Sunday, August 13, 2017

Attitude of Gratitude, Spider Negotiations, Dance Bot

This weekend, the toxic smog of heat, humidity, and forest fire smoke that has been choking Seattle finally broke, and I actually felt semi-human again. Yesterday, I trundled over to the gym for a workout, and this morning I actually felt like taking a swim for the first time in over six months. Swimming is about the healthiest thing I can do for myself; the problem is, this wonderfully stress-reducing and strengthening activity became associated in my head with a routine and punishing chore during the time I was swimming four times a week strictly for weight loss. That’s the problem with iron discipline on the workout front: Exercise quickly loses its appeal as a pleasurable activity and becomes a boring, painful grind. Every time I thought about swimming, my brain rebelled. I don’t want to waste my precious free time doing something I associate with a chore akin to cleaning the bathroom or filing bills. But, for the first time in ages this morning, it was rainy and cool and the air was clean, and I thought, “a swim would feel good.” And indeed it did, even though I can tell I’m pretty out of shape. I may have healed my sour feelings about swimming enough to actually start going in the evenings again. I’ve been too sedentary over the summer, and during the last few months, I’ve seen first-hand the terrible things that can befall the human body. I want to be in gratitude for my body’s strength, for the fact that I can feel pleasure in the physicality of swimming, the cool water, my arms and legs pushing against its forces, the buoyancy of my bones, the satisfying exhaustion afterwards. In spite of how much I complain about its limitations physically and aesthetically, my body is relatively strong and healthy. I want to enjoy that state for a long as I can.

It is Mr. Typist’s sacred sworn duty to calmly and efficiently dispatch of any and all spiders found on the Typist premises. (I’m pretty sure it was in our vows.) Last night, I walked smack into a gargantuan, evil, plotting spider in the bathroom. Mr. Typist dutifully showed up for the assignment, but then proceeded to botch it completely. I was cowering in the bedroom when I heard a series of “Uh-ohs”, “ah…shoots” and “what the hells?” Never a good sign. I poked my head in nervously to see what was going on. Apparently, he had “lost track” of the spider. Lost track?! “What if it crawled into your towel?” I ask nervously. He wiggled the towel lackadaisically and shrugged, seemingly oblivious to the dire state of emergency we were in. “Can you please take the towel outside and shake it out? All the way out?” I begged. “He could be in there.” He sighed, and I left to go sweat it out in the living room while he did battle. Ten minutes later he came out and sank wearily onto the recliner, defeated. “Listen,” he said didactically, “I’m pretty sure the spider fell down between the toilet tank and the wall and got stuck. He isn’t going anywhere. He’ll die in there. Is that good enough?” It most certainly was not good enough. In fact, the whole story sounded very fishy to me, but I let it go after asking him to put the plug in the bathtub (to block Spidey’s army of minions from creeping up through the drain) and to bring me my socks. I didn’t need that thing busting out and skittering over my bare feet.

I’m a die-hard (and long-suffering) fan of a long-running podcast called “TBTL”. They send out a weekly newsletter, which I usually read in full, but this week, I rolled my eyes when I saw it was mostly a series of videos containing dance scenes. I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of anything musical, and dance scenes I find particularly irksome. But I went ahead clicked on each video and watched them in full, and it turns out, they were all captivating. I especially loved this one from a band I never heard of named, “Here We Go Magic.” I know it breaks all of my rules, but the dancing lady robot is pretty irresistible. 

--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mall Death Throes, Book Review: “The Arrangement”, Blogging in Sick

I finally had to cry uncle this weekend and replace my mangy, stretched-out, eight-year old bras, which necessitated a dreaded trip the local mall, since it’s been a while and I needed a proper fitting. I have been complaining for years on this site about the dismal state of retail, and I honestly thought that it couldn’t go much further downhill. Well, it has. Malls are perishing all over the U.S., and this particular one appears to be in its death throes. It’s so bad that they actually stopped bothering to air condition it. The whole place was muggy and smelly, and the store I went to buy my bras at was woefully understaffed. The fitting lady was attentive enough, but then I decided to go and look for lightweight pants for an upcoming trip. I walked into six stores, and not in a single one of them did any of the employees bother looking up from their phones. They didn’t greet me, ask what I was looking for, offer to help in any way, or even make eye contact when I was able to tear their attention away from their screens and ask for a fitting room. They’re not even pretending to care anymore. It was eerie. Call me old-fashioned, but when I walk into store actively wanting to spend money, I expect some minimal level of engagement on the part of the staff. I guess that’s now too much to ask, as are clean dressing rooms and an orderly display of goods. I don’t know which came first: Did the lack of service lead more people to turn to online shopping? Or did the lack of customers lead to wide-spread employee ennui? I know not the answer, I only know that malls are now an absolute last resort for my sartorial needs.  

I recently decided to take a break from my Minecraft escapism and plunge into fiction escapism instead. “The Arrangement” by Sarah Dunn had been lounging in my Kindle “recommended” queue for a while, but I eschewed it because it had a cheesy cover and looked like a tedious domestic drama. Well, it is a domestic drama, but it turns out it’s far from tedious. It’s actually a great read: witty, funny, suspenseful, heartfelt, and with just the right satirical touch. Middle-aged couple Lucy and Owen are struggling with raising an autistic son, a stale, sexless marriage, and the stresses of shaky finances and career slumps. At a drunken dinner party one night, mutual friends confess that they have decided to try an “open marriage” arrangement in order to shake up their similarly stale marriage. After talking around it for a while, Owen and Lucy decide to embark on a six-month experiment in which they are both free to pursue sex with other people. They come up with an exhaustive list of guidelines and boundaries, including a strict “no tell” policy, confident that the rules will protect them from any emotional fallout.

The predictable disaster ensues: Owen immediately takes up with a sexual wildcat with mental health problems and stalking tendencies, and Lucy reluctantly agrees to sex with a friend of a friend, then quickly falls in love with him. All of this happens against a backdrop of a small town where secrets are not easily hidden. Although the situation that Lucy and Owen are in is emotionally wrenching, the story is told with a great deal of wit and humor, and the minor characters (Sunny Bang being my favorite, with the autistic Wyatt a close second), are a delight. Although Lucy and Owen are frustrating at times, there was never a minute that I didn’t care about them and wasn’t pulling for them to make it. I read the entire book in almost one sitting because I couldn’t stand not knowing what would happen to them. If you need a gripping novel to take you away for a while, I highly recommend “The Arrangement”. I give it four bedsheets!

Reading has turned out to be a good activity for me, as I am feeling like ten kinds of crap this weekend. I don’t know if it’s the infamous poor air quality—Seattle has been trapped in a haze of wildfire smoke for the last week courtesy of BC--or if it’s this stubborn pinched nerve in my neck that is causing an endless pain/spasm/pain cycle, but I do not like it one bit and frankly just feel like crawling back into bed. Perhaps that is what I will do. I leave you with the latest Simon’s Cat video so I don’t have to bother with a proper close to this post:

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Juicing is Junk, UK Trash-Trawling, Buddy Stockholm Syndrome

Nothing bores me to death faster than listening to some chalky, pinch-faced Soulcycle enthusiast drone on about their super-special, vegan, organic, locavore, non-processed, plant-based diet. Diet talk of any kind has always bored me, even when I was massage therapist and was supposed to care about these things. Along with that comes my annoyance with all things juice-related. I felt vindicated this week when I read the article “Stop Juicing” by Katy Waldman on Slate. She pretty much nailed everything I find odious about our nation’s juicing obsession. It’s fetishistic, elitist, and at the same time, weirdly infantile. I never understood the appeal of taking perfectly good produce and laboriously grinding it into a dropper-full of liquid through an expensive machine. I delighted in reading the article, but then fell down the comment rabbit-hole and was horrified at the backlash from an army of half-informed armchair nutritionists wielding their collective “clean eating” mania to virtue-signal and lord their pricey, exclusionary juice habits over the rest of us. We are living with such an obscene abundance of food that we actually have the luxury to create shame around eating. “Clean” diets are our national religion and the new refuge of moral scolds.

Full disclosure: I had a brief foray into juicing a few years ago when I was given a juicer as a gift. I gave up it frustration when I realized it took seven oranges, three pounds of blueberries and a head of kale to eke out barely a shot glass worth of juice. The only benefit I got from it were the copious calories burnt from the two hours it took to clean the machine afterwards. 

In preparation for a long-awaited upcoming trip, I started reading UK news websites, among them, the UK Daily Mail. After a few weeks of smirking and rolling my eyes at its utter trashiness…well….I got hooked, folks. I now un-ironically love it. It’s become my go-to morning coffee-sipping site. I am agape at all of the horrible news stories from Florida (they are obsessed with Florida), appalled at the scandalous low-cut blouses worn by the latest pop sugar icon or posh royal, and continuously bemused by their headline writing STYLE in which they seemingly capitalize WORDS at RANDOM. I’m sure there’s some scientifically-proven click-bait formula behind it, but I have yet to figure it out. Not that I need to justify my trashy reading habits, but in my defense, they do have an awesome Historical Photography section that I always find fascinating, if a little…off factually now and then. In their defense, oddly, many of their Historical Photographs center around the American Old West, and I suppose they can’t be expected to have a super-good grip on that time period. At any rate, they are just so deliciously entertaining I can’t help but forgive them. 

Buddy continues to be Buddy, hammering away at fully solidifying our Stockholm Syndrome by being sweet and loving one minute, then, oh, say, dragging a terrified bird into the apartment the next. The issue with my family member continues to be heartbreaking, but I am trying to find some peace and normalcy day-to-day. I don’t really know where I stand spiritually and or religiously anymore but I am not one of those assholes who get mad if you say you are praying for me/my family. I was very touched recently when one of the emergency room nurses at my work stopped by to get the family member’s first name so she could pray for her more effectively. So if you’re inclined that way, I am not turning anything down. We are navigating difficult waters, and who knows what physical effect could be had in the ether of good intentions and loving thoughts? Thank you to all of you who have reached out. It means the world to me. 

--Kristen McHenry 

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