Monday, February 12, 2007

A Commonplace Book

For years now, I've been listening to "The Thomas Jefferson Hour" on public radio. Have you ever heard it? Check here for more info: The Thomas Jefferson Hour. As the website says, "Humanities scholar and author, Clay S. Jenkinson, adopts the persona of Jefferson each week to comment on current events and answer questions you may have about Jefferson's thoughts on any and all topics."

If you don't get The Thomas Jefferson Hour on your local public radio station, first thing you should do is write or call them and say, Why the heck not? :-) Then second, go here: High Plains Public Radio on Sunday afternoon at 6 p.m. eastern time to listen to it online. Jenkinson is terrific as Jefferson, and the hour is always intriguing, thought-provoking, and just plain fascinating. Trust me, you'll love it.

One of the things that's really stuck with me from listening to The Thomas Jefferson Hour is the mention of Jefferson's "commonplace books." Thomas Jefferson was a scholarly man, a renaissance man, always reading and always learning. In those days, of course, there was no Internet, and no easy way to track down information you'd once heard or read. For this reason, Jefferson and others of his day kept what they called "commonplace books," where they could write down interesting quotes from books they'd read, thought-provoking statements from speeches, etc. As says: "With the availability of relatively cheap paper beginning as early as the 14th century, people began to collect knowledge in commonplace books. Bits of quotes, reference materials, summaries of arguments, all contained in a handy bound volume."

Here's a more detailed description: The Lyceum.

I'd really like to start a commonplace book of my own. These days, it's old fashioned to hand-write anything when you could e-mail, but there's something to be said for the pleasure of opening a book, smoothing the blank page, choosing a favorite pen that gives sensual pleasure, and writing. So next time I'm out and about, I'll stop into the local bookstore, find a blank journal and begin.

I already have my first quote:

"I worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else."
~~Lily Tomlin

It's hilarious, but not terribly profound on first read. Yet, when you think about hits you. How many "Muzak Inventers" are there for every "Rock and Roll Inventer"? Is it easier to come up with an amazing, unique idea, or easier to sanitize and ruin that original idea? I think we all know the answer, and it's scary!

So, go out there, get yourself a blank journal or book, and start commonplacing. And when you have time, on a Sunday afternoon, listen to Thomas Jefferson. A very wise man.