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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review-ish: Confessions of a Domestic Failure



I started reading a new novel this weekend called “Confessions of a Domestic Failure” by Bunmi Laditan. It’s amusing and fast-paced, however, I find myself contending with a small but growing distraction in the narrative.  I’m usually pretty good at suspending disbelief and throwing myself headlong into works of fiction, even if I have to mentally gloss over a few plot holes or inconsistencies here and there. But this particular bugaboo is starting to annoy me to the point of frustration. The heroine of the novel, Ashley Keller, once had some sort of high-flying corporate job before she found herself laid off, then soon after pregnant. She’s now a struggling (to put it lightly) stay-at-home mom who is “comically” scattered and disorganized. Laundry hilariously piles up, potato sprouts rage out of control in the pantry, and she seems to have some sort of chronic personal hygiene issue. It’s all very Bridget Jones, but I’m about thirty percent into the book, and I can’t help but be a bit flummoxed by this woman’s total lack of executive function. I’m going to say something now that will probably make moms everywhere want to descend on me with pitchforks, but…seriously. This character has one—one, eight-month-old daughter. She seems to have abundant financial resources and no job or obligations outside the home. Yet she is absurdly overwhelmed and has zero ability to hold things together in even the most rudimentary way.

Now, if she was a ditzy scatterbrain prior to having a baby, this is would be a little more believable. But it’s hard to fathom that a former corporate executive wouldn’t at least have some inkling of how to transfer time management skills to the home front. I’ve never had a baby, so what do I know? Maybe some permanent hormonal shift suddenly makes you lose years of learned skills or decimates your ability to prioritize, but I find it a little bit hard to swallow that the minute this woman is removed from the office suite and plopped into a living room with a child, she reverts to inane levels of incompetency. I ( I mean me, come on,) find myself mentally yelling at her to get her sh*t together. I know she has a child, but for Cripes Sake. Does a baby really it make that hard to pop a load of clothes in the dryer or wash a dish occasionally? Even eight-month-olds sleep now and then, don’t they?

For you moms out there who want my head, in my defense, I grew up in large-ish family and took care of lots of little siblings, so I know it’s not easy. I understand that even one baby is a major and exhausting endeavor. But if I met this character in real life, I would wonder if her incompetency was perhaps a passive-aggressive ploy to cope with her resentment of being taken out of the workforce. I’d like to add that I became neither a great mother or a high-flying corporate careerist, so I’m not one to judge…except as a reader of an otherwise entertaining book that is blemished by this one deux ex machina of unrealistic ineptitude.

However, the book is brilliant at skewering the cult and culture of perfectionism around motherhood. The author really shines when taking on the over-the-top, corporate-driven push to prey on the anxieties and insecurities of middle and upper-middle class mothers who are brainwashed into believing that parenting is an extreme sport, and any minor lapse in judgement will cause their child to end up on the stripper pole with heroin needle jutting from their arm. Now that I’ve aired my frustration with the book’s narrative, I think I can probably finish it and appreciate its gifts rather than being distracted by its flaws.

Otherwise, I don’t have much else to say except that I am secretly loving the ultra-cool and rainy June we’ve been having here in the Pacific Northwest. I figure that true to tradition, things will turn on a dime after July 4th and we’ll have to contend with the same hot, sticky climate that the rest of the of the country does, but for now, I don’t mind the gray skies and cool drizzle one bit.

-Kristen McHenry