Sunday, May 17, 2015

Attack of the Scrubblies, Swim Redeux, Pant Rant

On Thursday, I read at a poetry reading organized by David D. Horowitz of Rose Alley Press. It was a nice, laid-back evening with some terrific poets. I took a risk and read a new, unvetted piece that would probably best be called a short story. As always happens before these things, I got a sudden attack of the scrubblies. What are the scrubblies, you ask? The scrubblies are my low self-esteem demons. They’re hairy little things, about the size of gerbils, and they have jagged brown teeth and wild gray eyes and they swarm around me in packs growling things like, “You’re stupid and your work is stupid and you shouldn’t read it because it’s stupid.” Or, “You’re not really a writer.” Or, “This is crap. Hahahhahha! Everything you write is dumb.” The scrubblies are a nuisance. They almost won this time, but Mr. Typist convinced me I should go ahead with reading it. Fortunately, it seemed to be well-received, and I’m glad I took the chance. Since the novel is almost complete, I’m going to be freed up to start writing poetry again, and I’ve resolved to get out to more open mics to test-drive new work. I’ve come to the conclusion that being a near-recluse, while comfortable, probably isn’t serving me well in the long run.

My weight’s crept up a bit, most likely from noshing with abandon on Mr. Typist’s homemade tapenade, (worth it!) so I decided to go back to swimming a few times a week…which so far so has only been one day a week because I don’t have the will to care that much anymore. I was going to a water aerobics class for a while, but I quit because they played way too much Beatles music and it depressed me. I can tell I’ve lost some muscle strength from the times when I was swimming three or four times a week. I’d like that muscle strength back, but without having to do any real work or go out of my way in any manner. I'll keep you posted on how that works out.

My left knee has been killing me lately, due in part to cheap shoes with no arch support. So I finally sucked it up this weekend and took a long-dreaded trip to the mall to buy decent shoes, and to replace a pair of brown slacks that have gone shiny and pilly in the seat. Naively, I didn’t realize that brown pants are now a highly exotic item on par with albino peacocks or ruby-encrusted oil infusers. Full-length pants of any color were nowhere to be found, while bloody Capri pants, those sartorial monstrosities, colonized every rack. I guess buyers have decided that it’s Spring, so no one could possibly need real clothes. In the one store I found that did carry a few pairs of full-length pants, the clerk shrugged and said, “Oh, we don’t have any pants in brown. We get tons of people asking for them, but we don’t carry them.” No, of course not. I mean, why would you stock an item that your customers actually want? That would be madness. I swear, one of these days I’m going to get desperate enough to learn how to sew.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Week in Artsy, Poetry Update, Burrito Brothers

All in one week, I attended a creative writing group, went on an art tour, and saw the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall. Yes, I am quite cultured now, thank you. The Symphony tickets were courtesy of a relative who has season tickets but couldn’t make the show. Since concerts are a fortune these days and Mr. Typist and I don’t get out much, this was quite a treat. However, my knowledge of classical music is almost nil, and I was a little anxious about not knowing “how” to listen to it. It was hard for me to relax and let the music sweep me away emotionally. It may be that the music (Beethoven) was just more intellectual than emotional. Or maybe I was just too visually distracted by everything happening on the stage—the shiny, curvy French horns, the elegant string section, the very tall man in the back on the kettle drums, and the utterly intriguing and mysterious (to me anyway) process of conducting. I’m certain I must have gone to a symphony before at some point in my life, but it’s been a long time, and there was a lot for my unpracticed brain to keep track of.

The only time I was emotionally overwhelmed was after pianist Yefim Bronfman performed his last piece of the night. I don’t know the name of the piece, but I’m pretty sure that his hands defied the laws of physics. I was utterly stunned. The man is a flat-out athlete. I have never seen fingers move so fast and hard over a keyboard. He murdered that piano with his entire heart and soul, and at the end, the audience went mad, on their feet, cheering and applauding, and it occurred to me as I stood there taking in all of their joy and their adoration for this virtuoso, that this was prayer. He created a thing of beauty, and this huge group of people cried out their thank you to him with full hearts. I don’t know what was more touching—the performance itself, or the audience’s reaction to it.

In writing news, I’m truly in the home stretch with the novel. I’m in the process of completely re-structuring the last fifty pages, which has been greatly helped along by Mr. Typist’s clever “sticky-note” method, which he taught me after I pulled out my third clump of hair in frustration. Then I plan to give it a few more editing passes, and call it done. Also, if you’re in the Seattle area this week and you want to hear some poetry, I’ll be reading at the Good Shepard Center on Thursday, May 14th at 7:00 p.m. with poets Susan Casey, Nancy Dahlberg, Victoria Ford, Raul Sanchez, and David Thornbrugh. Come on by! It will be a fun, laid-back evening.

Not only do I gad about going to art tours and symphonies and poetry readings, I also eat at fast food taco chains. I contain multitudes. Mr. Typist and I went to our local taco shack for a bite a few days ago, and he and the cashier had an adorable bonding moment over their mutual dislike of tomatoes and Ranch dressing. (Fools, both of them!) Mr. Typist placed a special order asking for "no tomatoes”, and the cashier's eyes lit up and he was all like, "Dude! You too? Man, I hate tomatoes!" and Mr. Typist was all like, "I know, right?" and then he added "No Ranch" and the cashier was all like, "No way! I hate Ranch too!" and they both stood there rapt for a moment, reveling in their mutual dislike, and then I said, "Aww! You're burrito brothers!”, which made them both burst out laughing. I was quite proud of my rare witty improv moment. Thank you. I'll be there all week.

 Here’s a clip of Yefim Bronfman playing Prokofiev, Sonata No.7. It’s considerably less dramatic than the performance I saw at the Symphony, but it’s still lovely. You might have to turn your sound up a bit to hear it well--the recording is a little jenky.

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, May 2, 2015

An Unbook Review, The Thula Mystery, Affirmation Fairy

I take an Epsom salt bath one or two times a week to maintain my sanity, and while I do, I always read what I call a “bathtub book”—cheap, easy-to-read fiction, usually pulp murder mysteries or chick lit. But I recently ran out of bathtub books, and the only book on my shelf I hadn’t read yet was “The Boys in the Boat”, which I got in a Christmas book exchange last December. It’s about the University of Washington men’s rowing crew trying to win gold at the 1936 Olympics.  I never cracked it open because I’m not interested in the subject matter and I dread reading “acclaimed” books. But I’d been assured by everyone who’s read it that it’s amazing, fascinating, transcendent, etc. so in the absence of anything else to read, I figured I’d give it a try.

I will concede that it’s well-written and the author, Daniel James Brown, does an excellent job weaving a very complex story, albeit one that 50 pages in, I still haven’t mustered much interest for. But the part of the story that did grab me has nothing to do with the rowing team. It’s about the pivotal subject Joe Rantz’s stepmother Thula, a beautiful, talented and cultured violinist who had dreams of performing in concert halls all over the world, and who apparently had the chops to make that dream a reality. For reasons that remain completely unclear to me, she married Joe’s father, moved with him to a run-down mining cabin in Boulder City, and promptly bore three children. Of course, she’s miserable, lonely, and furious. But my question is…why?? Why on earth would this woman who had talent, education, and brains, think it was a great idea to marry a miner and move to a hardscrabble town in the middle of nowhere, where she couldn’t practice the violin because her fingers were constantly chapped from the cold? What was the plan there, Thula? It remains a distracting puzzle to me. I understand it was a different time and there were different expectations, but I’m still disturbed by it. I don’t think the book is going to circle back and tell me whatever became of Thula, either. The story has just moved on, leaving me worried about her, even though she wasn’t a very nice person, and she kicked her own stepson out of the house when he was barely a teenager. (Bonus fun fact: She was apparently psychic and predicted the sinking of the Titantic.)

I’m also disturbed by the fact that compelling writing and historical relevance is not making me more interested in finishing the book. You can’t force yourself to be interested in something you’re not, but a part of me feels like bad, shallow person, because so many people loved this book and it’s so critically acclaimed. And that’s why I don’t like reading acclaimed books. I don’t usually love them as much as other people do, and then I end up with an inferiority complex. I should be interested. It’s an important story and rowing is a metaphor for life and the subjects of the book triumph over adversity through teamwork and so on into infinity and me probably never picking this book up again.

I submitted a short piece of fiction to a literary magazine recently. Since I’ve been focusing almost entirely on getting my novel done, I haven’t submitted any work for a long time, and I’ve forgotten about the small but addictive thrill of waiting for a response; living with the possibility of an acceptance at any moment now; that someone may like my work enough to publish it, meaning my worth as a human being is affirmed. This is a pretty inefficient system for maintaining self-esteem. I think there should be random affirmations of everyone’s worth. I’m not sure how this would work. Maybe a  sparkly-clad affirmation fairy could appear out of nowhere occasionally and hand out a card and a treat. “Hello! I’m the affirmation fairy and I’m here to tell you are a worthy human being! Enjoy your cookie!” Or, maybe we could work on loving ourselves and not looking to outside sources to make us feel whole. But that’s really hard work and there’s no cookie involved, so I think the fairy idea is better.

For those of you who do liking rowing, here’s a video. It looks like a total nightmare to me, but to each their own!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Space App, The Witches of Worm, Worry Ward

Recently, I came across an app that lets me know how many people are in space. It seemed like an absolute necessity, so I downloaded it, and now at any given time I can tell you….how many people are in space. Currently, it’s six, and most of them have Russian-sounding names. Six seems like a low number to me considering the vastness of the cosmos and how many people there are on the planet, but then I suppose sending humans into space is a costly and complicated endeavor. It’s a strangely comforting app. It shows photos of Earth from a great distance and pictures of the astronauts floating around in the vastness of the universe. I find myself using it for perspective. Whenever I start to get anxious, I open it, and it reminds me that we exist in an infinite galaxy and that maybe the exact hue of the napkins at the annual banquet I plan isn’t really that important in the overall scheme of things.

During my writing group last week, I was trying to remember the name of my favorite author when I was a pre-teen. I was talking about one of her early books, “The Witches of Worm”, which I took a brief stab at trying to turn into a screenplay in college. I finally remembered that the author was Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Upon a Google search, I found a list of her books, and I was reminded with an almost mystical nostalgia of her book “The Changeling”. I can’t believe I ever forgot about it. I was fascinated with that book as a young adolescent. It ignited my imagination in a way that nothing else I read did, and to this day, it still has an influence on my writing style. It was just one of those books that imprinted on me very early, and even though I consciously forgot about it, it’s still rattling around in the deep recesses of my soul, leeching out all over my poetry and stories. The book’s main character Ivy Carson is my spirit animal. Sadly, Zilpha Keatley Snyder died last October due to complications from a stroke. But I’ll always be grateful for her literary legacy. If you’re interested, you can read a synopsis of “The Changeling” here.

I wasn’t really joking about the hue of the napkins. Last Thursday was the Big Annual Stressy Event I Plan Every Year for work, with a bazillion moving parts and all kinds of things that I worry will go wrong/fall apart at the last minute/epically fail. I spend the weeks leading up to it obsessively checking and double-checking lists, nagging vendors, going over things in my head, etc. I have a superstitious but unshakeable belief that my worrying acts as a ward against disaster. It proves to the banquet gods that I’m paying attention, and therefore I will be rewarded with a smooth and glitch-free event. Ironically, all of the things I worried the most about and planned contingencies for were complete non-issues, and things that it never even occurred to me to be concerned about went awry. There comes a point where your brain just can’t process any more possibilities and walls itself off to focus only on the essentials. It was a lesson in rolling with it, but in the end, it all went off brilliantly, and I came home exhausted but deeply satisfied.

Here’s a brief interview with Zilpha. It reminded me of some other long-forgotten books of hers that I’m now determined to re-read, including “The Velvet Room” and “The Egypt Game.”

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cursed Cultist Accomplishment, Emotional Laziness, Stealth Stubborn Streak

New 'do
Today I got a rather unsatisfying massage, a rather satisfying haircut, and a lesson in exactly how much time I’ve wasted playing “The Secret World” when the little “doo-dooty-doot” Achievement sound went off and I was informed that I have killed over 1,000 Cursed Cultists. Over 1,000 pixelated monstrosities slaughtered by none other than little ole’ me! Let it not be said at my funeral that I never accomplished anything. What can I say? Other than an occasionally hair-ripping solo instance, TSW is pretty low-key, and playing it quiets the monkey-chatter in my brain. So I’m trying not to feel guilty about the fact that I spent far more time gaming than writing today. Besides, I was working on a rather gloomy poem and I just couldn’t work up the gumption to feel all the feels and write all the sads. Tough luck for the Cursed Cultists.

I got a massage because I’ve had this persistent knee-iliotibial band-hip thing going on in my left leg forever. It’s like a war is in there, all three vying for supremacy and sabotaging each other. My left leg is Game of Thrones! It still hurts even after the massage, which I suspected it would. The bottom line is that I just need to suck it up and get orthotics. Luckily, I’m not vain when it comes to shoes. I’d wear plaid bedroom slippers seven days a week if I could get away with it.

While I was lying there today getting somewhat inadequately rubbed upon, I was thinking back to my career as a massage therapist. For a long time, being a massage therapist was a key part of my identity, and it took a number of years after I had officially left the field for me to let go completely and sell my massage table and chair. I have enough distance from it now that I understand it as a critical time of growth for me, but I have completely lost my attachment to the identity of being a “healer”. I’ve had some other identity attachments I’ve had to let go of over the last few years, and I’m only now starting to come into full acceptance of them. I don’t like admitting it, but I’m not a person who lets go of things easily. Oh, boy am I not. Part of it is based in beliefs and fears around scarcity, but I’ve also realized that despite my life-long self-perception that I’m mercurial and capricious, I have a very deep and pronounced stubborn streak. It’s a quiet and well-concealed stubborn streak, but it’s formidable nonetheless. I used to think stubbornness was a negative trait, but I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure my stubbornness has been my saving grace more than once.

For some reason, I keep avoiding writing the last two scenes I need to officially wrap up the final draft of my novel. Maybe I don’t want to let go of that either. Maybe I worry that I’ll miss my main character. Maybe I fear the void that will occur in my life once I don’t have this Herculean project to work on anymore. Maybe I’m just being way too introspective tonight and need to chillax with my Jurassic 5 Pandora station while I get my Cursed Cultist death count up to 2,000. After all, those guys are bad news and it’s my moral obligation to put them out of their misery.

While I figure out whether to mope, introspect or game, here’s a Portlandia clip mocking jewelry-making. I myself have pondered such a move. Going from massage therapy to non-profit work to jewelry-making would bring the Seattle cliché circle to perfect completion.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Slam Fail, Artsy Win, Future Gets

I was recently Facebook-invited to a slam poetry event, and having not seen any slam poetry for a while, I went on YouTube yesterday and took a little tour of various slam performances. It was a mixed bag for me. I try not to judge, because I’ve never written a slam poem, and I’m fairly certain I would be a complete flop in that department for a number of reasons. First, I just do not vibe with that slam poetry cadence. It’s simply not in my DNA. I don’t think in that rhythm, words don’t come to me in that rhythm, and I can’t write or speak out loud in that rhythm. I also lack bravado, swagger, wise life advice, and any interest in talking about my period, which I all but shut down thanks to the miracle of modern medical technology, since I can’t deal with blood and cycles of renewal and all of that primal stuff that’s supposed make all roar/wise/ powerful as a woman. (As far as I’m concerned, periods are a major design flaw of the female body, and God and I will be having a talk about it if I ever make it past it the pearly gates.)

The two examples below are what I consider amazing slam. The poetry is really good. These are poems I would find beautiful and heartbreaking had I read them on paper first without seeing them performed, and the performances serve the poetry first, rather than trying to shoehorn it into a slam cadence.  Who knows, maybe there’s hope for me after all, and I’ll actually try slam one of these days. But right now, I’m working on a short essay about monster therapy, so any awesome slam poems that lay dormant within me will have to wait.

In other artsy news, I was accepted onto the Art Committee at my place of work, and I’m really excited about it! I’ve been reading up on the role of art in healing environments, Northwest artists, and all things sculptury, painty, and watercolory, so I’m learning a lot already, and I haven’t even attended my first official meeting yet. I’ve always paid close attention the art work displayed throughout the hospital campus I work at, so it’s nice to have an official reason to get lost in it now.

I still haven’t gotten a new fish. I have a tank big enough to accommodate a small reptile, and I'm considering getting a gecko or something similar instead; a creature that doesn’t require a chemistry degree to keep alive. Other things I am getting soon: A haircut, a massage, possibly orthotic shoes, three fillings, and a new swimsuit since I’ve decided to start going to the pool again.

Warning to the sensitive: There are some swears and references to male anatomy in “How We Have Learned to Love”.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 5, 2015

To Fishy or Not to Fishy, Dream Thoughts, Novel News

I managed to keep my Beta alive for almost two years—a record for me with Betas—but last week he finally departed to the great fish bowl in the sky after a battle with fungus that we couldn’t get under control despite our best alchemical efforts. I’m debating getting a new fish. I like water creatures, and I enjoy having a little mini-ecosystem to look after. But an ecosystem is a lot of work, especially for Betas, since they have such a narrow set of parameters in which they thrive. They don’t lend themselves well to the careless. I didn’t change the water in right way and in the right time often enough, and I didn’t have very much patience with the fussiness it took to keep the aquarium chemically balanced. I’m better at caring for hearty critters who can handle a little benign neglect, like my cat Yoshi who I can literally toss outside when he annoys me.  I just don’t know if I’m ready for the responsibility of another Beta. It’s time like these when I think, “God, I would have made such a great mom!”

I’ve been trying to make a habit of typing up my dreams in the mornings after I first wake up, just in case my unconscious has some super-important message it’s trying deliver. I don’t want to miss anything. After a few weeks, I’m not seeing any compelling symbolic patterns or Lotto numbers coming up, but I have faith. I jotted this one down in my pre-coffee haze a few mornings ago: “Dream thought: What if our great spiritual lesson as human beings is not about how to cultivate love and compassion, but about how to tolerate boredom?” A catalogue of random symbols that have shown up over the last month include an extremely menacing black adder who exposed his fangs at me, moving bridges of light over a wide river, a mountain made of fine white crystals, a red leather-bound book that didn’t contain the poem I was looking for, and a special device that was gifted to me, designed to help me see in the fog. The catch was that it had an aperture that could be narrowed, which made the light beam much brighter, but covered far less of an area, or it could be opened wider, which would put out a weaker beam but a provide wider expanse of light. Apparently, even my dreams demand compromise.

I’m almost done with the second draft of the novel! I have three specific scenes I need to cut into the last fifty pages, and I can feel myself running out of mental stamina, so I need to write them sooner than later. I started one of the scenes last week, but quickly realized it’s not really pushing the plot forward; it’s more like re-hashing just to control the pacing. So I have to re-write it to make it more relevant to the plot. That, and just a few more nips and tucks, and I’m going to consider it complete. My goal is to have it done by June, and then start figuring out which publishers it would be a good fit for it. My friend will help me with a query letter and a summary, and then it’s off to races with submitting queries. I’ve been reading up on the query process a bit more in preparation, and pre-steeling myself for the inevitable avalanche of rejection to come. But still, I’m keeping a bright little packet of hope tucked in my heart that something will come of this journey.

--Kristen McHenry

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