Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Couple O' Poems

I have a cursed, work-themed poetry chapbook called “The Acme Employee Handbook”. Publication of said chapbook has been a complete fiasco. I won't go into details,, but let's just say I have been radicalized by my frustration with its numerous would-be publishers, and I finally decided that I will just self-publish the damn book my damn self, and release it for free on the interwebs. I haven’t quite figured out my publication platform yet, or the specifics of how this is actually going to work, but when I do, I will let you know ASAP, and post a link to where you can download the book. In the meantime, here are a few poems from it:

The Anesthesia Technician in Retirement

Before death, the counting. If they allow it, my hands and the song of my hands. My native blessing. 

To be born is one thing, but to awaken every morning: Rose of Hope, ardent bloom, stoic and striving. To go alone each night.

I walked them over every stone low to the lapping edge. I told them to dream of Chinese noodles, grenadine and swans. The heat of my palms guided their descent.

I want to emerge magnificent again, exalted against the sunrise. Simply: to awaken in happiness.

I would chart each foot of submersion, but still they rose up terrible, slammed to the surface, yet to shift from their underskins: monster, newborn, terror-wrecked.

Now I am yanked each morning from the underworld, hag fish, thrashing on the brown water, battling air with my soft gray teeth.

Later they thanked me, the ones who shattered intact.

A History of Lessons on the Nature of Work

I was told it was heavy. 
I was told it was heavy, and brought no reward.
I was told it was a given.
I was told to expect nothing from it.
I was told that in its throes I would have no power.
I was told that its labors would be endless.
I was told that planning doesn’t help.
I was told to make a plan.
I was told I should be grateful.
I was told that the dispassionate succeed.
I was told that practicality trumps fulfillment. 
I was told that repetition is the stuff of life.
I was told that a task is a task is a task.
I was told it was not in the labor but in the execution.
I was given a stone on which was carved the word “dream.”
I was given a workshop on manifesting my potential.
I was given a poster of a white bird following its bliss.
I was given this phrase: do what you love and the money will follow.
I was given this phrase: the money will follow.
I was given little in terms of benefits.
I was given a bill for every overdraft.
I was given a lesson in floral watercolor.
I was given more than one certification.
I was given something weighty, and difficult to do.
I gave a promise: I will work hard at something difficult.
I keep to my desk, my heart and eyes compliant.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pop Culture Review Bonanza: “Suicide Squad” and “Lady Dynamite”

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, I AM NOT KIDDING. I’ve never been a comic book person. The whole DC vs Marvel thing is completely lost on me, I don’t know any of the characters or stories, and in general, I’m not a fan of comic book culture. I’m not actively opposed to it; it’s just never been my jam. But it was 90 degrees yesterday, so Mr. Typist and I decided trundle off to a matinee of “Suicide Squad” in a nice, air conditioned theater. I was certain I was going hate it or at least roll my eyes at it repeatedly. As it turns out, I loved this movie. And I didn’t love it ironically--I truly loved it. I enjoyed every second of it. It was such a blast. I just let go completely and allowed the whole chaotic, joyous mess of it roll over me in all of its lurid techno-color glory. I was agog and amazed and delighted throughout. I didn’t even care that the dialogue was stilted and aspects of the plot were completely senseless. I loved Harley Quinn. I loved Killer Croc. I loved June Moone/The Enchantress and her insane ritual headpiece. And I loved Katana’s darkly romantic story: Her murdered husband’s soul resides in her sword, so if she dies in battle she will be reunited with him again, which makes her a fearless warrior.

And now to Harley Quinn: I was a little worried she was going to be portrayed as nothing but a hyper-sexualized cream puff. But Margo Robbie brought a lot of depth to the role, and her character was surprisingly complex. For one, she doesn’t let Diablo off the hook for torching his wife and kids. She calls him out on it forcefully in front of the Squad and tells him to own it. She doesn’t try to dance around it or protect him from it, unlike the rest of the Squad. She revels in Katana’s skills and character instead of seeing her as competition. I know I shouldn’t congratulate Hollywood on such a basic thing as not having the two main female characters in a chronic cat fight, but there you have it. (Side note: I would have liked more interaction between Harley and Katana, but Katana seemed too distracted for that. Also, they are on opposite teams.)

Finally, Harley has a weirdly vulnerable moment where she is mourning the death of the Joker. The team comes to get her. She takes a pause, turns to them, and very deliberately puts on a big smile and manages a cheery “Hi, boys!” It’s as though she knows on some level that the morale of the team rests with her, and she doesn’t want to bring them down with her grief. There was also an aspect of self-awareness to it--she understands her own "performance" and that she is playing the role of "sexy crazy chick" with at least some deliberate irony. Rather than psychopathic manipulation, it felt like a moment of maturity and self-sacrifice. And best of all, she tricks the uber-evil Enchantress into letting her guard down, then sneakily rips her beating heart out with a sword. Yeah! Harley Quinn is kind of my kind hero.

In other pop culture news (It’s Opposite Day, in which I’m suddenly on the bleeding edge of the zeitgeist), I really want to like Maria Bamford’s new show “Lady Dynamite” more than I do. “Lady Dynamite” seems to be another version of several of Bamford’s previous series, following the plot of “comedian returns home to rebuild her life after a severe mental breakdown.” I love Bamford’s stand up and I admire her as a person. But I find her new show’s brand of over-broad, manic wackiness exhausting. (I realize that’s a ridiculous statement to make after just having waxed poetic about “Suicide Squad”, but I contain multitudes.) I’ve watched several of Maria’s previous series and this style has always been a feature of her work, but Lady Dynamite goes so over the top with it that I find it almost unwatchable. I’ve made it through episode 3, and I’ll probably try to wade through at least a few more before I give up. The last episode I watched featured a very confused, muddled message about race and the media and comedians and censorship, and it just sort of puzzled me. I couldn’t tell if there were satirizing the whole thing or if they were trying get some sort serious message out there. I’m hoping that the show finds a more even keel as it develops. I love me some Maria Bamford, and I’m resisting the idea that I don’t like something she’s produced.

Whew, well there you go. There are now officially two pieces of pop culture I am somewhat current on. In five years, I’ll post a review of “Stranger Things” and “Orange is the New Black”. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Grumpus Fail, Novel Scheming, Poetic Reunion

My post this week won’t be nearly as ebullient as last weeks. I’m no longer riding the high of having sewn a tote bag from scratch, (although I’m still exceedingly pleased with myself) and I’m grumpy about my knee, which has lead me to feel grumpy about a whole host of other related injustices that I have made up in my head, having to do with our generally able-ist society and our ingrained attitude that health equals moral virtue, and how the reason why I’ve never been able to get proper treatment for my knee is because it’s not quite damaged enough to be profitable. But I’m suddenly out of energy to rant about any of those things, so on to other topics.

I managed to steel my girders and sail a few more hopeless novel queries into the void yesterday. Since the beginning of the year, I have sent out a total of twenty-two queries, which I understand from my online research is a laughably low number. I’ve read about authors who send out as many as twenty-five a week as a matter of course, but I just don’t have that kind of strength. In the far reaches of my mind, I have dimly considered the possibility of submitting it for a Kindle Scout campaign. I did some more research this weekend, and the possibility has moved from the realm of “vague pipe dream” to “option under serious consideration”. But there is a lot of pre-work to be done on the social media front, and if it gets selected for a campaign, I will have to nag all of you to go and vote on it, and I dread being that person. The whole thing just seems completely exhausting. But it might be worth a shot. It’s not like anything else I’m doing is moving the needle.

In the meantime, I’ve been slowly weed-whacking my way back into poetry. I think writing the novel may have helped make me a better editor of my own poetry. I was ruthless with a poem I wrote last weekend and whittled it down to three lines, with a nothing but a cold eye towards perfection. It will now need some beefing back up, but I’m perfectly happy with those three lines. The rest of it could easily go. I’ve also been reading poetry again, and appreciating it. I still get a Poem-A-Day in my e-mail box, and I’ve been enjoying them rather than dreading them. I used to save every single Poem-A- Day, but I stopped doing that recently. Instead I made a folder called “Poems Worth Saving” and I save the ones I like best from the week in there. The first one to go into to the folder was a poem called “Reason” by Robin Coste-Lewis, which pretty much sums up my feelings about God, especially the last two lines. You can read it here. (It’s short.)

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Sweet High of Crafty Success

I’m almost too excited to write a blog post right now, because I am riding the sweet high of crafty success. Today, my friends, I sewed. And not just timid little practice stitches on throw-away fabric…I sewed an entire canvas bag! This makes me incredibly happy and proud. And it’s all thanks to my friend Frankie, who offered me sewing lessons after reading last week’s blog post. I brought my machine over to her house today for Lesson 1. I figured she’d maybe show me a few things, then we’d spend most of the time chatting and faffing about like we usually do, but no. That woman was organized. She had a lesson plan, fabric at the ready, and a project all laid out for me. We got right to work, and under her laser-eyed tutelage and patient coaching, within a few hours I had completed a canvas tote bag! It was incredibly gratifying. Learning something new boosted my mood, and in spite of being intimidated by the machine, I found the act of sewing itself to be very meditative. It felt good to concentrate and work with my hands, and it felt even better to have a finished product at the end of my labor. I’ve griped about this plenty before, but I can spend an entire afternoon writing and come away feeling like I have nothing to show for it. With crafting, at least I can see the physical results of my labor—even if those physical results are the world’s jenkiest tote bag:

Oh, and guess what? Frankie said she could tell that when I get practiced at this, I am going to be a “meticulous seamstress.” Me, meticulous! Wee! Sorry. I’ll calm down in a bit, but right now I’m just really excited and want to sew all of the things.

I know I always complain about how I don't like music, but I went down a gospel choir You-tube rabbit hole recently thanks to a link on Frankly Curious's website, and now I really want to be in a gospel choir. The only barrier I see to this is that I can't sing…or dance, or really even sway convincingly. But I thought maybe I could just be way in the back and sort of mouth the words and hide behind the billowing gowns. I'm sure no one would notice an incredibly awkward 5’ 9”, bone-white redhead jerky-dancing on the risers and pretending to lip synch. Seriously though, once I get sewing mastered, I might actually consider singing lessons. I’ve always wanted to be able to sing, but I’m too terrified, and learning to sing in front of a teacher just seems too intimate and vulnerable. One new craft a time, Ms. Typist. You’re barely off your first tote bag.

I don’t have any fascinating Buddy stories from the week or much of note to talk about on the writing front (although I will say that I’ve been reading a thick tome of Wallace Steven’s poetry over the last few weeks, and while I find some of it inscrutable, I’m now officially in love with his work.) So I will leave you with this video of the Georgia Mass Choir singing “Bye and Bye”:

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sewing Debacle, Buddy and the Balloon, A Return to Poetry

Recently, to my great delight, my friend gave me one of her spare sewing machines. I was super-excited, because I was certain that this magical item was going to make it a cinch to sew the backing onto my three unfinished rugs that are lounging in the hall closet. Funnily enough, it turns that operating a sewing machine requires a modicum of skill and dexterity. Mr. Typist expertly threaded the bobbin for me, and suggested I do a few practice runs on some cheap fabric before going live. I scoffed at this, but to indulge him, I plopped down at the machine with some practice fabric, and was horrified at the result—long snaky lines of crooked stitches veering wildly off course. After a few more practice runs, my stitches got slightly less erratic, and puffed up with false confidence, I tried to sew a circle, at which time Things Went Terribly Wrong and I gave up in shame. I’m not giving up permanently, though. I plan to work in sewing practice sessions at least weekly. I’m never going to be good at it, but I’d be happy just to achieve a baseline of competence.

The normally unflappable Buddy found himself completely flapped this week by the presence of a red balloon, which was left over from Mr. Typist’s latest top-secret device-making experiment. Buddy is known for attacking inanimate objects with abandon, throwing his whole heart and soul into complete destruction, claws out, teeth sinking, banshee howl at full throttle. But the balloon completely stymied him. I don’t know how, but he seemed to understand instinctively that it was not a good idea to attack it with his claws. He sidled up to it suspiciously, staring at it like it was alien creature, and ever-so-gingerly nudged it with his paw. He was flabbergasted when it bounced lightly away and hovered in mid-air, taunting him. He changed tactics, trying a soft head-butt, and was equally stunned by it’s float-and-hover move. This little ballet went on for a full ten minutes, while Buddy emitted increasingly frustrated squeaks and meows. Finally, he stalked away in a huff. Since then, whenever he encounters the balloon, he glares at it resentfully and deliberately snubs it. It’s as though he’s encountered an enemy that is impervious to his weapons, and he has no idea how to take it. I think the balloon hurt his pride.

Last week, I had a dream that someone gifted me with an expensive journal, and told me that I must write in it. I thought that was vaguely interesting, but forgot about it until the next day at work, when co-worker gave me a beautiful new journal as a thank-you gift. I was all like, “Okay Universe, I get it already. I’ll write. Geez.” (I think the Universe thinks I’m dense. It’s probably correct.) Anyway, I spent a good chunk of time this week and last writing in the journal, and guess what? Yesterday I sat down and worked on two new poems! Part of what helped was re-vamping my computer desk—I removed the hard copy of my novel, and a publishing contract for a poetry book that will probably never come to fruition, cleaned, dusted, and cleared the clutter. Simply having the physical presence of the novel removed seemed to release me from its emotional grip and free me to focus on the new.

I also released the idea that the topic I was writing about needed to be forced into a series. It turns out, it didn’t need a whole series. It was just one poem, and that was okay—that was enough. That in turn freed me to start a second poem that came to me completely spontaneously. My poetry muscles are a little flabby, but I feel the full-headed feeling of momentum again; the tingling energy pulsing from my head and hands. I worked on the poems for hours yesterday, and happily. Writing poetry didn’t feel forced or frustrating or oppressive, like it did before I broke up with it to pursue fiction for a while. I don’t know how long this will last, but for now, poetry and I are on again.

 --Kristen McHenry

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Last Game Review for a While: Life is Strange

One more game review (because I only bought three games during Steam’s big 4th of July sale and I have now played all of them), and then I will go back to my regular posts complaining about the lack of viable consumer goods, my drama-prone cat, and my addiction of the week, which is, currently, reading lifestyle pieces about Pokemon Go. (I have little desire to actually play it, but I’m fascinated by the cultural phenomenon.)

Warning: Mild spoilers. So, I delved into “Life is Strange” and I have played through most of the chapters. It’s a frustratingly flawed, but compelling game. I’ll explain the plot shortly, but just to get it off of my chest, here are my gripes so far: It skews really young. That’s not the fault of the game; I am just far out of its target demographic. There are too many scenes in which I am forced to wander around the halls of its fictional high school while some querulous emo band plays in the background. High school was horrendous and I do not wish to dredge up those awful memories. I haven’t figured out how to skip those scenes, so I find myself trapped in a nightmare of re-living the days in which I literally would have preferred death to going to school, complete with a bad soundtrack to round out the anguished walk down crap-strewn memory lane.

Secondly, a big part of the storyline revolves around a female student, Kate, who is getting bullied and slut-shamed due to a “viral video” of her making out with a bunch of guys at an underground party. It appears that she had possibly been drugged before the party, but at this point, it’s not totally clear. “Life is Strange” has been lauded by critics for addressing serious issues not normally tackled by video games, and it does a phenomenal job of addressing disability in later chapters, but something about the bullied-girl storyline rankles me. Due in part to my ineptitude at picking the right dialogue choices, Kate eventually commits suicide by jumping off the roof of the dorms. After her death, the inevitable schmaltzy alter is erected, and there is token talk of how she was cruelly bullied and how unfair it was that no one was nicer to her, but the deeper issues surrounding slut-shaming are never tackled. It seems to accept that it’s par for the course that any female who gets “caught” expressing their sexuality is going to be harassed into oblivion, and that’s it’s just really unfortunate that it happened to nice Christian girl like Kate. There is something maudlin and off-putting about how that whole storyline plays out, and at no time do any of the characters address the underlying cultural hypocrisy and misogyny that lead to Kate’s tragedy.

Complaints aside, “Life is Strange” is an absorbing and innovative game. You play Maxine (Max), a sensitive aspiring photographer who gets a rare scholarship to a prestigious arts high school in the fictional Oregon town of Arcadia. On her first day of school, through a terrifying incident in the girl’s bathroom, Max discovers that she has the power to “rewind” time. The core of the game revolves around using this time-warp mechanism to change the outcome of your choices, manipulate time, and create your desired outcomes. There is a steep learning curve at the beginning, and many of the early puzzles are specifically designed to train you to use the rewind mechanic. It takes a bit of getting used to, and it’s best not to think too much about the logic of how it plays out most of the time, but overall, once you learn it, it’s a joy to use. Early in the game, Max reunites with her long-lost best friend Chloe, and at first, the two of them play with this new-found power like it’s a toy. But very quickly, things get dark in Arcadia, and young Max is faced with some serious existential dilemmas surrounding choice, power, and morality. Unlike most games that use the “choice” mechanic as little more than a pretense, in “Life is Strange”, your choices actually do affect the outcome of the story. So far, I’m quite disappointed in myself, but I can’t seem to help but make questionable decisions, like stealing money and selling out my classmates. Look, I’m a total goody-goody in real life and I have to blow off steam somehow, so just stop judging me. Jeez.

I still have a few chapters left to play, but overall, I’ve found the game incredibly absorbing, despite its flaws. And while I’m not thrilled with how it handles the Kate storyline, it delves into disability with an impressively in-depth and sensitive perspective. I learned some things I didn’t know, and it led me to think about disability in a new way. Also, while the character of Max is little bit of a Mary Sue, her wild-at-heart friend Chloe is a brilliantly-written character, as are Chloe’s mom and stepdad. Unfortunately, the voice acting is distractingly uneven at times, but Chloe is by far the most consistent. Despite its bumps and rough spots, I’m looking forward to playing it through to its conclusion. As stated I’ll be back with a “normal” blog post next week. In the meantime, here’s a fun launch trailer. 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Artistic Creation vs. Artistic Consumption, “The Silent Age” Game Review

When it comes to works of creativity, I harbor a prideful fear of going through life being a consumer rather than a creator. It’s a silly thing to be hung up on for several reasons; one being that art and literature needs consumers, and another being that it’s a rarely a dichotomy—most of us are both creators and consumers to varying degrees and at various times in our lives. Right now, I’m a consumer. My creative fire remains dashed with wet sand, and I’m trying to let of go of forcing it to light. I e-mailed a friend of mine recently and said that I think the muse is like a cat. If you chase it down waving your arms and making demands, it sprints off and hides. But if you just ignore it, it will eventually sidle up to you, and maybe even curl up on your lap and purr.

As a consumer, I’ve been playing a lot of interactive story games. I reviewed “Firewatch” last week, and after I finished that (rather short) game, I played through the award-winning “The Silent Age.” To give you some context, a number of years ago I played a game called “Syberia”, a two-part point-and-click adventure that I found astounding. I was so emotionally involved in the characters and the story that I cried at the end of it. I have been chasing that point-and-click dragon ever since, but no game has yet satisfied me as completely. That is, until “The Silent Age.” I was so excited about this game that I actually took the time to e-mail the developers and thank them.

“The Silent Age” centers on Joe, an ordinary janitor living in the early 1970’s, who works for Archon, a large national defense corporation. At the opening of the game, Joe gets called in to the CEO’s office, where he is informed that he is getting a “promotion”—sans increased pay or a more prominent title. Joe’s work buddy Frank left Archon suddenly, and Joe, in addition to his regular duties, is now responsible for Frank’s former duties in Archon’s top-secret lab. Puzzled but taking it in a stride, Joe arrives at the lab, where he finds a trail of blood that eventually leads to a dying man named Lambert. Lambert claims to be a time traveler from the future. He gives Joe a hand-held, solar powered time-traveling device (basically, a big green button) and tells him that the survival of mankind is dependent on Joe traveling to the future to warn Lambert of the impending doom so he can stop it.

The gameplay itself is very meditative; simple but ingenious. I thought I was going to be annoyed by the time-travel clicker device, but it turned out to be one of most fun aspects of the game, which is good, because it’s central to the gameplay. Many times, you have to click back and forth between the post-apocalyptic future and the 70’s present in order to accomplish a goal. It requires some critical thinking and attention to detail, but the puzzles are very common-sense. In fact, I only needed to consult a walk-through once, for an exasperatingly fiendish puzzle involving a retina scanner. Most of the gameplay takes place in a very limited landscape, so if you get stumped, it won’t be long before the process of elimination solves the problem for you. I know some people like to complain about game puzzles not being challenging enough, but I’m lazy. I like mine to be just hard enough to give me a mild sense of accomplishment.  

But it’s the story that’s the real star of the game. The graphics and gameplay are simple, but the storyline is elaborate and complex, and eventually delves deep into top-level governmental conspiracy territory. In between, there are some delightful scenes involving a bevy of side-characters, including a groovy bartender who knows how to make a mind-blowing drink, man. Joe is mild-mannered and plain-spoken, and by the end of the game, I came to care for him and appreciate his pragmatic approach to his predicament. This is another good “starter game” if you haven’t played a point-and-click before. It’s heavily narrative in nature, so it helps if you like to read—you’ll be doing a lot of that in “The Silent Age.”

Perhaps soon I will have something of my own to create. But for now, I’ve started on “Life is Strange,” a game by Dontnod Entertainment. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and I have a lot to say about it, not all of it good. But it will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, enjoy very this deliberately-paced teaser for “The Silent Age.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Game Review: “Firewatch”, Summer Slump

Over these recent warm-ish summer evenings, I have been playing the indie game “Firewatch”, by Campo Santo Studios. I just finished it a few days ago, and I was left deeply touched, if a bit mournful. There are some indie games out now that are so well-written they’re more literary than certain novels I've read. Games have always been an art form, but there is so much literary richness in a lot of these new games that I would almost sooner curl up with a game than a good book anymore.

“Firewatch” centers on Henry, your basic everydude. At the beginning of the game, it tells the story of his wife, an ambitious professor who is struck in her forties with severe early-onset Alzheimer’s. The game asks you to make a series of choices about how Henry handles the tragedy, although I have a feeling that whatever choices you select, the outcome is more or less the same. I chose for Henry to have her institutionalized rather than try to take care of her himself. (I didn’t trust Henry to handle caretaking.) At any rate, a rift in the family ensues, and Henry flees to Wyoming to be a fire lookout, which involves holing up in an isolated watchtower in the middle of the wilderness. Henry’s only connection to another human being is through radio contact with Delilah, his hard-living, boozy supervisor with a murky past.

As the days wear on, it’s clear that Something is Terribly Wrong in the idyllic Wyoming outback. Henry and Delilah are being watched, and possibly stalked by nefarious forces. But the ins and outs of the plot are not the most interesting part of the game—it’s the metaphorical brilliance of the human tragedy being played out against the backdrop of the Wyoming wilderness; the ever-present threat of fire and its eventual engulfing of their lives. As much as Henry and Delilah have tried to run from the fires in their own lives, they are thrust back into them by the forces of nature, and, in spite of their emotional connection, they end up as alone as they were when they first fled. It’s a superbly well-written story, brought to life by top-notch voice acting and effective, if somewhat simple, graphics. I don’t think that “Firewatch” would have worked without the skilled voice acting, as the relationship between Delilah and Henry is central to the heart of the game.

If you’re not an experienced gamer, this is a great “starter” game—it’s easy to learn, with fairly straightforward story advancement. If there is one little quibble I have with it, it’s the conceit of the dialogue choices for Henry, as well as the action choices at the beginning. Since none of them ultimately make a difference in the outcome (at least, I am assuming they don’t, considering that the ending seems pretty much inevitable), it seems like an inefficient way to move through the story. But at least it gives you some sense of autonomy, however futile. Nonetheless, I fully recommend this game--just be prepared to feel the sads for a few days afterwards.

 I was looking for something on this blog last week and stumbled across a post I wrote a few years ago about coping with writer’s block. It’s like going back in time and reading my own advice to my future self. It’s advice I can use right now, since I’m in a bit of a creative slump. A lot of it has to do with not having closure on the novel; of having poured my passion into it for so long and seeing it not go anywhere. A part of it is just general lack of confidence combined with a dearth of creative vision. (“Wolfpine” is still rattling around in there, but it feels too big and exhausting for me to get my head around right now.) I know all of this is temporary, and probably the best thing for me to do it just let go and give myself permission not to write for a while. I feel a strong impulse to do something with my hands, anyway; to paint or draw or maybe make another rug. Really just to do anything besides staring at a blank Word document, panicking because I am devoid of creative energy. And on that cheery note, here is a trailer for “Firewatch”. Enjoy!

-Kristen McHenry

P.S. I'm off the night cheese and have sworn off Goldfish crackers. I beat Big Cheese at it's own game!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Crabby Pants, Game Rant, Might as Well Face it—I’m Addicted to Cheese

I’m crabby today because I have set myself the goal of sending off two novel queries, and I don’t want to, because the whole situation is beginning to feel completely hopeless and existential on a “Waiting for Godot”-like level. I’ve already had a crying jag before noon just thinking about the futility of sending out novel queries. Mr. Typist distracted me briefly with a walk to our local vegetable stand, but that’s over now and I’m back to being crabby and weepy again. Also, because of the novel submissions, I desperately need new headshots and a new Linked In profile, and trying to keep up on social media demands is making me nuts, and it’s all just too much. I already have a full time job and don’t want a second one.

In an attempt to escape from the madness, last week I bought the game “Samorost 3” from Amanita Studios, the same folks who made “Machinarium” and the much-loved (at least by me) “Botanicula.” I can usually count on games from Amanita Studios to be fun, relaxing, and a nice brain vacation, but “Samorost 3” is completely demented and infuriating. It is beautiful, musically and artistically ingenious, visually stunning, and imaginatively rendered. It’s a true art-house game--but it’s completely maddening to actually play. The puzzles are totally unsolvable without a walkthrough. I watched many a video walkthrough on You Tube by a gentleman named Lord Levan, and his direction (in a heavy Eastern European accent) got me through a few parts, but this damn game felt like work--actual, severe mental work. There were exactly two puzzles that I found intuitive. The rest were insanely cryptic, and even the "hint" book was only moderately helpful, what with its inane, mad-man scribblings and nonsensical, loopy drawings. Also, I am certain that Amanita Studios is obsessed with hallucinogenics. Every other scene involves some interaction with magic mushrooms (and not just in this game, either.) Not that's there's anything wrong with that if that's your scene, but I can't help but wonder if this entire game wasn't created in some drug haze where the developers individual mushroom-trip “logic” reigns supreme and if you don't get it, well tough luck.

I love all of their other games, and I am really bummed that I had to rage quit this one in frustration. Also, the game is very dependent on music, and it felt a bit overbearing to me that I was forced to have a completely immersive musical experience in order to solve certain puzzles. It felt like being forced to listen to your nephew's experimental electronica garage band in order to get a beer at your local bar. Not that the music wasn't beautiful, but that part of it was just a little too show-offy and pretentious for me. I am going back to Salt, the least stressful game on earth, where nothing is expected of you. There are no other players to support, nothing urgent to do, no agenda, and no forced musical reckonings. Now and then you may run into an angry flat-faced pirate, but a few whacks will take him out. That’s what I’m reduced to now.

A few weeks ago, I impulse-bought some Extra Cheesy! Goldfish Crackers during my weekly grocery shop. I proceeded to nom down the entire bag over a three-day time  period, then found myself uncharacteristically slicing off hunks of cheddar cheese from the block in the fridge and eating it recreationally at night. Then I wanted to buy more Extra Cheesy! Goldfish Crackers, an item I don’t usually purchase. When I expressed my dismay about this new-found craving to Mr. Typist, he immediately cited a study he recently read stating definitively that cheese is addictive. What the hell, people? It should be a crime to sell Extra Cheesy! Goldfish Crackers on the open market, just like they’re nothing. How are they getting away with this? Why aren’t they a controlled substance? I now have a back-up bag of Extra Cheesy! Goldfish Crackers stashed in my file drawer at work, and I’m still helplessly carving up of hunks of cheddar cheese for night eating. I’m the victim here. I demand restitution….in the form of a lifetime supply of Extra Cheesy! Goldfish Crackers. Before ye judge, look to thine own cheese habits. Besides, I can stop any time I want.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Metaphorical Fires, Writing Revelation, Weekly Miscellanea

I watch a lot of re-runs, (is that even a term anymore?) and I recently saw an episode of “Modern Family” from 2013 wherein Alex receives the final gift of a lighter from her dear departed grandmother. She agonizes over the “meaning” of the gift, since the other family member’s presents come with deep and clear significance. Alex’s family chalks it up to her grandmother’s senility, but I knew immediately what it meant. It meant that mousy, rule-following Alex needed to light some shit on fire. And she does. I also recently heard a story on the TBTL podcast about a Canadian woman who was mushroom hunting and got trapped in the woods and stalked by a vicious wolf, who she cleverly finished off by luring it to a bear. There is something about both of these stories that I find very compelling. Wolves and lighters. I don’t plan to off any wolves or commit an act of arson, but perhaps there is something wild in me longing to escape. I just don’t know what to do about it at the moment, since my present life feels relentlessly restricted and proscribed.

Speaking of wolves, it was an interesting epiphany to find that self-induced pressure to produce is incredibly unhelpful in the creative process, at least for me. I intended to write “The Diary of Wolfpine Glen” as a weekly series, confidently certain that if I “forced” myself to produce each week, my creativity would somehow fire on all cylinders, the story would flow out of me freely, and confusion, blockage and thorny plot issues would magically resolve through the sheer power of will. What actually happened was that I was beset with tension headaches and anxiety as the weekend approached, and I began to resent the creative process entirely, It felt like going to a second job, and all of the fun and joy just whooshed out of it like a popped balloon. I have found that what I need is time—time to think it through, concentrate on developing the characters, and map out the plot in a more systematic way. “Wolfpine Glen” is growing in my imagination and will come back at some point, but I need time to refine it and play with it a lot more. I wouldn’t call the experiment a failure, though. It helped me jump-start the project, and taught me that for me, time and space are essential to the creative process.

But I may take a little break from “Wolfpine Glen” to write a short story about a grammar- pendant health nut with a blow-dry. I got the idea from reading this hilarious blog post by Frank Moraes, about a recent run-in with such a fellow at Whole Foods. I think blow-dry health-nut guy would make a delightful character. He is rich with possibility.

Other miscellaneous updates: The stinky dresser is less stinky now, thank God. It still has a slight lingering odor, but it’s fading by the day. I sent out two novel queries yesterday, and just as I hit “send” on the second one, I received a terse rejection from an agent I had queried last month, thereby completely deflating whatever manufactured confidence I had managed to pump myself up with. Buddy’s being Buddy, although there have been no more off-deck adventures since the last escapade. And I finally finished playing through “The Rise of the Tomb Raider”. The end-game boss fight was exceedingly disappointing and lame, but overall, it was a solid game with a good storyline.

I have to go buy new walking shoes, so that’s it for this week. Enjoy this song by Henry Phillips about a deathly Waffle Shack. It always makes me laugh, because I have a very mature, sophisticated and erudite sense of humor.  (Warning: It contains a few swears.) 

--Kristen McHenry