Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lit-splaining, Prevention Isn’t Profitable, Dirt Socks



I recently came across a Facebook link to a List Challenges article entitled “The BBC Believes You Only Read 6 of These Books”, followed by a list of 100 so-called “best-loved” novels, many of them considered classics. (I wasn’t going to take the click bait, but come on. It’s catnip for those of my ilk, and they know it.) As it turns out, I have read 24 of the books listed, not that that means anything. I’ve always bristled at the notion of “important” or “must-read” books, and have refused to read some simply because I rebelled at having them shoved down my throat as some kind of necessary literary medicine. By the time a book has been repeatedly touted as brilliant, stunning, an instant classic, genius, a sprawling epic, educational, or deeply enriching, I have completely lost interest in it. I know this means I could be missing out on some work I’d enjoy, but I’m fine with that. When I see these lists, I feel like I’m right back in school again and some purse-lipped old bat is lit-splaining to me about what this Very Important Book Means to Our Culture and exactly how I should feel about it. It sucks the joy of discovery out of it for me. I’ve read plenty of books that no one’s ever heard of, that I’ve enjoyed the heck out of and that have perfectly fit the bill of a good novel—they made me think, they’ve made me feel, and they provided me with escape and entertainment, the latter of which is the only criteria I have any more for a book. I already have a job. I don’t want my leisure reading to be work, and I certainly don’t want to subject myself to literary tedium just because some distant authority has deemed it “good for me.” An inordinate number of quote marks were employed in this paragraph, and I’m not sorry.

The wrenching situation with my family member continues, and with it, my disgust at the shape of health care in this country. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much of a solution to it. Profit has been woven so indelibly into the fabric of health care that at this point, it would be impossible to untangle those threads. I’m afraid we’re doomed to live with the ruthless and broken system we’ve created. Every now and then, I come across a well-reasoned article about the value of preventative medicine, harm reduction, or the fact that perhaps doctors are over-treating, but those authors inevitably get shouted down as hippy quacks. The fact is, prevention isn’t profitable. I don’t trust my body to any doctors because I have good insurance, which ironically means that I simply can’t trust them to make decisions in my best interest. (I remember one doctor I went to a few years ago for a strained anterior tibialis insisted that it was gout, and wanted me to get a pricey test for it. I didn’t. I was fine after a few days of icing and rest, and the pain never came back. Gout, indeed. Do I look like a rich fat man from a Dickens novel?)  My “health care” plan is to exercise reasonably, limit the amount of crap I eat, and avoid the sun. Also, to get my Advanced Directive sorted out stat. That having been said, I’m incredibly grateful for the space-age surgery technology that kept my dad alive recently, and I think that emergency medicine in this country is the best in the world. See, I’m not totally bitter. Just ninety-eight percent bitter.

Buddy has been coming home with little brown dirt-socks on his white paws. We have no idea what he’s getting into. It looks like he’s wading in a filth-pool. We keep debating whether or not we should give him a bath. We’ve have two cats who thought water was nothing less than death-acid, and one who’s favorite activity was playing under a running faucet. Buddy seems indifferent to water. He doesn’t seek it out, but he doesn’t bolt in abject horror when subjected to it. So maybe we will try a Buddy-bath soon and see how that works out. I’ll post pictures of the claw marks if it doesn’t go. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 16, 2017

There is Poetry in the World



Yesterday, I went to the Poets in the Park event in Redmond and read some poems for the “Verse Aid” segment, organized by the stellar David D. Horowitz of Rose Alley Press. I had to push myself to go, but I’m glad I did. It was a brief pocket of sweetness and peace in the midst of anguishing situation that I am dealing with surrounding a seriously ill family member. 

I’ve thought a lot over the last several weeks about whether or not to talk about the situation on my blog, and if so, how to go about it in a way that respects the privacy of those involved. I’ve concluded that the only way to ensure that everyone is protected is to not provide details and to not talk about anyone else’s experience. Those involved have their own stories to tell, and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. At the same time, for the last ten years, this blog has been a venue for me to share with some degree of frankness about what’s happening in my emotional and artistic life, and it feels disingenuous to pretend that something that has been all-encompassing for me these last few weeks is not happening.  

I suppose I could talk about the big, roomy leather bag I bought today that Mr. Typist disapproves of because he thinks it’s going to throw my back out. I could talk about Buddy, but it wouldn’t be very interesting because ever since this situation began, he’s been suspiciously well-behaved and loving. I could talk about my general annoyance with the loud, sticky month of July, that I can’t find a good book to distract myself from all of this, and that I’ve started wearing skirts semi-regularly. But my heart’s not in any of it. It all feels dim and unimportant. Mostly what I do is stare into space, harbor uncharitable thoughts about medical authority, and blindly Google the condition in question only to find myself incapable of absorbing any information. I’ve made some half-hearted attempts to find counseling, but my faith in its efficacy has been lost thanks to some frustrating experiences with therapists over the last few years. I’m experiencing diminished appetite and poor sleep and all of those “red flags” they talk about, but I can’t seem to address my needs or even discern what they are. I don’t want to take time off from work, because it’s the only area of my life right now where I have a sense of control. I am being buffeted by a swirling mass of dreadful unknowns, but at least I know I can return those forty-seven e-mails and knock a good chunk of to-do’s off my list in my eight hours. 

So that’s where I’m at. I know that I won’t be in this state forever. Over the last several years, I’ve developed the emotional resilience of a honey badger. There is poetry in the world. I have a warm bed to sleep in. I can’t say that I have faith, but faith is a double-edged sword anyway. I know that it’s considered a radical act in this day and age to talk openly about emotional health issues, and I suppose being honest here could come back to haunt me, but I consider it my tiny contribution to the act of de-stigmatizing any emotional state considered to be  “undesirable” in our happiness-obsessed culture. 

“There are some mornings when the sky looks like a road
There are some dragons who were built to have and hold
And some machines are dropped from great heights lovingly
And some great bellies ache with many bumblebees
And they sting
so terribly.”

from “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” by Joanna Newsome



--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Questionnaire for Determining Those Deserving of Care



Please answer yes or no to the following questions:

Do you smoke?
Do you have poor eyesight?
Do you suffer quietly from a vague, chronic, low-grade sadness?
Does your fleshly mass exceed the bounds of visual good taste?
Do you stubbornly refuse to bring children into this world?

Do you have too many children?
Are you lazy?
Are you freckled?
Are you foreclosed-on?
Was your cancer caused by a poor mental outlook?
Do you consume processed foods?
Do you wake up at night terrified, staring into a nameless void?
Do you avoid flossing?
Have you ever eaten Cheetos in lieu of lunch?
Are you a pessimist?
Do you nap in the daytime?
Have you ever had a lapse of faith, no matter how momentary?
Are you a drinker? An addict?
Godless? Schizophrenic?
Do you crave oily foods?
Did you at any point accept less-than-ideal work?
Have you allowed your self-esteem to suffer?
Have you found yourself unable to forgive?
Have you ever wondered what you're really doing here?
Do you find yourself anxious without reason?
Do you sometimes find it difficult to pee?
Have you ever made an uninformed choice?

Are you a compulsive:

E-mail checker?
Nail-biter?
Lip-chewer?
Self-cutter?
Liar?

Have you ever been:

Fatigued?
Socially awkward?
In debt?
Down in the dumps?
Humiliatingly in love with someone who couldn't or wouldn't love you back?
Haunted by self-doubt?
Afflicted with flatulence?
Caught speeding?
Jealous of those more fortunate?
Unable to find the correct paperwork?
Lonely beyond imagining?
Overdressed?
Mired in the throes of self-pity?
Avoidant?
Addicted to your own shame?

If you have answered “yes” to two or more of the above questions,
we regret to inform that you have been deemed
unworthy, due to the misfortune
that you have quite obviously brought upon yourself
with your reckless disregard
for all that is clean, holy, and God-fearing and virtuous.
We wish you the best
in your continued search for quality care. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fun with Ferries, Dissing Authori-tay, The Flesh Trade



This week I had to make a rare trip to the other side of the water, necessitating the use of our region’s venerable ferry system. After a maze-like journey through the traffic-choked downtown construction zone, Mr. Typist and I finally weaved our way into the car loading zone for the ferry. We were first in our lane, and, not having been on the ferry in many years, we weren’t hip to the system. Mr. Typist, following the lane lines perfectly, I might add, somehow drove out of bounds, and we ended up sitting in a no-go zone, puzzled as to what to do. Immediately, a safety-vest-clad dock worker blustered up to us from his vehicle, where I assume he had been napping, and started yelling at us. He asked where we were going, then demanded in his obnoxious, booming voice that we wait for every single other vehicle to load before we drive back into the lane to get on. “Can’t I just hop in when there’s a gap?” Mr. Typist naively inquired. “No!” shouted the dock worker. “You have to wait for every other vehicle to get on first.”

After he lumbered off in a huff, Mr. Typist and I noticed a lengthy gap in the traffic, then, in a slow-mo, Thelma and Louise-esque moment, we glanced at each other, and Mr. Typist gunned it. We made it back into the lane, and immediately the man’s shattering voice screamed, “What did I say? What did I saaaaaaay?” We were fairly certain he was actually going to chase us onto the ferry and drag us from the car. Once we were ensconced in the parking lane, we seemed to be safe, but our adrenaline was pumping.  “He’s not the police,” I scoffed, shortly followed by, “Do you think we’re going to get arrested at the dock?” We spent the rest of the ferry ride both mocking him and nervously speculating about what sort of list we’re now on that we’ve subverted the authori-tay of the Department of Transportation. We are staunch law-abiders and we’re out of our element with our new life on the lam from the dock workers of Seattle. I’m going to be pro-active and set up a Go-Fund-Me for our bail.

The Minecraft adventures continue.  I want to make it clear up front that we are not big old nerds just because Mr. Typist recently set up a private server so we can play in the same realm and steal from each other’s chests. That being said, I realized the other day that things have gone too far.  The game spawns occasional pre-made towns, where you can trade certain goods with its reticent, beak-faced villagers. If you can find a priest, he will give you emeralds in exchange for zombie flesh, which you get for killing the monsters that lurch onto your lawn at night. (What the priests do with the zombie flesh is none of my business. I don’t judge.) I had accumulated a lot of zombie flesh, but alas, my nearby village has no priests. However, Mr. Typist has priests a-plenty, because he kidnapped and imprisoned them in a tower so he could force them into the gem trade in perpetuity. It was on my list to paddle my boat over to his side of town to trade my zombie flesh, but first he needed to put a ladder in his tower so I could reach them. The other day, I asked impatiently, “Are your priests ready yet? I need to trade my flesh.” Then I realized that if the window had been open, our neighbors would likely be dialing the FBI at that moment. This is what it’s come to, folks: trading illicit flesh for shiny green rocks with priests enslaved in a tower. Is this what they call rock bottom?  

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hermit Crab's Lament



I have a lot going on at the moment, and also it’s death hot, so in lieu of a proper post this week, here is an old poem from my first chapbook, “The Goatfish Alphabet”. Enjoy, and stay safe in the heat!





Hermit Crab’s Lament

You who call us
house proud and vapid
have misunderstood.
Do you think we merely
fumble our way by instinct
into any hollow object?
You can't comprehend
the arithmetic of our choices; the ecstasy
of toil in a hard, rank womb.

I will admit to a touch of pride.
I’ve always been keen on headroom,
though we can ill afford
to be choosy in these times.
I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

It’s of no consequence
these days, I suppose. They’re all a poor fit now.
The wind oozes through, no matter the rental.
The shore is a wasteland of broken cups.
It’s about the seeking, they tell me.
Well cold comfort. My whole
damn species are fools, always skittering
toward some fresh perfection, always
outgrowing what loves us.

Only God has the courage
to go without a crust, to linger
as tender as a polyp in these barrens.
When he taps our walls for the final eviction,
We will be unable to hang on, unable
to refuse. He will stagger with us
towards our first, most perfect home.  

--Kristen McHenry