I’m probably one of the few people using Facebook who still updates my Favorite Quotations section and looks to see what other people have in theirs. I haven’t kept track, but it would be interesting to see how my quotes have evolved over the years, to see what it said about me. For instance, I recently deleted a Joan Didion quote that, and now that I’m re-reading the passage I came from, I kind of regret deleting it, especially because it is illustrative of what I’m talking about here:
…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
I’ve always been a quote person. I come from a long line of quote people. Among my family are people who can rattle off great quotes from poems, novels, history books, and New Yorker articles.
There is a school of thought that views quotes as reductive and trite. I think there is at least. I went through this period briefly, thinking that quotes were taking something out of context that was much bigger than that line. And when I was younger and more cynical, I used to get really turned off by inspirational quotes. Now, as anyone who follows my regular quotations from my spin instructor can see, I have come around. Inspirational quotes get me through the difficult moments of the day and of the week, at least when those quotes have some kind of anchor in the idea that the possessing strength, persistence, and a certain mindset while struggling will get you far.
I also live a good amount of my internal life according to quotes–not so much that I do what a quote tells me, but rather when I run up against one of life’s harsh realities, I know that there is a quote from a great writer about that exact reality, reminding me that what I’m experiencing is nothing new. There are a few that I return to over and over and over again. I think most of those I have mentioned here. There is Kurt Vonnegut’s quote from Sirens of Titan about mankind fruitlessly “pushing ever outward” and Ralph Ellison’s quote from Invisible Man about the realization that he is “nobody but myself.”
Because I love quotes so much and still update my Facebook quotes wall, I thought I’d provide a list of what’s currently up there. It’s as banal a place as any to keep such profound thoughts, and yet so many profound thoughts emerge from banality, so I think it’s ok
I’ve met many people over the years
And in my opinion I have found that
People are the same everywhere
They have the same fears Shed similar tears
Die in so many years.
-Curtis Mayfield, “No Thing on Me (The Cocaine Song)”
She did not yet know the immense ability of the world to be casually cruel and proudly dull, but if she should ever learn those dismaying powers, her eyes would never become sullen or heavy or rheumily amorous.
-Sinclair Lewis, Main Street
Alan Dershowitz: You are a very strange man.
Claus von Bülow: You have no idea.
-Reversal of Fortune
“Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward–pushed ever outward.”
the tragic hypothesis that things as they are, evil as they are, are as good and as bad as under any form, they ever will be.
What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“Day by day, people say right on.”
-Marvin Gaye, “Where are we Going?”
It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself.
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man