For the Townspeople and the Pigeons

There is a popular quote circulating about how fear is merely the absence of God the same dark is merely the absence of light. This quote is frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, and with good reason. He was a physicist and philosopher and this is the exactly the sort of big view for which he became famous. Unfortunately there is, at least to my knowledge, no record of Einstein ever having said this. This is too bad because it’s fun to start a point in conversation with: “Well, like Einstein said . . .” This automatically makes whatever you’re about to say true. The fact that Einstein did not actually draw this exact comparison between darkness and fear doesn’t make it any less true, however. Its truth now is simply rooted in its own self-evidence, rather than its association with the theory of relativity.

And anyway, we rarely quote anyone exactly. Instead, we prefer to rewrite. I recently watched a video by John Green in which the YA author and Youtube personality listed history’s top 50 misquotes. Some were misattributed but many were simply altered from their original. In most cases, I found the altered versions better. Which is not surprising. That our collective mind could improve upon one soul’s first draft is the story of human invention and reinvention.

Which is why I don’t really care exactly who said exactly what. Quotes serve me – and you, and John Green – not the one who may or may not have first said them. At best, they are quick reminders of where our attention belongs, of what is true and what is fantasy. The rest is just us believing the statues of ourselves we might leave behind in the town square mean something. No matter how beautiful that statue, looking at it you would know it is only a thought held in marble, there to serve the townspeople and the pigeons long after you are gone.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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