Today, I’m happy to announce that our special guest is blogger Michael Thompson. If you’ve already discovered Michael’s fantastic blog, #CommonPlaceFunFacts, you know what a fun, entertaining, and informative place it is. If you haven’t yet run across it, I’m sure after reading today’s post, you’ll want to drop by right away. I’ve been following Michael’s posts for some time, and I’ve yet to read even ONE that didn’t amaze, inform, or amuse me. Or all three. So, without further fanfare, let’s turn this over to Michael and let him tell you more. Michael? You’re on!
I am Michael Thompson. I am the editor-in-chief, CEO, and high-muckety-muck of Commonplace Fun Facts. I’m not kidding – those are the words that appear on the business card.
Commonplace Fun Facts is about – well – everything. The name was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.” Dr. Watson wrote, “We both sat in silence for some little time after listening to this extraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf one of the ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings.” I was intrigued by that word commonplace. I always thought it meant “boring” or “ordinary,” and I couldn’t reconcile either of those words being attributed to Sherlock Holmes.
I learned that a “commonplace book” is simply a scrapbook of random bits of information that the owner finds useful or interesting. Once I learned that, I realized this was something I had been doing all my life — collecting random tidbits of information, and either writing them down or filing them away in my memory to be shared at some appropriate time.
I have always loved learning. That’s not to say that I have always loved school. School, in my experience, was a lot like eating a brownie, one ingredient at a time. Imagine trying to swallow a big mouthful of flour. After you choke that down, you treat yourself to a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Just when you begin to think you might enjoy the experience, you have to leave the sugar behind and endure a teaspoon or two of salt. Then you get the raw egg, baking cocoa (which isn’t nearly as scrumptious as you would think), and a bit of water to wash it all down.
If that is your only exposure to brownies, you’ll never have to worry about an expanding waistline. We all know that the delicious end product is the result of combining all those ingredients in just the right way. Trying to eat a brownie ingredient-by-ingredient wouldn’t be a treat; it would be an ordeal. (Especially if you use the Pentagon’s 26-page recipe for brownies).
That’s the way most of my schooling was for me. Each class was just one more in an endless series of dry, tasteless ingredients. In English, I’d try to learn the parts of speech, only to end up like Winston Churchill, getting my foot caught on a dangling preposition. Learning a bunch of dates in history was just as hard to swallow as a mouthful of flour. Science was like baking cocoa; it sounded promising at first, but instead of getting a chance to mix up chemicals in the laboratory, I had to memorize the parts of a cell.
My teachers said, “Go ahead and take a big bite of the dates of the Peace of Westphalia, the War of Roses, the Black Death, and the first flight of an airplane. Follow it up with a couple of teaspoons of algebra, the Periodic Table, and Avogadro’s Number. Sure, it may be a bit dry, but try your best to swallow Plato’s Republic and Longfellow’s ‘Psalm of Life.’ Top it all off with a generous sprinkling of memorization of the inventors of the printing press, cotton gin, and glasses.”
In short, school was boring.
Fortunately, I was blessed with a mom and a few teachers who showed me that the dry, tasteless ingredients dished out in the classroom could combine in a marvelous, delicious way. They may have been presented piecemeal, but there were connections that could make even the dullest thing interesting.
That realization began a lifelong hobby. Unlike most of my classmates, who had hobbies such as sports or friendship, I started collecting fun facts. I savored the little snippets of history that connect events and give them extra flavor. Yes, it is somewhat interesting to learn that the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815 was so powerful that it was heard 3,000 miles away. What is truly fascinating is that the ash from that volcanic eruption plunged Europe into a year without a summer. As a result of the gloomy weather, a group of tourists in Geneva was forced to find ways to cope with the inclement weather. One way they amused themselves was with a contest about who could write the best ghost story. That is how Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein, the book that has scared children of all ages for over 200 years.
Although I found these fun facts fascinating, I wasn’t sure anyone else did. For some reason my helpful observation that Abner Doubleday probably didn’t invent baseball, but he did fire the first shot of the Union in the Civil War failed to earn me a spot at the jocks’ table during lunch. Equally as baffling was the sad realization that “Did you know that wombat poop is cube-shaped?” did absolutely nothing to impress any of the girls.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. I lucked out and found an awesome wife. Before long, we had four sons. Much to my surprise and delight, each of them showed the same interest in those weird, obscure fun facts that I did. As they grew and developed into bookworms, they began collecting fun facts as well. Commonplace Fun Facts was born out of our need to find a way to catalog and share our findings with each other.
Commonplace Fun Facts launched in 2014. My boys are now adults, and they continue to be the primary contributors of ideas. We have learned, however, that we are not alone. Commonplace Fun Facts has readers from all over the world. Many of them write and offer pieces of their own collections of fun facts or give us ideas of additional topics to explore.
When I sit down to write for Commonplace Fun Facts, I ask, “What do I want to learn about today?” The prospect of learning now fills me with even more anticipation than the aroma of freshly-baked brownies.
Blogger Extraordinaire Michael Thompson