Thursday, December 31, 2015

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

You can't stop time, but there are days I'd like to shut the expectations of the calendar off.

I do not want to sum up my past year in my nine best photos from Facebook. I do not want to come up with a word that perfectly encapsulates where I'm headed in 2016. Vision boards are just a reflection of the zoo of magazines you have in your bathroom. I am not in the mood to write 25 words that  spotlight my year, either, although it's a writing exercise that my sister does yearly and it's a fascinating challenge.

Network television and the internet today will be a firework of expectations and intentions. Helpful memes, handy lists, cute ideas like leaving notes for yourself in your sock drawer so you don't feel sad on Mondays. Fresh starts! Woo! Who doesn't love them? 

Everything in me says no to this right now, and my favorite word is an all capitals YES.

So, today I say YES to just being. It's ok for me to watch the squirrels peel bark off the tree in front of my window and wonder why they do it, to binge watch TED talks, and to eat the last three Welsh cookies without guilt or shame. It's ok for me to not participate in the forced march of bright displays of storage bins, or list making, or pork and sauerkraut wishes. It's ok to just be, to let the new year start quietly, maybe even sleep through it, because where I live now, they celebrate the last few minutes of the year by dropping a very large shoe.

A shoe. "Waiting for the other shoe to drop," is an idiom that came from tenement living in New York City. As one shoe makes a sound hitting the floor, the expectation for the other shoe to make a similar sound is created.

So we can assume that somewhere around here, there is another giant shoe, waiting to drop. We can spend the whole year waiting to hear that familiar sound, or we can spend it imagining that our upstairs neighbor is Lowly Worm.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Welsh Cookies

Stacked up, they are impressive!

First, get yourself out of the mindset that your Welsh Cookies will look anything like the ones you buy in the grocery stores or at church functions: those perfectly tanned, all uniform in size treats. You will have some burnt soldiers, some crumbly ones. This is what makes the world an interesting place. Broken cookies. Remind yourself of that as you eat them to hide the evidence that you can't keep your stovetop an even temperature.

Yield: About 2.5 to 3 dozen cookies. You will burn some. You will eat some. You will wonder why you doubled the recipe (original recipe is half of the ingredients below and says it yields same amount). Making them is a marathon of dialing back temp, timing, and wondering why you didn't thank every single grandma who made these back in NEPA. A friend tells me that an electric griddle works wonders if you have one. I don't.

Total Time: Carve out an afternoon, friends. The batter takes about 10 minutes to make. Refrigeration an hour (go do a couple of yoga sessions to pass the time, you'll need the peace),  and cooking time is the better part of your afternoon. At least another hour. Unless you're really efficient, in which case, I'm afraid we can't be friends.


4 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold and diced, plus more for cooking
1.5 cup currants (a box)
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
4 to 6 tablespoons milk
Melted butter, for cooking (about a stick, not kidding)


Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, zest, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture looks sandy. This part is fun, fun, fun! Messy. I like to think of all the people who say "Made with love!" when really they mean, "My hands were all over this! I swear I washed them!" 
Stir in the currants. They look like beady little eyes. Beat the eggs and 4 tablespoons of the milk together. Stir into the dry ingredients to make a shaggy dough, add more milk if the dough is dry. Gather dough into a lump, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Go do your yoga. Breathe.

Roll the dough on a floured workspace into a piece about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 2 to 3- inch rounds.

Heat a griddle (I tried our cast iron one and it got too  hot) or frying pan (non-stick worked best) over medium-low heat. Brush the pan surface with butter. Cook the cookies until slightly brown and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. They rise like little pancakes. Transfer to a rack, sprinkle with sugar and cool. Stack them up and take a photo for your Instagram followers. Store the cookies in a cookie tin.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

So Far Away, So Close

How a room transforms with the sound of a lone voice, reading aloud from a book written seventy years ago. What a respite from the constant intrusion of thoughts -- "we need a new coffeepot" -- "did I pack the wig?" -- "I wonder what  she meant by that comment?" Absolute relief is found in language that thrums with its ability to make you laugh one moment and cry the next.

Yesterday as I made a long drive, the grey road collecting underneath the wheels of the car, I asked myself to recall some happy Christmases. It was a hobbled attempt at cheering myself. There have been many happy Christmases in my lifetime, so I figured I'd find solace there, and I flipped through the mental files for some specificity, looking for the file folder marked, "Dancing to Rock Lobster in Front of the Tree," or "The Scent of Mushrooms and Onions." I found a parade of garlands, ornaments unpacked and squealed over (that green sequin bell my sister made with its little pearl ringer),  but I was unable to linger in any reverie for as long as I wished.

I passed a cellphone tower disguised as the world's tallest silo and swerved into thoughts about communication. Do I owe it to my "followers" my "audience" my "friends" (are they even friends, they just follow my posts, and even then I'm not sure if they do, they probably have unfollowed by now, disgusted by all my hoopla and poetry), to share my loss, disappointment, feelings of helplessness? No. I'll save that for the people I see on a regular basis, the ones who care. I should meet with them over coffee. I'll email them. Email? Call them? I don't want to talk about it at all right now.

At the end of my grey road thoughts was a performance with a variety show, the welcome transformation into another person for a couple of hours, the glee of engaging and interacting with an audience, and dinner with a friend, who I shared my sadness with over a plate heaped with spinach. Iron brings strength.

Then there was the road back home with the radio blaring, the wash off of makeup. Brewed tea, sagging eyelids, vapor of thought curling out.

I woke up this morning, and instead of my usual early writing ritual (I am so tired of my own clouds), I made myself some coffee, picked up a favorite book, and came back to bed to read. At first I read to myself, but the words were so musical I had to hear them, and I began reading out loud, to no one. The room shared the story with me. Somewhere in the middle of a sentence about a man who fears the titles of medical books, I started to cry.

All the folders of specificity were open now. Awake too early to go downstairs to the glitter under the tree, I'd climb into bed with my sister, and she'd read to me. The physical closeness, and the words of L. Frank Baum, or Lewis Carroll, or Laura Ingalls Wilder, the sound of the coffeepot being brought to life downstairs by our mother, were all served up from the filing cabinet in the part of my brain that was inaccessible to me just the day before. My own voice, which is my sister's voice. Christmas past, present, future. My sister, always so far away and so close.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Rubiayat of Memory

This is to say we remember,
not that it brings diamonds back. September
blew in and made a swirling exit,
leaves curled in the fire. You watched embers

float away, and let them. You hope your wits
won't do the same. Memory? Bullshit's
compass. There is a kind of beauty
without it, in forgetting, a benefit

in submerging your papers in a stream
to see the ink wash away. It seems
to me, well, what use are words anyway?
Mine thrum on repeat, a pattern, my bloodstream

of familiar family stories. So dear
one day I will mix and match, premiere
my latest work: a collage of December's
blankest pages, a trembling chandelier.

This is definitely not a true rubiayat. I followed the interlocking pattern, but discarded the pentameter (or tetrameter) rules of meter. Meter be damned -- at least in this poem.

We spent an evening with a friend from Iran recently, and he talked about the The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The Rubáiyát  is a translation of a selection of poems, originally written in Persian and numbering about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), a Persian poet, mathematician, and astronomer. A thousand poems!

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
            The Surprising Cost of Not Taking a Vacation
            you may also like
            Can You Make It Through This Post Without Smiling?
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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?

She's such a show-off, she said from the other room. She just wants attention.

I was making a doll in a sparkly red dress juke about in the doorway, to entertain my teenage babysitter and her friends. It didn't have the desired effect. I was about three or four years old. They were probably fifteen, and so didn't want to be bothered with dancing dolls. I knew by her tone that a show-off wasn't good. A show-off was a bad person. So I stopped.

I stopped and pulled on the knit hat of shyness. I kept my dancing dolls, circuses, radio programming, imaginary television shows (where I was the host, of course!), restaurants, and beauty parlors limited to the confines of my bedroom and to the audience of my family when I felt an audience was needed. My family was encouraging. No one ever said, "Who do you think you are ... Carol Burnett?" when I did my mudlizard impressions at the dinner table. We all joined the theatre together, right around when I was fourteen or fifteen, the same age my babysitter was when she called me a show-off. Being among other "show-offs," I took off the knit hat. It was stifling under there.

The question 'Who do you think you are?" is a really great one if asked without a tone of disapproval. When you erase the tone from it, and just allow the question to bring about a thoughtful answer, it is fun to consider. Who do you think you are? hints at Who do you want to be? What are you testing out, trying on, or discovering?

Friday, July 10, 2015

City Mice to Country Mice

It's difficult to ignore the stripe of blood running down the center of the butcher's hardhat. He's wearing a sheen of sweat and a polyester shirt with a print that reminds me of a starry night. It's been a starry night for some animal today. A cow perhaps. There are several in a barn a few hundred feet away from the little shop where we peruse shelves full of products I haven't seen since my childhood, plus a few I have never seen. Tubs of lard wait in the cooler. The freezer holds all the ice cream treats I remember from the 1970s and 80s - Drumsticks with their rubbery cones, and Strawberry Shortcake bars with their crunchy coatings. This guy is a sly businessman. We buy a pint of perfect raspberries, and are told that "Meat Days" are Fridays. Thursdays are end days, I think. I am reminded everyday of where my food comes from because I see it verbing in pastures: grazing, pecking, rolling and lolling.

We moved here last week from the city. In the week since we've been here, unpacking and getting to know the two goats across the street, we've also attended an auction with a neighbor and my mother (we got a Hoosier cabinet for $30!), and visited more produce stands and organic farms than I can count. Dan made cheese yesterday. We knew the names of our neighbors in less than a week. They introduced themselves to us and one even brought us a gift.

When I look up into the branches of the Black Ash tree in our backyard, or wake at five a.m. to see another human is awake at 5 a.m. in a barn near our house, I understand why E.B. White left New York to live on a small farm in Maine.  It's quieter here. There's a poetry that isn't inscribed on any surface for you to read, but it is inside of everything for you to discover. What I like best is that my neighbor's duck has no expectations for me to be an amazing, incredible, stupendous, and glittering imaginative anything. I can just be. And just being, for me, is allowing myself the luxury to putter.

During my childhood upbringing in the woods, I learned that puttering is exploration, which leads to creation. E.B. White wrote Charlotte's Web from his farm experience. I'm not saying I will be writing any great children's literature out here, but I do feel a lot more relaxed and able to explore ideas here than I did in the city, where I started to feel cramped and trapped, and I didn't realize it until we moved here. The city was loud, on a lot of levels. Too much noise and input that I couldn't shut off.  I always had to be moving and doing, because everyone and everything else was. I loved creating while I was there, but I didn't feel rooted. I was a seed in gale.

Here, with the stripe of blood on the hardhat of the butcher, things are visceral. There's no Febreezing the scent of manure, and it's everywhere. It's the shit that makes your food grow, a reminder of all the good things that come from the earth. It's a scent that says, "Pay attention (how can you not?!), think, play and work, and beautiful things will grow."

Monday, June 08, 2015


Love is a free agent. She goes where she is called. She wears no labels or logos, and does not accept sponsorships. She belongs to no one but is available to everyone.

As soon as you get proprietary about Love, when you say, "I am saying this out of love in the name of (insert name of group, corporation, etc. here), she exits, and Propaganda steps in to play a very weak role as understudy.

Pity is not Compassion, nor is she Love. Pity sidles close to you as you're falling just to be seen picking you up. She says, "I'm sorry for your clumsiness," and offers nothing else but her smug self-assuredness. Pity is in the habit of bruising the other person's sense of self-respect. She feels sorry for you for making the choice to walk on the side of the street where the sidewalk is nothing but a series of challenging brick jut-outs and lumps of crumbling concrete. "The other side of the street where everyone else walks would have been safer, easier," she says.

Love sees a human being with a heart and a mind walk along a tricky path. She sees her navigate the messy parts, fall, and pick herself up. Love reaches out to ask if there is anything she can do to help.  Love listens. In fact, she doesn't talk much at all. She does not update, tweet, or favorite. She acts.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Road That Ribbons Home

The theatre celebrates the opening of its new home, a building that was once a Catholic church just down the street from the American Legion. Dressed with a red carpet at its entrance and a ribbon for a ceremonial cutting, it beckons community members to gather, and they do. Farmers' wives, grandmothers, everyone from town walks down the center of the street like it's a parade day.

I am fond of saying how I grew up in the woods, how my closest neighbor was a mile away, how my propensity for poetry and retreating to my closet to think come from that isolation among trees, deer, and huckleberry bushes. That was the set of my childhood. What helped me most to grow up was my family's full-throttle involvement in a community theatre in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania, the town closest to our wooded home.

I was thirteen or fourteen when the local pastor and his wife, Bill and Judy Knott, proposed a community choral concert. My father, sister, and I joined. We sang Neil Diamond medleys and some show music, in the company of the town's postmaster and my middle school English teacher. Rehearsals and concerts were held in the American Legion Hall on Hazle Street. The show music lit the spark that set the idea for the first community theatre production smouldering, and the Nuremberg Community Players was born with the first production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. George Croll played the lead role. My sister, father, and I each played one of his brothers, two of our moustaches and beards drawn on with eyeliner. Mom worked backstage. George used coffee grounds to deepen his complexion, and my mother recalls the scent of coffee grounds as she worked. My father's textile company provided the upholstery fabric that made up most of the costumes for the show. George's technicolor dreamcoat was sewn by a local artist. Its rainbow spread as he opened the coat wide in a vibrant grin centered among our upholstery togas.  Spotlighted, it was magnificent, a promise of all things good, a true rainbow.

So began the first of 32 years worth of community theatre productions, where a local school bus driver played the lead in Oklahoma, where teenaged girls danced alongside their elementary school gym teachers in chorus roles, and a nurse took her first stab at directing the straight play in the fall. It wasn't long before the theatre was doing two shows a year -- a musical in the spring, and a straight play each fall. If it was cold, an enormous heater rocketed blasts of forced hot air of from the back of the hall. When it was hot, the back doors and front doors remained open to create a breezeway that lifted curtains and pushed dust and glitter across the floor.

My mother and I scan the audience for faces we recognize as we enter the opening of the new theatre, programs in hand. George Croll hasn't changed much. Ann Bonacci hasn't either. She is still the same carburetor of energy that makes things like fully dressed stages and framed collages of photographs appear. Time didn't erase the memory of a posture of a woman I recalled being a regular audience member when I was in shows 30 years ago.

A teenage boy with a face almost still young enough to be cherubic stands in front of the new theatre's black curtain, guarding the secret contents of the stage before the big reveal. He's dressed smartly in a crisp white shirt and black pants. The audience files into the new seats (someone sewed cushions and stenciled the theatre's initials on each), and he gazes forward, a sentinel. He sighs audibly, then catches himself, and remembering the importance of his job, his lips purse and his posture straightens. The curtain draws back to oohs, ahhs, and applause from the assembled, and the emcee takes the stage at a podium draped in sparkling cloth. Aqua paper flowers rise in a spray upstage and complement the hanging black and aqua fabric at the wings. The hallmark of Ann's design sense.

The emcee asks us all to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and everyone rises. Right hands over hearts, we face the flag and recite. A college freshman, brought up in the theatre and minoring in theatre now, sings the Star Spangled Banner. The priest from the former church gives the invocation, then steps down, careful in his orthopedic shoes. His left foot lisps sideways.

Welcome home, where pretense does not exist. What a relief to be here. I've missed it. The celebration of the new theatre includes a tap dance by Miss Greater Hazleton, who has overcome a drastic curvature of the spine through surgeries, and a sing-along version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by the young woman playing the lead in the upcoming show, The Wizard of Oz. I think of George's technicolor dreamcoat in the spotlight, of the stories of the people of my home and all their possibilities, and how in living they write their own scripts as well or better than Tennessee Williams.

While driving to this event I was stunned by how the only things that had changed in the road I dream about was the addition of a stop sign at the hairpin turn and the cutting down of a tree or two. You can go home again.

Thirty years ago I was encouraged by the members of my community to step outside of myself, contribute, play pretend, take a risk. My shaking voice soloed in a chorus concert, and my quivering smile danced downstage at the footlights, and those explorations in public performance gave me the confidence to do more. Today, the message of the new theatre is the same: encourage the new generation.

The same boy who stood at the curtain offers me a box of Yoo-Hoo after the program, and several members of the theatre carry trays of cupcakes and donut holes. My mother and I take a tour of the dressing rooms. I snap photos of the framed copies of every show program for 32 years that ring the inside walls where the signs of the cross probably once hung. The words "I am the bread of life" and "I am the living water" shine through the stained glass and cast their rainbow messages across the floors and adjacent walls. Any theatre critic worth her weight in words will get the connection.

Both church and theatre ask you to believe, to take a leap of faith, to step outside of yourself and consider another story. Anything is possible if you just believe. Just close your eyes, click your heels three times, and say "There's no place like home."

Monday, April 06, 2015

What She Carried With Her To The Library On April 4th, 2015

One blue plastic checkbook, the next check #1024.

One empty packet of Orbit wintermint chewing gum.

A Thanksgiving grocery list written on a Sheraton notepad.

One tampon liberated of its wrapper.

One black comb she never uses, just in case.

One Stash mint tea bag.

A packet of Kleenex that belongs to her mother.

Three eyeglass cases. One vintage, two from the optometrist. All empty.

One pair of cat-eye reader glasses with rhinestones.

One mint from a fancy restaurant in Philadelphia.

One hand mirror with the New York School of Burlesque logo on the front.

A wallet full of receipts, one photo of her daughter. one photo of a friend’s daughter.

Two pens, one with ink.

One list:
    waist cincher
    1/2 & 1/2
    mint tea

A receipt from Mabel’s Smokehouse in Brooklyn, where she ate alone.

A copy of liability insurance for circus performances.

Several half sheets of paper filled with open ended questions like:

“What motivates you?”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Self-Portrait as a Gyroscope

for Dan

First the thread of birth and desire,
and the slow winding toward reason
at a series of smooth-topped desks.
A lust to move.

Waiting a long time for poise,
for someone to love me enough
to help with balance, then lured
by the line that leads to the center,
pulls, and lets me go.

My dance dressed up as hunger,
spinning like a moon in a dream of gold
and red flowers, a flame in the center
of the one word that is your axis.

Finally, the freedom to defy gravity,
at least for a little while, then the tilt,
the lilt toward forever.

Let me be your vision of circles,
possessive and faithful,
the heart of your wheel,
a singing bowl that fills
all negative space
with a resonant

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Made This Heart For You Out of Sweater Fuzz

I assembled this poem from thank you notes written to me by third graders in 2003. I spent several weeks as a poet-in-residence in an elementary school in Scranton, PA, and at the time I won an award for a poem through Poets & Writers Magazine. I told the classes about the award, which was a trip to New York City to read my poem among some pretty esteemed company (Joan Murray, Molly Peacock, Sapphire, Timothy Liu, Regie Cabico). I told the kids I was nervous. They gave me some of the best advice ever: New York has big stages, but no reason to not go on them!" And the hilarious send-off: "I want to wish you good luck for going up against fancy poets."

On the Bus from Wilkes-Barre to New York City

To Miss Jennapher:
You have brighten up my day
and I will give you a poem.
Thank you for making me smarter.
Have a happy poem life!
Poetry is like planting
a seedling in your mouth.
Good luck in New York.
You shouldn't be afraid.
I wish you all the luck in the world.
It must be hard to talk
to hundreds of people.
Hopefully you won't mess up.
Just look at Jack.
I want to wish you good luck
for going up against fancy poets.
Be courageous.
It's probley going to be a blast.
Pretend you are talking to us.
You are a great pome teacher.
Remember to read on the bus.
New York has big stages,
but no reason to not go on them.
Flowers, flowers, everywhere!
Do you want to go?
I would want to.
What is your favorite poem?
Please mail it to me.
I'll mise you.
Come bake soon.
Just become famous, ok?
Poetry flies away
like a butterfly.
You run and run
but it goes higher and higher.
Will you try these mazes?
Try not to studder.
Miss Hill is like a rainbow
over a pot of gold.
Proly at this time
there is a tear
running down your cheek
because you won't see us.
Don't panic.
I made this heart for you
out of sweater fuzz.
It was all that I had.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Self Portrait As An Insecure Know-It-All Exposed For The Fraud She Is

Your opening credits are about to start
and you don't have a BFA, an MFA,
or how dare you, a PhD. You are
stubbornly unanagrammable
between academia and the rest of the world
where all the talent hangs out backstage
to toss a frisbee and chug champagne.

Monkey in the middle.

It is not enough to make a list.
You need to check the goals off
as successes, thrones where you dust
off your trophies. Been there, did that.
Done. Done. Done.

The way those two trees on the horizon
are forever apart, well, you imagined
them as parted lovers. It could have been a
story, a play, or a poem if you wrote it down,
even a dance if you stopped the car
and took off your shoes to fling
them into the snow.

You didn’t, and you forgot.

It’s ok to just make the list.
It’s a start, you darling of laze,
spectacle with eyes everywhere,
a weirdo for the exact moment
the light transforms you
from Ramona Quimby into Judi Dench.

Cue up your soundtrack, hurling and riotous,
inappropriate and alarming. Why didn’t you follow up
on that memo? You trashed the email about it.
The digital logo for this film is an armature you decided
wasn’t worth finishing.

Cut to the scene where you begged the universe
to shake out its purse full of ballerinas and hardball
and it did, and God or whoever answered all your prayers
with darts of laughter.

Yes, you can! Yes, you can!
You’re not good enough.

Oh, here, this part!
Watch, this part is the best.
Close on to when you learned to be happy
mid-life as he carried you piggyback
over the crumbling sidewalk.

What a klutz you still are
over your know-it-all confidence
as you leap onto any stage
that will have you.

You’ll always be alone in the force field
of a spotlight, your Eden of anxiety,
finally. Right there where you belong,
where you hear your father laughing.
Don’t move. Freeze. Happy, at last.

Let’s leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The UnGoogleable World

How your grandmother sashayed into the room when all the family was together.

One pink mitten, greyed from boots and tires, at the intersection of Cherry and Grant streets.

The layer cake of your childhood, in particular how you felt when Heather rolled her eyes at having to include you in her group for the science project on erosion.

How big the sky seemed as you lay on your back in the grass with your friend. Limitless. There was no time.

The wild, and not-so-wild, sexual exploits of your early adulthood. You hope.

The peachy beer scent of the shag rug in your first apartment.

The night you waited for a boyfriend and saw that there was a man watching you from the bushes, his eyes like fire darts.

Any evidence that you ever had a bad haircut. Not really. Sorry. That’s out there.

The menu from your engagement dinner.

Stories the dying shared with you from their beds at home, or in the nursing home with the pastel artwork of empty chairs.

All live performances, seen live, and the way you rolled up the playbill, and kept it for awhile in your desk drawer with all the other programs.

Rows of typewriters at the shop on Main Street in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where two older men repair and sell, and know everything there is to know about platen rollers.

Every cootie catcher you folded with your daughter, laughing at the chance silliness inside them, every origami boat.

The callus you developed on your middle finger from holding the pen like a vice. It is a vice.

Indigo inhale of a newly mimeographed sheet of paper.

Cut to the scene where your husband helps your mother step up to the casket of her favorite uncle so she can place the carnation and say one last goodbye.

The center of the dream you had where you reached the top of the ladder made of pipe, and the wind you felt as you shifted all of your weight to reach the door.

All those backyard circuses with your sister and the neighbors.

The old neighbors you can’t name, you only recall their striped shirts or arrows of blonde hair.

That five year diary with the gold stamped cover you wrote in for three days, and then lost the flimsy key.

The snowflake hiccups of your daughter in utero.

The unfolding expanse of the lake bottom you walked around in as a kid, uprooted trees like Dostoevsky's gnarled fists.

Rat scuttle sounds from the curtains of the movie theatre.

The lost submarine feeling of all that vodka that one time.

Apologies whispered to the love of your life.

Your father’s laughter. The way he would put his hand on his chest when it was a really good laugh, and his eyes would water.

The blackened thumb of the snowman mitten you sucked on your way to Kindergarten.

That feeling you get when you know you’re leaving something out, all that matters, but you stop anyway because nothing goes on forever.

Dostoyevsky’s hands. Not available in closeup after an image search. Lucky him.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Creativity, the Internet, and the Lost Art of Being Wrong in the Right Way

Can I be honest here?  I’m horrible at everything. According to the internet, I’m doing absolutely everything wrong. Yesterday I read an article about how I have been cutting fruit incorrectly all my life. My method of cutting an apple in half, then slicing the core out, is not only wasteful, it’s bordering on Neanderthal. I’ve also been drinking from a straw with inefficient technique, and spending too much time on slicing cherry tomatoes one by one.

Life hacks let me know about all sorts of things I’ve been failing at during my lifetime. Helpful internet articles seem to fill a basic human need for their authors: To be right. Sticky sweet self-righteousness.

One of the things I’m trying to work on this year is to be ok with being wrong. Because I am wrong a lot.

When I was a kid, I did everything wrong and it was delightful! I tried to glue ice together once. That didn't work, but it wasn't a failure of learning. I was allowed to be wrong. As an adult, I should know better.

Scrolling through newsfeeds just makes me feel like a huge disappointment to the world. I am once again in my seventh grade classroom where we were discussing the spread of Christianity, hand proudly raised at the question: “Who here isn’t Christian?” I said I was Protestant. I wasn’t even Protestant. I don’t know why I said it. Maybe I wanted to be the only hand raised in the room? Was I just winging it to see what would happen? The teacher sighed and put his head in his hands when I answered, and it is an indelible memory.

Oh the tyranny of finding yourself in a place where you are so afraid of saying the wrong thing you say nothing at all! I am right there when I spend too much time on the internet, on Facebook specifically. I try to make it a more creative conversation by asking thoughtful questions, or creating projects, sharing memories, bits of poetry.

My art suffers for reading online because I silence myself. I question as I create. I wonder if every pose, each turn, each word, even if my own voice is genuine or borrowed. I wonder if the message I am sending is ok to express. Am I the only hand raised in the classroom again? Is this right in its wrongness, or is it just offensive? Worse, is it just bad art?

In improv, I can say or do anything and it becomes an accepted reality. What's wrong suddenly becomes right, and not only right, but everyone on the team plays along and adds to the world. There are rules, sure, but it's a playground of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. Sometimes it turns into bad art, but it’s fun art because there’s freedom in it.

And I guess that's what I am getting at by writing this. I see too much exclusivity online (and off), too much of a desire to prove that being a introvert is the best way to be, or that you must be constantly moving in order to call yourself a dancer, or if you screw up even once with your possessives in an essay you’re not a real writer. That’s not freedom. It’s restriction. It’s a desire to be right all the time.

It's exhausting. It's a tiresome, uncreative space. It's a place where I feel trapped and unable to spark, like I'm trying to light a match in a swimming pool. It makes me want to shut it all off, get a landline, and start using my typewriter again.

I'm just going to keep making mistakes in 2015 and beyond, and try to quiet the Greek Chorus that is telling me everything I do is horrible. A complete relief. Now pardon me while I go peel an apple with a butter knife.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Night Script for the Gifted Dead

The gifted dead send up a hot air balloon from the graveyard,
long since erased from education’s sparse picnic of projects
for the curious, grateful for the tests to finally be over, no more
prickly graphs of progress. Free to experiment with choice, to just
rock back and forth in a damp tire swing, no longer pinned to a board
as an exotic, the geisha of the classroom, the magnolia. Not special.
Normal, but dead. That’s ok, progress even, in its oddness, to join
the rank and file of root and earth in a voiceless thunder, to be surprised
by the leisure of the soul. So eager to haunt, so hospitable.