months and don’t plan to enter a strong-woman competition any time soon, but I was a little saddened by his reaction. I really want to be able to do a pull-up. Even just one or two. In my mind, being able to do a pull-up is the definitive badge of strength and would be proof-positive that I’ve achieved something with all of this hysterical displacement activity at the gym. I understand that I have to be realistic--I am nowhere near the point where I can lift my own body weight. But now that it's been implied that a pull-up is not within the realm of my physical capabilities, I desperately want to achieve one. I am trying really hard to let go of desire around this, and eventually I will, but right now it feels like someone pointed to a shiny toy in a shop window and told me I could never have it. In all fairness to my trainer, he didn’t come right out and say no in so many words, so maybe there’s still a chance. We’ll see how it shakes out.

I was looking for some “strong woman” songs for this week’s video but it turns that I find most songs of that ilk to be grating. I’m not much of a church-going sort and don’t have any particular religion anymore, but I came across this video and I really liked it. It cheered me up with it’s wholesomeness, sense of community, and positive vibe, and I needed that this week. Enjoy!


--Kristen McHenry


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Tech Kablooey, Netflix Existentialism, The Big Fire!

As those who follow me on Facebook know, my home computer went kablooey permanently and spectacularly, and I have been without for over a week. A week! (Sorry about no graphic and the terrible formatting of this post; it will be back to normal soon.) Mr. Typist has had the patience of a saint in getting everything ordered and re-built and patched and painted and back into shape, and to my great relief, it's almost done but for a few installations. I tried to put a brave face on it and take it philosophically, (philosophy will come into heavy play here momentarily,) but by day four I was crawling the walls. I was depending heavily on my twelve-year-old tablet to scratch my evening surfing and reading itch, but it wasn't the same. I downloaded a meaty book on Breaking Bad and philosophy, which was interesting in the beginning, but became existentially depressing very quickly. Then I faffed around with a few tablet games, all of which were disappointing. I finally resorted to pulling out my yarn bin and starting a new punch needle project, a pastel pink and blue hummingbird, as a sort of craft light therapy to ward off the October Seattle gloom.

During this span of time, Mr. Typist became fascinated with a Netflix series called "The Good Place", and would emerge from his computer room cave in the evenings, join me on the couch, and fire it up. I was on board at first, but I soon became deeply ambivalent about it. The plot centers around Eleanor, a young woman who dies prematurely and ends up in a bland, sweet, vaguely tacky "heaven" conceived by a genius architect named Micheal, who agonizes over every detail of his creation. The Good Place is populated by tame, banal neighbors and a comical overabundance of Frozen Yogurt shops with punny names. Soon, Eleanor gets "matched" with her supposed soulmate Chidi, a decision-phobic ethics professor who also died tragically young. It's a strange pairing, as we quickly learn that in life, Eleanor was a horrible person without a shred of integrity and no regard for anyone but herself. Eleanor can't figure out how she ended up in The Good Place at all, and can only conclude that it was a clerical error. She soon confesses to Chidi that she is in The Good Place by accident, and implores him to help her become a better person before she gets found out and expelled to Hell. Chidi has an ethical crisis about whether or not to help her, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the series: Eleanor struggles to overcome her wickedness (but only so hard,) Chidi engages a frustrating game of push-pull in which he provides her support and withdraws it just as quickly, and Michael feverishly over-analyzes every detail of his creation. There are also two other main characters introduced, both also morally decrepit in their own way, but the main dynamic centers around Chidi and Eleanor.

I like the overall concept, the acting is very good and the dialogue is quite funny at times, but it's a frustrating viewing experience for me all the same. Chidi's soliloquies on philosophy are interesting on the surface but ultimately lack depth, and it's cringe-inducing for me to watch how his inability to commit to a course of action causes pain to those around him. We're halfway through Season Two and only character so far to experience even incremental growth is Eleanor. Chidi is beginning to recognize that intellectual knowledge is not a substitute for a moral compass or an excuse for cowardice, but he remains unable to change his ways. And, I'll avoid spoilers here, but the constant struggle of the characters to find their way to their proper place in the afterlife feels Sisyphean. Maybe the show is just too much like real life--people are casually cruel to each other and slow to change, everyone's lost, and there are way too many frozen yogurt shops. I'll keep trying though, at least for a few more episodes.

But, I cannot neglect to tell you about the main excitement in my little burgh this week--the Big Fire! Not two blocks from my apartment on Monday afternoon, all hell broke loose and literally 65% of the Seattle fire fighting force showed en masse to put out one of the worst fires this city has seen in years. It happened in a block of businesses that have been around for a long time and were staples in the neighborhood, so that's very sad. But fortunately, despite the roof collapsing, massive amounts of smoke and toxic gas being released into the air, and wide-spread damage to the water supply, there were no serious injuries. Having just returned from FEMA school, my emergency management hackles were up in full force. I was prepared, had I been needed, to jump in with both feet and single-handedly drag smoke-inhalation victims to our Emergency Department, or start directing traffic. As it turns out, the Fire Department and police had things pretty much in hand and no one called on me. Which was a little disappointing, frankly. I just sat in my office and watched it all unfold on a live feed while Mr. Typist texted me updates. I am very grateful that no one was hurt and the fire didn't spread, and I'm proud of our fire department, so all in all, it could have been a lot worse. You can view the carnage here if you're curious. Hopefully the businesses can rebuild at some point and no one will be too financially devastated.

Since it's been a bumpy week, capped off by my return to work and 15,689 emails after two weeks off, here's a pretty and vaguely mournful little video about love and stuff by one of my faves, The Tallest Man on Earth. Enjoy!




Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 29, 2019

FEMA Recap: In Which Ms. Typist Discovers Her Inner Chaos Junkie


Well, my chickadees, I have returned from my week of FEMA training badly sleep-deprived and a bit traumatized, with a new-found terror of biological warfare and a cholesterol level that I can only guess is now through the roof thanks to the accursed deliciousness of Southern cooking and a Southern refusal to allow you to experience even five seconds of mild hunger. That having been said, it was the one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I am blessed to have had it. I was in the Healthcare Leadership Program, which ran concurrently with the Emergency Response Team class. (Those were the folks who ran the decontamination tents, among other things.) I didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement or anything, but it’s tactically understood that I shouldn’t go into a lot of specifics on a public site. So I will keep the details of the actual training exercises somewhat minimal, while still attempting to be scintillating.

I would like to preface this by saying that I am deeply grateful to the people in this country--the nurses, medics, firefighters, police, military personnel and others who are braver and stronger and smarter than I will ever be--who are working very hard behind the scenes every day to make sure that lives will be saved and suffering will be minimized in the event of a disaster. Over the last week, I have had the honor of being surrounded by some of the most remarkable people I have ever met. I saw people do extraordinary things and rise to the occasion in ways that they never believed they could. I saw first-hand the enormity of what can be accomplished when egos are in check and a group of people pull together to act as a team. I saw human angels in action. I have always had faith in this country, but I have returned with a renewed sense of optimism and a firm belief in our collective potential.

For context, the training started with a lot of lectures on the basics of the Emergency Incident Command System and the numerous involved agencies and their roles, then it progressed slowly into tabletop exercises followed by short, live scenarios during which we were observed on camera throughout and fed information through “controllers” who dictated fictional phone calls and acted as various characters in the scenarios. As the scenarios advanced in length and complexity, live actors were brought onto the scene, which made things even more interesting. It required a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, but I’ve never had a problem with that. 

As someone who has always thought of myself as adverse to chaos, I discovered that I actually have a love for it. After a brief stint in the fictional Public Health office, I felt that I wasn’t seeing enough action, and I asked to be transferred to the fictional Emergency Department. Public Health was an interesting assignment in some ways, but we were isolated from the hospital in a windowless office, and much of the work involved trying to track down the origin of various terrible disease outbreaks. I got bored doing nothing but making phone calls, then two nine-year-old twins “died” of Anthrax exposure, and it hurt me in the feels pretty bad. I fully realized that the ED would be a hundred times worse in terms of human carnage, and I was right, but I felt a deep need to be smack in the middle of it, to experience the worst things possible, perhaps in a misguided bid to gain some sense of mastery over my fear. So, midway through the training, the instructor brought me to the ED as an “extra hand.” The ED team had already coalesced at that point and they would have been well within their rights to take umbrage at having a non-nurse interloper dropped into their midst, but they handled it like pros with the can-do declaration, “No problem! We’ll put you to work.” 

And put me to work they did. In the final capstone event on Friday, in which every natural and man-made disaster known to man hit seemingly within fifteen minutes of each other, I was on my feet and running non-stop for the entire four hours, and getting a crash course in triage at the same time. And I loved it. I felt alive and energized and full of adrenaline and ready for anything. And anything came, including a woman who I had to wheel up to the second floor as her baby was “crowning” and her husband was yelling at me, a fight in the waiting room between a mother and daughter, a rogue reporter who tried to pry information out of me, (I am proud to say I didn’t crack), and the consummate trauma patient, a man who had very realistically, graphically amputated legs from a combine accident. I will never forget his screams. But more than that, I will never forget interacting with his devastated brother, who collapsed in sobs and told me that his brother was all he had in this world. That was the one that finally got me, folks. I took care of him as well as I could, but that did me in. No one saw me, but I had to go into the bathroom and cry after that. Damn FEMA actors. They were absolute masters at knowing how to stress us out and get under our skin. 

The other slightly less bad moment was when I got mildly dressed down by a very formidable Eastern European doctor-in-real-life for not knowing how to properly do a verbal report. I consider it a victory that later in the day I was able to get her to crack a slight smile by telling her I passed my nursing exam in the hour since I had last seen her.

Overall, I feel that my confidence around being an asset in a mass casualty event has gone from almost zero to about 90%. I’m just a very ordinary citizen with a non-clinical job. I’m not particularly strong physically and I certainly wouldn’t call myself courageous, but I know that I can be of help now, and that was my sole goal going into this. I can’t do the work of an emergency room nurse or a firefighter or a hazmat specialist, but I can do something. I can contribute and be of assistance to my community, and for that I am glad in the heart.

I will wrap up with a pitch for the FEMA training: You don’t have to be anyone special to go, and FEMA pays for all of your food, lodging, and airfare. If you can get your employer to approve you to attend and you can pass a background check, you’re in. The instructors are highly experienced, consummate professionals, and the operation is run with military-like structure and efficiency. Alabama is a beautiful state, and the training center is on lush, tree-lined, well-kept grounds. They offer a lot of different classes, and they are all excellent. If you’re curious and want to look into it, you can check out the offerings at this link.

They also have an abundance of free online classes, so check those out, too.

I loved every second of my time at FEMA, even the parts that I hated, but it’s good to be home. I missed Mr. Typist almost as much as I missed having a dimmer switch in the bathroom. I had a shared bathroom suite, and every time I opened the door to pee in the middle of the night, an automatic light switched on that had the glare and intensity of stadium floodlights. It was very stressful and not conducive to getting back to sleep easily, as my retinas burned for minutes afterward. Home is good. Our class video should be coming out soon, but in the meantime, here is a video on the joys of home:


 


--Kristen McHenry