Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Comparisons are odorous

In Shakespeare's masterpiece Much Ado About Nothing, one of his characters, Dogberry, says to his sidekick Verges:  "Comparisons are odorous.  Palabras, neighbor Verges."  A little research reveals that the phrase is a malapropism: what Dogberry means to say is that comparisons are odious.  That phrase pops up in Cervantes, Donne, Marlow, and Sir John Fortescue; it was a common axiom, proverb, expression of the time.  Palabra means a word, or to talk, possibly related to the root of "palaver."  Dogberry seems to be cautioning Verges to "get to the point."  Shakespeare sui generis certainly knew the difference between odious, "something foul" with odorous "something that smells foul."  Odorous is a much more sensory, concrete evocation of foulness than the abstraction odious.

For Dogberry the line is a tossoff, a response to a nonsensical simile that Verges made in the previous line of dialogue.  But its implication runs deep.  And it is a phrase that means a great deal to me personally, ever since I played Verges in 1981.

One of the axioms heard in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is: Don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides.  It makes a good deal of sense.  The axiom cautions against looking at someone else's success and comparing your own situation to that, and finding yourself lacking.

Success has not come easily for me.  In some ways I am successful, but in other ways I wish I were more successful.  Yesterday I received an e-mail from Pacific Northwest Writer's Association that our monthly talk would be given by Seattle author Jim Thayer.  Thayer has not only written and published 12 thrillers, he's also maintained a law practice, and runs an editing service.  Compared to him, I felt quite inadequate.  My fevered brain began bellowing at me.  And last night I had a very difficult night--a nightmare woke me up moaning with terror (Molly was quite upset) and other problems sleeping. 

I need to remember the wisdom I learned from my good friend and former sponsor Matt Hornyak: There's success at every level, and there's value in that, no matter what level you're on. 

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