Saturday, April 30, 2016

Buddy Ban, “Wolfpine Glen” Goes Live!

Buddy has been permanently banned from the deck for being a jerk and constantly climbing into the tree next to our bedroom window. Mr. Typist spent all day one afternoon this week diligently putting up a mesh screen to prevent Buddy from jumping into the tree, and within mere minutes, Buddy found a work-around: He simply leaped onto the railing and dove into the tree, completely bypassing the mesh screen. Oh, the cries of woe and injustice we are now subject to from Buddy. Oh, the high-pitched whines and the wailing and the rending of flesh and rolling about of his little cat body. Oh, the deprivation and pain it has caused him to no longer be allowed on the deck. I have never witnessed such drama in my life. Right now, fortunately, he has exhausted himself with his temper fits and is fast asleep in Mr. Typist’s laundry basket. Thank God. I can’t take any more of his theatrics. I wish I had a big farm he could run around on, but unfortunately for him, I’m not a farm person. He’s stuck here in this little apartment, and must now make do with pressing himself against the window screen to get his outdoor ya-ya’s on. If he wasn’t so pig-headed about jumping into the tree, he could have deck privileges again, but since he can’t control himself, he’s out of luck. God almighty, why on earth did we get yet another cat? I think I have toxoplasmosis.

In writing news, I have put up the first installment in the “Wolfpine Glen” series! Please let me know what you think and if you want to see more.

--Kristen McHenry 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Fun with Co-Dependence, Bad Back, New Coke Flashback

Recently, I did an elaborate survey/personality test type-thing involving videos of people berating me, pleading with me, or otherwise trying to sucker me into involvement in their nefarious plots.  In the interest of protecting intellectual property, I’ll keep the details vague, but I got my results back, and I was shocked to find that it said I have “excellent access to feelings of joy and love." As a person who struggles with depression, I was incredibly surprised by that. I also scored the maximum possible in the category of "empathy and compassion." (Not so surprising there—I’m an emotional sponge.) And, I scored unusually high in “access to feelings of sadness.” On the surface, it may seem that all of these things are contradictory—how can someone with “excellent access to feelings of joy and love” be the same person who feels unusually high levels of sadness? Perhaps because access to any sort of intense feeling is not discriminatory—those who feel joy and happiness deeply will inevitably also feel pain deeply.

I also think it’s because all of those things go together when you’re empathic. You see deeply into people; you can see who they really are, and what their potential is. This same ability to see into people is also what makes you a finely-tuned emotional antennae, so often, against your will, you feel everything everyone around you is feeling. It is rare that empathic people have anyone to teach them how to shield and set emotional boundaries. It’s all just one big emotional stew if you’re not careful and aware. I don’t know if the survey was any good or not, or how it was vetted, but I have taken a deep, poetic comfort in the phrase “You have excellent access to feelings of joy and love.” It’s a good reminder that I am not, in fact, dead inside--something I often worry about when I shut down emotionally after getting fried by being overly-attuned to other people’s feelings. Or, to say it more plainly, exhausted by my own co-dependence.

I don’t usually have back problems, but this entire week, I was plagued by severe back pain, just before a Big Event I had to put on, with an enormous amount of self-induced pressure to do well. I got into this horrid stress-pain-spasm-fear cycle with it—the more pain I had, the more fear I had that I wouldn’t be able to carry out the event, which increased the fear, which increased the pain. (Can we just pause here to reflect on what an icon of emotional health I am?) At any rate, the event went off well, in spite of me getting no sleep the night before because I was twisting in agony. Immediately afterwards, the pain was about 80% gone. I still have some twitchy stuff going on and I need a massage, but it’s nothing like the lie-flat-on-the-floor-and-gorge-on-Advil pain I had before the event. Maybe I scared the pain away by my event success, or maybe it really was mostly psychological—who knows? At this point, I don’t care. The event is over for another year, and I feel physically functional again.  

My friend Frank recently re-traumatized me with his blog post about the New Coke debacle. I keenly remember when New Coke came out. I was around 13 or 14 years old, and I felt deeply betrayed. The crispy, zingy, predictable taste of Coke was the one constant in my life, and they took it away and replaced it with a bland, sugary, lifeless facsimile. I was bereft, and I took great glee in the fact that they were compelled by the market to bring back “real” Coke within a matter of weeks. I dimly recall that this was such a massive business failure that there is a documentary out there on it somewhere, and they use it in business classes now as a teaching tool and a dire warning. Good! Since then, they have left my beloved Coke the hell alone, and I still have one shining beacon of predictability in my life.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Writers Love Misery, Rug Update, Cat Cartoon

I met today with my writing “group”—we are now pretty much a group of two—and we were commiserating about how hard writing is. She said it’s like having homework as a hobby. Spot on, my friend. It’s lonely, complicated labor, and there is little pleasure to be derived from it most of the time. It’s not glamorous or flashy, and none of your friends are interested in your work until you actually get published, and sometimes not even then. Which is why I have come to appreciate my little rug-making hobby so much. I can see the progress of my work in real time. I know there will be a real thing created that will bring a bit of whimsical happiness to the recipient. I’m working with my hands in a way that I find meditative and relaxing. Writing is hair-pullingly frustrating, and no one has the slightest empathy for your struggle. Why should they? You have elected, entirely of your own accord, to create some imaginary world that exists only in your head. It’s incredible to me that I choose to spend most of my free time engaged in such an activity. Which leads me to an explanation of why this week’s blog post is going to be a short one—I’m feeling a bit burnt out, and I just want to work on my rug while watching mindless TV. So that is what I shall do. Here’s the progress of my rug so far:

And here is video of a cartoon cat:

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Against the Tyranny of Nice Weather, Pillow Tragedy, Gaming Update

Yesterday, Mr. Typist did his best to convince me to go for a walk. He had a checklist of hyper-logical, lawyer-ly arguments involving a rare window of good weather in Seattle and “health benefits”, and when those didn’t work, he pulled out the theoretical physics card, citing the time-space continuum and how in some parallel universe I am going take a walk, and may have in fact, already taken a walk, so I might as well just go since it’s all a done deal anyway.

I’m almost always up for a good, brisk walk. I love walking. But yesterday, I rebelled. I was exhausted. I logged over 20 miles on my Fitbit this week. I worked long hours. My pollen allergies have been killing me. And, ironically, I strained my back trying to assemble my ergonomic office chair at work. I was grumpy and a bit depressed, and I just wanted to curl up with a good book as though it were the dead of winter and we were in the midst of a howling snow storm. And yet, It Was Nice Outside. Therefore, according to some strict societal mandate, it was incumbent upon me to Go For A Walk, or, alternately, Get Out and Enjoy It!!  I did not want to Go for A Walk or Get Out and Enjoy It!! I wanted to shut the world out while I fell asleep on the couch reading a post-apocalyptic novel, then I wanted to get up and play Tomb Raider with my headphones on and all of the lights off. I had no wish to leave the house. I was effing tired, people. Why should the fact that it’s mildly warm outside and an annoying yellow ball of light is present in the sky mean that I should be compelled to drop everything and go dance in the streets? Screw nice weather. I could care less. I’m not sure, but contrary to popular belief, I suspect most suicides take place in July rather than in December. It’s just too much pressure to be happy when it’s hot and sunny out, and the cognitive dissonance of being depressed in 90-degree, “good” weather is more than some of us humans can bear.

I was about to post a photo of my triumphantly completed fox pillow---I sewed it and stuffed it and closed it up by hand!—when Mr. Typist delivered the tragic news: Some time during the dead of night, (or maybe just when we weren’t looking), Buddy got his formidable claws into it and tore out a section of yarn:

I don’t have the heart to be mad at him. I mean, there it was, a tempting palette for his artistry, just lolling there on the recliner, begging to be manhandled (or cat-handled, in this case.) I can’t say I blame him. However, the fox pillow, once repaired, shall henceforth be kept out of Buddy range, and my new peacock rug-in-progress (which will be an actual rug rather than a pillow) will be secured within the confines of our hall closet…where it will hopefully remain unmolested until he figures out how to open the door. This is why we can’t have nice things. Anyway, here’s a preview of the peacock rug:

 I did get a little Tomb Raidering in yesterday during my short-lived adulting strike. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” continues to be fun and intriguing, I just wish it were a little less twitchy. I go along quietly for hours, lulled by the meditative jump sequences and puzzle-solving and readings of ancient texts, then suddenly all hell breaks loose and I’m being attacked by a gang of thugs in riot gear,  forcing me to instantly switch from calm, thinky, exploration mode to heart-popping, holy-shit-I’m-going-to-die mode. And die I do. If I can figure out how to beat the current level I’m on, I’ll write a proper review one of these days. I’ve been reviewing this game piecemeal because that’s the only way I can play it—in little bursts and starts. I’m sorry. I’m a sucky gamer and an even suckier game reviewer. But I do have enthusiasm! Hopefully that counts for something. Here’s a little clip of what I’m up against in this next sequence. The chick who put up this video up makes it look easy. Believe me, it’s not:

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Caucus, Caucus, I Did a Caucus!

Last Saturday I did something I never expected to do, and went to a caucus. I am willfully un-engaged politically, and pathologically shy about sharing the scant opinions I do have with total strangers, so this was a highly unusual move for me. But it was just down the street, and Mr. Typist had expressed interest, so I figured, eh, how bad could it be? I knew I could leave if things got too uncomfortable, so with an escape route in mind, we trundled over to the local elementary school gym. We got there at 9:00 a.m., and the place was completely, horrifyingly, (or hearteningly, depending on your perspective), jammed. It was standing room only, and the noise was incredible. There was no signage and everything was very confusing. And noisy. Did I mention noisy? Political engagement was a-foot!

Now, this may be where you expect me to write a “the scales fell from my eyes” treatise about the value of the democratic process, civil political discourse, and the importance of coming together as a nation, but nope. I’m not going to write about any of that. Instead, I am going write about how badly organized that event was, and then brag how I could have pulled off a much better one if only someone had thought to put me in charge. You see, I have an event planner lurking within me, and she comes roaring out when witnessing such debacles. I’m helpless to stop her. She immediately begins mentally organizing, calculating, visualizing, re-arranging, and time-keeping when faced with a chaotic mess of a gathering. Here are her thoughts:

Signage, people! You needed signage, for God’s sake. No one knew what table their district was at, and it was so noisy it was almost impossible to suss it out. And all of the people walking around from table to table just added to the noise. I would have had large, colorful, pre-printed signs mounted on tall stands (for visibility) at each table, so the crowds could quickly find where they belonged. This would have cut down on the noise and time wasted as people wandered about, searching for their “tribe”.

Also, I would have yanked the “host” off the stage who added to the confusion by calling the same exact form by two completely different names, for no reason whatsoever. For some reason, he insisted that the form be called something different depending on whether someone printed it out and brought it from home, or if they just filled it out when they got there. This caused a great deal of head-scratching and befuddlement among the already confused crowds. Then, heartbreakingly, the one woman at our table who had the forethought to write her thoughts down, print them out, and bring them to read out loud, turned out to be such a low talker that no one could hear a word that came out of her mouth. It was a moment of supreme irony. In a nutshell, I would have had some way to deal with the noise issue. We can’t have a democratic process if no one can bloody hear anyone.

And, I would have had the event volunteers in bright polo shirts of the same color, perhaps even with big buttons that delineated them as people who could help. As far as I could tell, all of the volunteers just blended in with the rest of the crowd, and it was impossible to tell they were volunteers. I know this decision was probably based in some fear of putting them “above” everyone else, but the uncomfortable fact is, these things need a hierarchy. People need to know who their helpers are. They need to know who to ask for directions to the bathroom. They need to know who they can turn to when the emcee is giving out confusing information about forms. It doesn’t mean the volunteer’s words would get more weight, it just means that the attendees can immediately identify a friendly helper.

There was more…much, much more, but since no one has asked me to organize a caucus, I suppose I should bring it to a close now. And since I feel obligated to say something political-ish, I will conclude by saying everyone was really nice, the dialogue was polite, people were kind to each other, and I left feeling pretty darn good about this little voting district of mine.

-Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Man in the Tree, Fitbit Truce, Literary Crack

This week, Seattle was all abuzz because a man climbed into an 80-foot tall Sequoia on a median on Steward and 3rd, and refused to come down for a full 24 hours. Then, after they took to him jail, he refused to leave his cell to go to his court date. Clearly the man has some mental health challenges, and I wish him the best in getting the help that he needs. However, I admit that a part of me felt a deep affinity for his multiple refusals. Amidst a flurry of bribes involving everything from beer to food to even a kiss from a pretty lady, he simply refused to come down from that tree until he was good and ready. He set the terms, and stuck with them. I would like to refuse in a similar way. I would like to climb up into a big, ancient tree, find a comfy spot, and not come down until I damn well felt like it. I imagine I would want to sit in that tree for very a long time. Days, perhaps even a week. People could hold up offerings: Gum and fountain pens, snow globes, homemade jellies, thick novels about 19th-century London, ring pops, microbrews, fuzzy water, crossword puzzle books, treasure maps and peacock feathers. I would refuse it all. I would just sit, and rest, and listen to the wind, and feel the tree’s essential tree-ness, and close my eyes and be at peace. And then, when I was ready to re-join humanity again, I would unceremoniously climb back down, perhaps eat a peach, and continue on with my life. But not before I was good and ready.

It’s been a full week with the Fitbit experiment, and myself and the Fitbit have established a working, if uneasy, relationship. I’m probably going to stick with it, if nothing else because I enjoy being smugly astonished at the number of miles I actually walk each day during my routine activities (about five miles on average!) But I’ve given up on logging food. For one, those late-night salami sandwiches are none of the Fitbit’s business, and, all of their food listings involve pre-packaged meals, rather than food made from scratch. I’m fortunate to get a home-made meal almost every night of the week, but it’s almost impossible to accurately record the calorie count in their system because it only “knows” pre-packaged food brands. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still grumpily skeptical about it, but at least it motivates me to take the stairs to the second-floor bathroom at work for a little extra mileage.

A writing group friend recently lent me “Station Eleven”, which is by all accounts an amazing book. I was really excited about reading it, but so far I have to admit I am finding it a little bit slow and meandering. I’m not great with big, epic, multi-character novels. I tried about five times to finish “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”, and as much as I loved the subject matter, I just could not motivate myself to plow through it. It felt exhausting. I am hoping that a breakthrough comes soon for me in “Stations Eleven”. I’m probably struggling because I just read a suspense novel that was the literary equivalent of crack, and my brain is not ready to slow down long enough to take in long, beautiful passages. I want all of the excitement and none of the nuance. So this will be good reading hygiene for me.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fat Day, Listicle Lament, Wolfpine Glen Update

I was gifted a Fitbit around this time last year, and it has sat next to my computer gathering dust ever since. I was too lazy to figure out how to set it up, and I was creeped out (and deeply bored) at the thought of tracking all of my food and exercise online. But alas, with the job transfer, I’m not getting my two-mile uphill walk anymore, and my weight creep has morphed into weight gain. Also, I can feel my muscles slowly softening and getting mushy. This morning’s scale number threw me into a minor crisis, further aggravated by some other things I was frustrated about. I slammed my swimsuit into my bag and marched out huffily to get some exercise at the local pool, but not before asking Mr. Typist to “figure out that stupid tracking device, would you?” When I came back, he had it all sorted, and I put the wristband on.

The first thing that irked me was that it automatically set a goal of 10,000 steps a day, without even asking me. In no universe do I recall agreeing to such an egregiously unrealistic number, but there it is, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of it or change it to something more reasonable. Secondly, when I entered my swimming session, it calculated that I had burned 119 calories. That is totally bogus! I was using weights and doing scissor kicks, I wasn’t just swanning around. I know damn well I burned more than the strangely specific number of 119 calories, but the Fitbit won’t let me decide that.  It stubbornly insists that its calculation is the correct one. So here I am, less than three hours into a new technology, and I’m already wasting time mentally arguing with it. I don’t know if I’ll keep using it or not. It is a truly creepy device, and I don’t trust it. I’m not sure what sort of biometric data it’s hoovering up from my wrist, and worse yet, it has no regard for how hard I work in the pool.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day, (TBTL), and the hosts were talking about that Ted Cruz listicle “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.” I actually read the list, and was a little disconcerted to find that he is on level 350 of Candy Crush. Personally, I am on level 17 of Bejeweled, and I realized with a shock when I looked at my stats recently that I have played for a total of 32 hours. 32 hours of my life has been frittered away on watching twinkling geometric shapes explode in a satisfying manner. What could I have accomplished with those 32 hours? That’s an entire punch rug, right there. So I’m a little concerned about Ted’s…problem. Then again, I liked him a bit more upon learning that when he’s away from home, he eats nothing but a can of soup for dinner, and has “dozens in the pantry.”  I am not a fan of Ted’s general political philosophy, but my heart did soften a tad at the image of him sitting alone and forlorn at the kitchen table, hunched over yet another bowl of Creamy Tomato. So, nice job, social media whiz who wrote the list: You made me feel a moment of tenderness for Ted Cruz.

I was hoping to have my first installment of “Wolfpine Glen” up today, but truth be told, it just isn’t ready. I don’t want to put up anything that I’m not proud of, and it needs more polish before it’s ready to share with you. I also have some decisions to make from a plot and structural standpoint. The last thing I want to do is put up a mediocre product out of a false sense of needing to hurry. But I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy some Jim Gaffigan.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lethal Cuteness, “The Diary of Wolfpine Glen”, Bad Cat

I was recently the victim of lethal Girl Scout cuteness. I was minding my own business in my local grocery store, stocking us up for the week, and I was *this close* to escaping the store unscathed when out of the blue, I was set upon by two tiny blonde Girl Scouts in full uniform, with little bouncy pigtails and eager, toothy smiles. They uttered the dreaded words, “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?” with what I am now convinced was a fake lisp, and it was all over for me. They struck in my moment of weakness and I ended up walking away with a box of Thin Mints before I even knew what hit me. I don’t go around calling conspiracy theories at the drop of a tin-foil hat, but I’m telling you, the Girl Scouts have deliberately and systemically weaponized little-girl cuteness to drive up cookie sales, and I, for one, don’t want to consider what else they might be capable of.

As noted in my last post, I have ginned up enough courage to begin a new fictional online series, called “The Diary of Wolfpine Glen”. I plan to post updates weekly. Yesterday in preparation, I wrote a few pages—not much, but more than I’ve written in a while—and it felt good. A good creative writing session leaves me feeling clean and refreshed, like working out at the gym. I don't want to do it, but it feels good once I have. I am hoping to get the first installment in the series up by next weekend, although if I get really ambitious, it may be sooner, so stay tuned! You can access to the blog through the link on the right. I have some jitters about putting myself out there like this, but I’m telling myself it will all be okay. It’s just a story—no big deal, right?

Our cat Buddy is strictly indoor-only, with the exception of being allowed on the deck under close supervision. Usually, he’s pretty good at staying put, but last night in a fit of impulse, he jumped off the deck to go after a stray cat, realized he was lost, yowled like a maniac, then scrambled up the tree under our bedroom window and yowled again, begging to be rescued. Mr. Typist dutifully opened the bedroom window and scooped him up to safety. He recounted to story to me this morning, at which time I finally spoke the unspoken: “Mr. Typist,” I said, “We need to face the truth. We have a bad cat.” The reality of this hung between us heavily, but it was relief to finally have said it. We can now openly admit it: Buddy is bad. He is blatantly manipulative, relentless in his pursuit of constant entertainment and attention, an unrepentant psychopath when it comes to wheedling meals out of us, and just generally a brat. But sometimes a creature, even a bad one, is fated to belong to you. In the end, he’s our brat-- and we love him. 

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Coming Soon: The Diary of Wolfpine Glen!

Well, folks, I've decided to do it. This is just a quickie post to let you know that "The Diary of Wolfpine Glen", my new fictional series, will soon be up live on my new website:

This site will chronicle the adventures of Beatrice "Buzzy" Bradon, who moves from Minneapolis to the small town of Wolfpine Glen after her husband leaves her to become a stand-up comic, and her stoic Scandinavian son suddenly flees to New Orleans to pursue a career as a Santeria priest. Posts will go up week by week, and the story will unfold as I make it up in my own head.

A proper Good Typist post will be coming tomorrow.

--Kristen McHenry