A Blazer and a Book
When I was 21 give or take a year or two, I heard of something called “a commonplace book”. This was essentially a notebook that was carried by Edwardian gentlemen (I think) for the purpose of writing down lines of poetry or prose that they wanted not to forget. That sounded like a good idea to me so I started a Word document on my computer with said title.
Decades later, this is the first or second most valuable digital “possession” I have. It now runs to 240 pages. Not only is it full of wisdom, insight, and provocation: it is almost as personal as a diary. The quotes I was recording in it loosely suggest a timeline of my preoccupations throughout my adult life.
It is also the richest single store of references I have as a writer.
If my home burns down, the one thing I want to take out of it before the flames get everything is my late grandfather’s barathea blazer, still with the sewn-in tailor’s label hand-dated 19 March 1961. (It fits almost as if it was me that the tailor had met six decades ago.) If single computer files on a hard drive could similarly be retrieved from a catastrophe, then my commonplace book would be that blazer’s digital equivalent.
Digital marketers have told me I need to create more original content that I don’t share with larger sites but exclusively post right here. Technical elucidations of SEO have convinced me - but I have struggled with how on earth I could come up with anything genuinely interesting, let alone truly original, that wouldn’t dilute my long-form articles. I regard those articles as kind of intellectual set pieces, which are carefully thought-out, sometimes take days to write, and always offer some new and profound insight about something of great import. (That’s at least how they feel to me because if they didn’t, I’d simply not bother writing them.)
Fortunately, one of my friends put two and two together by suggesting that if I am at a loss for half-decent, easier-to-produce, bloggable content, then why not go to my commonplace book - that store of the most impactful ideas I’ve picked up over a lifetime – pick one, and riff on why it’s in there?
That was a better idea than I’d come up with so I’m going with it.
For me, the greatest power of my friend's simple suggestion wasn’t that it identifies a particular source of content that I know has inspired me in the past. Rather, it was the implication that there is anything at all about which I’ve had sufficient diverse (hopefully) interesting thoughts about that I could write something worth reading, giving the digital marketing folks enough to work with, without working as hard as I am used to on originality and profundity.
I hope (feel?) that this simple possibility has removed a block that has heretofore stopped me from writing thoughts that come into my head: I’d previously never shared them because I deemed them too undeveloped to be of any use to anyone.
So herewith my first “blog” post – inspired not by a quotation in my commonplace book, but by the book's very existence.
I’ll discover over the next few weeks (if I’m wrong) and years (if I’m right) whether the aforementioned possibility is a reality.
Thanks for coming with me on the path of that discovery. And meanwhile, let me know what you'd grab first in a fire.