Orr: Stealing — it’s not just for baseball
May 20, 2016
Most of my life I have been guilty of this. A theft of sorts, but innocent enough. Think pack rat. Just taking things folks leave about and won’t even know are gone. Like a button or a pencil or a shiny pebble. Only think more like a cocktail party — nabbing a Vienna sausage here, a little toast with caviar there — a small handful of crudité because. I don’t know exactly when it started. Maybe my young years, when mimicry mattered. When I wanted to sound like someone other than myself.
So I listened very, very carefully to how other people had conversations. The words they used, sure, but more importantly how they used them.
I stole/steal words and phrases and expressions.
I attend a fair amount of meetings and conferences and admittedly if I become distracted/bored/annoyed by the presentation I scribble in the margins — of programs, notebooks, agendas — I really don’t discriminate.
Sometimes I also imagine speakers as animals. It helps, honestly. If I can no longer listen to someone droning about something I can’t get interested in, then I try to visualize what kind of nonhuman face I might be looking at. Ferret? Filly? Flamingo? I’m tellin’ ya it makes the minutes fly by.
Last week there were words flying all around. My job was to wait for them to land or try to catch them mid-phrase and quickly write them down. I have created a very sophisticated system for
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such capture and retention. I start with a clean notebook and good pen. On the right-hand side of each clean page I take legitimate notes of what I hope to retain. On the left I jot those nuanced whispers that are sometimes genius and sometimes gobbledygook. You can’t ever tell ’til later when you unpack your secret treasures.
The sciencey people who I listened to the past few days threw around phrases like "gene editing," which makes perfect sense in terms of DNA studies to help understand how to advance the cures of myriad diseases. But I was thinking about some folks I knew who might benefit from some gene editing about now. Could you enter a fully formed adult human and edit out the annoying self-serving gene? The aggrandizement gene? The pompous gene? The possibilities — while not endless — are certainly abundant and quietly entertaining.
In the category of at least a 75 cent word or a good 30 points in Scrabble with triple letters after that, comes the juicy "mutagenized. " So yes, we’re still sciencey but now there is more than a whiff of fiction feeling added to the science. You think of crazy lab rats, of course, and fruits and vegetables gone amuck, but then the possibilities stretch out. Could it be a good thing to create resistance to certain diseases or teach the body to seek its own cure? In the world of scientific discoveries right now the possibilities are vast. In the scope of "anyone can create a video to watch" the fun could be epic.
I loved it when a noted scientist was talking with a major funder of such experiments and he said the most difficult to receive funding for were "the dumb experiments that just might succeed." The word "moonshot" had already been abused for hours but we knew exactly what the guy meant. The cliché about learning from our mistakes was on my mind but this was more. This was the idea that you didn’t plan on your experiment being a mistake but you went into it knowing it was a wild hair (or hare) and the odds were entirely against it working. But it might. It just might be the thing that lands the rocket. Or cure cancer or dementia. But funders generally want sure things or darn near sure. And yet — from penicillin to the music of the Grateful Dead, if you think about it — a lot of the juicy stuff in life was the result of "dumb experiments that just succeeded."
I try not to dissolve over how many times someone with multiple titles and awards attached to their names uses the phrase "very unique" because unique has no modifiers. The very act of being unique is singular. It cannot be "most unique" either. By the very nature of the describer, something is either unique or not.
Ditto the expression "thinking out of the box." While we all know this is meant to represent fresh thinking, the phrase is so overused and clichéd it has the opposite effect. Which leaves me to dash into the margins of the left sided page of my notebook: "really out of the box would be a new expression to help us understand this attempt at moonshot thinking."
And just like that, I have absorbed the mood and the language and started to become the trite. The banality with a smile. The cliché — so safe it says nothing to advance the conversation or the thought process or discourse of any kind. So I keep writing on both sides of my notebook with one logical story on the right hand side and stolen stuff on the left that might result in a good story later. It is a dumb experiment that has served me well for years. For so very many Sundays, in and out of the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.