The Nouveau Commonplace

I learned a few months ago that the word “commonplace” has an older meaning than the current definition of something being so common it’s no longer interesting. It’s the kind of word you’d think hipsters would use more often than they do.

But a commonplace is also a notebook where you write down quotes and ideas that you think are thought-provoking and inspiring. Maybe you also note why you found them to be so. I already had too many ways to capture the crap that floated around in my mind — Evernote, electronic to-do lists, reporter’s notebook, Google calendar, paper planner. All were somehow too connected and yet not connected enough. Did I really need to add another dedicated notebook or app for quotes I came across in blogs and books?

The answer was yes, and I did it by using a tool I’ve already got: my paper planner. I use a hardcover planner with the days of the week on the verso and a lined page on the recto. I’ve been using the lined side for project-related to-do lists, which only ever take up half the page. I now use the bottom half as a commonplace. I always have it with me, whether I’m reading physical books, ebooks, or using an app on my phone.

Capturing Quotes

Here are a few gems I’ve read and miraculously kept track of, thanks to this old commonplace idea:

Devotion to anything, if you were female, could make you ridiculous. – Alice Munro, “Haven,” from the March 5, 2012, New Yorker (I am prepared to be fully ridiculous!)

In lab studies, mice, rats, and monkeys drink more after periods of isolation. – New York Times 3/15, with a note about what that might explain about writers

Funny how Cody [Cassady] never comes to poetry readings or any of these formalities, he only came once, to honor Irwin’s [Ginsberg’s] first reading, and when Irwin had finished howling the last poem and there was a dead silence in the hall it was Cody, dressed in his Sunday suit, who stepped up and offered his hand to the poet (his buddy Irwin with whom he’d hitch hiked thru the Texases and Apocalypses of 1947) – I always remember that as a typical humble beautiful act of friendship and good taste. – Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels

When you suffer a thing you think is writer’s block, as with any demon or ghost, deny its existence. “The power of the word count compels you!” you scream, flecking it with the holy water of writers (aka, whiskey). – Chuck Wendig, Terrible Minds blog, 3/26/12