Sunday, January 15, 2017

Me--Stylist to the Stars, What I Learned About Australia Will Shock You, Childhood Crush

As I mentioned in last week’s non-blog post, I watched the Golden Globes red-carpet pre-show last week. I didn’t watch the actual Golden Globes, because I haven’t seen any seen any of the movies and I find award shows tedious. But I get a kick out seeing the dresses. I myself am a notorious fashion frump, but something about the red carpet brings out my inner Tim Gunn, and suddenly I become this sassy, Fashion Police-esque expert in fit, color and accessories. So, for the edification of all of Hollywood, I have scrutinized this year’s Golden Globes fashions carefully via various websites, and I have a few things to say:

1.    If you have porcelain skin, light pink, white, champagne and pale beige are bad colors for you! I swear, a few of the actresses were practically invisible, their tiny, wraith-like bodies wrapped in layers of gauzy froo-froo that were exactly the same shade as their skin.
2.  Just because a look is trendy, does not mean it’s good look for you personally. For example, there are very few people who look good in yellow, but these damnable yellow gowns have been popping up everywhere for the last few years. Most of them are an eyesore. The same goes for gowns with weird, random things stuck badly onto them. I don’t understand why you would ruin a perfectly good gown by slapping weird, floppy things onto it in a random pattern.
3.  There’s a fine line between delicate and feminine, and looking like you fled a house fire in your nightgown.
4.   There is a limit to how much confusion the eyes can take. Pick one interesting design element and play it up. Six are too many.
6.     In the end, fit and simplicity win over trendiness and “statement” pieces.

Alright then. Moving on to a more serious matter, please brace yourselves for some very upsetting news. I didn’t want to have to have tell you this, but now that my eyes have been opened, I feel that it is my duty to let you know:  It was brought to my attention this week via Imgur that Australians do not know what lemonade is. Apparently, if you order a lemonade in Australia, they give you Sprite. They don’t know about American lemonade. They are not awakened to the pleasure of fresh-squeezed lemons mixed with water and sugar. And they don’t even seem to care! Their attitude is one of scornful dismissiveness. One Aussie actually called it “a niche hipster item." I’m stunned. Here I was, just going about my life all this time, having no idea that a wide swathe of  the planet legitimately believes that Sprite is lemonade. Even more shocking were several comments made along the lines of “So that’s how all those kids in America have lemonade stands. I always wondered how they were making carbonated beverages at home.” Wow. Just….wow.

I know that was hard to take, so to end things on a lighter note, I was thrilled to hear an interview with my first childhood crush, Sean Cassidy, on one of my regular podcasts recently. I have a very clear memory of carefully saving up all of my allowance quarters so I could buy his record “Under Wraps.” I had my eye on that album for weeks at my local BX (we were military.) I knew it was five dollars, and I knew that five stacks of four quarters would get me my precious. Finally one day I announced I was going to purchase it. My mother said, “But you don’t have the money for that," at which point I gathered up all of my quarters and methodically counted them out in front of her in five stacks of four. Defeated, mom threw her hands up, and I dashed off to make my shiny new purchase. It turns out, the host of the podcast described almost the exact same experience—she knew the album was five dollars, and she save up her allowance until she had enough to walk to Records R Us and make her purchase. It made me smile think that while I was on an air base in remote Alaska plotting my Sean Cassidy album purchase, another girl of my age in Southern California was socking away her quarters, too, dreaming of the dulcet tones of Sean Cassidy. By the way, Sean was an absolute delight in the interview. Turns out, he’s very sweet man and quite an accomplished television writer/producer. You can hear the interview here.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Over It

I have some sort of thing going on where I’m really congested, but not actually fully sick. It’s incredibly annoying and it’s making me tired, so all I want to do is sit on the couch and watch the Golden Globes pre-show red-carpet fashion to-do. That’s probably all I’d want to do anyway, but at least I have sinus congestion as an excuse. Right now, I’m just over it all. I’m over winter and the rain and the incessant cold and dark, I’m over feeling this constant low-grade crappiness, and I’m over this nagging knee injury that never got correctly diagnosed or treated and gets worse when it gets super-cold out like it has been. Also, I didn’t sew this week or play a fascinating new game or do anything but work, so I’m drained dry of interesting things to tell you about. All of this to say, there will be no proper blog post today. Instead, I present you with a story poem to tide you over until I feel like a human being again:

 Penny the Pig

Penny's favorite sucker, her ever-lasting
gobstopper, was a plastic Fun Family Collection
boy-teenager figurine in a red striped
t-shirt and khakis, with a stiff curlicue of
yellow hair, and black slash eyebrows. His
shoes were lumpy white globs of resin
like something had gone
wrong on the assembly line.
She dug him up behind the barn the night Cecily
left him there during the hailstorm.
Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Penny screamed and grunted the night Cecily
figured where he was and stole him back. She smacked Penny
with a split-off fence panel and ran
into the house sobbing, clutching the boy by his
dented chest. She spent all night scouring
his body with a potato scrubber, and painting
his shoes with Great Grape nail polish.
She filled in his brows with magic marker and put him
back on her bed stand with the dad, the Grandpa, the
Mom, the prim sister,
and the squinty aunt with a feather hat.

Penny forgot about him after a few days, but Cecily
never found forgiveness in her heart. When Andy
ran off junior year for a job in Akron, daddy
moved up north for good, and momma
sold the property for less than it was worth, Cecily made it a point
to throw rotted crabapples at Penny until
the station wagon was packed, and we couldn’t
wait for her any more. Penny
was lumbering off toward the barn
with her ass pointed at us as we drove off towards Indiana.
I don’t think she even saw us leave. Cecily carried her
family in a ziplock bag all the way to Fort Wayne
until she forgot it one morning in a Motel Six.
Momma said we weren’t going back.
We weren’t made of gas money,
and anyway Cece needed to learn
there were consequences for carelessness.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Discipline of Wasting Time

This year, I did the unprecedented (for me) and took a week and half off between Christmas and New Year’s. I’m not used to taking time off, and because I’m in constant “go mode”, I tend to have unrealistic fantasies about all of the things I am going to accomplish during my rare vacations. My big plan this time was to edge my goldfish rug, get my poetry chapbook up on Lulu, do a deep clean of the entire apartment, start up “Wolfpine Glen” again, color my hair, catch up on the news on Conspiracy Daily, and double down on my gym visits. So far, I have slept in late every morning, stayed in my sweat pants until past noon, played video games for twelve hours at a stretch, and staunchly ignored the grime building up in the bathroom and the dust thickening on the cherry wood nesting tables. I know this sounds like a laughable statement, but it’s actually been a struggle to fully relax and not give in to the temptation to Accomplish All The Things. My brain doesn’t know how to let go naturally, and I feel guilty when I’m not, in my estimation, “using my time wisely”, whatever that means. So this vacation has been an exercise in the discipline of wasting time. I’ve had to go to the mat with my inner scold, who loves to run around tapping her watch and accusing all and sundry of whiling away their days on frivolity.

One of those glorious bits of frivolity for me has been surfing game demos on Steam (Winter Sale, folks!) Most of them have been fails--I have a zero-frustration tolerance policy when it comes to gaming. My game principles are that I will stick with nothing that poses more than a minor mental challenge or that elevates my heart rate in the slightest. For a while, I was playing a game in which I was an adorable forest fox who could control the seasons, but then somehow I died, and then I was a ghost fox, and it wasn’t as fun anymore, and I got annoyed by the mushroom puzzle. Poof, gone! Then there was one in which I was being chased by a giant, suffocating haze called “The Void”, which was okay for the first hour or so, but then started to feel too much like real life. Deleted! Finally, I came upon a most wondrous story game called “Demetrios”, about a slovenly, dim-witted antiques dealer who gets caught up in a doomsday conspiracy. That one was delightful, and I played it all the way through.

Right now, I’m playing a game called “Dead in Bermuda”, which violates my game policy, but appeals strongly to my overblown sense of responsibility. In “Dead”, eight survivors of a plane crash must pool resources and work together to build a life on a desert island. As the player, I am in charge of making sure each character gets proper healing, help for their trauma and depression, adequate food and water, and enough resources to survive for another day. I find myself quite concerned about dear Julia and Jacob and little Illyana and the sweet if gossipy Alice. And the other four, including Bob the Fisherman and even that snooty lady surgeon. So far, despite my best efforts, my attempts have been disastrous. On my first go-round, I made it to Day 18 before three of the characters committed suicide, and the rest starved to death. On my second attempt, I made it to Day 31, but then they all ran out of water and died. After consulting a few online game guides, I came across the revolutionary idea that I should have been investing more resources in my people. In the interest of conservation, I had been pretty stingy with food and medicine, but the prevailing wisdom on the internet says that you shouldn’t hoard anything, but immediately invest any and all resources into the characters, so they are operating at peak efficiency and can thereby produce more. Hmm…perhaps a lesson for draconian corporate slave-drivers? At any rate, so far I am at Day 21, and while everyone is squabbling and hates each other, so far no one has died. We’ll see how far I get with my newfound largess with the food and medicine. In the meantime, here’s a Happy New Year’s video from College Humor. Warning: Lots of swears. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Finishing What I Start, Adventures in Self-Publishing, Refined Sulking

Lately, I’ve been on a kick about finishing what I start. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the end of the year, or if there is some psychological issue at play, but lately my life feels haunted by specters of the half-complete, and it’s bothering me. One of those half-complete things is my poetry chapbook from years ago titled “The Acme Employee Handbook,” which was selected for publication for two different presses over the years, but for various reasons never got off the ground with either. I have come to think of “Acme” as my little orphan child. This weekend, in the spirit of completion, I got a wild hair and started delving deep into the vagaries of self-publishing. I signed up with Lulu and enlisted Mr. Typist’s aid in all of the formatting/proofing/grammar-checking stuff, and got the book uploaded. It’s not actually published yet—I still have some steps to go through to get to that point, but it’s lying in wait. I need a book cover and a “marketing plan” and I need to make some final decisions about pricing. I’m trying unsuccessfully not to get super-daunted by the whole thing. My goal is to have it published by the end of year. Lulu is the first self-publishing site I’ve worked with, and so far, I like them. There were a few glitches, some I am still working through, but they are excellent with giving clear instructions and walking you step-by-step through the process.  I will let you know when it’s ready for download! It will be available on Kindle, Nook, etc. More details to come soon.

Another move in my new-found zeal for completion will be to re-conceive “The Diary of Wolfpine Glen” and start the project up again in the new year, with renewed purpose and focus. Therefore, I am taking down the site for now. “Wolfpine Glen” will return at some point, hopefully as a weekly series, once I’ve been able to give it the time and focus it needs.

Buddy, who has thrown some truly epic cat-tantrums in his short lifetime, has managed to turn sulking into an art form. He’s a pretty vocal cat as it is, but he’s really expanded his range. His whines and cries have gotten much more elaborate and drawn out, complete with ear-shattering flourishes and trills all his own. Today, he came into the computer room and proceeded to enact a truly Shakespearean-scale whine-ologue when we declined to play Feather with him. Fed up, Mr. Typist shooed him out and shut the door. A few minutes later I found Buddy sacked out in the bathtub, glaring at the shampoo bottle. I guess that’s his newest sulking spot. I need one of those—a place I can go to pout. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just dark and quiet, preferably with a locking door. And soundproofing.

 -Kristen McHenry

Sunday, December 11, 2016

High Horse Part Deux: Scattered Thoughts

Last week’s blog post seems to have a hit a nerve, and I got a lot of comments via e-mail and Facebook from frustrated artists who are fed up with a number of things, chief among them the wide-spread practice of expecting artists to pay for the privilege of practicing their trade. While the post generated a lot of response, I don’t feel that it did a  great job of analyzing the issues with much depth. It was more of a drive-by rant, in retrospect probably triggered by that terrible warehouse fire in Oakland. (Side note: For God’s Sake, fire codes exist for a reason, people!) Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of artists in our society, and in turn, the projections and attitudes of society towards artists. I started writing what I was hoping would be a sage, cultural critic-like, in depth analysis of the issues, but very shortly into it, my brain short-circuited and I completely lost my mojo.  I’m sorry to say I can now only eke out a smattering of scattered thoughts, then I need to return to my normal shallow waters or I'll get the vapors from too much hard thinking.

To quote my talented artist friend Frankie from a recent Facebook comment: “Hanging fees, entry fees, reading fees, registration fees, are just a few of the ways artists get screwed in this town. Everyone wants to make money off of the artist but no one wants to pay for the work.” She’s not having it anymore, and until all other artists rebel against it, too, the system won’t change. The same goes for writers who continue to pay contest entry fees and submission fees. As long we allow people to make money off of our gullibility, they will.

I believe in Yog’s Law: Money should flow to the writer. I also believe there is a period of time in which it is appropriate to provide work at no cost—when you’re first getting established and you need to get your name out there and build up a reputation. Unfortunately though, for most writers and artists, this period tends to extend far beyond its rightful expiration date. I think some of this has to do with our infamous low self-esteem. For myself, I know I harbor a fear of charging for my work. I’m embarrassed about selling my books at poetry readings. I have some weird hang-up about getting money for them that makes no sense. For the few literary magazines that are actually able to pay, I usually just donate the money back to the magazine. For me, it’s a bit of a moot point, since I’m never going to make much off of a single poem or short story anyway. But it would be much different if I were writing for a living. Or, if a miracle happens and my novel actually gets published. In that case, I’m going to have to get some business sense pretty damn fast, which is not something that artists are known for.

On that note, famous comedian Kathy Griffin once went on a rant about artists who brag about how they have no business sense. She rightly pointed out that it’s our job and our responsibility to understand the business end of the profession, and that it’s inexcusable to be lazy about that aspect of it. So when we get taken advantage of, perhaps we need to take a look at our own culpability as well.

Carolyn pointed out in a comment on my blog that the romantic myth of the starving artist is still very much in play. I think we as artists to some degree buy into that, which ties into our general unwillingness to be business-savvy. But I also suspect there is something of a punitive aspect to it that comes from the rest of society—this idea that if we’re going to “indulge ourselves” in this way, we have some spiritual and moral obligation to live in poverty. Or, maybe it’s tied up in the idea of purity—that art is seen as some angelic, untouchable thing that should never be sullied by something as crass as money.

Heck, I don’t have the answers, people. I’m just as much of a mess as anyone else who swims in these waters. I hope you will weigh in with your thoughts and observations. These are mine for whatever they're worth. I wish I had better answers, but I don’t, so here’s a video of the world’s most brazen raccoon. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

P.S. I found this article, sent to me by aforementioned Frankie, to be quite illuminating.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

In Which The Good Typist Gets on Her High Horse About the Crap Treatment of Artists in This Society

I spent a good part of yesterday on the lonely and painstaking labor of re-vamping my novel. To decompress, I watched Mike Birbiglia’s new-ish film, “Don’t Think Twice”. The story centers around a tight-knit group of actors in a long-running Improv troupe called The Commune. They have a small but steady audience and seem to have built up a solid reputation. But when the ambitious, charismatic Jack gets plucked from the troupe to star in “This Weekend Live”, a Saturday Night Live-esque variety show, the group is thrown into turmoil. Seething professional jealousies are brought to the surface, and the actors are left to question their own artistic ambitions and life paths.

Interestingly, both Jack and his girlfriend Samantha are chosen to audition for the fame-making “This Weekend Live”, but Samantha never shows up for the audition. At first it’s difficult to understand why she blows this once-in-a-lifetime shot at fame, but later in film, it’s revealed that she simply doesn’t want it. She loves The Commune. She loves her troupe-mates. She’s happy performing for a small audience in a cozy venue. She doesn’t have any ambitions to become famous, or to fight for air time, or to compete in the cut-throat environment of “This Weekend Live”. As counter-intuitive as it is, I understood her decision. Why is what she chooses any less valuable artistically than Jack’s path? In fact, I would argue that in some ways, it’s more valuable, because Samantha retains her independence, while Jack quickly finds himself trapped in the corporate machinery of a big T.V. show.

Our society has a weird relationship with its artists. I’m not talking about big musical entertainers, famous movie stars, or that ilk. I’m talking about the working artists who quietly go about their business—the painters, actors, writers, illustrators, poets and sculptors who attend to their craft year after year, often around full-time jobs and other responsibilities. I’m also talking about the venues that support them--the scrappy community theaters, the hole-in-the-wall galleries that are barely keeping their heads above water, and the small publishers who are willing to take risks on unknown writers. None of these artists are likely to rise to fame, and they are certainly not going to get rich off of their work. But they carry on because they are deeply, passionately committed to the work that fulfills them.

Our culture does not trust or understand these artists. We diminish them, belittle them and even mock them on a regular basis. We tell them that they are childish, that they are wasting their time, and that if they’re not famous and wealthy, they’re obviously not talented. We shut them down, scorn their voices, and look upon them as freaks and outcasts. We openly wonder why they don’t move to L.A. where the “real” artists are. We claim to value the presence of artists in our cities, but at the same time we make sure that artists can’t afford to live in them. We claim to value the arts in education, but arts funding is always the first to get cut. We claim to love live theater, but aren’t willing to shell out money for tickets. And to bring it to a more local level, as much as Seattle loves to wrap itself in the vainglorious notion that we value art, no one in Seattle actually buys any of it.

It takes a huge amount of commitment and passion to continue these pursuits in a culture that only values art if it “rises” to the level of entertainment, or if an artist has been deemed to have “made it.” The rest of us are left to labor on in lonely exile and savor every tiny success that comes our way. And labor on we will, because that’s how the vast majority of artists do their art. Most of us will never “make it”, but we keep at it anyway, because we aren’t doing what we do for fame or money, which is anathema in America. We push on because we love and believe in our work. So if you’re out there right now, laboring away and doubting yourself, just know that you’re not alone. Your passion matters, and your work matters. Keep going. The world needs your voice.

--Kristen McHenry 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Craft Bender, Novel Update, Free Rug!

This weekend I got on my craft grind again, with ambiguous success. I don’t know if you heard, but there was a recent election in the U.S, and due to the distraction, I didn’t tell ya’ll about my port pillow achievement of a few weeks ago, wherein I sewed a tiny little simple square pillow out of cotton flannel:

Port pillows are for cancer patients who have had a port inserted into their chest for chemotherapy drug delivery, thus helping to avoid multiple needle sticks. The pillow goes over the port to protect the tender area from the pressure of seat belts, purse straps, etc. I was very proud of my port pillow, even though it took me two and half hours to make. I got ambitious over this long weekend and decided I would crank out five or six more, but it all sort of fell apart. I’m still not very adept with my machine, and my thread got snarled on the spool and my needle got un-threaded and I couldn’t get it re-threaded, and I got frustrated and had a little temper fit and quit in a huff. But I still wanted to sew, so I decided to suck it up and hand-sew the edging onto my peacock rug, which is now officially finished:

Then, flush with the triumph of actually completing something, I decided to start a new rug. I picked an owl-themed rug, because making something with an owl motif is mandatory for all crafters, and I figured I might as well get it over with. I hand-drew the design from a mishmash of different patterns I found online, and got an okay start on it last night. Here’s the back side of the rug:

And, finally, I started the rewrite of the first section of my novel. I carefully re-read the feedback I got from the potential publisher and tried to address the issues she had with it. I’m a little ambiguous about the new version, but I will admit that what it lacks in raw energy it makes up for in clarity and smoothness. We’ll see.  

In all of this doing, I did find a little time to read, and thus finished a Dave Eggers novel that I’ll review here soon, and started a new one called “A Man Named Ove”, which I hadn’t heard of until I saw that the movie of the same title was playing at my local theater. I’m only a chapter or two in, but already, Ove is my hero. I loved him immediately, and can only hope that I too, might one day have it in me to create such an obnoxious crank of a character. The main character in my novel is plenty obnoxious in her own way, but she has absolutely nothing on Ove. Ove is a true classic. Ove is marvelously, willfully cantankerous, stubborn beyond belief, and someone who most rational people would want to immediately smack upside the head upon meeting. I can’t wait to get to back to this book so I can enjoy more scenes of Ove tormenting Apple store employees and antagonizing hospital staff.

And, exciting news: I am giving away my peacock rug! It doesn’t fit in with the Typist's apartment “color palette” and I don’t really have anywhere to put it. So if you want it, comment here, or e-mail me if you have my e-mail address, and it shall be yours to enjoy! It’s just sitting in my closet right now, and I’d rather that it get some use.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Amazing Grace

This week, like so many of us, I was in despair. I asked no one in particular: Where is the love in the world?

And I got the most astonishing answer.

The answer didn’t come suddenly or not suddenly. There was no sense of time about it, no sense of epiphany, or of there being a specific "ah-ha!" moment. I got home from a poetry reading, I put my purse on the table, and I simply found myself in a deeply expansive, warm, peaceful state of love. A sweet, flowing, effortless state. It felt like I had always been in that state, but that I was only just now realizing it. It's hard to describe--there was a complete lack of transition between my normal, nervous fear state and this "new" state of expansive love. It was as though I had fallen gracefully and soundlessly through a trapdoor. I simply understood, with a calm knowledge that felt like it had always been there, that love is not something that is outside of me. I understood that love lives within me, and that it is a vast, endless resource, one that can never be taken away, because it is as much of a part of me as my own cells. I understood that love is not separate from me; it is not something I need to keep hunting worriedly for in the outside world.  Love is who I am.

I saw that when I’m in fear, I contract. When I’m angry, I contract. When I’m contracted, I am not able to see things for what they are. My system is flooded; I project my own fear or anxiety or anger onto situations and make up all kinds of meanings about them. When I’m in a state of love, I’m expanded, open and accepting. I’m at ease. I’m free and infinite. This state is not dependent on what’s happening outside of me. It is in my very being; it is knitted into my skin and bones, it is inseparable from me. It is both a gift and a birthright. I fell asleep immersed in this warm, expansive bath of love and deep peace.

Then I went to work the next day and got all pissy and high-handed about a project that I perceived to be improperly handled, and I felt depressed and put-upon, and hate-binged on Facebook, and fell asleep exhausted in front of the TV watching "Chopped" and stress-eating potato chips. So I'm hardly Maharishi.  But I’m writing this down because I need to remember this experience each time that I look outward into the world and demand that it demonstrate love. I need to remember this experience each time despair overwhelms me. I need to remember this experience so that no matter how much chaos rages on in the outside world, I know that within me, there is refuge. Within me, there is peace. Within me, there is spaciousness. And within me, there is boundless love.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Going Dark

The Good Typist is going dark this week. I just have one plea for all of you: Please take a deep, calming breath and think hard before you allow media-driven hysteria and hate-mongering to destroy your relationships and your emotional health.

Love to you all,

Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Poetry of the Practical

Poetry of the Practical

Having spent more years
than I care to contemplate
on the absurd and maligned
endeavor of poetry,
I finally understand
what you relentless makers get
out of all of your knitting and stitching
and scrapping and brewing and broths.
As I’ve aged I’ve grown
enamored of the material.
Of what use is a poem?
These days my hands
are too restless for such a pursuit.
I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.
I want to paste up a poem like a scrapbook, all
Modge Podge and glitter and stamps.
As for the poems I’ve already written,
living their silent, ethereal lives,
may they fade away like the
pale and impermanent
ink they were conceived in.
These days I care only
for that which I can make use of.

--Kristen McHenry