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The Influence of Biographies

When I was a girl, I tagged along with mother to the library, and she would always check out two books of fiction and a biography. The yard sale pick up, the gift, and the loaner filled her bookshelves. When I was bored, I’d choose one and either discard or devour them depending on my age and mood. At college, I enjoyed reading those prologues in the anthologies about historical figures or literary greats in the canon and the non-traditional voices that bumped some out.

Snippets of other lives, the incongruous details of the famous and not-so, these strangers have fastened themselves like hundreds of post-its on my inner wall. Wisdom. Lessons learned. Questions left unanswered. A tragic insight. A horrifying detail. My ghosts follow me around during the day and whisper to me when I’m half asleep. Their mistakes, hardships, and triumphs keep me company for better or worse.

Michelangelo grumbled into his late 80s with arthritis. He was in constant pain and begged God to take him, but while he waited, he wrote sonnets about love and death that still ring true. When I creak and moan with stiffness, when I feel solemn and serious, when I’m creating characters, I think of him and remember what he said:  I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Dorothy Parker was an accomplished drinker with a sarcastic mouth. She’s my 1920s soul-sister who sat at the Algonquin Round Table along with other American literary critics, actors, and writers. She walked right into a job at the burgeoning New Yorker  as a critic and writer. Her barbed tongue and clever witticisms give the insights of a wise, older sister.  I’ll be the way I was when I first met him. Then maybe he’ll like me again. I was always sweet, at first. Oh, it’s so easy to be sweet to people before you love them.

Benjamin Franklin was efficient. He’d tweak the hours of his day and followed a routine to satisfy all the aspects of his personality. A big fan of industry and self-motivation, he has influenced me more than any other historical figure. Quirky and ahead of the curve, there’s an epigram for almost every life situation. I drift and forget. His nuggets of wisdom realign my attitudes:

Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight. 

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

When in doubt, don’t.

God helps those who help themselves.

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.

Here are few recent reads I’ve liked:

Which people have haunted you because you’ve read a biography or their autobiography?