Saturday, February 28, 2015

In Honor of Leonard Nimoy

In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, this a poem from my chapbook “Triplicity: Poems in Threes”.  

Spock: A Romance in Quotes

We met by chance on a Sunday
at the town aquarium.
He stood aloof in the octopus exhibit,
gazing at their writhing tentacles, and looking 
inscrutably pained. He turned to me and said,
"They regard themselves as aliens
in their own world, a condition
with which I am somewhat familiar.”
I fell in love right there.

He came over to drink vodka
Gimlets on my porch swing,
and read to me from “Entropy”.
At first he was a bit standoffish,
but when we finally did make love,
he whispered, “Random chance
seems to have operated in our favor."

He moved in on Tuesday.

When we fought,
he would squint at me with his satanic eyes
then say something unarguably rational,
without rancor, without
smashing plates. That was the thing about Spock:
he could always be trusted
not to smash things, not to shove his fists
through the drywall in a rage, or fly
into a temper on the freeway.
He just dealt with things. For a while, it was bliss.

Then his unflappable
demeanor began to try my nerves,
at which time he observed,  “It is curious
how often you humans manage to obtain
that which you do not want.”

On Friday, he said he was leaving,
not just me, but the planet. "Nowhere
am I more desperately needed
as among a shipload of illogical humans.”

When I threw myself onto the futon and sobbed,
he stroked my hand and said, “You may find that having
is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not
logical, but it is often true."

When I bellowed that he was a cold-hearted
bastard, he looked away. “I am what I am,
and if there are self-made
purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine
can be no worse than someone else's.”

And when I shattered all the plates and screamed
that he was throwing away a beautiful thing,
he just shrugged. "It has always been easier
to destroy than to create."

Then he packed his belt and tunic, and walked out.

Spock's been gone awhile now.
I still wear his Command badge on my bathrobe.
At night, I fumble for it, and hear
his sonorous voice: "Logic is the beginning
of wisdom; not the end."

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Writing Group Recap, Series Contemplation, How to Go Home

After God knows how long, this week I finally dragged myself from my lair on a weeknight, and went to a writing meet-up. I was a little nervous about it, but the second I got there, I felt welcomed, appreciated, and supported. It was amazing the difference it made to write in a group, just doing simple prompts and sharing in a creative space with other women. It was exciting and exhilarating, and I was invited to join a regular weekly “splinter” group that meets in my neighborhood just down the street from where I live. Overall rating: awesome. I really wish I hadn’t been pathologically and needlessly group-avoidant for so long. I am freshly inspired, and really looking forward to my weekly group!

I’m working on my novel edit, but taking a few breaks here and there to attend to poetry again. I have a few ideas for some new series, one inspired by a dream, and one inspired by a writing prompt at the group. Here's an experimental piece I might build one of the series around:  

How to Go Home

On the way home, the first hill is the hardest. Your hip will hurt, and you’ll take it as a metaphor for all of the nagging aches in your life for which you receive insufficient sympathy, and for how hard you have to fight for things you’re convinced just come to others. Once you reach the top of the hill, it’s straight down. Jog a little, but not too fast to appreciate the bright red painted door on the little stone church, and appreciate yourself for appreciating it. Watch for cars making blind right turns, while secretly wishing you’ll get hit, not tragically, not catastrophically, but just hard enough for a nice hospital stay, a week free of decision-making, a week of kind people delivering your meals on a tray. When you get to the bottom of the hill, prepare for a brief but unavoidable flash of bliss wrought by the mural of the Tuskegee airmen. A reminder of flight.

You’ll have an eight-minute wait on the south side of the street, the nice side, directly across from the not-nice side, with the shelter for homeless drug addicts. Watch prostitutes and junkies and lurching schizophrenics, and arrange your thoughts about their plight in a way that you find most in keeping with Buddhist principles, while keeping your real thoughts buried underneath, thoughts about why it’s not you on that side, and your lifelong fear of slipping. Thoughts about how your throat has become a hive of black bees, and how each bee is a thing you didn’t say, and how crowded the hive is getting, and what will happen when it finally gets too full.

Jostle for position on the Express, click your bus card on the black panel, and take absurd satisfaction in the green pass light and its attendant cheery beep. You passed! Find a side seat on the right--a side seat because you’re claustrophobic, and on the right because it affords a more interesting view. Assume you look exhausted, and that all of the flip techie hipsters are thinking that about you, that you’re exhausted. Poor sucker slaving away in the corporate salt mines. Hapless cubicle monkey. Soulless drone. Take out your phone in defiance and play that game where you shoot things. You’re forty-five and you still like shooting things. What’s in an age? Check your face in your compact mirror. You look exhausted.  Closer to home, glance into the huge picture window at all of the willowy white women in the trendy new gym. Roll your eyes at their attempts to deny their mortality through step aerobics. Pinch your upper arm fat discreetly and plan to go to the gym later.

At your stop, avoid the gauntlet of earnest clipboard-bearers asking you if you’d like to help stop bullying. The best route is through the tax center, up the stairs, and past the car tab renewal office. This spits you out onto the quiet street, where you’ll cross over into the skate park and walk past the church where if you’re lucky, the choir will be practicing and you’ll make your way to your door on their warbling notes of faith, the shivering chorus of trees, and the last of the sun singing itself into the gray casket of night.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Recording Experiment, Writing Group Excitement, Divine Silliness

The other day my friend and I went to the Korean Lady Spa, where I sweated my guts out in the sauna and had several detox-induced epiphanies, such as, “Whoa, man. Like, I’m responsible for my own happiness, not other people”, and “Therapy shmerapy; what I need is more joy, and less obsessive ruminating on my perceived problems”, and “Hm. Maybe…just maybe…I’m not actually a victim, and can stop acting like one.” Then I went back to her place, all noodley and relaxed, and she showed me her sound studio and we recorded me reading one of my old poems, “Spock: A Romance in Quotes.” I was hoping to be able to embed it here for your listening pleasure, (or displeasure as the case may be), but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to embed the MP3. Hopefully, I'll have it up some time this week.

It was fun to do, and since then I’ve been thinking about recording more of my poems; even laying music over them. To what end I’m not really sure, but it might be cool to have a collection of poetry CD’s grouped by theme, or something. I don’t know. I’m just kicking the can down the road at this point; we’ll see what comes of it.

The recent novel feedback swap I did was really energizing and creatively stimulating, and me, being a bit slow on the uptake, didn’t realize until recently that gee, that felt good, maybe I would benefit from more of that sort of thing. Fortuitously, I found a women’s writing group online, which meets tomorrow night at a coffee shop located halfway down my block. I tend to tie myself up in fear-based knots about groups and end up talking myself out of them most of the time: What if nobody likes me? What if they’re all crazy? What if no one understands me? What if they turn out to be a cult? But this time, I’ve decided to just go and see what happens. In fact, I’m kind of excited about it. Captain Obvious says, the flip side to all the fear is that I could meet some really nice people and find some new creative inspiration.

I’m on the second, deep edit of my novel, part of which involves completely changing one of the key characters, who most readers have complained is a bit of a droop. This change required me to do a little research into 70’s comedians, and I came across a 1979 recording of Steve Martin performing “King Tut”. I remember that song was all the rage when I was in 5th grade. All of the boys ran around doing the dance and screwing up the lyrics. When I watched the video, it occurred to me this is perfect example of Divine Silliness—an act so patently ridiculous, and executed with such complete commitment and exhilarating delight, that it’s actually transcendent. Acts of divine silliness remind of us the existential absurdity of our existence, and simultaneously invite us to celebrate it with pure joy. I can’t think of a comedian who can execute divine silliness much better than Steve Martin.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Series that Wasn’t, Anti-Plucky, Goodnight, Elizabeth!

As it turns out, that series I said I was going to do last week? I’m not going to do after all. It’s a readiness issue and an implications issue and a privacy issue, and I’m not as prepared as I thought I was for it. But the contemplation of it led to interesting questions about personal privacy, fairness, and objectivity. I do talk about personal things on this blog, but I try to be careful to protect others who may not be as willing to have their lives shared on a public forum. And I’m cautious here regarding what I share about myself, for personal and professional reasons, although at times I wish I didn’t feel that need. At times, I wish I could be as free-wheeling and open as, say Susanna Brisk, and just let every little thing hang out. (She’s marvelous!) But I can’t. Maybe one day, I’ll give up on life, get a neck tattoo, move to Venice Beach, and live as a full-time eccentric, but for now, I have to maintain the polite fiction that I’m holding it together.

Google is celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder today. I know many young girls were captivated by her Little House books, but I didn’t care much for the books or the TV show. It probably doesn’t say good things about my character that I found the story of a long-suffering pioneer family tiresome and condescendingly preachy. I’ve never enjoyed endurance narratives. I don’t like plucky characters, tales of hard working regular folk living off the land, or the trope of good, moral women surviving diphtheria so they can  go on to work themselves to death to ensure their children’s survival. (I also get  irritated when they “bravely suffer” giving birth in one-room cabins.) I found the overly-wholesome character of Caroline on the TV series irksome. Who’s that good? Seriously, could she not once bitch, whine, nag, or throw their good china through the window? Could she not have one nervous collapse, or a bout with alcoholism, or get seriously pissed off at Michael Landon and set his clothes on fire? Just one thing to show she’s a human being? Ugh.

But I was, perhaps hypocritically, fascinated with the show “The Waltons”, which came on right after “Little House”. They had Elizabeth, the only red-headed child I had ever seen on a TV show (she was the center of that bizarre poltergeist episode, which I loved), and the son John, who wanted to be writer and was in constant conflict with his practical, hard-headed father about it. Although Olivia Walton was a little bit too saintly for my taste, she still seemed more human than Caroline. And all of the children had their own distinct personalities, conflicts, and dramas. They had tough times, but they were also opinionated and willful. They got angry. They were stubborn and at times, selfish. They made stupid blunders. They were interesting. And of course, I adored the goodnight sequences at the end of each episode. “Goodnight, Mary Ellen!’ “Goodnight John-boy!” “Good night Elizabeth!” “Goodnight, Erin!” And then lamps going off, the mournful harmonica, crickets chirping, and a long shot of the beautiful starry night sky. The world would be a better place if everyone’s bedtime began exactly like that.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Terrifying Astronomy, Writing is Re-Writing, A Trip to the Zoo

For reasons I can only dimly recall, this week Mr. Typist and I decided it would be a great idea to watch the Nova documentary, “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse?", smack in the middle of the day like it was a common talk show or something. It was all about the theory of an exponentially expanding universe. There were a lot of pretty-colored orbs flying at me hypnotically, incomprehensible animated math wriggling across the screen, and terribly-performed re-enactments of physicists in oversized glasses being nerd-bitchy to each other. Mr. Typist assured me it was “geared towards layman” and that I’d have a clear understanding of…whatever after watching it. But I do not have a clear understanding, and I'm very upset now. I have no idea what's going on. I didn’t understand their wriggly animated math, but apparently we’re just flying apart. I'm panicked at the idea of non-stop expansion. I can barely handle my own life, and now I'm part of some weird anomalous particle field speeding untethered through the space/time continuum? I am so not down with that.

Mr. Typist has this recurring condition he calls “insignifi-phobia” which is invoked in him whenever he spends too much time contemplating the vastness of the universe. It’s a sort of overwhelming existential crisis in which the tininess and irrelevance of his being in the scope of the galaxy is brought home to bear in no uncertain terms. I already spend too much time obsessing over things I can’t control, so I try not to add the size of the universe to that list. But I have to say, I now understand exactly how he feels. Thanks for nothing, Nova!

This weekend, I spent some time tinkering around with my dud novel character, Lye, trying to spice him up a little. It was an interesting experiment. I have been agonizing over that character ever since I started the re-write. I found myself simply unable to do the “right” thing and hammer out a character study for him. The only way I was able to work with him was to actually re-write each of his dialogue scenes verbatim. I realized in this process that I truly am a “seat-of-the-pants” writer. I have a very hard time planning. My writing happens during the writing; I’m just not able to do it any other way. I will never be someone who can create and write from an elaborate outline, and I’ve come to peace with that. At any rate, Lye has a more definitive personality now. Not perhaps a more tolerable one, but a more definitive one.

Today, Mr. Typist and I, in an attempt to escape our mutual insignifi-phobia, took a spontaneous trip to the Point Defiance Zoo!  After I got over my initial shock that there were children there, at the zoo, on a Sunday, I started to enjoy myself. I was especially excited to encounter Gibbon monkeys, which I’ve had a special affinity for since writing “The Gibbon Remedy”. I saw breathtaking Bengal tigers, two pure white arctic foxes (I also have an affinity for white animals, which show up often in my dreams), hypnotic jellyfish, and a motley assortment of other critters, all in various stages of boredom or ennui, because, you know, they're in a zoo. Pics are below. I’m off to bathe, as I smell like a zoo.

--Kristen McHenry

Jelly Jelly!

Hello, Handsome

Bored Yak is Bored

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adventures in Feedback: Fear and Fruition, and A Brand New Poem!

This week, for the first time in well over a year, I wrote a poem! Ever since I finished the first draft of the novel, I have heard the dim but persistent music of poetry calling me back. I’ve jotted down ideas and notes as they’ve come to me, but I didn’t put anything into form until recently. It’s not a great work of art or anything, but it made me really happy to know that poetry is back for me, for however long it may be. I think I needed to get the novel out of my system before I could find space in my head for anything else.

Speaking of the novel, I recently had a great experience doing a “trade” reading with someone I connected with through Absolute Write. We both wanted a specific sort of critique, and as it turns out, both of our main characters were so alike (hers male, mine female), that we jokingly contemplated getting the two of them together in a separate novel. (The ensuing chaos would be fantastic!) It was an interesting and gratifying experience to critique someone else’s work. Firstly, it reminded me to have compassion for myself and how freaking hard it is to write a whole, entire effin' book. And it was a surprisingly creative process to give feedback. It felt like I was part of an exciting collaborative effort, and it was exhilarating. It also made me happy that the feedback I was giving genuinely helped the author. I didn’t fully realize until then how lonely this book-writing thing has been. Doing a critique trade was a good reminder that art is at its essence collaborative, and that we create so that those creations can be experienced and hopefully, have an impact on an audience. It takes an enormous amount of fortitude to labor away in isolation for so long, without the gratification of sharing work and receiving a response.

Conversely, the feedback I received was incredibly helpful, with big things such as character development, but also with small but important things like, “That’s the only photo Harley has of her little brother, and three scenes ago she tore it to pieces in a rage, but in this scene, it’s intact and she’s taping it to her computer monitor.” Ohhh. Right. *Smacks forehead*. After a point, you simply become blind to these details in your own work. And then there’s the sheer depressing, daunting, hide-under-the-covers realization of how much work there is still left to do now that the “fun” part is over and the re-write is imminent. And I face the scary prospect of having to re-make one of my main characters, because he’s always been a bit of a zero and really needs a personality. He is the only character I didn’t do an in-depth character study on, and I realize now that’s because I’m scared of him. I’m afraid of his pain, his suffering, and the depth of the loss he’s experienced in his young life. I subconsciously thought I could get away with having him be a laconic plot device, but it's clear I’m not going to get out of giving him his fair due. So on the agenda this weekend is a complete re-imagining of “Sci-Fi Lye”.

I’m a little nervous to post this, a wobbly, first-step poem after having let my poetry muscles atrophy for so long. But here it is:

Dream Dictionary

To dream of light returning on its own
means you’ll rise from churning waters
blackened with seaweed and salt,
well versed in the tongue of the drowned,
and madder now than even when you dove.

To dream of crows trading foil for bread
means you’ll be asked to solve a riddle:
Sacrifice is to nourishment as what is to the sun?
Carve the answer in an onion seed and
plant it under stones.

To dream of the names of roses
means take solace in the purity of sound:
Your bestowals are leviathans,  
and what is blessed is not by rights divine.
Be cautious with all magic in these times.

To dream of peeling oranges
means you long for home.
Make a fortress of its dour skin,
and dream of when the light, the roses, the
healing bread will rise. 

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Nature of Fandom, Content vs. Substance, and A Plea for Moment of Silence

There was an uproar in the podcast world this week when famed comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla unceremoniously announced that Alison Rosen, his “newsgirl” of four years, would not be returning to the show in 2015. Cue Twitter umbrage and numerous Alison fans rage-quitting Adam’s show. Adding to fan fury was the revelation that Adam fired her via e-mail rather than in person. As a huge fan of Alison Rosen, I was upset, too--not just about her being fired, but by the dismissive way Adam announced it. At first I was taken aback by the strength of my own reaction. But then I realized that I listen to Alison almost every day, either on The Adam Carolla Show, or on her podcast, “Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend”. And when someone’s voice and consciousness is in your ears on a daily basis, you develop an investment in them, and yes, a type of relationship with them. The incident and my reaction to it made me ponder on the nature of our relationship with digital media. I’ve never met Alison, and I don’t have any personal investment in her life or her career. But I’ve developed a fondness for her over years of listening to her in my headphones during my commute. She’s been a comforting voice to me in hard times, and she’s someone who I have come to admire and root for. I was hurt on her behalf.

Back when Mr. Typist and I played World of Warcraft, I witnessed more than one person get completely torn apart by online relationships they had developed in-game with friends or guild mates they had never met in real life. And I realized that those relationships were real. They had an emotional impact, they had weight and form, and the people involved were fully invested. Many of them were platonic friendships, not romances. To this day, I remember having both some hurtful, and some truly joyful interactions with people I only ever met through in-game chat. People who say that online relationships of are somehow not as real as face-to-face relationships are wrong. They are very real. And it’s the same with our relationship to media, especially with something as intimate as audio.

Presumably, creators develop content to cultivate an audience. They cultivate that audience by being compelling enough to draw that audience back over and over again. And whether it’s convenient or not, they have a measure of responsibility to that audience. Yes, they are the producers of their content and they have full rights to decide on the nature of it. But by asking for an audience’s attention, investment, and buy-in, they are also to some degree beholden to that audience’s reaction to it. You can’t have one without the other. Either you want people to pay attention and be engaged with what you produce, or you don’t. But if you want audience engagement, you should be prepared to be held accountable. That’s why I get so annoyed at comedians who pull the “It was just a joke” line when they get called out on saying something offensive, yet at the same time fancy themselves as having some sainted societal role as the arbiters of uncomfortable truth. If you want an audience to pay attention and react to what you have to say, you don’t get to dismiss accountability for your words when they do.

The Adam Carolla audience developed a relationship with Alison over her four years on the show, and as such, they reacted angrily on her behalf. It makes sense, but it seemed to take Adam by complete surprise. The day after the announcement, guest David Wild came on the Adam Carolla Show and quite masterfully pointed out to Adam the ways in which he botched the firing and the subsequent announcement of it. He was kind, but very clear. Adam owned up and admitted he didn’t handle it well, and the firing via e-mail was explained—apparently, Alison had stated from the beginning that if she was to be dismissed, she’d prefer to receive the news via e-mail. The dust has settled. Personally, I’m over it. But I’m left with the lesson that in this noisiest of eras where we have unlimited access to endless streams of “content”, words still have weight, impact, and meaning. The way we talk to each other matters. What we say and how we say it counts. And maybe, every now and then, we should all just shut up and enjoy a little silence.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unresolutions, Cat Conundrum, and The Joy of Doing Things Halfway

I’m pretty adamant about not making New Year’s Resolutions. I think they’re a bad idea for a number of reasons. But I recently came across this list of resolutions, made by Woody Guthrie in 1942, and I found it delightful, especially “dream good”, “dance better” and “love everybody.” Also, “keep the hope machine running”. It’s simple, sweet and optimistic, even if it is a little preoccupied with basic hygiene, making me wonder just how infrequently the man showered or changed his socks. Still, even with the amusing margin sketches and super-tidy handwriting, it did not inspire me to make resolutions. I am wandering dazed into 2015 with no goals, no expectations, and no demands. Except maybe to get a second cat. However, in the time that I’ve sat down to write this, Yoshi has knocked my stapler off my desk, tried to open the Beta food jar, swatted at said Beta, rubbed his slimy wet nose all over my face, flung his corpulent bulk across my keyboard, and whined copiously when I tried to move him. Maybe one cat is enough. (Just now he hooked his claw into my mouse and swung it off my desk in a perfect arc.)

I’ve been off work since Christmas Eve, and although half my time off was spent sick, it’s been a much-needed break. I’m deeply anxious about jumping back into the fray, but I’m trying to be brave about it. Even during my time off, I enjoy accomplishing things. But during this break, I did everything half-assed. I sort of poked around editing my novel, but didn’t really commit to it. I worked on my rug, but it’s still not done. (Progress photos below!) I read submissions for Literary Bohemian, but not the long travel pieces. (Okay, to be honest, I never read the long travel pieces.) I worked out, but not really hard. Mostly I just curled up in a ball trying to recover from the ravages of 2014.  I’m not quite there yet.

I also only half-read Skipping Christmas, the John Grisham book mentioned in my last post. I don’t know why I am so preoccupied by this story, but I find it really interesting. It turns out that in the book, Luther Krank is a selfish jerk. (He was somewhat in the movie too, but he’s a real ass in the book.) He is definitely being harassed and victimized by his neighbors, who just cannot let it go that he doesn’t want to do Christmas. But it also seems that Luther is stirring the pot a little bit; using this conflict to take years of pent-up aggression out on his neighbors. I suppose I’m so fascinated because I’m interested in themes around community versus individualism, group behavior, conformity, and how those things intersect with control. The group in this case is offended by the breach of expectations. The neighborhood takes great pride in their Christmas festivities and decorations, and by not participating, the Krank’s are signaling their unwillingness to be part of the community, however briefly. If the neighbors would just shrug it off and let the Krank’s make their own choices about how to spend the holidays, everything would be fine. But their resistance only increases the Krank’s resistance, and it becomes a volatile mess. One thing not mentioned in the book so far is the toll that this is taking on Mrs. Krank, who rightly points out in the movie that it's far less acceptable for women to defy social expectations than men, and therefore she is the one taking the brunt of their ire and its attendant penalties.

Speaking of defying expectations, although I will be wandering goal-less into 2015, I will be wandering with a fresh haircut! I just got about three inches chopped off my mop, so now I have a chin-length bob. (And newly waxed brows.) I love getting my hair cut, even though I know that shorter hair on women is generally considered an affront to all that is good, holy and symbolic of our willingness to signal submission to the male gaze. Or something. Something political-ish and vaguely feminist. I’ll leave that one unfinished, too. 

Kristen McHenry

Rug progress:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Retro Movie Review, Pre-Finished Book Review, and an Epic Cold

The day before I was scheduled to go on vacation, I woke up with a burning sore throat and a severe cough and ended up calling in sick. Somehow, missing that one day of work/life threw my entire week off track, and I’ve muddled through the holidays in a disoriented haze of Ricola, Nyquil, and sleeping until noon. Today I’m finally starting to feel better, but I feel like I “lost” the last five days. It’s been the most awesome rest I’ve had in ages. Being that sick gave me permission to do absolutely nothing but give in, sleep like a hibernating bear, take long lavender salt baths, and get caught up on my reading. In a way, it was the best vacation I could have hoped for. I had no idea how tired I was. It’s been a hell of a year, and as usual, I’ve gone non-stop for all twelve months of it. My body and my brain need a long break. There is a psycho-spiritual feel to this illness; almost as though I was being forced to give up, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. And give up I have, completely and totally. It’s really quite lovely to be in such a state of utter surrender. I haven’t felt so at peace in a long time.

While in my sickly haze, I also decided I don’t have the energy to hate Christmas anymore. I just gave in and enjoyed the twinkly lights, the awful corny Christmas music, the giving and receiving of gifts, and the terrible seasonal movies, one of which was “Christmas with the Kranks” from the dim reaches of 2004. The movie was critically panned, and rightfully so as it’s pretty awful. The Kranks, empty-nester suburbanites in a close-knit, conformist neighborhood, decide after many years of “doing” Christmas perfectly and to the hilt, that they’re going to ditch the whole affair this time around and take a cruise instead. This decision shocks and offends their neighbors, who immediately begin a campaign to get them in the proper Christmas spirit and basically harass them into participating in their entrenched seasonal rituals. The battle escalates, hilarity ensues, etc., and in the end, the Kranks learn The Importance of Community. But before the movie devolves into over-the-top slapstick and sentimentality, there is a dark, satirical feel to it which was very interesting. The Krank’s neighbors, led by a vaguely menacing ringleader/busybody named Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Ackroyd), simply will not abide non-conformity, and employ tactics such as shunning, accusations of selfishness, attack caroling, and outright physical sabotage to get them to comply. Their cult-like insistence on the Krank’s participation, and their subsequent saving of the Krank’s in the end as a “reward” for their capitulation sends an eerie, twisted message. All in all, it was an odd viewing experience. Apparently, the film is based on the book “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham, which I plan to read. Hopefully it’s better than the movie.

 I shouldn’t need to feel even slightly defensive about the fact that I love comedian Jim Gaffigan, but I almost started this paragraph with a disclaimer: I like smart comedy too! I listen to Marc Maron! I watched Mo Rocca’s stand-up special! Blah, blah, who cares. I’ve come to accept that my default setting is low-brow. And Jim Gaffigan is one of those steady, work-a-day comics I really like. He does his job, he does it well, and in the end he goes home to his wife and five children in a two-bedroom, five-story walk up in the Bowery. I like artists who see their work as a job and don’t get overly dramatic about the importance of their role in society. Jim has written a new book called “Food: A Love Story”, which was perfect reading for me over these last few days. Reading it is like talking to an affable friend about their love of food. In way, it’s such a simple concept that it borders on genius. It’s just him writing about everyday, ordinary foods and his feelings about them. Hot dogs, crackers, cheese (glorious cheese!), steak, bacon, barbeque, and something from Canada called “poutine” which sounds delicious—all get his joyful, enthusiastic take. He’s very relatable and funny, and more than willing to spill his shame-eating secrets so we don’t have to. I’m only about halfway through the book at this point, and I find myself not wanting it to end because I want to keep talking to Jim in my head about his food feelings. I have food feelings, too! Lots of them. Hmmm….perhaps I should start a new series on this blog. Would anyone care for my hilarious take on spray cheese?

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trendy Globe-Trotting Me, Spiritual Hodge-Podgery, A Time to Expand

An ad for rosewater shortbread (which sounds disgusting) showed up on my G-mail account a few days ago. I have no idea why Google thinks I have any interest in rosewater shortbread, but it made me curious, so I starting clicking “refresh” just to see what other ads it would bring up. In quick succession, it was:

What the Biggest Hedgefund has Been Buying
LA. As a Pedestrian
Cultured Traveler: Thailand’s ‘Gong Highway’
How Caroline Doubled Her Salary By Changing Her Brand

So Google thinks I’m a trendy-dessert-baking, globe-trotting stock tycoon with business ambitions to "brand" myself. Hmm.

I was listening to Krishna Das on Duncan Trussell’s podcast a few days, talking about his chanting and his spiritual practice. I realized while listening to him that I don’t have a spiritual practice because I don’t like the word “practice”.  It feels like work. And of course, it is work. Some would say it is the only work. It’s appropriate that spiritual development be work. But the word feels exacting, stern, and exhausting, and I’m exhausted enough already. I have an especially a hard time with Eastern-based spiritual practices.  In some ways I’m drawn to them, and in others ways, I find them too ascetic, too cold and detached. Is there is spiritual practice for people like me, who are naturally lazy and pleasure-seeking? Could we invent something called a "playtice"? I’ve explored a number of spiritual paths but eventually found all of them to be overly complicated, fraught, and ultimately slightly silly, even Wicca. (I love the idea of Wicca, but I can't abide the ritual involved in the actual practice of it.) 

Just like that line from "The Star Splitter"—“We've looked and looked, but after all, where are we?" I've looked and looked for a spiritual practice that clicks for me, but I have yet to land on one. And maybe I wasn't meant to. Maybe I’m meant to just rattle around in some weird, one-off bargain bin of spiritual hodge-podgery, never fully settling on a form, because my spiritual self is simply not going to be able to conform to any one set system. This makes me a little sad, because I recognize the value in ritual, the value in abiding by a set of principles, and the value in discipline. I have a great deal of discipline when it comes to my job, and some when it comes to my creative life, but the idea of being spiritually disciplined makes me feel gray and deflated. I don't want to work at it. I just want to be happy and at peace right here, right now, and not to have to lift a finger for it.

On a slightly less entitled note, I have decided to stop avoiding the second edit of my novel and just tear in. Once I started, I realized that the issues that were looming in my mind as insurmountable, impossibly complex problems aren’t really all that big of a deal to fix. At least, the two that I’ve tackled so far weren’t. I still have the last 75 pages to contend with, which isn’t going to be fun. Coming from having written poetry and short stories for so long, it’s really hard to get my mind around the sheer spaciousness that a novel allows me. In my obsession with keeping the book to a pre-set word count, I sort of…shall we say, overly-compressed some things near the end. I’m going to have to expand it. Maybe while I’m at it, it’s time to expand in some other areas as well. And I’ll start with a deep, full breath. 

--Kristen McHenry