The Sounds at Present

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.

Sherlock on the futon beside faux wood burning stove

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.

Looking out at Parkway Drive, after dark

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. 

15 thoughts on “The Sounds at Present

    • Oh, Deb! Thanks for your response. I’m such a slacker. I read of your husband’s passing and grandson’s COVID and have held you and yours in prayer ever since. Please forgive my silence. I sure hope you’re holding up OK. Peace, John

      • I’m doing okay. I’m trying to get used to living alone down here in the back of beyond. And I help take care of things for my 92-year-old dad. Life brings changes, and we must adapt. Thank you for your prayers. I think of you and your family often and hope all are doing well. Deb

    • Thanks, Vince, and much love to you and Marge. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your continuing to read and comment, when I so poor at responding. Please forgive. Hope all is well in your neighborhood. John

  1. My husband has jokingly offered to build me a “she-shed”. How this would be marginally different from any other shed, I have no idea. Alas, our yard is pretty small and I value the green space too much. I’ve learned to shut the door to my study, something I never had to do before when everyone was at work or school. We writers will always find a way, John. Sherlock looks so happy that you have!

    • Right you are, Michelle. We do find a way. Incidentally, the only reason Kathy and I have room for this hut is that we purchased the vacant lot next to our house. We call it Kathy’s “farmette.” Hope all is well with you and yours. John

  2. I would love a “tour” of “the writing hut” :-). I can almost hear the silence and you make me want to wake up the muse in me to hear whatever else she wants to reveal. Did I tell you Mike and I are moving to Tasmania!!! As soon as the borders open.

    • I’d be glad to show you around–though it will take about 30 seconds. I think it’s a small structure with a big heart. You and Mike have been in my thoughts lately. Moving to Tasmania in retirement takes chutzpah! I’m envious of your adventure and courage. Be safe and if you land in Erie, please do reach out. The hut is always open. Peace.

  3. Hi John!

    My colleague Hilary and I were one of those “regulars” you write about here. We would often share the large table by the window at the Pittsburgh Ave. Starbucks. We do miss those days as well.

    I wanted to let you know that my memoir (the one I showed you almost 3 years ago) is being published! Release date is 4/6/21. I’d love to get you a copy and see what your advice given so long ago helped create.

    Hope you all are well! Perhaps we can get a cup o’ joe this spring when it’s warm enough to sit outside.


    On Mon, Feb 15, 2021 at 7:48 PM A Napper’s Companion wrote:

    > John Coleman posted: ” 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 provi” >

    • Hi, Will. I miss the banter with you and Hilary at Starbucks, too. I must admit, though, that the solitude of this little backyard hut I’ve got going is pretty agreeable as well. I imagine when life returns to normal–whatever that might look like!–that I’ll hit Starbucks every now and then for writing time. Meanwhile, hearty congratulations on the publication of your memoir. I’d love to see it. And I must congratulate you. It was daunting to let the considerable draft you already had going rest and change directions. Bravo for your fortitude. Yes, let’s connect for coffee as the COVID dangers are mitigated. For now, do bask in the satisfaction of holding your own work between covers in your hands. Cheers, John

  4. We followed a vehicle on 79 to Wegman’s tonight and I said ‘I’ve looked at that bumper sticker for so long, I have to check the website.’ I guess it was you, and I’m glad I did.

    • Hi, JoAnn. Sorry for the late reply. Thanks a million for checking out my blog. Word seems to spread one bumpersticker, one voice at a time. Hope all is well with you and yours. Peace, John

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