I don’t keep a commonplace book, a place for writing down the words of others that I admire or want to remember. I find absolute joy in the well-turned phrase, the complex thought made incarnate in its articulation, and, yes, the imposition of order and elegance brought about by a few well-placed punctuation marks. I should keep a commonplace book, but I think the last time I actually did I was in high school. Time is a precious commodity, especially when your time is demanded by others, and I must admit that the idea of a commonplace book, while appealing, has fallen by the wayside due to time constraints right now.
From (cringe at the source, but my time is limited today) Wikipedia: “Commonplace books (or commonplaces) emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England. They were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”
If you’ll allow me, I’d like to make this post a bit of a commonplace book. As I read the Sunday paper, the Parade Magazine insert had an interview with Frank McCourt, former English teacher and author of the well-known Angela’s Ashes and several other books. The title of the article was “We All Can Have Second Acts (& Third!)” McCourt discusses how he made the transition from writing teacher to published author. He says a few things that I think are worth remembering, whether one is a writer, a teacher, or a bookseller. Here are a couple of favorite phrases and an apt metaphor I found to be both true and inspiring:
“Pen and paper. That’s what I loved. You make little marks on paper, and if you make enough of them, you have a story, and isn’t that pure magic?”
“And that’s it. No matter how long you live, you have stories to tell, and nestling in each one there may be a nugget of wisdom.”
And, my personal favorite, since it is a metaphor involving a reference to my beloved Western Americana:
“Dreams come with tremendous energy, with shimmering horizons. What else is there to do but head off on the Conestoga wagon of the soul?”
When you find what you love, what else is there to do indeed? Amen, brother.