Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dental Chickens, Normal Fail, Fun with Puns

Well, dear readers, the dental chickens finally came home to roost for this intrepid typist. I have avoided going to the dentist since probably 2008 or 2009. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have a dental phobia per se. I was the victim of an over-zealous hygienist some years ago, who scraped my teeth so hard that I couldn’t chew on the right side of my mouth for almost two years, and couldn’t have anything touch my right molars in certain areas without shooting pain searing through my entire body. The thought of anyone scraping my teeth anywhere near those areas was too much to bear, so I figured I’d just brush twice a day, use Plackers, and hope for the best. The other day while flossing, I felt something weird on my front bottom tooth, pulled my lip back, and discovered a completely exposed root. The gig was up. I needed to see a dentist, stat. I was a total wreck about it, but the staff at the dental office was very nice. I was trying desperately to act normal and hide how scared I was, but obviously I failed spectacularly. because they kept giving each other knowing looks and talking to me very gently, as though I were a fragile mental patient on the verge of a crackup.

The bottom line is that have to get a two-part procedure involving unspeakable things that I shan’t go into here. The first part was last week, and I have Part Two to look forward to this week. I stupidly decided I’d be fine to go into work after last week’s procedure, figuring I could just hide out in my office until the numbness wore off, but they had to pump me up with so much anesthesia that that my mouth remained numb for five hours, and, it just happened to be one of those high-drama days in which I kept getting called by the Information Desk volunteers to come and help with various and sundry issues involving the public. On top of it, for some reason my right eye was tearing up endlessly, so I was lurching around, slurring, my eye running indiscriminately, trying to convince the public I was a competent human being who was able to help them with their problems. I kept getting strange looks from my co-workers, too. The following day, one of them told me I had looked half-dead. This week I might just skip the formality altogether and go home afterwards.

In writing news, I’m doing a final push on the novel; getting down to the final or semi-final edit.  I have a teacher friend who offered to read it over the summer while she’s off work and help with an outline and a query letter, so I’m determined to have a polished version for her by June. I’m at the point where I truly don’t know whether the changes I’m making are helping or just muddying the whole thing up, so I’m going to have to call it done pretty soon and release it into the universe. In the meantime, I started working on a new short story/essay hybrid-type thing that’s coming along okay but desperately needs a solid narrative arc. And, a heads-up—the anthology “Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace” is going to be out next week. It has a few of my poems in it from “The Acme Employee Handbook”. Check it out!

I know that puns are supposedly the lowest form of humor, but I don’t give a damn. I think they’re hilarious and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I came across this the other day and I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. So there, humor snobs! (Warning--there is one very inappropriate joke smack in the middle of the clean ones, so don't watch if you're easily offended.)

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cheap Bedding Befuddlement, The He-Man Writer’s Club, My Geeky Triumph

I got unaccountably sad and frustrated a few weeks ago about our bedding. I decided it was holding us down and creating bad Feng Shui and a host of other ills, and I dragged Mr. Typist off to the mall to buy a new “bedroom set”. After a long slog through Big Department Stores Number 1, 2, and 3, we ended the day exhausted, confused, and empty-handed. All we were looking for was a simple, cotton duvet cover and some nice sheets in an attractive color. Stand-alone duvet covers (not the full comforter, just a cover) were nowhere to be found, except for one place, a specialty home store which stocked exactly three, all of which were the same ugly gray pattern in the wrong size.  Everything was either cheap, garish, or a terrible texture—and all of it was shockingly expensive. Having not bought bedding in years, I was appalled. Is this what’s been going on the whole time? Is this what we’ve been reduced to choosing from for the place we lay our heads to rest? Beaten down, we finally settled on a sale set that was a decent purple and white with little fleur-di-lis accents. However, when we got it home and out of its plastic carry case, we discovered that it was made of super-cheap polyester that slipped and slid all over our mattress, and was of such lightweight and crappy quality that not one night went by without the pillowcases completely working their way off of the pillows, and the top sheet ending up on the floor. The “comforter” was a puffy piece of nothing, which rather that lying on us, just sort of floated above us in mid-air, gliding over the papery top sheet in a languid haze.

Mr. Typist gave it a heroic effort, but finally collapsed in defeat a few days ago. I found him sitting on the edge of the unmade bed, head in hands, mumbling that he “just couldn’t handle it anymore.” So we went back to the old bedding, which, while faded and a bit shabby, at least has a rich, cottony heft and doesn’t slither away in the middle of the night like a drunk one-night stand.  Since I go years and years in between buying basic things, when I do need to buy them, the drop in quality and choice is really noticeable. I have no idea what’s going on, but when a lady wants to buy a high-quality cotton bedroom set in America, I would think she’d be able to find one. I can’t face another trip to the mall to find something suitable, so I’m going to have to take my chances online. An initial click through has not left me filled with hope.

What does have me filled with hope is my writing group, which I’ve really been enjoying. I’ve found it very supportive and energizing, and I’ve gotten some inspiring ideas from it. However, according to this person we’ll just call Mr. X, I’ve really lucked out. You see, Mr. X started his own writing Meet-Up group, and he does not abide fools. He’s had it with all of these whiny writers and their wimpy need to connect with each other, and he’s not afraid to say so. His promo for his super-special, exclusive Meet-Up says:

“I started another Meetup recently and asked for killer writers. I got none. Instead, I got dozens of people "wanting feedback," "needing motivation," or "wanting to connect with other writers." Not what I wanted. At all. However, I am a Writing Pro/Coach and can provide those things people are craving. For a fee. Look, I've been in writing groups. They suck. They're weak. Even university classes are weak. They're like group therapy for angsty, anxious, gutless wannabes. They're mostly worthless. This is not that. This is the shit. You can go spend your money on those classes and your time in those groups and you can languish along, whining with a dozen other folks about "how hard it is to be published," etc., etc. Jesus. Kill me now.”

I’m not sure what sort of terror Mr. X has experienced at the hands of writers trying to get feedback and motivation in, of all places, a writing group, but it must have been pretty horrifying. I wish him the very best in finding a posse of “killer” writers willing to pay him for his God-like guidance on their fledgling work. As for me, I’m pretty happy with my little group of lady-writers who chat and write together and encourage each other.

And now I must share my Geeky Triumph of the Week—after about thirty tries, I finally defeated Beaumont in The Secret World! Yeah, yeah, I know you don’t care, but trust me, this was a really hard fight. I had to kill off a bazillion adds, and some truly evil wolves, all the while staying out of the constantly-spammed Area of Affect spells…it was a huge challenge, and by the time I was finally close to burning him down, my hands were shaking so badly I could barely touch the number keys. But I finally did it! Beaumont is dead, and I can move on to questing in the Valley of the Sun Gods. All day yesterday I felt like a bit of a superhero. The feeling faded fast, but it was nice while it lasted. It’s too bad it can’t be made into a supplement, maybe something called “Vitamin Beat the Boss”, or “A Boost of False Confidence Quelled from a Silly Video Game”.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Unbearable Noisiness of Being

Recently, in a mad dash to leave work after an exhausting week dealing with the time change, spring allergies, and PMS, I forgot my headphones. This was a big deal, as I am a stubborn, inveterate headphone wearer. The habit began years ago when I started commuting by bus regularly in a dicey part of town and needed a way to minimize the near-constant “asks” and random comments I got from strangers. As it is, I tend to be a beacon for the downtrodden, (“Hey, lady, you got two dollars so I can get the bus to my AA meeting?”) the angry and misogynistic, (“Smile, you red-headed dyke bitch!”) and the desperate (“I just need five dollars for my shelter fee.”). I can tolerate the normal amount of asks and run-of-the-mill harassment, but over the years, downtown Seattle has become notoriously difficult to navigate due to increasingly aggressive panhandling. (I’m not imagining this--if you type “aggressive panhandling” into Google search, it auto-fills in “Seattle”.) In times past, the headphones would stave off some of it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Now people just feel at liberty to grab my shoulders or wave their hands in my face insistently to get my attention.

Yet my headphone habit persists, because having relied on them for so long, I’ve found it very difficult to navigate the world without them. I’ve always had a terrible time filtering out ambient noise, which makes things like routine trips to the grocery store or walks to the post office anxiety-inducing. Without some way to control the amount of environmental sound that I take in, I get completely overwhelmed. With the headphones, I have control over what goes into my ear space. This has become increasingly essential for my mental health, as the amount of general racket in the world seems to be ever-increasing. For some reason, every store feels the need to pipe obnoxious music and hyper, insistent ads through their overhead speakers, there is non-stop construction everywhere, people are constantly yapping on their cell phones, mothers feel at liberty to verbally abuse their kids in public, and couples have no compunction about fighting at the top of their lungs no matter who’s around them to overhear. Not to mention leaf-blowers.

When I rode the bus for the first time in literally years without headphones, I was astounded at how noisy and discordant everything was. The bus engine was loud, the traffic was loud, some hipster was shamelessly nattering on his phone at full volume, even people’s breathing was unbearably discordant. Ironically, earlier in the week, I had listened a podcast called “Reasonably Sound”, in which host Mike Rugnetta explores ambient sound in our everyday world. He suggested doing a “sound audit”—paying close attention to every sound you hear in your day and thinking about how that fits in with the overall landscape of your life. At that point, I broke out into an anxious sweat and had to stop listening. If I did what he suggested, I’d lose my mind in about ten minutes. At the same time, I think I know what he’s getting at by suggesting that experiment. At its core, I think it’s about mindfulness. I often worry that by blocking out so much of the world; by depending so heavily on controlling my auditory space, I’m not being fully present to my life. Then again, I don’t want to be fully present to my life, because so much of what I encounter on a daily basis is simply demoralizing. I suppose if I was a more Buddhisty-type of person, I would look at it differently; use it as an opportunity to practice compassion and loving-kindness instead just trying to shut it out. But I’m simply not there yet, and may never be. For now, I’m clinging to my headphones and pretending the world is full of beautiful music and calm, rational, educated voices instead of clanging, auditory chaos. Here’s something pretty to listen to.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daylight Savings Rant, Experiments in Form, Farmer Resentment

It’s that dumb, stupid time of year again when we all have to roll our freakin’ clocks forward for no reason whatsoever, thus throwing us natural night owls into sleep deprivation and chronic irritability for three weeks straight. I’m so annoyed by this asinine, archaic practice. I’m a natural night person who has managed to train myself to wake up at five freakin’ thirty in the a.m. (that’s the morning, people), and be at work and (sort of) functional by 7:30. That is a Herculean, heroic task for me. And now because of Germany and farms or something, I am going to be effectively getting up at 4:30, which just makes me want to cry. I work at a hospital, and it seems that majority of people drawn to the medical field are morning people. I’m always getting meeting invites for 7:00 a.m. Who holds a meeting at 7:00 a.m.? I can’t even think at 7:00 a.m. I’m on the bus in a zombie daze, trying to keep from falling asleep on the shoulder of whoever is next to me. (And while we’re on the subject, what’s with this weird idea that early risers are somehow inherently more productive and moral than night owls? When I stay up late, I’m as productive as a morning person, I’m just performing that productivity at night instead of the a.m.) I literally live for the weekends, knowing I can sleep as late as my body wants to, lounge around in my hoodie and sweatpants, and while away the morning luxuriously sipping coffee and surfing Imgur. I’m dreading this adjustment period. Maybe I should go take a nap as a fortification measure.

On a cheerier note, the new writing group I mentioned a few weeks ago continues to rock! Last week, it was just me and one other person, who, as it turns out, has a penchant for paranormal fiction, which was very heartening to me. I don’t meet many people who share my interest in that sort of thing, and we ended up having a great chat and swapping some good resources. We even got some writing done. I’m working on this long, rambling experimental piece about a horse and an apple and my grandparent’s house, but it’s not working out great so far. It doesn’t seem to want to be poem or a short story or an essay, but this weird hybrid of all three, and also, the subject is very sad-making to me, and uncomfortably memoir-like. I’ve never understood the impulse to write memoirs, and will never write one. First of all, I can’t remember anything, including my wedding date. Secondly, the vast majority of my writing is informed by my personal experience, but most of the details of my life are incredibly banal. I prefer to mine the emotional of charge of my experiences through the construction of elaborate fiction. That somehow makes my experiences seem more real to me that they would be if it wrote a factual account of them. Maybe that’s just how I process experiences best—by symbolizing and mythologizing them.

Since the novel is effectively done except but for some edits needed to fix the ending, I’ve been trying to write poetry again, but everything is coming out wrong. It’s like what I have in my head won’t conform to poetry. It just want to come out the way it wants to come out. It’s roguish and untamable and wants to do its own thing. So I suppose I’ll just let it, although I have no idea how to categorize it. Maybe I’ll create a new genre: “Mopey, Experimental Ramblings” or “Weird Formless Verbal Spewing” or “Strange, Disconcerting and Slightly Senseless Screeds”.

Speaking of screeds, here is Pete Holmes on farmers, a category of people I deeply resent at the moment for stealing an hour of sweet, sweet slumber from me. Thanks, America’s farmers! I know you feed us and all, but seriously, I need my sleep more than I need your organic turnips.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In Honor of Leonard Nimoy

In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, this a poem from my chapbook “Triplicity: Poems in Threes”.  

Spock: A Romance in Quotes

We met by chance on a Sunday
at the town aquarium.
He stood aloof in the octopus exhibit,
gazing at their writhing tentacles, and looking 
inscrutably pained. He turned to me and said,
"They regard themselves as aliens
in their own world, a condition
with which I am somewhat familiar.”
I fell in love right there.

He came over to drink vodka
Gimlets on my porch swing,
and read to me from “Entropy”.
At first he was a bit standoffish,
but when we finally did make love,
he whispered, “Random chance
seems to have operated in our favor."

He moved in on Tuesday.

When we fought,
he would squint at me with his satanic eyes
then say something unarguably rational,
without rancor, without
smashing plates. That was the thing about Spock:
he could always be trusted
not to smash things, not to shove his fists
through the drywall in a rage, or fly
into a temper on the freeway.
He just dealt with things. For a while, it was bliss.

Then his unflappable
demeanor began to try my nerves,
at which time he observed,  “It is curious
how often you humans manage to obtain
that which you do not want.”

On Friday, he said he was leaving,
not just me, but the planet. "Nowhere
am I more desperately needed
as among a shipload of illogical humans.”

When I threw myself onto the futon and sobbed,
he stroked my hand and said, “You may find that having
is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not
logical, but it is often true."

When I bellowed that he was a cold-hearted
bastard, he looked away. “I am what I am,
and if there are self-made
purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine
can be no worse than someone else's.”

And when I shattered all the plates and screamed
that he was throwing away a beautiful thing,
he just shrugged. "It has always been easier
to destroy than to create."

Then he packed his belt and tunic, and walked out.

Spock's been gone awhile now.
I still wear his Command badge on my bathrobe.
At night, I fumble for it, and hear
his sonorous voice: "Logic is the beginning
of wisdom; not the end."

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Writing Group Recap, Series Contemplation, How to Go Home

After God knows how long, this week I finally dragged myself from my lair on a weeknight, and went to a writing meet-up. I was a little nervous about it, but the second I got there, I felt welcomed, appreciated, and supported. It was amazing the difference it made to write in a group, just doing simple prompts and sharing in a creative space with other women. It was exciting and exhilarating, and I was invited to join a regular weekly “splinter” group that meets in my neighborhood just down the street from where I live. Overall rating: awesome. I really wish I hadn’t been pathologically and needlessly group-avoidant for so long. I am freshly inspired, and really looking forward to my weekly group!

I’m working on my novel edit, but taking a few breaks here and there to attend to poetry again. I have a few ideas for some new series, one inspired by a dream, and one inspired by a writing prompt at the group. Here's an experimental piece I might build one of the series around:  

How to Go Home

On the way home, the first hill is the hardest. Your hip will hurt, and you’ll take it as a metaphor for all of the nagging aches in your life for which you receive insufficient sympathy, and for how hard you have to fight for things you’re convinced just come to others. Once you reach the top of the hill, it’s straight down. Jog a little, but not too fast to appreciate the bright red painted door on the little stone church, and appreciate yourself for appreciating it. Watch for cars making blind right turns, while secretly wishing you’ll get hit, not tragically, not catastrophically, but just hard enough for a nice hospital stay, a week free of decision-making, a week of kind people delivering your meals on a tray. When you get to the bottom of the hill, prepare for a brief but unavoidable flash of bliss wrought by the mural of the Tuskegee airmen. A reminder of flight.

You’ll have an eight-minute wait on the south side of the street, the nice side, directly across from the not-nice side, with the shelter for homeless drug addicts. Watch prostitutes and junkies and lurching schizophrenics, and arrange your thoughts about their plight in a way that you find most in keeping with Buddhist principles, while keeping your real thoughts buried underneath, thoughts about why it’s not you on that side, and your lifelong fear of slipping. Thoughts about how your throat has become a hive of black bees, and how each bee is a thing you didn’t say, and how crowded the hive is getting, and what will happen when it finally gets too full.

Jostle for position on the Express, click your bus card on the black panel, and take absurd satisfaction in the green pass light and its attendant cheery beep. You passed! Find a side seat on the right--a side seat because you’re claustrophobic, and on the right because it affords a more interesting view. Assume you look exhausted, and that all of the flip techie hipsters are thinking that about you, that you’re exhausted. Poor sucker slaving away in the corporate salt mines. Hapless cubicle monkey. Soulless drone. Take out your phone in defiance and play that game where you shoot things. You’re forty-five and you still like shooting things. What’s in an age? Check your face in your compact mirror. You look exhausted.  Closer to home, glance into the huge picture window at all of the willowy white women in the trendy new gym. Roll your eyes at their attempts to deny their mortality through step aerobics. Pinch your upper arm fat discreetly and plan to go to the gym later.

At your stop, avoid the gauntlet of earnest clipboard-bearers asking you if you’d like to help stop bullying. The best route is through the tax center, up the stairs, and past the car tab renewal office. This spits you out onto the quiet street, where you’ll cross over into the skate park and walk past the church where if you’re lucky, the choir will be practicing and you’ll make your way to your door on their warbling notes of faith, the shivering chorus of trees, and the last of the sun singing itself into the gray casket of night.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Recording Experiment, Writing Group Excitement, Divine Silliness

The other day my friend and I went to the Korean Lady Spa, where I sweated my guts out in the sauna and had several detox-induced epiphanies, such as, “Whoa, man. Like, I’m responsible for my own happiness, not other people”, and “Therapy shmerapy; what I need is more joy, and less obsessive ruminating on my perceived problems”, and “Hm. Maybe…just maybe…I’m not actually a victim, and can stop acting like one.” Then I went back to her place, all noodley and relaxed, and she showed me her sound studio and we recorded me reading one of my old poems, “Spock: A Romance in Quotes.” I was hoping to be able to embed it here for your listening pleasure, (or displeasure as the case may be), but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to embed the MP3. Hopefully, I'll have it up some time this week.

It was fun to do, and since then I’ve been thinking about recording more of my poems; even laying music over them. To what end I’m not really sure, but it might be cool to have a collection of poetry CD’s grouped by theme, or something. I don’t know. I’m just kicking the can down the road at this point; we’ll see what comes of it.

The recent novel feedback swap I did was really energizing and creatively stimulating, and me, being a bit slow on the uptake, didn’t realize until recently that gee, that felt good, maybe I would benefit from more of that sort of thing. Fortuitously, I found a women’s writing group online, which meets tomorrow night at a coffee shop located halfway down my block. I tend to tie myself up in fear-based knots about groups and end up talking myself out of them most of the time: What if nobody likes me? What if they’re all crazy? What if no one understands me? What if they turn out to be a cult? But this time, I’ve decided to just go and see what happens. In fact, I’m kind of excited about it. Captain Obvious says, the flip side to all the fear is that I could meet some really nice people and find some new creative inspiration.

I’m on the second, deep edit of my novel, part of which involves completely changing one of the key characters, who most readers have complained is a bit of a droop. This change required me to do a little research into 70’s comedians, and I came across a 1979 recording of Steve Martin performing “King Tut”. I remember that song was all the rage when I was in 5th grade. All of the boys ran around doing the dance and screwing up the lyrics. When I watched the video, it occurred to me this is perfect example of Divine Silliness—an act so patently ridiculous, and executed with such complete commitment and exhilarating delight, that it’s actually transcendent. Acts of divine silliness remind of us the existential absurdity of our existence, and simultaneously invite us to celebrate it with pure joy. I can’t think of a comedian who can execute divine silliness much better than Steve Martin.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Series that Wasn’t, Anti-Plucky, Goodnight, Elizabeth!

As it turns out, that series I said I was going to do last week? I’m not going to do after all. It’s a readiness issue and an implications issue and a privacy issue, and I’m not as prepared as I thought I was for it. But the contemplation of it led to interesting questions about personal privacy, fairness, and objectivity. I do talk about personal things on this blog, but I try to be careful to protect others who may not be as willing to have their lives shared on a public forum. And I’m cautious here regarding what I share about myself, for personal and professional reasons, although at times I wish I didn’t feel that need. At times, I wish I could be as free-wheeling and open as, say Susanna Brisk, and just let every little thing hang out. (She’s marvelous!) But I can’t. Maybe one day, I’ll give up on life, get a neck tattoo, move to Venice Beach, and live as a full-time eccentric, but for now, I have to maintain the polite fiction that I’m holding it together.

Google is celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder today. I know many young girls were captivated by her Little House books, but I didn’t care much for the books or the TV show. It probably doesn’t say good things about my character that I found the story of a long-suffering pioneer family tiresome and condescendingly preachy. I’ve never enjoyed endurance narratives. I don’t like plucky characters, tales of hard working regular folk living off the land, or the trope of good, moral women surviving diphtheria so they can  go on to work themselves to death to ensure their children’s survival. (I also get  irritated when they “bravely suffer” giving birth in one-room cabins.) I found the overly-wholesome character of Caroline on the TV series irksome. Who’s that good? Seriously, could she not once bitch, whine, nag, or throw their good china through the window? Could she not have one nervous collapse, or a bout with alcoholism, or get seriously pissed off at Michael Landon and set his clothes on fire? Just one thing to show she’s a human being? Ugh.

But I was, perhaps hypocritically, fascinated with the show “The Waltons”, which came on right after “Little House”. They had Elizabeth, the only red-headed child I had ever seen on a TV show (she was the center of that bizarre poltergeist episode, which I loved), and the son John, who wanted to be writer and was in constant conflict with his practical, hard-headed father about it. Although Olivia Walton was a little bit too saintly for my taste, she still seemed more human than Caroline. And all of the children had their own distinct personalities, conflicts, and dramas. They had tough times, but they were also opinionated and willful. They got angry. They were stubborn and at times, selfish. They made stupid blunders. They were interesting. And of course, I adored the goodnight sequences at the end of each episode. “Goodnight, Mary Ellen!’ “Goodnight John-boy!” “Good night Elizabeth!” “Goodnight, Erin!” And then lamps going off, the mournful harmonica, crickets chirping, and a long shot of the beautiful starry night sky. The world would be a better place if everyone’s bedtime began exactly like that.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Terrifying Astronomy, Writing is Re-Writing, A Trip to the Zoo

For reasons I can only dimly recall, this week Mr. Typist and I decided it would be a great idea to watch the Nova documentary, “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse?", smack in the middle of the day like it was a common talk show or something. It was all about the theory of an exponentially expanding universe. There were a lot of pretty-colored orbs flying at me hypnotically, incomprehensible animated math wriggling across the screen, and terribly-performed re-enactments of physicists in oversized glasses being nerd-bitchy to each other. Mr. Typist assured me it was “geared towards layman” and that I’d have a clear understanding of…whatever after watching it. But I do not have a clear understanding, and I'm very upset now. I have no idea what's going on. I didn’t understand their wriggly animated math, but apparently we’re just flying apart. I'm panicked at the idea of non-stop expansion. I can barely handle my own life, and now I'm part of some weird anomalous particle field speeding untethered through the space/time continuum? I am so not down with that.

Mr. Typist has this recurring condition he calls “insignifi-phobia” which is invoked in him whenever he spends too much time contemplating the vastness of the universe. It’s a sort of overwhelming existential crisis in which the tininess and irrelevance of his being in the scope of the galaxy is brought home to bear in no uncertain terms. I already spend too much time obsessing over things I can’t control, so I try not to add the size of the universe to that list. But I have to say, I now understand exactly how he feels. Thanks for nothing, Nova!

This weekend, I spent some time tinkering around with my dud novel character, Lye, trying to spice him up a little. It was an interesting experiment. I have been agonizing over that character ever since I started the re-write. I found myself simply unable to do the “right” thing and hammer out a character study for him. The only way I was able to work with him was to actually re-write each of his dialogue scenes verbatim. I realized in this process that I truly am a “seat-of-the-pants” writer. I have a very hard time planning. My writing happens during the writing; I’m just not able to do it any other way. I will never be someone who can create and write from an elaborate outline, and I’ve come to peace with that. At any rate, Lye has a more definitive personality now. Not perhaps a more tolerable one, but a more definitive one.

Today, Mr. Typist and I, in an attempt to escape our mutual insignifi-phobia, took a spontaneous trip to the Point Defiance Zoo!  After I got over my initial shock that there were children there, at the zoo, on a Sunday, I started to enjoy myself. I was especially excited to encounter Gibbon monkeys, which I’ve had a special affinity for since writing “The Gibbon Remedy”. I saw breathtaking Bengal tigers, two pure white arctic foxes (I also have an affinity for white animals, which show up often in my dreams), hypnotic jellyfish, and a motley assortment of other critters, all in various stages of boredom or ennui, because, you know, they're in a zoo. Pics are below. I’m off to bathe, as I smell like a zoo.

--Kristen McHenry

Jelly Jelly!

Hello, Handsome

Bored Yak is Bored

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adventures in Feedback: Fear and Fruition, and A Brand New Poem!

This week, for the first time in well over a year, I wrote a poem! Ever since I finished the first draft of the novel, I have heard the dim but persistent music of poetry calling me back. I’ve jotted down ideas and notes as they’ve come to me, but I didn’t put anything into form until recently. It’s not a great work of art or anything, but it made me really happy to know that poetry is back for me, for however long it may be. I think I needed to get the novel out of my system before I could find space in my head for anything else.

Speaking of the novel, I recently had a great experience doing a “trade” reading with someone I connected with through Absolute Write. We both wanted a specific sort of critique, and as it turns out, both of our main characters were so alike (hers male, mine female), that we jokingly contemplated getting the two of them together in a separate novel. (The ensuing chaos would be fantastic!) It was an interesting and gratifying experience to critique someone else’s work. Firstly, it reminded me to have compassion for myself and how freaking hard it is to write a whole, entire effin' book. And it was a surprisingly creative process to give feedback. It felt like I was part of an exciting collaborative effort, and it was exhilarating. It also made me happy that the feedback I was giving genuinely helped the author. I didn’t fully realize until then how lonely this book-writing thing has been. Doing a critique trade was a good reminder that art is at its essence collaborative, and that we create so that those creations can be experienced and hopefully, have an impact on an audience. It takes an enormous amount of fortitude to labor away in isolation for so long, without the gratification of sharing work and receiving a response.

Conversely, the feedback I received was incredibly helpful, with big things such as character development, but also with small but important things like, “That’s the only photo Harley has of her little brother, and three scenes ago she tore it to pieces in a rage, but in this scene, it’s intact and she’s taping it to her computer monitor.” Ohhh. Right. *Smacks forehead*. After a point, you simply become blind to these details in your own work. And then there’s the sheer depressing, daunting, hide-under-the-covers realization of how much work there is still left to do now that the “fun” part is over and the re-write is imminent. And I face the scary prospect of having to re-make one of my main characters, because he’s always been a bit of a zero and really needs a personality. He is the only character I didn’t do an in-depth character study on, and I realize now that’s because I’m scared of him. I’m afraid of his pain, his suffering, and the depth of the loss he’s experienced in his young life. I subconsciously thought I could get away with having him be a laconic plot device, but it's clear I’m not going to get out of giving him his fair due. So on the agenda this weekend is a complete re-imagining of “Sci-Fi Lye”.

I’m a little nervous to post this, a wobbly, first-step poem after having let my poetry muscles atrophy for so long. But here it is:

Dream Dictionary

To dream of light returning on its own
means you’ll rise from churning waters
blackened with seaweed and salt,
well versed in the tongue of the drowned,
and madder now than even when you dove.

To dream of crows trading foil for bread
means you’ll be asked to solve a riddle:
Sacrifice is to nourishment as what is to the sun?
Carve the answer in an onion seed and
plant it under stones.

To dream of the names of roses
means take solace in the purity of sound:
Your bestowals are leviathans,  
and what is blessed is not by rights divine.
Be cautious with all magic in these times.

To dream of peeling oranges
means you long for home.
Make a fortress of its dour skin,
and dream of when the light, the roses, the
healing bread will rise. 

--Kristen McHenry