Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trendy Globe-Trotting Me, Spiritual Hodge-Podgery, A Time to Expand

An ad for rosewater shortbread (which sounds disgusting) showed up on my G-mail account a few days ago. I have no idea why Google thinks I have any interest in rosewater shortbread, but it made me curious, so I starting clicking “refresh” just to see what other ads it would bring up. In quick succession, it was:

What the Biggest Hedgefund has Been Buying
LA. As a Pedestrian
Cultured Traveler: Thailand’s ‘Gong Highway’
How Caroline Doubled Her Salary By Changing Her Brand

So Google thinks I’m a trendy-dessert-baking, globe-trotting stock tycoon with business ambitions to "brand" myself. Hmm.

I was listening to Krishna Das on Duncan Trussell’s podcast a few days, talking about his chanting and his spiritual practice. I realized while listening to him that I don’t have a spiritual practice because I don’t like the word “practice”.  It feels like work. And of course, it is work. Some would say it is the only work. It’s appropriate that spiritual development be work. But the word feels exacting, stern, and exhausting, and I’m exhausted enough already. I have an especially a hard time with Eastern-based spiritual practices.  In some ways I’m drawn to them, and in others ways, I find them too ascetic, too cold and detached. Is there is spiritual practice for people like me, who are naturally lazy and pleasure-seeking? Could we invent something called a "playtice"? I’ve explored a number of spiritual paths but eventually found all of them to be overly complicated, fraught, and ultimately slightly silly, even Wicca. (I love the idea of Wicca, but I can't abide the ritual involved in the actual practice of it.) 

Just like that line from "The Star Splitter"—“We've looked and looked, but after all, where are we?" I've looked and looked for a spiritual practice that clicks for me, but I have yet to land on one. And maybe I wasn't meant to. Maybe I’m meant to just rattle around in some weird, one-off bargain bin of spiritual hodge-podgery, never fully settling on a form, because my spiritual self is simply not going to be able to conform to any one set system. This makes me a little sad, because I recognize the value in ritual, the value in abiding by a set of principles, and the value in discipline. I have a great deal of discipline when it comes to my job, and some when it comes to my creative life, but the idea of being spiritually disciplined makes me feel gray and deflated. I don't want to work at it. I just want to be happy and at peace right here, right now, and not to have to lift a finger for it.

On a slightly less entitled note, I have decided to stop avoiding the second edit of my novel and just tear in. Once I started, I realized that the issues that were looming in my mind as insurmountable, impossibly complex problems aren’t really all that big of a deal to fix. At least, the two that I’ve tackled so far weren’t. I still have the last 75 pages to contend with, which isn’t going to be fun. Coming from having written poetry and short stories for so long, it’s really hard to get my mind around the sheer spaciousness that a novel allows me. In my obsession with keeping the book to a pre-set word count, I sort of…shall we say, overly-compressed some things near the end. I’m going to have to expand it. Maybe while I’m at it, it’s time to expand in some other areas as well. And I’ll start with a deep, full breath. 

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Dearth of Pluck, I Only Want to Do the Fun Parts, Be Excellent to Each Other

I was thinking the other day, for various, to-remain-undisclosed reasons, that I would be a terrible cancer patient. (Nothing is wrong medically; it was just one of those things. I’m actually in absurdly good physical health considering my stressy lifestyle.) The reason I would be a terrible cancer patient is because I am decidedly unplucky. I harbor a stubborn and unshakeable belief that cancer only happens to plucky mothers of three who exist in Lifetime movies. Plucky mothers of three who are also “feisty” and ready to “battle” cancer for the sake of their children, and determined to “think positive!” and not to indulge in an ounce of bitterness, fear, rage or depression. If I had cancer, I would veer wildly from flat-out fury to bed-ridden depression. What I would not be is: Plucky, positive, determined and strong. Meaning, I would be a Bad Patient. I don’t have the positive-thinking gene. I’m bad at enduring. I’m somewhat phobic about hospitals, even though I work in one. And I simply don’t have time to have cancer, unlike those perky women on the Lifetime network with their handsome, supportive husbands and sassy, single best friends. The only two women I know of in the public eye who have discussed their reactions to cancer honestly are writer Barbara Ehrenreich and comedian Tig Notaro. They thumbed their noses at the positive-thinking mandate and spoke truth to medical-industry power. I say good on them.

I need to do a second, deep, structure-altering, thinky, technical edit on my novel and I just don’t want to, because it feels like work, and I only want to do the fun parts. The fun part was telling the story, the high of the imaginative leaps that would happen during the writing process, the fun of figuring out new ways to torment my immature and self-destructive main character. The editing part feels like having to move from finger painting with pretty colors to doing algebra. But  my compatriots at Absolute Write have been very supportive. I started a thread about what a sticky morass this second edit feels like, and everyone has been super-encouraging. However, I also made the terrible discovery there that opening a novel with a character waking up is such a horrid, unforgivable cliché that book agents will automatically, universally reject the book without reading any further. So I guess I will be re-writing my “main character wakes up late with vicious hangover in downstairs neighbor man-slut spoken-word-poet crush’s bed. *Sigh*.

This week, we held the memorial for Jules at the hospital I work at. It was a beautiful event. Everyone who attended had a chance to share a story about him. I was struck by how so many people were deeply affected by the loss of this man, who gave so much love. A lot of these were tough people who had endured a lot, and yet were weeping copiously at his death. (I don’t like the phrase “reduced to tears” because I don’t think crying diminishes us.) I sat there throughout the event thinking about how, ultimately, we are all so squishy, so soft, so easily done in by the loss of love. We can survive the loss of jobs, the loss of stuff, even the loss of identity, but the loss of love breaks us. I’m still really sore from grief, and it’s making me a bit sentimental, so forgive me—but can we all remember this week, in the words of Bill and Ted, to be excellent to each other? We’re mushy, and we all need kindness.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, December 7, 2014

To Be Honest, Riding the Gloom Train, A Little Link Love

I took a test online recently to see how good I was at detecting when people are lying. I expected to do terribly because I’m gullible and prone to believe anything anyone tells me, but I actually scored above average. One of questions I got wrong asked “If someone prefaces their statement with ‘to be honest’, is that statement likely to be lie?” I answered no. According to the test, the correct answer is yes, which I find puzzling, since when I use that phrase, I use it because I am, in fact, about to be honest.

To be honest, I’m still dealing with a lot of grief over the recent loss of my friend. To be honest, I’m struggling with holiday depression, novel-editing depression, and possible thyroid-related depression. To be honest, I am deeply uninterested in writing a blog post today. I don’t want to bore everyone with my ride on the gloom train. (Gloom is at its essence, boring.) I want to write honestly about what’s going on with me, but I have limitations to how much I wish to expose in a public forum. Most of the time, I can muster the energy to write around that, but muster is in short supply in this typist’s life of late. So I’m going to shamelessly cheat today and leave you some links to pretty/funny/useful stuff instead.

I love this series of artwork depicting people in their private spaces. I find them fascinating. Click the magnifying glass for zoom to get the full effect:

Here is Slate’s Best Books of 2014 list, none of which I have read:

Recipes for cheap, nutritious and tasty dishes—posted for college students, but good for anyone wanting to economize on meals!

Some wise words for hard times:

A free game!

Relax. You fret too much:

And the inimitable Maria Bamford!

I’ll be back next week with a real post!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Review of the "Serial" Podcast

As a hopeless podcast addict, I’ve been inevitably sucked into the phenomenon that is Serial, the spin-off podcast from This American Life that is currently examining the 1999 murder of a 17-year old high school student in Baltimore. A part of me is very uncomfortable with the feverish obsession that Serial has spawned in its audience. A promising young girl was senselessly murdered, and it’s likely that more than one person is lying about what they know. It’s disturbing and a little distasteful to me that so many people on Reddit and other forums are treating this like a fictional murder mystery rather than a tragedy that involves real human beings whose lives are still being affected by it. But I also understand why so many are held helplessly in its grip. It’s utterly compelling, because there are so many facets to the story and so many different ways that the storytelling itself messes with our sense of how good our instincts about people really are. Then there are the myriad clues, questions, cell phone records, court documents, timelines—perfect fodder for the naturally obsessive. Evidence maps and detailed timeline charts and cell tower ping maps are being created by fans of the show and shared online, as listeners play detective and try to determine the true course of events on the day of the murder.

I don’t have the time, patience or stamina to participate at that level, and the evidence isn’t what interests me most about the case. Personally, my fascination lies with the motivations and psychological make-up of the people producer Sarah Koenig interviews.  To summarize the story, Hae Lee Min was strangled on January 13th, 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and convicted of her murder, based largely on the inconsistent testimony of Adnan’s casual friend and pot-smoking buddy, Jay (who is almost universally described as “shady”.) To this day, Adnan claims that he is innocent. “Serial” sets out to find the truth, and in doing so, wades into an ungodly mess of conflicting testimony, contradictions, intrigue, and seeming cover-ups. Week to week, the podcast yanks it’s listeners from one perspective to another, so you are convinced of Anan’s innocence one week and just as convinced of his guilt the following week. It is brilliant storytelling that has me constantly wondering about Jay’s motives, if Adnan is really the victim he claims to be, and the nature of memory. Finally, I wonder about producer Sarah herself, and how much her own feelings about this case are influencing what and how she chooses to report.

The show is also a meditation on the good person/bad person binary. I think that some of what its listeners find so alluring is the compulsion to categorize Adnan as all good or all bad, because the thought that we can carry both light and darkness within us is frightening. The idea that a basically good kid could snap and carry out a strangulation is psychologically destabilizing and an affront to our sense of predictability. Much is made of the fact that Adnan was a popular and well-regarded in high school, and now after fifteen years in prison, comes across as intelligent, kind, calm, and accepting of his fate, hardly the markers of an out-of-control killer. There are rabid believers on both sides of the spectrum. Those who believe he is innocent stand behind him with fierce loyalty. Those who think he is guilty believe that he is a brilliant sociopath who is manipulating Sarah Koenig and using “Serial” to his advantage. He is a perfect mirror for our projections of fear, and our need to believe in purity of character.

However, in all of my addictive fascination with Serial, I try to remember the words of victim Hae Lee Min’s brother, who posted a single plea on Reddit recently before vanishing back into the ether: (Quoted in part with no corrections —the full quote can be found here.)

"I won't be answering any questions because... TO ME ITS REAL LIFE. To you listeners, its another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI. You weren't there to see your mom crying every night, having a heartattck when she got the new that the body was found, and going to court almost everyday for a year seeing your mom weeping,crying and fainting. You don't know what we went through. Especially to those who are demanding our family response and having a meetup... you guys are disgusting. SHame on you. I pray that you don't have to go through what we went through and have your story blasted to 5mil listeners.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Loss, Collective Grief, The Illusion of Control

Last week, my friend Jules died, and yesterday I attended his funeral. I feel heart-weary and numb, and I have a lot ahead of me over the next few weeks. The experience of collective grief, of being part of this huge community of people who were touched and inspired by this man, is intense. This is one of those losses that will resonate for a very long time.

It’s hard to think. I came home from the funeral and reception yesterday feeling blank and exhausted, swirling with feelings about church, my Catholic upbringing, the confusion I have about my role in this community, of how I have come to belong and at the same time still not quite belong. About the feelings I have around a job that slowly became not just a job, but a role in a large, close knit and spiritually rich community. To stand in the avalanche of must-do’s and interviews and follow-ups and an endless tide of e-mails and realize suddenly that I am emotionally and spiritually connected to a community; that I am in service to a force that is far more than a checklist.

Growing up Catholic, I understood about self-sacrifice, but being in service is different. At the funeral the priest pointed out that service is more than do-gooding, and I think I understood what he meant. You can perform a litany of good deeds without the spirit of service. I don’t think it negates the deeds, but I do think that a deep desire to serve, that is connected to something beyond our personal needs, is what illuminates the Jules’s of the world. Simply said, I think it’s love.  

The last eighteen months or so have been about me coming to understand with a deep sense of finality that suffering is inescapable. Try as I might, I have not been able to run away and construct some stone fortress into which no chaos, no pain, no grief, and no emotional connection can come. I’m in deep. And no matter where I went, I would still end up in the same place. To paraphrase Mary Oliver, there’s no sense wasting time looking for an easier path.

There will be more people I care about who will die. Everything is uncertain, and no amount of trying to control the swirling chaos of life is going to change the outcome. I can’t resist it or hold it at arm’s length or bend it to my will. I can only be present to it. I’m here, I’m connected, I’m a part of this and all of the pain and the richness and the goodness and the love that comes with it.

The below interview was filmed when Jules was 91. He died at 96. He was still volunteering at the Information Desk up until two weeks before his death.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Project Presence, Fallow Fields, Aion Review

Last week I promised to follow up on my new resolution to be more present and break the multi-tasking habit. This week I made a conscious effort to slow down and focus fully on one thing at a time, and surprise, surprise, I felt less exhausted and a bit calmer. I still caught myself multitasking on more occasions than I would have liked, but just  going into work with the intent of being more present made a difference. I’m nowhere near being the next Eckart Tolle, but at least I managed to eat my lunch while only reading e-mail, instead of reading e-mail, texting, talking on the phone, worrying obsessively about the future, and ruminating regretfully on the past. From here on out, I will worry and ruminate separately. That’s progress, folks!

Yesterday, I journaled a bit, inviting in the next idea, seeing if any new inspiration was ready to leap from pen to page. Nothing really happened. I found myself writing about a truck, a green and rusty ’77 Chevy that will figure prominently in a story that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but then I realized I’m not ready to write that story yet. That story comes with a lot of pain and grief, and it’s not the right time for me be mucking around with it, pulling the essence of all of that heartache out of the ether. Not yet. I want to write something fun and light, or perhaps strange and slightly horror-tinged, but I don’t know what. In the meantime, I’m exercising a great deal of self-control by not trying to re-read or edit my novel. I still need more distance. But I’m also okay with this creative fallow period. It seems natural, even necessary. I don’t feel panicked or blocked. I’m just here, waiting and open to whatever presents itself to me.

After having played Aion for a few days, I can say that it’s wonderfully bizarre. I haven’t played very many games with an Asian influence, and this one is strongly influenced by S0uth Korean pop culture. My avatar, a purple-haired mage, wears long, flowing colorful gowns, (but so far hasn’t managed to get her hands on a pair of pants longer than her thighs), and often spontaneously sprouts wings, floats up into the air and spins around in a dazzling array of colored lights. Her spellcasting is accompanied by baby-voiced nonsense words that sound like “Acuberdapen!” and “Gredurduran!” Strange but oddly cute monsters abound, and even their violent deaths are accompanied by little exasperated squees instead of tortured moans. There is a lot of flying, and the game seems a bit obsessed with wings, all of which are beautiful and ornate. There is a preoccupation with embarrassment and shame in the quest storylines, and a great deal of over-thanking and excessive apologizing. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I appreciate. It’s very mentally soothing, like an electronic version of cotton candy spun on a rainbow cloud. The only part about it I find slightly disgruntling is that after you’ve played for an hour, a message pops up that says, “You’ve been playing for one hour. Please take a break!” Excuse me, but I am a grown-ass woman with a job and responsibilities, and I do not wish to be judged in such a manner. If I want to play a silly video game for more than hour, that is my decision and mine alone. I’ll also eat cookies before dinner, run with scissors, and stay up past my bedtime if I want to. So there, Aion! 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All the Feels, Peak Multitasking, Electronic Distractions

Recently I heard Duncan Trussell on Alison Rosen’s podcast “Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend”. I listen to Duncan’s podcast sporadically and a little cautiously since I’ve discovered that the quality of his interviews depend almost entirely on the guest. Duncan is so open and boundary-less that he absorbs the energy of whoever he’s talking to, reflecting and amplifying their being. So when the guest is hyper, scattered or emotionally immature, the podcast is too exhausting for me. But when he has great guests, like Jack Cornfield or David Silver, it reaches transcendent heights.  I was excited to hear what Duncan would be like as guest on “Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend”, since Alison is so warm and kind. For me, it turned out to be one of those gift-from-the-Universe things—delivering an essential message at a time when I needed to hear it. It wasn’t a new message, or even an earth-shattering one, but I was due for a reminder: It is not pain itself that causes us so much turmoil, but our resistance to it. Our attempts to escape suffering only prolongs it. Instead, we can go into our pain, feel it fully, have compassion for ourselves, and accept what we are feeling without trying to distract ourselves or waste energy desiring a “better” emotional state. So of course I have now implemented that wisdom perfectly in my life and practice it with flawless consistency. Ha! If you’re so inclined, you can listen to the podcast here. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Speaking of being present, this week, I finally hit peak multitasking. On a normal day, my job is rife with interruptions, distractions, minor crises, and other “surprises” that need to be dealt with, and it’s rare to have a swathe of time in which to sit down and concentrate fully on a project. But this week, it reached heights of comic absurdity. At one point, I found myself simultaneously eating, talking on the phone, returning an e-mail, and texting a colleague. I always promise myself I will stop this. I know it’s ultimately unproductive. But then literally the next minute, there I am again, frantically doing six things at once and not giving any of them my full attention. I’m not someone who enjoys bragging about being too busy or running around like my hair is on fire. I don’t like who I am when I'm doing too many things at once, and I don’t like how it feels. But in my compulsion to keep up, to prevent the whole avalanche of must-do’s from rolling down the mountain and burying me, I habitually multitask, and usually end up having to spend time correcting mistakes I made or revising correspondence I sent out while in the throes of Doing All the Things. I'm not really sure how to stop this behavior, but I have resolved to do so. Next week: A report from the frontlines of Project Presence.

I’m still out of sorts, being between writing projects and waiting for the next big idea to download into my consciousness. So I installed Aion today, a new (for me) MMORPG, as a distraction, because I’m evolved like that. I’ve ousted the Elder Scrolls Online and The Secret World from my rotation. They both started stressing me out too much at the advanced levels. I haven’t actually played Aion yet, but will provide a review here after I’ve gotten a handle on it. I haven’t punched my rug all week, so no update on that front. Since this is a shortish post, enjoy this meditation on presence with Allan Watts.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, November 2, 2014

At Odds, Fathers and Sons, Cat Conspiracies

I have found myself at odds this weekend--in between writing projects as I await the verdict on my novel from folks I’ve sent the first draft to, with no video games that excite or engross me anymore, and with a chronically-pained left knee/hip that is making it really hard to motive myself to exercise. I poked my rug here and there in front of the TV (That's not dirty; I was literally poking a rug, evidence below), and listlessly played a few vids and made a project out of nurturing Mr. Typist, who has managed to catch some horrible, lurching, tissue-drenching bug, but my heart wasn’t really in any of it. I have structured my weekends around the novel for the last year, and now that I’m retreating from it, I feel a little lost and unanchored. That, and my favorite month, October, has officially ended, leaving me in dread of the relentless, inevitable Holiday! Cheer! that follows. And I discovered that TV is horrible. I have Netflix and all, but the universal remote in the Typist household is programmed to require an IT degree to use, and I’m always too tired to absorb Mr. Typist’s patient, repeated lessons in how to switch from TV to Netflix, so when I punch my rug, I’m at the mercy of lame cable offerings. I cannot watch one more idiotic cooking competition, flea-market vendor battle, or forensic drama with a rogue chick-genius in ironic cat-eye glasses.  

In artisan rug terms, here is what I have accomplished so far:

I thought the whole core section was a little too dark, so against common wisdom, I nipped over to Joanne’s a few nights ago and bought a competing brand of yarn (I guess you’re not supposed to do this because of different brand dye runs not being compatible and such, but it worked out okay.) This yarn was lighter in shade than what I had been working with. But the important thing is that I just happened to be in line behind the most effing adorable father/son duo I have ever seen in my life. I actually teared up slightly witnessing them. The dad was a “hip” dad, who dyed his graying hair black and wore Converse high-tops and horn-rimmed glasses, and his son was a budding Goth. They looked like twins. The dad was enthusiastically explaining to his thirteen-ish-year-old son the rationale behind his purchases, and exactly how they were going to make the kid’s Halloween costume “totally rock”, and the white streaks they were going paint on his boots, and the matching stripe that was going on the leather jacket, and his son looked at his Dad like he was the sun, the moon and the stars, dark Goth eyes shining with pure enthusiasm. Then the dad started making fun of all the lotions by the check stand display case, asking his son if he wanted to smell like “Christmas street lamp vanilla spice”, and the son grinned with delight, but wouldn’t give in to outright laughter. I know the whole thing sounds completely corny and ridiculous, but the love between them was obvious, and the pure goofy guilelessness of their interaction redeemed my whole terrible week somehow. I really hope those two have a lifetime of happy Halloweens to come.

On a darker note, my co-worker texted me a few nights ago about “National Cat Day”, the idea of which completely infuriated me. I responded with some rage-text babbling about how it’s not enough that cats enslave us with toxoplasmosis and force us to do their bidding, but that EVERY DAY IS CAT DAY! All cats do is eat and sleep, in between bouts of destroying everything we love and inducing sleep deprivation with their endless three a.m. demands to go in then out then in again, then, feed me. And on top of it all, they get their own day??? I call bs on that! Cats are not entitled to an entire day devoted to their narcissistic, ruthless selves. At one point, I owned three cats simultaneously. I know of what I speak! To this day, I love all of those cats with a helpless, Stockholme-syndrome-like adoration, but that does not make it okay that they get their own day. Is there a whole day devoted to really good typists? Not that I’ve heard of, kind sir! National Cat Day indeed! This is an outrage! Good animals and good professionals go totally unacknowledged, while godforsaken cats are awarded for their selfish gluttony by Their Own Day. I just don’t know what the world is coming to anymore.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I Have a Hobby, Poetry Redux, Mirror of Evil

Cue triumphant horns! At the ripe old age of 45, I have at last discovered a craft that I that I can actually do! A proper, useful craft that I have not given up on in a fit of frustrated rage, like when I tried crochet and candle making and pretty much every other craft ever. What is this miracle I have stumbled upon? ‘Tis rug making, my friends! And it’s so absurdly easy that even my clumsy ham-hands are capable of it. It’s not latch hook; it’s done with something called a punch needle. You stretch your material onto a frame, sketch out a design, thread the needle, and punch it through the material. It’s that simple. I was so excited when my friend showed me how to do it last week that we promptly made a date to go to a craft store so she could help me pick out the materials to do my own rug. I started my first rug last week. It’s my practice rug before I move on to a more complex pattern I want to do—a koi fish to match the koi panels we have in our living room. I fumbled around a little at first, but since my friend is also learning, we shared our tips and triumphs via text and got through it together.

Even though the rug-making easy, it still takes patience and persistence, and I like that. It feels symbolic. Also, now that the novel is out to its first readers and I’m awaiting critique before I do anymore work on it, it’s nice to have something to focus on that involves working with my hands and thinking in a visually creative way. I think it’s good for us writers to take a break sometimes and do something different. I used to paint in between writing projects, and although I don’t have any science to back this up, I have an intuitive sense that it was helpful to the writing process to switch gears and engage another part of my brain. I have a lot of ideas for rugs I want to make, and having ideas for projects make me a happy lady! Below are some pics of what I’ve done so far. I have to go in and fix some errors in the first swirly part, but overall I’m happy with the way it’s turning out.

Framed monk's cloth
The first go at it 

The first swirl is complete!

I dove into my poetry past this week while looking for material for an upcoming poetry reading, and I have a feeling that three short stories and a novel later, I may be returning to poetry again soon. We’ll see. With a little break and the rug-making, maybe something new will form for me creatively; like an idea for a new series. But I don’t feel blocked or panicked like I did during the time just before I transitioned into writing fiction. I feel like something will open up again soon; it’s just a matter of timing.  

In other news, my hair is turning gray. I didn’t notice until I went into a bathroom at work I’d never been in before. It was as though the light over the mirror in there was specifically designed to illuminate every gray hair on my head, like that stuff they spray on the walls to find blood splatters. I was completely shocked. I can’t see it in my mirror at home unless I really look, and even then, I can’t see that much. It’s been graying all along and I never knew! Having just had a birthday, I went into a decidedly unfeminist downward spiral about aging, losing my looks and becoming one of those irrelevant, “invisible” women that society ignores because I am no longer viable breeding material. That shit is real, and it doesn’t matter what sort of feminist pep talk I give myself, it still stings. But, as the ever-practical Mr. Typist pointed out, that’s what hair dye is for. (Also he wisely suggested I not go into that bathroom ever again.) Now I have to start making hair decisions. Do I commit to the time and expense of  a salon foil every four months, or just let nature take its course? Do I throw a box on it? Go full punk and dye it purple? Shave it off and start wearing wigs? There are too many questions with too many implications. The hell with this. I’m off to punch a rug!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back to Basics, Reading Your Own Work, and The Poetry of Food

I was recently gifted a book called “Back to Basics”, confirming the fact that I know no absolutely nothing of practical use. Chapter titles include “Processing Your Timber into Hand-Hewn Beams”, “Creating a Homestead out of Sun-Dried Mud”, and “Setting Up Shop as a Beekeeper”. The book is full of detailed instructions on things like welding your own chain, churning butter out of “your farm-fresh cream”, and how to construct a small-diameter well. It’s both anachronistic and deeply intimidating. If there is such a thing as past lives, I’m pretty sure I died by my own hand as pioneer woman on the way to the homestead, flinging myself over a bridge in an attempt to avoid a life of barn-raising and grassland management. It’s all well and good to know how to build an access road and principles of traditional stonemasonry, but it’s completely irrelevant to my daily life. I’m going to write my own Back to Basics book that covers things like how to broker personality conflicts between your volunteers, how to sidestep clipboard-bearing sidewalk lobbyists, constructing a makeshift hairband out of binder clips and rubber bands, and principles of bribing the IT department to replace your 11-year old computer work station.

For the first time since completion, I read my entire novel in one sitting yesterday, looking for plot holes, narrative flow issues, and other red flags. It was interesting. There is way too much eye-rolling going on, that I can tell you. It cannot be my main character’s incessant go-to. I will be removing many instances of eye-rolling. But overall, I’m relieved. I think I need some guidance on the narrative structure of the last third of the book, but I didn’t find the major issues I feared I would. Of course, I’m so close to it I have no idea what it needs at this point. It’s time for a little distance and an outside perspective. Interestingly, since I’ve finished the novel, I’ve had a few ghostly whispers of poem ideas lingering around my ears. Perhaps poetry is coming back to me now that I have this story out of my system.

Speaking of poetry, on Thursday, November 6th, I will participating in a poetry reading organized by the preeminent David D. Horowitz, owner of Rose Alley Press! The name of the event is "Luscious Lyrics: A Smorgas-bard of Writing about Food." My fellow readers will be Nancy Dahlberg, Martha Silano, Joannie Stangeland, and David D. Horowitz. There will be free food, folks! Come on out and enjoy some poetry, good nosh, and lively company!

When: Thursday, November 6th, at 7 p.m.

Where: Room 202 of The Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North.

--Kristen McHenry