During my only graduate-level writing course at the University of Tennessee, Professor Jon Manchip White, an ex-patriate from Wales as well as from Hollywood where he spent his screenwriting days, advised us that we would-be writers should keep a commonplace book filled with ideas we could use to inspire our work.
Apparently a practice that originated in Early Modern Europe, commonplace books in the 21st century can be filled with quotations, snatches of movie dialogue, song lyrics, overheard conversations, lines from books, titles, phrases–anything we want to remember for future reference.
During our recent moving process, I realized the idiosyncratic way I had taken Dr. Manchip White’s advice, as I packed and unpacked 15-20 of my commonplace books. The first few pages of each journal was marked with my handwriting and then nothing in the pages thereafter.
Life certainly has a way of taking me away from my best intentions of writing more often and even from regularly writing in my commonplace book. Inspirations come at me nearly every day, and my husband and I talk about how great a blogpost this or that idea would make. Then instead of writing, I chase my tail through the halls of my life, filling up the trash containers, taking out the recycling, washing ever more clothes, and cleaning the never-ending pollen from my front porch rail.
When we were in London for my husband’s work in the 1990s, we took the Tube (the subway system) around the city. It occurred to me toay that’s the Tube is what my life looks like to me. I am watching as the light flashes by at each Tube station, then the dark of the Underground tunnel, followed by the light of another station, then the dark tunnels interchanging until we arrive at my destination station, and I race off to my next errand. Clock’s a-ticking.
As I dashed through life in 2011–the year I was not-so-graciously encouraged to leave my 30-year job at the University of Tennessee–my commonplace book noted sound advice from American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) who advised in The American Claimant:
Drag your thoughts away from your troubles–by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you can manage it; it’s the healthiest thing a body can do.
In any time or place, excessive study of our own belly buttons–rolling in the mud of our own bailiwicks–is just a disaster for a sound mind and spirit. My sister and I ascribe to the keep moving doctrine. No matter the aching muscles or bones that remind us we are aging, staying busy has kept us sane. Oh, most of the time.
From These Amazing Shadows, a 2011 documentary featuring some of the best movie treasures, I noted that Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington (born June 1, 1929) said:
Stories unite people; theories divide people.
Certainly life in America and throughout the world in 2018, has proven Dr. Billington’s notion that telling our stories reminds us of our shared humanity and has the hope of bringing us together. Pontificating, pointing fingers, telling other people how to live, seeking to control people who speak, look, or worship differently has led humankind to war followed by war, followed by war, followed by war.
Except for halting the scourge of the Nazis during World War II, war has not, in the final analysis, solved anything. People die: young men in the flower of their bloom, medics and nurses attempting to staunch the wounds and patch up the holes in precious bodies, civilians, children, old men and women who can barely stand.
Certainly our nation’s own Civil War solved nothing as factionalism, racism, and division thrive today–one hundred and fifty-three years after the end of the war–and these forces grow like weeds throughout our land. War festers hatred as it takes root in generation after generation–as we see with the Middle East’s unending conflicts that have continued for thousands of years with seemingly no end in sight.
As Simon Schama said in The Story of the Jews, a five-part PBS documentary about the 3,000 year history of the Jewish people:
We tell our stories to survive.
Yes, we do tell our stories to survive and perhaps lay down the burden of carrying them alone. We tell our stories so we can communicate, connect, share wisdom, build community, touch others, and breathe hope into the idea that by sharing some of the worst indignities visited upon humans by other humans (genocide, child abuse and/or child sexual abuse, rape, murder, torture, racism, apartheid, slavery, and other degradations of the body, mind, and spirit) we will make it just a bit less likely that particular horror will happen again.
Personally I can only place one foot in front of another by turning my head from the many problems I can do nothing about and taking refuge in the everyday good I can do. As American author and illustrator E.L. (Elaine Lobl) Konigsburg (1930-2013) wrote:
Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place. But there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.
The highest joy we can imagine is living in the presence of our 6-month-old grandson who himself lives gloriously in every new moment of his strange new world. He loves to touch faces, feel water on his body in his shower/bath in my kitchen sink, and taste yogurt and other foods for the first time. Watching him discover the world opens my eyes to hope as he shares his new-eyes world with us and we share our how-things-work-around-here world with him.
Nothing says cozy to me so much as a cat nestled into a sunny spot taking a nap. Yet with nine lives to burn, a cat can be off in a flash chasing a mouse or outrunning a barking dog. Something about ying and yang. Balance. Settling down and still flapping around. Happiness creeps up on us when we least expect it, and we can’t really expect it to stay ’round forever. So savor the little things for all they are worth–and open your arms to the joyous little things in this world that make life gloriously worth the living.
~ Anna – 4/30/2018