Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Apartment of Regret, 1988

There was one outlet. I had to unplug the fishtank to work the coffeepot.

The carpeting smelled like a layer cake of beer.

The apartment across from mine was gorgeous, with pocket doors, a stained glass window, and the memory of my best friend. She was the reason I moved into the building in the first place. She moved out the summer I signed my lease, having lived there a year, and was fed up with the landlord.

My place was furnished with a 1950s chrome dinette set. The bedroom had a bed with a white vinyl headboard that had brass pins pushed into it, giving it a pillowed effect. It was hard.

My other furniture was wicker and it creaked. I never sat in it.

The gas oven would occasionally send out a firebomb of flames from under the broiler as you lit it. My cat was almost singed. I considered complaining, but wasn't supposed to have a cat.

A collection of poetry, discarded in the doorway among some dried leaves, became part of my permanent book collection. From it I memorized, "Music When Sweet Voices Die," by Shelley, ripe with sentimentality, and "This Be The Verse," by Philip Larkin, which I can still recite if prompted.

My landlord: a tub of a man who clipped his toenails at the desk of his main floor real estate office, who didn't like me entertaining any man in the apartment, and who I discovered once, during a thunderstorm, out on the roof by my bedroom window.

The rent was too much.

The adjoining building, also owned by the same man, had a series of rooms like a prairie dog den that were rented by the week. There was a shared kitchen and bathroom. The hall that led to the shared kitchen had an old upright piano in it, with a few missing keys.

Letters from my sister, living in Pittsburgh at the time, arrived in a mailbox at the bottom of the stairwell. I looked forward to the little sketches in her letters, and her neat handwriting.

During the year I lived there, I shopped for groceries at the Acme within walking distance, and only bought items that were a dollar or less: ramen, margarine, frozen vegetables, mac and cheese, yoghurt. I was 19 and thought I'd live forever.

My neighbors had a snake for a pet. A big one. One morning on my way out to class, he said, "Hey, the snake got loose. Keep an eye out for it." I worried about my cat all day.

One of the single room renters was a young man named Mike, who had no family nearby, and he often didn't have food. Once a week or so he'd come over to my apartment and I'd make mac and cheese with hot dogs in it, or get fancy and make my sister's ramen noodle stir-fry. We'd sit on the floor of my living room and eat and talk.

One bare lightbulb lit the stairwell. 40 watt. Squint.

Mike was simple. No pretense. He wasn't without intelligence, definitely street smart, but wasn't much of a reader. He was tall, dark haired, soft eyed, and kind. He had no family to visit on Thanksgiving or Christmas, which meant he was alone in the prairie dog den on holidays.

On Sundays I watched The Gary Shandling Show on my little black  and white 12" television.

I forget what Mike and I talked about as we ate mac and cheese, but I felt good about myself for inviting him over, the poor guy with no family.

The phone was in the kitchen. I made weekly calls to my grandmothers. One week I was recording music from the college radio station on cassette, and forgot to shut it off so I recorded my half of the conversation with my grandmother, Romayne. The music ends, and then you hear me dialing, and saying hello, and all the kitchen clinks and clanks as I did the dishes, and my responses to her.

I remember feeling guilty for not inviting Mike home with me for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I thought it was safer that way. You know, he might fall in love with me. I was doing us a favor, saving us both a very awkward future situation. I gave him my mac and cheese and thought it was enough.

I hung my college level artwork. My colorful scarves. The poster of New York. My future.

I played it safe and breezy.

Grime on every surface I tried to clean off.

Odor of loneliness.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"It Sucks To Be Me" Chicken Pot Pie

It helps to start with a November mind. A few shaggy and grey thoughts, blustery with maybes and indecision, plus a dash of stress. Maybe because the Department of State won't recognize  the legal document that states your election to resume your maiden name, so your passport application is delayed. Maybe it's a big stress, or a small thing that digs in like one of those metal frame corners under your fingernails. Feeling it? You're ready to allow yourself the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself and to start cooking. Frustration and slightly cooler weather is key. If you don't have both, save this recipe for later.

Serves: Several saggy souls. Have some containers for leftovers.


1 chicken, fully cooked
8 carrots
1 med. onion
3 stalks celery
4 small red potatoes
4 c. chicken or vegetable broth

For the noodles:

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 medium eggs
dash of salt
splash of water (as needed)

For the optional roux:

3 tbsp flour
1/4 - 1/2 c. water
splash of milk


Bake a chicken.

What? I thought this was going to be an easy recipe! I don't have time to bake a chicken! I'm sad and frustrated and have had a long day.

Do you want this to taste good? Quit whinging and bake a chicken (it takes about an hour in a 350 degree oven), and while it's baking you can work on the rest of the chopping and mixing of noodle dough. Or you can phone it in and get one of those sad and wrinkly baked-for-your-covenience chickens that's been sitting in a plastic bag on a warmer for four hours and suffer the culinary consequences. Up to you.

While your chicken is in the oven, put on some music that makes you want to dance, and cut your carrots into rounds, dice up the celery and onion, and cube the potatoes. I like to arrange the rounds and little vegetable pieces into a pattern on the cutting board, just for fun. Playing with your food is ok, and no one needs to know, unless you photograph the design and post it to your Instagram feed. Hey, "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers is on! Groove.

Saute the vegetables in a little bit of oil at the bottom of a deep pot. I like to use a Dutch oven. When the onions are transparent, add the broth, put a lid on the pot, and let it simmer for awhile as you make the noodles.

The noodles are simple, and I learned this gift of a recipe from my friend Robin. Put the flour into a medium bowl, crack the two eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork. Add the eggs to the flour, and use the fork to mix. Add the dash of salt. When it starts to hang together, add a little water until a shaggy mass forms. Spread some flour onto a clean surface, and roll the dough out until it is about 1/8" thick. The noodles will puff up a bit in the broth as they cook. If you want them thicker, roll them out thicker. Cut into whatever shapes you like — squares are traditional. I have a circle cutter I use. Cookie cutters work — why not have hearts and giraffes?
When you're done cutting, lay the noodles out on a cookie sheet lined with some parchment or wax paper so they don't stick.

Chicken done? Let it cool a bit and peel the meat off the bones. Save the bones for making chicken broth. Put them in a bag and stick them in the freezer if you can't do it tomorrow.

Check the doneness of the veggies in the broth by actually tasting them. Don't just poke at them with a fork. Indulge in taste-testing. They should be done by now.

If they aren't done, or the chicken is still cooling, take a walk. It's November, so it's windy, and it will air you out. The trees are calligraphic against the sky, see?

When you're back from your walk, add the chicken pieces to the broth, and the noodles. Bring the broth up to a low bubble and let it gurgle for about 10 minutes. If you have larger noodles, stir occasionally to make sure they aren't sticking together. Add the roux to thicken the broth just a bit. You don't have to do this step if you don't want to, it's just an added bit of comfort that I like.

Serve in bowls. Light a candle for the table. Put your phone away, don't take photos of your food. Just eat, and enjoy. It's not quite so bad now, is it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

American Echo

It is simple to make your opinion known if
you have a Facebook account or Twitter. There
but for the grace of god go we, smug are
our memes, the filtered photos that prove our gods
have or haven't failed us. Did you see that they
changed our precious logo? The nerve. Our favor
runs solely on Dunkin, or let champagne flow for us
only, since it cures dementia, did you hear? We all
want to remember forever what we shared to
each other's walls, how we became our own brand of death.
A variation of the French form, Bref Double a l'Echo, which I learned years ago and fell in love with for the challenge of writing to the end words without it sounding forced. I came to this poem by reading about grace this morning, then looking up the word grace in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (I wanted the idea of grace notes in here, but the quote of the martyr John Bradford ended up in here instead), and by having a stew of opinions in my head from my morning newsfeed. Boy am I tired of the internet, and everyone's opinion, including my own. It shows in this poem.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Being Here

The wind sweeps her breath
into my room,
a cloud of seedpods and earth.

Browned leaves chitter shiver
on their final branches,
arms reach foreverly.

A bird squees, a dog howls,
and sunblush spreads across
the bark of the black ash.

Interruption or preference,
the light and sounds
of dawn?

Meditate on the protective barn,
the unscreened window
that invites all inside,

and lift your eyes to listen,
scrub your mind to listen,
to hear, you're here.

This poem is as close to a triversen as I could get this morning. A Native American form of variable accentuals is the triversen stanza, which was developed by William Carlos Williams and a number of others. One stanza equals one sentence. Williams was after the breath pause -- breaking the line or sentence into phrasal lines. My version very lightly kisses this idea. He also spoke of the variable foot -- each line could vary in length, carrying from two to four stressed syllables.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Who Is Your Audience?

Pleased to meet you. I'm Chintz Davenport. But you can call me Chintzy. All of my friends do.

I performed for three hours in a furniture store on Saturday. I did no harm. I broke no lamps. I was paid well.

When I gave the store employee making the sale announcements my stage name, he didn't flinch.

Bouquets of mylar balloons bloomed from nearly every corner of the store, and a whiteboard with timed sales events greeted customers at the front door. I've learned not to carry in any hoops, props, or the amp until I've figured out exactly where I'll be in the venue, so I walked in, all rainbow wig and socks, found a sales associate, and asked for directions. I was in the Smith room. The furniture in that room, which was ringed with hundreds of hanging upholstery samples, hadn't been moved. There was no space for hooping in there yet. The woman who booked me arranged the room with a coworker, and once all the mirrors and shelving units were out of the way, I was set with a space that was suitable. Not ideal, but suitable. I had no idea the fireplace I was next to was motion-activated, but about 15 minutes into starting, bathed in sweat, I found another sales associate to help me turn it off.

Pro-tip: When performing in furniture stores, make sure you're not near the motion-sensored fireplaces.

My amp was loud enough to drown out the Muzak in the Smith room, and as long as I didn't stray from my spot or turn down my volume, I didn't have to endure Barry Manilow. It was a slow sale day. The weather was bright and beautiful. Everyone was probably out picking pumpkins, or sipping cider and thinking about their Halloween costumes. It was difficult not to feel just a little bit silly in my getup, with all my hoops, performing in the middle of a mostly empty furniture store.

The employees stood in the middle of the first floor, waiting for customers to come in, and they were in the direct line of sight of my performance space, so they watched from a distance, and chatted. The woman who hired me came over, but not too close, took a photo, said "Got it!" and turned and walked away. I thought, 
Well that wasn't the best I can do for a photo, so I did a four-split and held it for a minute. I waited for her to notice, but she never did because she was looking at her phone and then talking with a coworker.

About forty feet away from me was a complimentary nacho bar, replete with sour cream, salsa, and cheese. There were a couple of employees who hung out there exclusively for most of the day, and walked past to say "Wow, that's cool," or "Now that's a neat trick!" as they crunched their chips. One of the Nacho Cheer Squad helped me out with the fireplace.

Every hour or so, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker:

Welcome customers! From 2 to 4 p.m. enjoy an additional $100 off any sectional leather sofa during this one time only sale! And make sure to visit the Smith room to see Chintz Davenport, hula hoop specialist!

A few people came over to watch, and interact, and they all had children. The rest either looked past me as if I were a garish highboy they would never buy, or pretended I wasn't there (probably sending up quiet prayers they wouldn't be hit with a wild hoop) as they lifted the tag on the storage ottoman that was right behind me.

An employee walked over to give me regular reports on when there was a child in the store who might be interested in hooping. "There's a little girl in here. She's wearing pink pants. Her name is Elise. If you see her, say her name. That will wow her."

I never saw Elise. Ok. The pay was good, but where was my audience?

And then eleven year old Sarah came over. She told me all about how the circus came to her school and taught them all how to balance peacock feathers. I had feathers in my suitcase. "This is the best furniture store ever!" she said. "I didn't want to come shopping today, but now I'm glad I did."

We hooped together, balanced feathers, and I showed her the Toroflux, which engaged her imagination for a full twenty minutes. She imagined she was a magician, and her showmanship was spectacular.

There are days (all of them) when I doubt what I do, but I'm reminded plenty that I'm there for someone. Sometimes my audience is an audience of one, and that person has my full attention, and I get to put all my energy into them. I really see that person, and they really see me, or they see me as Chintz, the circus performer who magically appeared in the furniture store just for her.

Sarah was my audience on Saturday. I was also her audience as she performed her Toroflux magic.

What's that? Just looking for a sofa. Mmm. Yes, that sofa looks like it will survive with a toddler in the house. No, I'm not sure where the bathroom is. You weren't expecting to see a hula hoop specialist in the middle of the furniture store today? Well, life sure is full of things we weren't expecting. Oh yeah, I'm sure I'm right where I belong today.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Time and Time and Time Again, Hello

When we moved from the city to the countryside this summer our belongings and furniture heaved a collective sigh of "Oh good, we can just be ourselves now, that apartment was too swank for us." Among those belongings was a wall clock that belonged to my grandmother. It never worked since it was in my ownership, and so hung on the wall with the rest of the art, a sort of homage to time. 

Dan is always doing thoughtful things, and he loves to make things work, so he ordered a new movement for the clock, and a new pendulum, and now the clock sings the Westminster chimes on the hour. It has made me hyper aware of the passage of time. It also made me fill up my grandmother's candy dish. Why not? I need caramels. We are now the couple with the chiming clock and candy dish that is always filled. 

Sometimes when the clock sings, I hear: "You're getting old/the time is now/get off your butt/you lazy cow." Ow. The part of my brain that enjoys making up lyrics, impromptu musicals, and jingles can be a real meanypants smartass. But she also has a point.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, and kairos signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens. I think of kairos as spiritual time. Chronos is quantitative, but kairos is qualitative. Kairos, to me, is time well spent. Chronos is a demanding schedule.

We say we "spent time" working on a new logo or cooking a meal. Spending is a good word for it, because time is a currency. It's an odd bank account where you never see your balance. No one wants to think of what number remains on the statement. Is it close to zero? Have I been squandering what I have left?

Unitasking is kairos. You are focused, in the moment, and working on one thing at a time. You are appreciative. You're in the flow state, or what some people call "the zone." Kids are brilliant at hanging out in kairos. They are unitaskers by nature. I love spending time with children, because it is time well-spent. My mother is also a unitasker. I love spending time with her, too. I learn from her.

Multitasking is chronos. When you find yourself saying, "I have to go to the cleaners, and then pick up that script, and run to the post office ... oooh ... maybe I can get a few more hours of that volunteer data entry in after that and get it finished," you're in chronos. Chronos can feel like an infinite loop. It's an endless to-do list, where you don't have time to appreciate the little things, like the wooly worm on the sidewalk.

This morning I made a list of things I consider chronos, and things I consider kairos, and it was interesting to see that some overlap. Riding a swing is kairos, but the pendulum nature of the movement throws it into the chronos zone. Cooking a meal is kairos, but then there's the chronos of coordinating the cooking times.

If you've ever been in a casino, shopping mall, or grocery store, you've been manipulated into thinking there is no time. They are all designed to put you into what you think is a state of kairos, but it's really chronos as you flit from aisle to gleaming aisle (or game to game) like a drunk bumblebee.

Jenny's List of Kairos Activators

looking at the sky
reading a good book
listening to someone's story
puppet shows
live theatre
the symphony
creating art
writing (not journalism)
reading a letter
taking a walk
floating on your back on a lake (especially good if still wearing a dress)
giving birth
imaginative play
taking off stage makeup
baking bread, a cake, or cookies
playing a game with a child
performing (the moments I'm performing, not leading up to it)
meditating and coloring 
riding a swing
holding the hands of someone dying
looking into another person's eyes and really seeing
watching the ocean waves
library and bookstore browsing
eating a really great meal
dancing alone
dancing with a partner
typing with a typewriter
playing piano
helping someone who needs it
hooping with a stack of hoops, or just one, or an invisible hoop
listening to wind in trees
wiggling my fingers in a jar of buttons, or a bag of rice, or a sack of marbles
pretty much anything in nature, with the exception of being chased by a wild animal, that's definitely chronos, chronos with fangs and claws.

Jenny's List of Chronos Activators

data entry
being in an online social network
my smartphone, which is not "smart" 
the computer (software, organizing files, all of it)
being alone
packing for a big trip
late night worrying
dentist visits
waiting rooms
H&R Block
car maintenance
government offices
my iPad
being ill
worrying about being ill, or losing your memory
air travel

These aren't comprehensive lists, and if you've read all the way through this far I owe you something. Like a hug. Oh, hugs! Hugs are kairos. So is eating a caramel from the candy dish.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

A True Story

Not looking for an ocean
or a river
            You can skip this video in 3 seconds
Not looking for a lake
smashing placidity against sky
            This window will close in 2 seconds
You found rain over cornfields
so cried and waved back
            This list will tell you what to believe
Dusk has a way of emerging
in the droplets of memory
            Click to begin the slideshow
Looking for what was real
from global connectivity
you found sponsored content
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Today, the window is open
the sill is wet,
a leaf slicked its way inside
            Your brand is a storyteller
You are here, a person.
Agony, agony! Fermenting
dreams! Always looking.
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Write your name in the sand
and watch the tide come in.
That is a true story.