NOTE: Somehow, in the fall of 2015, I managed to accidentally and permanently delete all of the quotes on this page from halfay through the “History” section downward. The good news is that I did have a page backup that allowed me to restore quotes; the bad news is that the backup was two years old. So, two years’ worth of quotes for the second half of this Miscellanous 1 page are sadly lost for good. Yes, I am kicking myself for this!




He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret. –Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

I’ll tell you the greatest regret of my life: I let my love go. –Jason Robards, in Magnolia

... chronic remorse ... is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can, and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. –Aldous Huxley, the foreward to Brave New World

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. –Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Personal

No human being ever, in the end, outran regret. –Thomas H. Cook

A guilty conscience is more honorable than regret. –anonymous

There’s no point in regretting the choices you’ve made in your life, because at the time you made them, they seemed like the only option. –Hermione Norris, in Cold Feet

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. –Mark Twain

That was the way. When the opportunity was at your hand, you did not dare to seize it. When the opportunity was lost, it became precious. –George Stewart, Earth Abides

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. –Book of Common Prayer

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.
–TS Eliot, Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton”

It is not impossibilities which fill us with the deepest despair, but possibilities which we have failed to realize. –Robert Mallett, Apostilles

What’s gone and what’s past help
Should be past grief.
–William Shakespeare, “Winter’s Tale”


Food, Eating, Dieting


I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. –John Mortimer

I eat sugared cereal almost exclusively. This is because I’m the opposite of a “no-nonsense” guy. I’m an “all-nonsense” guy. –Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Toast is good, and chocolate is always chocolate, but nothing cures madness and assorted plagues like cereal. –Sarah E. Edgson

I refuse to get my stomach stapled. I love food too much. If anything, I’d have my stomach let out. –Kevin James

In all my years, I have never, not once in my life, been on a diet. I have philosophical problems with the idea of food deprivation. I believe that food is a pleasure, a gift, not the enemy. I understand the benefits of never ingesting another piece of cheesecake, but I am not interested in that kind of life. So I eat butter and red meat. I have hot-fudge-brownie sundaes. I also eat carrots and argula and grow my own heirloom tomatoes. I eat what I believe is a balanced diet, one without denial or an undue obsession with fat and calories. Truth be known, I’d much rather read a tabloid than a food label. If choosing not to diet slows my progress, so be it. At least I won’t be hungry while I’m waiting. –Allison Glock, “I Want My Body Back”

Most of the people who come to my retreats and workshops believe in Control-of-Life-and-Death-by-Weight. They are convinced that loves and losses can be titrated in pounds. That if only they were thin or thinner, everyone who didn’t love them would love them. Life would be magical, easy, illuminated. In other words, they believe what many of us believe: If we control what we put in our mouths (and the size of our bodies), then we can control everything else. So we spend our lives focused on losing weight, believing that thinness will provide invincible protection from rejection, grief, and sorrow. –Geneen Roth, “Let Your Heart Break”

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale. –Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life

Food first, then morality. –Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera

It’s good food and not fine words that keep me alive. –Molière, Les Femmes savantes

Hypnotized By Food could be my Indian name. –Tom Irwin, in My So-Called Life

How ironic that my mother’s family had come to America to escape famine. They didn’t know that famine would become our national industry, that we would learn to market it, to repackage it, new and improved. –Jennifer Traig, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

In a way, I admire Falwell and other conservatives for letting themselves get fat; it’s something I wish I could allow myself to do. If I could let myself get fat, I wouldn’t have to monitor the foods I put in my mouth or go to the gym anymore. Yes, fat kills people, but we all gotta go sometime, and someone who goes out eating at least goes out smiling, so when it comes to gluttony I wish I could be more like Falwell; I wish I could let myself eat and eat and eat. –Dan Savage, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America

You can’t always be perfect and skinny. It’s sad you get judged like that. I think when people put on a few pounds, it can be a sign of happiness and contentment. Not that I’m going to become some lardass. –Britney Spears, when asked about the rumors claiming her handlers are worried she’ll gain weight while she’s recovering from knee surgery

We are tired of it. We are just plain sick and tired of it. Why should we slave and suffer and waste our lives trying to please you? We are done smiling and pretending that we eat like birds just because you say normal people do. We are fed up with dieting and suffering in gyms because you think we should look like you. We are fed up to here with you and your impossible standards. Who put you in charge of standards anyway?
     We’ve had enough! No more of your fat-free and low-carb and grapefruit/papaya/generic fad diets, no more hypnosis and stomach stapling, no more herbal combinations that skinnies say will kill your appetite but only make you fart, we are sick of them! And you want to know what? More than anything we’re sick of always feeling guilty; guilty and embarrassed and soiled.
     What exactly have we done that you’ve made us so ashamed of? What is it that you want us to give up?
     Being who we are.
     Look at you in your skimpy muscle shirts and your stonewashed Levi’s, 29-32, where 32 is the length of the legs. Go ahead, flaunt those numerals on your mingy narrow ass. Look into your vanity and your intense stupidity. Do you get it yet? You see us smiling and this is how you deceive yourselves, “Oh, but fat people are easygoing, they’re all so sweet and good-natured.”
     Well, you are wrong.
     We are done begging for your approval. We are through smiling and we have quit dissembling, so beware.
     The tide has turned.
     ... Whose idea was it anyway, that all good people are shaped the same? Who ordained that, male and female, everybody has to be combed and fluffed and groomed and turned out in outfits you approve? Who decreed that everybody has to be thin and only the thin are fit to pass judgment on anybody who doesn’t fit, everybody some homogenized variation on supermodel wonderful? That is, everybody except us? We’ve seen the way you look at us. We’ve seen you staring in supermarkets and ice cream parlors and fast-food places, we’ve seen your sanctimonious disgust and we have heard your snickers as we pass. We know what you’re thinking as we place our orders: You’re going to eat that? Like it makes any difference to you, with your bony shanks and your thin, judgmental mouths. If you don’t want to see us whooping it up at Sixty-Nine Flavors at the county fair with our fried Onion Blossom and our mouths powdery from fried dough, that’s your problem, but not for long.
     You think we can’t hear what you’re saying but we do. We hear it and we remember and believe us, we are pissed, because in a different world that would be you getting red in the face and all sweaty with anxiety because you don’t meet our demands. That would be you smiling and begging for approval. That would be you dancing the unhappy dance while at your backs we poked each other and laughed.
     Well, get this.
     We were born this way, most of us, and if you don’t like it then it’s damn well time for us to ask, not, what are we doing wrong, but what’s the matter with you?
     Who exactly decided that wonderful was shaped like you instead of us? Forget what you see in the ads and on the holos that come into your living rooms, never mind the narrow-ass-ted models parading on your giant plasma screens, that isn’t real, and if you think everybody has to look like that, then neither are you. Listen. We didn’t get the way we are on purpose, to offend you, and we are the way we are and we can’t fucking help it so watch out.
     We’re not going to take it anymore.
–Kit Reed, Thinner Than Thou

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open a store called Hello Toast. –Fran Lebowitz

I think lard’s my favorite food group. –AJ Langer, in My So-Called Life

Gefilte fish is the Spam of the Jewish people. It is our national culinary disgrace. We eat it because it never occurs to us that we don’t have to. It tastes like cat food, but even our cat wouldn’t eat it. It is a nugget of carp-flavored cement, a clot of ashen misery. It is the color of despair, almost funerary, musty and sweet. –Jennifer Traig, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood




You cannot put a rope around the neck of an idea; you cannot put an idea up against a barrack-square wall and riddle it with bullets; you cannot confine it in the strongest prison cell that your slaves could ever build. –Sean O’Casey, The Story of Thomas Ashe

It is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life. –Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution

All erroneous ideas, all poisonous weeds, all ghosts and monsters, must be subjected to criticism; in no circumstance should they be allowed to spread unchecked. –Mao Tse-tung, in a speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work, March 12, 1957 (Obviously he was talking about eliminating anything that went against communism, but his words, funnily enough, can also be used to remind people that they shouldn’t blindly accept ideas pumped forth from anybody, even their own government or religion. Everything—bad and good—should be questioned.)

I don’t adopt anyone’s ideas; I have my own. –Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one idea. –Emile-Auguste Chartier, Propos sur le Religion

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all. –Oscar Wilde, Intentions

... all great ideas are dangerous. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

An idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it. –Don Marquis

In the United States Christmas has become the rape of an idea. –Richard Bach

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. –John Cage




But the skin of progress
Masks, unknown, the spotted wolf of sameness.
–Wole Soyinka, The Lion and the Jewel

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. –ditto

All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions. –Adlai Stevenson, in a speech at Princeton University on March 22, 1954

… he who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never … make any progress. –Anwar Sadat

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. –Frank Zappa

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. –Rabindranath Tagore

They were the best of people, and I promised myself that one day I would come and live among them and escape from the increasingly mechanistic mainland world with its March Hare preoccupation with witless production for mindless consumption; its disruptive infatuation with change for its own sake; its idiot dedication to the bitch goddess, Progress. –Farley Mowat, A Whale for the Killing, speaking of the fishermen of South Newfoundland

Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. –Russell Baker

Progress is a comfortable disease. –ee cummings, “1x1”

What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance. –Havelock Ellis, Impressions and Comments

All progress is based on a universal innate desire of every organism to live beyond its means. –Samuel Butler, Notebooks

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem. –Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love




For me a job is just a way to get the money I need to survive, nothing more and nothing less. Basically it’s like taking out the garbage: it’s nothing you really enjoy, but you have to do it or else your life will stink. –Researchy, on the PostSecret Community message boards

… I blow some of my brains out at work every day. My head’s full of bullet holes. It’s what work does to you. –Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love

… anticipating future work just made the present moment even more miserable. There was so much unpleasantness in the workday world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us. It might not be so bad. They could drop food down to us, or if that was not possible, crumbs from their PowerBars and bags of microwave popcorn would surely end up within an arm’s length sooner or later. The cleaning crews, needing to vacuum, would inevitably turn us on our sides, preventing bedsores, and we could make little toys out of runs in the carpet, which, in moments of extreme regression, we might suck on for comfort.
          But enough about daydreaming. Our desks were waiting, we had work to do. And work was everything. We liked to think it was family, it was God, it was following football on Sundays, it was shopping with the girls or a strong drink on Saturday night, that it was love, that it was sex, that it was keeping our eye on retirement. But at two in the afternoon with bills to pay and layoffs hovering over us, it was all about the work. –Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End

The perennial problem, of course, is work. Philip Larkin famously saw it as a toad: a chill, ugly weight that squats on us all, blotting out most of our scant allowance of days. And nor is it the sort of work like fetching water and planting rice that is plausibly useful for survival. On the contrary, nearly all employment is the civilian equivalent of the sort of punishment once meted out to recalcitrant squaddies, such as digging one hole to fill another or whitewashing coal. I’m amazed we kick up so little fuss about the awesome futility of the work most of us do. –James Hamilton-Paterson, Amazing Disgrace

I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. –Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

No, I don’t like work … I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work. No man does. But I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality, for yourself, not for others, what no man can ever know. –Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar. –Drew Carey, in The Drew Carey Show

I am through with working. Working is for chumps. –Bart Simpson, in The Simpsons

Lisa, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way. –Homer Simpson, in The Simpsons

My father taught me to work, but not to love it. I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes talk, laugh—anything but work. –Abraham Lincoln

It is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of living rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. –Studs Terkel, Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do

Many … have seen enough deep lines in the tired faces of commuters to suspect that the wrong jobs can become internments for money that will quickly eat up decades. And those who already find themselves mildly successful in a field they have little love for can carry with them the uncomfortable sense of being lifted along into a life they never agreed to live. –Lauren Dockett and Kristin Beck, Facing 30: Women Talk about Constructing a Real Life and Other Scary Rites of Passage

It’s the rare job that doesn’t cause people to get grumpy, overstressed, and old before their time. And we find that as work steals us from our own families, friends, and often even ourselves, there will likely be no immunity for us. –ditto

When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is duty, life is slavery. –Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths

More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies. –Rudyard Kipling, The Phantom Rickshaw

Nobody goes right to work. I mean, screw the company—those first twenty minutes belong to you. –George Carlin

Most people are paid just enough to keep them from quitting, for working just hard enough to keep from getting fired. –ditto

Work is not the curse, but drudgery is. –Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

Work is a necessary evil to be avoided. –Mark Twain

Cursed is the man who has found some other man’s work and cannot lose it. When we talk about the great workers of the world we really mean the great players of the world. The fellows who groan and sweat under the weary load of toil that they bear never can hope to do anything great. How can they when their souls are in a ferment of revolt against the employment of their hands and brains? The product of slavery, intellectual or physical, can never be great. –Mark Twain, “A Humorist’s Confession”

I do not like work even when someone else does it. –Mark Twain, “The Lost Napoleon”

John C. McGinley: Looks like you’ve been missing quite a bit of work lately.
Ron Livingston: Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.
–in Office Space

So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life. –Ron Livingston, in Office Space

Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late; I use the side door ... After that I sorta space out for an hour. …Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch too, I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work. –ditto

Work isn’t supposed to interfere with your life, it’s supposed to pay for it! –Christine Taylor, in Party Girl

Man, I hate work. Even when somebody else is doing it. –Max Perlich, in Cliffhanger

We pretend to work because they pretend to pay us. –(?)

If you have a job without any aggravations, you don’t have a job. –Malcolm S. Forbes

I’ve met a few people in my time who were enthusiastic about hard work. And it was just my luck that all of them happened to be men I was working for at the time. –Bill Gold

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.” –Dave Barry, Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn

An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence. –Honoré de Balzac, “Scenes de la vie Parisienne,” La Maison Nucingen

It is not hard work which is dreary; it is superficial work. –Edith Hamilton

This isn’t an office. It’s Hell with fluorescent lighting. –on a button

A great many people have come up to me and asked how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated. –Robert Benchley

Even if you are lazy and would rather roll over and die, there are jobs for your mindset! … Everyday you will come home exhausted out of your mind. You won’t have time to worry about how much things suck because you will just be grateful to God that you are not working. This cycle continues until you die. –seen on the internet

My career is a fascist state. I’m the dictator, the chief of police, the head of the army. Anybody who tries to interfere is put up against the wall and shot. –Michael Caine

Work without contemplation is never enough. –Douglas Steere

Work is love made visible. –Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


Popularity (or lack thereof)


See, popularity hasn’t a pretty face. It is the harbinger of jealousy and spite and climbing over a friend’s head to be the first to shore. No, it’s not pleasant, but you want to be popular, right? You want to be liked and respected and accepted by your peers, those same peers that would happily climb all over you, yes? YES!? Good. So do I.
     Or at least I thought I did.
–David Whitehouse, “The Popularity Contest”

... the opposite of being popular isn’t being unpopular. It’s being normal. The popularity we seek is a myth. –ditto

I always thought that if I were popular, I must be doing something wrong. –Suzanne Vega

To be popular one must be a mediocrity. –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion. –Mark Twain, Notebook

Avoid popularity, if you would have peace. –Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Louis Klopsch’s Many Thoughts of Many Minds: A Treasury of Quotations from the Literature of Every Land and Every Age

Avoid popularity, it has many snares, and no real benefit. –William Penn, Fruits of Solitude: In Reflections and Maxims Relating to the Conduct of Human Life

Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them. –Immanuel Kant






You’re wrong. Happiness isn’t
forgetting. Happiness is finding new
things to remember.
–Iain S. Thomas, “The Haunted Quiet”

What was the physiological reason that pain was remembered better than bliss? If he took his experience at face value the implication seemed to be that there was nothing to learn from happiness. To be happy seemed to be the neutral state of the organism, when the flight-recorder was turned off, when the body could afford to bask effortlessly at sea level. The state of happiness was not made to be remembered; it was made to give a respite from the other stuff, the coping, the hassle, the organizing, the worrying. –Lars Guthorm Kavli, The Way the Hen Kicks

I do not know if happiness
will show before me like a face
or rise within me like a song ...
–Paul Goodman, “Little Prayers”

Happiness, you are the bright red lining
Of the dark winter coat
Grief wears out.
–Charles Simic, “Romantic Sonnet”

His face slipped easily into hapiness, like a waterbird launching onto a lake. –Francesca Haig, The Fire Sermon

Perfect is the enemy of happiness, actually. –Hannah Stephenson, in the comments section of the August 12, 2011, Dear Sugar column

... when individuals experience success (professionally or personally) I imagine they feel happier. And happiness, like success, isn’t a zero-sum game either. I know this is cheesy but the more happy people in the world, the happier the world is. And I imagine less violent etc. (though I honestly don’t know but I like to think that). And, if you let yourself be open to it happiness can be contagious. –Gretchen, in the comments section of the March 31, 2011, Dear Sugar column

In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant “now,” even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so. –Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence

Sounding the same call for joy whenever possible, the Hebrew sages say that when you are first welcomed into heaven, a record is revealed to you of all the many times in your past where you could really have been happy and really enjoyed some moment but failed to do so and then you are called to repent of each and every one of those moments. –spotted on a wall in the American Visionary Art Museum

Joy rises unexpectedly … now in peace, now in crisis. The feeling of it escapes design, surging only at the far end of endurance, on the lip of despair. It trills a faint pulse beyond the normal in the tiredness of limbs, a lifted grief, the flash and glitter of the sea. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Happiness is the most insidious prison of all. –Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Happiness expanded like an explosion inside of me—so extreme, so violent, that I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. –Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. –Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind

Why is happiness so short? Why doesn’t happiness last forever and why does happiness always have to be followed by unhappiness, yes, by wretchedness and destruction? –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

Nothing corrupts like happiness. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

The only thing that really matters is being happy. I don’t mean that in a hedonistic way, like you should get wasted all the time. I’m just saying, it’s easy to get in a rut where all you think about is the future; but the future never turns out the way you expect. It’s not a news flash, I know. But maybe it should be. Then maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to forget. –Brian Strause, Maybe a Miracle

Nothing was more wonderful than waiting for a happiness you could be sure of. –Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer

When ambition ends, happiness begins. –Hungarian proverb

Happiness is like crystal—when it shines the most, it soon cracks. –Turkish proverb

Don’t think all ecstasies
are the same!
–Rumi, “The Many Wines”

We know so little about happiness, that ultimate oasis we all hope to find and never leave. It’s not epidemic, doesn’t alter the balance of power, won’t melt pounds or sap wealth. So it doesn’t make the news much or fetch many research dollars. Ironically, although its presence is all we wish for our loved ones, we mainly study its absence.
     There’s petit mal happiness, when you’re beguiled by such novelties as overdue praise, dry heat, ripe apricots, plenty of anything, great sex, or being chosen. And there’s the grand mal happiness of sprawling stickily in love. Happiness can occur when one isn’t looking. –Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

Can there be a torrent of happiness, or only moments of being, as we compare the luminous present with the fading millisecond before? A sweet calamity of pleasure can float like a tropic island in an otherwise humdrum day. Sometimes minute flakes of happiness link up, and the doubtful brain quizzes itself: Am I still happy? Yes, I’m still happy. Better check. Am I still happy? I think so. Hold on, now I’m not as thoroughly happy as a shred of a second before. Okay, I’m happy again. And so on. These jaunty little tricks of mood become invisible beads on the single strand of a day.
     Our Constitution doesn’t guarantee us the right to possess happiness, only to pursue it, and we pursue it hotly, though not always safely. That we believe happiness must be pursued says a lot about us and how ephemeral we find it. One only pursues something that’s out of reach and escaping—a stag, a nymph, a star, a love. We pursue happiness like the wild and dangerous creature it is. Why dangerous? Because it can turn on you unexpectedly and become its opposite. Because its absence can be more powerful than its presence... –ditto

It is possible at a distance to maintain the fiction of former happiness—childhood or school days—and then you return to an early setting and the years fall away and you see how bitterly unhappy you were. –Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

Happy’s a concept I try not to buy into. It just gets me into trouble. –Jeremy Sisto, in Six Feet Under

Don’t expect happiness. You won’t get it; people let you down. ... In the end, you die in your own arms. –Nancy Marchand, in The Sopranos

Then I must learn how to be happy. Once I knew it, or thought I knew it, by instinct. It was always springtime once in my heart. My temperament was akin to joy. I filled my life to the very brim with pleasure, as one might fill a cup to the very brim with wine. Now I am approaching life from a completely new standpoint, and even to conceive happiness is often extremely difficult for me. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

I feel nothing but the accursed happiness I have dreaded all my life long: the happiness that comes as life goes, the happiness of yielding and dreaming instead of resisting and doing, the sweetness of the fruit that is going rotten. –George Bernard Shaw, Heartbreak House

Happiness, as you know, is a moveable feast. –Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and into the Trees

Is anyone anywhere happy? No, not unless they are living in a dream or in an artiface that they or someone else has made. –Sylvia Plath, journal, May 14, 1953

That is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great. –Willa Cather, My Ántonia

Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs. –Molière

... happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away. –Anna Pavlova, Pavlova: A Biography

Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there. –Rumi

And now I have to confess the unpardonable and the scandalous. I am a happy man. And I am going to tell you the secret of my happiness. It is quite simple. I love mankind. I love love. I hate hate. I try to understand and accept. –Jean Cocteau

We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us. –WB Yeats

Be happy. It’s one way of being wise. –Colette

In order to be utterly happy the only thing necessary is to refrain from comparing this moment with other moments in the past, which I often did not fully enjoy because I was comparing them with other moments of the future. –André Gide

Happiness is not an elusive bird, perched high near the ceiling, which, with the help of more or less complicated ladders, you have to work to catch. Happiness is an element, which, like air, is everywhere. –Jacques Henri Lartigue

I’m afraid of happy people. They’re chemically unbalanced. –Shirley Manson

We need fewer joys in life, small doses are enough, but regular ones. May joys appear before you, in bas-relief, so you can eye them and feel them, a little like sweets in a bowl that never empties, because someone always buys more. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

Happiness, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another. –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out—you must stay out; and to stay out, you must have some absorbing errand. –Henry James, Roderick Hudson

These things sneak up on him for no reason, these flashes of irrational happiness. It’s probably a vitamin deficiency. –Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it; it would be hell on earth. –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Sometimes I think if my mother wasn’t so good at pretending to be happy she might be better at actually being happy. –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it. –Jacques Prévert, “Intermède”

Almost every single person I talk to is unhappy with one thing or another. I really do believe that happiness is a pipe dream that is unattainable. It never lasts. It slips away between your fingers like sand, and as hard as you try to stop it from leaving, it slowly disappears. –J. Stile

If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time. –Edith Wharton

And there is the fallacy of existence: the idea that one would be happy forever ... with a given situation or series of accomplishments. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 3, 1952

Happiness is not something you experience, it’s something you remember. –Oscar Levant

Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed. –Bertrand Russell

The secret of happiness is to face the fact that world is horrible, horrible, horrible. –ditto

Happiness is the perpetual possession of being well-deceived. –Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works

It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which give happiness. –Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Mrs. AS Marks

Happiness is the only sanction in life; where happiness fails, existence remains a man and lamentable experiment. –George Santayana, The Life of Reason

Happiness is an imaginary condition formerly often attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults. –Thomas Szasz, The Second Sin

I can sympathize with people’s pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness. –Aldous Huxley, Limbo

The more one is hated, I find, the happier one is. –Louis-Ferdinand Célene

Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a flash, a moment—a little makes the way of the best happiness. –Frederich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

With the happiness held in one inch-square heart you can fill the whole space between heaven and earth. –Gensei, “Poem without a Category”

Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. –Nathaniel Hawthorne

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go. –Oscar Wilde

The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach. –Lin Yutang

Reality’s the only obstacle to happiness. –spotted on the internet





Our freedom is in a sorry state. In all probability it’s only ever existed on paper. External freedom has probably never existed, but neither have I ever known anyone who knew inner freedom. And I have never found this fact shaming. I can’t see what should be dishonourable about bearing, as all animals do, this burden that is laid upon us; in the end, we die as all animals do. –Marlen Haushofer, The Wall

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

The average man doesn’t want to be free. He wants to be safe. –HL Mencken, Notes on Democracy

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done with you. –Jean-Paul Sartre

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. –Johann Wolfgang von Göethe

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. –Bob Marley, “Redemption Song” (the phrase originally came from Marcus Garvey)

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. –Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to HL Pierce

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. –Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence to never practice either. –Mark Twain, Following the Equator


Politics, Government, Democracy


In industry, you make money for your bosses or you’re out, but in politics, provided you can keep pulling the wool over the eyes of your constituents and ask enough questions in Congress to appear to be doing something, you’re safe. The weak last a long time in politics. –Andrew John and Stephen Blake, Are You A Miserable Old Bastard?

I hate politics and the belief in politics, because it makes men arrogant, doctrinaire, obstinate, and inhuman. –Thomas Mann, read in Andrew John and Stephen Blake’s Are You A Miserable Old Bastard?

If ... the machine of government ... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. –Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. –Abraham Lincoln, in a speech in Peoria, IL, on October 16, 1854

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. –Thurgood Marshall, Stanley v. Georgia

There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. –Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in a 1967 interview

The test of a democracy is not the magnificence of buildings or the speed of automobiles or the efficiency of air transportation, but rather the care given to the welfare of all the people. Helen Keller, in The Home Magazine, April 1935

Beware the politically obsessed. They are often bright and interesting, but they have something missing in their natures; there is a hole, an empty place, and they use politics to fill it up. It leaves them somehow misshapen. –Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution

All government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery. –Jonathan Swift, The Drapier’s Letters

Democracy, then, cannot be government by the people: it can only be government by consent of the governed. Unfortunately, when democratic statesmen propose to govern us by our own consent, they find that we don’t want to be governed at all, and that we regard rates and taxes and rents and death duties as intolerable burdens. What we want to know is how little government we can get along with without being murdered in our beds. –George Bernard Shaw, The Apple Cart

Fear is the foundation of most governments. –John Adams, Thoughts on Government

Noise is relative to the silence preceding it. The more absolute the hush, the more shocking the thunderclap. Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations...and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. –Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people. –Hugo Weaving, in V for Vendetta

... while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the annunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance, and depression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well, certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. –ditto

The Republican convention started this past weekend, so don’t forget to turn your clocks back four hundred years. –Jay Leno, in the Tonight Show

I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen. –WH Auden, “Blessed Event”

The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression. –HL Mencken, Notebooks

Democracy cannot survive without the guidance of a creative minority. –Harlan F. Stone

Undemocratic countries have always tried to prohibit their citizens from destroying themselves. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

If you want to have gay sex or visit a library, it’s probably your last night to do those things. Personally, I’ll be killing two birds with one stone. –Ed Helms, in The Daily Show, re: election night 2004

Well, Jon, the great jousting tournament that is Election Day draws nigh, the prize the building you see behind me, Castle Congress. But what side shall prevail in this epic electoral tilt? Who shall control the future of Fortress America? Will we be, as the Republicans desire, a nation of wealthy heavily armed white men, befouling the air and water in a ceaseless quest for profits, beholden to no laws but those of our lord and savior Jesus Christ? Or shall we instead embrace the Democrats’ vision of a namby-pamby quasi-Socialist Republic with an all-homosexual army flamboyantly defending a citizenry suckling at the foul teat of government welfare? The choice is yours, fair maiden America, for the name of this feudal system is Democracy. –Stephen Colbert, in The Daily Show

What kind of madman refuses to produce evidence that he doesn’t have, that he said he didn’t? Saddam had to be taken out or who knows what else he might not have done. –ditto

Say what you will about fascism, Jon, but at least then you knew when the fake election was. –Ed Helms, in The Daily Show, re: the 2000 election

As a journalist I have to maintain my objectivity, but I would say the feeling down here was one of a pervasive and palpable evil. A thick demonic stench that rolls over you and clings like hot black tar, a nightmare from which you cannot awaken, a nameless fear that lives in the dark spaces beyond your peripheral vision and drives you toward inhuman cruelties and unspeakable perversions. The delegates’ bloated, pustulent bodies twisting from one obscene form to another, giant spider-shaped and ravenous wolf-headed creatures who feast upon the flesh of the innocent and suck the marrow from the bones of the poor. –Stephen Colbert, in the The Daily Show, re: the Republican convention

George W. Bush: I think we’re welcomed in Iraq.
Jon Stewart: Apparently the rocket-propelled grenade is the Iraqi equivalent of “aloha.”
–in The Daily Show

Okay, looks like this is gonna be a while, so if you’re playing at home, remember, it’s a shot of tequila every time he says “Terrorist,” “Danger,” or “Madman.” –Jon Stewart, in The Daily Show, after President Bush describes terrorists several times

In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman. –Margaret Thatcher

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. –HL Mencken

The ballot is stronger than the bullet. –Abraham Lincoln, in a speech in Bloomington, IL, on May 29, 1856

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it. –Clarence Darrow, quoted in Irving Stone’s Clarence Darrow for the Defense

Politics is a blood sport. –Aneurin Bevan

No government can long be secure without a formidable opposition. –Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby

Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed. –Mao Tse-tung

All politics are based on the indifference of the majority. –James Reston

… acting is not a profession from which I would want my governments to originate. –John Simon, on Ronald Reagan

Government is so tedious that sometimes you wonder if the government isn’t being boring on purpose. –PJ O’Rourke

Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us. –Leo Tolstoy

A government is the only known vessel that leaks from the top. –James Reston

It is perfectly true that the government is best which governs least. It is equally true that the government is best which provides most. –Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics

One has to be a lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one. –Henry Miller, quoted in George Plimpton’s Writers at Work, Second Series

Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office. –David Broder

Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important. –Eugene McCarthy

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. –John Kenneth Galbraith, in a letter to President Kennedy, March 2, 1962

The Conservative Party is an organized hypocrisy. –Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech to the House of Commons

The Republican Convention opened with a prayer. If the Lord can see his way to bless the Republican Party the way it’s been carrying on, then the rest of us ought to get it without even asking. –Will Rogers

The Republicans have a habit of having three bad years and one good one, and the good one always happens to be election year. –ditto

... the two symbols of the Republican Party: an elephant, and a fat white guy who is threatened by change. –Seth MacFarlane, in Family Guy

Oh my God! The dead have risen and are voting Republican! –Bart Simpson, in The Simpsons

[The Democrats are] the kind of people who’d stop to help you change a flat, but would somehow manage to set your car on fire ... The Republicans, on the other hand, would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn’t bother to stop because they’d want to be on time for Ugly Pants Night at the Country Club. –Dave Barry

When you looked at the Republicans you saw the scum off the top of business. When you looked at the Democrats you saw the scum off the top of politics. Personally, I prefer business. A businessman will steal from you directly instead of getting the IRS to do it for him. And when the Republicans ruin the environment, destroy the supply of affordable housing, and wreck the industrial infrastructure, at least they make a buck off it. The Democrats just do these things for fun. –PJ O’Rourke [sometimes I’m glad I’m an Independent!]

Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. –Mark Twain, quoted in Albert B. Paine’s Mark Twain: A Biography

Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good. –George Wills

fuck the conservatives.
fuck the moderates.
fuck the liberals.
be your own person.
–Nacra, seen on ISCA BBS

Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear. –Alan Coren

Democracy without education is hypocrisy without limitation. –Iskander Mirza

Democracy is good. I say this because other systems are worse. –Jawaharlal Nehru

The system doesn’t have to be pure, but it does have to work. –Aminu Kano

This isn’t democracy. This is shit-ocracy. –someone talking about Russian government, seen on ISCA BBS


Silence, Language


... how could an instrument as blunted as language express one as strange and fleeting as Natasha? –Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

The hottest sex I’ve ever had is inside language. I don’t mean writing sex scenes … I mean that there is an erotics to language and narrative and poetry that is as hot as bodies are to me. –Lidia Yuknavitch, Dear Sugar, May 19, 2011

I always say that the first point in music is silence. And silence is not the absence of sound—it’s just a different kind of sound. –Fred Plotkin, in Rick Steves’s 2/7/10 podcast on Finland

Her silence wasn’t unpleasant, nor did it imply resent or sadness. It was transparent, not dense. It took up almost no space. A person could even get used to silence like this ... –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

All language is a longing for home. –Coleman Banks, in the introduction to Chapter 3 of The Essential Rumi

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
–Rumi, “A Community of the Spirit”

A great silence overcomes me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.
–Rumi, an untitled piece in Coleman Barks’s The Essential Rumi

If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity. –Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

Go to where the silence is and say something. –Amy Goodman, upon accepting an award for coverage of the 1991 massacre of Timorese by Indonesian troops

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. –Elie Wiesel, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 11, 1986

Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact. –George Eliot, The Impressions of Theophrastus Such

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation...Tooting, howling, sreeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a grey vegetation. –Jean Arp, On My Way

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

But to say what you want to say, you must create another language and nourish it for years and years with what you have loved, with what you have lost, with what you will never find again. –George Seferis

Thanks to language, we have a verbal memory that allows us to learn and remember without physically experiencing something. Pure magic. –Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

Colorful language threatens some people, who associate it, I think, with a kind of eroticism (playing with language in public—playing with yourself), and with extra expense (having to sense or feel more). I don’t share that opinion. Why reduce life to a monotone? Is that truer to the experience of being alive? I don’t think so. It robs us of life’s many textures. Language provides an abundance of words to keep us company on our travels. –ditto

When the blood drains out of language, one’s experience of life weakens and grows pale. –ditto

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

Utopia would be if everyone suddenly held their tongues and allowed a blessed silence to fall upon the earth. –James Hamilton-Paterson, Amazing Disgrace

Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. –George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah

Trees, flowers, grass grow in silence. See the stars, moon, and sun, how they move in silence. –Mother Theresa, For the Brotherhood of Man

Only silence is great; all else is weakness. –Alfred de Vigny, La Mort du Loup

He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words. –Elbert Hubbard

Silence is of various depths and fertility, like soil. –Henry David Thoreau, journal, January 21, 1853

Who then tells a finer tale than any of us? Silence does. –Isak Dinesen

This is how it always is when I finish a poem. A Great Silence overcomes me, and I wonder why I ever thought to use language. –Rumi

Not one sound fears the silence that extinguishes it. –John Cage

All the masters tell us that the reality of life—which our noisy waking consciousness prevents us from hearing—speaks to us chiefly in silence. –Karlfried Graf Durckheim

Judicious silences are important in any work. –Claude Debussy

Let silence in.
She will rarely speak or mew.
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.
–May Sarton

Silence … is the best language. –Ramana Maharshi

The cruelest lies are often told in silence. –Robert Louis Stevenson

And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know. –William Rose Benet

… she’d never known silence could be so cruel a weapon, never known she could inflict such pain just by sitting still and silent. She liked the feeling. –Robert Rodi, Fag Hag

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak out one day it will just up and punch you inside the mouth from the inside.” –Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. –Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer. –Mark Twain

A different language is a different vision of life. –Federico Fellini

Language is the archives of history. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Poet”

Learn a new language and get a new soul. –Czech Proverb

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. –George Orwell

There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that comes from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence. –Deepak Chopra

I personally think we developed language because of our deep need to complain. –Jane Wagner, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe

In her starry shade of dim and solitary loveliness, I learn the language of another world. –Lord Byron

And silence contagious in moments like these… –Phish, “Rift”

Say what you will, but you might die if they listen. –Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Chile”

The English language has far more lives than a cat. People have been murdering it for years. –Farmer’s Almanac


Lack of Exercise, Laziness



Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good. –Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Vol. 1

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. –Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

Learning the art of loafing is absolutely essential for creativity, productivity, and peace of mind. –Guy Claxton, quoted in Real Simple, November 2005

How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward. –Spanish proverb

... for every minute you spend in the gym, you add a minute to your life. It sounds like a pretty good deal. But, I hasten to add, only if your current life is pretty sad.
      See, the problem is, that minute you spend exercising is a minute you are taking from now and tacking it onto the part of life later one might call hell—that last decade of life where you’re peeing into a bag and mistaking your children for spiders. The fact is, it’s far better to be careful with your minutes while you’re in the blossom of youth—when you’re still able to pull drunk secretaries at the pub and sneak dope onto an airplane. The tradeoff between “now” to “later” is wholly unnecessary and wrong—you won’t want that extra time when it’s spent straddling a bed pan, straining after every nugget of undigested bran. No—as the world moves on, you’ll be praying for a quick death, one denied to you by your former self—the guy pumping relentlessly up and down on a stair climber. –Greg Gutfeld, “Diary of an Underachiever”

... in the end, the gym is more important than anything else on the planet. It has one simple role: it reminds you how great everything else is in the world. If you’re bored by your job, or your girlfriend, or your local pub—then go to the gym. Work out for an hour, and you’ll suddenly miss everything beyond the gym’s front doors. –ditto

Alas! The hours we waste in work
And similar inconsequence,
Friends, I beg you do not shirk
Your daily task of indolence.
–Don Marquis, The Almost Perfect State

There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it. –John W. Raper

I have so often asked myself whether the days on which we are compelled to be idle aren’t the very ones we spend in the deepest activity? Whether our actions themselves, when they come later, are not merely the last afterring of a great movement that takes place in us on inactive days? –Rainer Maria Rilke

“Don’t just do something,” Buddha said, “stand there!” –Daniel Berrigan

Here’s how sloth is necessary: While some of us can get through a twenty-four-hour day without feeling greedy or angry or envious or lustful, only speed freaks can get through twenty-four hours without a little downtime. Human beings need sleep; we also need to stare off into space, look out the window, daydream, pick our noses, surf the Net, and spend some time every day being indolent and useless. When we work too much and sloth too little, humans get physically sick. By contrast, no one ever got sick from too little envy or too little greed.
       Sloth is desirable because it’s scarce, as scarcity creates desire. –Dan Savage, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America

As long as I don’t have to get up in the morning and do a proper job, I’m happy. –Joe Pasquale, in a heat magazine interview

I don’t even walk the dogs. I’m really a lazy person. I’m not motivated to work out at all. ... I think exercise is bad for you. –Sharon Osbourne

I’ve defined the ability to do things half-ass. I’ve never been a hard worker. I’ve relied more on my ability to get things done at the last minute and on the potential to do well and others’ expectations that I can do well than actually delivering a product. I’ve always anticipated doing good things, it’s just a matter of other things getting in the way. –Marlene, in Facing 30: Women Talk about Constructing a Real Life and Other Scary Rites of Passage

I want to be fit, but I don’t want being fit to be all I think about. I begin to consider that maybe being fat and interesting is better than being thin and obsessed with staying that way. –Allison Glock, “I Want My Body Back”

I get my exercise serving as a pallbearer to my friends who take exercise. –Chauncey Depew, quoted in the LA Times, May 4, 1954

When I feel like exercising I just lie down until the feeling goes away. –Paul Terry, quoted in Reader’s Digest, January 1938

I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting. –Mark Twain

Once, not needing to exercise in order to survive was a privilege and the hallmark of gentlefolk, who were identified by their soft white hands and merely vestigial muscles. Well-rested, heartily fed, and flushed with excellent port, many of these sluggards lived to an overripe old age, annoying their heirs, while for those who exercised all day life was nasty, brutish, and mercifully short. We have failed to profit by their example. We, as a nation, embraced voluntary, nonessential exercise. –Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures

He who attempts too much seldom succeeds. –Dutch proverb

Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired. –Jules Renard

I like the word “indolence.” It makes my laziness seem classy. –Bern Williams

If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all. –Joey Adams

I really don’t think I need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon. –Ellen DeGeneres

Exercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don’t need it; if you are sick, you shouldn’t take it. –Henry Ford

I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises. –Neil Armstrong

It’s unnatural for people to run around city streets unless they are thieves or victims. It makes people nervous to see someone running. I know that when I see someone running on my street, my instincts tell me to let the dog out after him. –Mike Royko

If I didn’t run from my fears, I wouldn’t get any exercise at all, now would I? –Drew Carey

Do not put off until tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well. –Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark

Intense, obsessive interest in health, nutrition, and exercise arouses my suspicions. I distrust anybody who worries too much about such things. –Florence King

I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on. –Roseanne

I don’t go to the gym. But I stay fit through stress. –Elizabeth Hurley

Never do anything that others can do for you. –Agatha Christie

He lacks much who has no aptitude for idleness. –Louise Beebe Wilder

In just a decade or so, idleness … has become a social sin and slightly disgusting, like eating whipped cream with your fingers. –Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures

From the mid-sixties through most of the seventies it was widely believed that…Leisure was better for the soul, and the soul was important. This notion suffered a total reversal in the eighties, and now our small available free time should be spent in the most strenuous possible activity, because this means we’re not doing nothing. –ditto

It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all. –James Thurber, Fables for our Time

When I was a child what I wanted to be when I grew up was an invalid. –Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant

… I don’t like much movement at all. If talking were aerobic, I’d be the thinnest person in the world. –Carrie Fisher

I have so much to do that I am going to bed. –Savoyard Proverb

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work. –Bertrand Russell, “In Praise of Idleness”

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. ... without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. –ditto

I make no bones of it, but here confess and set down that I am lazy. I was born lazy and it has grown on me. I would never move at all if it did not hurt so to remain in one position. The only reason I take exercise is in order to relax afterward. Furthermore, I raise my voice in defense of the army of the lazy ones. They are the salt of the earth. A lazy person does better work than an industrious body. He puts a fiery energy into his task because he wants to finish it as soon as possible. A lazy boy will saw wood fast so that he can get through and rest. A lazy girl sweeps the room with whirlwind activity, while the girl who loves work will fiddle about all morning. It is laziness that is the spring of human progress. Because a lazy man wanted to get out of the job of currying the horse, he thought out a plan for putting a bucket of gasoline under the buggy seat, whereby we ride like the wind. Because lazy folks hated to climb stairs, elevators were invented. Because people were too lazy to get off the train and go to the lunch counter, they devised dining cars; and being too lazy to ride on the railway all night sitting up, they contrived sleeping cars. Being too lazy to dip his pen in the ink every few seconds, some genius invented the fountain pen. And being too lazy even to use that, he proceeded to build a typewriter. Also too lazy to run the typewriter himself, he started the fashion of having girl typists. It was a lazy genius that thought of making a patent cigar lighter out of a flint stone and benzine, because he was too tired to strike matches. Likewise, who would have conceived the idea of a fireless cooker except some woman too lazy to stand over the cook stove? If everybody was an earnest and toiling little Willie that just ate up work and loved to employ every moment in useful energy, we should lapse into barbarism. –(?), “In Praise of Laziness”

[The following anti-sports quotes reflect my lazy side!]

Being around sports enthusiasts makes me want to push an amendment through Congress banning all professional sports from our culture. –Paul Feig, Kick Me

When it comes to sports I am not particularly interested. Generally speaking, I look upon them as dangerous and tiring activities performed by people with whom I share nothing except the right to trial by jury. –Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life

I hate sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense. –HL Mencken

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting. –George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit”




Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
–Hafiz, “Absolutely Clear”

Loneliness for me is about a lack of connection, whether that’s to a person or to life itself, so if there’s anything lonelier than alienation from another human being whom you once loved — and were loved by — I have no idea what it might be. –Sally Brampton, “The loneliest place on Earth? Living with a man you no longer love”

I feel far less lonely on my own than I did in a marriage filled with polite, frigid silence. –ditto

Many a housewife staring at the back of her husband’s newspaper, or listening to his breathing in bed, is lonelier than any spinster in a rented room. –Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry. –Anton Chekhov, quoted in Roger Hall’s Conjugal Rites

Loneliness was the cruelest season of all, I thought; more damaging than all the frosts of winter, sending the heart into hibernation. It had no one to live for, to be awake for, to beat fast and furious for. The lonely had only memories and hopes, dreams and and illusions. Under their Christmas trees were beautiful fully wrapped empty boxes. –VC Andrews, Fallen Hearts

Sometimes I wonder if someone will ever come for me, if there will ever be a boy—a man—for me to open to. I wonder if I will always be like this, alone, always forced to content myself with myself, my own hand tucked between my legs so that my body makes a kind of circle, a zero, enclosing the clean emptiness of nothingness, a mobius strip or an ouroboros, a serpent swallowing its own tail. I am a closed system, and I yearn, I ache, I hanker for someone to claim what I long to give. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

Now you must go out into your heart as onto a vast plain. Now the immense loneliness begins. –Rainer Maria Rilke

Loneliness is like starvation: you don’t realize how hungry you are until you begin to eat. –Joyce Carol Oates, “Ugly”

Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for. –Dag Hammarskjöld, Diaries

... I was lonely to the point of wanting extinction. –Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven

DO NOT SUFFER FROM LONELINESS. Go outside. Go away. It’s all the people making you lonely. Pick a spot on the horizon and head straight for it. Weave your way through a stand of redwoods. Kayak an island chain. Peer over your toes at the edge of a canyon. Go to your favorite place. Again, and again. This is what you need to do. Not just because it fuels your independence. But because it reminds you you’re a part of something bigger. And although it may not occur to the baffled onlookers who can’t take their eyes off your smiling mud-covered wired-up insane self, it will occur to you: You aren’t the one who’s lonely. –from a Nike ad

There’s nothing worse then being surrounded by people and feeling like you’re all alone. –(?)

It’s a terrible thing to be lonesome, especially in the middle of a crowd. –Marilyn Monroe

Loneliness is dangerous … because if aloneness does not lead to God, it leads to the devil. It leads to the self. –Joyce Carol Oates, “Shame”

Only lonely men know freedom. –Rod McKuen, Alone

Loneliness is the clearest of crystal insight into your own soul; it’s the fear of one’s own self that haunts the lonely. –Keith Haynie

What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. –Kurt Vonnegut

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody—I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. –Mother Theresa

This loneliness is just an exile from God. –Anne Sexton, “Letters to Dr. Y”

He felt something else, too, something dark and devastating. Something far more disturbing than anger, far more debilitating than fear, something uglier, like a terrible loneliness, but much worse than loneliness. –Dean Koontz, The Voice of the Night

There is an excruciating loneliness in waiting out the hours till morning, again and again and again. Time moves more slowly, and the fact that everyone else is at rest makes me feel so separate, so alone. I long to recover what comes so easily to everyone else. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface




  Hell is the absence of the people you long for. –Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

What fresh hell is this? –Dorothy Parker’s habitual response upon hearing the doorbell or telephone ring

The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. –CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Hell wasn’t a major reservoir of evil, any more than Heaven … was a fountain of goodness; they were just sides in the great cosmic chess game. Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind. –Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens

Hell is when there is no reason to live and no courage to die. –William Markiewicz

Hell is not punishment,
it’s training.
–Shunryu Suzuki

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise. –Victor Hugo

What if this were Hell, this absence of sleep, this poet’s desert, this pain of living, this dying of not dying, this anguish of shadows, this passion over death and light. –Leopold Sedar Senghor, “Midnight Elegy”

What is hell?
Hell is oneself;
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.
–TS Eliot, “The Cocktail Party”

Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell. –Aldous Huxley

Hell is other people. –Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

Sometimes hell has no words. –Martha Manning, Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface

Hell, madame, is to love no longer. –Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest

Hell has no terrors for pagans. –Arthur Rimbaud, Aauvais Sang

When I think of the number of disagreeable people that I know who have gone to a better world, I am sure hell won’t be so bad after all. –Mark Twain

Wherever I was, I was happy…I think I was in heaven, and now I’m not. I was torn out of there, pulled out by my friends. Everything here is hard and bright and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch—this is hell. – Sarah Michelle Gellar, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This isn’t Hell, but you can see it from here. –from The Crow

I hear
My ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
As if my hand were at its throat
I myself am hell;
Nobody’s here—
–Robert Lowell, “Skunk Horn”

In the garish glaring picture book sun of that small town, I was carefully constructing my own private hell. –Marya Hornbacher, Wasted

The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists—that is why they invented hell. –Bertrand Russell

Hell hath no fury like a repressed bi male. –Bc [seen on Isca BBS]




It was as if home had bells and she could hear them ringing, calling...had its own particular perfume and above the harsh odor of ashes she could sense that distant sweetness... –Philip Wylie, The Disappearance

The sun at home warms better than the sun elsewhere. –Albanian proverb

... even the never-ending monotony of housework can remind us that we have found our heart’s desire, that there is beauty and romance in the most repetitious of household chores. –Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez, Love Poems for Real Life

My all-time favorite place has to be at home, in my lounge when I’m alone. I just love lying on my sofa with my eyes closed, feeling half asleep, almost daydreaming! I think maybe the most perfect place on Earth is being on your own, in your lounge or bedroom with a book. –Björk

When I was at home, I was in a better place. –William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. –Thomas Moore

When men do not love their hearth, nor reverence their thresholds, it is a sign that they have dishonored both ... Our god is a house-hold god, as well as a heavenly one; he has an altar in every man’s dwelling. –John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture

This is the true nature of home—it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division. –ditto

[Home:] It is the place of renewal and of safety, where for a little while there will be no harm or attack and, while every sense is nourished, my soul rests. –May Sarton

Everyone should live in the place where they want to be. –Ikuo Oshima, quoted in Greta Ehrlich’s This Cold Heaven

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Home is the place where when you go there, you have to finally face the thing in the dark. –Stephen King, It

I have to go home periodically to renew my sense of horror. –Carson McCullers

Louisa had almost the enthusiasm of an artist over the mere order and cleanliness of her solitary home. –Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Listen to me
I am finally going home
to double over and be sick
on my own ground
to weep my guts out
in my own back yard…
I am still together
heading home
but not sure how…
I am heading homeward
let me go.
The heart grows tired,
timid and afraid sometimes.
It needs to rest
as much as any head
on aching shoulders.
–Rod McKuen, Alone

I am never, never, never coming home! –Sylvia Plath, “Amnesiac”

I am never sure what I miss by staying home. Doubtlessly, I’ve avoided disappointments that might have chipped away a little more of my self-confidence. Possibly on one given night I missed the silver apple that, bitten into, would have changed my life. –Rod McKuen, Alone


Traumas/Real-Life Horror/the Unexpected/Catastrophes



You can get used to horror, he thought. When it has lost immediacy and is no longer pungent and has become a steady diet. When it has degraded to a chain of mind-numbing events. When shocks are like scalpels picking and jabbing at delicate ganglia until they have lost all feeling. –Richard Matheson, “Lover When You’re Near Me”

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life. –Tim Lawrence, “Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason” (

An instant, an accident. How could that one moment end everything that mattered in my life, everything that defined me? Our lives are supposed to go on a straight path, and when they veer so dramatically, how can we grasp that what has been so vital and alive is no longer here. I still wanted to believe in an orderly universe, to find bigger forces at work that would give meaning to what right now felt so completely meaningless. –Jackie Hance, I’ll See You Again

Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart. –Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

... trauma is a transformative experience, and those who are transformed can never return to a state of previous innocence. –Kali Talil, Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma

When things fall apart, we spin a yarn to bring them together. When trauma intrudes and unsettles our daily habits and self-expectations, we recount and reimagine our situation. ... Writing, narrating, storytelling that darkness, suffering, pain, brings it into relief and into some intersubjective shared light. This activity is one of mastery. It is about giving voice to pain, anger, violence, abuse, the darkness in the human pit. –Jonathan Skinner, in the introduction to Writing the Dark Side of Travel

I would say that it is increasingly our character to seek transformation. … But the vital piece of this inclination toward the light is the unshakable belief that catastrophes properly end in resolution, that tragedies are frequently a phase rather than an endgame. –Andrew Soloman, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

That terrible thing that happened to you is always going to have happened to you. There’s no self help book that’s going to fix that. There is no fixing it. You can’t fix having been born human, either. And every day you have to eat. Every minute of that day, you have to keep breathing. No choice. But you can breathe and walk at the same time. You can breathe and make friends, and go to parties and fall in love. Once in a while, you can even take a quick break from breathing to eat all the cookies, oh my goodness! Pain is like that too. –Joey Comeau, at

It feels like we’ve been knocked off our axis a bit these past few weeks, and undoubtedly, our orbit is forever changed, even if just a little bit. But we all remember from our eighth grade Science lessons how a slight change in the elliptical patterns of spinning, drifting planetary bodies can have monumental impact by one day causing a sudden, unpredicted, catastrophic event. –Christy Silva, at

All down the line the stories were similar ... where people had awoken one morning unaware that at some point during the day their livelihood would crumble to dust, everything they owned would be lost, and they’d be force-marched into a years-long struggle to survive where every day was a new blade on the heels. –Bryan Mealer, All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo

The unexpected happens even when we’ve got everything mapped out. –Dear Sugar, September 16, 2010

Ghost hunters believe that an act of violence can mark a place for years, resulting in a kind of psychic imprinting.  But trauma has no need for the supernatural. –Donna Brown Hogarty, “Murder in the Middle of Nowhere”

... there were always worse things waiting. You think you have seen the most terrible thing, the one that coalesces all your nightmares into a freakish horror that actually exists, and the only consolation is that there can be nothing worse. Even if there is, your mind will snap at the sight of it, and you will know no more. But there is worse, your mind does not snap, and somehow you carry on. You might understand that all the joy has gone out of the world for you, that what you did has put all you hoped to gain out of your reach, you might wish you were the one who was dead—but you go on. You realize that you are in a hell of your own making, but you go on nevertheless. Because there is nothing else to do. –Stephen King, “1922”

I proceeded to get sodden drunk on thoroughly mediocre canned cider. Helluva shock? Sure. The utter atrocity of it? No question. But mostly, that it had been such a glorious afternoon, a feast for the senses, perfect weather and the company of a dear friend and gorgeous men and other revelers all about—one of those excruciatingly rare moments when life is not all about shoving your goddamn rock uphill—and then getting sucker-punched, a visceral reminder that someone so loathes you as to exult in taking it all away. –Claudius Reich, “Dragon’s Teeth” [the author is talking about surviving a terrorist attack]

There’s nothing like a little horror to make you glad to be alive. –Loren Rhoads , “The Mortician’s Gift”

But it wasn’t some catastrophic moment that taught me one of the most powerful lessons of my life. I learned that unbelievably awful things can and do happen. In truth, they are not such rare, isolated events. Each of us has a story that would break someone’s heart. Despite the grief and the unfairness of it all, we keep going. There are chores to be done. There are people who still need our care. There is a life to be led. –Aldra Robinson, “A Witness to Grace”

I had blocked out my emotions for so long, I’d assumed they had gone away. But when you’re abused, the pain doesn’t just “go away.” It sinks down under the surface, invisible to casual observers. You might even convince your best friends that you’re okay, but the pain is still there, growing like a seething tumor. Abuse lives on in the very cells of your body, carved into the neural pathways of your brain. Your friends can’t see the scars, but they are present every minute of every day. –Alison Argrim, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how loud you scream—nobody’s coming. The only one who can save you is you. This sort of trauma affects people in different ways as they grow up. Sometimes it makes the scrapper, the fighter, the artist. Sometimes it makes the psychopath. And sometimes it makes the bitch. –ditto

“The sun will come up tomorrow,” he told me, “and the day after that, and the day after that. Don’t let this be the most important thing that ever happens to you. Look forward,” he said. “You will have a future. You will have a life.” –Nando Parrado, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home

I had been thinking of the disaster as a horrible mistake, as an unscripted deviation from the happy story of the life I had been promised. But now I began to understand that my ordeal in the Andes was not an interruption of my true destiny, or a perversion of what my life was supposed to be. It simply was my life, and the future that lay ahead was the only future available to me. To hide from this fact, or to live in bitterness and anger, would only keep me from living any genuine life at all. –ditto

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. –Barbara Bloom, in a December 10, 1995, interview in the the Los Angeles Times

Trauma always leaves a scar. It follows us home. It changes our lives. Trauma messes everybody up. But maybe that’s the point. All the pain and the fear and the crap—maybe going through all that is what keeps us moving forward. It’s what pushes us. –Justin Chambers, in Grey’s Anatomy

But I think the thing that bugs me here is that patina of self-help inspirationalism glibness about all of it, that red flag you feel go up when people in serious trauma start in with the “whatever doesn’t kill you” or “everything happens for a reason” and you’re like, “You have not even begun to cross this landscape yet, and you’re telling me what it looks like on the other side?” Because that’s the quickest way to ensure that you never have to start walking, which is in turn a shortcut to crazytown. –Jacob, in an American Idol review on

Not as bad! Not as bad! my mind tried to comfort me. It was true. This wasn’t as bad. This wasn’t the end of the world, not again. This was just the end of what little peace there was left behind. That was all. –Stephanie Meyer, New Moon

You must not let terror overtake you.
It is a bone breaking in the middle of the night.
It is a misspelled word.
It is everything you thought you knew
becoming unknown, the leaves
stripped from the tree,
all the greenness orange and dry,
it is a pain past bearable, you must not.
–Susan Griffin, “Prayer for Continuation”

Learn the darkness.
Gather round you all
the things that you love, name
their names, prepare
to lose them. It will be
as if all you know were turned
around within your body.
–Wendell Berry, “Song in a Year of Catastrophe”

Astonishing the way the world can tilt on its axis and yet people continue to walk upright, to go about their days, eating their dinners in restaurants, making their plans. –Debra Dean, The Madonnas of Leningrad

A strange thought: I would not want this not to have happened. Because if I escape I shall be a completely different and I think better person. Because if I don’t escape, if something dreadful happened, I shall still know that the person I was and would have stayed if this hadn’t happened was not the person I now want to be.
         It’s like firing a pot. You have to risk the cracking and the warping. –John Fowles, The Collector

What is a highway to one is a disaster to the other. –Rumi, “The Food Sack”

In times of crisis, the heart either breaks or boldens. – Honoré de Balzac, La Recherche de l’absolu

Now life’s great debt was paid with terror,
churned with the earth like a harvest
of that thing which everyone escaped from
with prayers, weeping, and extinguishing their lives,
without understanding why we were born, not understanding
why the earth, she who waited so long for the wheat to mature,
now, without patience, like a fierce widow,
drunk and quivering, calls for sudden payment:
love for love, life for life, and death for death.
–Pablo Neruda, “Cataclysm, Part IV”

Before I found out for myself, I might have imagined that in the aftermath of personal apocalypse, the little bothers of life would effectively vanish. But it’s not true. You still feel chills, you still despair when a package is lost in the mail, and you still feel irked to discover you were shortchanged at Starbucks. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

And I realize this experience is as common as dirt: Your husband, your wife, your child is late, terribly late, and then they come home after all; there’s an explanation. For the most part, these brushes against a parallel universe in which they never do come home—for which there is an explanation, but one that will divide your whole life into before and after—vanish without a trace. The hours that had elongated into lifetimes suddenly collapse like a fan. –ditto

I’ve learned since that tragedy is not to be hoarded. Only the untouched, the well-fed and contented, could possibly covert suffering like a designer jacket. I’d readily donate my story to the Salvation Army so that some other frump in need of color could wear it away. –ditto

... tragedy seems to bring out all varieties of unexpected qualities in people. ... it was as if some folks … got dunked in plastic, vacuum-sealed like backpacking dinners, and could do nothing but sweat in their private hell. And others seemed to have just the opposite problem, as if disaster had dipped them in acid, instead, stripping off the outside layer of skin that once protected them from the slings and arrows of other people’s outrageous fortunes. For these sorts, just walking down the street in the wake of every stranger’s ill wind became an agony, an aching slog through this man’s fresh divorce and that woman’s terminal throat cancer. They were in hell, too, but it was everybody’s hell, this big, shoreless, sloshing sea of toxic waste. –ditto

I cannot at once contain the suffering of so many family dinners with one empty chair. I haven’t anguished that the photo on the piano is forever tainted because that was the snapshot given to the newspapers or because sibling portraits on either side continue to mark occasions of greater maturity—college graduations, weddings—while the static high school yearbook photo loses color in the sun. I haven’t been privy to the month-by-month deterioration of marriages once robust; I haven’t sniffed the sickly sweet waft of gin off the breath of a formerly industrious realtor at advancingly earlier hours of the afternoon. I haven’t felt the weight of all those cartons dragged into a van after a neighborhood lush with oaks, bubbling with smooth-rocked creeks, and alive with the laughter of other people’s healthy children has suddenly become intolerable overnight. –ditto

I’m convinced that tragedy wants to harden us, and that our mission is to never let it. –Janeane Garafalo, in Felicity

I felt as though my whole life before had been only a bland dream, and I had just now awakened—to the scream that had been beneath me all along, a subterranean current of horror running under every day. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

You think it’s a day like any other. What you don’t realize is anything can happen. And then it does. It happens. And there’s so much left unsaid. And it was all just wasted time. –Harriet Sansom Harris, in Six Feet Under

I could have told him that nothing was safe and that no matter how careful you were and how hard you tried, there were still accidents, hidden traps, and snares. You could get killed on an airplane or crossing the street. Your marriage could fall apart when you weren’t looking; your husband could lose his job; your baby could get sick or die. I could have said that nothing is safe, that the surface of the world is pretty and sane, but underneath it’s all fault lines and earthquakes waiting to happen. –Jennifer Weiner, Little Earthquakes

What you were preparing against—that never happened! All the best-laid plans could not prevent the disaster against which no plans had been laid. –George Stewart, Earth Abides

What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens. –Benjamin Disraeli, Henrietta Temple

Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? Nah. The big moments are gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. –Max Perlich, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Terrible things could happen, even to ordinary people like me, and they were always unplanned. –Meera Syal, Anita and Me

And I do worry about the future … because we all suffer in life; we all go through terrible tragedies; we all face things that seem unbearable. –Helena, quoted in Jane Wegscheider Hyman’s Women Living with Self-Injury

But everything went wrong for me and upside down, the nature of things was reborn for me. –Vinsentsos Kornaros, Erotokritos

When any calamity has been suffered, the first thing to be remembered is how much has been escaped. –Samuel Johnson

… and the first time you’re broken, you don’t know
you’ll be healed again, better than before.
–Sharon Olds, “New Mother”

In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on. When you begin to go over the edge, life receding from you as a boat recedes inevitably from shore, you hold on to death tightly, like a rope that will transport you, and you swing out on it, hoping only to land away from where you are. –Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained. –ditto

… horror really can’t be talked about because it’s alive, because it’s mute and goes on growing: memory-wounding pain drips by day drips in sleep. –George Seferis, “Last Stop”

Sometimes imagination reworks or redefines horror by explaining it as necessary and bearable. –Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

Horror is contradicted by reason. –William Palmer, The Good Republic

The small physical comforts of life manage to distance horror. –ditto

In the moment of shock there is little pain; pain began about three a.m. when I began to plan the life I had still somehow to live and to remember memories in order somehow to eliminate them. Happy memories are the worst, and I tried to remember the unhappy. –Graham Greene, The Quiet American

What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols

First of all, traumas, present-life or past-life, CAN end up devitalizing us, depressing us, crushing our self-esteem, making us feel “different,” alienated, unfit, distrustful, unsure, withdrawn, socially “flat” or unconnectable, emotionally exhausted, worn out, fragile, etc., etc., etc. By draining our energy and vitality, and putting up blocks between ourselves and other people, suffocating us inside our own shells, or turning us into porcupines who inadvertently wound others every step we take, these traumas may undermine many of the emotional and social tools we need to successfully participate in the modern economic world. It goes without saying that successfully working through these traumatic issues should, in cases, be able to produce major economic benefits, as part of the overall liberation and blossoming of our lives. –from one of my listservs




For weeks now, he’d felt the hope leaving his body in a slow leak—it was a little like going broke—and now it was gone. He was emotionally bankrupt. –Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

Hope was an impossible emotion to live with, he was finding out, a demanding and abusive companion. Emily Dickinson had called it the thing with feathers, but her hope was small and dainty, a friendly presence perched inside the rib cage. The hope that Dave Bethany knew also had feathers, but it was more of a griffin, with glinting eyes and sharp talons. Claws, he corrected himself. The griffin had the head of an eagle but the body of a lion. Dave Bethany’s version of hope sat on his chest, working its claws in and out, piercing the meaty surface of his heart. –Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know

Hope—not a singing bird or a gushing spring, as poets would have it, but a man with a whip, driving you on. –Kathy Page, The Story of My Face

And yet, hope pursues me; encircles me, bites me; like a dying wolf tightening his grip for the last time. –Federico Garcia Lorca, Doña Rosita

… we need hope as surely as we need food and water, love, and friendship. The trick, however, is to remember that hope is a perilous thing, that it’s not a steel and concrete bridge across the void between this moment and a brighter future. Hope is no stronger than tremulous beads of dew strung on a filament of spider web, and it alone can’t long support the terrible weight of an anguished mind and a tortured heart. –Dean Koontz, Seize the Night

In reasonable measure, hope sustains us. In great excess, it distorts perceptions, dulls the mind, corrupts the heart to no less an extent than does heroin. –ditto

We move from terror and loss to unexpected good fortune and out of darkness hope is born. –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life

Hope in reality is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man. –Friedrich Nietzsche

Funny, how hope raises its lovely head when least expected, a flower in a wasteland. –Dean Koontz, False Memory

This was a period of hope, true, but we harbor the illusion that times of hope are devoid of tensions and conflicts when, in my experience, they are the most dangerous. Hope for some means its loss for others; when the hopeless regain some hope, those in power—the ones who had taken it away—become afraid, more protective of their endangered interests, more repressive. In many ways these times of hope, of greater leniency, were as disquieting as before. –Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Hope is a dangerous thing. –from The Shawshank Redemption

He that lives upon hope will die fasting. –Benjamin Franklin, preface to Poor Richard’s Almanac

If it were not for hope, the heart would break. –Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery. –Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

Hope deceives more than cunning can. –Marquis Vauvenargues, Reflections et maxims

There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope. –Bern Williams

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes, regardless of how it turns out. –Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace

Hope is like the sun, which, as I journey toward it, is bound to give me cancer. –Dan Goodman, Meditations for Miserable People Who Want to Stay that Way


Americans, America, American Cities


America is not my chosen home, not even the place of my birth. Just a spot where it seemed safe to go to escape certain dangers. But safety, I discover, is only temporary. No place guarantees it to anyone forever. I have stayed because there is no other place to go. –Irna Klepfitz, “Bashert”

Americans want everyone to have the same life; it’s a cult of the average. –Chloe Yu, quoted in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Growing up North American wasn’t something I ever thought about until I moved away, but it seems to me that we have a way of rushing through life that’s more frenetic than I’ve ever found anywhere else. Even in Western Europe people have managed, perhaps unconsciously, to maintain at least some kind of ability to remember to enjoy the every day. It’s a welcome lesson for someone whose natural tendency is to speed through where she is lest she not make it somewhere else. Life is about living, not about getting to the end. –Amber Fox, “I’m At Peace with Where I Live, Even Though My Heart’s in the Highlands”

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else. –Winston Churchill (another variation I’ve heard is: The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.)

Americans are possibly the dumbest people on the planet ... We Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don’t know about anything that’s happening outside our country. Our stupidiy is embarrassing. –Michael Moore, quoted in Brian Reade’s “The Awkward Conscience of a Nation,” in the November 3, 2003, issue of The Daily Mirror

... America was huge, it was a giant. It swam through the seas eating up all the littler countries—drinking them up as it went along. We were eating up the world, boy, and that’s why the world rose up and put an end to us. So I’m not contradicting myself. America was great like a whale—it was giant and majestic, but it stank and was a killer. Lots of fish died to make it so big. –Kim Stanley Robinson, Three Californias: The Wild Shore

America is like an exotic hothouse plant. It can only live now in the artificial environment of vaccinations, sterilization, and antibiotics we started creating a hundred or more years ago. –William R. Forstchen, One Second After

... science is an idea to these people but religion is a belief. I learned the hard way. It has taken me a long time to realize, because initially I had assumed this country was civilized. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

They’re Americans now, and Americans don’t hold on to the past. –Glenn Howerton, in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Why, there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical—yes, or more obsequious!—than America. –Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

He was not only 100 per cent American; he exacted 40 per cent of chauvinistic interest on top of the principal. –ditto

[on the election of Barack Obama:] I think it’s fucking amazing that a country as fat and slow and stupid as America did something so smart. –Jamie Hince, in Man About Town, Spring-Summer 2009

And the funny thing is again that I could travel all around the globe but America would never enter my mind; it was even further lost than a lost continent, because with the lost continents I felt some mysterious attachment, whereas with America I felt nothing, nothing at all. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

It’s best to keep America just like that, always in the background, a sort of picture postcard which you look at in a weak moment. Like that, you imagine it’s always there waiting for you, unchanged, unspoiled, a big patriotic open space with cows and sheep and tender-hearted men ready to bugger everything in sight, man, woman, or beast. It doesn’t exist, America. It’s a name you give to an abstract idea … –ditto

America is the very incarnation of doom. She will drag the whole world down to the bottomless pit. –ditto

Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them. –John Updike, A Month of Sundays

I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. –James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

The real death of the United States will come when everyone is just alike. –Ralph Ellison, in an interview in That Same Pain, That Same Pleasure, December 1961

America’s not Disneyland and we can’t deny it any longer. Things smell, things have edges, people can get hurt. –Eric Fischl (this appeared in a 2008 installation of his art at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum)

The new Airbus plane, the A380, is capable of holding 800 passengers. Or 400 Americans. –Jon Stewart, in The Daily Show

Food in the States—the portions are ridiculous. We have a healthy appetite, but bloody hell! –Nick McCarthy

Breakfast is always a good thing in the States. There’s just too much; no wonder they’re so fucking fat! –Nick Atkinson

The food portions in New York make London look like a third world country. –overheard on the London Underground (courtesy of The Man Who Fell Asleep)

It’s always a little bit strange in America. It’s a place filled with so much beauty, but underneath it all there’s always an undercurrent of violence. –Albert Watson, in Dazed and Confused magazine, September 2007

Traveling across the United States, it’s easy to see why Americans are often thought of as stupid. At the San Diego Zoo, right near the primate habitats, there’s a display featuring half a dozen life-size gorillas made out of bronze. Posted nearby is a sign reading CAUTION: GORILLA STATUES MAY BE HOT. Everywhere you turn, the obvious is being stated. CANNON MAY BE LOUD. MOVING WALKWAY IS ABOUT TO END. To people who don’t run around suing one another, such signs suggest a crippling lack of intelligence. Place bronze statues under the southern California sun, and of course they’re going to get hot. Cannons are supposed to be loud, that’s their clame to fame, and—like it or not—the moving sidewalk is bound to end sooner or later. It’s hard trying to explain a country whose motto has become You can’t claim I didn’t warn you. –David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Americans are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

My leery outlook on the United States was precious to me—even if, thanks to you, I had learned to give the country grudging credit for at least being a spirited, improvisational sort of place that, despite its veneer of conformity, cultivated an impressive profusion of outright lunatics. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

People around here can’t just go for a walk, they have to be getting with some kind of program. And you know, this may be at the heart of it, what’s my beef. All those intangibles of life, the really good but really elusive stuff that makes life worth living—Americans seem to believe they can all be obtained by joining a group, or signing up to a subscription, or going on a special diet, or undergoing aromatherapy. It’s not just that Americans think they can buy everything; they think that if you follow the instructions on the label, the product has to work. Then when the product doesn’t work and they’re still unhappy even though the right to happiness in enshrined in the Constitution, they sue the bejesus out of each other. –ditto

Americans are fat, inarticulate, and ignorant. They’re demanding, imperious, and spoiled. They’re self-righteous and superior about their precious democracy, and condescending toward other nationalities because they think they’ve got it right—never mind that half the adult population doesn’t vote. And they’re boastful, too. Believe it or not, in Europe it isn’t considered acceptable to foist on new acquaintances right off the bat that you went to Harvard and you own a big house and what it cost and which celebrities come to dinner. And Americans never pick up, either, that in some places it’s considered crass to share your taste for anal sex with someone at a cocktail party you’ve known for five minutes—since the whole concept of privacy here has fallen by the wayside. That’s because Americans are trusting to a fault, innocent in a way that makes them stupid. Worst of all, they have no idea that the rest of the world can’t stand them. –ditto

One of the things I can’t stand about this country is lack of accountability. Everything Americans do that doesn’t work out too great has to be somebody else’s fault. –ditto

Only a country that feels invulnerable can afford political turmoil as entertainment. –ditto (regarding the 2000 election debacle)

I feel most at home in the United States, not because it is intrinsically a more interesting country, but because no one really belongs there any more than I do. We are all there together in its wholly excellent vacuum. –Sinclair Lewis, America and Cosmic Man

The happy ending is our national belief. –Mary McCarthy, “America the Beautiful: The Humanist in the Bathtub”

All men are lonely. But sometimes it seems to me that we Americans are the loneliest of all. Our hunger for foreign places and new ways has been with us almost like a national disease. Our literature is stamped with a quality of longing and unrest, and our writers have been great wanderers. –Carson McCullers, “Look Homeward, Americans”

There are only two great diseases in the world today—Bolshevism and Americanism; and Americanism is the worse of the two, because Bolshevism only smashes your house or your business or your skull, but Americanism smashes your soul. –DH Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent

There are two Americas—one for the powerful and the privileged and one for everybody else. –John Edwards, in the Baltimore Sun, January 9, 2004

America makes prodigious mistakes,
America has colossal faults, but one thing
cannot be denied: America is always on the
move. She may be going to Hell, of course,
but at least she isn’t standing still.
–ee cummings, “Why I Like America”

She resented her former belief that their lives in America had been secure. Someone had lied to them as shamelessly as a spouse. All over the planet people wanted to kill Americans; here too nutjobs acquired automatic weapons, deadly bacteria and viruses, nuclear material and explosive fertilizer. How could she have brought her kids into this world, a world even more sinister than her marriage? Their future was chilled by a lethal, indelible shadow. –Ken Kalfus, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country

Americans just aren’t curious. This is especially true of young people. We drove sixteen thousand kilometers on American roads, and almost every day we took into the automobile fellow travelers who were waiting for a break on the side of the road. More often than not, they were young men looking for work. They talked about themselves gladly, even with pleasure. And not a single one of them ever asked who we were, where we were going, or what language we were speaking with each other. Don’t think that this was the result of excessive delicacy. Quite the contrary—Americans are even a little rude. They simply weren’t interested. –Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip

The average American, notwithstanding his apparent energetic activity, is actually very passive by nature. You have to give everything to him pre-cooked. Tell him which drink is better, and he’ll drink it. Tell him which political party is more in his interest, and he’ll vote for it. Tell him which God is the “real” one, and he’ll believe in him. But whatever else you do, don’t force him to think. He doesn’t like to and is not very good at it. And so that he’ll believe your words, you have to repeat them as often as possible. All American advertising is built that way, both commercial and political, all of it. –ditto

America is an improbable idea. A mongrel nation built of ever-changing disparate parts, it is held together by a notion, the notion that all men are created equal, though everyone knows that most men consider themselves better than someone. “Of all the nations in the world, the United States was built in nobody’s image,” the historian Daniel Boorstin wrote. That’s because it was built of bits and pieces that seem discordant, like the crazy quilts that have been one of its great folk-art forms, velvet and calico and checks and brocades. Out of many, one. That is the ideal.
     The reality is often quite different, a great national striving consisting frequently of failure. Many of the oft-told stories of the most pluralistic nation on earth are stories not of tolerance, but of bigotry. Slavery and sweatshops, the burning of crosses and the ostracism of the other. Children learn in social-studies class and in the news of the lynching of blacks, the denial of rights to women, the murders of gay men. It is difficult to know how to convince them that this amounts to “crown thy good with brotherhood,” that amid all the failures is something spectacularly successful. –Anna Quindlen, “A Quilt of a Country”

I don’t think my country is a shithole. Indeed, I agree with [Pat] Buchanan that America is the “last best hope of earth,” and, like [William] Bennett, I believe the United States is worth fighting for—these United States—not some 1950s era dream of the United States. The country worth fighting for is the big, messy, complicated, diverse, fascinating place the United States is right now. What makes the United States the envy of the world (besides Hooters and Krispy Kremes, of course) is that this is a nation where full citizenship has nothing to do with race, religion, sex, political persuasion or, yes, personal virtue. Good or bad, religious or irreligious, male or female, left or right, of color or washed out—we’re all Americans.
     This is a country where the culture evolves and remains vibrant because people are free to challenge the existing order. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that each of us is free to go our own way, even if the ways some of us may choose to go seem sinful or shocking to some of our fellow citizens. America is at its best when our freedom to go our own way is restricted only when, as Thomas Jefferson said, “[our] acts are injurious to others.” –Dan Savage, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America

Americans. Have they reached the top of the evolutionary ladder? Doesn’t matter what you’ve done, how big the problem is—it all vanishes into thin air if you can confess it on TV. –Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavík

So much of what Americans live with is an economic landscape—malls, stores, and movie theaters, ski slopes and theme parks—in which one’s relationship to place has to do with boredom, undisciplined need, and envy. The Arctic’s natural austerity is richness enough, its physical clarity a form of voluptuousness. Who needs anything more? –Gretel Ehrlich, “Cold Comfort: Looking for the Sun in Greenland’s Endless Night”

The capacity for American self-delusion, especially when it comes to food, is bottomless. –Steve Almond

In our own time, we are fortunate to have an abundance of truly remarkable poets, although we as Americans seem to be the last on earth to acknowledge this gift. –Sam Hamill, preface to The Erotic Spirit: An Anthology of Poems of Sensuality, Love, and Longing

Shut up, you American! You Americans, all you do is talk, and talk, and say “Let me tell you something” and “I just wanna say.” Well, you’re dead now, so shut up! –the Grim Reaper, in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

When the American people get through with the English language, it will look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy. –Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley at His Best

Of course, America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up. –Oscar Wilde

When you become used to never being alone, you may consider yourself Americanized. –Andre Maurois

Their ... demeanour is invariably morose, sullen, clownish, and repulsive. I should think there is not, on the face of the earth, a people so entirely destitute of humour, vivacity, or the capacity of enjoyment. –Charles Dickens, on Americans

There won’t be any revolution in America ... the people are too clean. They spend all their time changing their shirts and washing themselves. You can’t feel fierce and revolutionary in a bathroom. –Eric Linklater, Juan in America

The 100% American is 99% idiot. –George Bernard Shaw

An asylum for the sane would be empty in America. –ditto

The American male doesn’t mature until he has exhausted all other possibilities. –Wilfred Sheed, Office Politics

I wish that, rather than merely retreating into flag-waving and flag-wearing, Americans would also steel themselves spiritually for sacrifice, heightened self-discipline. –Francine du Plessix Gray, on post 9/11 life

Murder is the American moral equivalent of enlightenment. The ultimate expression of the self. –Richard Kadrey, “Fire Catcher”

Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams. –Mary Ellen Kelly

Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic. –Dan Rather

Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels—men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. –Dwight Eisenhower, in a speech at Columbia University, May 31, 1954

America is a land of creators and rebels. –José Martí

America, I do not invoke your name in vain.
When I hold the sword to my heart,
when I endure the leaks in my soul,
when your new day
penetrates me through the windows,
I’m of and I’m in the light that produces me,
I live in the shade that determines me,
I sleep and rise in your essential dawn,
sweet as grapes and terrible,
conductor of sugar and punishment,
soaked in the sperm of your species,
nursed on the blood of your legacy.
–Pablo Neruda, “America, I Do Not Invoke Your Name in Vain”


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says America is for him a maximum security prison whose walls

Are made of Radio Shacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials;

And as I contemplate how full of shit I think he is,
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds
Of the thick satin quilt of America.

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,
Or whether he is just spin-doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills
Spilling from his wounds, and, this is the funny part,

He gasped, “Thank God—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which is when I knew it was a dream, since my dad
Would never speak in rhymed couplets

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phoney ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
when I should have been listening to the cries of the future”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?
–Tony Hoagland, “America”


The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, a killer. –DH Lawrence, “Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels,” in Studies in Classic American Literature

Of nothing [in the US] are you allowed to get the real odor or savor. Everything is sterilized and wrapped in cellophane. –Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken a stronger hold on the affections of men. –Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

If you can speak three languages you’re trilingual. If you can speak two languages you’re bilingual. If you can speak only one language you’re an American. –(?)

America may be unique in being a country which has leapt from barbarism to decadence without touching civilization. –John O’Hara

America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization. –Georges Clemenceau

[an American:] An Anglo-Saxon relapsed into semi-barbarism. –Bayard Talor

America…just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. –Hunter S. Thompson

America is the greatest of opportunities and the worst of influences. –George Santayana

The discovery of America was the occasion of the greatest outburst of cruelty and reckless greed known in history. –Joseph Conrad

You can be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination. –Charles de Gaulle

We have got to make of this country a great beautiful civilization or we will be the shortest one in history because our scientific advantages have been so exaggerated; they have so far outrun our spiritual interpretations and so far gone ahead of everything that we know or feel within ourselves that we don’t know where we are. –Frank Lloyd Wright

A free America, democratic in the sense that our forefathers intended it to be, means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or else this system of government we call democracy is only an expedient to enslave man to the machine and make him like it. –ditto

Perhaps the most revolting character that the United States ever produced was the Christian businessman. –HL Mencken

Americans want to be loved; the English want to be obeyed. –Quentin Crisp

A fundamental difference between the US and Britain is in Britain, no one will talk unless he has a reason and in America, no one will stop talking unless he has a reason. –Clive James

It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it. –Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced. –Frank Zappa

America’s one of the finest countries anyone ever stole. –Bobcat Goldthwaite

[America:] It’s a fascist, imperialist, racist shithole. –Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia

If you surveyed a hundred typical middle-aged Americans, I bet you’d find that only two of them could tell you their blood types, but every last one of them would know the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.–Dave Barry

What the American public doesn’t know is exactly what makes them the American public. –(?)

[Sir Thomas Burdon] They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris. ...
[Lady Agatha] Really! And where do bad Americans go to when they die? ...
[Lord Henry] They go to America.
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Eternal boyhood is the dream of a depressing percentage of American males, and the locker room is the temple where they worship arrested development. –Russell Baker

Life in late twentieth-century America is just so fucking funny to begin with, so disjointed, so bizarre, so alienating, that there’s nothing left to make fun of. –Cathy Crimmins

Uncle Sam has no conscience. They don’t know what morals are. They don’t try and eliminate an evil because it’s evil, or because it’s immoral; they eliminate it only when it threatens their existence. –Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks

The United States is big and stupid and full of prairies. –Stacey Dash, in Clueless

Garlic had saved her. In a way it had saved me too, confirming my position as an outsider and preventing me from absorbing easily any unquestioning assumptions of national superiority, so prevalent, so grotesque a phenomenon in our country, made up as it was and is, in large part, of transportees, captives, and immigrants. –Paula Fox, The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe

Killing is as American as apple pie. –(?)

If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in hell. –Philip Sheridan

The summertime smell of Florida came to the porch on hot, damp occasional stirrings of the air, a smell of moldy, musty earth, baking pine needles, far-off flowers, and the salty sea—a combination of odors and fragrances which permeated bedding and even clothes, to that a trunkful, packed in Miami and opened months later in some northern region, exuded the nostalgic blend, and the man or woman who had lifted the lid would be transported to that sunlit place where great birds sailed in the sky and the sea was like fire and jungles had their only foothold on American land. –Philip Wylie, The Disappearance

To their grand memory is the bland,
jagged skyline of Scranton,
appropriately. And these mornings.
No shiny monuments could do.
–Thomas Kielty Blomain, “Morning, Years After the Mining”

For all its size and all its wealth and all the “progress” it babbles of, it [the South] is almost as sterile, artistically, intellectually, culturally, as the Sahara Desert. –HL Mencken

You know death was always around Suffolk, always around. It was always so hot, and everyone was so polite, and everything was all surface but underneath it was like a bomb waiting to go off. I always felt that way about the South, that beneath the smiles and southern hospitality and politeness were a lot of guns and liquor and secrets. –Ruth McBride Jordan, in James McBride’s The Color of Water

If a day goes by and I haven’t been slain, I’m happy. –Carol Leifer, on New York

New York: the only city where people make radio requests like “This is for Tina—I’m sorry I stabbed you.” –ditto

[New York:] The city of right angles and tough, damaged people. –Pete Hamill

New York makes even a rich man feel his unimportance. New York is cold, glittering, malign. The buildings dominate. There is a sort of atomic frenzy to the activity going on; the more furious the pace, the more diminished the spirit. A constant ferment, but it might just as well be going on in a test-tube. Nobody knows what it’s all about. Nobody directs the energy. Stupendous. Bizarre. Baffling. A tremendous reactive urge, but absolutely uncoordinated.
         When I think of this city where I was born and raised, this Manhattan that Whitman sang of, a blind, white rage licks my guts. New York! The white prisons, the sidewalks swarming with maggots, the bread lines, the opium joints that are built like palaces…the lepers, the thugs, and above all, the ennui, the monotony of faces, streets, legs, houses, skyscrapers, meals, posters, jobs, crimes, loves…A whole city erected over a hallow pit of nothingness. Meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. And Forty-Second Street! The top of the world, they call it. Where’s the bottom then? You can walk along with your hand out and they’ll put cinders in your cap. Rich or poor, they walk along with head thrown back and they almost break their necks looking up at their beautiful white prisons. They walk along like blind geese and the searchlights spray their empty faces with flecks of ecstasy. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition. –EB White, Here Is New York (NB: Although it sounds like he was discussing 9/11, this was actually written in 1949.)

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation...of all targets, New York has a certain clear pirority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm. –ditto

By then I had come to know New York well, the way you know a city where you’ve had jobs—most of them pretty awful—that keep you more or less fed and out of the weather. No matter what my circumstances were, I always found the city hard to live in. But there were moments of vividness and promise, even of glamour. It is startling to recollect them. –Paula Fox, The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe

Chicago has so much excellent architecture that they feel obliged to tear some of it down now and then and erect terrible buildings just to help us all appreciate the good stuff. –Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Official Washington, unlike New York, does not value artistic insight or style, traits which might allow for a certain creative moodiness. It values power, and for the legions of players who populate its corridor—lawyers, lobbyists, Capitol Hill staffers, and journalists—power is created by the assiduous, daily application of smarts. It has little interest in, or tolerance for, mental frailty. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

There is something wrong with Washington, DC. For all the time I’ve spent there, I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what it is—there are the obvious things, of course, the palpable greed, the thrum of excessive power, the unbelievable racism, the city itself a total political and social shambles. But beyond these there is something wrong with Washington, DC. There is a tight-faced look, a haggard and driven look that people wear as they race down the streets, shoving past one another on the subway, bashing one another in the back of the knees with leather briefcases as they push and jostle their way up escalators, into cabs, in restaurants. I have since wondered if there is something about the city itself that clicks with people like me, fosters the hunger for power and success to such a degree that the people themselves become hollow, sucked dry of simple humanity. But maybe I’m just imagining things. –Marya Hornbacher, Wasted

I…ran from the campus to the Tenleytown Metro station, ducked into the subway, ducked out, raced up the long escalator, excuseme excuseme, elbowing and shouldering my way past a bunch of suits. I was just another woman in a suit and running shoes, and I popped up like a gopher in Dupont Circle. We all went zipping down the streets, our separate and anonymous ways, squinting in the sudden light, past the flower vendors, the fruit vendors, the hot dog and pretzel stands, past the cafes and the shops and the small circular park where men slept on benches with newspapers over their faces, past the men asleep on the grates in the sidewalk where steam rose like a belch from the belly of the city, past the women with signs and tin cups, crouched up against buildings, below eye level. Everyone was gauging the distance between here and there, avoiding eye contact, swinging briefcases in sharp arcs, clutching purses to hips, walking that walk. –ditto

That Indian swamp in the wilderness. –Thomas Jefferson, on Washington, DC

Lots of terrible ideas happen in Washington. –Elanor Clift, on DC

Here is a map of our country:
here is the Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt
This is the haunted river flowing from brow to groin
we dare not taste its water
This is the desert where missiles are planted like corms
This is the breadbasket of foreclosed farms
This is the birthplace of the rockabilly boy
This is the cemetery of the poor
who died for democracy      This is a battlefield
from a nineteenth-century war      the shrine is famous
This is the sea-town of myth and story      when the fishing fleets
went bankrupt      here is where the jobs were      on the pier
processing frozen fishsticks      hourly wages and no shares
These are other battlefields      Centralia      Detroit
here are the forests primeval      the copper      the silver lodes
These are the suburbs of acquiescence      silence rising fumelike
          from the streets
This is the capital of money and dolor whose spires
flare up through air inversions whose bridges are crumbling
whose children are drifting blind alleys pent
between coiled rolls of razor wire
I promised to show you a map you say but this is a mural
then yes let it be      these are small distinctions
where do we see it from is the question
–Adrienne Rich, “An Atlas of the Difficult World”


Other Countries, Nationalities, and their Cities


The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (the narrator was speaking about Dresden, Germany)

... the four of them experienced what it was like to be in purgatory, a long, helpless wait, a wait that begins and ends in neglect, a very Latin American experience, as it happened, and all too familiar, something that once you thought about it you realized you experienced daily, minus the despir, minus the shadow of death sweeping over the neighborhood like a flock of vultures and casting its pall, upsetting all routines, leaving everything overturned. –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Europe has what we [Americans] do not have yet, a sense of the mysterious and inexorable limits of life, a sense, in a word, of tragedy. And we have what they sorely need: a sense of life’s possibilities. –James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

In Europe one gets used to doing nothing. You sit on your ass and whine all day. You get contaminated. You rot. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

I am homesick for a country. I have never been there. I shall never go there. But where the clouds remember me distinctly. –Hilde Domin

Greenland’s … continuously shifting planes of light are like knives thrown in a drawer. They are the layered instruments that carve life out of death into art and back into life. They teach me how to see. –Gretel Ehrlich, “Cold Comfort: Looking for the Sun in Greenland’s Endless Night”

No one can be as calculatedly rude as the British, which amazes Americans, who do not understand studied insult and can only offer abuse as a substitute. –Paul Gallico, in the New York Times, January 14, 1962

London is a city built on the wreckage of itself ... It’s had more comebacks than The Evil Dead. It’s been flattened by storms and flooded out and rotted with plague. Londoners just took a deep breath and put the kettle on. Then the whole thing burned down. Every last stick of it. I remember my mum took me to see the Monument to the Great Fire. London burned WITH INCREDIBLE NOISE AND FURY is what the monument has written on it. People thought it was the end of the world. But the Londoners got up the next day and the world hadn’t ended so they rebuilt the city in three years stronger and taller. Even Hitler couldn’t finish us, though he set the whole East End on fire. Bethnal Green was like hell my grandma said. Just one endless sea of flames. But we got through it. We built on the rubble. We built tower blocks and the NHS and we kept on coming like zombies. –Chris Cleave, Incendiary

... for there is nothing in London that the Thames does not know... –HV Morton, “The Nights of London”

There’s a complete mix of people here so if you see something werid and outgrageous,’s just London. –Mistress Absolute, quoted in Craig Taylor’s Londoners

This is my city and I’m going to tell you why I love it so much and what it’s about. I wouldn’t be able to, but that sort of magic about it may you can only see from the sky. We tend to see people who are living and working here as they get stuck on the Tube, on the buses, on pavements that don’t have enough width, in traffic jams. They get stuck in that sort of detail and forget that actually all they’re doing is moving around inside some sort of mythical philosopher’s stone, which is this wonderful city. It’s a phenomenal place to be. –Nick Tyler, quoted in Craig Taylor’s Londoners

The image of London that you get around the world is far different from the reality. Like, okay: it must be so beautiful and everybody is very mannerly. Right, this is the paradox of London. It’s like Japan, there’s a code of manners, and etiquette, and protocol, and everybody is mannered. But also everybody is violent and everybody is rude and everybody is willing to fucking kill everybody for the smallest thing. I couldn’t work out this contradiction in my head, right, for the longest time. And then I figured it out. I thought, there’s a public face and a private face, right, and the public face is always opposite, it’s the demiurge. And the reason that people are so preoccupied with manners and etiquette in London is because if you do not show the right etiquette it might—possibly—get you killed. And this works on all levels of society. –Rob De Groot, quoted in Craig Taylor’s Londoners

I’m starting to think the people who run this idiot circus [the Tube] actually love it. They love watching people suffer. This is the whole English thing, isn’t it? Make people suffer. How do we conquer the world? By making our infantry in the colonial wars take cold baths for nine years. Everything is to do with suffering. –ditto

By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show. –Samuel Johnson

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. –William Shakespeare, Richard II

England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humors. –George Santayana, “Soliloquies in England”

In London they don’t like you if you’re still alive. –Harvey Fierstein

A family with the wrong members in control—that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase. –George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn

I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transition between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable. –Mark Twain

The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity. –George Bernard Shaw

The chip. The British contribution to world cuisine. –Kevin Kline, in A Fish Called Wanda

The [Birmingham, England] Central Library looks like a place where books are incinerated, not kept. –Prince of Wales

It’s shite being Scottish! We’re the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth. The most wretched, miserable, servile pathetic trash that was ever shat on civilisation. Some people hate the English. I don’t—they’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers. Can’t even find a decent culture to be colonised by. We’re ruled by effete assholes. It’s a shite state of affairs to be in … –Ewan MacGregor, in Trainspotting (it appears in Irvine Welsh’s book Trainspotting as “It’s nae good blamin’ it oan the English fir colonising us. Ah don’t hate the English. They’re just wankers. We can’t even pick a decent vibrant, healthy culture to be colonised by.”)

The great thing about Glasgow now is that if there is a nuclear attack it’d look exactly the same afterwards. –Billy Connolly

Do you use the telephone, do you watch television, do you drive on the road with tyres? There’s four things that have come out of this tiny, wee country. But it is also a country whose people are either capable of great or terrible things. A psychotic nation. –Robert Carlyle, speaking about Scotland in The Times, January 17, 1998

There have been many definitions of hell, but for the English the best definition is that it is a place where the Germans are the police, the Swedish are the comedians, the Italians are the defense force, Frenchmen dig the roads, the Belgians are the pop singers, the Spanish run the railways, the Turks cook the food, the Irish are the waiters, the Greeks run the government, and the common language is Dutch. –David Frost and Antony Jay, To England with Love

Italians always act without thinking, it’s the glory and the downfall of your civilization. A German plans a month in advance what his bowel movements will be at Easter, and the British plan everything in retrospect, so it always looks as though everything occurred as they intended. The French plan everything whilst appearing to be having a party, and the Spanish … well, God knows. –Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible. –Charles Haughey, in the Daily Telegraph, July 14, 1988

The golden chill running down my spine—that’s Petersburg. The pale silver sky, the autumn gold of the spires, the wine-dark ancient water—the weight that pins down the corner of rude Peter’s airy pennant, lest it fly away. Since childhood … yes, that’s just how I’ve imagined Peter—as the heavy darkness of water under the bridge. Golden Petersburg! Yes, gold—not gray, not blue, not black, and not silver—gold! –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

[St. Petersburg:] Always the city had deeply moved those who saw it. To some it was oppressive, mystical, tragic; to others ethereal, magical, miraculous. To Lenin it was a sweated slum, ripe for agitation, intrigue, revolution. To the Romanovs it was the capital of the world, the seat of absolute authority, the mandate anointed by the blessing of the Orthodox faith.

      Always the city evoked superlatives, swaying the beholder by the majesty of its spaces, the richeness of its planes, the interplay of water and stone, of granite piles and slender bridges, lowering skies and the endless cold and snow of winter. It was Russia’s workshop, Russia’s laboratory, the cradle of Russian scholarship and art. Here Mendeleyev discovered the periodic table of the elements. Here Pavlov worked with his dogs onconditioned reflexes. Here Mussorgsky wrote his wild, dark music, Pavlova’s fairy feet won the hearts of the grand dukes and the Imperial Ballet spawned Bakst, Diaghilev, Fokine, and Nijinsky. –Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad

Better the devil in your house than a Russian. –Ukrainian saying

The thoughts Estonians have are often secret ones. They vanish like the tracks of fish in water. They leave behind words, but these no longer mean anything. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity. –Marshall McLuhan

In Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada has at last produced a political leader worthy of assassination. –Irving Layton, The Whole Blood Bird

When have you ever heard anyone say, “Honey, let’s stay in and order Canadian food”? –Kevin Pollack, in Canadian Bacon

Like maple syrup, Canada’s evil oozes over the United States. –the TV announcer, in Canadian Bacon

Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray—all day, every day. –ditto

I do have to fine you. That will be a thousand dollars Canadian, or 10 American dollars if you prefer. –Dan Aykroyd, in Canadian Bacon

Genetic engineering lets us correct God’s horrible, horrible mistakes—like German people. –Mr. Garrison, in South Park

Germany, the diseased world’s bathhouse. –Mark Twain

Everything ponderous, viscous, and solemnly clumsy, all long-winded and boring types of style are developed in profuse variety among Germans. –Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

German is the most extravagantly ugly language. It sounds like someone using a sick-bag on a 747. –William Rushton, Holiday Inn, Ghent

A verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it’s all together. It’s downright inhuman to split it up. But that’s just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between those two limits they just shovel in German. –Mark Twain, “Disappearance of Literature”

Actually, I don’t know anything about the Swiss themselves and I don’t give a shit. What I know about is their educational system, which was designed to destroy human beings and turn them into Swiss citizens. Switzerland is Germany without the random noise. –Luca Turin, quoted in Chandler Burr’s The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses

That is Switzerland for you. People like that destroy human beings. –ditto

Frenchmen are like gunpowder, each by itself smutty and contemptible, but mass them together and they are terrible indeed! –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

To the French lying is simply talking. –Fran Lebowitz

Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis. –Brendan Behan, Richard’s Cork Leg




At a certain level of oppression, truth hardly matters, because the greater the lie, the greater the show of power. –Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. –George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. –Dwight D. Einsenhower, in his farewell radio and television address, January 17, 1961

The great question which, in all ages, has disturbed mankind, and brought on them the greatest part of their mischiefs…has been, not whether be power in the world, nor whence it came, but who should have it. –John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Power is the ability not to have to please. –Elizabeth Janeway

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts … perhaps the fear of a loss of power. –John Steinbeck

Defiance is beautiful. The defiance of power, especially great or overwhelming power, exalts and glorifies the rebel. –(?)

Intellect does not attain its full force until it attacks power. –Madame de Staël, “de la littérature considerée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales”

A friend in power is a friend lost. –Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. –Edmund Burke

You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God: you shall not have both. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

Power is precarious. –Herodotus, Histories

We have, I fear, confused power with greatness. –Stewart Udall, in a 1965 Dartmouth commencement speech

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. –John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, in a letter to Mandell Creighton


Mystery, Magic, Miracles, Wonder, Awe


The most extraordinary thing about it all was how simple it was just to carry on. There were meals to be prepared and eaten; dishes to be washed; clothes to be laundered, ironed, and put on and taken off; beds to be slept in and made and unmade. The prosaic needs of day-to-day living blunted all impact of the miraculous; it demanded that the glorious be relegated. And she knew that even if she were able to convince everyone involved that she had witnessed something remarkable, had undergone a transcendental and miraculous experience, reached and returned from another world, it almost seemed like it would not ever, and could not ever, truly matter. –Graham Joyce, Some Kind of Fairy Tale

The world’s magic sneaks up on you in secret, settles next to you when you have your head turned. –Bill Clegg, Did You Ever Have a Family

Don’t let the magic slip away or you’ll sink into the quicksand of the ordinary. –Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs

Magic is not just what disappears but what reappears when not expected. –the narrator in Pushing Daisies

I believe in mystery, and frankly, I sometimes face this mystery with great fear. In other words, I think that there are many things in the universe that we cannot perceive or penetrate, and that also we experience some of the most beautiful things in life only in a very primitive form. –Albert Einstein, in an interview with Peter A. Bucky

The happy do not believe in miracles. –Johann Wolfang von Göethe, Hermann und Dorothea

Mysteries are not necessarily miracles. –Johann Wolfang von Göethe, Spruche in Prosa

If only human beings could more humbly receive this mystery which the world is filled with, even in its smallest things, could bear it, endure it, more solemnly, feel how terribly heavy it is, instead of taking it lightly. –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, letter #4

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. –Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious. That things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. –Carl Jung

They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it? –Jeannette Winterson

So, when all is said and done, I think Derek Walcott was right: One has to be willing to surrender to a condition of awe, to the astonishment of the soul, to bewilderment, bafflement, humility. Or, as Emerson neatly put it, “Let the bird sing without deciphering the song.” –Dennis Shekerjian

Everything is a miracle. We just have to recognize it. –Federick Fellini

What is magic after all but an inspired and lovely fraudulence? –Frederic Prokosch

You see, one thing is, I can live without doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here … I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me. –Richard Feynman

Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there. –ditto

If one looks at a thing with the intentions of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but thinking of the question that has been raised. One cannot speak about mystery; one must be seized by it. –René Magritte

We can’t enchant the world, which makes its own magic; but we can enchant ourselves by paying deep attention. –Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

Wonder is a bulky emotion. When it fills your heart there isn’t room for anything else. –ditto

As our eyes grow accustomed to sight they armor themselves against wonder. –Leonard Cohen

The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder. –JBS Haldane

One cannot but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity. –Albert Einstein

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

We invite you on a journey through the inner world of the visionary; those who find themselves compelled to reveal the hidden, the secret, the soul. We cannot explain the alchemy of creation; beauty remains a mystery, even to its maker. It is this mystery that beckons us. –spotted somewhere online

When I walk on the street counting my steps, magic keeps silent and reality stalks me. –William Markiewicz, Extracts of Existence

Sometimes I don’t want to see the puppeteers, sometimes I just want to see the magic therein, and sometimes I just want to pry open the atoms and know why they spin. –Glen Sutton

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and sciences. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who no longer pauses to wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead. –Albert Einstein, “The World as I See It”

What juggling illustrates is that life is magical all the time. As we grow older, we push the magic into dark places and accumulate more and more ways of shutting it off. –from the newsletter Fast Company

There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out. –Lou Reed, “Magic and Loss”

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. –Eden Phillpotts, A Shadow Passes

… I have the mysterious feeling of seeing for the first time something I have always known. –Bernardo Bertolucci




One chapter of my life seemed to have ended; perhaps the whole book was closing. … Severe illness wasn’t life-altering, it was life-shattering. It felt less like an epiphany—a piercing burst of light, illuminating What Really Matters—and more like someone had just firebombed the path forward. Now I would have to work around it. –Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time; it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. –ditto

Relying on his own strength and the support of his family and community, Paul faced each stage of his illness with grace—not with bravado or a misguided faith that he would “overcome” or “beat” cancer but with an authenticity that allowed him to grieve the loss of the future he had planned and forge a new one. … Even while terminally ill, Paul was fully alive; despite physical collapse, he remained vigorous, open, full of hope not for an unlikely cure but for days that were full of purpose and meaning. –Lucy Kalanithi, in the epilogue of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy. –ditto

He was losing her incrementally. It might be a few stray brown hairs listless on the pillow, or the crescents of bitten fingernails tossed behind the headboard, or a dark shape dissolving in soap. As a web is no more than holes woven together, they were bonded by what was no longer there. The dishes no longer prepared or eaten, no more than the four- and five-ingredient recipe cards stacked above the stove. The walks no longer walked, the summer woods, the undergrowth unparted by their shins. The arguments no longer argued; no stakes, nothing either wanted or could lose. The love no longer made, desired, imagined, or mourned. The illness had restored to Ula an innocence he was unwilling to pollute, and the warmth of her flesh cocooning his was a shard of their life dislodged from both their memories. –Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

People talked about how “brave” Anne was. A few said they thought if anyone could “beat” cancer, it would have been Anne. I understand they are saying she was formidable in their minds. But I’m frustrated by the idea that cancer is something an individual can “beat” if she is “strong” enough. Because the greatest medical minds on our planet do not know what causes that first cell to mutate. And the minute that happens, all bets are off.
      And what about those who “lose?”
      There’s nothing “valiant” or “courageous” about dying from a terrible disease. The healthy want to pretty it up so they can ignore the notion that cancer can strike at any time, no one knows why, and no one knows how to fix it.
      Let me go over a few facts.
      1. Cancer is a disease. It is actually a wide variety of diseases, which begin when a cell mutates and spreads. Treatment may or may not work.
      2. One’s survival rates are not predicated on personal stamina. Yet cancer patients are supposed to be “brave” and “upbeat,” and people commend the dead for being so positive through the long, painful ordeal of suffering and dying. Anyone who’s spent any time in a cancer ward will not tell you that it’s “inspirational.” I felt like I was in a slaughterhouse or an old folks’ home or an animal shelter or any place where we hide terrible things away behind walls.
      3. The “brave individual fighting heroically” plotline distracts us from a larger truth. A few days before Anne died, a man in my neighborhood died of cancer, leaving four children behind. I heard someone wondering if something in our area was giving everybody cancer. Perhaps—I haven’t had the soil, air and water tested—but I doubt we’re living in a mini-Chernobyl. Or maybe we are and it’s just called America. I said, “Who knows? There’s really nothing you can do about it. Either you’ll get cancer, or you won’t.” I thought, “And you probably already do have it, but only time will tell if it ever reveals itself.”
      Cancer is an epidemic and no one knows why it starts or how to stop it. Seeing each case as odd (“he was so young,” “she had no family history,” “he ran marathons,” “she only ate organic food,” “how could a child get it?” and so forth) only blinds us to what is happening all around us. How many people do you know who have or have had cancer? No one has ever said “Wow, Etheldra really fought the plague so bravely” or “Bob didn’t let Ebola get him down for a second!” Why must we be cheerful or stalwart in the face of this? –Mary Valle, “Between Facebook Grief and Gratitude,” in the June 28, 2011, issue of Obit magazine

Out there is a bright April morning. The world will roll on without me. I have no choice. I’m full of cancer. Riddled with it. And there’s nothing to be done. –Jenny Downham, Before I Die

In the middle of the night I was sleeping sitting up, when a doctor came to tell me, “Enough is enough.” He brought me out into the hall (I could have sworn it was haunted), and told me something that I didn’t know that I wanted to hear: That there was nothing that I could do to save you, the choir’s gonna sing, and this thing is gonna kill you. Something in my throat made my next words shake, and something in the wires made the light bulbs break. There was glass inside my feet and raining down from the ceiling; it opened up the scars that had just finished healing. It tore apart the canyon running down your femur (I thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer). And as it opened I could hear you howling from your room, but I hid out in the hall until the hurricane blew. –The Antlers, “Two”

You know what I’m
like when I’m sick: I’d sooner
curse than cry. And people don’t often
know what they’re saying in the end.
Or I could die in my sleep.

So I’ll say it now. Here it is.
Don’t pay any attention
if I don’t get it right
when it’s for real. Blame that
on terror and pain
or the stuff they’re shooting
into my veins. This is what I wanted to
sign off with. Bend
closer, listen, I love you.
–Alden Nowland, “This is What I Wanted to Sign Off with”

The world of the terminally ill is the world of neither the living nor the dead. I have watched others since I watched my father, and always with a sense of their strangeness. They sit and speak, and are spoken to, and listen, and even smile, but in spirit they have already moved away from us and there is no way we can enter their shadowy no-man’s-land. –PD James, The Children of Men

It is in sickness that we are compelled to recognize that we do not live alone but are chained to a being from a different realm, from whom we are worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. ... To ask pity of our body is like discoursing in front of an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live. –Marcel Proust, Le Côté de Guermantes

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. –Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

We are not ourselves when we are sick. We function at the most basic level, are ugly, miserable, and all our ordinary charms that seem to come so naturally to us fall away, and more than anything else we resemble either ourselves as children, crying for a drink of water, or our parents on their deathbeds, mumbling a prayer. Too weary to keep up the brittle artifice of our self, we shed it, like the locust, and become, in public, the sad and inconsolable adult that we so often are in private, which is to say: our true self. –Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli

When someone you love is sick, you can’t pretend not to have a broken heart. –Ozzy Osbourne


Work out. Ten laps.
Chin ups. Look good.

Steam room. Dress warm.
Call home. Fresh air.

Eat right. Rest well.
Sweetheart. Safe sex.

Sore throat. Long flu.
Hard nodes. Beware.

Test blood. Count cells.
Reds thin. Whites low.

Dress warm. Eat well.
Short breath. Fatigue.

Night sweats. Dry cough.
Loose stools. Weight loss.

Get mad. Fight back.
Call home. Rest well.

Don’t cry. Take charge.
No sex. Eat right.

Call home. Talk slow.
Chin up. No air.

Arms wide. Nodes hard.
Cough dry. Hold on.

Mouth wide. Drink this.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. Breathe in.
Breathe in. No air.

Black out. White rooms.
Head hot. Feet cold.

No work. Eat right.
CAT scan. Chin up.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. No air.

Thin blood. Sore lungs.
Mouth dry. Mind gone.

Six months? Three weeks?
Can’t eat. No air.

Today? Tonight?
It waits. For me.

Sweet heart. Don’t stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
–Melvin Dixon, “Heartbeats”


Defects, disorders, diseases … can play a paradoxical role, by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life, that might never be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence. …Thus while one may be horrified by the ravages of developmental disorder or disease, one may sometimes see them as creative too—for if they destroy particular paths, particular ways of doing things, they may force on it an unexpected growth and evolution. –Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars

Sickness implies a contraction of life, but such contractions do not have to occur. Nearly all of my patients, so it seems to me, whatever their problems, reach out to life—and not only despite their conditions, but often because of them, and even with their aid. –ditto

Illness tells us what we are. –Italian proverb

The greatest evil is physical pain. –St. Augustine, Soliloquies

Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease. –Hippocrates, Aphorisms

Illness is not something a person has. It’s another way of being. –Jonathan Miller, The Body in Question




It was dark and you only wanted sleep. So your day began with this tiny act of violence against a tired body. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “My Life as an Artist”

morning dew
the muddy melon stained
with coolness
–Basho, The Complete Haiku

But in the morning, lying in bed when the alarm goes off, I have no ambitions, no desires, no real reason to live. I am filled with hate and loathing, and the only thing I want is to sleep forever. –Julie Rottenberg, “Good in Bed”

One of the lyrical consolations of insomnia is that the sufferer becomes acquainted with the special luminous emptiness of 4 a.m., these spectral stirrings when, just before dawn, the spirits seem to be abroad and are moving slowly toward you for reassurance. –Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love

People who get up early in the morning cause war, death, and famine. –Banksy, Wall and Piece

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected. –Swedish proverb

Waking up never gets easier. It’s like you’ve been buried for four hundred years and have to claw your way through six feet of mud. Every day. –Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavík

There are mornings when it feels as if you rise up to the surface through a mud bath. With your feet stuck in a block of cement. When you know that you’ve expired in the night and have nothing to be happy about except the fact that at least you’ve already died so they can’t transplant your lifeless organs.
      Six out of seven mornings are like that. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

To tell you the truth, I hate being wakened so early—it makes my flesh crawl. –Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Bell

People don’t usually gather together rejoicing about the subject, but everyone privately agrees that a hearty and effortless bowel movement is one of the morning’s significant satisfactions. –Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures

In the morning light, all is possible; even becoming a god. –Sylvia Plath, journal, September 16, 1959

Early morning cheerfulness can be extremely obnoxious. –William Feather

The average, healthy, well-adjusted adult gets up at seven-thirty in the morning feeling just plain terrible. –Jean Kerr, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

Getting out of bed in the morning is an act of false confidence. –Jules Feiffer

What is it about morning that makes some people pop out of bed like a piece of toast and others drag around like they’ve been run over by an eighteen-wheeler? –Linda Katherine Cutting, Memory Slips

It was such a lovely day I thought it a pity to get up. –W. Somerset Maugham, Our Betters

The morning is wiser than the evening. –Russian proverb

I used to wake up at 4am and start sneezing, sometimes for five hours. I tried to find out what sort of allergy I had but finally came to the conclusion that it must be an allergy to consciousness. –James Thurber, in the March 1960 issue of Life

My sister spent the night recently and she had the audacity to take a shower in my bathroom. I’m not good in the morning—nothing positive has ever happened to me before noon. So when I woke up and I went to the bathroom and saw that she was there, I wanted to cut her heart out. –Margo Kaufman


Sleep, Dreaming (daydreams, night dreams, goal dreams)


Sleep doesn’t knit the raveled sleeve of care, no matter what Macbeth said (or hoped). He was wrong that time as he was so often. Sleep is just time out. You can do all the knitting you like in dreams, but when you call time in it unravels in an instant and you’re back where you started. No sleep or dream was going to knit back the last day for me; it was unraveled for good. –Kim Stanley Robinson, Three Californias: The Wild Shore

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. Edgar Allan Poe, “Eleanora”

Dreams are necessary to life. –Anaïs Nin, in a letter to her mother, June 1936

Deserve your dream. –Octavio Paz

Reality can destroy the dream; why shouldn’t the dream destroy the reality? –George Moore

We dream in order to forget. –Francis Crick

I do not ask of God that he should change anything in events themselves, but that he should change me in regard to things, so that I might have the power to create my own universe, to govern my dreams, instead of enduring them. –Gérard de Nerval

All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams. –Elias Canetti

Only the dreamer can change the dream. –John Logan

Not to dream boldly may turn out to be simply irresponsible. –George Leonard

We have to sleep with open eyes; we must dream with our hands. –Octavio Paz

While we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another one. –Jorge Luis Borges (note: this has also been attributed to Salvador Dali)

I will dive quietly into your sleeping and kiss your eyelids from within. –Rainer Maria Rilke

You can be betrayed in your sleep. The whole world can tilt while you’re dreaming of butterflies. –Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen

But I’m always dreaming, even when I’m awake; it is never finished. –Amalthea, in The Last Unicorn

The beginning of health is sleep. –Irish proverb

I love sleep because it is both pleasant and safe to use. Pleasant because one is in the best possible company and safe because sleep is the consummate protection against the unseemliness that is the invariable consequence of being awake. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Sleep is death without the responsibility. –Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life

The most painful thing in life is to wake up from a dream and find no way out. Dreamers are fortunate people. If no way out can be seen, the important thing is not to awaken the sleepers. –Lu Xun, “What Happens after Nora Leaves Home?”

Early to rise, early to bed, makes a male healthy, wealthy, and dead. –James Thurber, “The Shrike and the Chipmunks”

I had not slept more than five hours a night in over four years. I was a woman who used to sleep ten, eleven hours a night. Sleep was so sweet to me I could taste it. I could taste a good nap like a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich on fresh French bread. It was not only the rest I missed. I missed my dreams, God, I missed my dreams. Even the dark ones. –Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap. –Carrie Snow

Consciousness: that annoying time between naps. –(?)

Nothing cures insomnia like the realization that it’s time to get up. –(?)

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. –E. Joseph Cossman

Sleeplessness is a desert without vegetation or inhabitants. –Jessamyn West

How many of our daydreams would darken into nightmares if there seemed any danger of their coming true! –Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts

Dreaming men are haunted men. –Stephen Vincent Benét, “John Brown’s Body”

Dreams defy symbolic systems. They do, however, love to dance. –Mary Sojourner, Dreamweaving

The dream that haunts you, the blue-black clouds, the huge, faceless thing that chases you down alleys to a cliff and no way out but leaping…feel yourself on the other side of the clouds, in rose-gold light, feel yourself turn and face the faceless thing and watch it change, feel yourself step off the cliff… –ditto

Imagine this, my kin, that dreams are only pathways through time and trails through possibility. –ditto

[she] struggled up from dreamless sleep. It was a surfacing from bad water with a body that had forgotten how to swim and a spirit that would have settled for drowning. –ditto

In our dreams, we see ourselves solely through our own eyes. Sometimes without a lens between self and seer, sometimes as though through a crystal or kaleidoscope. –ditto

In your dreams, you may come to this place of no-place. When you do, you will be ready to rest there, you will be ready to hear what the dark, the cold, the silence have to teach you. –ditto

I placed my dream in a boat
and the boat into the sea;
then I ripped the sea with my hands
so that my dream would sink.
–Cecilia Meireles, “Song”

You cannot harm me,
you cannot harm
one who has dreamed a
dream like mine.
–Ojibwa poem fragment

When we no longer dream, we die. –Emma Goldman

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. –Emily Brontë

You sleep
to keep our scars from aching
too painful to awake
and try the dreams of fighting
while facing the fear of dying.
–Mary Ruane

I have learned at least this by my experiments: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I was going away to England out of the warm secure circle to prove something. There would be the going away and the coming back, and whatever would greet me on returning, I would take stoically … I was escaping, going away; from what? I had a semisecret aim, and I would extend the cycle of sterility and creation. Gathering forces into a tight tense ball for the artistic leap. Into what? The Atlantic? A novel? Dreams, private dreams. –Sylvia Plath, journal, September 20, 1952


Appearing One Way, Acting Another


[note: there are similar sentiments in my conformity quotes section and my non-conformity and self quotes section.]

Now it’s like this: you look at yourself in the mirror and watch your reflection take off a mask. You look hard at all the wrongness in this new face, you look hard at the ways that wrongness has shaped it, and you have to decide if this new face is something you can live with.
      If you decide no, you dissolve into yourself. It you decide yes, a small thing inside you is set free.
–Laura Van Den Berg, Find Me

Thus began the awkward split—one that most of us suffer—between socially acceptable façade and interior strangeness. The exterior is a useful mask, necessary for survival and success. Those lacking such an appearance are misanthropes, losers, or lunatics. But we understand, those times we are honest, late on an insomniac night, the limits of the veil. –Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. –Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

A cultivated style would be like a mask. Everybody knows it’s a mask, and sooner or later you must show yourself—or at least, you show yourself as someone who could not afford to show himself, and so created something to hide behind. –Katherine Anne Porter, in George Plimpton’s Writers at Work

People hide their truest natures. I understood that; I even applauded it. What sort of world would it be if people bled all over the sidewalks, if they wept under trees, smacked whomever they despised, kissed strangers, revealed themselves? Keep a cloak, that was fine, the thing to do; present a disguise, the outside you, the one you want people to believe. –Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen

There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask. –Colette

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. –André Berthiaume, Contretemps

Make a mask larger than your face.
Polish the mask every day.
In the morning, wash the mask instead of your face.
When somebody wants to kiss you,
let the person kiss the mask instead.
–Yoko Ono, “Mask Piece I”

I’m living but I’m feeling numb. Can see it in my stare. I wear a mask so falsely numb and I don’t know who I am. –This Mortal Coil, “Tarantula”

You be careful. People in masks cannot be trusted. –Andre the Giant, in The Princess Bride

This was always interesting: the moment when the surface first peeled away and what was underneath—desire, perversion, whatever it might be—moved into the light. The truth. I wanted to see it. Everyone was a liar, blah-blahing their way through life, pretending to be good and constant, to have and to hold and all that. Everyone was a politician, wearing a pious face until the last possible moment when the press unearthed a taste for child amputees or a beheaded mistress chained to a radiator. –Jennifer Egan, Look at Me

Masks are the order of the day—and the least I can do is cultivate the illusion that I am gay, serene, not hollow and afraid. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 3, 1952

God, it was good to let go, let the tight mask fall off, and the bewildered, chaotic fragments pour out. It was the purge, the catharsis... –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 14, 1952

One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead. –Oscar Wilde, L’Envoi to Rose-leaf and Apple-leaf

Everybody’s an act. Including you. –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life

I understand, all right. The hopeless dream of being—not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace. Suicide? No, too vulgar. But you can refuse to move, refuse to talk, so that you don’t have to lie. You can shut yourself in. Then you needn’t play any parts or make wrong gestures. Or so you thought. But reality is diabolical. Your hiding place isn’t watertight. Life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react. No one asks if it is true or false, if you’re genuine or just a sham. Such things matter only in the theatre, and hardly there either. I understand why you don’t speak, why you don’t move, why you’ve created a part for yourself out of apathy. I understand. I admire. You should go on with this part until it is played out, until it loses interest for you. Then you can leave it, just as you’ve left your other parts one by one. –Margaretha Krook, in “Persona”

We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves. –François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld

Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep. –Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. –Homer

Men should be what they seem. –William Shakespeare, Othello

Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you? –Fanny Brice

No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there. –Eric Hoffer, Passionate State of Mind


History/The Past


The past is filthy It’s like a sewer. You shouldn’t play there. Leave it alone. Forget it. –Marina Lewycka, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

All these fools with their “Memories fade,” their “Time heals,” “It was all a long time ago.” The past was yesterday. An hour ago. It will be there tomorrow. It surrounds us. Do you understand? ... It is not an old film. An old black-and-white film. It is here. –William Palmer, The Good Republic

Sometimes history is determined by chance. –Volker Hartmann, quoted in Norman Ohler’s Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich

History did not welcome us with fanfares.
It threw filthy dust into our eyes.
Before us only dead-end roads,
poisoned wells, bitter bread.
–Zbigniew Herbert, “Once We Knew the World Well”

I clicked the set on: the conflagration in the sky, now strangely comforting, like a wound you can’t imagine not having. More than that, the footage at this point was, as shocking as this might sound, gruesomely beautiful: swelling ebony smoke against the blue horizon. And the film inspired this staggering thought: “Here is one of those rare ruptures from which history will not recover, and I am alive at its occurrence.” I felt exhilarated, inappropriately, and I was ashamed. –Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away (he was talking about watching the news on 9/11)

History licked the corners of its bloody mouth. –Charles Simic, “Paradise Motel”

History is a cookbook. The tyrants are chefs. The philosophers write menus. The priests are waiters. The military men are bouncers. The singing you hear is the poets washing dishes in the kitchen. –Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth

... history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness. Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood? –Carl Jung, Collected Works

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. –HG Wells, The Outline of History

History is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes. –Voltaire, L’Ingénu

History can be well-written only in a free country. –ditto

Maybe it’s true that the people who live through the times that become history’s pivotal points are those least likely to understand them. I wonder if Abraham Lincoln himself could have answered the inevitable test questions about the causes of the Civil War. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

... in history that’s what we talked about. How people throughout history have looked at the moon and comets and eclipses. Actually, that was kind of interesting. I never really thought about how when I look at the moon it’s the same moon Shakespeare and Marie Antoinette and George Washington and Cleopatra looked at. Not to mention all those zillions of people I’ve never heard of. All those Homo sapiens and Neanderthals looked at the very same moon as me. It waxed and waned in their sky, too. –Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life as We Knew It

History is more or less bunk. –Henry Ford, in the Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916

History is a bath of blood. –William James, Memories and Studies

History makes me sick. The silent witnesses of the past have hurt me. For instance, I have sometimes thought that the museum at Oswiecim [Auschwitz] should be razed to the ground, and in doing so, preventing it from serving as a prototype instead of a warning. Where do I come from, don’t ask, all that was yesterday. Today the sun is shining, shining only on us. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again. –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind. –WH Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

History ... is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. –Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

People and governments have never learned anything from history. – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, introduction to Philosophy of History

A man’s past is not simply a dead history ... it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame. –George Eliot

History is the autobiography of a madman. –Alexander Herzen, Dr. Krupov

History ... is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. –James Joyce, Ulysses

... the past is a bucket of ashes. –Carl Sandburg, “Prairie”

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. –HG Wells, The Outline of History

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. –Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Adams


Education, Knowledge, High School, College


Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the identical traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside the school setting. –Alexandra Robbins, quoted in Annie Murphy Paul’s “Life After High School,” in the June 20, 2011, issue of Time

I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English and/or creative writing degree you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. And then smile very serenely until they say oh. –Dear Sugar, July 1, 2011

The question of what we’re going to “do” with a degree can be a ridiculous one. It’s like asking, “What are you going to do with that heart-to-heart talk you had with your sister?” or “What are you going to do with that time you spent paddling in a creek?” Academic learning (and other forms too) is about so much more than just job preparation. And the question of what we’ll devote our attention and energy toward is something many people will revisit many times over the years. Changing directions or taking on new adventures is part of what makes life interesting and fun. –Gretchen, in the comments section of the July 1, 2011, Dear Sugar column

My stock also plummeted in middle school, a decline so brutal and bewildering that recovery felt impossible. I made it to the other side, scathed but not shattered. For the most part, I like who I’ve become, and can see how this long ago rejection helped shape me in not-bad ways. I also know that this sort of fable affords but minimal comfort to those still stuck in that lonely pit where one fights to give the impression that deliberate barbs do not sting and lunching alone is no big deal. –Ayun Halliday, “Mean Girls: Making It through the Misfortunes of Middle School”

Eighth grade girls are like wet cement, and the people who touch them leave smeared handprints, carved initials, crudely crooked scars. –Erin Gloria Ryan, “On Resisting the Urge to Cyberbully My Middle School Tormenter”

Is there any group of people on the planet more eagle-eyed than 8th graders? I think not. Eighth graders are the people we should’ve sent out to locate Osama Bin Laden. They see everything. They forgive nothing. –Dear Sugar, October 14, 2010

Your life is bigger than whatever goes on in 8th grade science class. Remember that. –ditto

Eighth grade is a universally difficult year. You don’t yet know how perfect you are and also how imperfect. You’re trying to survive in a social order that’s predicated on conformity and scarcity when the life you’re leading is original and abundant. How can you be yourself when you don’t yet entirely know who it is you are? I don’t exactly know. Or rather, I know, but there isn’t anything I can say that will make the bright anxiety and dark confusion of this time disappear. There are important things you’re learning right now that you can only learn by living them. –ditto

The bullies seem like the powerful people and the successful people. And the secret of the real world is: they’re at the peak of their power at 15 and 16 and there will come a time when the bullies are not successful and the people they bullied are. And you just have to out-survive them. –from a video made by Apple employees for the Trevor Project

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and bies; school was the unhappiest time of my life, and the worst trick it played on me was to pretend that it was the world in miniature. For it hindered me from discovering how lovely and delightful the world can be, and how much of it is intelligible. From this platform of middle age, this throne of experience, this altar of wisdom, this scaffold of character, this beacon of hope, this threshold of decay, my last words to you are: “there’s a better time coming.”–EM Forster, quoted in Wendy Moffat’s A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of EM Forster

One thing I realized ... early on was that life doesn’t stop being painful when you leave high school—the pain changes. –Joss Whedon in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Television with a Bite” DVD featurette

Learning is not merely sitting down and cramming the mind with facts to please the teacher, the parent or whomever made up the test. Learning is everything and everywhere. Even, yes parents, at times, in front of the hated television set. Children learn when they see a leaf falling from a tree.
Every step toward one thing is a step away from something else. When you condition the mind in certain ways, and tell the cognitive brain of an alert child, “this is what is important!”, those who can, or who don’t have the energy or personality to resist, naturally move in that direction. –Doug Terry, in an online comment re: David Brooks’s article “Amy Chua Is a Wimp,” The New York Times, January 17, 2011

We sweep through fields of knowledge and later all we can see is the dirt that clings to the hems of our clothes. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

… ideas that vibrate with life, with beauty and with truth, could change into weapons when they became knowledge. Ideas may be sun on the water, but then as knowledge they turn fierce, as bright or brighter than a thousand suns. –ditto

Love of knowledge is still and always sacred, no matter what damage it inflicts. –ditto

Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it. –Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Knowledge is not the main thing, but deeds. –Sierra Leonean proverb

Nobody tells all he knows. –Senegalese proverb

What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch out of a free, meandering brook. –Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 1850

The best thing for being sad … is to learn something. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. –TH White

I felt like a trapped animal, as I had so many times in this emotional gulag we called gym class. –Paul Feig, Kick Me

Instead of Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve we got a cavalcade of misfits as pimply and badly dressed as we were. Europe was clearly exporting its least attractive adolescents to my high school. I began to suspect that they were not being exchanged but exiled, for not being pretty enough to live in their native countries. They were being sent to America to mate with more appropriate partners, like the poor souls with cystic acne and self-inflicted haircuts who made up so much of our student body. –Jennifer Traig, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood

My parents keep asking how school was. It’s like saying, “How was that drive-by shooting?” You don’t care how it was; you’re lucky to get out alive. –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life

[The] cafeteria is the embarrassment capital of the world. It’s like a prison movie. –ditto

... this whole thing with yearbook—it’s like, everybody’s in this big hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened. Because if you made a book of what really happened, it’d be a really upsetting book. –ditto

It would be one thing to be a loser if it meant no one paid attention to you, but in school, it means you’re actively sought out. You’re the slug, and they’re holding all the salt. And they haven’t developed a conscience. –Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Every judgment teeters on the brink of error. To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous. Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. –Frank Herbert, Dune

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

I respect faith, but doubt is what get you an education. –Wilson Mizner, quoted in Edward Dean Sullivan’s The Fabulous Wilson Mizner

Our American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead. –Sinclair Lewis, in a Nobel Prize address, December 12, 1930

High school is a sick world. –Neil Patrick Harris, in Doogie Howser, MD

If they’re not worth hanging out with, why are they worth killing? You wouldn’t help them in a time of need, but you’d go to jail or commit suicide to show them exactly how worthless you think they are? You don’t want them as friends, but you’ll accept them as victims? Why would you want any connection to them? –The Misanthropic Bitch, on the Columbine shootings

Black trench coats? Marilyn Manson? Nazi propaganda? Writing in all caps on a Web page? Using the personal quote: “It’s fun being schizophrenic?” Copying KMFDM lyrics? How obtuse can one be? Even in death, those kids were clichés. All black clothing. Pisspoor planning. Done-to-death one-liners. When the fuck is someone going to shoot up his school wearing a bunny costume and singing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”? –ditto

[On school shooters]: I did feel a concentrated dislike for those boys, who couldn’t submit to the odd faithless girlfriend, needling classmate, or dose of working-single-parent distraction—who couldn’t serve their miserable time in their miserable public schools the way the rest of us did—without carving their dime-a-dozen problems ineluctably into the lives of other families. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

What other people found relatively easy, even sometimes hard to avoid—namely, finding a mate during one’s college years—was not going to be easy for me. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

I remember the staff at our public school. You know, we had a saying, uh, that those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym. And, uh, those who couldn’t do anything, I think, were assigned to our school. –Woody Allen, in Annie Hall

Education is the process of driving a set of prejudices down your throat. –Martin H. Fischer

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. –Mark Twain

It is knowledge that ultimately gives salvation. –Mohandas K. Gandhi

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse. –Wolof (West African) proverb

Learning without thought is useless. Thought without learning is dangerous. –Confucious

The highest result of education is tolerance. –Helen Keller, Optimism

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. –Aristotle

Only the educated are free. –Epictetus, Discourses

Education is freedom. –André Gide, Journal

A little learning is a dangerous thing. –Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

What about home-schooling? It’s not just for scary religious people anymore. –Sarah Michelle Gellar, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Kristine Sutherland: You belong in a good old fashioned college with keg parties and boys. Not here with Hellmouths and vampires.
Sarah Michelle Gellar: Not really seeing the distinction.
–in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

And they say that young people don’t learn anything in high school nowadays, but I’ve learned to be afraid. –Nicholas Brendon, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A lot of educators tell students, “Think of your principal as your pal.” I say, “Think of me as your judge, jury, and executioner.” –Armin Shimerman, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I’m over-educated in the things I shouldn’t have known at all. –Noel Coward

School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. –HL Mencken

A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that “individuality” is the key to success. –Robert Orben

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. –Oscar Wilde, Intentions

Education…has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. –GM Trevelyan, English Social History

It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school. –Matthew Broderick, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off


Childhood, Youth, Adolescence, Adulthood, Aging


A perfume like an acid plum
sword on a road,
sugary kisses on the teeth,
vital drops trickling down the fingers,
sweet erotic pulp,
threshing floors, haystacks, inciting
secret hideaways in spacious houses,
mattresses asleep in the past, the pungent green valley
seen from above, from the hidden window:
all adolescence becoming wet and burning
like a lantern tipped in the rain.
–Pablo Neruda, “Youth”

... the years between childhood and adulthood are gusty years, and those living through them spin like the weathercocks some farmers in the Midwest used to put atop their grain silos. –Stephen King, “1922”

And growing up, if done right, is a series of epiphanies and narrow escapes. –Loren Rhoads, “Morbid Curiosity Changed My Life”

Childhood is a disease—a sickness that you grow out of. –William Golding, quoted in Guardian, June 22, 1990

I’ve never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It’s probably because they have forgotten their own. –Margaret Atwood, “Hair Jewelry”

Especially in childhood is it hard for us to say what has really made an impression on us—we will find this out much later. In childhood, all is shameful, mute, disguised, and too scary. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

Childhood is stupid. A fuckup you just happen to fall into that takes decades to recover from. –Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavík

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Most of the minutes of my years as a child, I felt nothing except an emptiness. It was as though I were a void in the shape of a boy. I was acutely aware of physical distances between my skin and muscle and between muscle and bone. –Mort Castle, “And of Gideon”

When we are young we are a jungle of complications. We simplify as we get older. –Graham Greene, The Quiet American

A happy childhood is poor preparation for human contacts. –Colette

Childhood is the kingdom where no one dies. –Edna St. Vincent Millay, title of a poem in Wine from these Grapes

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. –Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Youth is like spring, an overpraised season. –Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

Youth is a period of missed opportunities. –Cyril Connolly

Youth, even in its sorrows, has a brilliance of its own. –Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

The world’s a different place when you’re ten. We forget that. We forget what it’s like to believe in magic coin boxes, and Uncle Ned’s stories about buried treasure and the boogeyman. Anything can happen when you’re ten. Anything. –David B. Silva, “Out of the Dark”

Most people will tell you growing up means you stop believing in Halloween things—I’m telling you the reverse. You start to grow up when you understand that the stuff that scares you is part of the air you breathe. –Peter Straub, “Porkpie Hat”

Adolescence was like a big scab, or scar tissue, a gradual covering of a soul too soft and open to be exposed to the elements. –Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know

There was nothing more vicious than a teenage girl. Maybe it was because boys were more capable of settling an argument with their fists, but girls at this age were much more conniving and torturous than anyone wanted to believe. –Karin Slaughter, Kisscut

So much of adolescence is an ill-defined dying,
an intolerable waiting,
a longing for another place and time,
another condition.
–Theodore Roethke, “I’m Here”

Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. –Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Adolescence, real adolescence, is laced with boredom, failure, and humiliation; it’s an incomplete state. –Stacey D’Erasmo

You don’t have to suffer to be a poet; adolescence is enough. –John Ciardi, in The Saturday Review, Fall 1962

When you’re that age, you want things to come out right. And they never do. –John Hughes, on getting flack for giving his teen movies happy endings

When you’re a teenager, you feel like a monster, very unique and very uncomfortable and very out of tune with the world. What nobody tells you is that everybody else feels the exact same way. So you start looking for ways to make people happy, to shave off your rough edges and mold yourself to an acceptable way of thinking: to balance the part of you that is a monster with the compromises you are willing to make. –Jacob, reviewing an episode of American Idol on

My teen angst bullshit has a body count. –Winona Ryder, in Heathers

I say we just grow up, be adults, and die. –ditto

Why don’t you tell everyone I said to go fuck themselves for making my teen years a living hell? –Janeane Garofalo, in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

As a general policy I don’t take guidance from anyone who wears any kind of orthodontic device; it smacks of adolescence. –Lauren Slater, “Noontime”

It’s easier to find sympathy for a child, isn’t it? Teenagers are harder to pity. I hate the little shits myself, can’t stand them, with their hormonal poisoning, their know-it-all struts giving them a blind man’s road map, their clumsy bullheaded charge through the china-shop rooms of a heart. Underneath that oily, acne-treatment veneer lurks their desperate need, their whining, oozing, helpless sniveling: Tell me who I am, love me love me do, like the chorus to a bad song playing over and over until, singing it helplessly, you’d shoot yourself in the head just to get it out of your mind. True, some of them are slick, strutting their newest fashions and newer slang, but it’s an oil slick, a sebum-clogged skin-deep slick, and if you’re lucky, they put on a good act because worst of all is the kid whose case is so bad, whose oil so black and sludgy, that you take one look and get sucked into the tar pit of their desperation. These belly-slithering outcasts—they’re the worst, and if you see one, don’t walk. Run. Run as fast as you can, because they’ll get you. They are not harmless. They’ll lie; they’ll cheat and steal and scam their way into a little love, and then they’ll slide off into the dark, leaving you covered in their slime. Don’t pity them. Hold them completely responsible. Children, they know not what they do, but any kid old enough to get her period, to poke his willy into girls, to leave home, do drugs or any of a thousand decisions teenagers make, any kid that old should be held responsible for the damage done along the way. You can’t have it both ways, you teenage monsters. You don’t get to act like you know everything, and then cry, But I didn’t know! –Goldberry Long, Juniper Tree Burning

Hey, what’s the point of being a teenager if you can’t dress weird? –Nicholas Cage, in Peggy Sue Got Married

Remember that as a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you. –Fran Lebowitz, “Tips for Teens”

At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice. –Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely knows that other beings also suffer. –Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Imile”

We have no heart at seventeen. We think we do; we think we have been cursed with a holy, bloated thing that twitches at the name we adore, but it is not a heart because though it will forfeit anything in the world—the mind, the body, the future, even the last lonely hour it has—it will not sacrifice itself. It is not a heart, at seventeen. It is a fat queen murmuring in her hive. –Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli

At the age of eighteen one’s mind does not congeal; every new influence works a change in it. –Margaret Wettlin, Fifty Russian Winters

Do you know what? I don’t want to be young. I actually fuckin’ like getting older. I do! I’d rather stick my dick in a high-speed kitchen blender than go back to being a teenager. –Graham Joyce, Some Kind of Fairy Tale

When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay. –Brian Aldiss

... I look around sometimes and I think—this will maybe sound weird—it’s like the corporate world’s full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that, my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts. ... I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. ... You probably encounter people like him all the time. High-functioning sleepwalkers, essentially. –Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

To be adult is to be alone. –Jean Rostand, Pensées d’un Biologiste

But she never wanted to grow up all the way, because she feared the grown-up world; it was a bully with a fat stomach and a mean mouth who stomped on gardens before they had a chance to grow. –Robert McCammon, Swan Song

The trouble with what I’ve seen of adulthood is that it’s easy to slip into a way of living that is safe but stagnant. Pretty soon you find yourself working and recovering from work on Sunday night just in time to start working again. The cycle is hard to break out of because there are bills to pay that maintain your needs and if you stop working you’ll end up on the street. –Elise, in Facing 30: Women Talk about Constructing a Real Life and Other Scary Rites of Passage

As an adult it may seem more difficult to try something new because there is no safety net like there is when you are a child. If you fall, there isn’t going to be anybody to catch you, or if there is, then you might feel ashamed that you couldn’t pull your own weight. So you stay at that job you hate and look forward to your weekends and maybe even your vacations if you have that kind of job, but all the things you love to do are put to the side. –ditto

People can get crazier as they get older. I can just be weird whenever I want, and there’s the freedom of not caring what people think. –Candice Bergen, quoted in the January 2009 issue of Good Housekeeping

In my twenties I was just confused. Despite the veil of confidence and competence that we wear, the twenties are a playground of mistakes. –Peter Krause

The most prolific period of pessimism comes at twenty-one, or thereabouts, when the first attempt is made to translate dreams into reality ... –Heywood Broun, Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms

Every age group has its challenges, but nothing is more terrifying than those first years when you are cut loose from both family and school and are expected to be a fully functioning adult. Your 20s are the most uncertain time in your life, and sometimes that uncertainty can be stifling. But looking back, I also know that despite how trying that period was, what I learned then has made the obstacles that have come my way since easier to handle. –Darcey Steinke

If you’re not a big drinker, it’s just a wasted decade. –Malcolm Gets, in Caroline in the City, when describing what it’s like to be in your twenties

The twenties are almost always a hard decade. It’s the era in which most of who you are is wrapped up in who you’re trying to be. –Dear Sugar, April 8, 2010

… be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being. Your life will be a hundred times better for it. This is good advice for anyone at any age, but particularly for those in their twenties. Because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole. Also, because it’s harder to be magnanimous when you’re in your twenties, I think, and so that’s why I’d like to remind you of it. You’re generally less humble in that decade than you’ll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot from yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love. –Dear Sugar, June 10, 2010

When you’re twenty-four, you have no idea how far you can really fall, but I was a fast learner. –Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Life as a 25-year-old should still be as simple as it was 20 years ago—dreaming, surrounding ourselves with the people we love, doing what makes us happiest, etc. –Lauren Dickert, in the June 28, 2009, issue of The Washington Post magazine

After the age of twenty-five, Scotch taping magazine stuff to your walls is just plain scary. –Douglas Coupland, Generation X

Everything said about Gen Xers—both positive and negative—was completely true. Twenty-somethings in the nineties rejected the traditional working-class American lifestyle because (a) they were smart enough to realize those values were unsatisfying, and (b) they were totally fucking lazy. Twenty-somethings in the nineties embraced a record like Nirvana’s Nevermind because (a) it was a sociocultural affront to the vapidity of the Reagan-era paradigm, and (B) it fucking rocked. Twenty-somethings in the nineties were by and large depressed about the future, mostly because (a) they knew there was very little to look forward to, and (b) they were obsessed with staring into the eyes of their own self-absorbed sadness. There are no myths about Generation X. It’s all true. –Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Lyova says that people are born and live uninterruptedly until the age of twenty-seven (a year or two, one way or the other—twenty-seven is close enough, Lyova claims). They live uninterruptedly—and at twenty-seven they die. Around the age of twenty-seven, the uninterrupted, placid development and accumulation of experience culminates in this qualitative leap, an awareness of the world’s system, life’s irreversibility. From this moment, Lyova goes on to say, a man begins to “know what he does,” and can no longer be “blissfully ignorant.” Full consciousness prompts him to solitary acts, yet the logical chain they form is inviolable, and a single violation of it will mean spiritual death. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

Twenty-nine is a nice age, is the age we all try to stop at, and can’t however much we try. –Clotilde Graves, “Lady Clanbevan’s Baby”

You can get away with a lot in your 20s, but in your 30s you’re expected to be an adult. –Candace Bushnell

It just seems like once you hit thirty or so, there’s no more struggling artist in you. –Kim, on

The feelings that well up around thirty, that we often attribute to a cultural emphasis on all things twenty, are really a kind of psychic heads-up to some serious and lasting developmental realities. More than an age label or a dreaded birthday, thirty is a marker that falls squarely between the start and the close of a common time of growth and crisis. If we can’t see it as more than a precipice, more than a time to close our eyes and jump and pray that the fall doesn’t injure us, all the while ignoring the beneficial changes it could bring, we might lose this battle for growth. Many women seem to intrinsically know this and want to get over their spontaneous reaction to thirty as something to be endured. They know it is shortsighted to view thirty as only a regrettable change and that thinking of it as such lends it all the growth potential of a bad night of drinking. Knowing something and then doing something about it, however, isn’t necessarily an easy task. –Lauren Dockett and Kristin Beck, Facing 30: Women Talk about Constructing a Real Life and Other Scary Rites of Passage

And we knew from our research that what sometimes happens to women who enter their thirties mired in a panicky state of late-twenties incompletion, is that they get stuck—stuck in a cycle of fear and avoidance that will have to be corrected eventually. –ditto

Becoming authentically yourself is about both separating your true interests from twenties flotsam, and about getting more practical about integrating these interests into your life. … Distinguishing twenties clutter from thirties truths means knowing the difference between who a younger you had thought you should be, and who you truly are now. It’s fine to grieve the twenties, for whatever they represented to us. But it’s also useful to remember that there’s little from our twenties that we can’t, if it is still useful, take with us across that thirty border. –ditto

Turning thirty is a huge step. It’s like saying, Okay, I am an adult now, really, for real. Even if I act immaturely or buy Britney Spears dolls for myself, I am a thirty-year-old adult and I have accepted who I am and I am happy with that and so you should be too. –Alan Cumming, Tommy’s Tale

After thirty, a man wakes up sad every morning, excepting perhaps five or six, until the day of his death. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

When my college-educated, gainfully employed thirty-something friends and I get together, we talk about money. We talk about our inadequate health insurance and whether we can afford it, about how to juggle credit card payments and crushing student loans, how to both work and pay for child care or whether we feel we can afford to have children at all. I’ll be honest: this wasn’t the life I’d expected. –Nan Mooney, “(Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents”

By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future. –Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz

The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty... The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits. –Hervey Allen, Anthony Adverse

Nobody feels well after his fortieth birthday. But the convalescence is touched by glory. –Peter Porter, English Subtitles

When forty winters have gone by and left deep furrows on you, the pride and flourish of your youth, so much admired by the world now, will be of little worth. –William Shakespeare

When you’re fifty you start thinking about things you haven’t thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. –Ann Oakley, in Guardian, August 18, 1989

A year later, I sat in the same old wicker chair and took inventory of my 50th year. There had been great sadness. The worst thing about this age is that so many people you love have left this earth, and left you behind. Even our dog died. I loved that dog.
But the truth was, I had lived 50 years alongside people and things and places that I loved. I could still see my mother’s face, grip my brothers’ rough hands, hear my boy whip his guitar. I could still feel a fish fight at the end of a line, still turn my pillow to the cool side and hope for one last good dream.
I had always expected the worst, regretted choices, wondered What if? And now it was too late to rewrite my life, too late to do anything but live it out. Even if I got to live it all again, from the beginning, I would still live it imperfectly, raggedly, shamelessly, in my own skin. It is a hard and bitter thing, a life, but so loathesome to leave and so stupid to regret. –Rick Bragg, “Age 50”

The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down. –TS Eliot, in Time, October 23, 1950

There has never been an intelligent person of the age of sixty who would consent to live his life over again. His or anyone else’s. –Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

[I] wondered where the solid, confident purposeful days of my youth vanished. How shall I come into the right, rich full-fruited world of middle-age? –Sylvia Plath, journal, September 16, 1959

Whoever, in middle age, attempts to realize the wishes and hopes of his early youth invariable deceives himself. Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires. –Johann von Göethe, Elective Affinities

When everything else physical and mental seems to diminish, the appreciation of beauty is on the increase. –Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight

As you get older, you get braver. When I was young, I was always frightened to say no. Now I don’t care. –Twiggy, in an interview in Jane, February 2007

Old age approaches, an awful specter of loneliness to those who have never found joy in being alone. –Dorothy Thompson, The Courage to be Happy

Growing old is not a gradual decline, but a series of drops, full of sorrow, from one ledge to another below it. But when we pick ourselves up we find our bones are, after all, not broken; while level enough and not unpleasing is the new terrace which lies unexplored before us. –Logan Pearsall Smith, Afterthoughts

The old know what they want; the young are sad and bewildered. –ditto

Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth. –W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

Everyone wants to live long, but no one wants to be called old. –Icelandic proverb

Old age is an insult. It’s like being smacked. –Lawrence Durrell, in an interview with the Sunday Times, November 20, 1988

But loneliness is not only the lot but also the privilege of old age, which is a time for reflection and preparation, occupations best served by solitude. –Margaret Wettlin, Fifty Russian Winters

You end up as you deserve. In old age you must put up with the face, the friends, the health, and the children you have earned. –Fay Weldon, Praxis

She used to imagine that old age must be awful, the death of everything. But it wasn’t so. Nothing died. The child and the young girl and the mother and the middle-aged woman full of rage and grief and dawning wisdom were there all together, and she reigned as peacemaker over this tribe. She understood them now and knew they had done their best. –Clare Boylan, Beloved Stranger

But one of the remarkable features of getting old was that people ceased to notice you. You could walk into a room and no one looked up. You could make a comment and nobody would answer. You could walk straight into a burning house and so long as you did it quietly, not a soul would see. –ditto

We value most what we have begun to lose: Sight. Hearing. Hair. Teeth. Mobility. Height. Friends. Old age is somewhat like dieting. Every day there is less of us to be observed. It differs from dieting in that we will never gain any of it back; we must settle for what remains and anticipate further losses. –Doris Grumbach, Fifty Days of Solitude

The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. –HL Mencken, Prejudices: Third Series

Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom. When the passions have relaxed their hold, you have escaped not from one master but from many. –Plato, The Republic

Nobody loves life like him who is growing old. –Sophocles, Acrisius

Now, a geezer wants to drive as slow as possible. A true geezer will pick a speed ahead of time, say, seventeen miles an hour, and drive that speed under all conceivable conditions, no matter where, no matter what. With the turn signal on. A geezer will put the turn signal on when he buys the car and then just leave it on until he trades it in. The geezer car is actually three to four normal-size cars welded together. It should be much bigger than anything else on the road, or even the road itself. The hood should be so big that it’s impossible for the driver to tell what lane he’s in, sometimes even what zip code he’s in, by merely looking out the window. Planes could take off and land on the hood of the geezer car. –Dave Barry




It seems to me that in the literature revolving around children, children who are strange and misunderstood like me, at some point something comes along to transform their lives, to transport them to the magic netherworld to which they truly belong. And then they realize that their old life was just a mistake, that they were extraordinary all along and meant for bigger and better things. –Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

In facf, the Romans themselves recognized only too well that being childless could be fun: “so powerful were the attractions of a childless state ... that many were actively choosing not to marry or have children,” wrote Tacitus in the early second century CE. –Joel Levy, Poison: An Illustrated History

How stark everything became, at the end, all the wishes for one’s children distilled by the world’s swift cruelty into the desperate hope that death would take them fast. –Justin Cronin, The Twelve

… birth is so mysterious and so much weirder than sorcery or intergalactic warfare that it humbles you instantly. –Andrew Soloman, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Most of us believe that our children are the children we had to have; we could have no others. They will never seem to us to be happenstance; we love them because they are our destiny. Even when they are flawed, do wrong hurt us, die—even then, they are part of the rightness by which we measure our own lives. Indeed, they are the rightness by which we measure life itself, and they bring us to life as profoundly as we do them. –ditto

… what is too often overlooked is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions … fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives … they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things. –Maurice Sendak, in his 1964 Caldecott award acceptance speech

What you professors call culture—what Freudians call superego, rubs out of existence so many inklings and intuitions and—maybe—memories that few adults can even remember what went on in their daydreams when they were children. The sense of knowing that children have is destroyed. Even the desire to know. How many adults are left even with that? One in a thousand? –Philip Wylie, The Disappearance

I’m always a little leery when I read variations on the “I know a jillion Moms and none of them regret having their kids!” statement. Consider, for a moment, a woman who had a kid and regretted it. Would she admit it? To anyone? My guess is no. Our culture can barely handle the idea that some women might not want kids at all, let alone that some women with kids might wish they didn’t have them. Let us not forget the results of Nebraska failing to define a maximum age for their safe haven law.
My motto has always been that I would rather regret not having a child than regret having one. At least this way, I am the only one who (potentially) suffers.
... let’s not pretend that nobody regrets having children. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” –Slightly Cranky, in the comments section of the September 16, 2010, Dear Sugar column

Everyone wants their kid to grow up and go to Harvard or be a quarterback for the Patriots. No one ever looks at their baby and thinks, Oh, I hope my kid grows up and becomes a freak. I hope he gets to school every day and prays he won’t catch anyone’s attention. But you know what? Kids grow up like that every single day. –Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Ever notice how many films portray pregnancy as infestation, as colonization ...? Rosemary’s Baby was just the beginning. In Alien, a foul extraterrestrial claws its way out of John Hurt’s belly. In Mimic, a woman gives birth to a two-foot maggot. Later, the X-Files turned bug-eyed aliens bursting gorily from human midsections into a running theme. In horror and sci-fi, the host is consumed or rent, reduced to husk or residue so that some nightmare creature may survive its shell. ... I’m sorry, but I didn’t make these movies up, and any woman whose teeth have rotted, whose bones have thinned, whose skin has stretched, knows the humbling price of a nine-month freeloader. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

... now that children don’t till your fields or take you in when you’re incontinent, there is no sensible reason to have them, and it’s amazing that with the advent of effective contraception anyone chooses to reproduce at all. –ditto

The last thing we want to admit [to children] is that the forbidden fruit on which we have been gnawing since reaching the magic age of twenty-one is the same mealy Golden Delicious that we stuff into our children’s lunch boxes. The last thing we want to admit is that the bickering of the playground perfectly presages the machinations of the boardroom, that our social hierarchies are merely an extension of who got picked first for the kickball team, and that grown-ups still get divided into bullies and fatties and crybabies. What’s a kid to find out? Presumably we lord over them an exclusive deed to sex, but this pretense flies so fantastically in the face of fact that it must result from some conspiratorial group amnesia. –ditto

Our world is now such that no matter how compassionate and responsible you try to be, you are using products, eating food, taking medications, and traveling by means that destroy the planet and torture its inhabitants. The cat escaped the bag centuries ago and nobody has seen it since. Adding another consumer of any sort to this equation is like producing another crappy television sitcom and saying, “at least it isn’t a reality show.” –Dan Piraro, “Don’t Even Think of Eating Here”

In an ultrasound, the North American fetus may look harmless enough, but in reality, she will be a wildly profligate, consuming machine in less than a year’s time. Even before she has been evicted from her elegant, minimalist space in her mother’s uterus, before she has had her tiny foot dipped in ink and pressed on a hospital form, she has already created a footprint: items have been designed, manufacturered, packaged, shipped, and purchased with her in mind. She’d have to be considerably older before she could attempt to climb the small mountain of boxes, bags, Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, plastic-coated, pastel envelopes and cards that have been generated on her behalf. (This mountain is a good head start: According to the US Department of Labor, for a family with two parents earning a combined income of $65,000 or less per year, all the “stuff”—including non-tangibles like childcare, healthcare, and education—will, by the age of 17, amount to nearly $170,500 spent per child. That’s not including Harvard tuition, either.)
      Once she is on terra firma, she will wear diapers (disposable, flushable, and cloth all have an environmental impact); she will gum on plastic toys created in factories that are polluting the communities and health of the most often brown-skinned laborers; she will eat bananas grown in Costa Rica and shipped to her town as snow crunches under her little plastic boots in January. This is just the beginning. Did you think that the worst she would do is throw a fit in a public place or be carted around in a sidewalk-swallowing double stroller like a modern-day Cleopatra in her chariot? Heck, no. As Paul Simon, biological father of four, sang on “Born at the Right Time,” “The planet groans every time it registers another birth.”
      Groan it does. This baby will grow up to want more, more, more—a Shel Silverstein cartoon feral beast-child with an enormous, insatiable mouth on a convenient flip-top head and packing a bottomless appetite for clothes, electronic devices, junk food, beverages, personal care products, CDs, DVDs, and just about any other thing she can wrap her grabby little hands around. So will that baby brother of hers, arriving two short years later, right on schedule. And what of all those toilets flushed, bottoms wiped, noses blown, sprinklers blasting just to run though? All those play-dates and soccer classes and piano lessions schlepped to and from for years? And what about when carpooling ends and she gets her own car? Then she can really start making giant stomps with that ecological footprint of hers, ones that would make old Doc Martens proud. Of course, you know that her brother’s going to want a car, too. From then on, it’s going to be just a mad dash through every consumable, unhealthy, polluting, and disposable product until the two of them finally, thankfully expire. But more than likely they’ve also successfully participated in the whole breeding cycle as well. –Marla Rose, “To Breed or Not to Breed”

We in the West do not refrain from childbirth because we are concerned about the population explosion or because we feel we cannot afford children, but because we do not like children. –Germaine Greer, Sex and Destiny

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. –Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength. –ditto

Every child needs to have just one adult around who is like him or her, even if that adult is misguided or cruel or narrow-minded or off-kilter. Such an adult provides, if nothing else, a point of reference that allows us to get our bearings—without one, we have no way of judging whether we have stayed on course or departed from it or ever had a course at all; whether we are evil or saintly or neither; whether we are approaching land or being swept farther out to sea or whether we even want to return to shore. –Paula Sharp, I Loved You All

Lord knows what incommunicable small terrors infants go through, unknown to all. We disregard them, we say they forget, because they have not the words to make us remember. ... By the time they learn to speak they have forgotten the details of their complaints, and so we never know. They forget so quickly, we say, because we cannot contemplate the fact that they never forget. –Margaret Drabble, The Millstone

Until I grew up I thought I hated everybody, but when I grew up I realized it was just children I didn’t like. –Philip Larkin, in The Observer, December 16, 1979

They say that one of the benefits of reaching a certain age is being able to please oneself and come and go as one chooses. But that’s something I’ve always done, because I’ve never had children! –Helen Mirren

To preserve yourself as the center of the world, to stay your own best authority on everything, your own expert on all topics, infallible, omniscient, always, every time of the month, forever: Use birth control. –Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

But my larger issue is philosophical: Why do we assume all children are inherently innocent? Innocent of what? I mean, any grammar school teacher will tell you that “kids can be cruel” on the playground; the average third-grader will gleefully walk up to a six-year-old with hydrocephalus and ask, “What’s wrong with you, Big Head?” And that third-grader knows what he’s doing is evil. He knows it’s hurtful. Little boys torture cats and cute little girls humiliate fat little girls, and they know it’s wrong. They do it because it’s wrong. Sometimes I think children are the worst people alive. And even if they’re not—even if some smiling toddler is as pure as Evian—it’s only a matter of time. He’ll eventually become the fifty-year-old car salesman who we’ll all assume is morally bankrupt until he proves otherwise. As far as I can tell, the nicest thing you can say about children is that they haven’t done anything terrible yet. –Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

… among the audience I started hearing little cries of: shame on you! shame on you! not wanting to be a father! anti-humanist! With great effort I managed to explain that I loved children a lot and have brought up plenty of them here and there in my life and the only problem is that I didn’t see any particular point of doing so as I didn’t believe in anything, or rather I believe in very little and there was no point in handing down all my nihilistic thoughts to the children—their little pouting mouths would grow hard, they would ball their fists, and the tears would begin to flow. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

By force of personality, by dint of their vicious beauty and untamed ways, children tromp into the world ready to disfigure it. Children surrender nothing when faced with the world: it is the world that gives up, over and over again. –Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats. –Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

There’s a widespread notion that children are open, that the truth about their inner selves just seeps out of them. That’s all wrong. No one is more covert than a child, and no one has a greater need to be that way. It’s a response to a world that’s always using a can opener to open them up to see what’s inside, wondering whether it ought to be replaced with a more useful sort of preserves. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

Experts say you should never hit your children in anger. When is a good time? When you’re feeling festive? –Roseanne Barr

I read one psychologist’s theory that said, “Never strike a child in anger.” When could I strike him? When he is kissing me on my birthday? When he is recuperating from measles? Do I slap the Bible out of his hand on a Sunday? –Erma Bombeck, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?

A child develops individuality long before he develops taste. I have seen my kid straggle into the kitchen in the morning with outfits that need only one accessory: an empty gin bottle. –ditto

... children with special abilities and skills need to be nourished and encouraged. They are a national treasure. Challenging programs for the “gifted” are sometimes decried as “elitism.” Why aren’t intensive practice sessions for varsity football, baseball, and basketball players and interschool competition deemed elitism? After all, only the most gifted athletes participate. There is a self-defeating double standard at work here, nationwide. –Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

I knew I wasn’t normal—at school there was clear glass between me and the playground, me and my young fellow humans. I was the feral cat that slunk in and out of the garage at night, not the house pet asleep at the foot of the bed. I slept in my clothes and climbed down the drainpipe like a boy. But there was a joy that came with that loneliness. It was poetry, proof of a companion consciousness. As far back as I can remember, I recognized its language as my own. –Chase Twichell, “Toys in the Attic”

Humans are the only animals that have children on purpose with the exception of guppies, who like to eat theirs. –PJ O’Rourke

Human beings are the only creatures that allow their children to come back home. –Bill Cosby

Happy is the man whose children make his happiness in life and not his grief. –Euripides, Orestes

I want to have children and I know my time is running out. I want to have them while my parents are still young enough to take care of them. –Rita Rudner

My husband and I are either going to buy a dog or have a child. We can’t decide whether to ruin our carpet or ruin our lives. –ditto

There’s not a man in America who at one time or another hasn’t had a secret desire to boot a child in the ass. –WC Fields

Never raise your hand to your children; it leaves your midsection unprotected. –Robert Orben

… the trouble with children is that they are not returnable. –Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant

Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth. –Erma Bombeck

… children irritate me. They get up very early, they’re loud, they interrupt, they think they’re more important than you. They prevent you from being a child: my little girl has already broken all of my toys. Just this morning I was watching her play with a book of matches, and I said to Al that I should open “Mrs. Cathy’s Day Care Center” with open scissors and all the other dangerous things our child seems to find around the house. When she was very small I liked to give her things to play with that would gross other people out, things that she just saw as objects. There was a big rubber rat, and a rubber snake. I also liked dressing her in black. My mother was pretty freaked out by that. “Why don’t you put a little beret on her and send her to sit in a café in Paris?” she said. –Cathy Crimmins




I kept trying on the idea that I was now a father, and I didn’t know what to do with it; it was as though I had suddenly been told that I was still myself and also a shooting star. – Andrew Soloman, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Parenting is an exercise in safety, and the perpetual menace of danger is what exalts parental love above affection; without the night terrors, the spiking fevers, the litany of bruises and woes, it would be a second-rate entertainment. –ditto

They fuck you up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
–Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse”

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and no power is more absolute than parenthood. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

The world might be a smidge of a better place if we didn’t have all these wounded, broken people raising children of their own. –Telaina, in the comments section of the August 25, 2011, Dear Sugar column

Oh, the dream. The god damned man + baby dream. Written by the High Commission on Heterosexual Love and Sexual Reproduction and practiced by couples across the land, the dream’s a bitch if you’re a maternally-inclined straight female and not living it by the age of 37.1; a situation of a spermicidally toxic flavor. Of course you want to bring out your six-shooter every time you see another bloated mom hoisting up another squinty-eyed spawn on Facebook. You want the dream too! The man. The baby. The whole god-damned shebang. –Dear Sugar, September 16, 2010

... you probably won’t ever “fully escape” your dad. He will be the empty bowl that you’ll have to fill again and again. What will you put inside? Our parents are the primal source. We make our own lives, but our origin stories are theirs. They go back with us to the beginning of time. There is absolutely no way around them. –Dear Sugar, November 4, 2010

I have moved beyond both love and hate when it comes to my father. Those emotions are two ends of a continuum that I no longer occupy with him. I still find his behavior appalling. There are memories that can bring tears to my eyes. But mostly—truly, finally—when I think of my dad, I feel forgiveness and acceptance and even a sort of weighted gratitude. I learned a lot from him. He was my darkest teacher. He taught the darkness well. –Dear Sugar, September 9, 2010

... my daughter, Emilia, was three years old. I knew she was going to be my one and only child, so my mantra and modus operandi was “Be here now.” I woke up every morning with the knowledge that everything I did had meaning, down to the smallest details of breakfast, bath time, and toe kisses. –Anita Diamant, “Age 38”

… I now believe my parents did the best they could under tough circumstances. They were both damaged as children, and my brother and I grew up damaged as a result. But damage is not always permanent, nor is it always passed down from one generation to the next. –John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse. –Rebecca West, in a letter written on August 20, 1959

She had nothing left inside. She’d given it all to her son. And that was the greatest heartbreak of all—no matter how spectacular we want our children to be, no matter how perfect we pretend they are, they are bound to disappoint. As it turns out, kids are more like us than we think: damaged, through and through. –Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

In the domestic polity, myth dictates that parents are endowed with a disproportionate amount of it [power]. I’m not so sure. Children? They can break our hearts, for a start. They can shame us, they can bankrupt us, and I can personally attest that they can make us wish we were never born. … The crude truth is that parents are like governments: We maintain our authority through the threat, overt or implicit, of physical force. A kid does what we say—not to put too fine a point on it—because we can break his arm. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

The Mother of the Year should be a sterilized woman with two adopted children. –Paul Ehrlich, quoted in Art Spiegelman and Bob Schneider’s Whole Grains: A Book of Quotations

Instinct is stronger than upbringing. –Irish proverb

The terrorists thought they were destroying buildings, monuments to capitalism and American military strength. But what they were doing was blowing families to bits. They left behind, not so much a monumental mass of rubble, but tricycles, sweater drawers, love letters, flower beds, books, video cameras, unpaid bills, untidy kitchens, mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, from Maine to California. And people have folded their hearts around all that messy detritus, so like their own, so that all the deaths have become a death in their family. –Anna Quindlen, “Imagining the Hanson Family”

Obviously, Dad doesn’t know me at all. Sure, he’s found some cracks. I’m not perfect; that he knows all too well. But, to him, I am the cracks. When he looks at me, that’s all he ever sees—the imperfections. I know because when I look in his eyes, that’s all I see too. What a loser I am. –Brian Strause, Maybe a Miracle

Sharing kids with a person you have come to despise must be a bit like getting caught in a messy car wreck and then being forced to spend the rest of your life paying visits to the paraplegic in the other vehicle: You are never allowed to forget your mistake. –Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

But as a rule, gay guys do not make bad parents; they make excellent parents. Because unlike straight people, gay people can’t have kids by accident. Only by power of attorney. I would be a questionable parent not because I’m gay, but because I was raised by lunatics. –Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking

All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. –Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The family is the ultimate American fascism. –Paul Goodman

A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants. –Alexander Pope

Only in our family could someone be crazy for twenty years with no one noticing. –Sara Gilbert, in Roseanne

All families are embarrassing. If they aren’t embarrassing they’re dead. –Debra Jo Rupp, in That ’70s Show

As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. –Buddy Hackett

But then there were these four creatures who depended on me. They wouldn’t go away. … I didn’t mean for it all to happen. I didn’t mean for it not to happen. I just drifted into the mother club like a boat without a rudder. I did not know what motherhood would smell like. I did not know that being a mother meant I would lie awake in torture, the weight of responsibility biting into my skin. Was I doing it right? Was I giving my babies what they needed? Was I doing enough? Was I doing too much? Would I burn in hell if I did not put them before me in every Goddamn thing I said and did? … If I had known what I was getting into, I would have said no to all of it. Would have taken off running at the mere mention of babies. –Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

There is no such thing as “fun for the whole family.” –Jerry Seinfeld

Accidents will occur in the best regulated families. –Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you. –Peter De Vries

Some people seem compelled by unkind fate to parental servitude for life. There is no form of penal servitude worse than this. –Samuel Butler

Lately, I can’t even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly. –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life


Feeling Disconnected/Numb, Witholding Yourself


I watched it all with the same detachment I had learned to feel when I was excluded from playing with kid packs when I was five. No one made fun of me, but I still could not integrate myself into the groups around me. I wanted to make friends, but I didn’t want to engage in the activities I saw them doing. So I just watched. –John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

I didn’t care about anything. And there’s a freedom in apathy, a wild, dizzying liberation on which you can almost get drunk. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

Sometimes I think the people to feel the saddest for are people who once knew what profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the senation of wonder—people who closed the door that leads us into the secret world—or who had the doors closed for them by time and negelct and decisions made in time of weakness. –Douglas Coupland, Life after God

I couldn’t care less about the lot of them! I’ve never been so removed from myself, so alienated. All my feelings seem dead, except for the drive to live. They shall not destroy me. –Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

I don’t know exactly what I mean by “hold something back,” except that I do it. I don’t know what the “something” is: It’s not sex—I’ve had sex pretty often, and I still hold back the “something,” whatever it is. It’s some part that’s a mystery, maybe even to me; but boys and men can tell they don’t possess it or haven’t been shown it, whatever it is, and that I’m not going to show it to them. This seems to draw them like ants to Coke spilled on a sidewalk in the summer. I feel it may be my essence or what I am deep down under all the layers. But if I don’t know what it is, how can I give it or share it with someone even if I wanted to? –Crescent Dragonwagon, The Year it Rained

I needed to be detached in order to be anything, and that worked for a time. –Jeremy on the “Twilight” website

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. –Anaïs Nin

The only problem with building walls is that you never seem to have enough left over to build a ladder. –Claire Holland

All his life he had managed in such ways to disconnect himself from things which he couldn’t escape and which threatened to define him in a way in which he didn’t want to be defined, and go on untouched, untouched by things that should have touched him, hurt him, burned him … And he had said to himself in anguish: “I have to learn to feel.” –Earl Lovelace, The Dragon Can’t Dance

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. –Sylvia Plath, “Tulips”

He had not guessed her tears. He thought she was there with him. –DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

I’m not unhappy, back there. I’m nothing. There’s nothing to me. –Joyce Carol Oates, “The Lady with the Pet Dog”

Now I’m borrowed,
Now I’m numb.
–Anne Sexton, “The Addict”

I had been withdrawing into a retreat of numbness: it is so much safer not to feel, not to let the world touch one. But my honest self revolted at this, hated me for doing this. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 3, 1952




She did not need fairy tales; she knew what evil looked like, smelled like, and I wondered exactly how and when that had happened—and whether it happened sooner for children like her, born into peace and prosperity and then baptized on a beautiful fall day by cataclysm. –Nancy Gibbs, “Where Victory Lies”

Evil and brutality lurk in the human heart. If they are allowed to develop freely they flourish, putting out offshoots … –Wilm Hosenfeld, journal, July 25, 1942

... a country that tolerates evil means—evil manners, standards of ethics—for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end. –Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

Some people would say—you’re only a drop, your word-breaking is only a drop, it wouldn’t matter. But all the evil in the world’s made up of little drops. It’s silly talking about the unimportance of the little drops. The little drops and the ocean are the same thing. –John Fowles, The Collector

Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a “necessary evil,” it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil. –Sydney J. Harris

Those who set in motion forces of evil cannot always control them afterwards. –Charles Waddell Chestnutt, The Marrow of Tradition

It may be necessary to temporarily accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good. –Margaret Mead, in Redbook magazine, November 1978

Goodness speaks in a whisper, evil shouts. –Tibetan proverb

But what is the greatest evil? If you are going to epitomize evil, what is it? Is it the bomb? The greatest evil that one has to fight constantly, every minute of the day until one dies, is the worse part of oneself. –Patrick McGoohan, quoted in Dave Rogers’s The Prisoner and Danger Man

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
–WH Auden, “September 1, 1939”

Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. ... I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent noncooperation only multiplies evil and that evil can only be sustained by violence. Withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. –Mahatma Ghandi, in a speech in Ahmadabad on March 23, 1922

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. –Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride toward Freedom

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. –Edmund Burke

To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here…”

Throughout history it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. –Haile Selassie

One cannot always do evil; deprived of the pleasure it affords, we can at least find the sensation’s equivalent in the minor but piquant wickedness of never doing good. –The Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom

And people who do hideous things do not look like people who do hideous things. There is no “face of evil.” If we could somehow subtract all its horrifying connotations, the actual face of Saddam Hussein looks rather avuncular, and has often been recorded as having a big friendly smile. Hitler’s face, had it not become an icon of evil because of the atrocities his life engendered, might be considered almost comical, Chaplinesque as it were, in its foolish expression. Lizzy Borden looked like all the other laced-up Victorian ladies in Fall River, Massachusetts. Pamela Smart is pretty. Ted Bundy was so handsome that women sent marriage proposals to him on death row, and for every leering Charles Manson, there is the radiantly innocent countenance of John Lee Malco. –Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. –Albert Einstein

We have assimilated the fact that the greatest evil, for us personally, is to live in a ready-made, explained world. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

There exists a reserve towards evil which in itself is evil because it is passive, because it explains it away instead of getting rid of it, because this means evil ceases to exist as long as it is not talked about, because this entails closed eyes and turned backs while in actuality evil is given the opportunity to grow and grow—quite freely. –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats at our own table.
–WH Auden, “Herman Melville”

Evil takes up space. When the men who commit it—and it’s mostly men, you know; we can have that discussion another day—when the men who commit evil die, it creates a vacuum, and somebody else gets sucked into it. Killing the evildoer doesn’t kill the evil. Another takes his place. Evil is a physical constant. Like gravity. The best we can do is try to keep ourselves and the ones we love on the right side. –Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows

We cannot contemplate without terror the extent of the evil which man can do and endure. –Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination. –Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

… none of us can avoid being contaminated by the world’s evils… –Mr. R, as quoted in the above memoir

Be with the wise and become wise. Be with the evil and become evil. –Proverbs 13:20

There is evil! It’s actual like cement. I can’t believe it. I can’t stand it. Evil is not a view. … It’s an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, minds, hearts, into the pavement itself. –Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

All human evil comes from this: a man’s being unable to sit still in a room. –Blaise Pascal, Pensées




… but we all have our darkness, and the trick is making something exalted of it. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

I got lost in the night, without the light of your eyelids, and when the night surrounded me I was born again. I was the owner of my own darkness. –Pablo Neruda

You can think better in the dark, if you’ve got anything to think about. Endless light is tiring. The spotlight of the sun rips through the darkness of your outer space, everything’s visible, you’re a clown on stage. … At night you can relax and roll up into a ball. –Mati Unt, Things in the Night

Everything is a little bit of darkness, even the light. –Antonio Porchia

The universe will never be extinguished because just when the darkness seems to have smothered all, to be truly transcendent, the new seeds of light are reborn in the very depths. That is the Way. When the seed falls, it falls into the earth, into the soil. And beneath, out of sight, it comes to life. –Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

The darkness rolled up again, the darkness that is primeval but not eternal, and yields to its own painful dawn. –EM Forster, Maurice

… I believe in nothing—except in a sort of darkness. –ditto

Darkness reconciles all time and disparity. It is a kind of rapture in which life is no longer lived brokenly. In it we are seers with no eyes. –Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven

Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. –Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”

And there will be such intense darkness that one can feel it. –Exodus 10:21

A light burns brightest in perpetual darkness. –(?)

Tugging at the darkness, word upon word. –Peter Gabriel, “Mercy Street”

Around me is darkness. I thirst for light … –Tamarah Lazerson, in her WWII journal

This darkness. What is it but a theatre in which we work our magic; where we can express our desires and our fears, our dreams and our pain. In this dimly lit place, we seek the visions that both inspire and horrify us. –seen on somebody’s website

It’s always dark in the beginning. –from The Neverending Story

The fog outside is the darkness. All of us have it inside. You gotta move past the haze; y’all will come to the truth. This fog, this darkness—it’s our creature. We make it. It’ll do our bidding … You’ve gotta be strong if you’re ever going to complete this journey. –Adra, in Sliders

Her long, pale face … seemed almost drugged, as if a strange mass of thoughts coiled in the darkness within her, and she was never allowed to escape. –DH Lawrence, Women in Love

We all have a light inside; but trying to look at it makes it turn black. –Irmgard Schloegl, Wisdom of the Zen Masters


Music and Singing


Music can liberate people immured in almost any kind of silence. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Music is a food. You have to consume it. –Nico Muhly, quoted in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Opera has been my main squeeze for many years. I consider it both a vocation and a religion. The opera house is my cathedral, and I’ve often gone there at the darkest moments of my life, including after my mother died. It’s always given me solace and encouragement ... –Rufus Wainwright, in the April-May 2010 issue of Bust magazine

States of ecstasy and rapture may lie in wait for us if we give ourselves totally to music ... –Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

The power of music, whether joyous or cathartic, must steal on one unawares, come spontaneously as a blessing or a grace ... –ditto

Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to repersent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. –ditto

Without music, life would be a mistake. –Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between notes and curl my back to loneliness. –Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name

Music is not a cheap spectacle—not the entertainment of the brothel. It is like prayer. –Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

Some of the oldest physical artifacts found in human and protohuman excavation sites are musical instruments: bone flutes and animal skins stretched over tree stumps to make drums. Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep, and college students studying with music as a background. Even more so in nonindustrialized cultures than in modern Western societies, music is and was part of the fabric of everyday life. Only relatively recently in our own culture, five hundred years or so ago, did a distinction arise that cut society in two, forming separate classes of music performers and music listeners. Throughout most of the world and for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and everyone participated. Concert halls, dedicated to the perfomance of music, arsose only in the last several centuries. –Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Music was invented to confirm human loneliness. –Lawrence Durrell, “Clea”

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory. –Sir Thomas Beecham, in the Sunday Times, September 16, 1962

Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
–TS Eliot, Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages”

My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require. –Edward Elgar, quoted in Robert J. Buckley’s Sir Edward Elgar

What passion cannot Music raise and quell? –John Dryden, “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”

There are two kinds of music—good music and bad music. Good music is music that I want to hear. Bad music is music that I don’t want to hear. –Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life

It’s music rage, which is like road rage, only more righteous. When you get road rage, a tiny part of you knows you’re being a jerk, but when you get music rage, you’re carrying out the will of God, and God wants these people dead. –Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

I am not a musician. I don’t go in too deep. If you have the music in your head, and you sing it with your body, then you’ll be all right. –Luciano Pavarotti, in the Observer, July 27, 1997

Late in the evening he played a long piece on his harmonica, something halfway between an elegy and a lullaby, sweet and hard and sad. It was a music that both flayed and cradled me and I was convinced he was playing it for me, to me, about me. I was convinced his music was telling me, I understand, I know, and everything’s okay. –Jean Hegland, Into the Forest

The Indians long ago knew that music was going on permanently and that hearing it was like looking out a window at a landscape which didn’t stop when one turned away. –John Cage

More often there is no obvious thematic connection between a song on the radio and the memory that it comes, somehow or other, to preserve, between the iridescent bubble of the music and the air of the past that it randomly traps. It’s just the magic of an accidental conjunction, a flitting moment and the resin drop of a pop song transformed by luck and alchemy into amber. –Michael Chabon, “Radio Days”

No medium is as sensuously evocative of the past as radio. No other medium deploys that shocking, full-immersion power of random remembrance. But for that power to have its maximum impact, the process of remembering has to be random at both ends. Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”is playing over the PA in a Gap store at the Mall in Columbia on an unremarkable afternoon when you’re 16, and then one day you’re 40 and driving to get your kid from nursery school and the song comes on, and there in your minivan you can smell the chlorine from the mall’s fountain and hear your best friend telling you about Pauline Kael’s review of Last Tango in Paris as reprinted in Reeling, and see the vast blue wall of denim before you, and remember the vanished world in which Woody Allen was God and Jimmy Carter was president and in which, at the Gap, they sold nothing but Levis. The song has to take you by surprise, catch you when your guard is down, when you aren’t expecting it—ideally, when you aren’t even really listening to the radio at all. A bright little piece of your life passes you by in a car with the windows rolled down, wells up in the pain-relief aisle of a Rite-Aid. That kind of chance encounter can’t happen as readily on an iPod you’ve programmed yourself. –ditto

In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that no one else has thought of. –Robert Schumann

After the first few meetings I realized that he loved music in the same way I did. For both of us it was visceral, passionate, and could even be an elevating experience. It turned out that we served the same mistress—music—and that was to become our first real connection. –Neil Diamond, talking about producer Rick Rubin in the liner notes to his 12 Songs album

Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. –Charlie Parker

Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul. –Plato

Where there’s music, there can be no evil. – Miguel De Cervantes, Don Quixote

I sort of like heavy metal. It clears out my sinuses and makes me feel immortal. If I listened to too much of it, I’d start eating live cats and shooting people whose names annoyed me. –Dean Koontz, “Bruno”

Music makes one feel so romantic—at least it always got on one’s nerves—which is the same thing nowadays. –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

I could eat alphabet soup and shit better lyrics. –Johnny Mercer, on a British musical

I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws. –Charles Baudelaire

Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands—and all you can do is scratch it. –Sir Thomas Beecham, attributed remark to a female cellist

Her singing reminds me of a cart coming downhill with the brake on. –Sir Thomas Beecham, on a soprano in Die Walküre

Her voice sounded like an eagle being goosed. –Ralph Novak, on Yoko Ono

When she started to play, Steinway came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano. –Bob Hope, on Phyllis Diller

No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. –WH Auden

Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and instead of bleeding, he sings. –Ed Gardner, “Duffy’s Tavern”


Memory, Remembering



A theory on why we stop remembering: there is a part of our story that we do not know how to tell to ourselves and we will away its existence for so long that finally our brain agrees to a trade: I will let you forget this, but you will never feel whole. –Laura Van Den Berg, Find Me

It turns out that everything is preserved in a person’s memory, everything lies at the bottom of the soul, and just the surface is sprinkled with ashes, and it seems that everything is past and forgotten. And these memories, like a mine field—you just have to step on them, and you explode, and everything flies to hell—quiet, comfort, and your present happiness. –Ol’ga Nikolaevna Grechina, Spasaius’ spasaia

What I’m saying is: that day was here and then it was gone, but I remember it, so it exists here somewhere, and somewhere all those events are still happening and still going on forever. I believe that. –Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love

The brain has no endorphins; technically, it doesn’t feel. And yet memory is a form of pain; even recollections of happiness contain particles of grief, which we call nostalgia. It is all the same thing—billions of neurons firing in a billionth of a second—and when it stops, pain vanishes, and memory with it. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

Memory is part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our heart pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work, too: it keeps us who we are. It is the influence that keeps us from flying off into separate pieces … –Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch

... I realized that memory ... is not the mechanical recording device people often think it is. Memory is anything but constant, anything but indubitable. It shifts and fades, blooms and dies, steps out for a cigarette and blows tendrils of information and emotion back under the door. –Martha Beck, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

I remember the very thing that I do not wish to; I cannot forget the things I wish to forget. –Cicero

How does one rid oneself of something buried far within: memory and the skin of memory. It clings to me yet. Memory’s skin has hardened, it allows nothing to filter out of what it retains, and I have no control over it. I don’t feel it anymore. –Charlotte Delbo, Days and Memory

I remember unspeakable shame and horrendous moments. I shall speak of them now, and never be silent again. –Sark, Living Juicy

... that memory could save, that it had power, that it was often the only recourse of the powerless, the oppressed, or the brutalized. –Alice Seebold, Lucky

My memories would be like instant coffee: brief and dark and with the inevitable physiological results. –Torben Diklev

Real amazement comes from memory. –Cesare Pavese, The Burning Brand

Memory is the mother of all wisdom. –Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Each part of the body has its own memories—the infant’s cheek against the mother’s warm breast; the schoolchild’s cheek slapped. These memories are recorded not just in our minds but in the cells of our body and can remain locked in for years: unknowingly, memory’s ghosts trample us. –Sharon Heller, PhD, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight

Memory gets laid down even before birth, as the fetus entrains to maternal rhythms. –ditto

Memories are recorded verbally as a story and physiologically as sensation. During times of emotional and physical stress, memory gets encoded at deeper psychophysiological levels by the release of hormones and messenger molecules, or neurotransmitters, all the way down to the cellular level. –ditto

Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again. –Willa Cather, My Antonia

Good memories are lost jewels. –Paul Valéry, Mauvaises Pensées

They are a torture, my memories—a lovely torture. –Frank Herbert, The White Plague

One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory. –Rita Mae Brown

Today I have much to do:
I must kill off memory;
My soul must turn to stone,
and I must learn to live anew.
–Anna Akhmatova, “Requiem”

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. –Montaigne

For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. –Eccles. 2.16-17

Remembering is never a quiet act of retrospection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present. –Homi K. Bhabha, introduction to Black Skin, White Mask

I sit beside my lonely fire
and pray for wisdom yet:
for calmness to remember
or courage to forget.


Quiet/Shy People, People of Depth


For some crime committed by my ancestors in the dark and forgotten days, I came into the world already tarred and feathered. With shyness. It hurts terribly—every bit as much as hot tar choking every pore—and I wish I could be rid of it. But it hurts a lot less than having someone try and peel the shyness off. That’s like being flayed alive. –Geraldine McCaughrean, The White Darkness

For sometimes, it’s the quiet ones who grow up to scream. –Beth Woodson

It is the docile who achieve the most impossible things in this world. –Rabindranath Tagore

Those who stand back and watch the commotion for years will suddenly take the world by storm. –G. Lorin Swanson

Quiet people are often found to have profound insights. The shallow water in a brook or river runs fast: the deep water seems calmer. –James Rogers

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep. –William Shakespeare, Henry VI

Introversion is no illness. It’s simply a habit of mind. –Nancy Mairs, “On Living behind Bars”




A sperm meets an egg, and your soul gets sucked back to live another tedious lifetime, eating, sleeping, getting sunburned. On Earth: Planet Hurt. Planet Conflict. Planet Pain. –Chuck Palahniuk, Haunted

Perhaps our present lives are intertwined with our past lives on a daily basis, like new vines climbing up the stalks of dead ones. –from one of my listservs

Everything that has been shall be again. –WB Yeats

You can remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones. –Plato

What’s in your mind gets into everything. The clothes you choose, the knick-knacks in your house, everything. It’s not surprising or odd or anything to either be drawn or repelled by something that is in this life mundane but once had meaning to you. –from one of my listservs


Drugs, Alcohol


I don’t smoke pot—it dulls my hatred. –Sara Gilbert, in Roseanne

[drugs and alcohol]—I have no use for either because I have no inhibitions to chemically suppress. I require no drugs to help me enjoy myself because I am not ashamed of the things that make me feel good. –Christa Faust, in a 1998 issue of Carpe Noctem

I never took drugs because I was afraid. I was afraid if I experimented with any kind of drugs or alcohol, I would lose control, and therefore I would never become a director. –Steven Spielberg

One reason I don’t drink is because I wish to know when I’m having a good time. –Lady Nancy Astor

Drunkenness is nothing else but a voluntary madness. –Seneca

Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it’s compounding a felony. –Robert Benchley

The first thing in the human personality that dissolves in alcohol is dignity. –(?)

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. –Ernest Hemingway

Drunkenness is temporary suicide. –Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

To alcohol: the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. –Homer Simpson, in The Simpsons

If you are young and you drink a great deal it will spoil your health, slow your mind, make you fat—in other words, turn you into an adult. –PJ O’Rourke

I’m sure that being sober all these years accounts for my ill humor. –Fran Lebowitz

Smoking I find a disgusting habit. If it were just deleterious for the people who do it, I’d say fine, let them kill themselves, but unfortunately it bothers me and affects my health. And it produces a disgusting smell and creates dirt and burns holes in things, good things; it starts fires in hotels. I find it an absolutely beastly habit. –John Simon

I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone...but they’ve always worked for me. –Hunter S. Thompson, in Life magazine, January 1981




The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. –read on a church sign in Bethesda, MD

Better a lie which heals than a truth which wounds. –Czech proverb

Perhaps our only sickness is to desire a truth which we cannot bear rather than to rest content with the fictions we manufacture out of each other. –Lawrence Durrell, “Clea”

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. –Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

New opinions often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths. –George Bernard Shaw, Annajanska, the Bolshevik

Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first, it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident. –Arthur Schopenhauer

The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even murder, for the truth. –Alfred Adler, The Problems of Neurosis

The work of artists and scientists is ultimately the pursuit of truth, but members of both camps understand that truth in its very nature is contextual and changeable, dependent on point of view, and that today’s truths become tomorrow’s disproven hypotheses or fogotten objets d’art. –Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truths for yourself. –Vilfredo Pareto

Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas. –Shoseki

Truth lies in layers, each of them thin and barely opaque, like skin, resisting the tug to be told. –Ruth L. Ozeki, My Year of Meats

The truth is more important than the facts. –Frank Lloyd Wright

It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. –Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The truth can be a terrible thing, sometimes too terrible to live with. –Gitta Sereny, Into that Darkness

Nothing you’ve ever known is true. Nor nothing you’ve ever loved. You don’t know if there’s a Hell below you, or a Heaven above. The Truth, my friend, is somewhere out there, just waiting to be released. But before you embark on your great endeavor, know that you’ll never return to peace. –Charles Edward Jaggard

Those who know the truth are not equal to those who love it. –Confucius

To love the truth is to refuse to let oneself be saddened by it. –André Gide, Journals

The exact opposite of what is generally believed is often the truth. – Jean De La Bruyere, Les Caractères

Truth is often eclipsed but never extinguished. –Titus Livy, History of Rome

Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon. –Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible

If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people. –Virginia Woolf, The Moment and Other Essays

Never assume the obvious is true. –William Safire, Sleeper Spy

One of life’s great truths is this: when one is about to be struck by a speeding six-hundred-pound Coke machine, one need worry about nothing else. –Stephen King, The Tommyknockers

Sometimes, the truth is harder than the pain inside. –Erasure, “Sometimes”


Conservatism, Puritanism


The Puritan imagines that his moral standard is the moral standard; he does not realize that other ages and other countries, and even groups in his own country, have moral standards different from his, to which they have as good a right as he has to his. – Bertrand Russell, The Recrudescence of Puritanism

Righteous people terrify me … Virtue is its own punishment. –Aneurin Bevan

Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. –HG Wells, The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman

We become moral when we are unhappy. –Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are consevatives after dinner, or before taking their rest. When they are sick, or aged; in the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused, when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Second Series

On the other side, the conservative party, composed of the most moderate, able, and cultivated part of the population, is timid, and merely defensive of property. It vindicates no right, it aspires to no real good, it brands no rime, it proposes no generous policy, it does not build, nor write, nor cherish the arts, nor foster religion, nor establish schools, nor encourage science, nor emancipate the slave, nor befriend the poor, or the Indian, or the Immigrant. –ditto

They define themselves in terms of what they oppose. –George F. Will , on conservatives

A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. –Elbert Hubbard

What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? –Abraham Lincoln

Some fellows get credit for being conservative when they are only stupid. –Kin Hubbard

Men who are orthodox when they are young are in danger of being middle-aged all their lives. –Walter Lippmann

The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them. –Mark Twain, Notebook

A conservative is someone who admires radicals a century after they’re dead. –anonymous

A conservative is someone who demands a square deal for the rich. –David Frost, TVam

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. –John Kenneth Galbraith

A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things. –GK Chesterton, in the New York Times, November 21, 1930

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. –HL Mencken, Chrestomathy


Journalism, Journalists


[This section includes some negative quotes, even though I have a degree in Communications!]

It was hard as hell to remember that each story deserved the same attention because the people and crimes were real and you were the record. And for those millions who died nameless and afraid, each had a story that would go untold if you didn’t tell it, and the very idea would spin you tight if you gave it too much thought. It was the greatest job I’d ever had. –Bryan Mealer, All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo

The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the waters pure. –Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Marquis de Lafayette, November 4, 1823

It seemed natural to become a journalist—an occupation hospitable to persons with mood disorders. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

He hated to say that reporting was in his blood, but it did seem to offer him something that nothing else did: the exhilaration of a million small facts. When he was working on a story, he felt as though he were a paleontologist uncovering a set of bones, chipping away at the world until he had enucleated some small hard object he could catalogue and carry away in his hands: a skull, say, or a breastbone. –Kevin Brockmeier, A Brief History of the Dead

The First Law of Journalism: to confirm existing prejudice, rather than contradict it. –Alexander Cockburn

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. –Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism”

The lowest depth to which people can sink before God is defined by the word journalist. –Soren Kierkegaard

I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers. –Mahatma Gandhi


Optimism, Pessimism


A pessimist is one who builds dungeons in the air. –Walter Winchell, read in Andrew John and Stephen Blake’s Are You A Miserable Old Bastard?

The optimist says, “My cup runneth over, what a blessing.” The pessimist says, “My cup runneth over, what a mess.” –anonymous

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute. –Gil Stern, read in Andrew John and Stephen Blake’s Are You A Miserable Old Bastard?

I don’t consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin. –Leonard Cohen, in the Independent on Sunday, May 2, 1993

The only “ism” that has justified itself is pessimism. –George Orwell, “The Limit to Pessimism”

The basis of optimism is sheer terror. –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I imagine that yes is the only living thing. –ee cummings

It is much more sensible to be an optimist instead of a pessimist, for if one is doomed to disappointment, why experience it in advance? –Amelia Peabody Emerson

an optimist is a guy
who has never had
much experience.
–Don Marquis, “certain maxims of archy”

I find nothing more depressing than optimism. –Paul Fussell

Optimism is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong. –Voltaire

Optimism, n. The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly. –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. –James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people meaner. –Karl Kraus




How, he thought, did you mark the passing of almost two decades? The time seemed a shapeless lump of Failing efforts, of nights spent in anguish; of the secret the answer, the revelation alays being withheld from him. Dangled overhead like cheese swinging in a maddening arc over the head of a berserk rat. –Richard Matheson, “Mad House”

I sit at the table and time stands still. I can’t see it, smell it, or hear it, but it surrounds me on all sides. Its silence and motionlessness is terrible. I jump up, run out of the house, and try to escape it. I do something, things race ahead, and I forget time. And then, quite suddenly, it surrounds me again. I may be standing in front of the house looking across at the crows, and there it is again, incorporeal and silent, and it holds on to us, the meadow, the crows, and myself. I shall have to get used to it, its indifference and omnipresence. It extends into infinity like an enormous spider’s web. Billions of tiny cocoons hang woven into its threads, a lizard lying in the sun, a burning house, a dying soldier, everything dead and everything living. Time is big, yet it has room for new cocoons. A grey and relentless net, in which every second of my life is captured. Perhaps that’s why it seems so terrible to me, because it stores everything up and never really allows anything to end. –Marlen Haushofer, The Wall

Time never said “Best you enjoy yourself now because we’re going somewhere soon.”
But that’s what he meant.
–Iain S. Thomas, “The Nod and the Wink”

My life has taught me that remembering Time—that line connecting all the moments that Aristotle called the present—is for most of us a rather painful business. When we try to conjure up the line connecting these moments … we are forced to remember that the line comes to an end, and to contemplate death. –Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence

Sometimes I would forget Time altogether, and nestle into “now” as if it were a soft bed. –ditto

I don’t have much time, I have to breathe, eat, drink, sleep. I don’t have much time, I have to keep the gears meshing. I don’t have much time, I’m busy living. I don’t have much time, I’m busy dying. –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

Time is contagious—everybody’s getting old. –Damien Rice, “Coconut Skins”

Time passes. Even when it seems impossible. Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly, in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me. –Stephanie Meyer, New Moon

Time is unwavering,
it never rings its bell for time out,
it increases, it journeys,
it shows up within us
like water that deepens
within our own watching …
–Jane Hirshfield, “Ode to Time”

is divided
into two rivers:
one flows backward, devouring
life already lived;
the other
moves forward with you
your life.
For a single second
they may be joined.
This is that moment,
the drop of an instant
that washes away the past.
It is the present.
It is in your hands.
Racing, slipping,
tumbling like a waterfall.
But it is yours.
–Pablo Neruda, “Ode to the Past”

... time that flows
will have the shape

and sound
of a guitar,
and when you want
to bow to the past,
the singing spring of
transparent time
will reveal your wholeness.
Time is joy.

Everything was alive,
alive, alive, alive
like a scarlet fish,
but time
passed with cloth and darkness
and kept wiping away
the flash of the fish.
–Pablo Neruda, “Past”

Time hangs off me like molting skin. –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

It haunts me, the passage of time. I think time is a merciless thing. I think life is a process of burning oneself out and time is the fire that burns you. But I think the spirit of man is a good adversary. –Tennessee Williams, in the New York Post, April 30, 1958

We must use time as a tool, not as a couch. –John F. Kennedy, quoted in the Observer, December 10, 1961

Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. –Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions

Time is the devourer of everything. –Ovid, Metamorphoses

He was oddly aware of time flowing through him. It was uneven and seemingly fitful: it dragged, stretched out, thinned like a droplet, forming a little neck—and suddenly broke. –Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House

Time! Herein lies the secret of whatever age a man has achieved: If I just remembered things aright, as they were … I wouldn’t want to go back, not even for a day! –ditto

I have lived for many years under the raised axe of time. –ditto

That’s how the time flowed by. But how did it flow? When water flowed, you could see it; you could put your hand into it. It was cold or hot as it flowed. Air flowed in the form of wind. You couldn’t see it, but it blew on your cheek. You could feel it if you raised a wet finger. It moved the clouds. But what about time? It was neither cold nor hot. It didn’t cool a wet finger. How did it flow then? A song said that time gave all and took all away. Time had great power. Time could change all. Time would show who was right. All things had their proper time, and the wheel of time went round, and some people killed time. Why didn’t it show itself if it was so powerful? Was it shy? Was it ugly, or naked perhaps? Was it crippled, with only one leg, for example, or had something knocked out of joint? –Mati Unt, The Autumn Ball

Time is a storm in which we are all lost. –William Carlos Williams

… I don’t know, it’s like water seeping into water, the way time passes in this house, impossible to measure it. –Joyce Carol Oates, “The Sepulchre”

I believed, finally, that time would pass—it just would—and before I knew it, days would accumulate, bank up like snow, whether I handled them well or not. –Virginia Heffernan, “A Delicious Placebo”

Time was a gradual, continual dying. –Edgar Pangborn, “A Master of Babylon”

Time’s left its remnants and qualities for me to use—my words piled up, my texts, my manuscripts, my loves. –Allen Ginsberg, “Transcription of Organ Music”

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time. –Baltimore Grotto

I will pass, we will pass.
So says night to day,
month to year.
corrects the testimony
of winners and losers,
but the tree never rests in its growing.
The tree dies, another seedling comes
to life, and everything goes on.
–Pablo Neruda, “Delia Del Carril”

Time proceeds without measurement; there is no original sin, only a confluence of waters mixing, separating, and mixing again. –Gretel Ehrlich, This Cold Heaven

Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them. –Dion Boucicault, London Assurance

Time ripens all things. No man’s born wise. –Cervantes, Don Quixote

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Time is the best medicine. –Ovid, Remedia amoris

Nothing is ours except time. –Seneca, Epistles

Gentle time will heal our sorrows. –Sophocles, Oedipus Rex


Little Things, Simplicity, Leading a
Simple Life, Quietness, Stillness


You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. –Franz Kafka

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose. –Indira Gandhi

It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. –Laura Ingalls Wilder

Everything, in its true nature
Is stillness.

The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things...the trivial pleasures like cooking, one’s home, little poems, especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard. –Barbara Pym, Less Than Angels

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. –A. Conan Doyle, A Case of Identity

Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual. You will find people living simply in large cities, rural areas, and everything in between. –Linda Breen Pierce

I believe we would be happier to have a personal revolution in our individual lives and go back to simpler living and more direct thinking. It is the simple things of life that make living worthwhile, the sweet fundamental things such as love and duty, work and rest, and living close to nature. There are not hothouse blossoms that can compare in beauty and fragrance with my bouquet of wildflowers. –Laura Ingalls Wilder

In a person’s life there are small things which are reasons for the larger things that follow. –Goldberry Long, Juniper Tree Burning

With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy. –Lope de Vega

The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little. –John Zabat-Zinn

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. –Robert Brault

The simplest things give me ideas. –Joan Miro

It’s these little things, they can pull you under. –REM, “Sweetness Follows”

I try to teach my heart to want nothing it can’t have. –Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach. –Lin Yutang

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction. –EF Schumacker

To know you have enough is to be rich. –Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching