Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bite-Sized Story Special: “Alarm”



I’ve started playing around with the short-short story form just to see what happens. Here is today’s effort. I hope you enjoy it!









Alarm

Leviathan Customer Review: Slow Wake Liquid Sunlight Alarm

by Binarystar673

I’m extremely displeased with this product, and I’m sending it back. I need to keep my body clock strictly regulated. I don’t like to throw my name around, but without revealing too much, let’s just say that six years ago, I sold a very popular start-up to a very large tech firm, and now I’m a target for the CIA. They send spy cam drones to my compound at irregular intervals, so I need to have my wits about me at all times. This clock claims to wake you up slowly, but it didn’t wake me up at all. It just sat there eking out some feeble little “beams” and as a result, I overslept by forty-five minutes and my whole morning was shot. My Clover espresso was cold and my neuromodulation chip misfired, so as I write this I have tremors. My Gluv Box doesn’t get here until tomorrow, so my hands are ruined until then unless I can re-configure my chip, and I don’t have time today because I have a text session with my remote therapist, and I have to reorganize my bitters cabinet because Buoz Box sent me the wrong shipment again. In short, this product in no way lived up to its promise to “gently awaken you to the world with natural pineal-gland stimulus.” One and half tentacles only because I liked the brushed metal.

Leviathan Customer Review: Professor Irena’s Apt Sleeper Smart Alarm

by Binarystar673

Another slickly-marketed device that fails to fulfill its promise. Putting “Professor” in its name does nothing to disguise its pathetically weak so-called challenges. Its website says that it “smoothly brings you to peak lucidity by asking you to solve a series of increasingly difficult mathematical equations until you are fully alert, mentally sharp, and prepared to meet the challenges of the day.” I don’t know what kind of moronic first-grade teacher wrote its “mathematical equations,” but its laughably simplistic multivarious calculus is beyond a joke. Worse than that, if you happen to have less than 20/20 eyesight (mine is almost perfect, but not quite,) you might accidently hit the wrong answer selection, and therefore have to endure this product’s exponentially shrill and discordant screeching. Thanks to this train wreck of a product, once again my entire day has been set off course. I have to schedule a remote emergency session with my audiologist because I’m pretty sure I sustained not-inconsequential damage to my cochlea, and instead of enjoying my weekly biome-balancing juicing session, I spent the morning picking glass out of my foot when I accidently stepped on the broken shards of this disaster after I slammed it onto my marble floor. I will not take responsibility for its cheap and shoddy design, so I am returning the pieces to the company, complete with the literal blood of my suffering. Fortunately for them, I don’t like to mention this, but six years ago, I sold a very popular start-up to a very large tech firm, so I could throw my name around if I wanted to, but all I’m asking for is a refund and a sincere apology. One tentacle.

Leviathan Customer Review: Wake-and-Bacon Fryer Alarm

by Binarystar673

Where do I even begin? I followed the instructions exactly, but nonetheless, I awoke choking on the stench of smoke and flawed product design. Tragically, the organic grain-fed thick-sliced bacon I ordered from Virchew Farms Collective had been shriveled to a black husk of its former glory, and I have contracted what I’m almost certain is Black Lung. When an alarm clock is sworn to “rouse you into full consciousness with the irresistible aroma of perfectly-cooked bacon at the ready,” I expect it to do exactly that, not to transform my artisan slabs into charred clods. I’ve had to fumigate the master suite and send all of my clothes out for specialty dry-cleaning. Thanks to endemic national incompetence, I’m now going on my fourth day without adequate REM cycling, and I can already feel the deleterious effects on my neurobiology. My biofeedback data is showing a distinct down-curve in arterial flow to my cerebral cortex, and this afternoon I had a terrible time remembering where I put my augmented reality goggles for my virtual spinning session. One tentacle, and I am demanding both a refund for the clock, plus financial damages sustained by the loss of my bacon.

Leviathan Customer Review: Loving Voices Wake-Up Call App

by Binarystar673

I try to restrain my umbrage in my reviews, but I find myself shaking with rage, unable to hold back. Simply put, this company is chockful of criminally incompetent frauds. This alarm “service” purports to pipe the mimicked voices of your loved ones into multiple speakers throughout your domicile, so you awake surrounded by the dulcet tones of your friends, family and beloved. They promise that you can program both the verbal content as well as finely calibrate the percentage and audio levels of each voice. I spent the two hours leading up to my bedtime aggressively fine-tuning and maximizing their online tools for an optimal waking experience. Since I don’t remember the sounds of my parent’s voices, and I have chosen a life of solitude, I selected the voice of Ariel Dean, my favorite character from the obscure and short-lived science fiction drama, “Sage Ship.” Imagine, then, my abject horror when instead of Ariel’s voice, I was roused by the soft timbre of Mariel Jean, that traitorous viper who left me six years ago to the day. Mind you, I am completely over her, but the cognitive dissonance between expectation and reality was a shock to my already over-wrought system. Mariel, dear Mariel, and her wake up kisses. Mariel and her sweet morning song. I can’t fathom how supposed professionals allowed such a colossal cock-up. Zero tentacles. I shall be returning this product post-haste for a full refund, and will have my lawyer contact the company immediately to negotiate a settlement for emotional damages.

But right now, I find myself fatigued in the extreme, so I’m going back to bed. I won’t be setting an alarm. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Slipping



Slipping

I squeeze myself into the tiniest opinions, like those
octopi who slip their tanks by wringing
their sleek skins like a washcloth, then coasting down drainpipes.
Sayonara, suckers:  Fair and square, they’re gone.
I’m not out for a soft landing, just one
that will whisk me down-current 
with a mute and ruthless efficiency.
It’s what I’m good at, being small.
A slip of a thing, they used to say and now
I really am. Catch me if you can. I’ll slither
through any crevice lickety-split. It’s my superpower,
to go at any time. After all these years the contortions
don’t even hurt anymore. I’m a human
oil slick, lubricious and covert.  Ask me anything.  

--Kristen McHenry 


Sunday, May 7, 2017

In Which Old-Lady-Typist Shakes Her Fist and Shouts into the Wind



I’m currently reading a novel called “Startup” by Doree Shafrir, a semi-satirical jaunt through the inane world of tech startups. I’m not going to do a full review of the book here because I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I did have some thoughts on its supremely shallow main character Mack, his ridiculously overvalued app, and tech in general. Bear with me now, because this is related: Yesterday, Mr. Typist managed to lure me out for a walk to our local Big Brand General Goods store. This is a store that I have walked to many times over the years, and for many of those years, it’s been a pleasant, quiet walk. Mellow. Uncrowded. A little traffic here and there, nothing unmanageable. But recently I’ve begun to notice that there is more and more traffic along the main road, cars are getting noisier, faster, and more liberal with the horn-leaning, and more and more bikes are whizzing by at record speed, their riders shouting at pedestrians and generally being a-holes. 

About two thirds of the way to Big Brand Store yesterday, I started to have a stimulation-overload meltdown. It was horrifically noisy. The once untrodden street was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with pedestrians. Cars were zooming dangerously over the speed limit. And what finally pushed me over the edge was the unbearably shrill shrieks and screams of partiers on a “beer bike” whizzing by just as semi blew over the bridge and honked his horn. At that point, I actually burst into tears. Mr. Typist led me down a slightly less noisy side street and we trudged back home, where I closed the blinds and sat in my blessedly quiet apartment for the rest of the afternoon, lamenting the loss of my once-sleepy, pleasantly shabby, un-gentrified fisherman’s neighborhood, before Big Tech moved into this city like a plague of locusts and devoured all affordable housing and small businesses.

I understand that this is not a new or original complaint. This is the most common story in the book. The loss of my neighborhood and countless others like it is the price of progress. It’s inevitable, it’s a foregone conclusion, it’s Just the Way Things are. But my feelings about it amount to more than just annoyance or short-sighted resistance to change—it is actual, genuine grief.  It hurts my heart. It makes me feel alienated and lost and sad. It’s been said that all writers work has one central, spiritual theme, and for me, it’s always been the search for home. And I feel that the home I have cultivated here in this neighborhood, which I have lived in for almost fifteen years, has been obliterated. It’s not coming back. Thousands of out-of-state tech workers continue to pour in, houses are getting snapped up for cash, razed by the dozens and replaced with four-thousand-dollar-a-month “efficiency apartments”, luxury sports cars are speeding down side streets at the behest of Waze, endangering pedestrians and killing cats, and wealthy hipsters flood in on the weekends, elbowing out residents on the sidewalks and guzzling seventeen-dollar herb-infused cocktails at uber-trendy bars that used to be mom-and-pop storefronts. “Well, Ms. Typist,” you may say, “you live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. You can always get away on a weekend hike!” Not anymore. Our once-pristine and lightly populated trails have been overrun, and driving to get to them is a gridlocked-choked nightmare.

In “Startup”, Mack’s app is all about “maximizing” human beings. It tracks user’s social media, e-mail, Fit Bits and other electronic devices, seeking information on their mood through emojis and keywords. It aggregates the data, detects patterns, then sends the user reminders tailor-made to their biorhythms. Do you get a blood-sugar crash in the afternoons? The app will ping you at around 2:00 p.m. to suggest a light snack. Are you peppier in the mornings? The app will send you a message to take a brisk walk after you wake up. It represents an absurd level of human micromanagement, and it’s a total privacy nightmare. However, somehow Mack manages to secure, or so far appears to have secured, twenty million dollars in funding for this idiotic “tool.” All I could think as I was reading this was that we don’t need any more innovation, disruption, or optimization. We’ve hit peak everything. We’re done. We’re maxed out. We can track literally every emotional, intellectual and biological function. We’re drowning in social media. There are hundreds of meal delivery services, errand services, ride choices, and bio-trackers. We have access to all of the TED talks we can handle. There are no longer any meaningful improvements to be made. So what is all of this tech doing? How much better can any “innovation” really make our lives? None of what we already have has made us happier, healthier, or less lonely. Is one more social medium platform or dubious box delivery service worth the loss of our communities? I get that I’m just shouting into the wind here, but I really needed to share my sadness and grief with someone. I miss my neighborhood. Thank you for listening, dear readers.

In the interest of not ending on a total bummer, here’s a Simon’s Cat. (Buddy loves a rousing game of “Hide Under the Blanket and Chase The Hand”.)


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Death Sick, Bad Hypnosis, Tiny House Mission Drift



Well, it finally happened. After several weeks of pushing myself to work through a run-of-the-mill cold, it turned into the chest infection from hell, and I was knocked out of commission, oh-so-conveniently just a few days before I was supposed to run a major event for work. Desperate to be better by event day, and unable to sleep because of the coughing, I decided I would use good old-fashioned hypnosis to beat the illness into submission. I listened to one guided meditation that encouraged me to envision my white blood cells as a gentle, angelic presence there to support me, and to imagine my sinuses “slowly melting” (yuck). When that didn’t work, I pulled out the big guns: A hypnosis app that promised to deliver unprecedented levels of relaxation and deep, full-body healing. The problem was, it was incredibly dull and repetitive. I couldn’t relax because it was making me so nervous. The “hypnotist” just kept counting, over and over and over again, and then when he was finally done counting, he would start in again with the exact same patter, all the while promising some vague “super-healing” stage that was supposedly coming at any minute. I finally ripped out my headphones in frustration, wheezing, “Dude! Get to the goods already! I have literally three days to get over this thing!” So maybe I’m not the greatest candidate for hypnosis. That’s fine by me—God knows what kind of subliminal messages they bury in that audio. The rest of the night I listened to Tibetan singing bowls, but those didn’t miraculously cure me either. I must say I am quite disappointed in you, alternative healing methods!

I did manage to get through Event Day armed with Dayquil and allergy medication, but it was a Herculean effort. The good thing is, I don’t have to think about next year’s event again for a few months. It’s always the same process: For months before The Event, all my brain thinks about is The Event, The Event, Oh My God The Event, and then suddenly it’s The Day of The Event, and it’s over in three hours, and then for the next two days I’m thinking obsessively about how The Event went. Then there is a blissful sweet spot of a few months during which I am not thinking about The Event at all, and I actually feel like a human being instead of a robo-planner obsessed with the minutia of table settings. ***Post-post Edit: I don’t want it to sound like I don’t like doing The Event. I do.  It’s the one time of year when I get to remember why I do this sometimes difficult and misunderstood job. The Event is an opportunity to honor the volunteers who serve our hospital. The table settings don’t really matter. What matters is that the volunteers are amazing, and it's such a privilege to get a chance to honor them at this event. They are great people, and I am lucky to get to work with them.

Being death sick is my excuse to indulge in mindless television, so I spent a lot of time watching HGTV last week. I had no idea how out of hand this tiny house mania has gotten. These shows that tout tiny houses have ruined us as a society by creating absurdly unrealistic expectations. Our fantasies about what can be crammed into to a 300-square foot space now defies all physics and basic logic. Folks, if you have four kids, two bullmastiffs and a baby grand piano, give it up. You need a house, not a tiny house. It’s not a personal failure on your part, nor is it a deficiency of design. It’s simply a fact: This trend is not for you. Go buy yourself a decent four-bedroom in the suburbs and stop trying to show off. You’re not virtuous, you’re not into “simple living,” and you’re not thrifty. You’re just deluded. Also, the definition of “tiny house” seems to be ever-expanding. One family moved into a full-sized cottage with two bedrooms and still insisted they were living in a tiny house. We need to pick a definition with clear parameters and reinforce it ruthlessly, before today’s six-bedroom McMansion with a three-car garage becomes tomorrow’s tiny house. This has been a public service announcement from The Good Typist. You’re welcome.

Here’s a pretty song in honor of all of us taking the time needed to heal, and letting go of the need to control everything:


--Kristen McHenry