Monday, May 25, 2020

The Gift of Exposure

After my string of sick days last week, I went back to work on Thursday and for a flex/half-day on Friday, and have since taken the last three days off: A full three-day weekend. My phone has been eerily quiet—no texts, no phone calls, no work crisis that requires my attention. I’ve done very little but ease back into the weights and fiddle around with video games and a little poetry journaling. Noe that I’ve had a little time to catch my breath, I realize that my foundation has been cracking for a long time. My hospital was still reeling from the strike in January when COVID-19 hit. I’ve been running non-stop since the beginning of the year, working almost every weekend, living on coffee, and, according to Mr. Typist, grinding my teeth like mad at night. Then there was the professional shock of a few weeks ago that I now realize sent me into a spiral of grief that I have been somewhat in denial about. I knew that I was due for a collapse at some point. Looking back, I’m not surprised that my body was made vulnerable to an opportunistic virus looking for a place to call home. 
COVID-19 has exposed all kinds of vulnerabilities. On a micro level, It’s exposed our personal vulnerabilities and on a macro level, it’s exposed our institutional and national vulnerabilities. I have a tendency to neglect to take care of myself even in the best of times, and that was brought home to me in no uncertain terms. The exposure of that weakness made it clear that I need to eat, I need to do some mentally calming things, I need to let go of what I can’t control and I need to, God forbid, “listen to my body,” a phrase I detest. During this time of high stress, I immediately fell back into old coping mechanisms. This has given me an opportunity to shore up the weak points and work on strengthening them. I remember in the beginning when I first started working with my trainer at the gym, I would get frustrated to near tears when I would try to do something new and we would discover yet another weak area—gluts not strong enough to do a squat, shoulders not strong enough to do an over-head press, quads to weak to sustain a full lunge—but every time, those exposures were a gift. Without them, I wouldn’t have had awareness of the weaknesses and would never have addressed them. Now, I can do all of those things because I was able to strengthen those frail areas.

There is also a gift in such exposures on a macro level. I see the areas of weakness in my organization, some of which have been addressed very quickly and efficiently and some of which remain problematic. One of the things that has come up over and over again at the endless hospital COVID meetings is amazement at how quickly we’ve been able to move forward on things such as clinical trials, research, and virtual visits, that were initially projected to take years to develop. I also see the areas in which our state and our nation have succeeded and failed, and where we need to shore up. In all of the criticism and teeth-gnashing and obsession with the failures, I do not want us to lose sight of the miraculous things that we have accomplished as a nation during all of this. Nor do I want us to deny and ignore our susceptibilities. For good or for bad, the crisis has shone a brilliant light on all of it, and there is no more hiding.

I’m going to take this as an opportunity to patch up and reinforce those areas of my being that make me vulnerable—excessive anxiety over things I can’t control, lack of proper nutrition, not being assertive enough about making the new work flow more equitable, and trying to deny my feelings because I don’t believe that I have the right to them. I don’t know how well or quickly I will succeed at “fixing” these things, but I can at least recognize them and try to mitigate them now.

For this Memorial Day, enjoy this nice uplifting video throwback by Jewel. My act of self-care for the day is not caring if you laugh at me for un-ironically loving Jewel. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

It’s annoying and disruptive to get sick. I haven’t been able to work out at all and I am afraid to even look at my shambles of a work in-box. My sleep was all messed for a while and I’ve been too tired to do anything but stare into space, twiddle around with the “new, improved” House Flipper, and maybe listen to a podcast if I had the energy to lift headphone to my ears. As a result of my crankiness and woozy entertainment consumption, you shall be treated to the following bitchy reviews:

While I couldn’t sleep, I became good friends again with my ancient Kindle and binge-watched an futuristic Amazon Original series called “Upload.” I don’t know if I like it or don’t like it. It’s a little bit saccharine with the overblown yet unconvincing romance at the core of the plot, and the premise is not particularly original. But I was crushed when I got to end of the first season and realized there weren’t any more episodes, so it must be doing something right. The male lead is sort of a zero, he could have been played by any adequately handsome actor if you ask me. The female lead is fine, but the interesting thing about binge-watching something is that you pick up very quickly on the actors favorite go-to’s, and this actress has the exact same bag of tricks she pulls out repeatedly: Dewy Eyes, Quirky Smile, Brave Tone of Voice, Determined Jaw Set. My favorite character, a sloppy, frizzy-haired gym teacher turned amateur detective, was killed off halfway through the season, to my great disappointment. She was the most interesting and funny character of the bunch, a much-needed foil to the relentless prettiness of the cast. Overall, the whole show tries just a little too hard and is just a little too derivative, but it has a certain wholesome charm. It was created by the person who created “Parks and Rec” and it definitely has some of that same feel. Despite it’s flaws, I’ll be keeping a close eye out for the second season.

Shortly before I got sick, the long-touted “House Flipper” update came out. They have promised for months now that we would get tons of new content, a plethora of fresh design options, and all kinds of exciting new houses to flip. I eagerly paid my ten bucks and downloaded the “new” content, only to find that I there really was no new content worth speaking of. Yes, they did add some novelty towel racks, a couple of lamps, a handful of sofas, and some meager updated flooring options, but seriously. That’s it??? Years of development and all we get is some weird towel racks? What's with their obsession with towel racks, anyway? It’s such a hack. I keep thinking I’m missing something. The game interface is very confusing, so maybe there is a tab I am missing where all of the glorious new stuff is being stored. I will be looking into it on Steam, believe me you. This is intolerable design oppression.

I can’t work out anyway right now—just looking at my weights exhausts me—but my trainer had to cancel our last two online sessions due to major tech issues. I could tell he was frustrated, but he said he’ll contact me again once he gets himself sorted out. You would think that in these days of all things being online, all of the Skypes and Hangouts and Zooms and such would be working at the top of their game, but I can’t get Hangout on my Kindle without literally hacking it because Amazon is an ass, Skype is buggy as heck, and Zoom still has major security issues so I don’t want to use it. We’ve all moved to Teams at work, but I haven’t been able to get my camera to work and I need speakers and ordering things like that is daunting ever since they “upgraded” the tech support site.

Life is exhausting. I’m going back to the couch to lie down. Enjoy this mildly amusing episode of Simon’s Cat. I miss cats!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Warrior Mindset Meets Crushing Blow, Bright Spot, Literary Party Trick

I’m fine now that I’ve had some time to process, but I received a crushing blow at work last week, and as a result I spent most of Friday sobbing on the sofa and texting my poor colleague while in the throes of despair. I can’t go into detail about it here (it’s not that interesting anyway) but the gist is that all is okay---I’m still employed at the same salary, which is far more than most people have right now, I have lots of support, it’s all going to be fine and possibly even better in the long run, but at the moment it felt like an intolerable loss, on top of all of the other losses. I’ve been pretty good about not falling apart during all of this craziness. I’ve been working hard to develop a warrior mindset, stay strong in mind and body, and show up with an attitude of service for the greater good, but this just wrecked me emotionally for a good day and half. However, if I know one thing, it’s that the people and the organizations who are going to get through this intact are those who are the most adaptable. I intend to not only get through, but to come out of it with as many wins as I can. Win number one is that I didn’t cry in front of my boss. The woman has enough to deal with and she needs me to be Strong Typist right now, not Hysterical Mess Typist. So adapt I shall, and I will come out this victorious in the end. I will not allow myself to wallow endlessly. I’m still better off than the vast majority of people, and I need to move forward with the new reality.

In all of this, a big bright spot in my life is that my trainer is back! Albeit on Skype, but he’s back! He e-mailed me a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to try an online session, (ha! I knew he missed training my clumsy arse), and I agreed immediately. We had the first online session last week, and while there was some initial confusion, awkwardness and issues with the tech and lighting, it was a surprisingly good session. He managed to annoy me just as effectively as he did during our in-person sessions, and even made me do jump-ups on my weight bench, despite me telling him it was too high for that and I’d fall off. He didn’t care. I had to do them anyway. Along with a million weighted squats (keep those shoulders straight!), lunges and other horrors. By the end of the hour I was dripping sweat and barely knew my own name. I don’t know how he managed to torment me like that when he wasn’t even in the same room as me. Then at the end, he had the gall to ask me if I felt that I got “a good workout” and did I want to do this again. Of course I did, because apparently I am nuts. In all seriousness, though, it’s a huge mental health boost to have my regular sessions back. He had e-mailed to me check in a few months ago, and I replied telling him that our sessions had become a “grounding touchpoint” in my life and that I missed them. It’s true. Knowing that I had one hour a week with someone to get out of my very over-active head and focus on my physical being was a god-send, and it’s a blessing to have that again. Now if that damn gym would just re-open…

A while back, I read an article about the lost art of memorizing poems, and I was intrigued. I resolved to build up a catalog of memorized poems, but I never followed through. Recently, this came up for me again and I decided to actually do it, starting with a beloved favorite, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. It’s short and has beats that make it easy to commit to memory, so I figured it was a good one to start with. I only started memorizing it a day or two ago so I don’t have it completely “in there” yet, but the process of memorizing it has given me an even deeper appreciation for the genius of this seemingly simple poem, which is not simple at all. It’s quite the musical feat, actually. I’m excited about this new plan of mine. I can already sense that this process will deepen my appreciation of poetry and help my own poetry improve. But more importantly, if we ever have gatherings again, it will be a great party trick to pull out.

I’m still practicing regularly with my beginner belly dance videos, even though my “moves” are as graceful and feminine as a three-legged giraffe. In the spirit of the warrior, enjoy this belly dance by Irina Akulenko. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 3, 2020

On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

I’ve been in a pondering mood lately what with all of the goings-on in the world. I’m going to get serious here for a bit and I’m fairly certain I’m going to cock it up royally, but here goes: Specifically, I’ve been pondering the concept of adversity and along with it, the judgmental thoughts I’ve been struggling with. About year ago, I started listening to Jocko Willink’s podcast pretty regularly. He covers a lot of war history and has done some deep dives into many books that have been written about various wars and battles. Some of those stories haunt me to this day. I finally had to stop listening at work because every week I would start tearing up at some point. What the people in those wars suffered was beyond adversity—it was unimaginable horror. I don’t know how any of them went on living after it was all over. Yet somehow they continued on with their lives, all before therapy was ubiquitous and before we knew much about psychology.  

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.   

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared cultural experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.   

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt--a lot. The loss of the mental and emotional haven of the gym, where I have grown strong and physically confident for the first time in my life, the furloughing of the tight-knit community of volunteers that I have built and cultivated over the years at work, the job that I loved being (temporarily, I hope) replaced with one that I find vexing, stressful and ungratifying, the loss of friendliness at my grocery store because customers are now the enemy, and the disruption of the familiar rhythms and sounds of my day-to-day. These are the things of my life. It’s not a huge, important life but it is what I built. These are the things that I care about and that I carry with me in my heart. Yet I don’t feel okay talking about these sadnesses, because I’m fine. I know I’m fine. I have food and shelter and gainful employment. I am grateful and I should be grateful. It’s a daily wresting match with my guilt, and I don’t have a simple answer. I suspect I’m going to have to just allow this one to be complicated and unresolved. 

Also, were people tougher “back then”? I’m not so sure about that. Because while there are stories of great valor, there are also plenty of stories of people being cheap, petty sell-outs and making cowardly choices. So maybe I’m idealizing people. The truth is that people were probably just as weak, lazy and soft back then as they are now, but they couldn’t indulge those qualities to the degree we can today because they didn’t have the internet, Grub Hub and Amazon one-day delivery. 

Whew, alrighty then. Onto some music. This too shall pass. Let’s all take a little solace in Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo╩╗ole’s “Over the Rainbow.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Too Many Conifers, Puffy Ginger vs Ripped Adonis, Hospital Update

Lalalalala, nothing is happening. We are not in the middle of a permanently life-altering pandemic and I know this because in my world, the world of House Flipper, everything is going swimmingly. I recently entered my first gardening contest and I scored full points! This means that I sold my house for fifty percent more than it would normally go for, bringing my total net worth to a cool 2 mil. See? It’s all great. 

In preparing for my big win, I read up on the ins and outs of the garden contest, and I found it very revealing in regards to what Europeans think of Americans. (I believe the game is made in Poland.) There are four garden categories: English, Crop, Modern and American. There are certain elements required for each one, and for the American garden, (which I did because this is ‘Merica), it must include, bizarrely, a pizza oven, a barbecue grill, a picnic table and chairs, and a hammock. “Interesting,” I thought. “Someone thinks Americans are food-obsessed sloths.” But then I read further and saw that it must also include at least three pieces of “outdoor” gym equipment and a swimming pool. So which is it, Europe? Are we lazy slobs or fitness-obsessed narcissists? The other odd thing is their ideas about conifers. To win, your American Garden must be chock full of conifers. Conifers, conifers, conifers. Can’t have enough of them, apparently. I wanted to shout the whole time I was adding more and more conifers, conifers do not grow in every state in the U.S.! But ultimately, I won, so the joke’s on them.

I was so fist-gnawingly bored with my normal workout this weekend that I agreed to play “Workout Roulette”, in which I committed to performing whichever workout Mr. Typist chose for me at random from YouTube. It turned out to be Hannah Eden’s “30 Minute Core and Upper Body Workout.” I hadn’t previously encountered this Hannah Eden person in my YouTube fitness travels. She’s a bit much, but the workout was incredible, so I can’t argue too much with her aggressive style, both in presentation and fashion. She has long, brilliant fuchsia hair that she wears in a high pony tail, and shiny red high-top shoes. She shouts a lot about doing better and endurance and setting goals and crushing it and pushing through the burn, which I thought was something that went out in the 80’s but now is apparently back in. Then, as a “mind over matter” inspirational sermon, she bragged about her bicycle trip through Iceland. I complained to Mr. Typist afterwards that I could have done without the inspirational Iceland bicycling story. To his credit he snorted and said, “Iceland’s not that big.”

I’ve noticed that a lot of these workout videos now very cleverly have three performers in them, one to do the hard-core version, one to show the intermediate variations, and one hapless newb to demonstrate the beginner’s form. In this one, Hannah’s husband is the intermediate guy, although clearly the dude is an elite body-builder and athlete. Next to him was the beginner guy, a pale, puffy ginger with a slight belly. I actually don’t even think he had that much of a belly at all, but he was standing right next to the oiled, tanned, six-packed Adonis who was at least a foot taller than him, so it made for a very unfair visual comparison. I don’t know how the puffy ginger dude felt about all of this, but he seemed to be good sport, plus he got lots of extra attention from Hannah, who made a big point of going over to “help him” frequently during the workout. So maybe it was worth the trade-off of having to stand right next to the super-fit guy. Personally, I found him a lot more likable than Adonis anyway, so he has that to hold on to. I am still working on solving the mysterious link between female fitness gurus and the high ponytail. I will get to the bottom of it.

Things at the hospital are still very hard and stressful, but it does appear that we have successfully avoided the massive overwhelm of our system that we had prepared for. Now it will be about how to slowly reopen and again and bring normal services back online. They brought in a guy specifically to help with this, so we’ll see how it goes. My job still won’t return to what it was for a long time, though, and I really miss it.

Here’s a lovely garden song from the ever-harmonious Peter, Paul and Mary. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Dairy Cravings, 8:00 p.m. Hootenanny, Poem Puttering

Over the last week or so, I have had a near-overwhelming craving for mac and cheese, mozzarella cheese sticks and ice cream. I “gave up” dairy some time ago, although it wasn’t much of a stretch. I think milk is disgusting and I haven’t drank it in well over twenty years, and while I love gourmet cheese, it wasn’t that hard to phase it out of my diet. When Mr. Typist stopped eating dairy, I just sort of defaulted to that, too, since it wasn’t a huge part of my dietary intake to begin with. It’s not a food allergy thing, it’s just a “my body seems to be generally better off without it” thing. But for some reason, lately I cannot stop thinking about all manner of cheese, ice cream (I actually had quite a vivid dream about ice cream this week), and these amazingly delicious grilled-cheese sandwiches that Mr. Typist used to make. He had a knack for them, and they were soooo good, with golden, buttered toast and thick slabs of hot melted cheddar.

I’m not one of those earth-goddess types who believe that the body is inherently wise and will “tell you” what it needs. I’m highly suspicious of my body and I always have been. I think my body is a sneaky, lying bitch who would get me up to four hundred and fifty pounds and drown me in Ruffles and French onion dip if I let it have its way. But with all of the stress, I find it hard to eat. My hair is brittle and falling out and my hands and feet are cold all of the time, and I have to think maybe there is something to this. The problem is that I don’t know if this craving stems from a genuine need for some nutrient I am lacking, or if its just a nostalgia thing where I want comfort food to soothe the stress. I’m generally more of a stress-not eater than a stress eater, but since I don’t know what to attribute this craving to, I’m reluctant to act on it. Getting a nutrition panel is not a thing that will happen any time soon, so for now I just gaze longingly at the boxes of frozen mac and cheese in the vending machine at work, pondering what creamy delights would await me if I gave in.

Every night for the past three weeks or so at precisely 8:00 p.m., there is some sort of screeching hootenanny that goes on outside. A whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ that lasts for up to a full minute sometimes. I do not approve and I dread it. The only plus is that it acts as a sort of default cuckoo-clock to tell me what time it is. I wince through the whole thing and harbor dark thoughts towards the participants. Yesterday, Mr. Typist was looking at something online and found that it was an effort to “support healthcare workers.” That made me feel doubly guilty. One, that I have been ungrateful for these innocent, well-intentioned supporters of local healthcare workers and two, that I am not really a health care worker per se. I work in a hospital, but I don’t do direct patient care. I am more on the healthcare-accessory end of things; the volunteer labor supply piece to be specific and now, the emergency non-clinical labor pool. It is its own art, but I’m not up on the units putting in IV’s and hooking patients up to vents—thank god for everyone. So now I guess I have to be happy about the nightly hootenanny. Yay?

On that note, things are okay at the hospital. One campus in the system is very full right now with COVID patients, but my hospital remains quite steady in patient load. Public service announcement: It was brought to my attention this week that there is a “Film Your Hospital” hashtag going around on Twitter and the socials, encouraging people to show up at hospitals with cameras and film to prove that COVID is a hoax because the corridors and parking lots are empty. I know none of my readers are dumb enough to do that, but just to rant: The hospitals are empty because we are not accepting patients for non-essential services. There are no elective surgeries, no imaging, no mammograms, no wellness check-ups, nothing. If you are not near-death or actively in labor, you are not coming in. And you will be screened before entering. Your temperature will be taken at the door, you will be compelled to put on a mask, and the purpose of your visit will be ascertained. If you have no medical reason for being there, you will be escorted out, by security if necessary. So just don’t do it. We are on edge and we are not tolerating shenanigans.

I am still, albeit sporadically, working on poems from the new series. Having become good friends with many a YouTube fitness bunny, I am currently working on a poem about the magical power of the ponytail. We’ll see where it goes. I’m frustrated with the slowness of my output lately, but since the world is closed anyway, I guess there’s no hurry.

I couldn’t find any tolerable cheese music videos, (but I did discover that cheese is a favorite subject of the mukbang genre, ugh.) So instead here’s this. It’s not a casual music experience. You'll need to set aside some time. It’s controversial and it’s a challenge. It’s long and it’s lyrically thick and it requires patience, but the payoff is worth it in my opinion. Let me know what you think.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Defining Confidence, Word of the Day: Adaptability

I didn’t want to face another home workout this weekend, but I’m trying to keep up on things and I don’t want to get into the habit of letting the workouts slide just because I feel glum and doom-laden and overworked. I figured I needed something a little different. I fired up YouTube on the TV and browsed a few “dance workouts”--most of which involved a lot of stomping, which neither my knee nor my downstairs neighbor would appreciate. There was a “sexy vixen” dance workout but it wasn’t very challenging and I didn’t even break a sweat after ten minutes. Then I decided maybe I just needed a little motivation, so I clicked on something called “Gym Motivation,” which turned out to be a horrifying montage of giant tattooed men dead lifting with heavy chains around their necks, skinny sprinters, and extreme sports people doing their stupid Crossfit or whatever they do, accompanied by the most annoying, cliche-ridden narration on the planet. I lasted about one minute with that one. I finally came across “Belly Dance for Absolute Beginners.”

Way back in the day I would take belly dance classes on the reg, but it never sank in and I finally just gave up. I really wanted to be good at it and I practiced diligently, but it was totally non-intuitive to my body and no matter how hard I tried, the core concept of doing the Figure 8 with my hips just did not scan in my brain. My spacial visualization has been broken since birth, and the idea of “drawing” this figure with my hips tripped me up to the point that I never progressed because I just could not get that brain-body connection going no matter what I did. The Figure 8 mocked me, hovering above my head as a shimmering 3-D vision, but never sinking through my body and settling into my hips. The video instructor broke the moves down a little differently and I was actually able to pull some of them off after only a little practice. But I also think that all of the lifting and working with the trainer (I miss Akida!) has re-wired my neurology so that I am far more connected to my physicality than I ever have been before. I’ve had a year of practice now of regularly learning new physical things and adapting my body to them. It seems to have made a difference in the speed at which I can pick up on new stuff now. I’ve noticed this with the home work-out videos too—it’s much easier for me to learn a new compound move or a new type of squat than I think it would have been a year ago.

And then there is the element of confidence, which, to my eternal befuddlement, Akida harped on about with me constantly. To me, “confidence” was always an ephemeral idea, one of those concept words that didn’t really mean anything on a practical level. I didn’t know how to get it or show it and I certainly didn’t know how to fake it, although I probably tried a few times. But weirdly, I think I have more of it now. I still can’t really describe it, but if I had to, I would say it is a feeling of strength and a feeling of internal balance, a feeling of calm and a feeling of readiness.

After about thirty minutes of belly dance my arms were longing to lift something heavy, so I went back to the dumbbells. The pretty stuff is fun, but I like lifting heavy things more. There is something very direct, simple and elemental about heavy lifting that speaks to me. I need that sense in my life now more than ever.

Things at the hospital continue to be in a state of preparedness coupled with constant change. It’s not chaos—I don’t want to alarm anyone. We are very prepared. But it is a stressful for environment for everyone right now and information changes and evolves by the hour, so it we are in constant reactive mode. My well-ordered world is gone, the familiar rhythms of my regular job have been obliterated, and I continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in an environment where fear is palpable. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know what is to be on the other side of this. The Word of the Day is “adaptability.”

Stay well, my friends, and please reach out to me if you need any support, especially if you are struggling with loneliness in quarantine. (I know I gripe about extroverts, but the truth is I love you guys!)

Mr. Typist was a bit crestfallen when I turned off the belly dancing video (the instructor was quite fetching), so here’s one for him. I do not know how she gets her chest to do that. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

Everyone is doing the best they can at the hospital, but things are changing constantly, new information is coming in at a dizzying pace, and day by day I never know what is going to hit me. My work life is an exercise in unpredictability. Case in point: After weeks of being told in no uncertain terms not to mask, suddenly everyone was asked to mask. This whiplash change in policy meant I had to enact a big, frenzied communication pivot within the job I am currently doing (managing the Non-Clinical Labor Pool and Entry Control Points) and then the questions, questions, questions: Where to obtain and store the masks, how to distribute, who is the point person for what and how, why, when, where and what about the reprocessing bins and then the next day it’s all different again. All I do is react to change. It is not a time of planning or developing or building for the future It’s a time of war and it is on, my friends.

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings. I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface. No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point. This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Speaking of sartorial breakdown, I was minding my own business sitting on the couch playing Bejeweled on my phone when Mr. Typist called out from the bathroom, “You’re not doing anything important. Get in here and help me.” I would quibble with his assessment of my chosen activity, but nonetheless, I put down my phone and came into the bathroom to find half of his afore-mentionedmad-scientist hair in a towel on the sink and a set of clippers scattered over the counter. “I need you to get the spots I missed,” he implored. I was very reluctant, but I bravely picked up the buzzer and went to work. I must say, by the end, it actually looked pretty good. It’s very short, but it looks nice. Almost like a normal haircut. I wonder how many other people are doing home haircuts through all of this and how they are faring. I’ve decided let my hair grow as it will, bangs and all, since all other pretense of a polished appearance has gone out the window. By the end of this I expect to look like a full-on cave woman, complete with a deer-skin hoodie. 

For your amusement, here is a gentle funny video from comedian Trey Kennedy on the travails of quarantine. The argument about the make-up and the fat made me laugh pretty hard.

--Kristen McHenry