Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mindfulnot


So, I have a phone therapist now. I don’t talk to him all that often, I mean it’s not like he’s on speed-dial or anything, I’m not that much of an emotional train wreck, thank you very much, but we talk every few weeks or so as needed. He’s very kind but if you ask me, he’s a bit of a stress case himself. Or maybe he’s just stressed out by me, I don’t know. I wouldn’t blame him if he was. All I’m saying is that the guy seems like a chronic worrier.  I don’t mind, though. He doesn’t judge me (outwardly at least), and he makes a fair number of practical suggestions. One of those suggestions was to download an app called “Mindfulness Coach.” 

Whenever I hear the word “mindfulness” these days, I instantly go into hard eye-roll mode. That phrase and indeed the entire concept is now as ridiculously ubiquitous as it is misunderstood. It’s also been outright misused for nefarious purposes by corporations trying to manipulate their employees into putting up with their bullsh*t by making them more “accepting.” So I’m cranky about it to begin with, and the thought of just sitting there doing nothing and having to be alone with my thoughts throws me into a mild panic. It always has. I don’t do well with that sort of thing. I like to relieve stress through movement. I like things that exhaust me—fast walking, swimming or jamming out a hard session at the gym. (Ugh, I can’t believe I actually just used the phrase “jamming out a hard session.” I’m so sorry. I’ve become what I despise.)

There is nothing I want to do less than just sit quietly. That allows the bad thoughts in. But having rejected most of the phone guy’s previous suggestions, I decided to suck it up and go ahead and try this app. And it’s surprisingly good. It seems to intuitively understand that people have terrible attention spans and that our brains have all been ruined by Twitter and that we don’t really want to sit there quietly having to confront our horrible thoughts. I believe it was initially designed to help veterans suffering from PTSD, so it’s gentle and non-judgmental, and it feeds you information in simple little bite-sized bits. It’s also uncomplicated—you have four things you can do in the app: Read about mindfulness, practice mindfulness, track your progress, and advance your knowledge if you want to. It’s laid out very cleanly, and it doesn’t mind if you want to skip around in the reading and knowledge parts. Its big takeaway is that everyone’s mind is scattered to the four winds and that’s okay. It is part of the human condition and you do not need to judge yourself for it. Your mind will wander during practice, and that’s okay, too. It’s all part of the process. Just notice when it happens and bring your attention back to your focus point. It’s all very nice and mild and measured and calm, which I do appreciate despite my derision. 

I managed to do one practice session at work last week. It was one minute long, and let me tell you, that one minute felt like a week. I was twitchy and distracted and annoyed and blinky and incessantly judgmental of myself. I think I probably got six seconds of actual mindfulness in, if that. And I noticed that when I went back in today to do another practice session, the app had sneakily tried to bump it up to five minutes. Five minutes! What am I, the Dalai Lama? I’m nowhere near ready for five minutes of this baloney. One minute is quite enough, thank you very much. I’ll report in next week to let you know if I was able to get that six seconds of mindfulness up to seven, or if I opted to just run screaming from the room. 

There are a ton of videos on mindfulness, but I didn’t care for any of the ones I watched, and I need a little chaos to counterbalance all of the ohm. Here are the Rumjacks being wicked boys and tearing it up in a pub:


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Not-Yet Poem, Bullying the Body, Mini Book Review


The most recent poem I’m working on (or let’s be honest, thinking about working on but not actually writing) is about the knee. There are so many problems with everyone’s knees all of the time, sometimes to the point that they need to be replaced. The knees carry the largest burden of the body and they get injured easily and they’re generally poor abused bastards. The knees never get credit for their incredible feats of endurance, but they get a lot of blame for poor biomechanics and imbalances that aren’t their fault. In my ongoing efforts to put off the actual writing of this poem, I typed “the knee” into Duck Duck Go and was beset with numerous images, not of actual knees, but of knee-high boots. Some actual knees, but mostly knee-high boots. Beautiful, sassy boots. It made me really miss boots. I’m looking forward to the fall when I will be able to wear them again and will have an excuse to stock up on some nice suede lace-ups. This paragraph took an odd ADD-ish turn. My apologies. 

I’ve been on-again, off-again sick this week, which is very frustrating because I have an increasingly low tolerance for any lack of control over my body, and yes, I realize that is not a great disposition when you are barreling towards fifty and have to face the fact that things are inevitably going to start going wrong in the physical realm. There was some stomach stuff, but mostly I was just very, very tired and in need of sleep in the daytime, which is highly unusual for me. It’s annoying. I have plans I need to get on with. They aren’t earth-shattering plans, and some of them involve playing marathon sessions of vintage Tomb Raider, but they’re my plans and I wish to carry them out. I don’t like my body getting in the way with its weird and random malfunctions. I know that New Age wisdom tell us we’re supposed to “listen to our bodies” and “honor what they are telling us” and blah, blah, blah, but I’m just not having it anymore. Now I believe in beating my body into submission and enforcing my will upon it with as much thunderous force as possible. 

During the worst of my sickness, I laid around a lot reading an excellent novel called “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne. I must confess I didn’t know of John Boyne before finding this novel, but I plan to read a lot more of his work now. I’ve been craving a meaty literary novel for a long time, something rich and substantial and beautiful, and this book delivers. The story follows the life of Cyril Avery, a young man in post-World War II Ireland who is born out of wedlock and adopted by an eccentric couple, neither of whom have a nurturing bone in their body. Cyril’s life is greatly complicated by the fact that he is gay in a time and a place where that put one in significant danger, and his sexuality informs a great deal of the plot. But the story is not pivoted only upon the injustices he suffers. The book is full of vividly drawn characters, keenly witty dialogue, crazy drama and plot twists, and heartbreaking romance. I’m only about halfway through, but it’s the best thing I’ve read in a very long time. A part of me is relieved, because I was beginning to worry that my attention span had shrunk to the point that I couldn’t tolerate reading novels anymore. It turns out, I just needed the right novel.

Along the lines of heartbreak and unrequited love and all that deliciously novelistic stuff, here’s  surprisingly upbeat song about the vagaries of the heart. (Sorry for the inconvenience, but after I posted this I realized you have to go to YouTube to watch it.)


Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 4, 2019

My Week in Incompetence, Shirt-Off Bench Press Guy, Don’t @ Me


This week, I was terrible at many things. It was sort of like a rolling ball of suck; it began with one or two things I was terrible at, which started a momentum of incompetence that just kept gaining speed and mass and that was finally capped off today with a horrible showing at the range, where I couldn’t have hit an iceberg at five yards.

The first thing I was bad at was doing the dumbbell chest press at the gym. This is a new-ish thing for me, but it is not a complicated move by any means. Still, I could not get it right no matter how many times the trainer showed me the correct form. My arms were either not at the correct angle, or they were but I was pushing out wrong with my forearms, or not going down low enough, or my arms were positioned too high on my body...it was one thing after another. Then in the same session, I found out that I’ve been doing the rowing machine wrong all this time and had to course correct on that one, too. I finally told the trainer, “I’m sorry I’m so kinesthetically challenged.” He just laughed and told me to practice.

I was so embarrassed about being bad at the chest press that I had Mr. Typist watch some videos with me and then watch me do the movement and show me where I was going awry. One of the videos was done by a cheerful shirtless guy, who Mr. Typist hated on sight and spent the next few days making ruthless fun of. I don’t know why Mr. Typist was making fun of him. He seems nice and he can do a mean chest press. At any rate, you can see Shirt-Off Bench Press guy in the video below and make your own judgements. (I’m super-serving you this week by giving you a little eye candy and some learnin’.)

As the week wore on, I sent out more than one e-mail at work with dumb typos, I was unable to control my facial expressions during several critical encounters in which facial-expression control was essential, I misread an e-mail from my optometrist which led to a very confusing “Who’s on First?”-type phone conversation, I almost ordered a massive quantity of the wrong-sized items for the hospital’s clothing bank, and today at the range I was laughably terrible and left with my new-found confidence in the dust.  

It’s a little after 4:00 p.m. on a Sunday as I write this, and at this point I'm just hoping to run the clock down to midnight without any major incompetence-related incidents. I’m fairly certain that whatever curse this is will lift itself at the stroke of twelve, and I will start Monday morning afresh and glowing with adequacy. If there are any typos in this blog post, please don’t @ me. 

As promised, here is Shirt-Off Guy demonstrating how to do a proper bench press:


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Caber Ladies, Grumpy Fish, Miracle of the Sea


As we are wont to do, this morning Mr. Typist and I slathered our melanin-challenged skin in SPF 11,000 and zipped off to the annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games in Enumclaw. In case you haven’t surmised already, as a rule, I am an adamant avoider of all forms of public fun. I dread the summer festival season, what with the people and their merriment and their enjoyment of the outdoors and their eating of delicious things at food trucks. Ugh. However, I do make one exception, and that’s the Highland Games. The crowd size feels manageable to me, and it is chock full of everything I love—Celtic jewelry, Celtic bands, Celtic clothing and art, red-haired women swanning around confidently in Ren Fair garb, and huge plates of bangers and mash. Also, the massing of the pipes and drums, which is a sight to behold and one that never ceases to bring a tear to my eye. 

Today was especially enjoyable because we spent quite a while watching the Women’s Caber Toss. If you’re not familiar with the Caber Toss, it looks something like this: (Men’s toss clip chosen because I couldn’t find a brief enough one of the women’s.) 




The contestants basically hoist this gigantic, heavy wooden pole in their hands and try to flip it over in the air so it lands neatly at a twelve-o’clock position. It is really hard, folks. And those women Caber Tossers have arms like you wouldn’t believe. I was just starting to feel excited about the tiny cords of muscle that have started to form in the general area of my biceps when I saw these women and their insanely jacked arms, and I looked down at my own and sighed the universal sigh of the perpetual 90-pound weakling. Then I asked Mr. Typist what he thinks those women do to work out their arms, and he replied without missing a beat, “Throw around women like you.” I studiously ignored him and watched the lady caber-tossers with joy and fascination. They were having such a great time. They danced wildly to the hard-rock music that was being piped into the field speakers, they good-naturedly harassed the scorekeeper after every decision, and best of all, they really cheered each other on. They were so happy for their competitor’s successes. It didn’t feel like a competition, or rather, it felt more like they were competing with themselves instead of their rival Caber-tossers. They clearly wanted to do well, but it was all taken with a grain of salt and in a spirit of sisterhood. There are not many female caber-tossers, and I imagine that they need to stick together. 

What else: I waited grumpily for 30 minutes in the hot sun for a super-oily plate of fish and chips that it turned out was not a good idea for me to eat, I looked at a lot of over-the-top printed T-shirts, velvet Druid capes, and hippie dresses, and I bought a bracelet, which is an unusual choice for me, because I have very sensitive wrists and can’t stand the feeling of anything sliding up and down on them. But this one is elastic, fitted to my wrist, and made of abalone, which is a…stone? A substance? Anyway, it is a material that I have been brought into contact with more often than usual of late. I was very drawn to an abalone necklace I found recently and I have been wearing it a lot, and now, the bracelet. According to the wisdom of the New Age internet, abalone combines the concept of serenity and strength in equal measure. Abalone healing carries energies of protection and emotional balance and…get this…apparently it’s good for building muscle! It also brings with it a natural shielding that blesses the person holding it with tranquility. And it is especially helpful for those going through emotional turmoil. So maybe there is something to all of this. I like to think so, if only for my own loopy edification. 

I was not able to get any good video of the massing of the pipes and drums, but here is a nice one from a previous year:
  

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Friends with Lats, Accidental Healing, A New Poem


I spoke a few blog posts ago about finding my way into writing about the body again, but in a different way than I have done so in the past. Today, while doing lat pull-downs at the gym, I was reflecting on how much I have always loved the latissimus dorsi. When I was in massage school, it was my favorite muscle, and I loved to think about it as the wings of the body. It’s a strong, powerful muscle, known as a “prime mover” and it has many functions, which you can read about on the interwebs if you feel moved to do so.

Until I started doing the strength training, my lats were was just sitting back there, unstimulated, half-asleep and all but forgotten by me. A few weeks ago, my trainer showed me how to do lat pull-down properly, and how to use this certain machine that has a rowing motion. When I first started using the machines, I really didn’t have a good “feel” for my lats. I couldn’t sense them working at all and was I not, as my trainer pointed out with perhaps a hint of impatience, “dialed in” to them. But after a lot of repetitions, I am definitely dialed in now. I can feel when they’re engaged during the exercises, and I can tell for sure that they’ve gotten a bit more defined and stable. It’s nice to be friends with my lats.

I’ve had a hard week psychologically. It has to do with things that are tied into the body, that are being dredged up from this strengthening process, which I did not plan or expect to have become some pivotal part of a physical and emotional healing process. It just happened. Like any healing process, it’s not easy to go through. Today, I needed to express something affirmative. I put pen to paper and after a few hours, a new poem emerged. I hope you enjoy it.


Latissimus Dorsi

The word latissimus dorsi (plural: latissimi dorsi) comes from Latin and means "broadest muscle of the back", from "latissimus" (Latin: broadest)' and "dorsum" (Latin: back).--Wikipedia

Stupendous
wings of the body, rise
and close into the pillar of my spine.
Kin of herons, steadfast
guardian, I grant you
effort and form,
resistance and motion,
breath and blood
in this sacred and scared and burning body, this
body luminous with eloquent hungers, this
body attendant to its million tides, this
body with its enduring arch of bone, this
body of precise and reverent failures.

In love, raise
my long arms in worship and receiving.
In strength, pull
earthward every blessing.

--Kristen McHenry