A Catapult to Success

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catapultTrapped. The room was empty except for a catapult. Such an odd thing to find in a room with no windows and a door in the ceiling. The whole thing seemed upside down to me, or maybe sideways (vertigo was confusing my sense of direction). The only way out was through that door. Luckily it was open, even if too high to reach.

After some quick long division in my head, I figured I could prop the catapult against one wall and it would sling me right through the open door. Three, two, one.

Ouch. Off by “this” much.

 

[The above is in response to a Microfiction prompt: Write a 100 word or less story or poem about someone trapped in a room. Something must be upside down or sideways within the room. Include the word division.]

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in late July 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

The Illusion of Control

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I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.

Lincoln cover approved 4-3-17Abraham Lincoln wrote the above quote as part of a long letter to Albert Hodges on April 4, 1864. He was explaining his decision-making on Emancipation for publication in Hodges’s Kentucky newspaper, the Frankfort Commonwealth. For those who know history, Kentucky was one of four “border states” that, although slave states, remained in the Union during the Civil War. Hodges had been critical of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; Lincoln’s letter explained in great detail the series of decisions he made in his efforts to save the Union, including those specifically related to the slavery question. It remains one of the most articulate defenses of executive action ever written.

Oddly, while Lincoln claims to have been controlled by events, his letter suggests he made a series of well-considered decisions influenced by, but also influencing, those events.

It reminds me of a quote by another famous public figure, Kurt Vonnegut, from his science fiction novel, The Sirens of Titan:

I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.

The book delves into issues of free will, that is, the ability to control ones own life and ones own decision making. As the book unfolds, it becomes less and less clear how much we control our own lives. Conversely, much of what seems out of our control results from the decisions we indeed make.

Lincoln advocated for a government that would “elevate the condition of men” and clear paths to “afford all…a fair chance, in the race of life.” In other words, the opportunity to control our own path forward, to make ones own decisions.

Complete control of our lives is an illusion in the sense that what others do often influences what we can do, or will choose to do. Events beyond our control happen, and yet we generally can choose how we react to those events. Lincoln reacted to the war and slavery in ways that others on both ends of the political spectrum disagreed, but he made those decisions with the end result in mind – saving America from tearing itself apart. While he may not have completely controlled all events, he did strongly influence them. That is a lesson all of us should learn.

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in late July 2017.

His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

[Daily Post]

 

Lincoln’s Gray Eyes

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colorized_lincoln_photo_cropAbraham Lincoln’s dark gray eyes gazed solemnly over the Petersburg battlefield. Only days before he heard the muffled cannons in the distance as he sat pensively on the River Queen docked at City Point. His meeting with Grant had gone well, he thought, but the suffering was beyond unbearable. His eyes begged for it end soon.

And then what? Lincoln hadn’t had time to read this new idea by English recluse and scientist, Charles Darwin, but his good friend Joseph Henry had given him a summary. Darwin and he were born on the exact same day, Lincoln remembered, and though Darwin’s privileged life was considerably different than his own meager upbringing, they both had had dramatic impacts on how the world viewed these men, women, and children derived from Africa.

Ah, that Joseph Henry. Long a friend of Jefferson Davis in the pre-war days, as first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Henry had carried on a lengthy correspondence with famed Harvard botanist Asa Gray, Darwin’s main proponent in the states. Lincoln didn’t quite understand this “natural selection,” as Henry explained it, but he had come to understand his own evolution on the “race question.” “All men are created equal,” he repeated often, just as the Founders has stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Lincoln’s own views had evolved, it’s true, but he had always been convinced that all men, while perhaps not all equal in every way, had a right to expect equal treatment and equal opportunity to better their own condition.

Looking out over the bodies of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice, it was hard to see how anyone’s condition had been bettered in this awful conflict.

Lincoln’s eyes became a little more gray.

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.

[Daily Post]

The Opaque Window

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opaque window 1You can see right through most people. But this woman was opaque. Not literally opaque, of course, but opaque still the same.

The man in the corner is a writer. I don’t know that for sure, but he is always staring pensively at his propped up iPad, tapping here and there as if to edit some massive tome he’s been working on for years.

The woman to the side is frantically scrolling through her smartphone, deep in “conversation” with one or more of her distant friends.

A gentleman of uncertain age racks his brain over a newspaper crossword puzzle, his demeanor that of a long-retired Navy man passing the time of day. A parade of admirers stops to pay their respects as he holds court in succession. Invariably, the puzzle is never finished.

All reveal themselves in their actions, movements, expressions…windows into their worlds.

But not her.

She stood unmoving. Not simply motionless, but seemingly immobile. No expression, no impatience, no sadness, no joy, no apparent connection to the outside world. What was running through her mind? Was she contemplating a family tragedy, an upcoming exam, cheating on her husband? Was she in deep thought about the state of the world or her existence, or potential non-existence, in it? Perhaps she was autistic, a savant whose world extended no further than her own skin? Or weighted down with the terrors of tragedy? Or maybe, just maybe, she was writing the next “Great American Novel!” in her head?

Most people are transparent. You can read them like a book. They give off clues to their general well-being, their attitude toward life, their loves and loathes. Windows into their inner beings.

This woman’s window was opague.

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.

[Daily Post]

My Life Unraveled

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ropeIce formed on my eyebrows as I leaned over the railing. Staring out at the Statue of Liberty didn’t help much. “What is Liberty, anyway? The freedom to tear a man’s heart out?”

Sure, I told myself, be melodramatic. That ought to fix it. At this point I didn’t care. It’s not like I even know the woman; damn Tom for connecting us online. I never would have agreed to this blind date thing if Tom hadn’t been there when I needed a friend most; when my life was unraveling.

Sigh. Who has a first date on the ferry out to the Liberty Island anyway? This whole thing is starting to sound silly now that I think about it. Okay, maybe I’m rationalizing, but really, a ferry boat? I chuckled at the thought, even though right now what I wanted most was to leap over the railing and end my misery.

Another New Year’s Eve. I had spent the last few New Year’s eves alone, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Okay, always not. I was actually starting to climb out of the annual doldrums this year, what with the big pay raise at work and all. But now this. This wasn’t going to help.

Stop. I am not doing this to myself again. Positive thinking, man. You know, that whole Norman Vincent Peale stuff. Go for it. Screw the girl who was standing you up. Just find someone else – anyone else – that looks in need of some warmth on this frigid ferry. Yeah, that’s it; go for it.

I had almost talked myself through this situation when a conspiratorial December gust blew a hat smack into my face. “What the h….?”

[to be continued]

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.

[Daily Post]

Midnight on the Cusp of Spring

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spring nightSpring came early this year; spring is coming late this year. The cusp of spring arrived, then departed, then arrived, and again departed; only to arrive once more. Perhaps for good this time.

Officially, of course, spring comes only once a year on its equinox – March 20th in the northern hemisphere (which equates with the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere). Equinox is the technical term for when the Earth’s equator [all these “equi” words derive from the same roots as “equal”] passes through the center of the Sun. On these days, spring and autumn, the hours of daylight and darkness are about equal.

All this is nice, but in reality we measure “spring” in many ways. Meteorological spring, for example, started on March 1st this year. The first crocuses and daffodils may signal spring where you are, while the annual cherry blossom festival in Washington DC begs us to put on the t-shirts and shorts.

This year spring arrived in February. Temperatures zoomed into the high 70s (Fahrenheit), even toppling over in the 80s a few times. Snow was non-existent. Sun was abundant. Spring had arrived before winter had a chance to strut its stuff. But then mid-March, when the equinox sought to reveal the wonders of spring, winter arrived with a vengeance. Snow, cold, wind. Not very spring-like, I assure you. This pattern of unnaturally warm and exceedingly cold had shown itself several times during the “winter,” but this reordering of months was most noticeable right when we were trying to decide to flip wardrobes. January was clearly March, February was May or June, March was January, April is starting off as March. Hopefully by June we’ll have June.

It is midnight on the cusp of spring.

When not traveling, 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.

[Daily Post]