Organizing my thoughts and my papers at the beginning of the new year (or at least waving my hands in the approximate direction of getting organized), I find myself thinking about ways to say no to invitations and possible commitments with as much tact as can be managed, but with as little expenditure of time as feasible.
Years ago I read how Francis Crick managed, in the years after receiving the Nobel Prize, to try to keep some time free for his actual work. But can I find the details again? Yes! Thanks to the Wellcome Institute, and to PubMed Central at the (U.S.) National Institutes of Health, I have been able to confirm what I remember. (And let’s not forget that the search engines also helped me find the material.)
Crick had postcards printed, like this one:
For more archival context, see the image with a bit more context and an article on the Crick Archive by Chris Beckett, “For the Record: The Francis Crick Archive at the Wellcome Library” in the journal Medical History 48.2 (2004 April 1): 245?~~260.
It kind of puts my overcommitment problems into perspective.
That’s quite similar to one that Edmund Wilson used: “Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to: read manuscripts, write articles or books to order, write forewords or introductions”, and so on, listing a few more things than Crick, generally more verbose and not as funny. The copy reproduced in his Letters on Literature and Politics, page 690, doesn’t have a date so I’ve no idea who might have been first.
Just so you don’t bail on bailing us out at Balisage.
Mark Twain had a set of simpler cards produced—no options—which he sent in response to inquiries during the early 1870s. If he knew the inquirer, he tended to pen brief comments as well. Here’s one (scroll to bottom of letter): http://www.marktwainproject.org/xtf/view?docId=letters/UCCL01142.xml;style=letter;brand=mtp
There is also H.L. Mencken’s printed postcard, which he used to reply to mail received after he published something controversial.
Dear Sir or Madam:
You may be right, at that.