The following are quotes that mean a great deal to me. They’re from a wide range of readings. They’re in no particular order.
“I mean: ambition to what? Toward what? For what? In the service of what? Endless schmoozing and worrying and self-promotion and maniac flattery and status anxiety and name-dropping are available to all of us in any artistic medium. But the competitive edge is depressing. That thinly (or not at all) disguised desire to win. To best her or him or her or him, sell more, publish more, own the Internet, occupy more front tables, get tagged, have the most followers, be loudest, assume some throne. Is it because we want to believe that we are in charge of our destiny, and that if “things” aren’t “happening” for us, we are failing to, like, “manifest”? Or is it because we are misguided enough to think that external validation is what counts? Or is it because of some core narcissistic injury, some failure of love we carry around like a latent virus?”
“So maybe my great ambition, such as it is, is to refrain from engagement with systems that purport to tell me what I’m worth compared to anyone else. Maybe my great ambition is to steer clear of systems. Any systems. All systems. (Please Like and Share this essay if you agree!) What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.”…”Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home.”
“Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don’t care if I’m socialized to feel this way, because in point of fact I do feel this way. So! I am unavailable for striving today. I’m suuuuuper busy.”
– Elisa Albert, The Snarling Girl
“… he imagined that it was probably only in marriage (and a good marriage, not the decorous dance of loneliness he’d watched his mother and father do for seventeen years but rather true conjugal intimacy) that partners allowed each other to see below the berg’s cap’s public mask and consented to be truly known, maybe even to the extent of not only letting the partner see the repulsive nest of moles under their left arm or the way after any sort of cold or viral infection the toenails on both feet turned a weird deep yellow for several weeks but even perhaps every once in a while sobbing in each other’s arms late at night and pouring out the most ghastly private fears and thoughts of failure and impotence and terrible and thoroughgoing smallness within a grinding professional machine you can’t believe you once had the temerity to think you could help change or make a difference or ever be more than a tiny faceless cog in, the shame of being so hungry to make some sort of real impact on an industry that you’d fantasized over and over about finally deciding that making a dark difference with a hypo and eight cc’s of castor bean distillate was better, was somehow more true to your own inner centrality and importance, than being nothing but a faceless cog and doing a job that untold thousands of other bright young men and women could do at least as well as you, or rather now even better than you because at least the younger among them still believed deep inside that they were made for something larger and more central and relevant than shepherding preoccupied men through an abstracted shamcaucus and yet at the same time still believed that they could (= the bright young men could) begin to manifest their larger potential for impact and effectiveness by being the very best darn…”
– David Foster Wallace, Mr. Squishy, Oblivion
“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.”
– Mark Twain
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
– Charles Bukowski
“I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”
– Aaron Swartz
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
“Quand tu veux construire un bateau, ne commence pas par rassembler du bois, couper des planches et distribuer du travail, mais reveille au sein des hommes le desir de la mer grande et large.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupéry
“All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and I promise you, something great will come of it.”
– Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
– Robert A. Heinleinn
“Run from what’s comfortable.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on I’ll be mad.”
“Even as I wrote my note to Fern, for instance, expressing sentiments and regrets that were real, a part of me was noticing what a fine and sincere note it was, and anticipating the effect on Fern of this or that heartfelt phrase, while yet another part was observing the whole scene of a man in a dress shirt and no tie sitting at his breakfast nook writing a heartfelt note on his last afternoon alive, the blondwood table’s surface trembling with sunlight and the man’s hand steady and face both haunted by regret and ennobled by resolve, this part of me sort of hovering above and just to the left of myself, evaluating the scene, and thinking what a fine and genuine-seeming performance in a drama it would make if only we all had not already been subject to countless scenes just like it in dramas ever since we first saw a movie or read a book, which somehow entailed that real scenes like the one of my suicide note were now compelling and genuine only to their participants, and to anyone else would come off as banal and even somewhat cheesy or maudlin, which is somewhat paradoxical when you consider – as I did, setting there at the breakfast nook – that the reason scenes like this will seem stale or manipulative to an audience is that we’ve already seen so many of them in dramas, and yet the reason we’ve seen so many of them in dramas is that the scenes really are dramatic and compelling and let people communicate very deep, complicated emotional realities that are almost impossible to articulate in any other way, and at the same time still another facet or part of me realizing that from this perspective my own basic problem was that at an early age I’d somehow chosen to cast my lot with my life’s drama’s supposed audience instead of with the drama itself, and that I even now was watching and gauging my supposed performance’s quality and probable effects, and thus was in the final analysis the very same manipulative fraud writing the note to Fern that I had been throughout the life that had brought me to this climactic scene of writing and signing it and addressing the envelope and affixing postage and putting the envelope in my shirt pocket (totally conscious of the resonance of its resting there, next to my heart, in the scene), planning to drop it in a mailbox on the way out to Lily Cache Rd. and the bridge abutment into which I planned to drive my car at speeds sufficient to displace the whole front end and impale me on the steering wheel and instantly kill me. Self-loathing is not the same thing as being into pain or a lingering death, if I was going to do it I wanted it instant’”
“The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think. But what if you could? Think for a second — what if all the infinitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died, because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or span or passage of time in which to express it or convey it, and you don’t even need any organized English, you can as they say open the door and be in anyone else’s room in all your own multiform forms and ideas and facets? Because listen — we don’t have much time, here’s where Lily Cache slopes slightly down and the banks start getting steep, and you can just make out the outlines of the unlit sign for the farmstand that’s never open anymore, the last sign before the bridge — so listen: What exactly do you think you are? The millions and trillions of thoughts, memories, juxtapositions — even crazy ones like this, you’re thinking — that flash through your head and disappear? Some sum or remainder of these? Your history? Do you know how long it’s been since I told you I was a fraud? Do you remember you were looking at the respicem watch hanging from the rearview and seeing the time, 9:17? What are you looking at right now? Coincidence? What if no time has passed at all?* The truth is you’ve already heard this. That this is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you’re a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it’s only a part. Who wouldn’t? It’s called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali — it’s not English anymore, it’s not getting squeezed through any hole.
So cry all you want, I won’t tell anybody.”
– David Foster Wallace, Good Old Neon, Oblivion