by Jonathan C. Swift
Table of Contents
Part 1 – The
Secret Room 2
Part 2 – The
Desert Still 3
Part 3 – The
Shelf of Great Ideas 4
Part 4 – The
Shocking Earth 5
Part 5 – A
Feisty(able) Move 6
Part 7 –
Golf Courses 8
Part 8 –
Languages in the Living room 9
Part 9 –
Rockets, wind tunnels and worms 10
Part 10 –
Energy Transference 11
Part 1 – The Secret Room
I grew up in this semi-magical house in Maryland. It was a Cape Cod
style with dormers and a secret room above the porch that you got to
by crawling though a little space between the eaves and the walls of
the upper bedrooms. I had a quirky father who knew everything worth
knowing and was happy to prove the point if you asked him a question
in the appropriate tone of respect. One day he was talking and
mentioned a “solar still”, a simple device to collect water
used for survival in the desert. The idea is that you scoop out some
sand, lay some plastic across the resultant hole (one always should
carry plastic when crossing the desert), set it up correctly with
some rocks so that the condensed water drops will roll conveniently
down into your starbucks cup.
Since I was all of eight years old and my world was full of building castles,
adventures and magical devices that could transport one anywhere at
the speed of thought I hatched what I still consider the most
brilliant idea ever conceived. Now why is this idea brilliant, which
I won’t reveal now in order to keep your interest perked? A fair
question. It is brilliant in it’s simplicity, being based on the
solar still and brilliant in the benefit to mankind, although
unrealized so far. For what if there were abundant water available in
the Sahara? I will not mention some of mankind’s so called social
problems concerning food production, overpopulation and land use. The
solution is obvious! At least to an eight year old boy crawling
towards the secret room above the porch.
west coast of Africa is a fascinating country called Mauritania.
It is cool because it has an awesome flag, has some very odd
landforms and is sparsely populated. Now there are many similar
places in the world but here by the ocean is a funny spot not far
from the capital called “Sebkha de Ndrhamcha”, a salt pan
roughly 500 square miles in size that is the perfect starting point
to irrigate the Sahara.
Part 2 – The Desert Still
Part 2 – The Desert Still
does moonshine have to do with the stillness of the desert? As I
crawl through the attic on my way to the secret room I think of
booze, the forbidden treat of adults that makes them act like kids.
The act of distilling
is to separate mixtures by heating, used to create gasoline,
alcoholic beverages and water from salt water. If there was a
plentiful supply of salt water, sunshine and land, couldn’t a solar
still create abundant water cheaply.
no!’ my father would say, “it is very expensive and
impractical. Desalination is energy intensive and difficult”.
Kinda like protecting a city that is below sea level or farming
dependent on gasoline and pesticides. My dad wouldn’t understand that
in my world, anything was possible and everything was simple.
lets make a still in the desert by the ocean. The ocean water will
come into a big flat area at high tide through a pipe. There will be
a simple plastic shed above the water. When the sun comes up the
and some of it condenses
down the side into gutters where it flows down to the local
coffee shop but most of the humid warm air rises by convection
through ducts in the top of the shed(s) and travels to the nearby
hill where it condenses into a reservoir. In the evening the water is
released downhill to irrigate
fields and as it burbles down it happens to rub against little
efficient generators that supply some electrical power to the
farmers. Maybe pump some water from the local coffee shop to the
reservoir thereby creating a natural energy storage capacity.
pretty simple yet…“It’ll never work, who’ll pay for it…”
you say. Easier than shooting a space shuttle into the sky and a LOT
But as I
reached the secret room and relax in the fullness of the brilliance
streaming through the little window above the porch I think; “this
idea will have to wait, they believe in solving the problems they
see, not playing and creating a new magical world”.
Part 3 – The Shelf of Great Ideas
Part 3 – The Shelf of Great Ideas
secret room with the little window was one corner formed between the
brick chimney that came from the living room below and the edge of
the house. When you entered the secret room it was through this
corner (I am sure at this point that you have a completely different
picture of what this room looks like than I do but it really doesn’t
matter) and this was the only area that had a proper floor so
naturally this was to be the place to have the shelf.
child knows that you have to have a shelf cause where else do you put
your cool stuff unless you have a cool box but I didn’t. So with a
little scrounging a shelf became part of the room and on the shelf
cool stuff collected. Some cool rocks, poptop chains, coins of great
value and other stuff but I didn’t know then as I do now that great
ideas have to go somewhere or they die. So the desert still idea
floated up to the back of the shelf and stayed there hidden.
while I had to go eat or pee or something so I crawled out of the
secret room and for a while I left the shelf and the brilliance
behind. Not until a cold rainy autumn
day about a month later did I get back to the secret room. I had no
reason to go there but to have fun so there I was having fun with
some cool stuff and noticed on the back of the shelf a great idea.
What was weird was I didn’t know how this great idea had landed on
the shelf. I wasn’t sure if it belonged to me or was stolen from some
genius somewhere or better yet from some movie. There is a small
chance that it had drifted up off of my dad’s white hair but in any
case there it was grinning at me.
was really annoying….
Next: Part 4 – The Shocking Earth
Part 4 – The Shocking Earth
the great things I had done with my Dad was make an electric motor
out of paper clips, nails, a block of wood and copper wire. Once it
was working my Mom thought it was really interesting and exciting but
my Dad could only analyze it and offer improvements. This opened my
eyes to the reality that there were little energy gizmos
running around really fast all over the place. But what were they
doing most of the time? Here we are so worried about our lack of
energy and here they are with way too much energy. I mean look at
secret room was some tin foil on the wall for reasons that have to do
with the 60’s, black lights and Jimi
Hendrix. The electric motor a few days after being built rested
under the Shelf of Great Ideas and fairly close to the tin foil on
the wall. Hmmmm…
those energy gizmos starting crawling on the tin foil and then were
enticed down a copper wire to the electric motor. I could run a fan
or something ’cause it was getting hot in here or better yet I could
power the life support system for the
required more thought but I wasn’t in the mood and later on I found
which had it pretty well worked out. This great idea lived on the
Shelf of Great Ideas quite happily and it turns out it was related
(grand nephew or something) to the simple earth
battery that early telegraph operators employed without pay to
power their remote stations.
later my Mom asked about the tin foil and I mumbled something
incoherent, afraid to reveal the mysteries living in her house…
Part 5 – A Feisty(able) Move
5 – A Feisty(able) Move
Now I was raised a Quaker.
No, I didn’t wear funny hats and ride in a buggy. That is the Amish
who are very cool and believe in Peace and Love which the Quakers do
also. I was a modern Quaker and inconspicuous to the untrained eye.
We had a Sunday thing called “meeting” where the
“friends” sat in a room and waited to be “moved”
by the “ inner light” sometimes called God.
In the room was a mobile, quite large,
hanging from the high ceiling. The room was the assembly room of a
Quaker school and was huge, square and drab. I was small, bored and
looking at the large mobile in the huge room with the “meeting”
of “friends” waiting to be “moved” by God. I
decided to move the mobile with my incredible powers of
Proof is an arbitrary thing really.
Like when my brothers would fight about something sooner or later one
would shout; “Prove it”. Then the other would recite some
“facts” of dubious origin and the now enriched fight
would ignite once again. Proof depends completely on the rules of the
game, so anyone can prove anything if they are making up the game.
The mobile hanging from the ceiling
started to move in a clockwise direction. Slowly at first then
accelerating oh so slightly as my face scrunched up with the effort
of my concentration. Now slow it down, slower, slower. Now start it
back the other way, that’s it, now slow it down again. Man, this is
tiring but at least now the “meeting” is over and it is
time to play.
Sometimes in the morning I’d lie half
awake or half asleep for a while because it felt so good.
Occasionally I’d go flying, which is similar to moving mobiles in
Quaker meeting. All you do is visualize the flying with a clear
intense focus and intention. I loved it. At first I could barely get
off the ground but over time I could get up above the trees and on
rare occasions get into the clouds which was scary and a little cold.
If I really worked at it (which I am not inclined to do at the
moment) I could propel the
transport-one-anywhere-at-the-speed-of-thought-thing anywhere in the
Universe I wanted. Since it would be a lot of concentrated effort I
instead decided to just make a little anti-gravity device. This is
powered by the little energy gizmos that are everywhere and and has a
neat ion jet built right in.
Next: Part 6 – Forgetting to grow up
Part 6 – Forgetting to grow up
A weird thing happens to some of us as
we get older, it is generally referred to as “growing up”.
It is actually a complex set of adjustments to societies whims. Some
of these are;
being responsible, which means
making rational decisions based on other peoples opinions.
acting your age, which means
pretending that anyone else cares about how you look when they are
busy keeping their own act together.
striving for success, I don’t know
much about this one but I think it has to do with joining a game
full of liars and cheats where the rules are constantly changing.
noble sacrifice, in which a person
blindly follows the blind and gives up happiness.
I found myself recently in a class doing an exercise in which we were asked to remember something from our youth and how it felt. I thought of the golf course near my home which was really cool where Rich, Carlos, John and I used to play. I remembered what it was like to get up in the morning and think about going there for adventures. It was full of adventures. Then I got that I had almost, ALMOST forgotten how to play. What a shock came crashing into my world. That magical joyous experience of play that was so real was missing from my life.
Well this had to change, so I decided to play again. Which took some practice because I had trained myself in time management and being productive, both of which have nothing to do with play. The first thing was to forget about time (the
essence of being grown up) and do stuff with no agenda. That is;
“Hey, let’s go over there…Hmmm, nothing here, let’s go over there. Wow, there are some cool rocks here. I wish I had some more rocks. Oh wait, I know where some other rocks are…” etc. The next and really only other thing is to have the priority of enjoyment. That is fun. If it ain’t fun, make it fun or don’t do it.
After a while I started to get better at it and found my days becoming more magical and simple and so many concerns that used to fly around my head had gone somewhere else.
Also it became clear that most people had become adults and were worried, while a few had forgotten to grow up.
Next: Part 7 – Golf Courses
Part 7 – Golf Courses
What is so amazing about golf courses
anyway? There must be something about the course itself otherwise why
would people spend zillions of dollars and zillions of hours there
playing that stupid game.
Rich, Carlos and I used to go to the
golf course after we got tired of the secret room. The golf course
was real fancy and they even had a tournament there but all we ever
saw were grumpy old white men. Next to the golf course had been a
public swimming pool that was awesome with a big slide and fountains
but it got shut down during the civil rights stuff rather than allow
black people to swim there. There was a big fence all around the golf
course but there were also holes in good spots and one train track
that ran right smack through the center of the course from our side
to the other side where the pool was. The train track was the
official superhighway of all the kids in our neighborhood and any
neighborhoods down the line so who knows where it would end. The
train track went down to Georgetown
on the river that way and over Rock
Creek Park on a high scary trestle the other way. It also went
under two surface roads which created small tunnel underpasses that
had weird dirt embankments. Over time the dirt had eroded creating
castle like formations which became the site of numerous offensive
and defensive maneuvers.
Back at the golf course if you were
walking on the train tracks you could see how long you could balance
on the rail or else try to run on the cross ties really fast which
created a unnatural rhythm in your stomach that made you laugh. The
train track stayed fairly level but the ground with the tees, paths
and grasses of the course sloped down to the creek so after a while
you were walking up in the air looking down on the course and the
grumpy white men.
In winter the best sledding hill in the
country was right there in the middle of the course. It barreled way
down then leveled out for about twenty feet before the creek. There
was one little wood bridge across the creek and if you were lucky you
could get across. Or if not you could bail before you got wet. People
used to make fires there in the snow and the dogs went crazy chasing
But in summer one had to dodge the
grumps so we would carefully skirt the fairways and search for stuff
in the back corners of the course. John and I one summer started
moving all the signs around hoping to send a golf cart into the
woods. We also found that you could aim the big sprinklers at each
other making one great water fight. I know I spent a lot of time
there but it was so great I forgot to remember most of what I did.
Next: Part 7 –
Languages in the Living Room
Part 8 – Languages in the Living
Below the secret room was the porch
where my brothers and I watched thunderstorms
in the summer and rated the lightning on form, style and execution.
Next to the porch was the living room where people sat and talked.
During the anti-war movement days it was a dormitory too.
My mom and dad had carried on the fine
family tradition of doing good so they had gone to China and produced
two of my three brothers. When the communists gained power in China
they kicked most missionaries out and my folks went to Turkey
after dropping by the U.S. to produce me. So I spent my first few
years on Earth in Turkey which was OK and I think I really liked it.
I don’t remember many details but there is a deep impression of
desert and peoples with many colors and sounds. Later on I saw a
picture of my kindergarten and it looked like a “We
are the World” poster.
Friends of my folks from Turkey, China
and elsewhere would drop by occasionally, have dinner and later tea
in the living room. My brothers and I ate separately at those times
and were banished to the rec(kt) room to play and then to bed.
Sounds travel upward when they are
happy so sleeping on the second floor allowed the conversations in
many languages to drift up into my dreams. When Turkish comes into my
dreams I dance around a fire and sing. When Chinese comes into my
dreams I talk and paint and cook. When English comes into my dreams I
laugh and invent things.
The sound of adult voices in another
language on young ears is really amazing though. It affirms the
mystery of a world much bigger than us and brings comfort that those
big people are busy figuring it all out while I am falling asleep and
tomorrow will be a beautiful new day. It is the sound of the voice
that is meaningful not the content. Every cat knows this.
The sounds from the living room tended
to collect in the secret room like fine dust. They murmured of far
off lands seen in slide shows. Occasionally the crack of thunder
would stir the languages violently in a swirl and I would pull the
covers more tightly over my head until it all settled down.
Next: Part 9 –
Rockets, wind tunnels and worms
Part 9 – Rockets, wind tunnels
Half of the basement below the living
room below the secret room was the Rec(kt) room and the other half
was the shop. The shop was a wonderland of benches, bins, tools and
dust. There was a table saw, a metal lathe, all kinds of mislabeled
drawers and a general clutter that brings forth the inner creativity
in the fertile mind. It was here that lamps, motors, pinewood derby
cars, furniture, and great inventions were made. My father often was
found muttering and singing to himself here while engaging his
passion for making practical things.
tunnel was a science fair project of mine that we built together.
It didn’t create any breakthroughs in science but was nicely made and
won an honorable mention in the science fair. My previous year entry
was a study of worms in different types of soil. Although this was
fascinating to some it didn’t receive any award and I thought this
was because of a bias on the part of the judges towards projects that
squirmed and smelled bad.
My brother Aubrey got into model
rockets around that time with a friend of his and allowed me to
accompany them to some launches. This was where kids would set a
model rocket on a stand, attach some wires, count backwards and watch
the rocket either explode, zoom around in circles before exploding or
fly upwards to the heavens where it might release a parachute or just
collapse down to earth in triumph.
It was in the shop that I found the
shelf of great ideas and also many of the ideas that ended up on the
shelf. When my father would mutter “what so-and-so moved my
drill”, and “why don’t those darn-blamed kids clean up
after themselves”, I learned that when one was inventing
Earth-transforming-things one should be careful about pissing off
people on the Earth.
So I decided that before making the
transport-one-anywhere-at-the-speed-of-thought-thing I should do my
I’m almost finished with my chores now.
Next: Part 10
– Energy Transference
Part 10 – Energy Transference
About now you might be asking; “What’s
the point?” Well of course there is no point but it does bring
up the subject of Energy Transference.
Kids like to collect things, all kinds
of things usually with a theme, say dolls, rocks or things that
squirm but the important part of the collection is to show it to
someone else. Otherwise “What’s the point?” This sharing
of the collection brings a transfer of enthusiastic energy to those
shared with. Most great ideas get bored on the shelf without a little
energy once in a while. But when shared they are reborn in the secret
room of all great ideas and can then pop up when needed.
At one point I tried to organize the
ideas with cool code names but they all ended up in a pile anyway so
now I am just planting them to see if they will grow. If you have a
you may be the type of person who wants all the little plants to be
in a line like kindergarten kids behind their desks. Or you may not
really care how the garden looks but be more interested in the fruit
it provides and what funky little bugs are crawling through it. My
garden is evolving into a random-whatever-works pattern that reminds
me of the way leaves fall and the stuff on the shelf of great ideas.
So sharing the great ideas is planting
them and if the energy nourishes them and they grow then they will be
of benefit, otherwise they return to dust and no harm done.
Encounter with Jean de la Vitesse
A cold fog drifted down the small dark
street. He slowly emerged like a ship sailing on foam crusted seas.
His face a mask of strong indifference but through the portholes of
his eyes one could see a storm distant and powerful.
He extended his hand and in the most
polite, correct and proper speech inquired if all was well and to the
family. After a few brief pleasantries the conversation lapsed into
silence. One sensed that he was deep in thought and far away. It was
not unpleasant to walk slowly on this way, even comforting somehow,
for in his melancholy absorption one’s own problems seemed smaller
somehow. There was a hidden bond, like brothers preparing to meet
some impending crisis.
The fog deepened and swirled around and
he asked if the coat was sufficiently warm. Seeing that he wore only
a light mack I replied it was fine.
Abruptly he began to explain the reason
of our meeting. Because of the tragedy of which we would not
speak, he intended to embark on a journey. The destination was not
important, just to prepare in haste and in secret as to arouse no
notice. He assured me that his associates would hardly be concerned
or inquire too much into his disappearance although I suspected
Why would someone who had all that one
might desire and the respect of his peers wish to cast it away for an
unknown future? One could only guess that the attention he had
received of late was deeply discomforting and he sought the solace of
new acquaintances without the burden of his past.
We walked on into the night…
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