Saturday, October 12, 2019

Tech Kablooey, Netflix Existentialism, The Big Fire!

As those who follow me on Facebook know, my home computer went kablooey permanently and spectacularly, and I have been without for over a week. A week! (Sorry about no graphic and the terrible formatting of this post; it will be back to normal soon.) Mr. Typist has had the patience of a saint in getting everything ordered and re-built and patched and painted and back into shape, and to my great relief, it's almost done but for a few installations. I tried to put a brave face on it and take it philosophically, (philosophy will come into heavy play here momentarily,) but by day four I was crawling the walls. I was depending heavily on my twelve-year-old tablet to scratch my evening surfing and reading itch, but it wasn't the same. I downloaded a meaty book on Breaking Bad and philosophy, which was interesting in the beginning, but became existentially depressing very quickly. Then I faffed around with a few tablet games, all of which were disappointing. I finally resorted to pulling out my yarn bin and starting a new punch needle project, a pastel pink and blue hummingbird, as a sort of craft light therapy to ward off the October Seattle gloom.

During this span of time, Mr. Typist became fascinated with a Netflix series called "The Good Place", and would emerge from his computer room cave in the evenings, join me on the couch, and fire it up. I was on board at first, but I soon became deeply ambivalent about it. The plot centers around Eleanor, a young woman who dies prematurely and ends up in a bland, sweet, vaguely tacky "heaven" conceived by a genius architect named Micheal, who agonizes over every detail of his creation. The Good Place is populated by tame, banal neighbors and a comical overabundance of Frozen Yogurt shops with punny names. Soon, Eleanor gets "matched" with her supposed soulmate Chidi, a decision-phobic ethics professor who also died tragically young. It's a strange pairing, as we quickly learn that in life, Eleanor was a horrible person without a shred of integrity and no regard for anyone but herself. Eleanor can't figure out how she ended up in The Good Place at all, and can only conclude that it was a clerical error. She soon confesses to Chidi that she is in The Good Place by accident, and implores him to help her become a better person before she gets found out and expelled to Hell. Chidi has an ethical crisis about whether or not to help her, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the series: Eleanor struggles to overcome her wickedness (but only so hard,) Chidi engages a frustrating game of push-pull in which he provides her support and withdraws it just as quickly, and Michael feverishly over-analyzes every detail of his creation. There are also two other main characters introduced, both also morally decrepit in their own way, but the main dynamic centers around Chidi and Eleanor.

I like the overall concept, the acting is very good and the dialogue is quite funny at times, but it's a frustrating viewing experience for me all the same. Chidi's soliloquies on philosophy are interesting on the surface but ultimately lack depth, and it's cringe-inducing for me to watch how his inability to commit to a course of action causes pain to those around him. We're halfway through Season Two and only character so far to experience even incremental growth is Eleanor. Chidi is beginning to recognize that intellectual knowledge is not a substitute for a moral compass or an excuse for cowardice, but he remains unable to change his ways. And, I'll avoid spoilers here, but the constant struggle of the characters to find their way to their proper place in the afterlife feels Sisyphean. Maybe the show is just too much like real life--people are casually cruel to each other and slow to change, everyone's lost, and there are way too many frozen yogurt shops. I'll keep trying though, at least for a few more episodes.

But, I cannot neglect to tell you about the main excitement in my little burgh this week--the Big Fire! Not two blocks from my apartment on Monday afternoon, all hell broke loose and literally 65% of the Seattle fire fighting force showed en masse to put out one of the worst fires this city has seen in years. It happened in a block of businesses that have been around for a long time and were staples in the neighborhood, so that's very sad. But fortunately, despite the roof collapsing, massive amounts of smoke and toxic gas being released into the air, and wide-spread damage to the water supply, there were no serious injuries. Having just returned from FEMA school, my emergency management hackles were up in full force. I was prepared, had I been needed, to jump in with both feet and single-handedly drag smoke-inhalation victims to our Emergency Department, or start directing traffic. As it turns out, the Fire Department and police had things pretty much in hand and no one called on me. Which was a little disappointing, frankly. I just sat in my office and watched it all unfold on a live feed while Mr. Typist texted me updates. I am very grateful that no one was hurt and the fire didn't spread, and I'm proud of our fire department, so all in all, it could have been a lot worse. You can view the carnage here if you're curious. Hopefully the businesses can rebuild at some point and no one will be too financially devastated.

Since it's been a bumpy week, capped off by my return to work and 15,689 emails after two weeks off, here's a pretty and vaguely mournful little video about love and stuff by one of my faves, The Tallest Man on Earth. Enjoy!

Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 29, 2019

FEMA Recap: In Which Ms. Typist Discovers Her Inner Chaos Junkie

Well, my chickadees, I have returned from my week of FEMA training badly sleep-deprived and a bit traumatized, with a new-found terror of biological warfare and a cholesterol level that I can only guess is now through the roof thanks to the accursed deliciousness of Southern cooking and a Southern refusal to allow you to experience even five seconds of mild hunger. That having been said, it was the one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I am blessed to have had it. I was in the Healthcare Leadership Program, which ran concurrently with the Emergency Response Team class. (Those were the folks who ran the decontamination tents, among other things.) I didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement or anything, but it’s tactically understood that I shouldn’t go into a lot of specifics on a public site. So I will keep the details of the actual training exercises somewhat minimal, while still attempting to be scintillating.

I would like to preface this by saying that I am deeply grateful to the people in this country--the nurses, medics, firefighters, police, military personnel and others who are braver and stronger and smarter than I will ever be--who are working very hard behind the scenes every day to make sure that lives will be saved and suffering will be minimized in the event of a disaster. Over the last week, I have had the honor of being surrounded by some of the most remarkable people I have ever met. I saw people do extraordinary things and rise to the occasion in ways that they never believed they could. I saw first-hand the enormity of what can be accomplished when egos are in check and a group of people pull together to act as a team. I saw human angels in action. I have always had faith in this country, but I have returned with a renewed sense of optimism and a firm belief in our collective potential.

For context, the training started with a lot of lectures on the basics of the Emergency Incident Command System and the numerous involved agencies and their roles, then it progressed slowly into tabletop exercises followed by short, live scenarios during which we were observed on camera throughout and fed information through “controllers” who dictated fictional phone calls and acted as various characters in the scenarios. As the scenarios advanced in length and complexity, live actors were brought onto the scene, which made things even more interesting. It required a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, but I’ve never had a problem with that. 

As someone who has always thought of myself as adverse to chaos, I discovered that I actually have a love for it. After a brief stint in the fictional Public Health office, I felt that I wasn’t seeing enough action, and I asked to be transferred to the fictional Emergency Department. Public Health was an interesting assignment in some ways, but we were isolated from the hospital in a windowless office, and much of the work involved trying to track down the origin of various terrible disease outbreaks. I got bored doing nothing but making phone calls, then two nine-year-old twins “died” of Anthrax exposure, and it hurt me in the feels pretty bad. I fully realized that the ED would be a hundred times worse in terms of human carnage, and I was right, but I felt a deep need to be smack in the middle of it, to experience the worst things possible, perhaps in a misguided bid to gain some sense of mastery over my fear. So, midway through the training, the instructor brought me to the ED as an “extra hand.” The ED team had already coalesced at that point and they would have been well within their rights to take umbrage at having a non-nurse interloper dropped into their midst, but they handled it like pros with the can-do declaration, “No problem! We’ll put you to work.” 

And put me to work they did. In the final capstone event on Friday, in which every natural and man-made disaster known to man hit seemingly within fifteen minutes of each other, I was on my feet and running non-stop for the entire four hours, and getting a crash course in triage at the same time. And I loved it. I felt alive and energized and full of adrenaline and ready for anything. And anything came, including a woman who I had to wheel up to the second floor as her baby was “crowning” and her husband was yelling at me, a fight in the waiting room between a mother and daughter, a rogue reporter who tried to pry information out of me, (I am proud to say I didn’t crack), and the consummate trauma patient, a man who had very realistically, graphically amputated legs from a combine accident. I will never forget his screams. But more than that, I will never forget interacting with his devastated brother, who collapsed in sobs and told me that his brother was all he had in this world. That was the one that finally got me, folks. I took care of him as well as I could, but that did me in. No one saw me, but I had to go into the bathroom and cry after that. Damn FEMA actors. They were absolute masters at knowing how to stress us out and get under our skin. 

The other slightly less bad moment was when I got mildly dressed down by a very formidable Eastern European doctor-in-real-life for not knowing how to properly do a verbal report. I consider it a victory that later in the day I was able to get her to crack a slight smile by telling her I passed my nursing exam in the hour since I had last seen her.

Overall, I feel that my confidence around being an asset in a mass casualty event has gone from almost zero to about 90%. I’m just a very ordinary citizen with a non-clinical job. I’m not particularly strong physically and I certainly wouldn’t call myself courageous, but I know that I can be of help now, and that was my sole goal going into this. I can’t do the work of an emergency room nurse or a firefighter or a hazmat specialist, but I can do something. I can contribute and be of assistance to my community, and for that I am glad in the heart.

I will wrap up with a pitch for the FEMA training: You don’t have to be anyone special to go, and FEMA pays for all of your food, lodging, and airfare. If you can get your employer to approve you to attend and you can pass a background check, you’re in. The instructors are highly experienced, consummate professionals, and the operation is run with military-like structure and efficiency. Alabama is a beautiful state, and the training center is on lush, tree-lined, well-kept grounds. They offer a lot of different classes, and they are all excellent. If you’re curious and want to look into it, you can check out the offerings at this link.

They also have an abundance of free online classes, so check those out, too.

I loved every second of my time at FEMA, even the parts that I hated, but it’s good to be home. I missed Mr. Typist almost as much as I missed having a dimmer switch in the bathroom. I had a shared bathroom suite, and every time I opened the door to pee in the middle of the night, an automatic light switched on that had the glare and intensity of stadium floodlights. It was very stressful and not conducive to getting back to sleep easily, as my retinas burned for minutes afterward. Home is good. Our class video should be coming out soon, but in the meantime, here is a video on the joys of home:


--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, September 21, 2019

In Which Ms. Typist Jets off for FEMA School

Well this is it, my chickadees. I’m off to FEMA Mass Casualty training in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, so you won’t have me to kick around for a week. My colleague who went to the FEMA compound ahead of me for teacher training recently sent me a selfie of her posing with a fireman, which prompted professional buzzkill Mr. Typist to immediately lay down the law: I am expressly forbidden from taking selfies with firemen and “accidently” setting my dorm room on fire in a bid to be rescued by said firemen. In my pre-defense, all I’m saying is that microwave popcorn is tricky, and I can’t be held responsible for the vagaries of dorm room microwave timers.

I did my pre-test for the program yesterday and passed, so that made me happy. I may be the only one who actually did the pre-class homework, and I am hoping that gets me some brownie points with the instructors and buys me a little grace if I completely freak the eff out during the live simulations. I don’t think I will, though. In the meantime, I am in for a long flight, a long bus ride from Georgia to Alabama, and a long evening of induction, followed by many long days of classes. The operative word here is “long.” I’m nervous and excited, but most of all, happy to anticipate that when the worst hits the Seattle area, this training may help me be somewhat of an asset, or least not a liability. When I get back, I will have many tales to tell and hopefully, a class video to share.

In the meantime, here is a short video that illustrates an overview the training. I’m not on the medical/clinical side of things, so I don’t know what role I will be playing during the simulations, but I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. Wish me luck!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Gym-Related Pop Culture Discoveries: The Good, the Bad and the Horrifying

In my middle-aged dotage, I find myself mostly immersed in my little corner of the world: my job, my neighborhood in which my job happens to reside, my apartment which houses myself and Mr. Typist, and surprisingly, my gym, which has become a pivotal location in my life as I go through this weight training process, which has been a net good, but daunting both mentally and physically. As such, I’m cut off from the bleeding edge of most pop-culture doings. However, the weight training has introduced some new, niche cultural matters to my life, some fascinating, some horrifying, and some both.

YouTube Fitness Trainer Smack-downs:

I’m not sure how this happened, but I recently suffered a long, slow-motion fall down a YouTube fitness rabbit hole. I wasn’t looking for this, but you know how YouTube pops up videos that it thinks you will like based on other things you’ve watched? I was looking for advice on how to achieve an unassisted chin-up when I came across an angry, possibly roided-out personal trainer ranting about some other YouTube-famous personal trainer, who, in this personal trainer’s estimation, was incompetent, a complete moron, and giving dangerous fitness advice to the na├»ve and gullible. I quickly discovered that this was not a one-off. There is an entire subculture of YouTube fitness trainer stars whose careers seem to pivot around posting shit-talking videos about their fellow fitness gurus. It’s quite remarkable, and very loud.  It’s also strangely addictive. Maybe it's all the free-flying testosterone, but I find it weirdly compelling.

Meg Squats

However, I have gotten one positive thing out of it—it led me to power lifter Meg Gallagher’s videos (she goes by Meg Squats). I have found her videos to be informative, well-done and entertaining, and she doesn’t post mean videos about other female power lifters. She has a great sense of humor and a fun personality, and she gives solid, practical advice on strength training for total newbs like me. She’s also not above getting uber-girly every now and then and nerding out about make-up and cute workout gear. And her totally jacked arms inspire me, although that’s not a look I’m aiming for. She has also been through some bad stuff, including a violent childhood and a binge eating disorder that she suffered with for years before getting help. So she seems far more real to me than a lot of the run-of-the-mill fitness bunnies out there. And most delightfully, she opens all of her videos with the greeting, “Hello, my strong, strong friends!” It makes me tear up sometimes, especially when I’m struggling.


However, it also put me in touch with a grown man who thinks it’s a great idea to go by the moniker of “Swolenormous.” He’s pretty much the entire reason that normal men like Mr. Typist dread the gym and don’t want to go. His persona is exactly as cartoonish and over-the-top as you would expect from someone who calls himself Swolenormous and does all of his videos shirtless, but admittedly, he lives up to the “swole” part of it. If you can get past his abrasiveness and his Thor hair, he does seem to sincerely care about helping people. He’s a b.s.-caller-outer, but he offers more than that. He’s very well-educated in fitness and nutrition, and is sincerely concerned about the health crisis we are suffering as a society due to poor food quality and the proliferation of bad nutritional advice. I just wish he his message didn’t tend to get lost due to his somewhat...blustery personality.


Unfortunately, by watching his videos, I was introduced to something horrible that I had never heard of before called “Mukbang.” Apparently, this trend originated in Korea and involves people eating enormous amounts of food on camera. The entire idea makes me sick and I haven’t been able to actually watch one of these for any length of time. I have a fairly pronounced case of misophonia (a repulsion at hearing the sound of food being chewed), and the idea of watching people eat anything, much less excessively, makes me break out into a panicked sweat. How anyone finds that kind of thing remotely pleasurable is beyond me. The world is a weird place.

Bottom line is, ladies and gents, please do not go hunting around on YouTube for fitness and nutritional advice. That is a circle of hell that will lead you to breatharianism and other abominations that will bring nothing good to your life. 

Fallout 4

In trying to chill out a little from all this fitness absurdity, I downloaded Fallout 4. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I’m finding it enormously fun and absorbing. It’s set up so that you can do a lot of different things, including totally ignoring pain-in-the-butt quests you don’t want to deal with and just focusing on building up a settlement if you’d rather do that instead. I don’t know what all of the rancor was about with the bad user reviews. I think it’s really fun, and I get to have my fantasy dog in-game; a loyal German Shepard who tirelessly attacks my enemies.


Okay, finally—after cycling through numerous Spotify channels at the gym, including ZZ Top, Sabaton, Church of Heavy Metal, L-7, Hole, and Dorothy, I recently branched out into…rap. Which I have always disliked. However, this guy named Zuby has been making the rounds on some of the podcasts I listen to, and I tuned into his channel found that I actually like his music. It’s fun and melodic, but mostly very confident, wherein he refers to himself in the first person, pats himself on the back for his overall awesomeness, and expresses no surprise that he has achieved some level of stardom. (He also wrote a fitness book.) Zuby loves himself some Zuby, and I don’t blame him. Nonetheless, I am always astounded at the frankly confident, being nowhere near one of them, and I vaguely believe that if I listen to enough Zuby, maybe his zeal for himself will wear off on me a little, and instead of fighting dysmorphic inner monologues at the gym, I will start thinking, “Ms. Typist is the bomb!” Oh, who I am kidding. I will never start thinking that. But maybe I won’t be quite as dismayed at the sight of myself struggling through the “modified” (weak-person) lunges my trainer makes me do when he thinks I need to be taken down a notch.

Enjoy this video by Zuby, and think well of your fine selves!