Sunday, June 19, 2016

Metaphorical Fires, Writing Revelation, Weekly Miscellanea

I watch a lot of re-runs, (is that even a term anymore?) and I recently saw an episode of “Modern Family” from 2013 wherein Alex receives the final gift of a lighter from her dear departed grandmother. She agonizes over the “meaning” of the gift, since the other family member’s presents come with deep and clear significance. Alex’s family chalks it up to her grandmother’s senility, but I knew immediately what it meant. It meant that mousy, rule-following Alex needed to light some shit on fire. And she does. I also recently heard a story on the TBTL podcast about a Canadian woman who was mushroom hunting and got trapped in the woods and stalked by a vicious wolf, who she cleverly finished off by luring it to a bear. There is something about both of these stories that I find very compelling. Wolves and lighters. I don’t plan to off any wolves or commit an act of arson, but perhaps there is something wild in me longing to escape. I just don’t know what to do about it at the moment, since my present life feels relentlessly restricted and proscribed.

Speaking of wolves, it was an interesting epiphany to find that self-induced pressure to produce is incredibly unhelpful in the creative process, at least for me. I intended to write “The Diary of Wolfpine Glen” as a weekly series, confidently certain that if I “forced” myself to produce each week, my creativity would somehow fire on all cylinders, the story would flow out of me freely, and confusion, blockage and thorny plot issues would magically resolve through the sheer power of will. What actually happened was that I was beset with tension headaches and anxiety as the weekend approached, and I began to resent the creative process entirely, It felt like going to a second job, and all of the fun and joy just whooshed out of it like a popped balloon. I have found that what I need is time—time to think it through, concentrate on developing the characters, and map out the plot in a more systematic way. “Wolfpine Glen” is growing in my imagination and will come back at some point, but I need time to refine it and play with it a lot more. I wouldn’t call the experiment a failure, though. It helped me jump-start the project, and taught me that for me, time and space are essential to the creative process.

But I may take a little break from “Wolfpine Glen” to write a short story about a grammar- pendant health nut with a blow-dry. I got the idea from reading this hilarious blog post by Frank Moraes, about a recent run-in with such a fellow at Whole Foods. I think blow-dry health-nut guy would make a delightful character. He is rich with possibility.

Other miscellaneous updates: The stinky dresser is less stinky now, thank God. It still has a slight lingering odor, but it’s fading by the day. I sent out two novel queries yesterday, and just as I hit “send” on the second one, I received a terse rejection from an agent I had queried last month, thereby completely deflating whatever manufactured confidence I had managed to pump myself up with. Buddy’s being Buddy, although there have been no more off-deck adventures since the last escapade. And I finally finished playing through “The Rise of the Tomb Raider”. The end-game boss fight was exceedingly disappointing and lame, but overall, it was a solid game with a good storyline.

I have to go buy new walking shoes, so that’s it for this week. Enjoy this song by Henry Phillips about a deathly Waffle Shack. It always makes me laugh, because I have a very mature, sophisticated and erudite sense of humor.  (Warning: It contains a few swears.) 

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Against Smug Seattle Hobbies, Stinky Dresser, We Need to Talk About Math

This morning, my co-worker texted me something about a potato salad recipe that I had supposedly sent her. I was completely flummoxed. I know for a fact that I have never once sent this person a potato salad recipe, nor have I ever made a potat0 salad in my life. (This is not for a lack of love of potatoes. In fact, not to brag, but my one and only cooking skill involves the ability to make truly kick-ass garlic mashed potatoes that are all the rage at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.) This puzzlement was quickly sorted out—it turns out it was her mother’s potato salad recipe she was thinking of, not mine, but it somehow led to a cranky text exchange about smug Seattleites and their infernal, self-contented hobbies, and the attendant peer pressure/forcing upon others of said hobbies. I’m excluding my close friends (you know who you are) from this, because they are nice and not smug, but I went on a mini-rant about how sick I am of feeling pressured into craft beer-making/tomato-growing/backyard-chickening/knitting/bike repairing/foraging/beekeeping and god-forsaken canning, for God’s sake. I work full time, and for whatever it’s worth, I write. Not always, and not always well, but that’s what I do, and that’s what I can handle in my life. I cannot add Cross Fit, artisan butchering, geocaching, and P-patching to the mix, so please leave me alone about it. By all means, enjoy what you enjoy—but leave the rest of us in peace. We don’t all have endless time and energy to indulge in retro luxury hipster hobbies. This has been a public service announcement from the Good Typist. You’re welcome.     

The dresser that Mr. Typist and I bought a few weeks ago to mark our anniversary and complete our “collection” of furniture-that-doesn’t-suck, smells. It doesn’t smell as bad as it did when it was first delivered, but it has this weird, off-gassing, indefinable, sour chemical odor that just continues to linger. I’m not sure what to do about it. I like the new dresser. It’s dark wood and handsome and elegant, and it has knobs. But it does literally stink. I’ve thought of rubbing it down with Lemon Pledge to neutralize the odor, but I’m afraid that will just serve to layer one more weird chemical scent on top of another. I think it’s just from being locked up in a warehouse under plastic for too long, but it’s really disconcerting. I feel like I invited into our bedroom a really nice-looking stranger who has never showered.

My entire life, I have carried a deep shame around my math inabilities. I am math phobic due to many a math trauma from childhood, and from just being naturally terrible at it. For years, I told myself that I was going to fix this by taking an “adult math class”—which I don’t even know exists, but is what I have in my mind as some mythical, magical cure to my math issues—but, predictably, I never pursued that. It turns out that as much as I was constantly admonished about math being central to my existence and my ability to thrive as adult, I don’t really need it. I just need to know enough formulas to get along (how to balance my bank account, how to calculate certain things for work), and the rest of it is just a matter of using a calculator and double-checking with people smarter than me. But I recently read “Lockhart’s Lament”--a most amazing, eye-opening article about math, and I feel like it has begun a healing journey for me.

I’ve never had the perspective before that math is creative—it has always seemed to me terrifyingly rigid and absolute. I know that many people find rigidity and absoluteness to be safe and assuring, but I have always been much more comfortable in realm of the misty, the ambivalent, the “there’s no one right answer”—wherein you can’t be “wrong” because there are endless possibilities. That’s probably why I was always so much more drawn to literature and art than the sciences. I prefer fluidity to solidity; the unknown to the undisputed. But this article, by mathematician Paul Lockhart, really blew me out of the water. It’s immensely joyous, soulful, and yearning. It made me want to engage with math, even though that’s still a horrifying prospect to me on many levels. I must warn you, it’s long—but it’s so worth it. I wasn’t bored for a minute reading it. It’s a true rallying cry for math education reform, and it’s a beautiful take on the realm of mathematics, especially for those of us who have always found it so daunting. Whatever relationship you have with math, I highly suggest reading “Lockhart’s Lament”. I guarantee it will give you a new perspective.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Musical Musings, Moonrise Melancholy

I’ve said before that I don’t like music, and I stand by that statement. I just don’t enjoy the whole fetishishtic culture around it-- how what you listen to is used to instantly define and categorize you, and to judge your degree of hipness, coolness and being “in the know”. I find it incredibly exasperating, and I find most music tiresome anymore. (Yes, I am an old lady. No apologies.) When I have ventured out musically, it’s always been a disappointing experience. For example, for a brief time, I was very interested in the work of Krishna Dass, until I realized how demanding his music actually is. It’s not something that you can just throw on and have running in the background—it requires your full attention and concentration. I don’t have time for that, and in general, I just don’t have the time or patience to be a music hobbyist. Even rudimentary enjoyment of it demands far more time and mental energy than I have. And everything new just seems soupy and disappointing to me. I have one single Pandora station that I named “Music to Write To”, which is all tinkely New Age spa music that’s so airy and insubstantial it requires no engagement whatsoever. It simply provides a nice, white-noise background when I’m trying to create and I need to shut the world out.

But I recently went down a You Tube Hole rabbit-hole. Hole’s album “Live Through This” was an absolutely pivotal, even life-changing experience for me when I first heard it in the mid-nineties, when I was a messed-up, confused, twenty-something. I was reminiscing, listening to some of Courtney Love’s choice cuts, when I remembered that another pivotal album, Tori Amos’s “Under the Pink”, had the same revolutionary effect on me. When men write about destruction, they write about destroying others. When women write about destruction, they write about destroying themselves: From “Hole”:

Go on, take everything. Take everything. I want you to.

And from “Under the Pink”

Every day/I crucify myself/Nothing I do is good enough for you/I crucify myself

There were many angry girl-bands in the mid-nineties, and most of them expressed their rage through similar self-destructive sentiments. I remember how much I related to that music then; how much their fury and helplessness resonated with me, and how I craved their yearning, desperate, enraged sound. I miss feeling that connected to music. I don’t know if I’m just dead inside now, or if music has gotten crappy, but I don’t respond to it in the same way any more, and that makes me sad. I long for some tunage I can sink my emotional teeth into again, but I haven’t found any since.

The other art form I am tragically out of the loop on is film. I’m usually three to five years behind the zeitgeist, because I cannot motivate myself to shell out cash and sit in a theater for what is likely to be an empty experience. But I’ve been wanting to see “Moonrise Kingdom” for a while now, and I managed to convince Mr. Typist to rustle it up on Netflix last night. I’m not a Wes Anderson fanatic, and I don’t think that everything he does works, but “Moonrise Kingdom” is now firmly in my top five list of favorite films. It was devastatingly beautiful. I was near-tears on numerous occasions just from the sheer love emanating from the screen. I’m not talking about the love between the two main characters, twelve-year olds Sam and Suzy, who run away together. I’m talking about the deep compassion that the filmmakers and writers have for all of their characters, and for the circumstances they find themselves in. It’s  difficult to capture the tenuous magic of pre-adolescent innocence without veering into preciousness, but “Moonrise Kingdom” finds the essence of its ethereal, fleeting joy. And it takes the younger characters seriously. There is no point at which Sam and Suzy’s relationship is looked down upon or regarded as frivolous just because of their age. Their emotions are treated with as much respect and seriousness as the adults. The film also understands the disconcerting truth that the adults are just as sad and lost as the kids—the only difference is, the adults bear the expectation of responsibility. It’s an absolutely lovely film on many levels, and I highly recommend it.

It’s over 90 degrees in Seattle today and as a result I’m an extremely grumpy typist. I’m going to have a lie-down. Enjoy some videos.

--Kristen McHenry


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Which The Good Typist Makes a Spectacle of Herself, Buys a Dresser, And Upsets her Dental Hygienist, All Practically in the Same Week

Last week, I had to be in a parade. I have managed to make it to the ripe old age of forty-six without ever having to be in a parade, and now my record of forty-six parade-free years has been obliterated. I did not wish to be involved in a spectacle. I did not wish to be looked at by anyone. I did not wish to be accosted by marauding hordes of tiny, grubby children digging their clammy hands into my bag for candy. I did not wish to smile and wave. But I did all of these things, for in the end there was really no choice but to just embrace it. People are cheering and waving and you can’t just ignore them and be the crabby one and let your fellow parade-mates down. It wasn’t so bad. It was over fairly quickly, and I got a tee shirt out of it. I don’t think anyone looked at me that closely. But if I have to do it again next year, I’m wearing a disguise.

A number of years ago, Mr. Typist and I decided that rather than buying each other presents on holidays or anniversaries, we would buy something together to collectively improve our lot in life. We slowly started upgrading to new furniture, getting rid of the shabby college-dorm, mismatched particle-board stuff and replacing with it a reasonable facsimile of grown-up, matching furniture. But the one remaining holdout to an upgrade has been our bedroom dresser. It was already well-used when a friend of a friend donated it to me over fifteen years ago, and it has slowly gotten more buckled and sad-looking over the years. Plus, it’s a light blond wood, and everything else we have is now a dark cherry wood. It was our anniversary last week, and so when Mr. Typist proposed a weekend get-away, I countered-proposed that we go shopping for a new dresser. And I won! We nipped off to the mall, where it was extremely slim dresser pickin’s. To the point that it was a little scary. And then I realized that’s why I never upgraded the dresser. Furniture shopping is a pain, selections are uber-limited, and Good Lord, furniture is expensive. My only criteria for the new dresser was that it be cherry wood or at least faux-cherry wood, and that it have knobs. That was it. And there was exactly one dresser in all of the stores that met those humble standards. I knew that I was at the tail end of my frustration tolerance, so I got a sales person, pointed to the  one I wanted, ran the card, and it was done. Bam! Next week our new dresser will be delivered, and it will probably get us through the next thirty years.

I went to the dentist a few weeks ago for a standard cleaning, and it was a disaster. I was in so much pain that the poor hygienist was not able to get more than ten percent into the cleaning before the whole operation was scrapped. I have to go back this week. They are going to full-on numb my entire right side with injections of anesthesia, clean my teeth, and fill some cavities. I know that makes me sound both like a wimp, and like I never brush my teeth, but I swear I am not a bad-tooth-taker-care-of! I do all the standard stuff you’re supposed to do; I even floss, but I also grind my teeth a lot, and as results, I have…problems. And because it’s painful to go the dentist, I put off going for way longer than I should, thereby creating a cycle of pain=avoidance=more pain. My dentist office folks are all very nice, but I see them giving meaningful looks to each other over the chair when they think I’m not looking. Meaningful looks that say, “She’s mentally fragile. We need to remember our de-escalation plan and proceed carefully and calmly.”

I don’t have any amusing Buddy stories for you this week. He’s been semi-behaving himself, although Mr. Typist just yelled at him from the kitchen, so I think he may have made off with our dinner salmon. I supposed I better go scope out the sitch, so until next week, take care of those teeth and don’t stumble into any parades!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Third Installment of "Wolfpine Glen" is Up!

You can read the 3rd installment of "Wolfpine Glen" here:

Movie Review: 99 Homes, Buddy Breakout, Shopping Win

I usually watch movies or read on my tablet before falling asleep, which means that it sometimes takes up 3-4 tries to watch an entire film straight through, because I always  doze off halfway in. Yesterday, I finally watched “99 Homes” through to completion. I almost wish I hadn’t, because it left me with a sad knot in the pit of my heart. This small, independent film is an unsung gem. It didn’t get a ton of attention upon release, but it’s nonetheless masterful in its examination of difficult questions about morality, choices, survival and victimhood. Dennis Nash, soulfully played by Andrew Garfield, is a construction worker who is struggling to keep his mother and son afloat amid the height of the housing crisis, as work dries up and they go further and further into debt. His family is soon evicted from their home by the almost cartoonishly psychopathic Rick Carver, a predatory real estate broker who is making a killing on foreclosed homes. Dennis’s family is forced to move into a crummy motel in the company of other families who have been similarly evicted. In his financial desperation, Dennis slowly gets suckered into working for Rick, engaging in legally sketchy activities, then escalating to ruthlessly evicting others from their houses.

“99 Homes” forces the viewer to confront uncomfortable moral territory. A large part of me was very much rooting for Dennis to get as much as he could out of his questionable relationship with Rick. After all, Dennis was the hard-working victim of a rigged system, and I wanted him be able to support his family and profit from the ruthless Rick. But I was also appalled at how quickly and unquestioningly he took on the role of victimizer in his determination to be the heroic breadwinner he wanted to be for his family. As Rick’s demands on Dennis became more and more extreme and legally risky, I wanted Dennis to rise up somehow and outsmart him at his own game. But true to his character, Rick, although loyal, is hardly a criminal mastermind, and in the end, his altruism is both his savoir and his downfall. If you have some emotional strength to spare, I’d recommend watching this film. It’s a fine commentary on the American obsession with home ownership and the illusion of security.

In cat news, Buddy, who has been plotting a breakout for months, finally got his wish last week. He sailed over the railing off the deck and ran off to parts unknown, where he hid out for a full day and night before finally returning, bedraggled, dirty and scared. He scrambled up the tree and back onto the deck, snarfed down an entire can of food, then sped off to the bedroom and hid under the bed for twelve hours straight. Good. I hope that blasted cat now realizes that the grass is not greener on the other side of the deck, and having to hunt for your dinner sucks. Buddy is now perma-banned from the deck, but Mr. Typist took pity on his wanderlust soul and got him a harness and a leash. He and Buddy now go on regular “outings” to various parks, where Buddy can safely indulge his zeal for the outdoors without the danger of being a free-roaming cat in an overcrowded, traffic-heavy city.

Yesterday, I went clothes shopping, and to my utter shock, it wasn’t terrible. I actually found an abundance of sensible work clothes in more or less in my size, at reasonable prices and in a variety of colors and styles. My work wardrobe had become embarrassingly shabby and faded, and picking out my clothes out for work was an exercise in depression. It was high time for a purge-and-replace, but I dread shopping the way most people dread going to the dentist, especially with the debacles I’ve had recently trying to find anything that isn’t a drippy blouse or a maxi dress. But Big Major Department Store actually had some nice, non-drippy tops and even more surprisingly, a few pairs of pants that actually fit me. It’s by no means designer stuff or even high-quality, but I’ve been so beaten down by the retail system that I’m grateful just to have something I can put on my back, even if it’s a cheaply made shirt sewn by slave labor. And shopping is over for another year or two, when the crappy fabrics will no doubt unravel and fade, and I’ll have to do the whole thing all over again. But for one, whole glorious year I will have New Stuff to wear to work, and that’s all a lady can ask for.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Attack of the Smuglies, Query Count, I’m Taking a Workshop!

This time of year, I always brace myself for the inevitable onslaught of smug Mother’s Day articles full of pious humble brags about how selfless motherhood has made the writer, and what purity of soul her sacrifices have rendered, and how childless women like me may think we’re getting away with something, but in the end, we’ll get our comeuppance when we’re forced to face the Terrible Realization that we’re selfish witches who will never know love. It usually starts out with some polemic about how self-involved and shallow the author was before she gave birth, as evidenced by her running around Sex-in-the-City style, obsessed with brunch and shoe-shopping, until she gazed into the face of her newborn and Everything Changed. These are usually shored up by the equally dull and offensive articles that trump up the dollar value of stay-at-home-moms by comparing them to professionally trained chefs, chauffeurs, physicians and therapists. (Don’t everyone pile on—I have nothing against stay-at-home moms, but putting a bandage on a cut does not a pediatrician make.) 

If you’re a mom and you’re happy about it, I’m genuinely thrilled for you. I commend anyone brave enough to deliver a life into this world and attempt to mold it into a functional human being. But can we please stop with the overworked “mothers are selfless and spiritually enlightened/non-mothers are shallow and self-involved” narrative? Can we kindly stop fostering the idea that the only legitimate form of love is between a parent and a child, and that no other kind is real or meaningful?  And while we’re on the topic, maybe we can acknowledge that perhaps some of us are capable of accessing selflessness, generosity of spirit, and the impulse to serve our community without being forced into it through becoming a parent. Gah. Rant over. I’ve sworn off the internet until the end of Mother’s Day.

In writing news (since I’m selfishly childless and have time for stuff like that), I sent off another novel query yesterday. That makes a total of thirteen since early December, with two rejections, seven no-responses, and three outstanding beacons of hope that were sent too soon to be considered non-responses, and have not yet been rejected. Hooray! With this whole query process, I am walking a thin line between much-needed optimism and Not Getting My Hopes Up.  Not Getting My Hopes Up was a grand theme of my childhood, as I was often admonished not to do so, but it turns out that my hopes have a mind of their own, and they get up. They just do. They’re like wild horses; I can’t control them. My plan is to keep sending out one query a week until I get a bite. And after a period of time, if there are no bites, I believe in this novel enough to figure out an alternative.

In the meantime, I’m tinkering around with the Wolfpine Glen stuff. I have no idea where this series is going, or how fast I’ll be producing content, but right now, for me, it’s really just a way of entertaining myself and staying engaged in writing through pure play. I’ve been harboring thoughts of perhaps once day turning it into a audio drama. And bam!—it turns out there is a local workshop coming up on writing audio dramas, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go. I’ve always loved audio dramas, and really want to learn how to write them. So I think I’m going to actually leave the house on a Saturday and go and meet other humans and learn something. It’s a far cry from my normal Saturday routine of holing up with Tomb Raider and shutting out the world…but my hopes are up that it will be worth it.

--Kristen McHenry