Carry On Keeping Calm

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It has already become its own cliche: Keep Calm and Carry On. But its meaning is much deeper than the ubiquitous Facebook memes it has inspired.

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Now metastasized into a slew of “Keep Calm and [Fill In Inane Meme Blather Here],” the idea originated as a World War II British public safety poster. One of three, the poster was designed to help the British populace cope with potential massive bombing and poison gas drops on major cities. Those events thankfully never happened; the poster was put into storage and long since thought gone. Only after a stack of them showed up on Antiques Roadshow in 2012 did it suddenly become meme fodder.

Commercialization of the phrase has been such that you can get everything from t-shirts to coffee cups to bottles of beer with the original phrase or one of the millions of alternative memes (“Keep Calm and Drink Tea,” “Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake,” and the Sponge Bob Square Pants-inspired “Keep Calm and Gary On”). Each new iteration makes it harder to follow its own directive to keep calm.

Despite devolving into self-parody, the original idea actually a decent sentiment. Life can be trying at times, even always for some people, but maintaining your personal calm and thinking through options offers much greater chance to successfully navigate the crisis than, for example, emulating Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Quieter too.

 

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

[Daily Post]

The Joke

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My Dad was a jokester. Actually, at 89 he remains a jokester.

Along with the usual trials of growing up was the fact that you always had to stop for a heartbeat to decide whether what my Dad said was serious or just another clever play on words. I suppose in the long run this got us to think critically, “Hmm, does this mean I should – or should not – take this or that action?” Sometimes it took two heartbeats.

Some jokes were long, drawn out, sometimes epic, stories. Only at the end would be the unexpected punch line that would leave us either rolling on the floor laughing (or in today’s parlance, ROTFL) or emitting eye-rolling groans. Other jokes were shorter stories that raced to the punchline, though even those may take a second to “get it.”

Other jokes were physical.

He would swipe his hand (gently) over your nose, then hold up his fist and say “Got your nose!”

Got your nose gesture

Okay, sure. Today it seems silly, but as a young child is was traumatic. At least temporarily.

Perhaps one of the cruelest to us kids was the donut* hole joke. We weren’t particularly wealthy growing up. Okay, we were poor, but not so poor that we ever missed a meal or lacked a roof over our heads. Still, big gooey donuts were an occasional treat and we always looked forward to the immense pleasure they brought to our lives.

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Dad, being all knowing, took advantage of this. He would grab the biggest, most delicious looking donut and start eating. “I’ll save the hole for you if you want it.” We, of course, said yes. Okay, we drooled.

In retrospect, these were just the plain ordinary donuts with the hole, not the scrumptious jelly donuts or today’s fancy treats. But to us they were heaven. Dad would take his time, slowly munching around the outside of the donut working in towards the hole, like eating an apple around the core. All through this ordeal, which could take several minutes or longer depending on how desperate we looked, he would ask us over and over, “Do you want the hole?” And we would watch “the hole” getting smaller and smaller as he nibbled away the edges. Eventually he would look finished, make a motion to hand us the remnants of the donut surrounding the hole, then, unbelievably to our eyes, toss the rest in his mouth and hold out his hand as such:

Okay gesture

“Here’s the hole!”

To which we would politely scream, “Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!” at the top of our lungs.

Apparently we fell for this several times before we caught on. It’s a wonder we survived to adulthood.

* Yes, I’m aware the official spelling is doughnut, but where I grew up Dunkin Donuts was the dominant brand (no Krispy Kreme, which if you want to get picky totally makes doughnut purists hypocrites). So doughnut is donut, but you’ll never find it spelled doughnut by a townie.

[Written in response to the one-word prompt – Joke]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

 

Profound Child

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dalmation-firetruck-02My Dad used to tell me the story of why firemen had dogs, specifically those beautiful white-with-black-spotted dalmatians, on their fire trucks. “Used to tell me” is a bit of a misnomer as the story continues to pop up on a regular basis even now in his 89th year.

Recently the story took on new significance because I just returned from Croatia, the Dalmatia region from which the dogs get their names.

Historically, dalmatians became associated with firemen because they would run alongside horse-drawn fire wagons on the way to the fire. The dogs would fend off other dogs, warn ahead to keep the path clear, and provide comfort to the horses at the fire scene (not surprisingly, horses aren’t particularly fond of fires). Their presence became so routine that fire houses started keeping dalmatians around for company even after “horseless carriages” came into existence.

But that’s not the story my Dad would tell. Settling into his Mona Lisa smile and leaning down as if to tell you a secret, he would inform us that a teacher asked her young students, “Why are dalmatians always on fire engines?” The students would think a bit and then take turns responding:

“To keep the firemen company,” one child would say.

“To help smell the smoke and find the fire,” another would suggest.

And the third child, as my Dad’s smile grew in anticipation of the punch line, would say:

“To find the fire hydrant!”

Now if that isn’t the most profound answer ever heard.

[Written in response to the one-word prompt – Profound]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Elusive Focus

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Candle_flameOne moment it was there; the next, lost.

Focus. Such an elusive entity, flitting in and out of existence like a candle’s flame in a summer storm.

Focus. That that flows nimbly from fingers to keyboard for minutes, even hours at a time. Words appear on the screen as if thoughts transfer directly from brain to palette. Colors emerging on the whiteness as if painting themselves, layering their spirits into sentences and paragraphs and windows into souls. Lives creating substance in front of eyes watching miracles radiate from the depths of nothingness, becoming whole, entire, complete. Flesh animating from one dimension to two to three…to more. Zen pouring out into words, which become mirrors into inner consciousness.

And then a sneeze and the focus is gone.

I try to relight the flame but the candle doesn’t burn again. A flicker, a whisper, and then nothing.

Focus. Such an elusive entity.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

 

A Sugary Feast

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penny candyBack in the day, which is to say, so long ago I would rather not count the years, there was a little store in my home town called Alice’s. While it presumably sold other items, to us kids it was the penny candy store. A sugary feast of feasts.

And what a penny candy store it was. Most sweets were a penny a piece, though in those less than affluent days I admit to focusing on those particular candies that were 2 for a penny. A quarter would seemingly last forever, or at least long enough to build a sugar high or a belly ache, depending on your tolerance and candy selections. If you got a rare red gumball out of the machine you were entitled to five cents worth of free penny candy.

I recall there being chewy jelly fish (not to be confused with jellyfish), which were like today’s gummy bears but shaped like fish. There were waxed bottles. We would bite off the top and drink the colored sugary liquid inside, then chew on the wax itself like it was gum. Long strips of paper had candy dots, to be picked one at a time and tossed into mouths. Caramel bulls-eyes were a favorite, as was licorice in shapes ranging from cough drop sized bullets to six-inch long sticks to spaghetti strand ropes a yard long. Probably because of this early indoctrination, I’m still partial to red licorice sticks sold as “Twizzlers” today.

In those days the tobacco companies were still successfully denying smoking causes cancer, so we kids could also buy candy cigarettes and make believe were were smoking. Alice would also sell real cigarettes to kids who were buying for their Moms and Pops. Though I was never a smoker, I assume some of those cigarettes never made it home. On the other hand, it was a small town and Alice knew every kid and every parent so she would periodically check with the parents to make sure the “cancer sticks” arrived intact.

Alice’s store (later officially Van’s but probably still called Alice’s to this day) had a big Coca-Cola cooler where you could grab a glass bottle of Coke to wash down your candy. And it was Coke; Pepsi existed by that time but was not as popular. Even better (or so I thought then) was Birch Beer, a sugary concoction that tasted more or less like root beer. You could get the root beer too, along with Moxie (which is a story in itself).

As the old Mary Hopkins song goes, “Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.”

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Reading List Halfway Point – 2016

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Wow. We’re already halfway through the year and my annual “To Do” list is approximately 1% completed (which is close, right?). At least I can say that I’m ahead of schedule on my Goodreads reading goal. Last year I had read 42 books at this point; this year I read 55 books by the end of June.

Like 2015 I initially set my reading goal at 50 books for 2016. Goodreads tells me I’m “30 books ahead of schedule.” Again like 2015, I’m not at all surprised I’ve read so much; it seems I top out my personal reading record with each new year. I’ll likely move the goal up to 75 books just to give me a new level to strive for, though at the pace I’m going I suspect that new number won’t be too difficult to reach. [Post continues below the graphic]

Half year 2016 - 1

Of  course, one of the books I read is one that I wrote, as Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World officially comes out this month (July 2016). It was completed last year and even though I read through it many times while editing, I don’t count it as “read” until I get the hard copy in my hands and read the final version complete with photos and graphics and all the cool design work that makes it the aesthetically pleasing book that sells so well in Barnes and Noble. [Post continues below the graphic]

Half year 2016 - 2

Not surprisingly, I’ve read 13 books so far this year related to Abraham Lincoln. Some are new volumes that will be part of my book review column in the newsletter of the Lincoln Group of DC. Others are background for the Lincoln book that I’m currently writing. All provide valuable insights into the thinking of the man both current day political parties think of as their own. This interest led me to two other books I read. One was Barack Obama’s first memoir Dreams From My Father, and the other was a new book The Black Presidency that examines how racism has affected Obama’s decisions as President and how he has been treated by a party that just nominated Donald Trump as their “leader.” [Post continues below the graphic]

 

Half year 2016 - 3

Reading down Facebook’s “Book List Challenge” continues. So far this year I’ve read 12 of the 100 books listed, for a total of 82. I’ve also read seven other fiction books, seven books on writing, four books about travel, and another 12 general nonfiction books. I finally read the first “Dragon Tattoo” book by Stieg Larsson and was shocked to find that it actually lived up to the hype. I’ll bring the second book on my next long overseas flight.

Overall my reading list is a hodgepodge of fiction and nonfiction, though obviously heavy on writing topics and biographical background related to the current work in progress. I could stand to branch out into more science fiction, poetry, and modern fiction, but I could also stand with cutting back on the reading so I can spend more time writing.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

[Feel free to follow me on Goodreads]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is about Thomas Edison, due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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