whilst i wander commonplacely . . .
“commonplacely . . .”
that is to make an adverb of the adjective “commonplace,” as in “commonplace book,” a descriptive i’ve already tweaked into a transitive verb, “to commonplace,” to partake of the act of commonplacing. the commonplace book, you might recall, is a centuries-old literary tradition of squirreling away snippets and bits of esoterica and wonder, and tucking them into a common place, a journal or diary in days of old, or here on this rickety old laptop in the digital age.
it’s a habit i’ve taken to voraciously. i am a packrat of linguistic persuasion. or, as my beloved friend amy more poetically put it, as she described her incessant gathering of singular words or wisdoms as that of a magpie, that feathered species known for its “borrowing” proclivities, as it feathers its nest with an assemblage of freshly plucked (and pilfered) shiny objects and upholsteries.
in flicking my wand over the quaint coinage, commonplace, i’ve taken linguistic liberties to make it an adverb describing the ways i exercise my curiosities and enchantments. i commonplacely gather up bitlets––a wisdom here, a sigh-triggering superword there. and, with pure joy percolating in my heart, i scurry here to bring them to you.
in the house where i grew up, the only girl amid a huddle of brothers, with a mother who recited poetries as a way of waking us from our long night’s slumbers, and a father who punctuated all conversation with endless puns and wordplay, i come by my affinities maternally, paternally, and i imagine generationally (my grandma mae, a kentucky school teacher whose testing scores earned her a blue-ribbon blurb in the bourbon county news, certainly must have loved a succulent word––and, oh, that i would have known her to have basked in her starlight . . .).
and so, standing on the shoulders of all of them, i commonplacely bring you this wordly bouquet for your literary delight and soulful ponderings . . .
let us begin with a romp through a sandbox of little-used words, all of which deserve prompt and hearty resuscitation…
from Ounce Dice Trice:
a few fine words for times of day: day-peep (dawn), dimity (time of day when daylight dims), dayligone (twilight)
a smattering of “terms of venery” or “nouns of assembly,” collective nouns specific to certain kinds of animals, a tradition that traces its roots back to english hunting in the late middle ages:
a booing of buffaloes
a pioling of pelicans
a skulk of foxes
a smother of spiders
a trembling of goldfish
a scribbitch of papers
a tumbletell of church bells
a snigglement of string
and from a dear friend who might have been spuddling along:
spuddle: (17th century) to work feebly or ineffectively; to be very busy whilst achieving absolutely nothing.
and now let us turn from singular words to singular wisdoms….
visiting a cemetery atop a sacred mountain three hours from his home in japan, pico iyer, the british-born essayist known for his voluptuous and epiphanic travel writing, brings us this summons to attention, elicited by a ghostly walk amid the gravestones:
“The thought that we must die, I might have heard the two hundred thousand graves saying, is the reason we must live well.” — Pico Iyer
George Herbert, the English poet and priest, described prayer as “heart in pilgrimage.” (The Secret Gospel of Mark) (page 255)
this next one particularly struck me, as someone whose writing often references God, and who understands viscerally that the very name can stir a host of untapped responses. more and more i claim my ground as an ecumenicist, one who seeks out and sees the glory, wonder, and wisdom in myriad paths to the Sacred Source, and who stakes no single road as the sole salvation. God for me is a name of great comfort, but not all react quite that way. and so i understand why a writer might wrestle therein. and, as so often happens in my Russian doll school of reading, where one idea opens into another, one reference leads me on to another, stumbling upon the quote below introduced me to a writer i certainly should have known, and whose works i am now gathering from my ever-acquisitive neighborhood library.
so this, from Lyanda Lynn Haupt, naturalist, ecophilosopher, and author* of Mozart’s Starling, The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent, and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds: (*i’ve already put on library hold as many of her titles as i could find on the shelves)
“When the fraught name God comes up in conversation or reading, I always remind myself that whatever the source or language used, we are at root on common ground — invoking the graced, unnamable source of life, the sacredness that cradles and infuses all of creation, on earth and beyond. I know that prayer is the lifting of our hearts, our thoughts, and even our bodies in conversation, or contemplation, or remembrance, or supplication, or gratitude within this whole, requiring no dogma, only openness. Hildegard counseled, ‘To be alive is to give praise.'”
and from the late great david foster wallace, whose birthday was marked this week, on february 21:
“The really important kind of freedom
involves attention, and awareness,
and discipline, and effort, and being able
truly to care about other people and
to sacrifice for them, over and over,
in myriad petty little unsexy ways,
– David Foster Wallace from This is Water
the season of lent began this week, with ash wednesday when we’re reminded through the smearing of burned bits of palm on our foreheads that our short swift lives are indeed bracketed, and that we’d best step up the pace toward whatever is our life’s holiest work. i scanned all week for a lenten offering to bring here, but didn’t find just the right one yet. if you’ve one you’d be inclined to leave here on the table, by all means, do.
and in the housekeeping department: remember that little gathering we’ve planned (march 21, 7 p.m. central time) for the “official launch” of The Book of Nature, my forthcoming adventure in publishing, well, i upgraded my zoom-i-ness this week, and we are no longer confined to 40 short minutes. we can gather for as long as 30 hours at a stretch. though i don’t think we’ll need quite that much time. if you’ve registered, you’ll be getting an email from EventBrite with the link to the event two days, two hours, and 10 minutes prior to the gathering. they work hard to make sure no one forgets.
*page from commonplace book with sketches and poetries of Patrick Branwell, among the many commonplaces found at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.
next week the chair will post from the capital city, land of about-to-bloom cherry blossom, where i shall be deeply and joyfully ensconced in the project of helping my firstborn settle into his new book-lined apartment in the adams-morgan neighborhood, where he shall launch his professorial life in the weeks and months and years ahead….it never grows old, being there in the trenches, as my boys find their ways. it’s my holiest work, and i am so blessed to have it…..
what wonderments did you stumble upon whilst wandering this week?