Sunday, September 30, 2012


The quote that titles this essay is from Georgia O'Keefe.  For any who don't know, she was an artist from the American Southwest.  At first, I couldn't quite get what the quote was about. Finally, I figured out that she was observing that an event (a broken piece of dinnerware) that most people would have been mildly upset about, or more likely would have dismissed out of hand, was for her a source of inspiration.

Every day, along with the little triumphs and occasional moments of serenity and joy, we deal with small tragedies like a broken plate. If only I could, like Ms. O'Keefe,  use them for something good.  I guess the message is a lot like, "Every cloud has a silver lining," except we all know that one is a load of crap.  Some clouds are just clouds.  Not every shattered plate yields half-a-dozen of anything.  But some do.  It's our job to find them. 

Just so you know, I don't have all these quotations just queued up in my head waiting their turn to be put in my blog.  Usually, I just happen across them or I remember a fragment and look up the rest.  If I have an encyclopedic mind, it's a Funk and Wagnalls, not a Brittanica. 

I don't suppose there is any chance you understand that metaphor.  Before the internet, the most used reference source was the multi - volume encyclopedia with articles about every subject imaginable.  Preeminent among these was the Encyclopaedia Britannica, more than twenty massive tomes crammed with articles by leading authorities in every field.  The EB was huge, and so expensive that it was owned almost exclusively  by libraries and schools.  It was the Rolls-Royce of reference books.  At the other end of the encyclopedia spectrum there were the sets such as Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, that could be purchased one volume at a time at the supermarket.  With pasteboard covers and fewer articles (mostly by uncredentialed authors) they sold for about a buck a volume and were probably worth somewhat less than that.  Still, they were something that even poor families could afford and the set my mother bought for us did get a fair amount of use.  As I am writing this, the most used reference source in the world is probably Wikipedia and the traditional encyclopedias are either gone or struggling to survive.  Every piece of information you could possibly want is as close as the keyboard, but somehow we have still lost something.  The physical presence of the books, just sitting on the shelf, was always just a bit tantalizing; "There's knowledge in here.  Don't you want to come sample it?" seemed to be what those volumes were saying.  It was fun to pull one down at random and let it fall open to a page just to see what was there.  Even more often, looking for one thing you would happen across something else that would grab your interest for a few minutes.  I do not get much of that from having a computer sitting on my desk.  I can't just let it "fall open to a page," I have to follow a "link" to what the computer thinks I want to see.  An Ebook tablet certainly doesn't have the presence of a five foot shelf of leather bound books even though it can hold their entire content and a whole lot more.

It just occurred to me that my great grandparents probably had similar thoughts about how the automobile might be more efficient than the horse and buggy but it didn't have a personality like old Dobbin and couldn't find it's own way home late at night.  I wonder what you kids will feel that way about when you are my age.  Any guesses?


  1. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with a set of World Book encyclopedias, and one of my fondest memories is seeing my dad work his way through the entire set -- not reading every page, but browsing. And I spent hours browsing, too. I remember the pages of dog breeds, the famous paintings section, the waterfalls of the world. You're right. Wikipedia just can't compare.

  2. As I read through these older posts of yours, I find myself clearly picturing everything you write about from "the good old days!" Just got done remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis and now I see myself, once again, picking up a random volume of F&W and paging through it for no other reason than to find something interesting to read. When I inserted the Encarta CD for my kids the first time I wasn't excited for them. I was sad. Only grandparents like you and I would understand why!