On this day in 1874, the US Patent Office granted a patent to Samuel W. Francis for this “invention.” Maybe it was less of an “invention” and more of a combination of two things which, prior to Mr Francis’s bright idea, had not been put into one handy utensil.
One hundred forty-four years later, I bet every person reading this blog was able to answer the question posed in the title.
That’s pretty incredible almost a century and a half later.
Eighteen seventy-four was a good year for literature. George Eliot published Middlemarch, a novel regarded as one of the greatest ever written. The themes of the novel concern status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. I’d venture to guess most of you have heard of this book; half have held a copy in your hands; and maybe ten percent of you have read it. (Side note: I am in the second group. I recall how very heavy it was. Rightfully so, Middlemarch weighs in at 316K words; it would have to cover all of those themes with any real success.)
While the spork and this literary great share the same “year of birth,” it is likely both Francis and Eliot worked on their projects for years before bringing them into the public eye.
And depending on who you are and how you were raised, their contributions either matter to you or have had no effect whatsoever 144 years later.
I routinely question how I spend my time, i.e., writing for several hours a day. What if I put my energies toward something else? There are many things I think I could do. My law degree certainly could be parlayed into a job, whether for an agency or firm, or even for a solo practice. My time could be spent doing something regular and predictable.
I could even putter away in a workshop and try to come up with a “spork” of my own. The incentive to do that, to make something which is practical and usable, can be the downfall of those of us who wish to make something creative and aesthetic. Culturally, we endorse the next best thing, while cutting public funding for the arts.
So while most of us — myself included — can explain what a “spork” is, probably from having a first-hand experience using one, it probably didn’t do anything to make us think about our lives any differently. George Eliot, in her masterpiece, challenges her readers on their assumptions on various human themes.
While I am not bold enough to compare myself to a great novelist — though I did have the audacity to compare her magnum opus to a spork — I hope that my stories do something to enrich the lives of their readers — not in any life-altering way, but maybe in an entertaining way.
And while we humans prefer to eat with utensils, our love of a good story — I think — ranks higher on a list of “must haves.” Because when asked, most people would say they’d prefer to listen to a good story while eating with their fingers than eating in silence with a spork.