It’s called an eggcorn—a substitution of a word in a phrase that changes it in some way, but still seems oddly right. (They’re a lot of fun—NPR has a great short article and accompanying list here.) At it’s core, I suppose an eggcorn is something you don’t expect that makes you look at things a little differently. Hope does not always spring eternal. Sometimes it springs something else. Like this week.
A few days ago, I finished reading this biography on Dr. Seuss. I couldn’t believe it had taken this long for me to pick one up. In addition to his classics, I’d already known about his advertising work and his war cartoons, but when I got to the part where he met his wife Helen at Oxford, I was sort of enthralled—fully and completely hoping a fairy tale for them. She would watch him doodle in class and finally told him he would be wasted as a professor. “That’s a very fine flying cow,” she said. And she became his inspiration and his support and his encouragement and his rock and pretty much organized his/their life. Until forty years later, when, from the one book I’ve read, it sounds like when she got very ill, he eventually distanced himself from her mortality and “adopted” another family—a still-married woman with two daughters of her own. Physically unwell and deeply unhappy, Helen realized she had made her whole life about him and hardly knew who she was herself any more without being his active partner. She committed suicide.
I’d started the above paragraph saying I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read a biography about Dr. Seuss yet because he was one of my heroes. But then I saw the problem. Dr. Seuss books were and are still some of my all-time favorite books—but I never met or knew the real person. And it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t greatly loveable, or amazingly creative, or a completely worthwhile human being.
It just makes him a human being. But I was still feeling really, really low after I read that. You have these ideas about people from the work they create, and it’s not always what you expect.
And then, there was this morning… in which I picked up a magazine I’d almost instantly thrown away (Rolling Stone), with a story I didn’t intend to read (the cover), about a band I have little personal interest in (Rush)—and my hope sprung a turtle.
Evidently, Rush has been together for 40 years at this point with little internal group drama (“We’re never mean to each other,” says [Geddy] Lee, “so if we disagree, we pout.”), stable relationships with each other, and also long-term faithful marriages—Geddy married his wife, Nancy Young, in 1976.
I read about their relentless rehearsing (still practicing by themselves before they start working together, and then playing on their own even after three-hour rehearsals, that last part “… a pure exercise of joy,” according to Alex Lifeson), their insistence on creativity and craft, and how they drive each other and respect each other, even after all this time together.
“If any of us were the slightest bit less stable,” says [Neil] Peart, “the slightest bit less disciplined or less humorous or more mean, or in any way different, it wouldn’t have worked. So there’s a miracle there.”
And this from a famous rock band from which, in any stereotypical situation, you’d expect chaos, rivalry, animosity, possibly less creativity, and a fair bit, after 40 years, of resting on their laurels. (Though evidently there is still a fair amount of responsibly-ventilated drugs and a lot of very, very impressive sports cars.)
But I was impressed and not just a little inspired. You just never know.
You’ve got to be careful with words. After reading just one book and one article, I still know pretty much next to nothing about the real Dr. Seuss or the real Rush. But it reminds me that things aren’t always what I expect them to be, which is what I loved—and still love—about what I learned from Dr. Seuss.