Saturday, August 31, 2013

I Got Candy, Corporate Geometry, and the Scourge of “Resting Bitch Face”

Weird blue bendy gender-less people,with arrows
Just on the tail end of a long, psychologically and emotionally grueling summer, the universe granted me the one piece of pretty, shiny candy that I’ve had my eye on for almost ten months—a book acceptance! “The Acme Employee Handbook” has a publisher! I won’t give out too many details because I haven’t signed the contract yet, but I will say it was chosen by a non-American indie press that seems to share my…let's just say, odd sensibilities. I know that acceptance and approval isn’t everything, but I felt that there was a lot at stake with this one. Of all of my work, the poems and prose-poems in this book feel the most like my authentic voice and vision, where I took real risks and allowed my imagination to have its say. I didn’t seek out a second set of eyes, outside opinion, or a “critique.” I wrote, re-wrote and edited the poems until they felt true to me, and considered the book done when they did. I felt strongly that for this one, the weird alchemy of my voice could only remain intact if I didn't allow outside opinions to dilute the work. So an acceptance for this one feels deeply personal to me. It feels like being heard.

With books come covers, and the need for cover art. As I was perusing Google Image Search for some ideas, it struck me how many graphs, charts, grids, and “models” I have been subjected too since I started working for a large organization. A lot them were specifically related to an eight-week training course about how to be better at bossing people around, but there are plenty everywhere else, too: Ever-shifting “leadership” hierarchy charts, management theory grids with bewildering arrows, concentric circles, and cryptic phrases such as “Total Quality Management”, the ubiquitous “generic person” clip art, with paper-doll cut-outs of men and women, and those weird blue bendy gender-less people that have been popping up all over the place lately. Or worse, insufferable stock photos of smiling suits.

At first, I thought of this pervasive, reductive visual representation of corporate employees as some massive, Illuminati-ish conspiracy to dehumanize the American work force, but now I think it’s something less ominous. I think it’s a heroic but misguided attempt to corral the messy, bewildering, inconvenient chaos of human experience into something that can be made sense of so some damn work can get done in this country. When you’re managing over 150 people on a daily basis, there is great relief in a colored-coded, one-page graph that boils the entire psychological makeup of your group down to four tidy squares and some artfully placed arrows, so you can pull it up mentally when you find yourself in discussions that start with the phrase, “You did what?” None of the charts make any sense whatsoever, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that by studying them, you are comforted by a sense of containment; a formula, a neat little square you can move your person into mentally as you try to understand what the hell they were thinking, and come up with the magical words you can say that will get them to understand

Of course, you could just try to be authentically in the moment with that person, listen to them without judgment, engage them with a genuine sense of curiosity about who they are, and allow for what occurs with compassion and goodwill. But you don’t have time for that, because You Work for A Big Organization.

On another note, I think I finally figured out why people are always telling me, “Cheer up! It’s not that bad.” I have Resting Bitch Face! I think I’ve always known, but to be able to put a name to it is so empowering. I have a puffy, asymmetrical lower lip and droopy eyelids (back off, gentlemen—I’m married!) which makes me look massively pissed off when all I’m doing is sitting there innocently thinking about how maybe I should slice up the avocados before they go bad. I didn’t know what “Resting Bitch Face” was until this week when I heard a local radio show host talking about how she gets “cheer up!” all the time due to her naturally down-turned mouth, then coincidentally finding an Imgur post with an actress explaining on a talk show that she has the same exact same thing: Now when the tenth person a day tells me to cheer up, I have a perfectly sensible retort: “You, sir, misunderstand. You see, I’m not sad at all, I just have Resting Bitch Face!”

--Kristen McHenry



Jo-Ann said...

Hilarious video and great news on the book and how you went about it. Looking forward to seeing/reading it.

John Socrates said...

Your writing continues to be outstanding, my dear. And your blog is a 10+ and always an enjoyable read. Congrats on getting your newest accepted by a publisher. You are entering the stratosphere of success. I am so happy for you. And I can't wait to see your new book when it comes out. Do let all your fans and friends know when it happens! And your fellow poets, too. :-)

--Patrick The Poet