Sunday, August 5, 2018

When Skin Goes Wrong, “Vacationland” Review

A few weeks ago I noticed a small abrasion on the back of my forearm, a few inches below the elbow. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I had a vague memory of bumping it a little too hard on the coarse concrete wall of the public swimming pool, and figured I had scraped it on that. So I ignored it—after all, these things tend to heal up quickly on their own. Except it didn’t. It got redder and angrier by the day. Not to be deterred, I started putting antibacterial cream on it and covering it with a bandage. And yet larger and angrier it grew, like the Venus Flytrap in Little Shop of Horrors, until before I knew it the seemingly inconsequential scrape had turned into a red, criss-crossing mass of bumps and itchy scabs, which I found myself staring at, bandaging, and feeding anti-bacterial cream obsessively, all the while performing Jedi mind-tricks to convince myself that it “seemed to healing up a little.” My will finally broke on Friday, and I busted out of work early to humble myself at my local drop-in clinic. The verdict? Cellulitis and a concurrent allergic reaction to the bandage adhesive. After 48 hours and counting on oral antibiotics, and no bandages under the doc’s orders, it does, objectively, look much better. It’s still bad, but it’s not…well, I won’t go into gory details, but let’s just say it’s on the mend.

I don’t know why I waited so long to have it looked at. I think it was a combination of cognitive dissonance and my ingrained sense of stoicism when it comes to Things Going Wrong with My Body. It was a scrape. A scrape is not a medical emergency. You rub a little dirt on it and move on. The worried well should not be sucking up our medical resources, fleeing to the doctor’s at the first twinge of discomfort, surfing down rabbit holes searching obsessively for all of the deadly diseases that each passing pang could be a symptom of. Plus, none of my real, actual medical problems have ever been fixed by modern medicine. I gave up on having my knee fixed when no one could agree on what was wrong with it after three MRI’s. And I still have annoying lady problems, but I’ve just let them have their way, as nothing I do and no doctor I visit seems to engender a permanent fix to the issue. Besides, I am a semi-intelligent adult human who should be able to apply basic first aid to a silly scrape. But this one beat me. I needed help. I was actually pretty scared by the time I finally went in to see the nice doc at the walk-in clinic. I knew I should have gone in at least a week earlier, but I was both stubborn and in denial. I don’t have any real life lesson here, except that maybe if you have a wound that is reverse-healing, you should just suck it up and see a professional instead of trying to MacGyver that thing.

On a less gory note, I read “Vacationland” by John Hodgeman this week. I haven’t read any of his other work, although I did take a brief stab at “The Areas of My Expertise” a while back, which I found to be too high-concept and just not for me. But I was willing to give him another chance. For those of you who don’t know, John Hodgeman was that guy who played the PC on the Mac vs PC commercials back in the late 90’s. Before the commercials, he was an unassuming magazine writer, (albeit a Yale-educated one) and has since been catapulted to a sort of obscure fame among highly-educated hipsters. My personal journey with John Hodgeman has been a slightly bumpy one. Year ago, I started listening to his podcast “Judge John Hodgeman,” and I loved it at first, but after a while the endless parade of well-off Brooklynites with their Problems Lite and graduate degrees started to wear on me. I still listen, though, just because I really like John Hodgeman as person and think that he actually comes up with very thoughtful, fair judgements that dig deeper under the surface to get to the crux of what seem at first to be shallow issues.

Because I still associate still him with a degree of hipster cynicism, I was very surprised to find that “Vacationland” was deep, lyrical, poetic, humble and heartfelt. It’s basically a series of essays that cover his time spent in Maine and New England, his relationship with the people and land, his musings on adulthood and aging, and on his uneasy relationship with what he sees as his unearned fame. It’s hard to describe these essays in clear terms; they are stories that could only come from him and his perspective. I refuse to use the word “quirky,” but these are very individual tales from an ultimately sensitive, perceptive and forgiving voice. I haven’t been this emotionally moved by a series of essays for a long time. I thereby wholeheartedly recommend “Vacationland.”

Now, I’m off to go scrutinize my wound again. I can’t have that thing getting away from me this time!

--Kristen McHenry

Monday, July 30, 2018

Celtic Festival Redemption, Crafting Needs A Witness

Four years ago almost to the date, I wrote a grumpy blog post about how my favorite northwest Celtic Fair had gone to utter pot and become unbearable due to a sudden, massive influx of attendees, a total lack of vendor vetting, and general degradation of standards and quality. Mr. Typist and I were so disappointed after the last time that we have stayed away from it for four years now. Warily, we went back over the weekend, and miracle of miracles! Its former glory and Celtic spirit has been restored. The vendors were selling authentic, quality goods again, the bands were fantastic, and the massing of the pipes and drums was a joy to behold. I left heat-wilted, sunburned and happy. That one year might have just been a fluke, but whatever the reason, I’m thrilled to have “my” little festival back. With all the unique and beautiful things that have been lost forever in the Northwest with the never-ending population explosion, it’s nice to know that this one survives…at least for now.

It was a wildly active weekend for this recluse-in-training. Not only did I go to the festival, the next day I went to my friend Frankie’s, and we spent the entire afternoon playing with our crafting toys. I brought my pin loom over and completed my very first successful piece on it—a humble little coin purse:

I also hopped on Frankie’s Addi circular knitting machine, which I covet with my whole heart. With her guidance, I made myself an awesome knit cap! I’m dreaming about the day it will cool down enough in Seattle for me to wear it. 

And, thanks to Frankie, I finally figured out why my woven pieces kept falling apart after I took them off of the loom. I didn’t realize that I was not tying them off correctly. I was tying the fringe in the same rows as the weave, which means that it wasn’t actually “locking” the yarn. To be fair, there was a diagram explaining this this in the instruction book, but it was a little inscrutable if you aren’t used to reading crafting instructions. After about thirty seconds of Frankie’s eagle eye on my handiwork, she had it figured out, saving me from multiple future fails and a permanent rage-quit in which I would have ultimately dumped the entire loom into the garbage and crushed it under my size-ten orthopedic shoe.

I know that crafting circles have made a huge comeback in the last few years, and I think that’s great thing. I don’t understand why they ever went away to begin with. Youtube instruction videos only get you so far. There was an old saying when I doing massage therapy and healing work back in the day: “Healing needs a witness.” I think this is true, and I also think that crafting needs a witness. The spirit of crafting is naturally given to companionship, sweet tea, and amiable chit-chat between friends on a slow, lazy, sprawling afternoon. It’s meditative and healing, and I for one am grateful for my rare days of crafting with friends.

 --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 22, 2018


I did a little experimenting today with something called an erasure poem. It’s basically what it sounds like—a poem created by erasing words from an existing text. I didn’t do them the way one is “supposed” to because I don’t care for a lot of white space in my poetry, (which probably indicates something dubious about my character, but I don't know or care what), and because I naturally tend  to a more narrative style. So I fudged it a little bit and came up with a hybrid method. Comments welcome!

Note: These poems are purely experimental and only lightly edited.

The Lion House

The day goes, dusk
saluted by neon light.
In the opinion of those who lay
back in long arm chairs,  badly dressed, plump
hands curled round their cups, evenings
are difficult to kill, each hour
a beast with a lump of raw meat in its jaws:
Swine, parrot, canary, dog.
Eyes fixed upon a thicket of sleep,
half-bodies of decaying sound, what you
hear if you stand in the lion house
when the bones are being mauled.
Little theories, ingeniously arranged
rouse the bedraggled clock. The lion
shakes his kill in day-worn jaws. 
The hours wheeze in a caustic dim.

The Spirit of the Home

It is an easy thing to make a beautiful
home because the world
is beautiful and manufactures everything, art and truth
made on principle. It is curious that false things,
those without honesty, without
the spirit of the home, have no place
in the scheme of beauty. The beautiful aspects
must be created by the family owner
through susceptibility and appreciation. The great
majority of homes have lines that underlie
their character. Somewhat akin to performance, the
artist must use the best methods.
The most potent beauty is apt.

A Ponderous Bridle

God doesn't want to see me
Chastened, tottering along
slow and tired with a ponderous bridle
in a valley with hundreds of years
of settling small affairs.
I will be a frying-size girl, scramble
the nest and grow where my crow
will be heard by the world.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Unicorn of Pants, Novel Gazing, Heat Defeat

Last weekend I met a friend at our local mall—not because I needed to shop, but because that’s most convenient halfway point for us to get together and hang out. Nonetheless, as we were wandering aimlessly in Big Bland Department Store, I happened across what looked like a promising pair of light summer pants. I didn’t hold out much hope, because, well, I just don’t hold out much hope anymore for clothing, but I tried them on anyway, and lo and behold, they fit comfortably. Sold! But it wasn’t until I put them on at home that I realized their true glory. They don’t just fit--they are perfect. They are the very definition comfortable, light summer pants. They are made of a crepe-like material, with a very light-weight lining, they slip on just below the belly button with a wide, comfortable elastic band, and they are flared at the bottom, providing a graceful skirt-like movement. It’s that time of year again in Seattle when we get our three weeks of hot weather, and I have been swanning around in my cool, light, well-fitting summer pants non-stop. I shall never remove them, these pants of glory, these shining, noble, triumphant, most-esteemed pants. I want one pair in every color, and I shall be known as That Lady Who Wears Those Swishy Pants and Always Looks so Comfortable. If only I could find some tops that met a similar criteria…but I know better than to get greedy.

It’s been a week full of all kinds of turmoil and disruption, which has, among other things, waylaid my reading. I like to read in long, uninterrupted spans of time—preferably to settle in for two to three hours with a good book, sometimes even longer. But I’ve had to read in fits and starts this week, which has been very frustrating because I actually came across book that is not total trash. My novel-picking radar has been way off lately. I blame my Kindle for shoving a lot of schlock at me, and getting me to download free samples so I get hooked and buy the dumb book before I realize it’s actually dreck. But this most recent novel, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, is a beautifully written literary novel, the kind of book you want to spend quality time with. The story centers around a woman who is serving a life sentence in prison, but it dips into sweeping epic territory, as it also tells the story of many satellite characters whose lives intersect with hers. I ran a program in a women’s prison (one day a year for about five years), and this topic is very dear to my heart. And it’s been nice to read a book that pays attention to language and the elegance of its storytelling. I’ll do a longer review if things calm down around here and I actually get to finish it.

The afore-mentioned heat is getting to me, made worse by the fact that I had go sit in a booth outdoors today for three hours and talk to people. I’m knackered and I have nothing illuminating to say. So instead, here’s a video of classic movie stars dancing to “Uptown Funk.” It’s pretty astounding.