Sunday, October 16, 2016

Storm Disappointment, Nighthawks Love, Cat Karma

We here in Western Washington were recently promised a storm of epic proportions, which, disappointingly to me, never materialized. Apparently, our “multi-million dollar weather supercomputers” miscalculated the force and trajectory, and the storm just sort of fizzled out. I feel very let down. I needed a storm in my life to match my emotional storminess, and the weather simply refused to cooperate. This is one of only many times that I have been thoroughly let down by weather: There were all of those 90-degree, aggressively sunny days when I was depressed and could not cope with all of the exhortations to “get out and enjoy the sun!” (Just for the record, I’m pasty-skinned redhead who is prone to burning in mere minutes. I hate the sun and will never, ever “enjoy” it.) That time that I was caught in a completely unexpected severe rainstorm in downtown Seattle and got hit by a wall of water so powerful I was as soaked as if I had waded into Puget Sound, and it took me seven hours to get home that night. The time when we had a severe heatwave for two weeks straight and everyone from the South made fun of us without realizing that no one in this effing state has air conditioning. Ugh, weather. It’s the worst.

I recently came across a Photoshopped image that reminded me of how much I like “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. My artistic tastes tend toward the unconventional, but I’ve always been a fan of Hopper’s work, and “Nighthawks” is a favorite of mine. I don’t know why—I don’t generally like L.A. noir style work, but there is something about this painting that I have always found hauntingly beautiful and fascinating. It’s a combination of the light, the darkness, and the mysterious circumstances of the cafĂ©-dwellers. Why are they there so late at night? What’s going on with the couple? What’s up with the single guy at the counter? And what does the seemingly world-weary diner attendant think of all of this? No one in the painting seems overtly sad, nor do they seem particularly thrilled to be in each other’s company. They all seem to be in their own emotional worlds, connected by proximity, but detached from one another. The painting is both emotionally rich and deeply ambivalent. I get that feeling from a lot of Hopper’s work, but this one is by far my favorite.

Recently on a podcast I listen to with semi-regularity, one of the hosts said that dogs are subservient because they need humans to take charge of things, but cats are assholes because they are more independent and can just do whatever they want. This is entirely true. Now that the weather has turned, Buddy has given up his deck-jumping antics and has taken to sleeping all day long on top of the refrigerator in a paper tray we have up there. Why do we have a paper tray on top of our fridge? Reasons. And right now that reason is so that Buddy has a cat bed to rest in. I know this is not an original thought, but if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m coming back as a cat. I want to lounge around on top of a fridge all day, manipulate humans into loving me against all reason and common sense, grub free food and boarding, and contribute nothing to the household. Also, I’ll have a complete patsy in tattooed cat apologist Jackson Galaxy, who will defend my atrocious behavior at every turn. Get that soul contract ready, Gods. Cats owe me, and it’s payback time!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Employee Satisfaction Survey

I have some…stuff I need to work on today. Super-secret, highly glamorous and impressive stuff. I can’t tell you about it, but trust me, it is intriguing as hell. So instead of a regular post, here’s a poem from “The Acme Employee Handbook”, which will be released, by me, in e-format soon.

Employee Satisfaction Survey

Are you plagued by high absenteeism? Or is there just a general malaise that permeates the hallways, and you can't quite identify the source?  --From a corporate surveying website

The Company knows that our employee’s job satisfaction is paramount to our success. Please take a few moments to complete this (mostly anonymous) survey, as we are not loathe to ask what cunning dread gnaws at your guts at 3:00 a.m., or where in your body failure resides--the cold conviction that somewhere in life you missed a critical turn, that the opportunity to become who you were meant to be is gone, that in one moment of inattention, or with one big feckless decision, or perhaps with a series of tiny, untraceable, but no less negligent choices, your Last Chance vanished like a scared cat and the door that opened to the path of your highest potential slammed shut and was sealed forever like an evil portal in a sci-fi comic.

On a scale of one to ten, how close are you to being the person you thought you would become? When you loll at your work station, staring listlessly into your cup, do you ruminate obsessively on why you don this role each morning like an itchy costume, and for that matter, why you ever listened to society at all? At what point you got soft, shape-shifted into subdued citizen instead of starting up that business, pursuing sculpture, trying to make a go of it in stand-up? And yet here you are now, taunted by some irrational part of you that still yearns to find some meaning in your day-to-day labors, even though management is out of touch and wasps have nested in the window sash and the fern they mailed you for your five-year anniversary curls brownly in its plastic grave, the cheery little card faded with exposure to florescent.

Do you feel that you are given feedback, or that your only feedback is the continuous thrum of low-grade disappointment coursing through your teeth? Are you happy with our suppliers? Would you like an incentive program? Or do you feel that work well done is its own reward, except it isn’t anymore and you want a thank you now and then damnit, or a little recognition for your efforts. Perhaps you fantasize about a transfer to Janitorial, where at least you can see some results, something accomplished, a dry floor, a lustrous commode. On a scale of one to ten, with one being more or less okay with it all and ten being rapturously at ease, overall how satisfied are you with your work at The Company? Please answers all questions honestly, and do not make multiple selections.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Doctor Distress, Trash Pandas, Sneeze Ninja

I bit the bullet recently and actually made a doctor’s appointment—an appointment I did not want to make for an issue I did not want to deal with—but I steeled myself and went anyway. It was as awful as I had anticipated, including a surprise invasive ultrasound and a painful emergency procedure to remove an implant that had become problematic. It was 8:00 in the morning, I was slightly traumatized, and I had a bit of shock adrenaline running through me. 

Because I hadn’t been to see a doctor for so long, the OB/GYN (who I liked) decided that this was a great time to give me the full run-down of everything medical I need to catch up on now, especially since I am “getting older.” She whipped out a form and started asking me all of these questions about my eyes and my veins and my frequenting of adult beverages and my weight and my last mammogram and how I managed to reach my age without being put on the pill. Then she said I can’t eat white foods anymore, and when I turn fifty, I have to have a colonoscopy. (Which by the way, I will just flat out will not ever do. Ever.) It was a dizzying array of information, and I can’t remember any of it, and I’m supposed to go back next week for something, and I think I’m supposed to fast but I can’t remember. This is why I avoid doctors. They cause confusion and upsetted-ness. Also, I don’t know what she means by “white foods.” If she meant “refined carbohydrates” I would understand. But did she mean vanilla yogurt and cottage cheese? Potatoes? Brie? I mean, it’s not like I’m going to listen to her anyway, but I’d like to be clear on which advice I’m ignoring.

Sorry for the lack of a segueway here, but I’m not sure how I feel about raccoons. Mr. Typist recently showed me a video of a raccoon taking revenge on a cat but spraying it with a garden hose:

I have to give the little bastard credit—that was a pro move, and quite strategically executed. But it did remind me of what colossal jerks raccoons are. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. I admire their ingenuity and their fearlessness, and I admit I think they’re kind of cute when they aren’t menacing my cat or refusing to leave my porch. And they featured heavily in a short story I wrote once, where they guided souls into the underworld. So I am both fascinated and enraged by them. I don’t understand why they aren’t more scared of me, and their arrogance exasperates me. In one video I watched (or maybe it was an article I read) a scientist said that raccoons annoy humans because they don’t seem to sense their place in the animal hierarchy. They act like they’re equal to us, instead understanding that they are trash pandas and yard varmints and that they should properly fear our authori-tay. That’s exactly how I feel about them! Gah! So irritating. (But also kind of cute.)

I am a copious sneezer, and with me, there is no sneeze foreplay. My sneezes are sudden, violent, and without warning. They are not dainty little lady-like “achoos.” They sound like they’re coming from the nostrils of a rabid hippopotamus. They are terrifying to behold, and made even more frightening by the fact that there is no telling when one is about fly until it’s too late. The other day, I was heading into the computer room when one hit me full force, just as I was passing by Mr. Typist’s chair. He jumped about ten feet, then claimed I did it on purpose to scare him. “You waited until you got right in front of my chair to sneeze,” he accused. “You…are a sneeze ninja!” Hmph. Let the record stand that I am not a “sneeze ninja.” I don’t go skulking about the city at night, sidling up to complete strangers and sneezing in their ear, cackling with glee when they jump in terror. I just have violent sneezes over which I have no control. I’m the victim here. I have a condition. Pardon me, but I need to excuse myself to a safe space now, with other sneezers who understand my plight. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Death Laughter, Sestina Monster, Shameless Post Shirking

Last night, Mr. Typist and I indulged in a spontaneous binge-watch of “The IT Crowd.” It’s the one show that makes me helpless with laughter--I mean the gasping, tear-streaming, could-actually-die-of-laughter sort of laughing. The episode that really did it for me was the one where Moss, Roy and Jen go to the theater to see a musical, and hilarity ensues when Roy uses the disabled restroom, accidently trips the emergency alarm, and has to spend the entire evening pretending to be paraplegic because he can’t get himself untangled from a series of panicked lies he tells when the staff breaks down the door to rescue him. One ridiculous complication after another ensues, and the episode ends with Roy being carted off on a bus to another town far outside of London.

It was absolutely genius comedy writing.  When I broke it down afterwards, (after I wiped away the last tear and finally stopped hitching) I realized that what it made it so funny wasn’t the situation itself—it’s Roy’s total, unfailing commitment to the lie. He is so terrified of getting in trouble for using the disabled restroom that he will endure any number of absurdities to avoid being caught, until he ends up so entrenched in the fiction that it’s impossible to own up to the truth. I’ve long had a fascination with funny writing, and this is some of the best. I still have the idea in the back of my head that one of these days I’m going to write a stand-up set or a comedy sketch, but I keep running up against the problem of not really knowing how to be purposely funny.  It seems like a very technical thing to me, and I find it intimidating.

Well, I’m at it again with sestinas. I don’t know why I do this to myself. Now I’m writing one about The Star in the major arcana of the Tarot. I’m afraid, dear readers, that this is about to become a thing. And by that, I mean an entire chapbook of sestinas about each card in the major arcana. Since there twenty-two of them, it’s going to be long haul, at the end of which any hair that I have not ripped out will be shock-white and I’ll be rocking myself back and forth in a closet, softly sobbing.

I worked out today, and as such, I’m grumpy and sore and I really just want to play video games. After a series of false starts, I found “Echos of Soul”, this afternoon, which is turning out to be exactly the sort of mindless entertainment my brain is craving after spending all day yesterday slaving over a hot sestina. All that to say I’m cutting this post short so I can go shoot magic ice shards at swamp giants. Here’s a clip from “The IT Crowd.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 18, 2016

More Music Musings, Vintage Abominations

For poem-writing reasons which shall remain shrouded in secrecy for the moment, I recently went to YouTube to listen to Amy Grant’s song “Thy Word.” I don’t really identify as a Christian anymore except vaguely in spirit, and as such, I’m not a fan a Christian music, but I remember loving that song as a kid. The lyrics “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet/and a light unto my path” were enormously comforting to me. I didn’t understand exactly what the lyrics meant, I just knew I wanted a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Of course, all of my friends made fun of Amy Grant at the time, so I had to be secretive about my love of “Thy Word,” but I’m a grown-ass woman now and if I want to nerd out to a cheesy Amy Grant song, I will do so, loudly and proudly. In my opinion, it actually holds up pretty well as a piece of music.  

Speaking of music, since I re-joined my neighborhood gym and started working out again, I’ve been on an interesting journey of finding a decent work-out music mix. I recently switched from an i-Phone to an Android, so I have Google Play now, and they have all of these pre-set “stations” you can pick from for various activities. Most of their workout stations were bizarre. The music was either too repetitive and electronic-y, or the songs were chock full of nonsensical rap lyrics that were also too repetitive, including one by a female rap artist who kept singing in a threatening tone that she was going to park her car, get out and “pop it”. (She just kept repeating that, and I don’t know what that means, because I am an old.)  I need the music to change up when I’m trying to stay motivated. I need a mix of beats. I need excitement, because I hate exercising and I must have every distraction at my disposal so I don’t quit after seven minutes. I finally discovered a station that plays the likes of The Runaways, The Donnas, and The Pretty Reckless, and I love it.  I’ve been discovering some awesome girl bands I had no idea existed, and may even start liking music again because of it.

Last weekend, Mr. Typist and I decided to go the Fremont flea market and look for a set of vintage salt and pepper shakers, convinced we could find a plethora of cool, unique designs. It turns out that in the entire market, there was nothing in the way of vintage salt and peppers shakers, unless you count one set of wood and silver ones, which cost $22.00 apiece. So I decided to do an online search for “vintage salt and pepper shakers” and oh, boy. The results were frightening. People had terrible ideas about salt and pepper shakers back in the day. I have never seen such a lurid collection of bizarre, impracticable, and vaguely (and sometimes overtly) racist household items. I suppose that’s what I get for romanticizing the past. So we remain salt and pepper shaker-less at the moment. But I’m convinced that one day I will be browsing in some shabby second-hand store and I will come across the most gorgeous, tasteful and unique salt and pepper shakers in all the city, and they shall be enshrined our kitchen, and our dinner guests will gasp with admiration when they see them and beg us to tell them where we got them. There are no shabby second-hand stores left in the city, and we never have dinner guests, but hey, a girl can dream, right?

Here are The Runaways playing “Cherry Bomb,” which is a great workout song, IMHO.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Domestic Me, Writing Updates, I Worked in an Art Gallery

Some of you may have read of my great tote-bag sewing victory of a few weeks ago. Next, I shall sew skirts, under the careful tutelage of my friend Frankie. I know I shall sew skirts because I got a 25% off coupon for Joanne’s in the mail recently, and today I went and spent it on fabric—some beautiful deep-pink jacquard butterfly-patterned fabric, and some cute retro faux-suede cowboy-patterned fabric. I’m looking forward to learning how to sew skirts, but mostly I’m looking forward to telling everyone I made the skirts myself. As someone who has been sewing-adverse to the point of phobia for most of my life, this new-found love of sewing has been a revolution.

A while back, I was talking to one of my senior volunteers, a former home economics teacher, about how important domestic skills are and how unfortunate it is that they’re not taught anymore. Me, of all people, had that conversation. I remember taking Home Ec in junior high, and rolling my little pre-teen eyes at it constantly. I associated it with everything that modern women’s magazines found wrong with it: it was old-fashioned, irrelevant, retrograde, and silly, not to mention disempowering and demeaning. Plus, I was naturally incompetent: I cut my finger literally to the bone trying to sew a felt locker organizer, and my home-made grape soda exploded. My egg-baby rolled off my desk and broke, and my teacher did not appreciate my highly sarcastic essay about why he died.  (A tortured musical genius, he jumped to his death when his latest opus bombed with the critics.)  One semester of that and I was over it. I made incompetence on the home front a point of pride. No one was going to trap me in some suburban housefrau’s nightmare. I was going to move to a city and work in an art gallery. I was meant for better things than laundry and cooking and mending socks. I regret my rebellion now. In my terror of being “trapped” by domesticity, I spent years resisting skills that are actually quite empowering, and I count sewing among those. I know there’s been a hipster resurgence of crafting over the last few years, but certain core domestic skills are still intrinsically intertwined with female disempowerment, and I think that’s really unfortunate. There’s nothing inherently anti-female about knowing how to remove a coffee stain from white linen, or the right ratio of bleach to water for mopping linoleum.  

I finally finished my sestina yesterday, and for old time’s sake, I went ahead and sent it off to a well-known lit mag, just to see if it will get any traction. I’m scheduled for a poetry reading in November, and my goal is to have five new poems ready for it. So far, I have two that I am confident in, two that are very personal and that I’m not sure about, and one that’s a little lame, but I’m not quite ready to let go of yet. I need to keep a notebook by my bedside. I keep waking up with poem ideas in the dead of night, then promptly forgetting them. Maybe it’s because they’re not really that good, but you never know. On the novel front: After a recent e-mail exchange with a publisher who was very generous with her time, I’m going to do a full re-write of the first 100 pages and start the submission process over. She’s offered to have me submit the full manuscript after an edit, which is exciting, because it’s not a “no”. So, yay? I’ll take it as victory, however small and unsure.

(By the way, I did eventually move to a city and briefly, worked in an art gallery. It wasn't that great. I had to deal with a lot of serious weirdos, and it paid almost nothing.)

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Imminent Blobfish, Hanged Man Sestina, The Rebellion that Wasn’t

Over this annoyingly hot, sticky summer, I’ve had chronic sinusitis, allergy-related asthma symptoms, and just general physical ennui. I’ve gone swimming a total of twice in three months. I’ve tried to get a good walk in at least once a week, but even that’s been touch and go. My attitude towards exercise has been “eff it”, and during this long bout of inactivity, I have felt my body slowly enmushening. (”Enmushening” is too a word. I just made it up.) Today, I decided to go to the gym, probably more out of a perverse sense of wanting to know just how out of shape I’ve become than from any real desire to exercise. Well, folks, it wasn’t pretty. I made it about fifteen minutes on the elliptical, crashed out after twenty crunches on the balance ball, and managed a few lackluster pumps of four-pound weights before my biceps started burning. Ugh. As much as I hate the thought, I have got to start exercising regularly again. Just taking the stairs at work is not cutting it. The problem is, I can’t get over the absurdity of living in a world in which we have to actually trudge off to a set location and pump our arms and legs on a machine in order to keep our bodies in some semblance of condition. It seems like such a perverse, existential waste of human energy, and I feel ridiculous doing it. Also, for me, it’s all tied up with this slightly guilty idea that because my job doesn’t depend on my physicality, it’s not a “real” job, and that I’m directly a part of The Problem, The Problem being some indefinable, vague notion that we are not physically designed to sit in chairs all day long staring at screens and that my job isn’t really real. All I know is that life is weird, and that I have to renew my gym membership before I transform into a blobfish.

For the first time in many years, I started writing a formal verse poem. I’ve been a obsessed with the Tarot’s Hanged Man card lately, and decided to write a poem about it. But it needed a little oomph, so I got the genius idea to turn it into a sestina. And now I  remember why I stopped writing formal verse: It’s a royal pain the arse. Especially sestinas.  Good lord, I have no idea what I was thinking. I spent all yesterday working on it and pulling my hair out in chunks. It was a marathon effort to get five stanzas written, and now I have to write the last six-line stanza and the final three-line stanza, and it all has to come together brilliantly or the poem won’t work and frankly I’m just miserable--and loving every minute of it. 

Buddy is now in the regular habit of jumping off the deck into the tree and clambering down into the walkway that leads to the yard. Consequently, Mr. Typist and I are now in the routine of going outside to retrieve him and put him in Lockdown (meaning he is plopped into the bedroom for all of ten minutes, with a toy. We’re not monsters.) Buddy knows damn well he isn’t allowed to jump off the deck, but that doesn’t stop him. However, he displays a remarkable lack of personal will and rebellion when it comes to getting caught. He never fights it when we march outside and instruct him to get back onto the deck. He just obediently turns around, climbs back up the tree, and jumps onto the deck to await his punishment. He doesn’t run away further into the lawn, or crawl under the dumpsters to hide, or otherwise try to subvert our authority. It’s as though is attitude is, “Oh, well.  I’m caught. Nothing I can do about it. I guess I have just have go in now.” He sees no other possibilities, which is a good thing. We don’t need that creature wreaking havoc indoors and outdoors.

In honor of Buddy’s half-rebellions, here is the latest in the Simon’s Cat series:

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Inadvertent Snotty Text Message, Self-Righteous Drumming, Everyone Please Stop Moving Here

Today, because the overwhelmingly rich, white, hipster gentrifiers of my once gritty, blue-collar neighborhood decided to hold a self-congratulatory “Sustainability Festival” at the park next door and close down all of the streets near my grocery store, I had to drive two miles out of my way to a different store, wherein I could not find the coffee aisle and everything was all weirdly configured, triggering a near-meltdown. All I wanted to do was get this stupid, routine task out of the way, but my game was all off because I couldn’t find anything and the bread was in the wrong aisle. I sent Mr. Typist the following angry screed via text (swears redacted for the sensitive.)

“This is complete bleeping bleep-bleep. Every street around QFC is shut down for some crap ‘sustainability festival’ at that stupid park, with those stupid bleeping Pronto bikes I just want to blow torch, so I had to go to the QFC on Holman and had to wait for three light cycles to make a left turn because everyone on the bleeping planet lives here now thanks to bleeping Amazon. Bleep these people.”

Then, about a half hour later:

“I’m about to have a meltdown. I can’t find anything in this bleeping store!”

I ignored my phone for the rest of the torturous grocery shop, and when I got home, I burst through the door ranting to Mr. Typist about how furious I was that my whole morning was thrown off because a bunch of self-righteous liberals wanted to pat themselves on the back over the fact that they compost. (At which point they started drumming out there, which made me even more apoplectic. There is nothing more self-righteous than drumming at a sustainability festival.) He said something about a weird text message, and I checked my phone. He had sent me three, properly sympathetic return texts. I had replied to all three with the following:

“Thanks for your msg. I’m driving, but I’ll get back to you when I get off the road. No text is worth a life. It Can Wait.”

After laughing my arse off at the high-and-mighty tone of the text, I was finally able to track it down to an AT&T  app on my new phone called “Drive Mode”, that apparently (and creepily) somehow knows when I’m driving, and automatically responds to texts with that preachy, condescending message. Before Mr. Typist realized it was an automated message, he had taken umbrage at my snooty tone and harbored uncharitable thoughts such as “Since when did my wife get so formal and preachy? Jeez. I was just trying to be nice to her.” For which I don’t blame him a bit. So, if any of you ever text me and get a holier-than-thou, shaming reply about how “It Can Wait”, complete with overly-dramatic capitalization, please forgive me. It’s not me talking. It’s my app! (Ack! Now I am left to wonder how many friends I have alienated by inadvertently sending them a snotty text while I was driving.)

Also, I know, ship sailed—but everyone please stop moving here. I lived in this neighborhood long before it was hip. When it was all fisherman, longshoremen, brawlers, outdoor cats, and church ladies driving way too slowly in giant station wagons. Ah, forget it. It’s hopeless.

The other exciting thing I wanted to tell you about today is an old Werner Hertzog documentary  called “Herdsmen of the Sun”, about a tribe in Fulani who take part in a ritual every morning in which the herdsman go around to each tent and say the following: “We welcome you. Did your day begin in peace? Did you wake in peace? May your wish come true. God’s Blessings. Are you well? Did you sleep peacefully?” I am convinced that the world would be a better place if we all rounded each morning on at least three people in our community with such a ritual. I would love nothing more than to arrive at my office each morning and have someone there to ask me those questions, and care about the answers. *Sigh* Industrialized living is making me sad this week.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Couple O' Poems

I have a cursed, work-themed poetry chapbook called “The Acme Employee Handbook”. Publication of said chapbook has been a complete fiasco. I won't go into details,, but let's just say I have been radicalized by my frustration with its numerous would-be publishers, and I finally decided that I will just self-publish the damn book my damn self, and release it for free on the interwebs. I haven’t quite figured out my publication platform yet, or the specifics of how this is actually going to work, but when I do, I will let you know ASAP, and post a link to where you can download the book. In the meantime, here are a few poems from it:

The Anesthesia Technician in Retirement

Before death, the counting. If they allow it, my hands and the song of my hands. My native blessing. 

To be born is one thing, but to awaken every morning: Rose of Hope, ardent bloom, stoic and striving. To go alone each night.

I walked them over every stone low to the lapping edge. I told them to dream of Chinese noodles, grenadine and swans. The heat of my palms guided their descent.

I want to emerge magnificent again, exalted against the sunrise. Simply: to awaken in happiness.

I would chart each foot of submersion, but still they rose up terrible, slammed to the surface, yet to shift from their underskins: monster, newborn, terror-wrecked.

Now I am yanked each morning from the underworld, hag fish, thrashing on the brown water, battling air with my soft gray teeth.

Later they thanked me, the ones who shattered intact.

A History of Lessons on the Nature of Work

I was told it was heavy. 
I was told it was heavy, and brought no reward.
I was told it was a given.
I was told to expect nothing from it.
I was told that in its throes I would have no power.
I was told that its labors would be endless.
I was told that planning doesn’t help.
I was told to make a plan.
I was told I should be grateful.
I was told that the dispassionate succeed.
I was told that practicality trumps fulfillment. 
I was told that repetition is the stuff of life.
I was told that a task is a task is a task.
I was told it was not in the labor but in the execution.
I was given a stone on which was carved the word “dream.”
I was given a workshop on manifesting my potential.
I was given a poster of a white bird following its bliss.
I was given this phrase: do what you love and the money will follow.
I was given this phrase: the money will follow.
I was given little in terms of benefits.
I was given a bill for every overdraft.
I was given a lesson in floral watercolor.
I was given more than one certification.
I was given something weighty, and difficult to do.
I gave a promise: I will work hard at something difficult.
I keep to my desk, my heart and eyes compliant.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pop Culture Review Bonanza: “Suicide Squad” and “Lady Dynamite”

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, I AM NOT KIDDING. I’ve never been a comic book person. The whole DC vs Marvel thing is completely lost on me, I don’t know any of the characters or stories, and in general, I’m not a fan of comic book culture. I’m not actively opposed to it; it’s just never been my jam. But it was 90 degrees yesterday, so Mr. Typist and I decided trundle off to a matinee of “Suicide Squad” in a nice, air conditioned theater. I was certain I was going hate it or at least roll my eyes at it repeatedly. As it turns out, I loved this movie. And I didn’t love it ironically--I truly loved it. I enjoyed every second of it. It was such a blast. I just let go completely and allowed the whole chaotic, joyous mess of it roll over me in all of its lurid techno-color glory. I was agog and amazed and delighted throughout. I didn’t even care that the dialogue was stilted and aspects of the plot were completely senseless. I loved Harley Quinn. I loved Killer Croc. I loved June Moone/The Enchantress and her insane ritual headpiece. And I loved Katana’s darkly romantic story: Her murdered husband’s soul resides in her sword, so if she dies in battle she will be reunited with him again, which makes her a fearless warrior.

And now to Harley Quinn: I was a little worried she was going to be portrayed as nothing but a hyper-sexualized cream puff. But Margo Robbie brought a lot of depth to the role, and her character was surprisingly complex. For one, she doesn’t let Diablo off the hook for torching his wife and kids. She calls him out on it forcefully in front of the Squad and tells him to own it. She doesn’t try to dance around it or protect him from it, unlike the rest of the Squad. She revels in Katana’s skills and character instead of seeing her as competition. I know I shouldn’t congratulate Hollywood on such a basic thing as not having the two main female characters in a chronic cat fight, but there you have it. (Side note: I would have liked more interaction between Harley and Katana, but Katana seemed too distracted for that. Also, they are on opposite teams.)

Finally, Harley has a weirdly vulnerable moment where she is mourning the death of the Joker. The team comes to get her. She takes a pause, turns to them, and very deliberately puts on a big smile and manages a cheery “Hi, boys!” It’s as though she knows on some level that the morale of the team rests with her, and she doesn’t want to bring them down with her grief. There was also an aspect of self-awareness to it--she understands her own "performance" and that she is playing the role of "sexy crazy chick" with at least some deliberate irony. Rather than psychopathic manipulation, it felt like a moment of maturity and self-sacrifice. And best of all, she tricks the uber-evil Enchantress into letting her guard down, then sneakily rips her beating heart out with a sword. Yeah! Harley Quinn is kind of my kind hero.

In other pop culture news (It’s Opposite Day, in which I’m suddenly on the bleeding edge of the zeitgeist), I really want to like Maria Bamford’s new show “Lady Dynamite” more than I do. “Lady Dynamite” seems to be another version of several of Bamford’s previous series, following the plot of “comedian returns home to rebuild her life after a severe mental breakdown.” I love Bamford’s stand up and I admire her as a person. But I find her new show’s brand of over-broad, manic wackiness exhausting. (I realize that’s a ridiculous statement to make after just having waxed poetic about “Suicide Squad”, but I contain multitudes.) I’ve watched several of Maria’s previous series and this style has always been a feature of her work, but Lady Dynamite goes so over the top with it that I find it almost unwatchable. I’ve made it through episode 3, and I’ll probably try to wade through at least a few more before I give up. The last episode I watched featured a very confused, muddled message about race and the media and comedians and censorship, and it just sort of puzzled me. I couldn’t tell if there were satirizing the whole thing or if they were trying get some sort serious message out there. I’m hoping that the show finds a more even keel as it develops. I love me some Maria Bamford, and I’m resisting the idea that I don’t like something she’s produced.

Whew, well there you go. There are now officially two pieces of pop culture I am somewhat current on. In five years, I’ll post a review of “Stranger Things” and “Orange is the New Black”. Stay tuned!