Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Preponderance of Pig Poems

Happy Labor Day weekend! I’m on staycation this week, and I’m using the time to putter and catch up on my reading and get the rest of my novel written. So far, so good--I burned most of yesterday re-playing Tomb Raider and nomming on chips. It was awesome. 

I don't feel like writing a proper blog post on staycation, so to tide you over, here are some poems I wrote a few years ago. I went through a stage where I was fascinated with pigs and pig mythology, and had grand plans to write an entire chapbook on the subject. Some of the poems made their way into "Triplicity", but the pig-themed chapbook never panned out, and most of the poems have been lounging un-submitted in my “Pigs Series” folder. If you like these, I might pick up the series again in the future and get that chapbook out after all. 


Plum Song


I.                  Field Notes from the Herd

Each night under the lusterless moon
She slices a plum eight ways.
With each nibble, she owes herself
punishment, a rough pinch on her concave belly.
what flesh she wears is negligible;
We feel the welts ourselves.

She suckles juice from each violet grin.
She does not hold
Her offering to the sky,
Or think to toss us the pits.
Her hands tremble. She will not lick clean the plate,
But carries it inside, her face
a dying orchid in it’s cold flat depths.

II.               Before Swine

Mornings I stand before swine,
my clean hair rising on the wind,
that they may catch
the scent of soap and sacrifice.
I wear white to teach them propriety.
I’m told they have some sense of
order despite their vagrant snouts, their
promiscuous bellies that  assimilate
our slop with greedy ardor. I myself

eat only plum.  Every morning, my
bones swim closer. Soon,
they will break the surface.
Soon my skin will toughen like silk, will need
nothing from the layers come before.

Solace

Oh Heavenly Sow who births
your young at twilight, who suckles them
throughout the night and gorges
mornings on their warm
star bodies,
Oh Mother Sow, who offers
solace to the dead, who does not
fear their flesh,
who are we to believe
that we can save the earth?
Who are we to trust
we shall usher in eternity
with our meager offerings
of cans and compost?
Who are we to refuse
the eating of your flesh,
to deny ourselves
incorporation, to call ourselves
holy in this way?

Oh, Heavenly sow,
You whose children are born
for endless sacrifice,
show us the mysteries
of death and consumption.
Show us our distant,
suspended bodies.


How to Hunt A Wild Boar

Gather the stealthy, fleet-footed girls
starved for their share of dominion.
Lend them the catch-dog and the butcher’s blade.
Turn them downwind of the quarry, and set them
on the savage hunt, for you
have been observant all this time
and oh, how method
offers dividends: boar falls to dog,
blade to artery, blood to soil, meat
to the mouths of the ravenous.


--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Novel Home Stretch, Little Library, Again with the Comedians

I’m banging out the last of my novel, and I’m finding the last 5,000 words to be harder to write than the whole first 75,000 put together. I didn’t anticipate how hard it was going to be to bring the character arc and all of the plot elements together for a grand finish. It feels like building a house. I suddenly need to be very precise and economical and organized, and it’s a bit daunting after having written a good portion of the book merrily by the seat of my pants, just figuring everything would work itself out. Now I have this big pile of lumber and nails and drywall and it all has to come together in a specific way and frankly, I’m a bit intimidated. This may be a good time to fire up the afore-mentioned Scrivener.  

I was walking home from my neighborhood pool today after my water aerobics class, because I’m old now and that’s what you do when you’re old, water aerobics, and I was charmed to come across a Little Library! I’d heard of them going up in other cities, but I haven’t actually seen one before. It’s adorable! I spent a few minutes browsing the selections, but I didn’t take a book. I might next week. Now that I know we have one, I’ll probably become a regular contributor/borrower. In this digital age when it sometimes feels like nothing actually exists in solid form anymore, Little Libraries are a lovely touch. Sharing books has always felt like a special form of communication to me, and I like the idea of seeing what other people have read and enjoyed. I’m not generally close with my neighbors, but there is a surprising intimacy in this form of trading.

I’ve always loved comedy and depended on it to get me through tough times. I’ve been listening to and watching quite a lot of it lately, but in a more analytical way. I’ve been watching a lot of the Half-Hour Comedy specials on my tablet with an eye to figuring out how one actually writes a stand-up act. I’ve written many different types of things, but the idea of writing even a five-minute comedy set is an inscrutable puzzle to me. None of this is to say I will ever do stand-up because I won’t, but I do have an ongoing fascination with comics, and would like to try my hand at writing a set one day. And give it to someone funny to perform.

Speaking of comics, one of my favorites, Eddie Pepitone, has a new one-hour special out called “In Ruins”, and it’s brilliant. Eddie is also known as the Bitter Buddha, and I do that think that there is something of a Buddha in him.  I think that he’s more than a comic. He has the ability to touch people very deeply. I think his genius lies in his vulnerability. He is all there, totally present in his humanity, genuinely raw and open. In that way, he forces the audience to be present to their own vulnerability, but in a way that feels like he’s right there with you, that you aren’t alone, and that it’s okay. Or maybe he’s just really effin’ funny. I couldn’t find a clip from “In Ruins”, but here’s his rap for the insecure and depressed. Warning: Lots of swears.




Sunday, August 17, 2014

If Life Were Like A Hidden Object Game…Oh, Wait, It Is!

Occasionally l enjoy escaping reality by playing hidden-object adventure games on my tablet,  although lately I’ve noticed some developers trying to get “innovative” with the format, and I don’t appreciate it. For me, the whole point of these games is that they follow a reassuringly predictable pattern of absurdity, which I find comforting. If you’ve never played one, this is generally how they go:

You are a mild-mannered school teacher/museum curator/photo archivist named Jill/James/Cicely/Bryce. One day you receive a mysterious letter/missive/phone call summoning you to an isolated mansion on a remote island/dilapidated hotel in the Swiss Alps/town suddenly abandoned by its residents, so that you can track down a devious criminal/your long-lost twin/an all-powerful artifact/an evil haunted doll. Once you arrive, you blithely head to the Mansion/Cave/Underground Bunker/Crashed Blimp that Holds All the Answers, but wait! It’s not a simple as that. You see, to get the key that opens the entrance, you must first retrieve the box that’s in the bird’s nest in the garden cove. But to get at the box, you need a sling shot. And to make the slingshot, you need wood. But to get the wood, you need an ax. And to find the ax, which is locked in the shed, you need a hatchet to shatter the lock. But to get the hatchet you need…you get the idea. You wander around for hours jumping through ridiculous hoops to collect objects that you need to get the damn key to the damn place. Interspersed throughout are scenes where a whole bunch of things are jumbled together in a big pile, and you have to pick out certain objects from the mess. Happy pixel-hunting!

Your puzzle-solving is occasionally interrupted by stilted, terrible dialogue scenes with characters of questionable intent. The games always end with at least one of three elements: A fire, a swirling mist, and/or shattering glass, which you watch from the prop plane/motorboat/dune buggy/hot air balloon you narrowly escape on, often while clutching the hand of your fiancĂ©/a recently de-possessed teenager/an orphaned child. But Good Typist, you ask, when are you going to get to the part about why life is like a hidden object game? Well, I’m no philosopher, but it seems obvious to me that there’s a huge metaphor in all of this.  I just don’t know how to explain it. I apologize for failing my own post.


I don’t want engage in collective internet grieving over Robin Williams. I’d rather just keep my sadness to myself. But I want you to know I am showing great restraint in not ranting here about idiots—excuse me, misguided human beings, who are trashing him for committing suicide. Andrea at Nice Atheist Girl wrote a highly intelligent and sensitive post on this, and it would be best for you to just read that, than for me to fumble around trying to write something as good. So instead, enjoy this TED talk, and contemplate the vast and astonishing universe we live in:



--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Irksome Photo Murals, A Jaunty Homage, and Some Thoughts on Urban Art

The Civic Square Fence in downtown Seattle surrounding the construction zone by the transit station has been a site for public art for a few years now. I walk past this fence every day on my mile-long walk up the hill into the Central District, so I’ve become very familiar with its art displays. And one set of photos in particular always stuck in my craw—a set of eight panels depicting every liberal Seattleite’s fantasy: slim, white, good looking people working on an organic farm. Maybe it’s because every time I walked past it, I was sucking in gas fumes belching out from rush hour traffic, my knee ached, and I knew I was going to eat a decidedly un-organic bacon sandwich instead of starting the morning with a locally-sourced vegetable protein shake, but to me, the photos always felt unbearably smug: Oh look at us, able-bodied, virtuous, clean-living people breathing fresh air and doing something pure and authentic, while the rest of you pathetic hoi polloi slowly deaden your souls at your fattening day jobs. Ohhhh, look at me, I’m sustainable! Ohhhhh, look at me, I have a chicken!  Ohhh, look at me, tilling the earth by hand and being better than you.  It was just another one of those micro-annoyances that are a part of any city commuter’s life. I learned to live with it. But to my glee, a few weeks ago I walked past the wall and the photos were gone! Yay! No more sanctimonious organic farmers rubbing their superiority in my face as I trudge up the hill inhaling the twin odors of diesel and collective depression.

The other photos were okay; not great. There was a set from a fashion shoot where the models wore dresses made from recycled plastic bags (meh), some dull clichĂ© photos of buoys and boats, and some folk-art inspired paintings that I found garish and off-putting. But after they took the photos down, they re-painted the wall, and they’re in the process of getting some new murals up. One is still in progress, but I can tell I’ll probably like it. The other one is pretty much complete, and in my estimation, it’s fantastic. According to the Seattle.gov website, the artist is Hebru Brantley, and the mural is his character Fly Boy in a variety of poses:

“Chicago graffiti artist Hebru Brantley's mural consists of multiple representations of Brantley's original character, Fly Boy. The characters are yellow-goggled boys who pay homage to World War II's Tuskegee Airmen. Brantley intends for the work to transform James Street into an outdoor gallery. Each whimsical variation of the Fly Boy or Girl will be used as guardians of the city. The piece is titled "Traveling With Out Movement" and features spray paint, acrylic and house paint.





The mural is vibrant and interesting. It has a lot of movement, it’s fun to look at, and it’s oddly uplifting. I haven’t thought much about what art in urban spaces “should” be, but I think this mural nails it. It makes me feel just a little better when I walk past it.  I know, I know, the role of art is not to lull us into complacency and anesthetize us to the state of the world, but for God’s sake, I need a little relief from the relentless grimness of city commuting, and this mural gives me a boost. Why shouldn’t more public art do that? I have all day to contemplate the problems of the world. I think public art should be a light-hearted celebration, not lecture-y or laden with political messages. I refuse to use the word “whimsy”, but that’s close to what I’m getting at when I think of my ideal for public art--something different and interesting that pulls you out of yourself and surprises you, even if just for a few seconds.

There’s another “found art” project happening a bit further up the hill. If it’s still there tomorrow, I’m going to start photographing it. About a week ago, I noticed a beer bottle with a white flower stuck in it nestled under a streetlight. I didn’t think much of it, but the next day, there was a Mason jar, filled with more flowers. The next day there were three jars of flowers and a note pleading with a unknown someone. Clearly there was a breakup or some terrible misunderstanding, and the person leaving the flowers knows that the breaker-upper walks past this light every day. I didn’t read the note because that felt invasive, but I’ve decided I will if it’s still there tomorrow. It was left out publicly so I feel that I’m within bounds to snoop in the name of art.


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer SAD, Novel Update, and the Joys of Iceberg Lettuce

I recently came across an article on Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I felt vindicated. I always suspected I had SAD in reverse, so it was satisfying to discover it’s actually a thing. Once the summer sun settles in for a long stay, I get irritable, depressed and moody. I feel constantly assaulted by heat and light, and I have a hard time going to sleep and waking up in the morning. I’m generally jittery and on edge. I get fed up with the tourists, the noise, the damned festivals, the stench of the neighbor’s barbeques, and the constant extortion to “get out and have fun!” I don’t want to get out. It’s hot and smelly and loud. I don’t want to have fun just because there’s a big annoying ball of yellow light blaring down from the sky. And I want to punch people who tell me to cheer up because “it’s a beautiful day!” That has nothing to do with whether or not I should feel good, and besides, a beautiful day to me is overcast, slightly drizzly, and not a degree over 65. One of the main reasons I didn’t move to LA after college is that I couldn’t stand the idea of living somewhere with year-round sunshine. I can’t explain it, but I believe it would have killed my soul somehow. As it is, I miss living in a place with four distinct seasons. At least here we get a long stretch of cool, gray skies, which is just fine by me. Summer and its attendant enforced merriment can shove it.

On a cheerier note, I only have 10,000 words to go before I have an actual, whole, completed first draft of a novel! When I first started writing it, getting to 80,000 words felt like an incomprehensibly difficult feat similar to summiting Everest, but now that I’m nearing the end, I’m panicking that I won’t be able tie everything up in so few words. Also, weirdly, I’m a bit sad about it ending. I know I still have tons of editing and polishing to do before it’s anywhere near submission-ready, but the story will have ended, and I’ll miss the characters, especially my “main”, Harley. I’ve lived in her head for almost two years, and she feels like a close friend to me now.

After years of buying leaf lettuce for salads and totally snubbing iceberg lettuce on the grounds that it’s declasse, I grabbed a big head of it the grocery store the other day just for the sake of variety. And damn if I don’t like it better! It’s chewy and crispy and snappy and crunchy and can hold up under a healthy dose of dressing. Sure, it lacks a bit in the color department, but it’s so much more fun to eat than the supposedly healthier leafy greens, which now seem limp, bitter and mushy in comparison. I can’t believe I have ignored iceberg lettuce all of these years in some misguided attempt at gustatorial sophistication. From now on, it’s all iceberg, all the time in the Typist household. That tremor you feel is me crunching away shamelessly on a big cold heart of pale green goodness. It turns out I’m not the only poet who has turned on this issue. Gerald Locklin knows the score, and he wrote a poem about it.

Finally, in the spirit of good verbal hygiene and Gen X nostalgia, here is a grammar lesson from Weird Al Yankovich. God, I love that guy.


--Kristen McHenry


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Garden Patio Win, Anthology News, and When Fairs Go Wrong

You know how tiny houses have become all the rage? I think I’m going to start a new trend of tiny gardens. Last month, I planted the world’s teensiest vegetable garden on my patio. Figuring simplicity would be the key to this black-thumbed typist’s success, I didn’t get fancy. I stuck with the seed packets my friend gave me and planted two pots of leaf lettuce and three pots of beans. A week ago I added an herb card. What’s an herb card, you ask? Well, it’s literally a card filled with herbs. A departing volunteer at work gave me a card thanking me for my mentorship (which was quite sweet-- I love getting little parting gifts from my volunteers), and at first I thought the card was just made of very bumpy, textured paper, but it turns out it was bumpy because it was filled with herb seeds. You’re supposed to plant the card. So I did! And I’m extra proud of myself because I engineered my own pot for it since I couldn’t find one it would fit in. It even has its own drain tray! Garden Update: Two thriving pots of beans, one and a half relatively successful pots of lettuce, one dud pot, and zero herbs. (I think I covered the herb card with too much soil; I put two inches over the top of it. Maybe they’ll struggle through one day.) I feel all earth-mothery and back-to-the-landish. Win!

In writing news, one of my poems from The Acme Employee Handbook was selected for an anthology by a local publisher, Lost Horse Press. The anthology, “Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace”, should be out in a few months, and there will be lots of local readings and promotional events surrounding its release, so I’ll keep you posted!

Recently I told a friend that I don’t go to outdoor concerts because I don’t like music, people, or the outdoors, which is true enough--but I do make one exception. Every July, Mr. Typist and I sunscreen the hell out of our chalky Irish skin and head out to the Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering at the Enumclaw fairgrounds. Our favorite part is watching the massing of the pipes and drums—as many as forty pipe bands from Alaska and the Northwest marching and playing in unison. It’s a spectacle that always makes me tear up, no matter how many times I see it. We usually see the Wicked Tinkers, a punk/tribal Celtic band who put on an awesome show, and on whose portly long-haired drummer I have a giddy crush. Then we just wander around eating bangers and mash, poking around in the booths, and wandering over to check in on the Caber Toss. It’s always been a fun, laid-back affair, and even though I’m deeply crowd-phobic, the number of people at this event has always felt manageable to me.

But Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong. We didn’t go last summer, so we resolved to make it this year, and holy bejesus, it was a mess. I don’t know what happened, but somehow in the last two years, the entire state of Washington must have gotten wind that this is the event of the summer, and now it’s completely ruined. In all the years we’ve attended, we’ve never waited in line more than three or four minutes to get tickets. This time, the line was almost two blocks long. It was so backed up they had to add an extra ticket booth to a back entrance, and even that line was a thirty-minute wait. Almost all of the makeshift parking lots were full. The crowds were so thick, it was impossible to get into to any of the booths. Sadly, I didn’t want to go into them anyway, because everything being sold was utter crap. There were no artists or real crafts people anymore, just vendors selling mass-produced silver jewelry, T-shirts, used books, and shoddy dresses from overseas. The food booths had impossibly long lines, the pipe band ceremony was a little sloppy, and the whole thing felt like just another tacky, bland, summer fair with a perfunctory nod to Celtic culture. I don’t know what happened! Mr. Typist and I both left feeling like our quirky little summer festival had been eaten and regurgitated by Walmart. So, this is probably our last year. Eh, who needs to leave the house anyway? It’s nice and dark in here and we have the internet.

But, it wasn’t a total loss. The Wicked Tinkers played a great set, made all the better by a seven year old girl in a long red velvet dress, who tottered right up to edge of the stage, gazed at the band with frank, aching adoration, and declared, “I love you all so much!” Then she danced like wild woman through every song.


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poptarts of Doom and Contemplating the D-Word

About two months ago I took class on Appreciative Inquiry for work. One of the main tenants of the philosophy is “what you pay attention to, grows.” Last week I blogged about wanting to cultivate a less mechanized and stress-based approach to living. I’ve known for a long time that my online viewing habits are not conductive to a peaceful mental state, and I finally committed to deleting all of my opinion news sites. I posted the following message on Facebook about it:

Today I deleted my "New Sites" Favorites folder because clicking through the articles in them just got too stressful. I do not need to start my morning gulping News of Doom and Horribleness. I can figure out some other ways to stay informed, but I don't want the angry energy of these sites in my mental space anymore. I made a Favorites folder for spiritual practices...Druidism, Wicca, Buddhism, etc. and will click through those with my morning coffee instead. I want a more wholesome, nourishing internet breakfast--steel cut oatmeal instead of Poptarts of Rage and Doom.

This got a fair number of likes and lead to a spirited discussion, not about the oppressiveness of the 24-hour news cycle but about…Poptarts! Hey, Poptarts are nature’s perfect food, and they’re a lot more fun to talk about than the broken state of journalism in this country. Anyway, the point is that I want to start consciously paying attention to things that will help me feel like less of a victim to the circumstances I live and work under.

I recently listened to a podcast from the UK with two Druids discussing fracking, something I haven’t paid much attention to. I was completely appalled, but I was also deeply enriched by the discussion. They talked in depth about how painfully and dangerously disconnected we have become from our essential nature and about how the industrialized world is toxic to our spirits. They discussed the problems inherent in moving from a non-dualistic approach into a state where we see ourselves as completely separate from each other, the natural world, and the ecosystems we exist in, to the point that it’s considered morally upright to poison our land for short term profit.

Off and on over the years, I’ve looked into Druidism as a spiritual practice, but it always felt slightly archaic and anachronistic to me. Nonetheless, once I even took a serious stab at it. It didn’t pan out at the time, and I realize now that’s because the material I was working with was written by a much older man in Scotland who lived in a very different world than I did. The vegetation and trees required for the rituals in the book out didn’t grow here, and one thing that does, Scotch Broom, I am deathly allergic to. It was also very focused on the expression of male energy, and felt out of alignment to my vibe. So, as is typical of me, I got huffy about it and decided it just wasn’t for me. But as I’ve continued to read about Druidism, I've realized that there are numerous ways to practice it that don’t involve moving to Scotland and making your own ritual dagger out of bones from a deer you shot with a bow and arrow at the full moon.

I spend 50+ hours a week commuting through downtown and working in one of the most dangerous parts of the city in one of the most complex industries in existence--health care. I don’t open my door to a view of a natural stone grove, cavorting stags, and towering redwoods. But still, I think there must be some way to integrate the practice of honoring all life and respecting my environment; a patch-made practice of urban nature spirituality.

--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Heat is On, Busyness is the New Godliness, and a Heartfelt if Slightly Tortured Thor Metaphor

Last night the July heat reached its odious peak and Mr. Typist and I gave up on life,  sacked out on the couch, and watched two Thor movies back to back with every fan in the apartment going, shades drawn, and the lights off. Our cat lay stock-still on his back with his tongue hanging out, his corpulent belly strategically splayed under the fan to ensure maximum air-over-tummy action.  I’m never comfortable sitting still and doing nothing, so surrendering to the heat and my body’s resulting fatigue was frustrating. I felt unproductive, lazy and guilty for just sitting on the couch in a heat-stunned daze, too tired to even bother getting up for ice cubes.  But the cat knows the score. The cat understands that when it’s hot and humid, the correct course of action is to lie in the coolest spot you can find and limit your movements to the occasional yawn or slow-motion half-wave of your paw. It’s called preserving energy, something that I’ve never been very adept at. I tend to expend my mental and physical energy recklessly, and yet always expect there to be an endless supply in the tank. So as guilty as it made me feel, it was nice to simply surrender to the season and do what a body should do in extreme heat—just be still.

 I was able to give in because it was the weekend and there were few demands on my time, but the heatwave is going to continue into the workweek, and I can’t just take a siesta at will and flop out under a fan; I have to be functional. I have to move, I have to Answer all the E-mails and Solve All the Problems and make my way down to the blistering, overcrowded city streets to jam myself onto a crammed bus and breathe in the odor of all the other hapless worker’s stress sweat and demoralization.  It doesn’t matter that this runs counter to the wisdom of my body or that it’s out of accord with my biological nature. Work must get done.

I’ve heard tell of a time when people lived more in synch with their environments; in a less mechanized, ruthless and production-driven society. I’ve never experienced that, but that doesn't stop me from missing it. When it’s hot, I want to sit still in the shade with a cool drink. In the dead of winter, I want to eat rich hearty food, dream deep, and sleep late. When I’m sick, I want to rest, not “push through it”. When I’m sad, I want time to cry, even if I happened to have walked through the doors of my workplace when  sadness hits. This is hardly an original observation, but modern society doesn’t lend itself to what our bodies or spirits want. It doesn’t give a damn about what’s most organic to our nature; and because we constantly have to operate counter our biology, it’s making us sick physically and spiritually. Busyness is the new godliness. We can’t even maintain friendships or build a sense of community in our neighborhoods because we can’t slow down long enough to have an authentic conversation with anyone. Even our physical exercise has been completely severed from the type of movement that’s most natural and healthy for a human body, and is now all about “peak efficiency” and ignoring our body’s pain signals so we can mold them into an arbitrary, inorganic shape that the culture crams down our faces as “desirable.”  

I’m not in a position to move to a farm and start living off the land, and, honestly, I  don’t know if I would rather be up against the ruthlessness of nature, or up against the ruthlessness of the giant, soul-sucking capitalist machine. But I do know I want more moments of surrendering to my body and spirit. In the movies, Thor’s hammer isn’t just a weapon, it’s an inseparable part of his being that always knows where he is and how to find its way back to him. No matter what the machine demands, my authentic self is always there, awaiting my attention, if I only let go and yield to its needs.





--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Case Against Outlines, and A Blast from My Poetry Past

For about two weeks, I was beating my head against the wall trying to think, outline, structure and plan my way through the last 20,000 words of my novel, to avail. It was only when I set myself the lofty (for me) goal of writing 4,000 words in one day and just seeing what happened, that I was able to write my way through the problem. The act of writing itself, of being present to the characters and story, created the solution spontaneously and unconsciously. I could have spent six months trying to think my way through it, when all I had to do was let the words flow and trust that a solution would come if  I just let go and wrote.

In writing parlance I'm called a “pantster”—someone who does minimal pre-planning and tends writes by the seat of their pants and see where the story takes them. I've never been able to wrap my head around the traditional outline,  so I'm in a permanent state of rebellion against pre-planning my writing. As a child in school, I hated doing outlines. My brain doesn't process information in a way that makes it possible for me to get my ideas into that format. I would get so frustrated and bound up in trying to get the outline correct that I ended up feeling negative about whatever I was supposed to use the outline to produce. I didn’t want to “organize my thoughts” ahead of time in a fussy little set of Main Ideas and “sub ideas”, and I had hard time figuring out what to number and what to letter, and which idea was more important than the others. I just wanted to write my essay or story and let the ideas flow as they came. But oftentimes the teachers wouldn’t let us commit a single word to paper until we had our entire, joy-sucking outline perfect.

 This is a terrible way to teach writing! I don’t know if this is still prevalent in schools, but it sends an awful message about writing: Don’t trust yourself. Don’t trust your own unconscious process. Writing is not a spontaneous, jubilant act of creative expression, but a chore, and what’s more, one that you’re going to do “wrong” if you don’t label, judge, and place every thought and idea into this arbitrary, pre-set structure first. There’s no room for new ideas to occur during the writing process—if it’s not in the outline, it doesn’t belong. It’s an utterly stifling, fear-based, backwards way to introduce kids to writing. It’s no wonder so many of them don’t want to do it. Writing should be taught using techniques similar to Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”. We should be teaching kids early on to write fearlessly, to learn their own flow and rhythm, to take delight in the surprises that occur during their writing, and to worry about structure when it’s appropriate—during the editing process. An outline can be helpful in getting an outpouring of raw ideas into an organized form, but asking a child to start with the outline creates fear, creative blockages and judgment before they’ve even started. I for one, stand firmly behind banning the outline altogether.

That having been said, I’m sure there are probably some hyper-organized little 7th-grade upstarts out there who love nothing more than doing outlines and wouldn’t dream of allowing any spontaneity to occur during their writing. If that makes them happy, good on them. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for most kids.

I have some interesting news about the first chapbook I ever had accepted for publication—The Goatfish Alphabet! The publisher, Naissance Chapbooks, is going put each of his titles in the Naissance spotlight for one week. The featured book will be offered as a free bonus with the full price purchase of any other title. All reprints will be made with creme cover stock, creme inside pages, and red flyleaf. So it will be re-printed in a much nicer format than the original, rather bare-bones version, and featured for a full week on Naissance’s website in September. This is a wonderful way to encourage readership of Naissance’s excellent titles. And if your copy of “Goatfish” is a little worn, this will be a great opportunity to get an upgraded version, plus a whole other book for free! But you don’t have to wait for “Goatfish” to be featured to order it. If you want your fancier new version, you can get it here.


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Idiopathic Crankiness, Drippy Blouse Rage, and Some Things to Amuse You While I Sulk

I was cranky and upset today for no particular reason; just a lot of life and work stressors finally getting to me, I suppose. After crying into a cup of peppermint tea Mr. Typist made for me, I decided I just needed to get out for a while. I’ve been meaning to pick up a few light work tops to get me through the six weeks or so of actual hot weather we get in Seattle. Nothing pricey or designer—just a few presentable items I can wear on hot days, since 90% of my wardrobe is sweaters and knits.  I must suffer from shopping-related amnesia, because I decide to do this “quick shop to get me through” every effin’ summer. And it never works out. Ever. Which is why I have exactly two, summery, work-appropriate tops, which are probably five years old by now. I’ve ranted about this before, so I’ll be quick, but--what the hell are retailers thinking??? I went to four different stores, and the entire excursion was a nightmare of garish maxi-dresses, cheap, itchy-fabric tops, hideous florals, tacky jeweled necklines, and the bane of middle-of-the-road retail stores everywhere—the Drippy Blouse.

You know what I’m talking about: That ubiquitous, foufy, unstructured blouse with a million swathes of criss-crossing pleated fabric, extraneous sleeve components, and frivolous stringy things that just hang down off of it for no reason whatsoever. As if it’s not busy enough, the Drippy Blouse usually comes in some terrible clashing print or eye-scalding shade of acid melon, lime green, or yellow. Sometimes the Drippy Blouse also has a tacky jeweled neckline. This trend has got to stop. It’s driving me slowly mad, but it shows no signs of going away anytime soon. I came home empty-handed with a sore knee.

Aside from my Drippy Blouse Rage, I’m still a bit moody, and I’m not up for much blogging today. Besides, I have to biff off shortly to eat a homemade omelet dinner on our Kitchen Table of Science, meaning our kitchen table, which has been colonized by a thick jungle of electronics, batteries, wires, and robotics parts for Mr. Typist’s latest experiments. I don’t know what goes on on that table; I just hear intermittent zapping sounds and the occasional evil cackle.

In exchange for shirking my blogging duties, here’s a peek into my internet viewing adventures this week. It’s all the deliciously strange and mind-expanding stuff I like to look at to remind me that the world is indeed a mysterious place, and there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, yada yada. (Yes, I yada-yada’ed Shakespeare.)

A Shamanic View of Mental Illness:

The Global Consciousness Project:

Neurogaming:

Weird Theories to Ponder:

Not Strange, Just Some Good Advice:

And a bonus video, just because it made me laugh and feel proud of my city today, despite my mopey attitude:




--Kristen McHenry