There are many things which I wish I had said, in real life and in other situations. I often find these bits of compact wisdom when looking up quotes to head a short piece I’m working on, or to back up a point in a longer one.
Sometimes I am searching for a quote I can “liberate” to be used as dialogue for a character. This is, I imagine, a practice that is employed by more authors than myself, but I’ve never heard any One admit to it, and chances are, I won’t.
Here’s my confession…and for a momentary bit of entertainment while readers of this confession form opinions about the degree of my transgressions, here are a few fun quotes I came across while looking for the source of a quote I wanted to “liberate” a couple days ago:
“If you look like your passport photo, you’re too ill to travel.” – Will Kommen
“Tradition is what you resort to when you don’t have the time to do it right.” – Kurt Adler
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” – Kenneth Boulding
“You have to choose where to look, and in making that choice you eliminate entire worlds.” – Barbara Bloom
All these were wonderful little bits, small amusements on the way to what I was looking for. I needed a smart, memorable. quick-hitting line I could put into the mouth of one character trying to calm another character who was worrying way too much about something nothing could be done about…except worrying. Such liberations, if done properly, need to be from a source that is not famous, since recognition ruins the appearance of originality, for people attached to the idea that all their thoughts and writings are pure of intentional or unintentional borrowing. I had remembered hearing a quote once about the “…unimportance of most things…”, and I had done a word search with as much of it as I remembered, and got lucky.
It turned out well. I thought it had been Oscar Wilde…that kind of sarcastic and witty wordplay. That would have ruined it though, since most people will recognize Wilde like they do Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln or other such iconic voices. Like I said, I was lucky. The quote was ascribed to someone named John Loque, a name that when I put it in a google search didn’t even draw a hit…John Locke, the economic theorist came up again and again. Seems Loque hasn’t drawn any attention from any One except me. Good.
Here’s the original quote:
“It’s almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.”
– John Loque
A truly unknown source – and to not have the name even come up on a google word search is about as close to a definition of anonymity as I can think of. Do a word search on yourself…see if something doesn’t come up. I’ve got a little short of a page full of hits. I did a similar search using my mother’s name…again, hits. Some of her hits even had photos. Weird world. Anyway…I needed to do a little re-working of this quote, like a guitarist taking a riff and playing around with it until it becomes theirs. What had drawn me to this quote originally was the way it turns back on itself, using “overestimate” and “unimportance” together…over…under. I was going to put these words in the mouth of my character – a witty guy who likes the way words can play off each other, pushing and pulling against each other like a line of boats moored together in a choppy sea, so the line would have to come off as ambiguous, over-stated, a thought stopper. Here’s what I came up with:
“It really is impossible to overestimate the relative unimportance of most everything that actually happens.”
Now that worked perfectly. It rolled off the tongue of my character with the elegant ease of one trying to reassure a friend, but maybe agitating them even more with all the push-and-pull, along with a few qualifying words that would truly make the character spoken to have to stop and slowly figure along the sentence to gauge exactly how the words were working together. And, the bit at the end about “…everything that actually happens…” allowed me to not have to have my slippery character say something un-slippery like, “Don’t worry. Things don’t usually turn out as bad as we make them out to be.”
Besides all that, it’s just a good piece of advice. It might even be showing up soon while doing a google word search. I am truly standing on the shoulders of Giants…Giants such as John Loque. If there really is a John Loque, and if he’s still alive – or if there’s a family member managing the fortune in royalties lost due to my liberation of this quote – here’s where to find me. I remain, faithfully yours, and unconcerned.