Someone in one of my social networks posted a quote — “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” — and attributed it to Plato. Even allowing for translation from ancient Greek, that doesn’t sound like Plato’s territory (like I would know), but it sent me in search of the original.
For those of you who care, I have been deploying this aphorism with greater frequency of late; life with a teenager will do that, especially when they get wound up about their persecution by this or that teacher, or the relative weirdness of this or that classmate. I hate to get all Hallmark on her, but it’s a useful observation that you don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life, that sometimes it expresses itself in persecution or weirdness, which underlines what I think should be the central message of parent to child at this time in their lives: It’s not about you, and it’s hardly ever about you, so chill.
In the past, I would trot off to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, a copy of which I own. Because I am crazy, and because I used to leaf through it when I was bored and stuck for inspiration. For the hell of it and the pre-internet thrill of it all, I just did. Not in there, which shoots the Plato attribution all to hell. So I turn to the mighty internet, and quickly bog down in the Straight Dope discussion boards, where smart people who know everything gather, and have already taken this one apart.
Not Plato. Probably Ian MacLaren, a Scottish author who left us in 1907.
It took more legwork, but part of me misses reference books. Dictionaries, thesauruses, reference grammars, Bartlett’s Familiar, etc. (Not “The Elements of Style.” I read Strunk & White, but I never picked it up again, and writers who hold it up like a beacon through the murky, wordy darkness get on my last goddamn nerve. It’s usually some twit in a bow tie. A useful text if you want to write like E.B. White, but not everyone does.) I miss them like I miss smoking — as a writer’s procrastination device. Stuck? Lean back, light a cigarette, think for a couple minutes. Or select one of your tomes and leaf through it for a minute or two, in search of le mot juste. In fact, there’s a book by that very title, Le Mot Juste, to help you find just the right foreign word or phrase to punctuate your essay. For writers who cannot afford George Will’s quote boy, it’s nice to have.
Perhaps my all-time favorite was “An Incomplete Education,” now in its umpteenth edition, which is a veritable internet full of interesting things you should have learned by now, but probably didn’t. The section on world religions alone is worth the cover price if, like me, your catechism class didn’t cover Zoroastrianism.
All are more or less obsolete in the age of Wikipedia and a billion websites as close as your laptop.
Do you have any favorite reference volumes? That you still use?
I’m running late today, so let’s get to the bloggage:
A nanny by profession, a photographer in her off hours, but she collected some amazing snaps from the streets of Chicago in the 1950s. Vivian Maier, the posthumous tribute.
Something I miss about being a columnist — pulling any old thing out of your ass, and getting it published:
America’s first black female secretary of state is quietly positioning herself to be the top choice of the eventual Republican presidential nominee, ready to deliver bona fide foreign-policy credentials lacking among the candidates. The 56-year-old has recently raised her profile, releasing her memoir in November and embarking on a monthlong book tour.
After 2 1/2 years as a professor at Stanford, Miss Rice is reportedly getting “antsy” to get back into the political game. “She’s ready to go,” said one top source.
Yes, it’s Condi-mania! Oh, and yes, nowadays I pull any old thing out of my ass and publish it, but I no longer get paid for it. Big difference.
I’ve become a fan of Ken Jennings’ Twitter stream. Yes, the “Jeopardy” champion. And you would, too:
BREAKING: Tim Tebow currently in the locker room watching a Bergman film, smoking Gauloises, contemplating “God’s awful silence.”
My phone just autocorrected “dreidels” into “strudels.” Strudels! That is just insult to injury.
Funny guy. OK, gotta run. Have a good one, all.