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.