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Mind Hovel

It’s a warm, sunny day in Huntington and I’m flying down 11th Avenue on my scooter, the wind in my face and a Capri-Sun in my belly. Replete with off-road tires, if the neighborhood is Venice, the two wheeled push scooter is my gondola. I ride it to get anywhere that’s worth getting. It does not fly, though. There’s no liftoff save for the bumps of the street but when you have an imagination a little air is all it takes to reach a higher level of contentment. It’s the same sense of focus I get when I do math, drive with the windows down, or debate other presidential candidates in the shower. I’m there, but the real me is somewhere else.

Pop culture is saturated with mind palaces. I don’t need a mind palace. I have a mind hovel.

Hovels have a bad reputation largely stemming from the fact that the word rhymes with “shovel”. Because it rhymes with “phallus”, palace has gained the advantage of male privilege through the ages. Thus, we’re all bred to want mind palaces. Not me. A palace is a lot to clean. And maintain. Plus you have to decorate. With its roomy interior, rather unlike a phallus actually, a palace is a serious responsibility and I just have too much going on to handle it.

The proper palace has two dozen fireplaces. Every time you leave, you have to remember to turn each one off.

A hovel is a studio apartment. Yoda lived in a hovel. Granted, hovels aren’t the only dwellings that are basically one room. A shack is a possibility, but shack rhymes with attack, and that’s too distracting. Cottage is a contender. For starters, wattage rhymes with cottage, and this contributes thematically with ideas being light bulbs, right? Write that down. In terms of responsibility, cottages are cute, but not too complicated. However, cottages are also tidy because “cottage clutter” is fun to utter, hard to mutter, and once the mess is pointed out, the impetus to clean arises. This is no bueno. A good mind space cannot be tidy for the same reason you can never find what you’re looking for in a clean room.

If you can find things in a clean room, then you’re probably the one who does all the cleaning. The rest of us appreciate it.

But you missed a spot over there.

In a mind space, one must allow for clutter. The clutter is important because it means perfection isn’t a required measure. In a hoarder’s house, surprises are everywhere. How interesting is the home of your neat friend really?

Neat friends, I’m sorry when I forget to use a coaster. Not really. I have my reasons.

Those reasons being that using a coaster always makes me worry I’m going to knock the drink over because the coaster becomes a tiny stage for the beverage. That kind of attention can go straight to your drink’s head, and nobody likes a drink with too much head, or so I’m told after I finish pouring beer for ungrateful guests. Excuse me for not knowing the proper way to pour, I went to film school, not beer school. Why does it need to be a fancy pour? Just drink it out of the bottle. It’s not a cocktail. And don’t even get me started on the psychosis of tiny umbrellas. What tiny aliens did we borrow them from and when do they want them back?

In conclusion, the mind hovel offers the connotations of cozy with the standards of floozy and nothing suits me better.

But maybe a hovel isn’t for everyone. Buy whatever kind of mind yurt you want, go nuts, knock yourself out, wake up five minutes later, go to the ER, retire from the NFL, etc. No one’s ever lost everything buying real estate in their head. After all, the bank can’t seize imaginary assets, yet. Furnish your mental property like there’s no tomorrow. Clutter can’t exist in an empty room, it needs stuff to go on top of and hide under. Without furniture, there’s no crevices for old photos to fall behind and no crannies for sought after things to disappear in. Don’t worry, they’re not lost, just deposited to be found later when you’re looking for something else.

You may have noticed when I said Crannies I left out its life partner, Nooks. There’s a good reason for this. Nooks are meaningless. Any corner can be a nook. Any small space can be designated a nook. If one pretends a nook is a farm animal, the chorus from the Scottish, agricultural hymn, Old MacDonald Had A Farm best illustrates how prevalent nooks can be. Sing with me, won’t you?

Old MacDonald had a Farm / Ee-Eye-Ee-Eye-Oh

And on this farm he had some nooks / E-I-E-I-O

With a nook, nook here. And a nook, nook there.

Here a nook. There a nook. Everywhere a nook, nook.

Old MacDonald had a farm / But-then-the-bank-foreclosed.

As has been made plain, there’s no enforceable law declaring what a nook can or cannot be. Thus in this anarchy one must draw a line in the sand, perhaps using one’s tiny umbrella, and declare sanctions on nooks in the mind space, lest things get really out of hand. Look at how much time we’ve wasted on nooks already?

The furniture in my mind hovel is mostly a desk. Maybe I should just say I have a mind desk but then I would have to decide where that desk is at any given moment. A desk in the abyss of space is too lonely unless you’re listening to the Smiths. Put that desk inside a hovel and the abyss problem goes away. Of course, this leads to the question of where exactly the mind hovel is located. The answer? Anywhere you damn well want. If that location happens to be the abyss then at the very least you can shut the hovel windows and pretend you’re only abyss-adjacent.

Humanity is well-versed in shutting our eyes and pretending everything is mildly better. It totally works. Sometimes.

The desk has several drawers and is made of an old, sturdy wood. It’s my father’s desk. Paperwork, mostly bills, cover the surface in a pile. Partially hidden by the pile of debt, the yellow notepad where I sketch out my ideas tempts me. Even now as I’m typing this, there’s a part of me that wants to think of all the different ways a human could transform into a whale. Someday, I’ll have the best method, but for the moment my gaze moves on to the far edge of the desk where I’ve lined up all the action figures of my heroes. As the ancestors to my present-day principles, they’re not all comic book icons, but profound people I’ve never met who I nonetheless feel I know intimately. Batman wears a cape. Another wears a cardigan. When I’m struggling with a decision, it helps to see the pillars of my own, amalgamated perspective, even if it’s all a mental exercise.

Underneath the surface, the drawers are where things to be remembered go. There’s a series of drawers on the right-hand side. The lower the drawer, the deeper the memory goes. There’s a thin, wide drawer right below the top of the desk. That’s where things like “Where did I put my keys?” live. The lowest drawer, the one at the bottom, is where I keep my parachute.

Think of life like jumping out of a plane. We’re all headed for the ground eventually, but only by pulling the parachute do we accept it. If I ever jump out of a plane, the moments I’m in free fall will be the moments where I, for the first time in my life, sincerely try to fly. This is why I keep a parachute in the bottom drawer of the desk in my mind hovel. Someday I may have to admit I can’t fly and I’ll need the parachute to save my life.  The parachute is the sum of the contingency plans I’ve constructed in case of unthinkable disaster.

When his parents were murdered, Bruce Wayne had Alfred. I don’t have an English butler, but I do have a similar plan to fight crime.

In truth, I fear the real reason I’ve built a mind hovel isn’t to linger on the past or future but to provide a place to go when the world breaks bad. A retreat in every meaning. My father once advised me to imagine a happy place before getting a shot at the doctor’s office. I used to hate needles. I don’t like them now, but you get stuck enough times and you stop being scared. I think. Maybe it’s not the pain, but the violation that makes us afraid of needles. How dare that spindly bit of metal penetrate my dermis. The impropriety is maddening, but medical professionals insist it’s necessary. I have my doubts, except when it comes to vaccines. I’m only an incomplete fool, not a total idiot.

The retreat a mind space provides is the best reason to invest in the imaginary real-estate market. A structure isn’t required, just maybe a little stretch of beach, isolated from the world. The water blue and crystal clear. The warm sand soft on your feet. The local crab king has already banished the annoying invertebrates, children included. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Nothing disturbs the tranquility of your mind paradise. Not even crazy people jumping out of planes, trying to fly.

And look there, in the shade of the palms, in view of the water, it’s a good spot for your desk.

Published inNon-fiction


  1. Barbara Smith Barbara Smith

    I can imagine a novel in the mind hovel. Write a story about that, a whole life in a mind hovel. The possibilities are endless. It’s all up to you because I am not a writer. I love it when writers take me somewhere I’ve never been. So, Thanks

  2. James B James B

    We didn’t borrow the umbrellas Chris we took them by force and we are not returning them. How else will we shade our cocktails, lol

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