Sunday, December 4, 2016

In Which The Good Typist Gets on Her High Horse About the Crap Treatment of Artists in This Society

I spent a good part of yesterday on the lonely and painstaking labor of re-vamping my novel. To decompress, I watched Mike Birbiglia’s new-ish film, “Don’t Think Twice”. The story centers around a tight-knit group of actors in a long-running Improv troupe called The Commune. They have a small but steady audience and seem to have built up a solid reputation. But when the ambitious, charismatic Jack gets plucked from the troupe to star in “This Weekend Live”, a Saturday Night Live-esque variety show, the group is thrown into turmoil. Seething professional jealousies are brought to the surface, and the actors are left to question their own artistic ambitions and life paths.

Interestingly, both Jack and his girlfriend Samantha are chosen to audition for the fame-making “This Weekend Live”, but Samantha never shows up for the audition. At first it’s difficult to understand why she blows this once-in-a-lifetime shot at fame, but later in film, it’s revealed that she simply doesn’t want it. She loves The Commune. She loves her troupe-mates. She’s happy performing for a small audience in a cozy venue. She doesn’t have any ambitions to become famous, or to fight for air time, or to compete in the cut-throat environment of “This Weekend Live”. As counter-intuitive as it is, I understood her decision. Why is what she chooses any less valuable artistically than Jack’s path? In fact, I would argue that in some ways, it’s more valuable, because Samantha retains her independence, while Jack quickly finds himself trapped in the corporate machinery of a big T.V. show.

Our society has a weird relationship with its artists. I’m not talking about big musical entertainers, famous movie stars, or that ilk. I’m talking about the working artists who quietly go about their business—the painters, actors, writers, illustrators, poets and sculptors who attend to their craft year after year, often around full-time jobs and other responsibilities. I’m also talking about the venues that support them--the scrappy community theaters, the hole-in-the-wall galleries that are barely keeping their heads above water, and the small publishers who are willing to take risks on unknown writers. None of these artists are likely to rise to fame, and they are certainly not going to get rich off of their work. But they carry on because they are deeply, passionately committed to the work that fulfills them.

Our culture does not trust or understand these artists. We diminish them, belittle them and even mock them on a regular basis. We tell them that they are childish, that they are wasting their time, and that if they’re not famous and wealthy, they’re obviously not talented. We shut them down, scorn their voices, and look upon them as freaks and outcasts. We openly wonder why they don’t move to L.A. where the “real” artists are. We claim to value the presence of artists in our cities, but at the same time we make sure that artists can’t afford to live in them. We claim to value the arts in education, but arts funding is always the first to get cut. We claim to love live theater, but aren’t willing to shell out money for tickets. And to bring it to a more local level, as much as Seattle loves to wrap itself in the vainglorious notion that we value art, no one in Seattle actually buys any of it.

It takes a huge amount of commitment and passion to continue these pursuits in a culture that only values art if it “rises” to the level of entertainment, or if an artist has been deemed to have “made it.” The rest of us are left to labor on in lonely exile and savor every tiny success that comes our way. And labor on we will, because that’s how the vast majority of artists do their art. Most of us will never “make it”, but we keep at it anyway, because we aren’t doing what we do for fame or money, which is anathema in America. We push on because we love and believe in our work. So if you’re out there right now, laboring away and doubting yourself, just know that you’re not alone. Your passion matters, and your work matters. Keep going. The world needs your voice.

--Kristen McHenry 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Craft Bender, Novel Update, Free Rug!

This weekend I got on my craft grind again, with ambiguous success. I don’t know if you heard, but there was a recent election in the U.S, and due to the distraction, I didn’t tell ya’ll about my port pillow achievement of a few weeks ago, wherein I sewed a tiny little simple square pillow out of cotton flannel:

Port pillows are for cancer patients who have had a port inserted into their chest for chemotherapy drug delivery, thus helping to avoid multiple needle sticks. The pillow goes over the port to protect the tender area from the pressure of seat belts, purse straps, etc. I was very proud of my port pillow, even though it took me two and half hours to make. I got ambitious over this long weekend and decided I would crank out five or six more, but it all sort of fell apart. I’m still not very adept with my machine, and my thread got snarled on the spool and my needle got un-threaded and I couldn’t get it re-threaded, and I got frustrated and had a little temper fit and quit in a huff. But I still wanted to sew, so I decided to suck it up and hand-sew the edging onto my peacock rug, which is now officially finished:

Then, flush with the triumph of actually completing something, I decided to start a new rug. I picked an owl-themed rug, because making something with an owl motif is mandatory for all crafters, and I figured I might as well get it over with. I hand-drew the design from a mishmash of different patterns I found online, and got an okay start on it last night. Here’s the back side of the rug:

And, finally, I started the rewrite of the first section of my novel. I carefully re-read the feedback I got from the potential publisher and tried to address the issues she had with it. I’m a little ambiguous about the new version, but I will admit that what it lacks in raw energy it makes up for in clarity and smoothness. We’ll see.  

In all of this doing, I did find a little time to read, and thus finished a Dave Eggers novel that I’ll review here soon, and started a new one called “A Man Named Ove”, which I hadn’t heard of until I saw that the movie of the same title was playing at my local theater. I’m only a chapter or two in, but already, Ove is my hero. I loved him immediately, and can only hope that I too, might one day have it in me to create such an obnoxious crank of a character. The main character in my novel is plenty obnoxious in her own way, but she has absolutely nothing on Ove. Ove is a true classic. Ove is marvelously, willfully cantankerous, stubborn beyond belief, and someone who most rational people would want to immediately smack upside the head upon meeting. I can’t wait to get to back to this book so I can enjoy more scenes of Ove tormenting Apple store employees and antagonizing hospital staff.

And, exciting news: I am giving away my peacock rug! It doesn’t fit in with the Typist's apartment “color palette” and I don’t really have anywhere to put it. So if you want it, comment here, or e-mail me if you have my e-mail address, and it shall be yours to enjoy! It’s just sitting in my closet right now, and I’d rather that it get some use.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Amazing Grace

This week, like so many of us, I was in despair. I asked no one in particular: Where is the love in the world?

And I got the most astonishing answer.

The answer didn’t come suddenly or not suddenly. There was no sense of time about it, no sense of epiphany, or of there being a specific "ah-ha!" moment. I got home from a poetry reading, I put my purse on the table, and I simply found myself in a deeply expansive, warm, peaceful state of love. A sweet, flowing, effortless state. It felt like I had always been in that state, but that I was only just now realizing it. It's hard to describe--there was a complete lack of transition between my normal, nervous fear state and this "new" state of expansive love. It was as though I had fallen gracefully and soundlessly through a trapdoor. I simply understood, with a calm knowledge that felt like it had always been there, that love is not something that is outside of me. I understood that love lives within me, and that it is a vast, endless resource, one that can never be taken away, because it is as much of a part of me as my own cells. I understood that love is not separate from me; it is not something I need to keep hunting worriedly for in the outside world.  Love is who I am.

I saw that when I’m in fear, I contract. When I’m angry, I contract. When I’m contracted, I am not able to see things for what they are. My system is flooded; I project my own fear or anxiety or anger onto situations and make up all kinds of meanings about them. When I’m in a state of love, I’m expanded, open and accepting. I’m at ease. I’m free and infinite. This state is not dependent on what’s happening outside of me. It is in my very being; it is knitted into my skin and bones, it is inseparable from me. It is both a gift and a birthright. I fell asleep immersed in this warm, expansive bath of love and deep peace.

Then I went to work the next day and got all pissy and high-handed about a project that I perceived to be improperly handled, and I felt depressed and put-upon, and hate-binged on Facebook, and fell asleep exhausted in front of the TV watching "Chopped" and stress-eating potato chips. So I'm hardly Maharishi.  But I’m writing this down because I need to remember this experience each time that I look outward into the world and demand that it demonstrate love. I need to remember this experience each time despair overwhelms me. I need to remember this experience so that no matter how much chaos rages on in the outside world, I know that within me, there is refuge. Within me, there is peace. Within me, there is spaciousness. And within me, there is boundless love.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Going Dark

The Good Typist is going dark this week. I just have one plea for all of you: Please take a deep, calming breath and think hard before you allow media-driven hysteria and hate-mongering to destroy your relationships and your emotional health.

Love to you all,

Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Poetry of the Practical

Poetry of the Practical

Having spent more years
than I care to contemplate
on the absurd and maligned
endeavor of poetry,
I finally understand
what you relentless makers get
out of all of your knitting and stitching
and scrapping and brewing and broths.
As I’ve aged I’ve grown
enamored of the material.
Of what use is a poem?
These days my hands
are too restless for such a pursuit.
I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.
I want to paste up a poem like a scrapbook, all
Modge Podge and glitter and stamps.
As for the poems I’ve already written,
living their silent, ethereal lives,
may they fade away like the
pale and impermanent
ink they were conceived in.
These days I care only
for that which I can make use of.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sewing Lessons, Deep Thoughts on Deep Wounds, A Halloween Funny

I had another sewing lesson last weekend, and this time, under the eagle eye of my tutor, I made a skirt! I was too intimidated by the machine after the first lesson to actually practice properly (read: at all), so a big part of this lesson involved re-learning some of the basics and getting used to the machine again. However, this time around I shan’t be deterred! I am going to practice, practice, practice, because I have discovered a perfect, low-stakes project I can work on: Port pillows! These are small pillows that are designed for chemo patients who have had ports inserted into their chest for receiving chemo drugs. The pillows help protect the often tender area around the port when the patient is, for example, using a seatbelt or carrying a bag with a strap. They’re simple, they inexpensive to make so it doesn’t matter if I screw a bunch of them up at first, and I can donate them to the cancer treatment center at the hospital I work at. A win-win all around! Now I just have to face going to my local Joanne’s for fabric and batting. The last time I was in there, I waited in line for twenty-five minutes.

I was thinking deep thoughts the other day about the parallels between writing and sewing. Sewing puts me into a flow state. I’m concentrating, but it’s a kind of effortless and calming concentration that makes me feel refreshed and energized afterwards. Ideally, when I write, I’ll get into that same state, although far more often than not than not, writing is more akin to dragging a boulder uphill mentally. At any rate, both activities seem stimulate a part of my brain that enjoys precision and meticulousness. Then I started thinking about why I was so averse to sewing to begin with, and I realized that it’s because it was never presented to me as a joyous, creative activity. My memories of sewing in school was that it was a big, scary “gotcha”; yet another thing that I was inevitably going to do wrong and screw up. There was no sense of play or fun about it; it was just another dreary chore that I was going be chastised for not doing right. Every time I had to go near a machine, I got very anxious and stressed.

I was surprised at how excited and proud I was when I sewed that tote bag last month. And I had similar feelings of euphoria last week upon finishing the skirt. There is some deep, core emotional stuff being stirred up in me by this sewing journey. I think it’s healing a wound that has been with me for a long time, and I suspect that wound is about a lot more than a few crabby Home Ec teachers. I’m not sure what caused the wound or even what its exact nature is; I just know that something in me I didn’t even know was there is yearning to be healed, and the sewing seems to be the catalyst for it. I think that all artists are wounded early and often in childhood around their artistic gifts, and maybe that’s a part of this for me, a deep need to feel empowered creatively, to feel competent and confident. Or maybe it’s something more simple and primal: A yearning for the pleasures of traditional feminine domesticity, which I have always been very disconnected from. Whatever its nature, it’s formidable.

To end things on a cheerier note, since it’s Halloween, here’s a video I always get a chuckle out of:

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Name for That Which Ails Me

Recently, being in a mood of sorts, I watched the first two episodes of “Very British Problems” on Netflix. It’s chock full of emotionally repressed, socially awkward, chronically depressed and peevish humans, all of whom will go to any lengths to avoid making eye contact or talking to each other. Further complicating things, these humans walk around in constant anguish because they’re as equally horrified at the prospect of being considered rude as they are at the prospect of enduring human interaction, forcing them to clamp down with a death grip on their quietly seething rage. Half way through the first episode, I had a revelation: I realized that I am British.

All of this time I could never put my finger on exactly what my problem is. And now I have word for it. It’s such a relief. I feel like I have found my people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with me. I’m just a British person living in the super-extroverted, hyper-social, aggressively optimistic, happiness-shilling America, where to feel sad or lonely or depressed or emotionally defeated even for one moment is considered a spiritual failure or a character flaw. I have been harangued my entire life to cheer up and to be “more outgoing.” I have been labeled shy, reserved, and stiff. I have been accused of being “no fun” and “pathologically adverse to social situations.” If I lived in Britain, none of that would be considered a problem. But unfortunately, my naturally melancholic self was born in the loudest, most extroverted and happiness-obsessed country in the world. Therefore, I will never be left to enjoy my inherent dysthymia and introversion in peace. Someone is always going to be exhorting me to get out and enjoy the sun, make small talk, party hearty, or, to my horror, “put myself out there more.” My only somewhat saving grace is that I live in Seattle, where it’s a bit more socially acceptable to be this way. But somehow even that gets overridden more often than not by the Mafia of the Outgoing.

Speaking of anguish, I recently came across a link to a video by Lindsey Buckingham, which sent me down an emotionally satisfying Youtube rabbit hole of Lindsey Buckingham music. For many years, I was a huge fan of Fleetwood Mac, (my years-long spiritual affair with Stevie Nicks is a story for another time), and I have always had a huge, fluttery crush on Lindsey Buckingham. His most recent album, “Seeds We Sow” is amazing. He’s always been a phenomenal talent, but his work has gotten so much better with age: More mature, more self-aware, more emotionally rich and complex. One song I remembered from many years ago is “Bleed to Love Her”, and in my jaunt, I came across his most recent rendition. The original is good—nothing wrong with it; it’s more substantive than your typical pop ballad. But with this one, he is singing with many years of pain and growth and history and wisdom behind it. The haunting mournfulness in his voice could never have come from a younger, cockier, more carefree Lindsey. This is the performance of a man who has seen some shit and came through the other side of with his character intact. Ah, Lindsey. You will always be my soul drifter.  (Note: If you want to skip the chatter and go right to the song, it starts at about 50 seconds in.)

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Storm Disappointment, Nighthawks Love, Cat Karma

We here in Western Washington were recently promised a storm of epic proportions, which, disappointingly to me, never materialized. Apparently, our “multi-million dollar weather supercomputers” miscalculated the force and trajectory, and the storm just sort of fizzled out. I feel very let down. I needed a storm in my life to match my emotional storminess, and the weather simply refused to cooperate. This is one of only many times that I have been thoroughly let down by weather: There were all of those 90-degree, aggressively sunny days when I was depressed and could not cope with all of the exhortations to “get out and enjoy the sun!” (Just for the record, I’m pasty-skinned redhead who is prone to burning in mere minutes. I hate the sun and will never, ever “enjoy” it.) That time that I was caught in a completely unexpected severe rainstorm in downtown Seattle and got hit by a wall of water so powerful I was as soaked as if I had waded into Puget Sound, and it took me seven hours to get home that night. The time when we had a severe heatwave for two weeks straight and everyone from the South made fun of us without realizing that no one in this effing state has air conditioning. Ugh, weather. It’s the worst.

I recently came across a Photoshopped image that reminded me of how much I like “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. My artistic tastes tend toward the unconventional, but I’ve always been a fan of Hopper’s work, and “Nighthawks” is a favorite of mine. I don’t know why—I don’t generally like L.A. noir style work, but there is something about this painting that I have always found hauntingly beautiful and fascinating. It’s a combination of the light, the darkness, and the mysterious circumstances of the cafĂ©-dwellers. Why are they there so late at night? What’s going on with the couple? What’s up with the single guy at the counter? And what does the seemingly world-weary diner attendant think of all of this? No one in the painting seems overtly sad, nor do they seem particularly thrilled to be in each other’s company. They all seem to be in their own emotional worlds, connected by proximity, but detached from one another. The painting is both emotionally rich and deeply ambivalent. I get that feeling from a lot of Hopper’s work, but this one is by far my favorite.

Recently on a podcast I listen to with semi-regularity, one of the hosts said that dogs are subservient because they need humans to take charge of things, but cats are assholes because they are more independent and can just do whatever they want. This is entirely true. Now that the weather has turned, Buddy has given up his deck-jumping antics and has taken to sleeping all day long on top of the refrigerator in a paper tray we have up there. Why do we have a paper tray on top of our fridge? Reasons. And right now that reason is so that Buddy has a cat bed to rest in. I know this is not an original thought, but if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m coming back as a cat. I want to lounge around on top of a fridge all day, manipulate humans into loving me against all reason and common sense, grub free food and boarding, and contribute nothing to the household. Also, I’ll have a complete patsy in tattooed cat apologist Jackson Galaxy, who will defend my atrocious behavior at every turn. Get that soul contract ready, Gods. Cats owe me, and it’s payback time!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Employee Satisfaction Survey

I have some…stuff I need to work on today. Super-secret, highly glamorous and impressive stuff. I can’t tell you about it, but trust me, it is intriguing as hell. So instead of a regular post, here’s a poem from “The Acme Employee Handbook”, which will be released, by me, in e-format soon.

Employee Satisfaction Survey

Are you plagued by high absenteeism? Or is there just a general malaise that permeates the hallways, and you can't quite identify the source?  --From a corporate surveying website

The Company knows that our employee’s job satisfaction is paramount to our success. Please take a few moments to complete this (mostly anonymous) survey, as we are not loathe to ask what cunning dread gnaws at your guts at 3:00 a.m., or where in your body failure resides--the cold conviction that somewhere in life you missed a critical turn, that the opportunity to become who you were meant to be is gone, that in one moment of inattention, or with one big feckless decision, or perhaps with a series of tiny, untraceable, but no less negligent choices, your Last Chance vanished like a scared cat and the door that opened to the path of your highest potential slammed shut and was sealed forever like an evil portal in a sci-fi comic.

On a scale of one to ten, how close are you to being the person you thought you would become? When you loll at your work station, staring listlessly into your cup, do you ruminate obsessively on why you don this role each morning like an itchy costume, and for that matter, why you ever listened to society at all? At what point you got soft, shape-shifted into subdued citizen instead of starting up that business, pursuing sculpture, trying to make a go of it in stand-up? And yet here you are now, taunted by some irrational part of you that still yearns to find some meaning in your day-to-day labors, even though management is out of touch and wasps have nested in the window sash and the fern they mailed you for your five-year anniversary curls brownly in its plastic grave, the cheery little card faded with exposure to florescent.

Do you feel that you are given feedback, or that your only feedback is the continuous thrum of low-grade disappointment coursing through your teeth? Are you happy with our suppliers? Would you like an incentive program? Or do you feel that work well done is its own reward, except it isn’t anymore and you want a thank you now and then damnit, or a little recognition for your efforts. Perhaps you fantasize about a transfer to Janitorial, where at least you can see some results, something accomplished, a dry floor, a lustrous commode. On a scale of one to ten, with one being more or less okay with it all and ten being rapturously at ease, overall how satisfied are you with your work at The Company? Please answers all questions honestly, and do not make multiple selections.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Doctor Distress, Trash Pandas, Sneeze Ninja

I bit the bullet recently and actually made a doctor’s appointment—an appointment I did not want to make for an issue I did not want to deal with—but I steeled myself and went anyway. It was as awful as I had anticipated, including a surprise invasive ultrasound and a painful emergency procedure to remove an implant that had become problematic. It was 8:00 in the morning, I was slightly traumatized, and I had a bit of shock adrenaline running through me. 

Because I hadn’t been to see a doctor for so long, the OB/GYN (who I liked) decided that this was a great time to give me the full run-down of everything medical I need to catch up on now, especially since I am “getting older.” She whipped out a form and started asking me all of these questions about my eyes and my veins and my frequenting of adult beverages and my weight and my last mammogram and how I managed to reach my age without being put on the pill. Then she said I can’t eat white foods anymore, and when I turn fifty, I have to have a colonoscopy. (Which by the way, I will just flat out will not ever do. Ever.) It was a dizzying array of information, and I can’t remember any of it, and I’m supposed to go back next week for something, and I think I’m supposed to fast but I can’t remember. This is why I avoid doctors. They cause confusion and upsetted-ness. Also, I don’t know what she means by “white foods.” If she meant “refined carbohydrates” I would understand. But did she mean vanilla yogurt and cottage cheese? Potatoes? Brie? I mean, it’s not like I’m going to listen to her anyway, but I’d like to be clear on which advice I’m ignoring.

Sorry for the lack of a segueway here, but I’m not sure how I feel about raccoons. Mr. Typist recently showed me a video of a raccoon taking revenge on a cat but spraying it with a garden hose:

I have to give the little bastard credit—that was a pro move, and quite strategically executed. But it did remind me of what colossal jerks raccoons are. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. I admire their ingenuity and their fearlessness, and I admit I think they’re kind of cute when they aren’t menacing my cat or refusing to leave my porch. And they featured heavily in a short story I wrote once, where they guided souls into the underworld. So I am both fascinated and enraged by them. I don’t understand why they aren’t more scared of me, and their arrogance exasperates me. In one video I watched (or maybe it was an article I read) a scientist said that raccoons annoy humans because they don’t seem to sense their place in the animal hierarchy. They act like they’re equal to us, instead understanding that they are trash pandas and yard varmints and that they should properly fear our authori-tay. That’s exactly how I feel about them! Gah! So irritating. (But also kind of cute.)

I am a copious sneezer, and with me, there is no sneeze foreplay. My sneezes are sudden, violent, and without warning. They are not dainty little lady-like “achoos.” They sound like they’re coming from the nostrils of a rabid hippopotamus. They are terrifying to behold, and made even more frightening by the fact that there is no telling when one is about fly until it’s too late. The other day, I was heading into the computer room when one hit me full force, just as I was passing by Mr. Typist’s chair. He jumped about ten feet, then claimed I did it on purpose to scare him. “You waited until you got right in front of my chair to sneeze,” he accused. “You…are a sneeze ninja!” Hmph. Let the record stand that I am not a “sneeze ninja.” I don’t go skulking about the city at night, sidling up to complete strangers and sneezing in their ear, cackling with glee when they jump in terror. I just have violent sneezes over which I have no control. I’m the victim here. I have a condition. Pardon me, but I need to excuse myself to a safe space now, with other sneezers who understand my plight. 

--Kristen McHenry