Sunday, June 19, 2022

Poem of the Month: Hermit Crab's Lament

 Hermit Crab's Lament



You who call us
house proud and vapid
have misunderstood.
Do you think we merely
fumble our way by instinct
into any hollow object?
You can't comprehend
the arithmetic of our choices; the ecstasy
of toil in a hard, rank womb.

I will admit to a touch of pride.
I’ve always been keen on headroom,
though we can ill afford
to be choosy in these times.
I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

It’s of no consequence
these days, I suppose. They’re all a poor fit now.
The wind oozes through, no matter the rental.
The shore is a wasteland of broken cups.
It’s about the seeking, they tell me.
Well cold comfort. My whole
damn species are fools, always skittering
toward some fresh perfection, always
outgrowing what loves us.

Only God has the courage
to go without a crust, to linger
as tender as a polyp in these barrens.
When he taps our walls for the final eviction,
We will be unable to hang on, unable
to refuse. He will stagger with us
towards our first, most perfect home.  

--Kristen McHenry



Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Stairs in the Woods

I recently started watching the YouTube channel of a gentleman who goes by the moniker of Wendigoon. He does really in-depth, well-researched videos on topics such as the paranormal, weird history, biblical tales, angels and conspiracies. I was humming away watching his vids and flipping digital houses this week when I came across a video of his that freaked me the eff out. Like, gave-me-chills-and-made-me-feel-like-there-was-a-cold-finger-on-the-back-of-my-neck kind of freaked me out. I got totally sucked in until I thought about it rationally later and realized that the whole story had to be a fiendish hoax, but boy did it ever work on me until then. The video was about the mysterious phenomenon of stairs in the woods. Apparently, a few years ago, a story popped up on Reddit, supposedly posted by a Search and Rescue professional, about coming across a set of stairs in deep in the woods while on a rescue mission. The whole tale got more and more elaborate over time, but the gist of was that he was told in no uncertain terms never to go near one of these staircases or even to touch them, and his higher-ups warned him not not to talk about them publicly.

According to the post, these staircases are very deep in the woods and always show up within a few miles proximity to where a person has gone missing. They lead to nowhere and they are usually in pristine condition, free of moss, dirt and droppings. Some of them have even been reported to be covered in clean, white carpeting. Those who come across such stairs report feelings of deep foreboding, dread and fear, and instinctively stay away from them. After this person posted his story, more and more people began posting their own tales of coming across stairs in the woods while hiking in national parks or while deep in the forest for work expeditions or humanitarian missions. A cursory Google search reveals that a stairway sighting is often accompanied by some sort of paranormal phenomenon or even sightings of aliens or cryptids. There are tales of people ascending these staircases and losing a hand, or thinking that just a few minutes have passed when in actuality, they went missing for five years. There are some eerie tales out there, my friends.

The whole thing had me really weirded out. Then I realized the stairs-in-the-woods thing has all of the perfect secret-sauce ingredients for cooking up a giant hoax to goose gullible people like me. It has deep forests (spooky) and a weird, anomalous out-of-place structure (scary). People are told by authorities not to talk about it, thereby adding a conspiratorial element that increases the sense of a cover-up, and you throw freaky but totally unverifiable tales of paranormal happenings and alien sightings in and boom—you got yourself a class-A click-bait bamboozle. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. Between that and the giant freaking spider I found in the kitchen sink this morning, I’m a bit on edge, folks. I’m going to head out to my nice, well-lit gym where the only staircases are automated ones that belong there. I have to shake these heeby-jeebies.

If you enjoy quirky history, you will love this video from Windigoon about the short-lived country of Fordlandia. 


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Weather Caprice, A Not-Totally-Sensible Plan, Mysteries of the Missing

I don’t understand what is happening with Seattle weather lately. It’s absolutely bizarre. It’s hot and cold by the hour and I never know which coat to wear. I have a white-noise machine I turn on before bed with a “gentle thunderstorm” program, and a few nights ago, I awoke startled to the crack of ear-splitting thunder, wondering if something had gone haywire with the volume, only to realize that we were in the middle of real-life thunderstorm. It stormed and raged freezing rain for hours, and by the time I left the office that day, it was so hot I had to take off my coat and sweater. Spring and early summer in Seattle is always a bit temperamental, but this is ridiculous. I cannot abide these bipolar weather swings. There is only so much layering one can do, and I just want an iota of predictability somewhere in my life, for goodness sake. Also, I can’t wait to ditch my overcoat for a few months. The day that I can walk to work in a light jacket is the symbolic beacon of hope that we will actually have something resembling a summer in Seattle.

I was delighted to meet with a friend/co-worker for lunch recently. I never even have a proper lunch anymore, much less go out with co-workers, so this was a real treat. After multiple forced cancellations, we were finally able to make it to our arranged date at a neighborhood Italian place, at which I ordered what turned out to be a huge platter of spaghetti, another rarity for me. Pasta smack in the middle of the day! But the company was the real delight. I have always admired this person, and she was generous enough to spend some time listening to me when I found myself in a crisis a few years ago. At our lunch, she told me that her whole life, she had always longed to go to graduate school, and she finally did when she was in her early fifties. She was drawn to a surprising passion and has no regrets that she pursued it despite the late-ish stage of her career. She told me this because according to her, I lit up with passion when talking to her about my own surprising, perhaps-not-totally-sensible career direction that has been forming over the process of working with my mentor. The excitement I feel about this potential direction is unwavering and undeniable. It doesn't involve graduate school, thank goodness, but it does involve some very do-able education and classes. We’ll see what comes of it.

I’m not a big true crime fan—I think it’s a bit morbid to find entertainment in the violent deaths of our fellow human beings—but recently I’ve been listening to a Missing Persons podcast, which I find less grisly than true crime and which leaves the door open to some hope. These podcasts give my mind a mystery to latch onto so I don’t obsess over stupid things that I can’t control. The missing persons stories are extremely vexing—people just vanishing from the world under mundane or sometimes very odd circumstances. The mundane ones are the most upsetting to me; the ones where someone is just gone, with their car keys on the hall table and a half-drunk cup of tea still sitting on the counter. Some of the stories are from earlier decades when we didn’t have cell phone tracking and cameras on every corner, but some of them are very recent, and I find it extremely puzzling that such a thing could happen with all of the technology we have and everything being recorded 24/7. It’s my hope that as many of these people as possible are found and that their families get the closure they deserve. I think about each and everyone of them more than I probably should.

On a cheerier note, just because, enjoy this quite fascinating video about the miraculous sea star. (Warning: references to Satan and glue-sniffing.) 

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Speaking of wasting time, House Flipper has become a sort of psychological litmus test for whatever is going on with me in the moment. I went crazy with the pets, having indulged every single one of my pet-owning fantasies. In addition to my dream dog, the Husky, I got a guinea pig because I owned one once in real life and ended up having to give him away due to allergies. I got a rag-doll cat, a turtle (I also used to own a turtle), a parrot, an exotic fish aquarium, and an iguana. I’m considering a bunny, too, although in real life they don’t make good pets. Now that I have the pets out of my system, I am working on refurbishing a high-end office building, a job which I find myself taking very seriously because in real-life, I am smack in the middle of a big office move at one of my campuses and am learning a fair bit about office design and construction as a result. I am hyper-alert to functionality, aesthetics and quality, and I want the imaginary future residents of this building to have an excellent space to work in. It’s also a great displacement activity to subvert my own real-life new-office anxiety. Who needs a therapist when you have House Flipper?

--Kristen McHenry

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Dental Shaming, Overly-Specific Greeting Cards, Cat Lady Hero

Well, it’s finally time. Time that I suck it up and go to the dentist, that is. Before you judge me for avoiding the dentist, just Google “redheads and dental pain” for about two seconds and you shall be enlightened as to how my freakish genetics cause a routine trip the dentist to be a dread-and-pain-filled experience for both me and the poor staff, who have to deal with my nuttiness and my need for massive doses of numbing agents. I was hoping to put my impending visit off just a little bit longer, but my dentist office sent me a shockingly dental-shaming email this week akin to a “Dear John” letter, basically telling me they aren’t having any more of my bs and that they “hope” that if I don’t want to see them anymore that I am getting dental care somewhere else and not “neglecting my oral hygiene.” First of all, I take umbrage to that phrasing. I am not neglecting my oral hygiene! I brush and floss and rinse with mouthwash twice or more a day. It’s not like my teeth are rotting out of my head and my breath smells like a garbage barge. My teeth are fully intact and my breath smells as sweet as spearmint thanks to all of the sugarless gum I chew. Then, they went on to flat-out threaten to abandon me if I didn’t make an appointment soon, telling me that they would inactivate my chart if they didn’t hear from me within 30 days. Look, I don’t want to go to the dentist but they can’t just give up on me like that. I have abandonment issues. I can’t believe they threatened to break up with me. So I made the darned appointment already. Sheesh. I hope they’re happy now.

Although in theory I love cards and stationary and all things beautiful paper and Papyrus-y, I don’t actually send out cards or letters very often. I had to buy a card for a momentous occasion recently, and I was completely addled by how oddly specific greeting cards have gotten. They had greeting cards for every type of couple, every obscure occasion, every combination of life events, and every age, country of origin, and creed. I had to wade through a ton of cards to find just a general one that didn’t list an exhaustive bio and specify the date of the event in question. There used to just be birthday cards, anniversary cards, and sympathy cards, with the occasional, coveted blank card. I don’t know why there now needs to be card for every type of vacation, vocation, and possible life incident. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I don’t feel like this speaks well of us as a society. I feel that it indicates a certain lack of faith in our imaginations and our ability to express ourselves. I think it should be a routine practice to buy a blank card, write your own message on it, and send it to a friend or relative at least once a quarter to keep those expressive juices flowing, and to remind people that email and text is not the only mode of communication available to humans.

My beloved House Flipper game recently released new content, in which you can have pets! I downloaded it right away, and was completely delighted during the tutorial when you open a random box and are greeted with an adorable, writhing golden retriever puppy. I was captivated, but even more excited when I discovered I could adopt a Husky. I have always wanted a Husky and I have been living out my Husky-owning desires with my adoptee Junebug, who I take with me on all of my flipping jobs. It’s me and Junebug against the house-flipping world. She’s fun and very low-maintaince.

With the new content came some new jobs, one of which is for the world’s most controlling cat lady. I was in awe of her. She said that she didn’t trust me and that she was very risk-averse, so she laid out every single piece of furniture, tile and paint that she wanted on big palettes on her lawn so as to idiot-proof the job. She even went so far as to build a special ladder so I could get to the higher ceilings. I appreciate the way she thinks. She was very organized and really thought ahead. The event planner in me applauds Controlling Cat Lady.

Eventually, I’m going to build myself a giant House Flipper pet empire, full of turtles and iguanas and bunnies and tropical fish, but for now I am content with Junebug.

 --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Along with reading “Range,” I also took a test. I’ve take many a “personality test” before, mostly work-related and many of them quite pricey and elaborate affairs with dubious results. This latest test/survey/analysis was the CliftonStrengths assessment, which reveals your top five strengths. I found the assessment itself quite stressful because it’s timed, and many of the statements you are supposed to “agree” or “disagree” with require a lot of thought and processing, but you only have twenty seconds to make a decision on each one. I suppose that makes sense, since they don’t want you endlessly prevaricating, but it really put the pressure on. I wasn’t super-surprised at most of my results: Empathy, Connectedness, Developer, Adaptability—all of which fall into the Relationship Building category—but I was quite surprised to find that “Strategic” came up in my top five. I’m still puzzling my way through that one. I have never thought of myself as particularly strategic. I think ahead, but I have always felt that is based more on anxiety than any innate chess-champion-like instincts. (In fact, I hate chess and have a whole story about when I worked for a chess company once and had to fake passion for it for a year and half.) But maybe I’m selling myself short and I could have a second career as a brilliant strategist, creating...strategies, or whatever it is they do.

Speaking of strategies, I am inching ever-closer to that elusive pull-up by getting uber-agressive with the assisted pull-up machine, lowering the assist weight further and further each time and holding myself in place when I can’t pull myself up any further. I’m about 30-35 pounds away from a single pull-up. It’s disheartening that it’s taking forever to get there, but I have also gained a fair bit of muscle in my legs, making them heavier, and have put on a little more weight after upping my calories, which I need to increase even more to keep up with all of the weight lifting. It’s like a dog chasing its tail at this point, but I’m in too far now to give up. The day will come, my chickadees, I have no doubt of it.

Last week’s video featured Vivaldi, who was a fixture at the Ospedale della Pietà, teaching violin and writing many pieces for their orchestra. Here’s some more Vivaldi to tickle your ears:

 --Kristen McHenry

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Book Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Recently, I was blessed to have been able to establish a formal mentorship at work with a very accomplished leader. Although we’ve only had a few sessions so far, I’ve really been enjoying the experience. She recommended a book called “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein. It’s a fascinating read with much food for thought. I work in the health care field and it’s brimming with narrowly hyper-specialized roles, so it’s been very heartening to read about the power of a good generalist, which I believe I am. My work life in mostly scrappy non-profits forced me to get competent quickly at a lot of different things and to be constantly adaptable because I’ve always had to take on multiple roles within a single job. I’ve generally worked without a map, pre-established guidelines, or a linear path. I never thought much about this style as having specific advantages and benefits--it’s just how things played out, and I discovered that I preferred it that way. I don’t like the feeling of being locked into any one thing. So reading Epstein’s book has opened my eyes to the wisdom of this approach, which is hard to see when the cultural message is the opposite. I couldn’t say it better than author Daniel H. Pink in his review of “Range:”

“For too long, we’ve believed in a single path to excellence. Start early, specialize soon, narrow your focus, aim for efficiency. But in this groundbreaking book, David Epstein shows that in most domains, the way to excel is something altogether different. Sample widely, gain a breadth of experiences, take detours, and experiment relentlessly.”

I’m a few chapters in and although so far there has been a lot of chess talk, I understand where Epstein is going with all of it. Someone has to champion and defend us Jacks-of-all-Trades, those of us who can apply our skills to multiple domains and who can adapt on the fly. I think that the overwhelming cultural push to narrow our career paths, stick to the known road and God forbid, never experiment has damaged our ability to innovate as a nation. I remember the intense frustration I would feel when I interviewed for jobs and would be turned down because I didn’t have experience in the particular industry the job was in, although I demonstratively had the skills to perform the job itself. My attitude has always been that you can almost always learn an industry on the job; the important thing is having transferable skills, which is something that still seems pretty lost on corporate America. I read some ago about how difficult it was for ex-military folks to find work because companies simply couldn’t fathom how to use them, which I find astounding. Ex-military would be the first people I would hire were I in a position to hire people.

I realize that my “Just plunk me down anywhere and I’ll figure it out” career approach may not be the stuff of LinkedIn advice articles, but it’s baked into my career cake now and even if I wanted to change it, I wouldn’t be able to without enormous cost and little benefit. And that’s okay. Somehow, mysteriously, I always manage to find a place for myself.

It’s the first day of May, which is astonishing to me. Spring is bleary-eyed and slow to wake up in Seattle this year. I’m not generally a fan of the sun, but I wouldn’t say no to a little more light and warmth. While we wait for Spring to drag herself out of bed, enjoy some Vivaldi!


--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Poem of the Month: The Odyssey

I’m posting this poem here today without much commentary. I wrote it after coming out of a certain calamity a number of years ago, and now it feels to me that it applies again as we are emerging from the pandemic. I had my own ordeals with the pandemic and as I write this, I find myself feeling the need to make sure that I let everyone know that I am fully aware that my pain was nowhere close to the pain others suffered, that my calamities and griefs and losses were minor in comparison to so many who went through much worse than I did. And all of that being true doesn’t change what I experienced or make it less painful retroactively. I’m telling you this so that you can remember it for yourself as well.

The Odyssey 


This is the year I swam

length by length back into my body.

I swam with smooth sinuous strokes and tireless limbs.

I swam without

faith, or a way to mark time. I swam in the

void the sea swallowed whole. I swam in soundless

solitary, stupefying, terrible and swift.

Now I rise like a heron in the midnight pond.

My spine is infinite, my bones divine.

Upon re-entry, I find my flesh

intact. It is worshipful, this vessel. Its

storm of neurons, its earthen feet, the prayer of my hips, my

heart’s cauldron. My ribs engorged with grief. My belly a safe house.

I shocked the clocks into obedience. In time, I will rise and

rise again,

come to rest in this spawning ground.

--Kristen McHenry

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Book Bonanza, Pull-Up Potential, The Mighty Ostrich

I find myself with a sudden collision of books all bumping and bouncing into one another, and as a result I am having a bad case of book ADD. This never used to happen to me. I would read two to three books a week easily (this is before I discovered Tomb Raider) and never felt the need to read more than one book at at time. But you see what happened was, “Grown-Ups” by Marian Keyes finally came out on Kindle, just at around the same time that her long-anticipated sequel to “Rachel’s Holiday” was released, and I downloaded the first one before knowing about the second one’s release date, then greedily starting reading both. This is in addition to the newest paperback edition of “Fiction” which arrived in the mail at the same time, in tandem with me trying to finish “Total Power,” a thriller about the take-down of the US power grid by terrorists. This is not even to mention “The Fountainhead” which has lain dormant in my Kindle since last summer. I need calm down, take a deep breath, and think methodically. I shall make a list, read one book at at time, and check them tidily off of my mental list. Or maybe even a physical list. Lists always help me stay on track. I need a whiteboard.

In fitness news, I was very excited yesterday when at the gym I was able to do two sets of four reps at 35 pounds of assist on the pull-up machine! My goal upon leaving the house had been to get to four reps at 45 pounds of assist, but I managed it at 35, and I am finally starting to see the pull-up goal as achievable rather than just aspirational. I had been plateaued for a long time and I was getting discouraged. But I managed to hold myself up on the bar for a record seven seconds the last time I met with my trainer, and that gave me a little boost of encouragement, so I put more time into the lats and biceps this week, which maybe helped. At the nudging of my trainer, I also upped my calorie and protein intake. She suggested I “supplement” with drinks and bars, both of which I have always disliked, but I decided to try again. I’ve learned through experience that I am not going to succeed with powders. I hate mixing them and will just give up after a while. But I found a sample pack of ready-to-drink protein drinks online in different flavors, and ordered that. The first one, vanilla, I found undrinkable after a few swallows due to a bizarre aftertaste, but I have three more to try so I haven’t given hope on this particular brand yet. 

I also ordered venison bars. I know that sounds a bit over-the-top, but I detest most of the sweet, grainy protein bars that are on the market, and I am a fan of beef jerky, so thought venison bars might fit the bill. They are...interesting. A little startling at first, but not bad. Game meats are definitely an acquired taste, but I think I can get used to it. I ate venison here and there as a kid because we lived in deer-hunting country for a time, so I’m not totally unfamiliar with it. And once a few years ago I documented on this blog my foray into making my own energy bars, which I may try again. We’ll see if any of this helps. Oh, also--I had a dream recently wherein a tall Greek woman at a carnival told me I was dehydrated, so I guess I’ll up the water intake, too.

It’s been a working weekend for me, so this post will be cut a little short. In lieu of my nattering, enjoy this video by the wickedly funny Zfrank1 about the mighty ostrich. I found it weirdly fascinating:

--Kristen McHenry