A Writer’s Hideout

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writing-spaceBeing a kid had its advantages. We didn’t have to worry about where the food on our table came from, just how to hide the peas under the mashed potatoes. We didn’t have to worry about where the money for the clothes went, just how to hide the fact that we ripped out the seam playing street hockey. And we didn’t have to worry about how our parents kept the roof from leaking, never mind how they managed to buy the house in the first place with us kids constantly draining the bank account. Plus we had that cool hideout in the backyard, the local woods, or in our case, the graveyard across the street.

Alas, those carefree days are gone. Now we are writers, and unlike the fantasies we told ourselves about the carefree life of writing, we are constantly on the prowl for that nice writing project. Preferably one that pays for the peas, the ripped clothes, and the leaky roof. To do that we need a place to write…our very own writer’s hideout.

That hideout could be anywhere, and often is while traveling. But we all have our “main place” to write. That place is unique to each of us, though likely fits into one of several general categories.

  • The Writing Nook: Cramped for space (and who isn’t)? Your hideout may be a corner of your bedroom, guest room, storage room, laundry room, or garage. All you need is a spot horizontal enough for a laptop. It could even be a fold-away TV dinner table set up in front of the recliner (but keep the TV off).
  • The Kitchen Table: Dinner is done, dishes are done, kids homework – done enough. Instant conversion to a writing hideout. Not so hidden, admittedly, but it is space to write. Works best for fiction writers who don’t need a lot of reference materials.
  • The Home Office: Have a little extra space? Friends who rarely spend the night? No friends? Build yourself a home office/writing den in that extra room. It can double as a library. Fill the walls with inspiration, with books, or with a million Post-It notes full of story ideas.
  • The Separate Writing Hideout: Some of you have an actual writing hideout, to which I say only that I am beyond envious. Perhaps a small shed out back to call your own, or a cabin in the woods, or a loft, or a converted attic, or a, well, you get the idea. Any space that is separated from interruption for any length of time is as close to a hideout as you can get. Now go use it.
  • Starbucks: Or, just maybe, all you need is a change of location for an hour or two. At my local breakfast/lunch coffeehouse the corner table is the home of our ubiquitous “writer guy” diligently tapping away on his iPad. Every day. Every. Single. Day. [Okay, at least every single day that I go in there] If what you need for a hideout is not so much a place to hide from people as a place to free your mind from the usual home issues, then the coffee place can be your hideout. Just be sure to buy something to “rent” the space.

These hideouts are all for daily writing. But how about a writer’s retreat? Whether once a year, several times a year, or for a month-long crash-writing session to finish that novel, having a place to go for a writer’s retreat is gold. Write best in total isolation? Find a cabin in the woods. Inspired by lapping waves? Find a beachside or clifftop view of the ocean. Like the energy of crowds babbling in unknown languages? Book that flight to Rome.

The key to hideouts, of course, is not the hideout but the writing. The actual hideout will be personalized to you, whether because of financial or space constraints, personality preferences, or the weight of reality around you. So find your hideout. And write.

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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due out late July 2017.

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The Catholic Expectation

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catholicThe expectation was in writing. We were to be raised Catholic.

When my parents were married all those many years ago, my father was required to sign a declaration agreeing to raise any and all children of the union as God-fearing Catholics. Being madly in love with my mother and, though a titular Protestant, in practice rather indifferent to formalized religion, he signed where they told him to sign. Future offspring now firmly indentured, the marriage ceremony was soon advanced and they were off to honeymoon on a New Hampshire lake.

Being of devout Catholic stock, my mother dutifully dragged us children to Church each and every Sunday, including the annual Christmas midnight mass and assorted holy days. Dad remained at home during these excursions, having discovered a loophole – the declaration promised the children but said nothing about his own presence. Still, the Church got three for one; not a bad tradeoff.

The “going to church” part of Catholicism didn’t survive adulthood, a tradeoff for the amount of money the Catholic Church has spent settling pedophilia charges against its priests. Ironically, the morals and integrity taught by my parents seems to have taken hold much more intently than did mindlessly repeating the assigned “Amen” and “Lord be with you” as cued in the weekly missal. It certainly wasn’t the forgettable white noise our aged priest called a sermon that inspired me. My inspiration was, and remains, my parents themselves.

My mother found her strength and morality, at least in part, through her strong faith in the Church (though perhaps more so from her strong extended family integrity). My father found his strength and morality from more secular sources, though again perhaps more a function of the lessons learned growing up in a family the size of a small town. Maybe they were innately honest, a sort of genetic trait that appears to be recessive these days. In any case, we should focus more on being moral, being honest, and having integrity in our daily lives, whatever our motivation, be it religious, secular, or something else. Start with yourself, and the rest will come.

Now, that is an expectation worth signing.

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. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.

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Tremble at the Thought

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img_2883The dark seemed even darker than usual to my 7-year-old eyes. Deepening clouds heightened the eeriness as they intermittently twinkled the faint sliver of moon on and off. I trembled. My first night venturing into the old burial ground across the street from my house seemed like a grand adventure.

Was that a wolf?

No, there are no wolves in my town. I think. It must have been the wind, my desperately anxious mind offered. And yet the stillness suggested otherwise.

“Let’s do this,” I said to no one there.

This isn’t so bad, I told myself. Inching forward along the dark path, I couldn’t read the shadowy grave markers. Not that their eroded faces could be read even during the day. The youngest were for people gone more than a century; the oldest long recycled into nutrients for the struggling trees, the browning grass, and the ravenous worms. Ick. Worms. Why did I have to think of that? More shivers.

Up the steps to the half dozen terraces. These have better views, I reflected, before catching my irreverence. Reaching the top as the dancing clouds split to shoot a glimmer of lunar light earthward, I could see the expanse of dead stones spreading out before me. The plateau stretched for miles, or at least so it seemed to my young imagination. So many lost souls. So many gone forever.

I turn to look back down the terraced hill to my house standing beyond the wrought iron fence, its line of spearheads separating the living from the dead.

Or did it? How alive was I, really? The patriots who helped form this nation lay around me. Were we like them? Could we stand up to tyranny? Could we recognize tyranny? Were we tyranny?

I trembled at the thought.

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. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.

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Scents and Sensibilities

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cigar-odorI smelled cigar, which was odd given that I was driving on the highway, alone in my car, and clearly not smoking. I had never smoked a day in my life. This is odd, I thought. A moment later, passing the Titanic of outdated Cadillac blocking the lane, solved the mystery. The driver, who appeared greater in circumference than in height, was toking on a big old stogie. I had been smelling the stench of his cigar, from my car, with closed windows, a hundred feet back.

I’ve always been sensitive to scents, especially that of burning plant matter held tight to the lips and expelled in great clouds of carcinogenic particulate. My father did smoke cigarettes when I was very young, but by the time I was two or three had switched to a pipe. The distinctive smell of a pipe was better than the malodor of cigarettes, but it too made my eyes water and my nose curl. He dropped the pipe before I was ten, which my olfactory apparatus appreciated as much as my mother’s family.

Cigars, in my mind, don’t merely smell – they reek. They rapidly form a mephitis cloud that would turn away the most ill-tempered skunk.

So it came as a surprise, nay, a shock one evening when my brother opted to dip into a cigar shop to check out their wares. “Once in a while he’ll sit back with a cigar,” his wife explained, as I quickly escaped the overwhelming scent inside a store in which no one was actually smoking; the mere presence of leaf-wrapped tobacco sensitized my discomfort. I was all the more surprised at our unexpected side trip because my brother, who is older than me but seems younger, has always been a health nut and runner. The paradox of this still jiggles my gray matter.

If you smoke, you stench. Is this sensible? Is there no sense, Jane of Austen?

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. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.

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The Devastation Has Begun: Can the Pink Hats Save Us?

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womens-march-madisonwi-jan212017-02Millions of women swarmed into the nation’s capital and other cities on all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica). They dwarfed the inaugural crowds, as demonstrated by a parade route filled with more secret servicemen in the street than watchers in the stands. Alternative facts aside, no honest person could deny the pink hats signified the beginning of the resistance.

The sea of dissension brought me back to something I had written last October, weeks before the presidential election. Rereading “Waiting at the Free State of America” is disconcerting. I had written:

It’s only an election, they said. Both parties are the same, they said. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, they said.

They were wrong.

The initial shock lasted for weeks. I suspect some still haven’t grasped the outcome, even all these years later. But it had happened; there is no doubt about that.

And here we are. A mere days after the inauguration we’ve already seen the devastation ahead of us.

…all that was left in the former USA were the takers, the ones who avoided taxes, scammed their employees, and skimmed off gillions as they ran up debts before strategically bankrupting the country in the hope no one would notice.

Eerily, I had written (again, prior to the election):

After the bankruptcy the Trumpians ran amok, demanding the government feed them. But under the new Putin-puppet all social programs were immediately eliminated. All investment in infrastructure and jobs and education was cut out completely.

The piece presumed it would be years before the devastation would reach the level of the separation of states and formation of a Free State of America. But perhaps the pace of destruction will be more rapid than we imagine. Perhaps it will happen too fast for us to adapt. Perhaps the Orwellian world of Newspeak/alternative-facts, Doublethink, and Thoughtcrime will become accepted as the new surreality of life.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, the pink hats will save us all.

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. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.

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Photo: By Amandalynn Jones – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55226644

Invitation to a Funeral

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urnI hate funerals. But here it was, an invitation. To view Mimi. And here I was, escorting my parents to a funeral. More accurately, a viewing; the of seeing the body and consoling the family of the deceased.

I barely knew Mimi. I saw her a few times on my now-annual, then-occasional 4th of July parade visits to my grandmother’s house. Mimi, a long-time friend of my grandmother, was in her 90s. She continued to come to the house even after my grandmother – Nana – passed away at 102. And now Mimi was gone.

To my relief Mimi had chosen to be cremated. At least I assume that was her choice. In any case, the viewing was of an urn surrounded by flowers. I paid my respects to her family, none of whom I knew, before retreating to the next room to commune with my own extended family I saw so infrequently.

This was the first viewing since my Aunt’s untimely demise over 26 years earlier. True, I had flown back from Brussels a few years before for Nana’s funeral, but I arrived too late for the viewing, in time for the service and burial. A good Catholic, the church was filled with what remained of her large family (Nana had already buried 5 of her 9  children). The crowd of small towns-people filled in any gaps. She was admired. But I was talking about my Aunt.

Aunt Bette had died in her 50s from complications of non-stop smoking. I was in New Hampshire enjoying a much needed respite in a log cabin on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee. My parents were there. The phone rang. My mother was called to the phone. Her sister had died. Which one? Bette. One of the younger ones.

The viewing was two days later. We were invited. Of course. Bette lived a mile’s walk from our house and my mother and her sister were the closest of friends. Her casket was open. Though I refused to go near it, Bette seemed to be propped up so I could see her body from afar. Even today I get nightmares of the vision. I wanted to remember her for all her life; instead I remember her staring lifelessly from a casket across the room.

Unlike Mimi, who I remember for the life she brought to the rare occasions I saw her.

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. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.

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