Sunday, October 17, 2021

Litany of Complaints: Body Version

Bewilderingly, my optometrist changed my contact lens prescription without my knowledge and knocked the prescription in my left lens down by 100, and I literally cannot see anything with that left lens in. Everything is blurry in my left eye. So I have to use my right lenses in my left eye now until I get them to fix their error, which I don’t trust that they are going to do without a big long argument.

On top of that, my glasses broke and are un-repairable, so I am wearing an old pair of glasses with an old prescription that are on their last legs. According to said optometrist, my hardware benefit doesn’t kick in again until March of next year so I either have to pay out of pocket for a new pair or put up with this old pair for another six months.

I’ve been sporting a sassy, asymmetrical “signature” pixie cut for the past year and half, which I am trying to decide whether or not to grow out. In the meantime, my hair is a disaster. It’s at a weird, in-between, bushy stage and I am using bobby pins to keep the bangs off my forehead because it’s driving me nuts to have a long fringe hang down over my already strained eyes.

I’m a stressy sleeper and I grind my teeth and wrinkle my brow in my sleep a lot and my jaw hurts and my forehead has crow’s feet and I want Botox and fillers. I use to think it was vain of women to want that, but now I totally understand.

I’m feeling discouraged about ever getting a pull-up. I can jump and hold myself up on the bar for a record total of eight seconds, but when I try to pull my body from up from the bottom of the bar, I can barely get two inches. Achieving a pull-up seems light-years away at this point.

The last time I got a massage, the therapist said there was something wrong with my ankles. I didn’t believe him at the time, but yesterday after deadlifting my right calf started spasming and I could feel that the tendon my ankle was all tight and messed up and now I’m paranoid that I have an ankle disorder.

I have a birthday this week and while I’m not in a full-blown crisis about like I was over my 50th, it’s making me cranky. I don’t feel my age, whatever that means, and I have a weird cognitive dissonance about it. I hate how loaded age is for women. At least I’ve been promised sushi and flowers by Mr. Typist, which is all I really want.

I can’t find a sports bra that fits. They are either too thin and flimsy, or too thick and hot, and none of them fit around my rib cage right. I’ve been wearing my regular bra to the gym, but I want a decent, well-fitting sports bra and it irks me that I can’t find one.

Because of the afore-mentioned teeth-grinding, I’m supposed to be using a special, enamel-building toothpaste, but I can’t bring myself to use it very often because it’s very chemically and unpleasant-tasting. I wonder if I am going to have any enamel left in a few years.

There’s more—much, much more--but that’s enough for one day. Enjoy this video about those bodily freaks of the sky, hummingbirds. Warning: Crude sex jokes about tongues abound.


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Poem!

It wasn't long ago that I returned from a trip to the sea, and I wrote a poem about it. Enjoy! Also, there is nothing I love more than a good sea shanty, so enjoy that too. 







In a whole life that goes

on beyond us, sandpipers

reckless and impeccable

skim the mist in a careless geometry

above the burbling clams and the Dionysian

feast of the gulls on the rust-red husks of crabs.

Each consecrated carapace

pulverized and luminous

makes a boardwalk of the shattered, a

glimmering carpet on which we shine:

Our lives, neither tragic nor mundane. Our bones entangled.

Our hearts persistent. The faith of kites above us.

The kitschy-kitschy of sea glass. Corpus

green with nutrients and dissolution.

Sea tawdry, sea songs, life at the edge of the world. The cobalt

outline of tide from the window’s ledge.

The swing where I cried when grief finally broke. The

sand-song of mopeds and dogs on the salt-dank air.

It is here always where I recall the imperative.

Where I re-learn the lesson of my divine 

irrelevance. Where I receive full clemency, where there is

only fervor for my blemished soul, where there is room for nothing

but the grand helpless lungs of the sea, the sandpipers

free on the brine of its draft, all things found and all forgotten.


--Kristen McHenry


Sunday, October 3, 2021

Acrylic Embarrassment, Deadlifting Success, Mutant Outrage


This weekend Mr. Typist told me about a Danish artist who was paid $84,000.00 by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art to do a painting, and in turn handed in a blank canvas entitled, “Take the Money and Run.” Although I ultimately contend that’s theft, I must admit it’s a pretty good troll. I’ll leave the philosophical debate to those smarter than myself, because what I really want to talk about is my super-embarrassing train painting that Mr. Typist insists on displaying above his desk in the computer room. I die a little inside every time I look at it. You see, some number of Mr. Typist’s birthdays ago, I got a little over my skis and decided that I was going to give him a “unique” present in the form of a train painting. I didn’t consider my skill level, experience, or dexterity; I just plunged full speed ahead with the acrylics. Once I started, I got too deep in to stop. This thing took forever, with numerous false starts, corrections and cover-ups. I knew it wasn’t really working out, but I had so much effort invested into it I felt like I had no choice but to see it through to its inevitable and ghastly conclusion. The result is the jenkiest train painting I’ve ever seen. For starters, something went terribly wrong with the steam. I don’t know happened, but the steam is basically a gigantic, thick gray mass that takes up way too much space and instead of being wispy and ethereal as intended, it looks like a hoary blob monster. The train wheels didn’t work out, so I covered them up with snow, making the train look as though it sank in a blizzard. There are other problems as well, although in my defense, some of the trees look okay and the sky came out passably. The bottom line is Mr. Typist mysteriously loves it, so I’m stuck looking at it. Despite my abject failure in that particular venture, I would like to pick up acrylics again. I find painting relaxing. (Note-the painting pictured here is not my painting, obviously. My painting is not open for public view.)

As promised, my trainer took me through my first “real” deadlift last week! It was on an unloaded bar that she set on two thick pads so as to raise it off the floor to decrease the distance of the lift, but still. I did it! Now I’m already inpatient to move on to a loaded bar, but she wants to increase the distance first, and then consider adding plates. I understand that she wants to go about this methodically, which is the correct approach, but now that I’ve had a taste of it, I’m eager to be one of those people who march up to the rack confidently and start throwing around 100+ pounds. I know I just need to be patient and prioritize not injuring myself, but I’m very excited and I’m really wanting to test myself now.

A few posts ago, I mentioned a forest simulator (aptly titled “The Forest”) which is a mostly peaceful game except for the cannibals. I go along having a nice time in the beautiful woods, chopping down wood for my houseboat and making herbal remedies from the local fauna, when suddenly out of nowhere there will be an ungodly, terrifying screech and a deformed mutant sets upon me. I don’t care to fight, so I started waiting them out in said houseboat, which I thought was a genius move since they won’t cross into the water. I was perfectly content watching them scream and run around on the shore until they got bored and left, but then one of those bastards came back with an arsenal and started throwing Molotov cocktails at my houseboat! I was completely outraged. I made my own collection of Molotov cocktails, fully intent upon revenge, and the next night found myself in a full-on fire fight with that jackass. Unfortunately, he’s very nimble and zig-zaggy so it was hard to get a good aim, and I had to swim out to the abandoned yacht to get away from his relentless attacks. But I’m not deterred. I shall get revenge, my chickadees. Oh yes, I shall.

I was very impressed by this review of “The Forest.” I thought it was spot on and made some really intelligent points. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Experiments in Fruit, Driving Practice, Dystopian Big Box Store


For vague health reasons, I have been making a valiant effort lately to Eat More Fruit. The problem is that I really don’t like fruit. I’m a huge fan of vegetables and will happily munch on all manner of veggies and green salad multiple times a day, but I’ve never been a fruit fan. For one thing, citrus hurts my stomach and if I’m going to eat an orange or a tangerine, I have to have crackers or bread first to “pad” my stomach so I don’t get sharp acid pains. In general most fruit, citrus or not, is just too sweet and syrupy for my taste. I’ve been experimenting mostly with berries, which seem more manageable than contending with an entire apple or a grapefruit, but they go bad fast and I can only bring myself to eat three or four at a time. I end up with a container of hairy berries in the fridge that I have to toss out. I tried on several occasions buying overpriced strawberries on the verge from a vending machine at work (we don’t have a cafeteria anymore), but I could only stomach a few of them before I tapped out on the over-sweetness and simultaneous tartness. I had plans to try mangoes again, as I dimly recall liking them and being able to eat them without stomach upset, but I can’t seem to find them in my local grocery store. I’m also okay with melon. I used to enjoy pre-packaged medleys of cantaloupe and watermelon at work, but can’t find that anymore either. Chopping them up myself just seems like way too much work for something I’m not that interested in eating. I’m afraid this fruit experiment is going to fizzle out rather quickly, which I feel sort of bad about, but then again I’m not morally obligated to like fruit. I eat plenty of healthy-ish things and I don’t see any reason why I should have to force down fruit against my will and taste.

It’s a strange thing to be proud of, but yesterday I got in the car and drove for the first time in probably over four years. Until recently, I could walk to work, and when I got assigned additional campuses, my company gave me a Lyft pass, so there was never a need to drive to work. With COVID, there was nowhere to go anyway, hence, no need to drive. I hate driving and it’s been very easy to avoid it entirely these last few years. But yesterday I needed to take a jaunt out to my local big box store (which turned out to be a complete dystopian nightmare that I will detail at another time), and I started to walk the three miles and got too hot and annoyed and turned around and hopped in the car for the first time in as long as I could remember. It was a bit odd, but okay. I assumed that had I forgotten everything about driving, but my body just sort of launched into gear and I remembered what to do and how to switch lanes at the construction site and how to keep pace with the traffic and all of the basics. It was no big deal at all, nothing like I had built up in my mind. I’ve resolved to drive around the neighborhood at least once a week from here on out to ensure that I keep in practice.

One of the things I needed to get at Dystopian Big Box Store was flat Converse shoes, because my trainer announced last week that we are going to do an actual, proper deadlift on the bar at our next session. Up until now, I’ve been tinkering around doing Romanian deadlifts on a forty-pound barbell, and she thinks I’m finally ready to move on to the real deadlifting mat. You’re supposed to have flat-soled shoes for deadlifting, although I’m not really sure why. I think it has something to do with lessening the height of the bar for the lift. At the point that I’m at, it really doesn’t matter that much—I will only be lifting an unloaded bar—but I wanted the shoes for the future because I’m harboring the delusion that I may turn into a monster lifter someday and will need them for competitive purposes. It turned out, DBBS does not carry Converse brand anymore, which I found a bit shocking, and the only pair of flat-soled shoes in the entire store that came in my size were pink. So now I have pink shoes for lifting. It’s not my preference, but I feel lucky to found have anything at all in DBBS. When I asked about business casual pants, the clerk looked at me like I had three heads and said that they haven’t carried business clothes in years. That used to be a basic staple of that store. And don’t even get me started about the boot situation. It was grim, folks. Really grim.

Here’s a lady in gold hot pants explaining how to do a deadlift. Enjoy!

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Terrible Diplomat, Thoughts on Fate, I Finally Get It with the Cooking

As I’ve been off work for the last two weeks, for entertainment purposes, I downloaded a game from a French studio called Greedfall that I had high hopes for. It turned out to be a very slow, agonizingly talky dud in which you play a diplomat who is tasked with keeping numerous kingdoms from going to war with each other. I always believed that I would be a great diplomat due to my uber-agreeable personality, but it turns out I don’t have the patience for it that I thought I would. I immediately lost numerous diplomacy points in the game because I refused to take any s*** from anyone and insisted on telling the truth to everyone about everything. I told off the bishop, the interrogator, the High King, and all of my slimy, lying diplomat colleagues. I got fed up and out of patience with everyone’s b.s. faster than I could have imagined. It turns out that I am a terrible diplomat and probably caused several wars in the game, but I didn’t stick with it long enough to witness the consequences of my radical truth-telling. Instead I downloaded a forest survival simulator and spent my days hunting small prey and building a log cabin where I can live in peace but for the occasional screaming, rabid mutant.

Sometimes perspective changes happen very quickly, and recently one occurred for me, which led me to reflect on what I have long believed to be a wide-spread misunderstanding of the concept of fate. To say that you believe in fate is to mark yourself as one who believes that you have no control over your own destiny, no power to man your own ship, no sense of your own autonomy, and no regard for personal responsibility and the consequences of choice. I think this is an over-simplistic view of fate. Sometimes you are fated to something exactly because of those traits. I recently came face-to-face with what I believe is a piece of my destiny in life, exactly because I have taken control of the reins and that is where it has inevitably led me. I don’t believe that we always have the level of control over where our choices take us that we like to believe that we do. I believe that we are all sailing a fragile ship on a wild sea, and as much as we want to think that we have full control over which way the wheel is turned, the winds and the tides and the great beating heart of the ocean have different ideas. And sometimes we end up landing on the exact shore we were trying to avoid over and over again. And maybe then we realize that is where we were meant to be, and we will be returned to it again and again until we’ve fulfilled our purpose there. I believe in inevitability and the invisible hand of God. I believe that we all have a larger purpose and that we don’t always get to decide what that purpose is.

On a lighter note, I am very excited to have learned how to make a proper omelet recently. While we were at Ocean Shores, I would take a nice swim in the morning and come back to a delightful little mini-omelet that Mr. Typist made for me. I tend to eat the same breakfast over and over again for months on end until I become suddenly and drastically bored with it and immediately need a change. I loved the little omelettes and when we got home, I asked Mr. Typist to show me how to make them. My eyes have been opened and I feel like a proper chef now. I’ve never understood it when people claim that cooking feels creative. It’s always felt like a rigid, stressful chore to me, something tasky, easy to screw up and rife with timing pitfalls. But now that I have omelets down, I’ve having a great time figuring out new things to saute, new ways to garnish it, what sort of berries to put on the side, and different sorts of cheeses to melt into it. It’s all been very entertaining and yes, creative, as shocking as that it is to me. Of course now that I’m going back to work, omelet-making will have to be a weekend endeavor, but it’s something to look forward to, and who knows what it will lead to. MasterChef, here I come!

I’m certain most of my readers already know how to make something as basic as an omelette, but nonetheless enjoy this sweet little tutorial: 


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Adventuring Practice, The Lilt of the Sea, Commercial Collusion

We went away for a few days last week to my happy place, Ocean Shores, where I am always drawn to when I am in crisis, in need of a deep rest, or on the precipice of some major change in my life. While I don’t always immediately find the answers I am looking for there, it’s always been a place of peace and healing for me. I need the reminder that there is something larger in the world than my minuscule life, that there is a roaring, shining, glorious ecosystem with a thundering heart that goes on without me and will continue to do so even after I pass. Besides all that metaphorical stuff, I am just a plain old sucker for ticky-tacky beach stuff. I love all of the souvenir shops with their bright, cheap, silly wares. I love salt water taffy, kites, renting scooters, and all of the other touristy entrapments. It all delights me and makes me feel uncharacteristically light and care-free. And my creative block was lifted by the lilt of the sea, and I started a new poem for the first time in ages.

It was an amazing trip, but not without its anxieties. Between life, work, and COVID, I hadn’t traveled anywhere at all in about three years, and I was totally out of adventuring practice, even for a short jaunt out of town. I’ve never been highly anxious about COVID, but I haven’t been cavalier about it, either. I would say that I’ve been medium-anxious. But I admit that the thought of traveling to a tourist hot-spot during a surge made me nervous. In addition, I was nervous about traffic and about adapting to our accommodations and about packing the Goldilocks amount of food—not too much, not too little, since there are dietary issues and I had to prep and plan for three meals a day plus snacks. I was nervous about the car, which is old and out of repair. I was nervous about running out of dry socks and packed way too many socks. The whole first night in I couldn't sleep because I was startled by all of the strange noises and thumps and slamming of doors in the distance and the refrigerator going off. Eventually I calmed down and got used to the strange noises and adapted to everything, but it took me longer than it normally would. I’m rusty at all of this. I need more frequent practice, and I plan to get it.

Besides walking on the beach and driving around rubber-necking at the astonishing number of blah, nouveau-riche beach-side houses that have been hastily constructed over the last few years, Mr. Typist and I watched a lot of classic movies on cable TV, which is all they had at the condo. Cable TV meant commercials, which I haven’t been subjected to in ages since we stream everything now. I was utterly gobsmacked at the astounding number of commercials for pharmaceuticals and fast food. It was like a perfect dance of marketing—three commercials in a row for pizza, cheeseburgers, and deep-fried chicken nublets, followed by commercials for diabetes, weight control and cholesterol medication—over and over and over again. It would have been laughable if I didn’t know that millions of Americans still spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on their butts watching this crap for hours a day. Mr. Typist and I finally made a game of it by trying to predict how many medication side effects each pharmaceutical commercial would list. Mr. Typist was a pretty good predictor. The average was eight, with twelve being the high-water mark. Evil commercial collusion aside, we watched some great movies I haven’t seen in ages—among others, Back to the Future, O’ Brother Where Art Thou, Deep Impact, and some flick where Jennifer Lawrence and Ben Afflick are stuck on a giant spacecraft with a failing nuclear reactor. It was lovely watching all of these movies with the sea heaving and rolling just outside our window and having nothing to do and nowhere in particular to go.

Enjoy this hilarious pharmaceutical commercial parody, which sadly isn’t too far from reality:

 --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Rare Product Review, Musical Meh, Recovery Time

It’s rare for me to do product reviews on this blog. I don’t get any ad revenue, I don’t have sponsors, and I’ve voluntarily bypassed the thirteen cents a year I would theoretically receive from Google for running advertisements. But thanks to Mr. Typist, I recently came across a product that I love and must rave about free of charge: Raycon wireless earbuds. He ordered them for me without my knowledge and presented them to me last week at dinner, and I was enthralled. I listen to a lot of podcasts. But I don’t have an iPhone, having given up on Apple products long ago, and as such, I don’t have those weird, cigarette-looking iPhone headphones that are so prolific nowadays. I’ve been getting along with normie, twelve-dollar drugstore headphones that I have to keep re-buying because they continuously wear out and break. And they are extremely annoying at the gym, as they get in the way of the barbell when I’m doing Romanian dead lifts, they pull out all of the time on the leg press, and they continuously snag on the drawer pulls in the kitchen and get forcibly yanked out of my ears. The Raycons fit my ears beautifully, they have a ridiculously long battery life, they look elegant, and they come with an adorable, sleek carrying case that doubles as a battery charger. I love these things and have basically walked around with them jammed in my ears since I’ve received them.

Mr. Typist suggested I try listening to music on them to get a sense of how good the sound actually is, but unfortunately, that sort of auditory depth is lost on me. I don’t have musical anhedonia, but I don’t have much of an ear for musical subtleties either. I have a fairly limited range of notes that I can hear and respond to emotionally, and anything outside of that range just sort of goes by the wayside. So if the Raycon headphones are awesome at picking up high and low notes, I’m not going to notice. I’m far more interested in the fact that they fit my weirdly-shaped ears perfectly and that they come in a really cute little case that I can throw in my purse and know that they are going to charge up on my way to work. Raycon earbuds, ya’ll. They’re the best.

I’ve been On Vacation since Friday, and I’ve been aggressively, proactively vacationing since, that is to say sleeping a lot, doing next to nothing, and actively avoiding looking at work e-mail. I deleted the link to my work email on my home computer because it was too tempting to click on it, and I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with our TV streaming options (not great, as it turns out.) I’ve also decided, at my trainers behest, to take a full seven days off from the gym. Normally, I feel frantic if I take even a day or two off (I know that’s not healthy) but she said that taking an extensive period of time away will help your muscles fully repair, and when you come back, your progress will be exponential. I did not know how sore and tired my muscles actually were until taking a few days away. I normally feel a strong urge to go and lift, but somehow since I made the decision not to, I don’t feel any desire whatsoever to go to the gym. Everything aches. I can tell that my connective tissue is gluey and that my back has had it. This latest trainer has worked me harder than any other to date, and I’ve had very little recovery time. And over the last few days, even my abs have been in full-on rebellion against my normal ten-minute morning routine, screaming in protest at an activity that I have done now for every morning for almost two years straight. It’s clear that it’s time for a complete rest. So there will be no gym-going for me for at least a week, and I’m totally at peace with that. Maybe when I come back, I’ll finally be able to do that pull-up. My record to date is being able to hold my body up on the pull-up bar for seven-and-a-half seconds, (!) so we’ll see what a little rest and repair time does.

My favorite ridiculous video game, Power Wash Simulator, recently had an update, albeit not much of one, so here’s a video. Enjoy!


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Tiger-Punching, Film Nostalgia, Hostile Bagger

My brain has departed for vacation a week ahead of my scheduled time off, and as such I did nothing this weekend but sit around working on my long-neglected tiger embroidery project and watching bad Woody Allen movies on our newly-fixed TV. It felt good to do something with my hands. That poor tiger has been haunting me from the corner of my living room for months, a constant reminder of my crafting failure. I got sick of looking at it in its unfinished state. I realize now that part of my blockage with it has been that I was afraid to fill in its face. The face is precision work and I didn’t want to botch it, but once I was able to start getting the face in, the tiger started to come to life and I was newly-inspired. This is my first punch-needle project working with embroidery thread, and it’s been an experiment in technique and patience. I finally found the right thickness of thread and developed the dexterity and mental fortitude to unspool it without freaking out and destroying the entire coil of thread in a frustrated tantrum. I am becoming friends with embroidery thread, and I think this is the way I am going to work moving forward. I love how much precision and detail I can get using thread rather than the more blunt instrument of yarn. I don’t know what I am going to do with the tiger once it’s finished, but I’m thinking it needs to be attached to something bad-ass, like leather pants or a motorcycle helmet.

One of the bad Woody Allen movies I watched was “Irrational Man”, about a dissolute philosophy professor who decides that murdering a corrupt judge would be a moral act, and proceeds to do just that. The movie is a weak shadow of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and I think the film was a total waste Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey’s talents. I found nothing at all compelling about Abe Lucas, the main character. I thought he was boring, emotionally stunted and completely lacking in a moral compass even before he decided to commit murder. The more interesting aspect to me was the way the two main female characters were portrayed—both as irrationally in love with that idiot, but the younger woman, Jill, played by Emma Stone, as ultimately having more strength, courage and sense of self than the older, more experienced and sophisticated Rita, played by acting great Parker Posey. The only pleasure I got from the film was when Abe met his just ends at the bottom of an elevator shaft. The other movie I watched, “A Rainy Day in New York” also wasn’t great, but it was mildly funny and cute and featured Selena Gomez as a deliciously mean young woman who put the spoiled main character Gatsby in his place. *Sigh.* I miss the old Woody Allen.

Grocery shopping has always been somewhat fraught for me even before COVID, and since then it’s become a veritable gauntlet. They changed the rules some time ago and the courtesy clerks will now deign to bag your groceries again if you bring your own bags. I guess they decided COVID isn’t festering on the surface of every re-usable tote after all. During the long bagging ban, I became somewhat of a virtuoso at bagging my own groceries. I Have A System and I don’t want it messed with, so I try as politely as I can to let the baggers know that I’ll take care of this task. This somehow inflamed the ire of a certain elderly courtesy clerk, who was at first merely miffed by my bagging independence and has recently escalated his ire into open hostility. He started by stalking off in a huff every time I told him I would bag my own groceries, then he started hectoring me about my cart, then he began looming aggressively at the bagging area, watching everything I did and commenting on it. The last time I encountered him, he was in full territorial mode, taking up as much space as he could in the bagging area. I told him again that I prefer to bag my own groceries, and he squinted his eyes and growled, “Yeah, I know who you are. The lady that bags her own groceries.” Then he proceeded to stand there attempting to crowd me out until I finished bagging everything and bolted out of there. I would complain, but the guy is like 90, and his bagging gig might be the only thing he has left in life. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining his last years by grouching about his behavior, as obnoxious as it is.

Since I have tigers on the mind, enjoy this Survivor video from 2009.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 22, 2021

A Not-So-Simple-Plan, Pillars of the Earth, Monk-y Business

I’ve been alluding here and there on this blog about making some changes, and I have a plan in mind that I am in the very rudimentary stages of exploring. Unfortunately, the plan inevitably involves school, which is not something I have a great history with. Maybe I have some form of mild, un-diagnosed ADD or something, but for whatever reason, I hated school my entire life and ended up going to a not-school for college, where I had a lot of freedom to explore and find my own way with learning. I have never done well with capital-a Academia or formalized learning, and I would have to find a program that wouldn’t involve me needing to pass a GRE, because that is never going to happen. I have a severe math deficit and even looking at some of the sample GRE questions online made me want to stab my eyes out. So I’m nervous about it. I never even considered graduate school. I always thought of it as something for academic elites, and I was satisfied just to get my piece of paper validating my useless BA so I could say I have a college degree, which I was brainwashed into thinking was important at the time. But this path that I am considering requires a specific type of education and I wouldn’t be able to move forward without it. Also, I’m far from young and I’m not an obedient sponge who is going to unquestioningly accept everything that is dished out to me by academic “authorities.” If I move forward with this, I don’t know how it’s going to go. I could crash and burn in two weeks, or maybe it will be rocky but okay and I’ll get to the other side with an MA behind my name. Or mabye I’ll just scrap the entire idea and figure something else out.

Whereas formalized learning has never been my forte, I really enjoy informal learning and exploration. If Steam offered advanced degrees, I would have one by now. I’ve learned an enormous amount from video games, and this week I went down a completely delightful and unexpected rabbit hole with a game based on a high-selling but somehow little-known Ken Follet novel called “The Pillars of the Earth.” It was on my Steam wish list and went on sale for a whopping 90% off, so there was no choice but for me to purchase it. And it’s been amazing! I’m through the first “book” and started on the second section last night. It’s a very unusual game experience and it led me to go look up the book and read more about it. Ken Follet wrote an amazing preface for a later edition of “The Pillars of the Earth”, where he describes the long and fraught journey he had writing this novel, and the resistance he faced from his publishers and advisors because it was outside of his usual thriller genre. It’s a historical novel about the cathedral-builders in medieval England, inspired by his great passion for Gothic architecture. I love his preface. It’s very honest and cranky and describes an unlikely success story in all of its messy, chaotic glory. “The Pillars of the Earth” has turned out to be Ken Follet’s most steadily-selling book of all of his novels—not the most popular in terms of huge spikes in sales, but the one with the most staying power and with the most consistent sales world-wide.

I don’t know the history of how they came to create a game based on the book, but it’s been a fascinating experience. It’s one of those “choice” games where purportedly the decisions you make affect the outcome. In turn, you play as a humble monk, a young child who was raised in the woods by his outlaw mother, and the daughter of a disposed earl. Let me tell you, monks, humble or not, were getting up to some real shenanigans in medieval England. Taking a fearless moral game inventory, so far I have started a war, covered up for my brother’s involvement in treason, and burned down a cathedral. (I had my reasons, and anyway that cathedral was in severe disrepair and was about to collapse at any minute. I probably saved lives by burning it down.) As soon as I finish the game, I am going to read the novel in full. I’m really excited about it. Also, I want to do some research on bona-fide bad ass Empress Matilda, the daughter of King Henry 1, who considered herself the rightful heir to the throne and fought tooth and nail her entire life against enormous odds to claim her rightful place.

Enjoy this game trailer. It gives you a little taste of the game’s emotional depth. 

 --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Time Away, Pending Strength, Pixel Puttering

Apologies to those who were waiting with baited breath for my post last week—our home internet went down for four days straight (oh the humanity) and even the intrepid computer genius Mr. Typist couldn’t fix it. It turned out to be an issue on the provider end of things, and all seems to be fixed up now finally, after they came out for a home visit and sorted it out. I have to admit I did enjoy the reprieve from reading internet news and social media nonsense, and as such getting caught up on my many unfinished tablet books.

The entire first part of this year has been one calamity after another for me both work-wise and medically, and I find myself exhausted, burnt out and in desperate need of some time away. As Mr. Typist recently pointed out, I’m “not good” at taking vacation, but I pretty much have to now. I’m fried and worn out and completely frazzled, and that’s not a good look for someone in my role, which requires a level of peppiness and up-beated-ness that I no longer possess. When the Big Change happened at work and my already-heavy workload tripled overnight, I didn’t think a vacation was ever going to be a possibility again, which was mentally crushing, but I didn’t have time to think about it too much in the moment. But now I’ve decided, damn the consequences, I need to get out of here for a while. Maybe they’ll fire me while I’m gone, but I don’t even care anymore. I really miss the ocean and I want a long stay at the seaside. Which I am going to put time and effort into planning today. As soon as I am done with this post. Or maybe even before.

On the fitness end of things, now that I am slowly getting over my horrid allergic reaction to what I strongly suspect now was the sulfa-based antibiotic (it turns out sulfa allergies run in my family), I’m making progress at the gym again, and I’m very excited about inching ever-closer to my goal of getting a pull-up. I admit I was little wary about my new trainer at first: She’s young, naturally athletic, optimistic and cheery—all of the things that I am the opposite of—and I was a little worried that we wouldn’t mesh well. But she’s turned out to be really good for me, and she’s gotten me closer to a pull-up than any of my other trainers have, mostly by having me do “reverse pull-ups.” This is where you grab a pull-up bar, jump up so that you are holding yourself above the bar, then slowly lower yourself down for as long a period of time as you can. When I first did this trick, I was so sore I could barely move for days afterwards. But I carried on with it as soon as I physically could, and now my hold times are getting longer and longer with each try, and I finally see the possibility of a real pull-up in front of me. This makes me wildly happy, because to me, getting to a pull-up is proof-positive of strength. I’ve been at this weight-lifting thing for a while now and I am far stronger than I ever imagined I could be, but being able to lift my own body weight is the gold standard in my mind. My lats are constantly sore under my arms, but I don’t care. I want that pull-up. And once I get it, I’m moving straight to dead-lifting competitions. (A lady can dream.)

During all of my medical and work angst, I’ve been trying out what I call “puttering games” to distract myself and try to stay calm. These are games with low stakes and no battles, where you basically just wander around cleaning, decorating, or casual-farming and such. I came across an absurd game called “Power-Wash Simulator” in which you literally do nothing but power-wash extremely dirty environments. It was a mental health boon for me. Among other things, I power-washed an entire skate park, a playground, a fire station, a woodsy cabin, a haunted house, and numerous filthy vehicles, all the time reveling in the purity and cleanliness I was bringing to bear on these pixelated objects and by proxy, my life. I loved every minute of it and found it extremely soothing. But alas, t’was only an unfinished demo, and the full version of the game has yet to be released, so I ran out of things to power-wash. I then picked up another absurd putter-er called “Gas Station Simulator” in which you re-vamp a broken-down gas station in the middle of the Arizona desert. This one I am finding more alarming and far less relaxing. A “kindly” relative who purported to be my uncle and lent me money has turned out to be shady loan-shark and is demanding immediate repayment of his loan, and there is no number of gas or liquor sales in the immediate future that are going to allow me to pay it back any time soon. So I may end up dead in a ditch. I really wish Power-Wash Simulator would get it’s act together and release the full game. I need to clean something soon, and it’s not going to be my apartment.

I cannot for the life of me find the video I was going to post for this week/last week (internet fame is a fleeting thing, it appears), so here is a kind of disgusting but also hilarious video all about the adorable and terrifying world of piglets. I want a pet pig now!

 --Kristen McHenry