James Patterson … or Brian G. Dyson?

February 17, 2008 at 7:29 PM Leave a comment

I was intrigued by a New York Times Book Review, published today, that discussed a passage in the book Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top by Nina DiSesa. Its author, Harry Hurt III, writes:

Frankly, I found the ways in which Mr. Flett and Ms. DiSesa invoked persistent sexual stereotypes to be rather depressing. [Editorial comment: amen to that, brother.] To my mind, the most illuminating comments in either book come from James Patterson, a former advertising mogul who now writes best-selling mystery fiction. Ms. DiSesa reports that Mr. Patterson urged her to think of life as a game in which we juggle five balls labeled Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity.

“One day you understand Work is a rubber ball. You drop it and it bounces back,” Mr. Patterson is quoted as saying. “The other four balls are made of glass. Drop one of those, and it will be irrevocably marked, scuffed, nicked and maybe even shattered.”

I don’t know why, but this sounded just so darned “wise” (in a rather generic way) that it seemed like one of those lovely little e-mail baubles that circulate around, usually attributed to someone’s commencement speech. So I did what any self-respecting librarist would, and called up my friend Google.

Google tells me that the phrase “work is a rubber ball” (and, in fact, the entire extended metaphor) turns up in numerous Web sources, attributed to one Brian (sometimes mis-credited as “Bryan”) G. Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola, in (what else) a commencement speech given at Georgia Tech on September 6, 1996 (or, in some attributions, 1991).

Now Mr. Dyson may not have made such a speech, or even uttered these words in any context, but given that the “work is a rubber ball” meme probably started circulating sometime in the next few years, it seems a little surprising that James Patterson would tell this story to an (unnamed) interviewer sometime after his book The Beach House was published in 2002:

My grandmother said the best thing anyone can achieve in his or her life is balance. And to illustrate this, she told me this story: “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day, you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls – family, health, friends, integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginning of balance in your life.”

I don’t know about you, but my neither of my grandmothers would have used the word “irrevocably” in conversation, even the one who used to tell me to “segregate” my laundry piles into dark colors and light. (Yeah, she was from Texas.) This whole thing could have been made up by the “interviewer” to make the “interview” seem more real while simply quoting from Mr. Patterson’s books. But why?

Anyway, if anyone can enlighten me as to the documented source of this “work is a rubber ball” meme, I would greatly appreciate it. It’s a great story, and one worth attributing to its originator! (Even if it was James Patterson’s grandma.)

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Entry filed under: Authors.

From the Don’t Give them Any Ideas Department Patience, Fortitude … and Steve

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