Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not So Commonplace Books

Writers are word collectors, quote collectors. I know I am. I like to hand write favorite quotes into notebooks. One name for such a collection is: a commonplace book. Wikipedia tells us that commonplace books are a way to compile knowledge, scrapbooks if you will. Quotes, prayers, proverbs -- each collection is unique to its creator's interests and intentions.

A friend who attended a spiritual seminar recently came back with a suggestion to do this as a spiritual practice and/or starting place for further revelations: enter meaningful quotes into a notebook or journal. Plenty of ministers must do this as part of their perpetual search for sermon material.

My commonplace books reflect my obsessions. About a decade and a half ago, my entire social life revolved around writers' groups and poetry readings, etc. So it was natural for me to collect quotes about writing. Here's one from Leonard Cohen: "Poetry is just the evidence of a life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash." (Look magazine, 6-10-1969) I used that quote sometimes when I gave poetry readings.

And this one from Annie Dillard: "I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better." (from The Writing Life, Harper and Row, 1989)

Any reader runs into those special sentences that beg to be read again and again. You can't turn the page or go on until you capture them for all time. Such as this from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Euxpery: "And here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see. What is essential is invisible to the eye." In fact, I found I had written this down twice in two different notebooks.....

As a person who requires a fair amount of alone time, I love this quote from May Sarton: "Solitude itself is a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself known." (Plant Dreaming Deep, W.W. Norton, 1968)

And this one which is applicable to so many situations in life, said to be a cowboy saying: "Good judgement comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgement." As a manager, I try to remember that when anyone makes a mistake, me included.

One final offering, this from Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711 - 1776): "Reading and sauntering and lounging and dozing, which I call thinking, is my supreme happiness."

And so the commonplace notebook grows thicker and thicker until it is full and time to start another one. Taking up not but a few inches of shelf space on one's bookshelf or tucked into a drawer, such collections are invaluable, surely anything but common. Wikipedia makes the point that some writers see blogs as analogous to commonplace books. I'll take both. The notebooks are essentially for me, and the blog goes out and beyond. As Linda Ellerbee would say, "And so it goes...."

1 comment:

Don Wentworth said...

Great post ... I particularly love the Sarton quote - one for poets and writers particularly.

The Ellerbee quote she of course took from Vonnegut ... that was his tagline and she made it her own ... which is what we do with commonplace books!

best,
Don