The Sounds at Present
Crows are making a ruckus in the neighborhood. Some game is afoot. The rightful claim to a squirrel carcass is in dispute maybe.
A Duraflame faux wood-burning stove is sighing warm air around my writing hut, which should provide a comfortable workplace in any season.
Now a train blows its horn in the distance.
Foxhound Sherlock Holmes snoozes on my futon—an ironic development I’ll explain shortly. He is quiet, except for occasional burbles and squeaks from his belly.
In truth, I’m still getting used to the sounds that accompany my writing these days. Circumstances have changed.
For nearly 20 years I wrote mostly in coffee shops. The settings were bustling, customers rushing in and out, folks at tables reading or engaged in chatter, espresso makers hissing, baristas calling out names, an eclectic selection of music playing, up too loud. Most of this was white noise to me. One of the regulars might sidle up for small talk, but seldom for long.
Like lots of writers who haunt public places, I got plenty accomplished, enjoyed the arrangement and had no intention of shaking things up. Alas, the Coronavirus and 2020 intervened.
“John,” you’re wondering, “why didn’t you find a suitable place in your house to work?” That’s an excellent question. At some point over the years, I had lost the ability to get anything sustained and meaningful done at home. From 1985-2001 I functioned well within my own four walls, but once fatherhood had me running children hither and yon, I learned to write in short bursts and on the run. Starbucks was my hut, as were orthodontists’ waiting rooms and music and dance studios where daughter and son took lessons.
Then, when the kids grew up, it was hard to reverse course. And now, even if I could manage to stack up sentences while gazing out at Parkway Drive, other complications intrude.
For one, Sherlock is convinced that anybody who is home during the day must want to play. He whimpers, whines, paces, snorts and finally hoops and howls. The only solution is to take him for a w-a-l-k or drive him to the dog park. Either way, the Heavenly Muse is interrupted and reluctant to return.
If Mr. Holmes happens to be restful, cat Baby Crash will sit on my keyboard. I gently move her. She returns. It might actually be possible to write anyway while so under siege, but she bites when ignored—not hard enough to draw blood, but still.
“So, get rid of the darned cat,” you say. The trouble is, wife Kathy would frown upon this, even if I were so inclined.
The answer came to me gradually, after I explored many options, including building a cabin myself. (Stop laughing.) In short—as you already know—a far corner of the Coleman’s backyard is perfect for a shed, which I ordered from a dealer in Erie on I-90. Once delivered, what I now call the writing hut took every bit of a hot summer and rainy fall to appoint. I worked off 30 pounds insulating and sawing wood for interior walls and flooring and sanding and shellacking and on and on.
Neighbor Dan asked if I was adding a second floor. Another neighbor, Melvin, asked if I had put in a bathroom. Ha and ha.
Of all the reasons for the hard work, Sherlock Holmes came first. My hope from the start was that, on writing days, I’d drop Kathy off at her nursing job, then head directly to the hut. The foxhound would lounge on the living room couch, none the wiser.
Um, not quite. I’ve always needed to go in the house for some forgotten item, at which point the ruse is up. Sherlock comes to greet me, his eyes wide with hope of adventure. Thus far, he has wound up here in the hut with me every day.
But here’s the miracle. Whatever spell drives him to mania in the house is broken in the hut. He prances about the yard, checks the property’s perimeter, then barks for me to open the door. Up on the futon he goes, settling in immediately, his spindly legs jutting out over the edge. Bliss.
I can settle into a good work rhythm in this 8’ x 12’, sheltering space, but it will take time.
Sherlock just let out a contented groan, as if to remind me that my plans won’t unfold as I expect. That’s probably for the best, as I’ve discovered more times than I care to count.