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

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Against Smug Seattle Hobbies, Stinky Dresser, We Need to Talk About Math

This morning, my co-worker texted me something about a potato salad recipe that I had supposedly sent her. I was completely flummoxed. I know for a fact that I have never once sent this person a potato salad recipe, nor have I ever made a potat0 salad in my life. (This is not for a lack of love of potatoes. In fact, not to brag, but my one and only cooking skill involves the ability to make truly kick-ass garlic mashed potatoes that are all the rage at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.) This puzzlement was quickly sorted out—it turns out it was her mother’s potato salad recipe she was thinking of, not mine, but it somehow led to a cranky text exchange about smug Seattleites and their infernal, self-contented hobbies, and the attendant peer pressure/forcing upon others of said hobbies. I’m excluding my close friends (you know who you are) from this, because they are nice and not smug, but I went on a mini-rant about how sick I am of feeling pressured into craft beer-making/tomato-growing/backyard-chickening/knitting/bike repairing/foraging/beekeeping and god-forsaken canning, for God’s sake. I work full time, and for whatever it’s worth, I write. Not always, and not always well, but that’s what I do, and that’s what I can handle in my life. I cannot add Cross Fit, artisan butchering, geocaching, and P-patching to the mix, so please leave me alone about it. By all means, enjoy what you enjoy—but leave the rest of us in peace. We don’t all have endless time and energy to indulge in retro luxury hipster hobbies. This has been a public service announcement from the Good Typist. You’re welcome.     

The dresser that Mr. Typist and I bought a few weeks ago to mark our anniversary and complete our “collection” of furniture-that-doesn’t-suck, smells. It doesn’t smell as bad as it did when it was first delivered, but it has this weird, off-gassing, indefinable, sour chemical odor that just continues to linger. I’m not sure what to do about it. I like the new dresser. It’s dark wood and handsome and elegant, and it has knobs. But it does literally stink. I’ve thought of rubbing it down with Lemon Pledge to neutralize the odor, but I’m afraid that will just serve to layer one more weird chemical scent on top of another. I think it’s just from being locked up in a warehouse under plastic for too long, but it’s really disconcerting. I feel like I invited into our bedroom a really nice-looking stranger who has never showered.

My entire life, I have carried a deep shame around my math inabilities. I am math phobic due to many a math trauma from childhood, and from just being naturally terrible at it. For years, I told myself that I was going to fix this by taking an “adult math class”—which I don’t even know exists, but is what I have in my mind as some mythical, magical cure to my math issues—but, predictably, I never pursued that. It turns out that as much as I was constantly admonished about math being central to my existence and my ability to thrive as adult, I don’t really need it. I just need to know enough formulas to get along (how to balance my bank account, how to calculate certain things for work), and the rest of it is just a matter of using a calculator and double-checking with people smarter than me. But I recently read “Lockhart’s Lament”--a most amazing, eye-opening article about math, and I feel like it has begun a healing journey for me.

I’ve never had the perspective before that math is creative—it has always seemed to me terrifyingly rigid and absolute. I know that many people find rigidity and absoluteness to be safe and assuring, but I have always been much more comfortable in realm of the misty, the ambivalent, the “there’s no one right answer”—wherein you can’t be “wrong” because there are endless possibilities. That’s probably why I was always so much more drawn to literature and art than the sciences. I prefer fluidity to solidity; the unknown to the undisputed. But this article, by mathematician Paul Lockhart, really blew me out of the water. It’s immensely joyous, soulful, and yearning. It made me want to engage with math, even though that’s still a horrifying prospect to me on many levels. I must warn you, it’s long—but it’s so worth it. I wasn’t bored for a minute reading it. It’s a true rallying cry for math education reform, and it’s a beautiful take on the realm of mathematics, especially for those of us who have always found it so daunting. Whatever relationship you have with math, I highly suggest reading “Lockhart’s Lament”. I guarantee it will give you a new perspective.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Musical Musings, Moonrise Melancholy

I’ve said before that I don’t like music, and I stand by that statement. I just don’t enjoy the whole fetishishtic culture around it-- how what you listen to is used to instantly define and categorize you, and to judge your degree of hipness, coolness and being “in the know”. I find it incredibly exasperating, and I find most music tiresome anymore. (Yes, I am an old lady. No apologies.) When I have ventured out musically, it’s always been a disappointing experience. For example, for a brief time, I was very interested in the work of Krishna Dass, until I realized how demanding his music actually is. It’s not something that you can just throw on and have running in the background—it requires your full attention and concentration. I don’t have time for that, and in general, I just don’t have the time or patience to be a music hobbyist. Even rudimentary enjoyment of it demands far more time and mental energy than I have. And everything new just seems soupy and disappointing to me. I have one single Pandora station that I named “Music to Write To”, which is all tinkely New Age spa music that’s so airy and insubstantial it requires no engagement whatsoever. It simply provides a nice, white-noise background when I’m trying to create and I need to shut the world out.

But I recently went down a You Tube Hole rabbit-hole. Hole’s album “Live Through This” was an absolutely pivotal, even life-changing experience for me when I first heard it in the mid-nineties, when I was a messed-up, confused, twenty-something. I was reminiscing, listening to some of Courtney Love’s choice cuts, when I remembered that another pivotal album, Tori Amos’s “Under the Pink”, had the same revolutionary effect on me. When men write about destruction, they write about destroying others. When women write about destruction, they write about destroying themselves: From “Hole”:

Go on, take everything. Take everything. I want you to.

And from “Under the Pink”

Every day/I crucify myself/Nothing I do is good enough for you/I crucify myself

There were many angry girl-bands in the mid-nineties, and most of them expressed their rage through similar self-destructive sentiments. I remember how much I related to that music then; how much their fury and helplessness resonated with me, and how I craved their yearning, desperate, enraged sound. I miss feeling that connected to music. I don’t know if I’m just dead inside now, or if music has gotten crappy, but I don’t respond to it in the same way any more, and that makes me sad. I long for some tunage I can sink my emotional teeth into again, but I haven’t found any since.

The other art form I am tragically out of the loop on is film. I’m usually three to five years behind the zeitgeist, because I cannot motivate myself to shell out cash and sit in a theater for what is likely to be an empty experience. But I’ve been wanting to see “Moonrise Kingdom” for a while now, and I managed to convince Mr. Typist to rustle it up on Netflix last night. I’m not a Wes Anderson fanatic, and I don’t think that everything he does works, but “Moonrise Kingdom” is now firmly in my top five list of favorite films. It was devastatingly beautiful. I was near-tears on numerous occasions just from the sheer love emanating from the screen. I’m not talking about the love between the two main characters, twelve-year olds Sam and Suzy, who run away together. I’m talking about the deep compassion that the filmmakers and writers have for all of their characters, and for the circumstances they find themselves in. It’s  difficult to capture the tenuous magic of pre-adolescent innocence without veering into preciousness, but “Moonrise Kingdom” finds the essence of its ethereal, fleeting joy. And it takes the younger characters seriously. There is no point at which Sam and Suzy’s relationship is looked down upon or regarded as frivolous just because of their age. Their emotions are treated with as much respect and seriousness as the adults. The film also understands the disconcerting truth that the adults are just as sad and lost as the kids—the only difference is, the adults bear the expectation of responsibility. It’s an absolutely lovely film on many levels, and I highly recommend it.

It’s over 90 degrees in Seattle today and as a result I’m an extremely grumpy typist. I’m going to have a lie-down. Enjoy some videos.

--Kristen McHenry


Saturday, June 4, 2016