Sunday, February 11, 2018

Shoe Dread

I don’t like to talk about it, but I have Problems with My Feet. In addition to the fact that they are huge and blocky, I have weirdly deformed bones on the side of each of foot which are inching out further and further each year, making it very hard to find shoes that fit comfortably. As such, shoe shopping incites in me a deep and existential dread. I’m the opposite of that always-in-vogue stereotype of the woman who owns an entire walk-in closet filled with gleaming, lavishly overpriced stilettoes. I have completely missed out on the cute shoe obsession that is my birthright as woman in a capitalist society. I’m lucky if I can wedge my dogs into a pair of size-11 trainers, and as a result, I’ve probably saved enough money from not buying shoes to afford me one of them fancy Bitcoins. Pathetically, I have exactly two pairs of work shoes: a pair of tan Danskos and a pair of black Danskos, both of which I bought five years ago and neither of which “work” anymore—but I’m afraid to try and replace them because what if they are the only shoes in the known universe that I’ll be able to wrangle onto my feet ever again? The steep decline in the quality and quantity of consumer goods has been well-documented on this blog over the years (see my Drippy Blouse rant, The Case of the Stinky Dresser, and the Great Duvet Debacle of ’15,) so once I find a product that even sort of works, I cling to it like a buoy until it disintegrates.

But as much as I would like to, I can no longer deny that shoe shopping is imminent. I have resorted to sneaking on my tennis shoes at around 3:00 in the afternoon if I don’t have any more meetings, and Mr. Typist believes that I’m getting dangerously close to giving up entirely and wearing pink fluffy bedroom slippers to work. (If only!) So something must be done. In the meantime, I find myself gazing enviously upon the tootsies of those lucky, dainty-footed ladies who click around all day in their breezy, candy-colored shoes. Some of them wear a different pair each day of the week! I run around a fair bit during the day, my office floor has a thin carpet with no padding over concrete, and by mid-afternoon, my feet feel like they’ve been squeezed into a vise. I’m thinking of resorting to Crocs. While I’m at it, I might see if I can get away with wearing scrubs, too. That would be heavenly—no more wardrobe choices to make ever again!

All of that having been said, it may surprise you to learn that I used to sell shoes, and I was actually pretty good at it. This was during the time when it was trendy  at weddings to have matchy-matchy everything, so my manager spent most of his time in the back dyeing white satin pumps and arguing with high-strung brides about which exact shade of teal matched their nineteen identical bridesmaid dresses. This left me on my own to sink or swim as a saleslady, so I had to up my game fast. Being an introvert, I was good at listening, and I felt a sense of satisfaction when a customer left the store happy with their shoe haul—even if I could never hope to wear a pair of red, patent-leather sling-back five-inch heels myself. C’est la vie.

Here’s a clip. and a song that is roughly about shoes. A word of advice: Don’t enter “shoe song” into Youtube and randomly watch whatever pops up. It’s not pretty.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Accidental Meditation

For some reason, this week I’ve been all super-crafty and complete-ist. I finished backing my owl rug, I finally backed my flagship goldfish rug of yore, which has been tucked away in the hall closet for three-plus years, and I started a new project—a tulip punch rug handbag! Somehow in all of that, I managed to squeeze in a little experiment in cross-stitch. I’ve wanted to learn embroidery for a while, and I impulsively grabbed a cross stitch kit at Giant Corporate Craft Emporium when I was buying some rug-making supplies, figuring cross stitch would be a good way to learn the basics. It turns out I was falsely lulled by the promises of a cute frog pattern and the misleading package descriptor of “Beginner's Level.”

After puzzling through the pattern, reading the directions, and tentatively laying down a few stitches, I got a surge of confidence and started cross-stitching away, certain that I was on track and that the adorable frog on the packaging was going to emerge at any moment in all of its fey cuteness. Apparently I missed two schoolmarmish, yet crucial instructions: PAY ATTENTION, (literally in all caps) and “make sure the back of your cross stitch looks as tidy as the front.” After about a half-hour, the back of my cross stitch looked like a vat of green spaghetti had exploded: Errant threads were knotted and tangled and hanging everywhere, and somehow, despite my best effort to count accurately, I had gotten off course on the grid, and as a result my frog was beginning to look like a deformed sea blob. At this time, Mr. Typist helpfully waggled the directions at me and pointed out that I needed to PAY ATTENTION, and that the back of my cross-stitch was decidedly wanting.

After admonishing him to stop thread-shaming me, I pulled everything out and started over. The second time around, I really did PAY ATTENTION, and a funny thing happened: My world shrank down to a tiny, quiet, 10-inch circle of peaceful focus. My mind wasn’t going in a million directions. I wasn’t anxious or thinking about the future or fixating on the past. I was simply one-hundred percent focused on what was in front of me. I didn’t even notice that I had gone into a meditative state until I looked up at the clock and realized that this was the quietest my mind had been for a long time. It felt refreshing and calm and cleansing.

I went through a long stretch of years during which I made my best effort to meditate daily. It never helped much. All it did was make me feel itchy and restless and ultimately, like a spiritual failure. Sitting still “peacefully” makes me absolutely nuts. I can’t shut anything out and I get twitchy as hell. I finally came to accept that I’m just not a “sit still and breathe” sort of a person. I have way too much nervous energy for that. In order to calm my mind, I have to be physically engaged in some way, preferably in as vigorous a way as possible. Otherwise, my brain can’t calm down. Swimming, dancing, working out, resistance exercises—anything physical that burns up some energy and forces me out of my own head usually does the trick. So I’m excited to discover that cross stitch is physical enough and requires enough focused concentrations that it’s an effective meditation tool for me. Now, if I can just continue to PAY ATTENTION, and get my big fat ham fingers to line up those x’s properly, I may just have a frog I can be proud to hang on our walls one day.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dabbling in Happy, Workout Grievance, Fire Cat

Since I strained my back badly on the elliptical yesterday trying to be all ambitious and healthy, and as a consequence spent most of the night lying stiffly in one position across a hot water bottle, I’ve decided that today I deserve to sit around and do nothing but dabble in that which makes me happy. Here’s a list:

1. Finishing my owl rug!

Which leads to happy-making thing number one and a half—anticipating an afternoon trip to Joanne’s, since I need material for edging it.

2. Learning how to make a Cross of St. Brigid, whose shrine I visited when I was in Ireland last year:

3. These two Irish music videos:


4. Listening to Pandora’s “Hawaiian Island Breeze” station and pretending I’m sipping  some sort of pink cocktail in an infinity pool in Maui, as the freezing cold Northwest wind and rain batters the windows.

That’s probably enough benign joy for one day. One mustn’t overdo it.

After enduring Buddy howl and launch himself against the sliding glass door repeatedly last night in attempt to get me to let him onto the deck, I think I finally figured out what’s wrong with him: He doesn’t have any sense of emotional self-regulation when it comes it comes to his wants and needs. Everything is a five-alarm fire with that cat. If he wants to go out on the deck, it’s not merely a passing, wistful desire, it’s a frenzied, all-encompassing urge that must be met with as much immediacy as possible. If he’s a little bit peckish, he doesn’t just whimper slightly and stare at his food dish, he shrieks like a banshee and parades around the kitchen pantomiming death throes (then takes two modest bites of the kibble I put down and stalks off.) If he’s bored and wants to play Feather, it’s a national emergency that involves increasingly shrill meowls until, to save our hearing and sanity, he inevitably gets his way. I don’t know if this is nature or nurture, but I’m trying to figure out if we did something to cultivate this sense of the dramatic in him. He was a bit of a mess when we first got him—he had food issues and bad separation anxiety—but we tried our best to make sure that we responded to his cues and that he felt safe and loved. Yet he still seems to feel that an epic fit is a prerequisite for getting even his mildest whim met. I love and accept him for who he is, but I must admit I enjoy him the most when he’s finally worn himself out with his own histrionics and collapses on the couch, all warm and soft and sleepy and vulnerable.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Sour Book Review: “The Assistants”

I finally sat down this weekend to finish “The Assistants” by Camille Perry, a novel that has been languishing in my Kindle for months now. It turned out to be a disappointing experience. It started off well, deploying my favorite plot device, “The Irreversible Bad Decision,” within the first few pages. But by the end, I found myself disgusted and fed up with all of the characters, and perhaps unfairly, with the author.

“The Assistants” centers around the harried Tina Fontana, a personal assistant to famous media mogul Robert Barlow. Tina lives paycheck to paycheck in a run-down Manhattan apartment, and spends her days fretting about money and intuiting Robert’s every need. She’s a highly competent assistant, and Robert, although he's  a bit clueless in the way that the out-this-stratosphere wealthy can be, treats Tina with a fatherly benevolence. All in all, they seem to have a fond and respectful working relationship. However, Tina is also preoccupied with what she sees as an unfair wealth disparity between her and her one-percenter boss, and in a moment of weakness, she embezzles a large enough sum of money from his company to pay off her massive student loan debt. This sets off the predictable “hilarious” chain reaction that most Irreversible Bad Decisions do, and before long, the other personal assistants at the company want in on the action. This launches Tina into a criminal enterprise in fraud that she has a hard time outrunning, even when she tries to transform it into a legitimate business.

There’s nothing I love more than a good dose of moral ambiguity in fiction. I enjoy reading about prideful, wicked, frustrating characters who make bad choices, screw up, and take a long time to learn their lesson. I don’t necessarily even need a redemption narrative. But I found Tina’s behavior and mindset throughout the entire novel to be appalling. She comes across as entitled, weak, self-righteous and materialistic, yet somehow as the reader, I was supposed to be convinced that she was on some heroic journey of personal growth and feminist self-actualization. What Tina was actually doing was refusing to take responsibility for her actions, and dragging a lot of people who shared her entitled mindset down a criminal path.

But what upset me more than her crimes was her sense of victimhood. She constantly compares Robert’s lavish expenditures to her own tightly budgeted existence, sniffing about how what he spends on a weekend in the Hampton’s is three month’s salary for her, or obsessing over his pricey wine and meals. This sense of injustice is a thread woven throughout the entire book, and Tina uses the “it’s a huge company and they won’t even miss the money” excuse as a justification for her actions. Yet until she starts trying to launch a business with her ill-found gains, she never once makes any attempt to move up the career ladder, beef up her skills, ask for a raise, or do anything at all to improve her lot in life. Despite being well-educated and experienced, she is moored in the mindset that she and her fellow assistants (every single one of whom is female), are hopelessly trapped in their roles and completely lacking in personal agency. There was nothing at all stopping Tina from asking her boss for a raise or an introduction to someone who could help her move up, or from networking, or from exploring other options. But the conceit the author seems to want her readers to swallow is that The Big Evil Corporation is running a sweatshop full of oppressed, put-upon, underpaid female assistants who are drowning in debt and have no viable options. I don’t know about the rest of them, but Tina was smart and resourceful. She didn’t have to be a victim.

When Tina eventually turns completely to the dark side and blackmails Robert, it’s portrayed as some grand moment of feminist empowerment. To me, it just seemed desperate, sad and irresponsible. I had no sense of rah-rah you-go-girl whoopiness about it, and in fact, I felt a little bit of shame for her.

It’s entirely possible that I just don’t understand or can’t relate because the book’s intended audience is too far out of my age demographic. Or maybe I’m extrapolating way too much from it. But my patience for such narratives has worn thin, and I’m crabby about the fact that my precious personal time was spent reading a book that just left me irritated. I wish I had better things to say about it, but I feel like I was  proselytized to for 300 pages about the ravages of student debt, and that’s not a fun time for me. I struggled paycheck to paycheck until my mid-thirties, but I still managed to pay off my student loans the legal way.

Alrighty. Let’s get out of here on a cheerier note. Since we’re on college and debt and age gaps, here’s a little funny from College Humor:

--Kristen McHenry