Add Kleenex to the list of things whose origins I never thought to think about.
Reading an advertising column in The New York Times on July 9, 2010 about summer-themed package designs for Kleenex (the boxes are shaped like wedges of fruit), I learned that the tissue product had been “introduced in 1925 as a ‘sanitary cold cream remover.’” (Still is, as far as I can tell.) But one day, someone in the midst of a sneezing fit grabbed one and … the rest is history. As the Times put it: “This moment — call it achoo! meets aha! — led Kleenex to recast the brand: advertising proclaimed it ‘the handkerchief for health.’”
Sometimes ideas are simply happy accidents.
“The move from poetry to the novel … coincided with her conversion to Roman Catholicism … after which she wove threads of theology into virtually everything she wrote. She always maintained that her artistic inspiration came from the Holy Spirit — for her, the most important person of the Trinity.”
From Ann Begley’s review of Martin Stannard’s “Muriel Spark: The Biography,” in the July 5-12, 2010 issue of the Jesuit magazine America.
“Because I need a lot of space, so I can insert things, add ideas … And then I draw a lot. When I have a moment of crisis and run out of ideas, I draw.”
From an Emily Backus Q&A of Italian writer/artist/director/performer/Nobel Laureate Dario Fo in the June 26/27, 2010 issue of the Financial Times (telling why he writes “on oversized, unlined, loose-leaf paper”).
All of a sudden, I was hearing and seeing the name of writer Laura Fraser. Why her name was new to me is a mystery, as she has been prolific for years and is a San Franciscan like me. Maybe this gives hope to all creatives — there is someone out there you will reach for the first time, so just keep at it.
Anyway, because of all the buzz, I decided to read Ms. Fraser’s two best-selling memoirs, “An Italian Affair” and “All Over the Map.”
I’m not going to describe anything about the books, except that “Affair” is written in the second person, “Map” in the first. This may not seem like such a big deal, but it made my experience of reading each book completely different. One I trudged through, the other I flew through.
This experience was so striking that I got an idea! Why not write to Ms. Fraser — easy enough to do through the website listed on the book jacket — and ask her about this? Almost immediately, I got her (canned — oh, well) e-mail answer, directing me to an online interview where she explained why she wrote “Affair” in the second person and “Map” in the first.
Among other things, I learned that I was probably the millionth person to ask the question and that she’s kind of tired of answering it. (So much for my “original” idea.) But more importantly, I learned that Ms. Fraser didn’t stick slavishly to her original idea — when she believed it worked for one story (even though her agent, her publisher and her editor questioned it) and not for the other, she adjusted accordingly. Creativity, I was reminded anew, is flexible.
“At 18 he sought out the advice of Ezra Pound, who told him to write 75 lines every day.”
From a profile of newly-named US poet laureate W.S. Merwin in the July 1, 2010 issue of The New York Times.
“If you stick within the established boundaries you do tend to come up with the same old things.”
From “Cutting Edge,” a survey of the current state of experimental artistic glassmaking, by Josh Sims in the May 22/23,2010 issue of the Financial Times (quoting Geoffrey Mann on how he went outside those boundaries when he digitally “tracked” the observed flight patterns of two moths, “transposing” the patterns into “milky swirls floating through the icy, clear glass blocks” of his piece “Dogfight”).
Of all the things that have occurred to me to wonder about, the origin of the ATM has not been one of them. Yet there it was, revealed, in May 21, 2010 New York Times obituary of John Shepherd-Barron, “a Scotsman credited with inventing the automated teller machine.”
As ubiquitous and quotidian as the ATM is now, at one point it was only an abstraction, a highly sought-after goal. ”Inventors from across the globe were working simultaneously to come up with a working cash dispenser in the 1960s,” said the Times. Mr. Shepherd-Barron’s machine was the first.
Again according to the Times, Mr. Shepherd-Barron — who worked for a company that made paper for currency — told the BBC that he got the idea after running out of cash one day after the bank had closed. ”I started thinking that there must be a better way to get cash when I wanted it. I thought of the chocolate vending machine where money was put in a slot and a bar dispatched. Surely money could be dispensed the same way.”
So now I have more things to wonder about — Where was that vending machine? In Mr. Shepherd-Barron’s office? Did he visit it at coffee break time?
“We created a circus and then ran off and joined it.”
From the June 17, 2010 New York Times obituary of Jonathan Wolken, dancer, choreographer and co-founder of the Pilobolus Dance Theatre (explaining that he and one of his “athletically inclined clasmates at Dartmouth whose combined dance experience was practically nil” just didn’t want “to go into the corporate world” upon their 1991 graduation).
“It means that everything that happens is raw material for a story. I pay attention, listen, observe, take notes, ask questions.”
From a Q&A interview of Isabel Allende by Anna Metcalfe in the May 22/23, 2010 issue of the Financial Times (answering the question, “What does it mean to be a writer?”).