Sunday, August 9, 2020

Rat Tribe, Topless Street Fight, Takin’ Down the Baddies

This week I read a long article on Aljazeera America about the Rat Tribe of Beijing, and I was utterly intrigued. The Rat Tribe is made up of close to a million Beijingers who reside underground in a vast network of abandon air-raid bunkers that were constructed in the late 60’s during Mao’s reign as protection against Soviet air raids. Rent is high in Beijing, and some of the residents live in the bunkers due to poverty, and some do so as a deliberate strategy to save money and build a better future for themselves. There is a surprisingly high level of optimism and entrepreneurial spirit amongst the residents, and the dormitory-like “pods” create supportive, tight-knit communities that look out for each other. I’m not trying to romanticize poverty or argue that the living conditions are at all healthy, but I have always been interested in how people make and create homes in adverse environments, and this was fascinating to me. The residents decorate with bright colors and kitschy posters, photos of their children and grandchildren, and makeshift curtains. Many of them remark on how quiet and peaceful it is away from the noise of the above-ground. They seem to be more or less okay, or at least accepting of their circumstances, and there is a remarkable lack of shame and judgment. Something about the Rat Tribe pinged my heart, the same as the people who live underground in the sewer drains in Las Vegas did years ago when I was researching them for a poem. I relate to the feeling of being an underdog in a very deep way, and the idea of an entire tribe of us living in semi-secret underground enclaves makes me feel strangely at peace.

I’m a little adrenaline-y at the moment because there was a huge screaming fight on my street early this morning between two women who were going at it hard over some allegedly stolen goods. Mr. Typist and I heard screaming outside of our window, and at first I chalked it up to the usual short-lived flare-up amongst the homeless in the park, but it kept escalating in volume and scale. I called 911, and Mr. Typist ran outside to meet the police and give a witness statement. I preferred he not throw himself into middle of it, but throw he did, and he came back with quite the tale of toplessness, pummeling, accusations and scattered goods from an overturned shopping cart. By the time he gave his statement and left, there were three cop cars on the scene. We don’t know if anyone got arrested or not. The incident has been the topic of discussion in the Typist household this morning. I hope the two ladies are okay and that they get things together in their lives. When you find yourself simultaneously topless and in a street fight in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, perhaps it’s time to reflect upon your life choices and consider making some changes.

Speaking of fights, I am both honored and a little bit nervous: I got selected to be a Workplace Violence Prevention Facilitator at my job! They put an announcement out a few months ago that they were looking for employees willing to train in Workplace Violence Prevention and travel to various campuses to teach workshops. I applied immediately, although I didn’t think I was particularly well-qualified and straight out said so on my application form. But my boss must have given me some huge, glowing recommendation because I got notice on Friday that I was selected. When I went to register for the training, I noticed that the last two days of the three-day training is “Physical Techniques.” I was quite surprised. I thought it was going to be all verbal de-escalation, negotiation, and the soft psychology stuff. But apparently I am actually going to be teaching physical self-defense! It’s a good thing my gym is re-opening on Monday. I need to stay in fighting shape for fending off the baddies.

In keeping with the theme of fights, be they for a better life, stolen goods or self-defense, enjoy this rousing fight anthem from Sister Sin:


-Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Dental Stalking, Crafting Sads, New Monsters

After having gone to my dentist for the first time in four years, I thought that would be the end of it for a while. I dutifully and grown-uply made an appointment for six months out before I left the office and naively thought that would be the last I would hear from them for a while, but no. The very next day, I got an e-mail stating that they needed to see me in four months, not six. I was shocked. When I e-mailed back arguing about insurance coverage and my dubiousness regarding the actual medical necessity of the four-month time frame, they were undeterred. I received a long, pedantic e-mail in return, with an exhaustive breakdown of my insurance coverage and a detailed narrative rendering of my dental diagnosis (which I do not scientifically agree with), along with a stern admonition that the four-month visit is essential to my dental health. Now that they got me back, they are not going to let me go come Hell or high water. I would not be surprised if they showed up to my house and physically dragged me out of bed (because that’s where I’d be, bed) and into the dental chair. In my defense, as I was pouring out my dental woes to my trainer, because sometimes the temptation to treat him as a defacto therapist is too much, he went on his own little dental rant, huffing that he hates the dentist because they always charge too much, it hurts like hell, and they never actually address the issue that he comes in with. He’s a tough, feisty Luchadore who doesn’t seem scared of anything, so the fact that he hates the dentist too makes me feel not quite so bad about my own dental phobia.

I was half-heartedly cleaning out the hall closet the other day in an ongoing bid to find my long-lost Fitbit, and I realized that I have done nothing crafting-wise in many, many months. I have had no desire to sew, to make rugs, to finish my many unfinished projects, or to paint or draw. I firmly believe this is directly related to COVID-19 and the subsequent stress it’s caused me. I feel like I am instinctively reserving my energy right now. I have had to go into work every single damn day of this pandemic and cope with the massive stress that is involved in working in a hospital during a global outbreak, and I don’t have the luxury of any leftover energy to generate the creative impulses necessary to crafting. It makes me sad. I feel deadened in that way, and I don’t think that it’s good for me. And it seems weirdly tied in with my unwillingness to make a hair appointment, although I don’t know why the two would be related. Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of luxuriousness. Part of why I enjoy getting my hair cut is that for one entire hour, I get to feel special and taken care of and a little bit fussed over. It’s worth paying a little extra money to go to a place where it smells nice and looks pretty and there’s some ceremony involved in making me look slightly better. I don’t want to get my hair cut when it is going to be stressful and fraught with rules and distancing and glass partitions and fear and an “in and out as quickly as possible” mentality. That same sense of expansive luxuriousness is tied into the time and energy required to think through a creative project and execute on it. Generating the energy it requires to consider color, form and design at this time just seems impossible. I don’t like this. As an artistic person, the grayness and lack of vibrancy in the world right now is very disheartening. Maybe the best way to fight against it is to rebel; to somehow find the energy within to create something of beauty, no matter how small. 

Mr. Typist has been urging me for some time to try this space-opera-y new game he likes called Empyrion, and I finally gave in. It was hard for me to pull away from the small, comforting confines of Stardew Valley, where everything is very predictable and rote, to the massive expanse of outer space and learning new monsters and a complicated crafting system. It feels like work. I am grinding my way through the extremely long and involved tutorial, and I have discovered that I do not like outer space. Human beings are not meant to live there, and the adaptations it takes to maintain life are too daunting. I’m probably going to give this one up fairly quickly. Again, with the energy expenditures—I see no reason to spend the little brain power I have left over learning something that I do not derive enjoyment or much-needed relaxation from. But don’t tell him. It makes him happy that I am playing it and learning how to kill new monsters. There are many new monsters in the world, and one needs to be prepared.

On that rather grim note, enjoy this fun, cheesy, oddly inspiring game trailer for “Empyrion.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dental Debacle Part Two, Genetic Freak, Cardio Charmer

Close to about four years ago now, I blogged about my dental fiasco. I will now confess that I have not been to the dentist since. That hasn’t stopped my dental office from trying every angle to get me in, though. They have been blatantly colluding with Mr. Typist for years on a full-on dental propaganda campaign. They don’t even try to hide it. Every time Mr. Typist comes back from the dentist, he carefully repeats, “They really miss you. They keep asking me when you’re coming in again. You know, if you went more frequently, it wouldn’t be as painful,” and so and so on. Completely shameless. Well, I finally gave in, but only because one of my front teeth was getting an exposed root. And of course it was the same predictable story all over again. I was so far gone they could only do one side and had to employ the heavy-duty numbing agents, and even then there were still spots that never got fully numb and the needle going in was so painful I started to have an anxiety attack and the hygienist made me do deep breathing exercises. I have to go back tomorrow and get the other side done, which I am not looking forward to after last week’s debacle. And the guilt they laid on me. Oh, good Lord, the guilt: “You know, we haven’t seen you for an awfully long time. We understand that you don’t like coming to the dentist. But if only you’d come more frequently it wouldn’t be as painful. Hmm, yes, in fact we were discussing your case just this morning.” My case??? Now I’m a case? I can just see them huddled around a whiteboard and a PowerPoint, discussing the intricacies of my dental phobia and drilling their de-escalation plan. The good news is that the dentist, with clear disappointment in his voice, told me that my teeth looked good and there was nothing to be concerned about. So, ha! I consider that a small victory, even though they managed to break me since I finally resolved to start going every six months now, phobia or not. 

I have heard vague things over the years about red-haired type people and dental pain, and I recently looked it up online so I could justify my dental wimpiness to myself. My friends, I have been vindicated by the power of Google. According to Medical Daily: 

“Redheads need 20 percent more anesthesia than their dark-headed counterparts. Because the MC1R gene belongs to the same family of genes that play a role in pain, the mutation causes redheads to be more sensitive to it. MC1R’s role in the brain may affect the activity of endorphins— one of the body’s natural painkillers. New research in the Journal of the American Dental Association reveals that as a result of this, redheads are twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist as people with other hair colors. 

According to the same article, we’re also more sensitive to temperature changes (I can attest) and, alarmingly, twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. Not to mention the huge skin cancer risk. Yep, it’s a real party here in Red-Head town.

In other health news, I’ve been doing a lighter weight routine on Sundays so I will have energy left over to do a little cardio, something that I have almost completely neglected since I started weight training. I came across a lovely, low-impact cardio workout on YouTube that is hosted by this English guy and his short, adorable wife whose name appears to be Tosh, which is a perfect English name. I don’t know the name of the guy, but I find him very charming. He states at the beginning that he only does low-impact now because his knees “just can’t take much these days.” He tries really hard to do that push-it-to-the-limit yelly trainer thing, but he’s terrible at it. Every time he half-heartedly shouts, “Go, go, go! Feel the power!” he follows it up immediately with “but only at your very own pace, in whatever way feels comfortable for you, and of course making sure to hydrate adequately.” His heart is just not in it, and by the end of the not-that-hard workout he’s so gassed out and sweaty his shirt looks like it was thrown into a lake. That’s my kind of YouTube cardio trainer.

Eerily, as I was looking for a video to post, this doozy popped up in my YouTube feed. It involves two of my favorite musicians, Dolly Parton and Hildegard von Bingen, and it references “flaming locks of auburn hair.” In one day, Google has both vindicated and terrified me. 

--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Game married life in Stardew Valley continues to be relatively dull, but I’m making money hand over fist now selling black market cactus fruit, so I could afford to upgrade my farmhouse, and that means the addition of a nursery. Which means you can make babies if you are properly married in the eyes of God. According to the Wiki, you don’t need to do much with the children. You can toss them up in the air and make them giggle when they’re babies, then they become toddlers and you can pretty much ignore them, so it’s no added work and now I want one. But children don’t just happen. You have to have a “conversation” with your spouse about it and mutually agree to it. There is no poking holes in the condoms in this game. It all has to be above-board. Which means that I have to wait for Harvey to ask me if I want kids, which is a cut scene that has a one in twenty chance of occurring (also according the Wiki.) And he won’t ask. Night after night he just falls asleep and it never comes up. All of the power is in Harvey’s hands. It’s very frustrating, but he has to ask eventually right? And the worst case scenario is that if I have children and get tired of them, I can sacrifice them on the Altar of Selfishness in the Witch’s Hut. But then apparently I’ll be tormented by a haunted doll that comes out of my television set and periodically attacks me. For a cute farming simulator, this game has some deeply demented aspects.

My progress through “The Fountainhead” is staggeringly slow. According my Kindle, I’m only 18% through and I feel like I’ve been reading it forever. Just recently, it introduced The Daughter. The Daughter is sexy and mean and all the guys are totally falling for her. It’s one in my long list of losses that I never tried to pull off Sexy and Mean, and now it’s too late. I just wanted to see what would have happened. Would guys have fallen all over themselves for me, like they are for The Daughter in the book? Or would they find Sexy and Mean off-putting? I guess it’s a moot point because even if I could have pulled off Sexy and Mean, which is very unlikely, I don’t think I could ever have been as mean as The Daughter. She’s a meanness professional. It takes a level of imaginative flair that I do not possess to be that breathtakingly cruel.

This concludes my weekly gaming and literature update. I think we need to watch some Scotsman playing drums in the streets. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Against My Better Judgment Here I Go

Today I find myself looking for distractions from writing this blog post because I don’t feel qualified to write about what I am inevitably going write about, which are certain Big Ideas about beauty and individualism and our humanity that have been sparked by my deep dive into “The Fountainhead.” It’s wrong of me to try. I’m out of practice with this sort of discourse, I’m intellectually lazy, college was light years ago in a galaxy far, far away, and my day-to-day life is consumed by the daunting aspects of holding down an ever-more complex job in the ever-more complex industry of health care in these United States. Between that and keeping up on the farm in Stardew Valley, there is just isn’t a lot of time for pondering upon what the pragmatist in me considers to be ephemera. But something in the book has been haunting me. More than that, it’s actually been gnawing at my soul, and I find myself drifting off in thought when I should be paying attention in my seventh COVID meeting of the day. It’s something that has gotten under my skin so badly that I have to write about it whether I am qualified to or not, whether I do it well or not, or it’s going to consume me. 

Toward the beginning of the “The Fountainhead,” an architect writes a book. It’s a big, sweeping book about the history of architecture and the structure of buildings and how people lived throughout the centuries and how the buildings they dwelled in both supported and formed the development of their civilizations. The book is immediately and explosively popular, as it seeks to “democratize” architecture, demystify it, and bring an understanding of it to the general public. Okay, I was thinking at first. I don’t see anything wrong with this. That’s all good, right? That’s in many ways what we should be doing with poetry; it’s not precious, it shouldn’t be sheltered away in some crystal tower, only to be reckoned with by the highly and specially educated. But. But. Then the most terrible thing happens, the thing that is burning my brain and causing me to wake up at night in a cold sweat. The conclusion the architect makes in his book is that no architect should be standing out from the others as an individual artist or visionary. Rather, they should pool their collective knowledge and agree upon a universal set of design principles that land somewhere in the dull middle. In other words, they should all agree to mediocrity in the service of democratization. That idea both horrified me and made me terribly sad, because at its core it means that there is no value in the concept of individual greatness, nor should there be. This, my friends, is what awakened my soul. Every single fiber of my being rose up in rebellion against this idea. I believe that this idea is not only morally bankrupt, but it is a threat to our humanity.

I am not a religious person per se, but I have always believed that we have souls, that we have divine purpose, and that we were put here on earth to rise to our highest potential. I am a fervent believer in genius. I am fervent believer in each one of us striving for our own greatness, asserting our will to achieve, rising above ourselves, and actualiziong our divine creative expression. This can only be realized through individualism. Forcing everyone to meet in some mediocre middle in the interest of the whole so that everyone is rendered the same is a concept that evokes actual physical revulsion in me. It’s wrong and it’s affront to our inherent holiness as human beings. It makes the world gray and flat. It represses energy that is meant to explode into the world in a burst of transcendent color and sound. It denies us the nourishment of our souls.

Wallace Stevens is one of the best poets who ever lived. He was a genius and was quite possibly an enlightened being. I will never achieve at his level. So do I ask that the Wallace Stevens of the world hold themselves back, dumb themselves down to my level and blunt their genius so that we can all be on the same poetic playing field? Is Howard Roark, a one-of-the-kind brilliant master of design, to forgo his ideas and let his heavenly vision die on the vine so that he can be accepted in the short term, or avoid being censured by some petty bureaucrat for rocking the boat? Are we to dull the gleam of our spiritual and artistic brilliance so that we don’t stand out and thereby risk making others feel “less than”?

We exist beyond political structures and constructs. We exist beyond the strictures of our physical bodies and our inherent biology. We exist beyond the rhetoric of the moment. We are sanctified, holy, exalted beings meant to claim our birthright. We are selling ourselves short if we do anything less. I can’t tell you what your purpose is nor can you tell me mine. But would I never demand that anyone not to meet their divine potential in order that I can feel better about my place in the world and remain complacent.

I’m sure I did this poorly and that there is a lot to critique here, but I have to go get the fish into the oven. I’ll simply conclude by saying that I’ve had a collage in my office for years and years. It’s a depiction of a fountain of light that simply says, “Shine.” It's the first thing a potential volunteer sees when they walk into my office for an interview. I’ve always liked it.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Game Married Life, Absurd Exercise Contraptions, Literary Awakening

Game married life in Stardew Valley has been going...okay. I’m not going to say that marriage to Harvey is a let-down, but truth be told, it turns out he’s a bit on the dull side. Sweet but boring, and neurotically concerned about my health. He constantly chides me to avoid sunburn and inflammation and stress, and tried to convince me to stay out of the mines because they’re dangerous. (He’s right, but I need iridium ore to curry favor with the town wizard.) Also, he rubbed the Great Soup Debacle of last season in my face by telling me that he hopes I’m going to provide “something of good quality this year.” He also cooked me a Big Country Breakfast which he then ruined by telling me to make sure I eat a “reasonable portion.” But all in all, I suppose I can’t complain. Sometimes he waters the crops or feeds the animals. And he periodically promises that he will be forever loyal to me, which is reassuring because there are some devious home-wreckers in Stardew Valley and they’d make the moves on my man in a second if he gave them an opening. I’m looking at you, Haley. 

I’m beginning to lose my mind with the home gym approach to fitness. I’m sooooo booooored. A few days ago, my little set-up which I was so proud of in the beginning suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. I needed new toys and I needed them immediately. My subsequent sweaty-fingered search on Amazon sent me down a rabbit hole of home fitness horrors that both amazed and bewildered me, including portable home gyms that had more parts to them than a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, torturous-looking ab tighteners, and an array of pointlessly gendered exercise bands. I don’t want exercise bands “for women.” All that designation does is make me immediately suspicious that they aren’t going to have enough tension for me. I already have that problem with the bands that came with my weight bench. It’s like working out with cooked spaghetti noodles. In the end I settled for a set of fabric bands (non-gendered) and a rope-looking doohickie that says it’s rated for fifty pounds. Although I was tempted just to satisfy my morbid curiosity, I managed to resist purchasing this nightmarish contraption:

It’s like strapping a hoop of suckerfish around your middle. And I know the lady in the picture didn’t get abs like that by using this thing. I wasn’t born yesterday, Amazon

It’s been slow going, but I am continuing on with “The Fountainhead.” It’s taken me time to get used to Rand’s prose, which at first I found awkward, but now I find beautiful. It’s a stunning book and I am kicking myself that I didn’t read it sooner. I actually had to stop in the middle of a passage recently because I needed to think about its astonishing philosophical implications. This is not a brag—I’m not all that intellectual and I don’t go around pondering philosophical implications on the reg, but this one touched me very deeply. I haven’t had that feeling reading a book in ages, that feeling of heady, reeling excitement, of grazing the hem of an astounding idea that shakes me spiritually and awakens something very deep within me. I’m almost afraid to pick the book up again because I have a feeling that once I step through this threshold there will be no going back. This feels life-changing to me. I will talk about it in more depth at some point, but I will say that I believe that Ayn Rand’s philosophy has been deeply reviled and misunderstood. And allowed myself to fall for it. I’m totally at fault for dismissing her for so long because I believed the bad press. She’s beyond brilliant and I think what she has to say is absolutely vital considering what is happening on the national stage these days. More to come on the architects my friends. More to come indeed.

Since we are ending a grand note, enjoy this thunderous rendition from “The Phantom of the Opera.”

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Game Married, Shelf Controversy, I’m Worried About the Wrestlers

It’s been a rough week in Stardew Valley. My ongoing efforts to land the town doctor were stymied because it didn’t rain during the last few days of Fall, so the ghost mariner didn’t show up at the beach to sell me the mermaid amulet, then suddenly it was Winter and it won’t rain in the winter unless you have a rain totem, for which you need pine resin, and who has pine resin just lying around? I had to wait through the entire Winter and through the first week of Spring when it finally rained and I could use my warp totem to beam myself to the beach and get the darn amulet. The long and short of it is that Harvey and I are now hitched! We had a sweet little wedding in the town square, then he moved into my farmhouse along with his ham radio set. So far so good, although he doesn’t help out much on the farm. Mostly he stands around and stares into space. And apparently even though I managed to lure him into marriage, I’m still supposed to give him gifts. Ce la vie. Mr. Typist has responded to all this by passively-aggressively refusing to say Harvey’s name. “How are things with Claude?” “It’ Harvey.” “Oh, I’m sorry I don’t remember the name of your game husband, Lloyd or whatever.” “It’s Harvey.” “Fine. Tell Cornelius I said hello.”

Speaking of that, on the marriage in real life front, after almost twenty years we’ve started bickering like a proper old couple. This week it was the Great Refrigerator Shelf Controversy. All I’m saying is that there is a difference between the “upper shelf” and the top shelf. It does not go without saying that the upper shelf is the top shelf. The “upper shelf” is a relative term. So when you ask me to put the unthawed meat on the upper shelf, and I dutifully comply by putting it on the shelf above the bottom shelf, (upper in relation to the bottom) I do not think that entitles you to be annoyed because you wanted it on the very top shelf. Words have meaning. And furthermore when I ask you to clarify what you meant by “upper shelf” and you insist that literally everyone on the planet knows what that means, well, I take umbrage. And perhaps in my umbrage I am compelled to say something snide like, “You opened the fridge last night to get your snack plate. If you had been observant, you could have rectified this situation by moving the meat yourself,” which in turn prompts this response: “Oh, I should have been more observant? While I’m getting a snack at midnight?” All of this could have been avoided if the term “top shelf” had been employed from the get-go. That’s all I’m saying.

I expressed concern last week about the architects in “The Fountainhead” but now that I’ve read little further into the book, I don’t care a whit anymore. They’re fine. They’re all fine. Especially Roark. That man is as audacious as hell, and the other guy is turning out to possess a natural genius for sucking up, so I can file this away in the “Concerns of the Past” folder. However, I am now worried about the wrestlers. I was finally able to get another remote session with my trainer last week, and he was telling me that since COVID, all of his wresting buddies gave up working out and got fat. Mexican mask wrestling takes place in huge public arenas, and as such it’s not a thing that is happening at the moment. So there’s no motivation for the wrestlers to keep working out, I guess. I can’t say I blame them. However, in addition to being worried about them getting back into fighting shape, I also think there’s something annoyingly smug about them letting themselves go. That takes a certain level of confidence, as though they are so athletically talented they know they can just snap back into top shape a moment’s notice. I have no such confidence in myself. I am fifty effing years old and not of a body type that builds muscle easily, and if I gave up at this point, there would be no snapping back. It’s taken over a year of consistent effort for me to develop a barely visible bicep, and I am not going to be resting on any muscular laurels, however small they may be.

This this was a marriage-heavy post, in the spirit of celebration and dancing, enjoy this little ditty from the Celtic Women.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 21, 2020

I’m Worried about the Architects, Courting is Hard, Swishy Hair

I mentioned last week that I was once again pondering my long-ago goal of reading one classic per month. I decided to plunge in a few days ago and downloaded “The Fountainhead” on my Kindle. Now I’m worried about the architects. I had no idea that profession was such a competitive, cut-throat industry full of snakes and villains, with treachery and betrayal around every corner. And these architects are but young men. They seem to be holding their own okay thus far into the story, but I am concerned about them. They are a bit naive and seem vulnerable to making life-altering mistakes in their young careers. I am stressed out by proxy just reading about them, but now I have to keep reading just to make sure everything turns out okay. I know that our dear H. Roark acts all stoic and tough and fancies himself the James Dean of architecture, but I am afraid he doesn’t know quite what he’s walking into by throwing his lot in with the likes of Henry Cameron. I’ll keep you all posted on the emerging situation.

In more cheery news, I am growing ever closer to my afore-mentioned goal of teasing a marriage proposal out of Harvey the town doctor in “Stardew Valley.” I asked him to be my date at the annual Flower Dance. I’ve gifted him with bread sticks, cookies, daisies, and cauliflower. I have sworn not to tell anyone that he struggles to keep up in his aerobics class. I have listened sympathetically as he expreseed how much pressure he feels trying to keep the townspeople healthy. And it’s all paying off, my friends. The last time I checked our friendship meter, I had like, eight hearts! Then he told me a few nights ago in the pub that he wanted to “put our doctor-patient relationship aside and get to know each other on a personal level.” Ding, ding, ding! I’m pretty sure that’s a major ethics violation on his part, but all I care about is getting that ring on my finger, baby. Only now he’s being kind of weird. He refuses to talk to me when he’s fiddling with his ham radio and the last time I ran into him, he was all stuttery and nervous. Courting is hard. But I have every confidence that my strategy will pay off and I’ll be on that hot-air balloon ride with Harvey in no time.

Can we get haircuts yet? I keep getting confusing e-mails from my salon. What from I can glean, it will take eight years to get an appointment, you have to stand out on the sidewalk and wait to enter the building by invite, give a secret passcode, and wear a hazmat suit for the duration of your service. The whole endeavor seems exhausting and frankly, I don’t want to deal with the rules. I’m up to my ears in rules these days at work and in life and I’m developing Rules Fatigue Syndrome. Meanwhile my hair is down to my collarbone and keeps growing, as hair is wont to do. I might just see where this takes me. Maybe I will let it go all the way down my back and then I can walk around swishing it. I haven’t had swishy hair in more years than I can count. Maybe I’ll even grow out my bangs. The possibilities are endless. But the most likely scenario is that I hit hair rock bottom and make an appointment and just deal with their darn rules because I can’t stand myself anymore. I’ll keep you posted on that as well.

Here is our weekly sanity check from Jocko Willink, wherein he recounts the story of the Christmas truce between German and British soldiers during World War 1. Warning: It’s fairly graphic.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I finally grew bored with the mental distraction that was “House Flipper”, so I decided to stop using video games as escapism and actually begin coping with my problems. Ha! I almost got ya, didn’t I? Of course I didn’t start coping with my problems. I immediately downloaded a charming indie time-waster called “Stardew Valley”, which looks all cute and simple and fashionably pixelated, but turns out to be deceptively complex. It was sold to me as a Minecraftian game about farming, but it’s not as simple as just dumping a few crops in the ground and selling them at market. After a few days of crop failures and passing out from exhaustion (my character, not me—I’m not that addicted to video games) I finally started combing through their Wiki, and good Lord. Nothing in this game is simple or easy. It took me three hours to make a tiny sprinkler. Also, I ruined the soup at a town potluck and now all of the villagers are mad at me because they were trying to impress the mayor with their soup. I think that was a bad plan to begin with, and there is no way in a court of law the poor soup outcome could be pinned on me, but still everyone’s mad. And I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something wrong with most of the villagers. A good number of them seem to be suffering from dysthymia, and not to judge, but they do spend an inordinate amount of time at the pub. We’ll see how things go for me in Stardew Valley. My current aim is to convince the town doctor to marry me. According to the Wiki, once I get him into my clutches with my feminine wiles, he’ll cook for me and repair fences. I like the practical aspects of this, but also, he has a soulfulness about him that I find appealing. You are not going to know what hit you, Harvey.

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Speaking of literary junk food, a lot of my recent reading has been the novels of one Nick Spalding, an English writer who I consider a genius. Not a literary genius per se, but someone who has figured out exactly how to game the publishing industry. After reading about five of his novels, I nailed the formula. He essentially writes the same book over and over again and just changes the details. They all involve a protagonist who, through some quirky circumstance, has a beloved addiction taken away from them (the internet, alcohol, food, etc.) Cue the protagonist’s inevitable meltdown that, through yet another quirky circumstance, gets witnessed en masse on social media, thus further magnifying the protagonist's suffering and humiliation. Cue the protagonist slowly learning to live without their addiction, grow in maturity and come out of all of it a Better Person in the End. To be fair, the life altering-event is not always an addiction-sometimes it’s a terminal diagnosis or a delapitated house they unwittingly inherit, but nonetheless, they are all the same book. I think it’s brilliant. Also, he’s very funny. As soon as I come up with a similar plug-and-play formula, I’m going to get rich and blow this popsicle stand. Move to someplace Stardew-Valleyish and live off the land.

If you need to de-stress (and I don’t know why anyone would what with the world being so idyllic these days), here is a relaxing little jaunt through Pelican Town in Stardew Valley. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Performative Wokeness, Those Clowns on YouTube, Groovin’ on the Grid

In case you weren’t aware, there have been Goings-On this past week. I’ve vacillated about whether or not to talk about them on this (decidedly non-political) blog. I prefer to avoid engaging in what could be perceived as performative wokeness. I've seen enough of that this week from people and corporations alike. But it feels weird not to at least acknowledge it. So consider it acknowledged. We will now continue with our regular weekly program.

Since my trainer has all but abandoned me what with his tech issues and now a surgery (he could have done our session last week from his hospital bed, but noooooo, instead he chose to spend his time “healing up”) I am once again stuck with getting my fitness advice from a parade of clownish You tubers. One of the most clownish of all besides Swolenormous, who I have come to grudgingly admire, is Greg Doucette. He apparently won some world records in body-building and is sort of a big deal in that world, but I don’t know much about him other than that he got into trouble with the law a while back for selling sub-legal substances to his clients, and that he sounds exactly like Gilbert Gottfried. He’s egotistical and ADD-addled and crude and bombastic, but when you get past all of that, what he actually says makes a lot of sense. I was delighted to hear him rant last week in his latest video about the insanity we engage in around food, and why tracking macros is useless and silly and a total waste of time. I very lazily and inaccurately semi-track my calories, but as disordered as I am around food, I could never bring myself to start tracking macros. It was a relief to hear him talk about what nonsense that is. His human side came through and I could see real pain on his face when he said, “It never used to be this complicated. People just ate. When I was a kid, we had a wood stove in our house, and if we didn’t have birch wood to burn, we put other stuff in there. It didn’t matter. Whatever we put in there, it burned for fuel. It’s same with your body.” That made a breathtaking amount of sense to me.

In my ongoing quest to make top dollar in House Flipper, I started entering the garden competitions, which, if you “win” them, makes you big bucks. But I have been struggling mightily with the concept of the Modern Garden. The Modern Garden seemed ugly to me, and I just could not get my mind around the aesthetic. I tried three times to half-ass it in an attempt to “fool” the algorithm, but as junky as that game’s code is, it wasn’t having it. I failed every time and I felt as bad I did when I was a kid and I got an F on a school assignment. It was clear that I was going to have to actually buckle down and learn how to create a proper Modern Garden. It finally clicked with me when I realized that it was grid-based. I have a strong preference for the loose, free-flowing English Garden, all wild and colorful and in deference to nature. The Modern Garden is very much about strict design and the imposition of a specific aesthetic upon the natural world. But when I realized I just needed to change my thinking and get into a “grid” mentality, I was able to put a winning one together, and I actually came to appreciate the weird beauty and structure of it. And, as Mr. Typist pointed out when I told him I wasn’t a grid-thinker, “You’d better become one, because the whole world is based on a grid.” Having studied spatial archetypes in college (filed under My Useful Degree), I definitely have some things to quibble with him about that assertion, but I will leave it for another time.

This week’s video is from that unicorn of the internet, a sensible fitness guru. I love James Linker and his calm, measured demeanor and dry sense of humor. And I love the message of this video. It really nails why I am doing all of this crazy stuff with the fitness and the lifting in mid-life. Part of it is that I just fell in love with lifting, shockingly and unexpectedly. Never in a million years would I have expected that to happen. But a big part of it is that I really do want to be in good shape moving forward. I work in a hospital. I know what can happen to a body. And I love the new-found feeling of challenging myself physically, something that I never had the confidence to do before. I wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t genuinely bring me joy and the still-unfamiliar but good feeling of being strong. Enjoy James!

--Kristen McHenry