Nearly two years ago, I think, I came across the saying “You are the average of your five closest friends.” At the time I started thinking about how, if you spend enough time with an author, you begin to picking up certain habits through what you’re reading.
Just yesterday, I read a quote in Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art: “I was taught in college how to footnote, how to give credit where credit is due, and in the accepted, scholarly way. But most of the writers I want to quote in this book are writers whose words I’ve copied down in a big, brown, Mexican notebook, what is called a commonplace book. I copy down words and thoughts upon which I want to meditate, and footnoting is not my purpose; this is a devotional, not a scholarly notebook. I’ve been keeping it for any years, and turn to it for help in prayer, in understanding. All I’m looking for in it is meaning, meaning which will help me to live life lovingly, and I am only now beginning to see the usefulness of noting book title and page, rather than simply jotting down, ‘Francis of Assisi.’ “
Whether I’d heard the term commonplace book before, I couldn’t honestly say. Something about it seemed familiar, beyond the fact that I’ve been rather unintentionally doing it for years. Another bit of wisdom came from some writer, though at the moment the who escapes me. The quote was something along the lines of, “when reading a book, if you find a passage that stands out write it down yourself.”
I was reading On the Road at the time maybe my second attempt at getting through the book. And the line I wrote down had to do with “the ones who burn.” This was backstage at a theatre, circa 2012. It’s amazing which things stand out to you, and goes to show you the strength of writing out the passages that resonate with you.
So, in L’Engle’s words, I found a sort of codification of what I’d been thinking about, on and off, for two years. It was a renewal, of a sort, and gave me an added impetus to go through years of notebooks where I’ve scribbled and copied, perhaps transferring from many books to one – a commonplace book.
The compiled thoughts of others are something that can be absorbed into your daily life, adding to the collection of voices you listen to and collaborate with. This serves to raise your average, as if adding a well-educated friend to your inner circle.