Favorite Quotes

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. -John Wooden

Civilized life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly.  The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions, and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us. -J.G. Ballard

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. -Anais Nin

All this science and math and quest for knowledge isn’t worth anything to us as human beings unless it’s in an emotional context. And that’s where artists come in, because we make something that communicates to people because arts is the common language of our humanity. -Tim Daly

Patriarchy has always had room for the Exceptional Woman—the one woman smart enough, sweet enough, strong enough, soft enough, pure enough, sexy enough to satisfy all of our culture’s contradictory demands on women, and thus make it to the top of a sexist system on merit alone. Patriarchy needs that woman. She provides men with an excuse to blame women for their own pain and struggles while simultaneously assuring women that sexism only needs to be outwitted to be overcome. She tells us that the system is survivable for women—you simply have to be the right kind of woman. -Sady Doyle

Our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies – not from the pathologies themselves. -Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

You’re like… a rottweiler in a corgi body. -Joseph Schlesinger

My entrance into the world of so-called ‘social problems’
Must be with quiet laughter, or not at all.
The hollow men of anger and bitterness
The bountiful ladies of righteous degradation
All must be left to a bygone age.
And the purpose of history is to provide a receptacle
For all those myths and oddments
Which oddly we have acquired
And from which we would become unburdened
To create a newer world
To translate the future into the past.
We have no need of false revolutions
In a world where categories tend to tyrannize our minds
And hang our wills up on narrow pegs.
It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives.
And once those limits are understood
To understand that limitations no longer exist.
Earth could be fair. And you and I must be free
Not to save the world in a glorious crusade
Not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain
But to practice with all the skill of our being
The art of making possible. -Nancy Scheibner

A great writer of fiction both creates — through acts of imagination, through language that feels inevitable, through vivid forms — a new world, a world that is unique, individual; and responds to a world, the world the writer shares with other people but is unknown or mis-known by still more people, confined in their worlds: call that history, society, what you will. – Susan Sontag, At the Same Time

In place of boredom, living things offer spontaneity. In place of loneliness, they offer companionship. In place of helplessness, they offer a chance to take care of another being.

Human beings have a need for both privacy and community, for flexible daily rhythms and patterns, and for the possibility of forming caring relationships with those around them.

The terror of sickness and old age is not merely the terror of the losses one is forced to endure but also the terror of the isolation. As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not see more power. They only ask to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world – to make choices and sustain connections to others according to their own priorities.

People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete.

Questions to ask sick patients in the time before decisions have to be made: What do they understand their prognosis to be, what are their concerns about what lies ahead, what kind of trade-offs are they willing to make, how do they want to spend their time if their health worsens, who do they want to make decisions if they can’t?

I am leery of suggesting the idea that endings are controllable. No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.

Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the ‘dying role’ and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdom and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms. This role is among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind.

Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?” – Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it. – Kurt Vonnegut

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau

Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. Everyone’s journey is different. Just do you. – Evan Carmichael

At the core of what really matters, we are the same. All of us are seeking the same thing. Everybody wants to fulfill the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. -Oprah

We’ve come from an age of industrial revolution, an age of information, an age of knowledge, but we’re not any closer to the age of wisdom. How do we organize for more wisdom? -Richard Semler

I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience. -Meryl Streep

Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way. – Janet Fitch

I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity. -Rudyard Kipling.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. -Esther in Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.- Gretchen Rubin

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be. -Douglas Adams

There is nothing more liberating than having your worst fear realized. – Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth 2011 Commencement Speech

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. -Steve Jobs

We face huge issues as a world — the financial crisis, global warming and this growing sense of fear and otherness. And everyday we have a choice. we can take the easier road, the more cynical road, which is a road based on sometimes dreams of a past that never really was, a fear of each other, distancing and blame, or we can take the much more difficult path of transformation, transcendence, compassion and love, but also accountability and justice. –Jacqueline Novogratz

The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people’s hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one’s face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn’t go around with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they’d understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I’ve always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.

If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms—if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body—it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood. – The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Real security cannot be bought or arranged or accomplished with bombs. Real security is the ability to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity—indeed hungering for these things. – Eve Ensler

In your life there are a few places, or maybe only the one place, where something happened, and then there are all the other places. -Alice Munro

We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps. -Ondaatje

For we live in those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are song-like in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell. -Ondaatje

I went into the desert to forget about you. But the sand was the color of your hair. The desert sky was the color of your eyes. There was nowhere I could go that wouldn’t be you. -Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

People didn’t fit in slots–prostitute, housewife, saint–like sorting the mail. We were so mutable, fluid with fear and desire, ideals and angles, changeable as water. The pine shadows moved across my blanket, the wall behind me. People were just like that. We couldn’t even see each other, just the shadows moving, pushed by unseen winds. What was beauty unless you intended to use it? Like a hammer or a key? It was just something for other people to use and admire, or envy, despise. To nail their dreams onto like a picture hanger on a blank wall. And so many girls saying, use me, dream me. -Janet Fitch in White Oleander

The real aim of education is not knowledge, but action. – Herbert Spencer

I gave you keys to my apartment so early, it probably violated some clause in my lease… You’re going to look amazing in white hair, and I’m so glad I’ll be around to see it. -NYT Weddings/Celebrations 11/11/11

Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relations of men to women, but the relation of women to themselves. -John Berger

Everybody says time heals everything / But what of the wretched hollow? / Are we just going to wait it out? / And sit here cold? / We will be long gone by then / In lackluster, in dust we lay around old magazines / Fluorescent lighting sets the scene / for all we could and should be being / in the one life that we’ve got. – Imogen Heap

If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room. -Anita Roddick

Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living. -Jonathan Safran Foer

We ourselves need to lead from a place that has the audacity to believe we can extend the fundamental assumption that all men are created equal to every man, woman and child on this planet. And we need to have the humility to recognize that we cannot do it alone. Robert Kennedy once said that “few of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written.” Our lives are so short, and our time on this planet is so precious, and all we have is each other. So may each of you live lives of immersion. They won’t necessarily be easy lives, but in the end, it is all that will sustain us. – Jacqueline Novogratz

To write with beauty, something in your past must have changed you, forced you, for the rest of your natural life, to turn over your present in your palm, searching for the missing link. To write with beauty, you must have the courage to admit this gnawing, absent presence, and have the humility to examine its impact on your soul. – Ondaatje in Divisadero

Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good, former spouses. -Isabel Allende

Years earlier, her heart had inclined in the direction of another soul, and now, against the advice of many friends and well-wishers, she’d had the wisdom to understand that when our hearts incline–often in defiance of duty, blood, rationality, justice, indeed every value we hold dear–it’s pointless to object. We love whom we love. In the past two years, for Grace, everything had changed and nothing had changed… If this was a great love story, I had no idea where we were on its time line. For all I knew, we might be nearer its beginning than its end. -RR

Bill O’Reilly-“Sometimes you do have to compromise your values in order to protect yourself.”
Jon Stewart-“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they are not values! They are HOBBIES.”

The hardest and most important thing to remember is that you cannot just do nothing because you realize you cannot do everything. -NM

If they start singing about Jesus, I have to leave.
Unless, they sing about him in complex, rhythmic ways. – Brit Keeton

Only in Olathe do you get pomeranians substituting for sheep in a Jesus reenactment. -Brit Keeton

When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches, and the route is different everytime. -Xinran

Always know poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like flouride in the water, they will make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay. – J.Fitch

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. – Ondaatje in The English Patient

If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth. I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed. I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage. I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television – and more while watching life. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband. I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.” There would have been more “I love you’s”.. More “I’m sorrys” … But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it … live it…and never give it back. – Erma Bombeck

The reason we still have marriage when it can seem so archaic and outdated is because people stubbornly continue to insist on creating intimacy with each other. You can’t have intimacy in the long-term without privacy, and you can’t have privacy without rights, and you can’t have rights without some societal, governmental recognition of the fact that this couple has drawn a circle around themselves that’s inviolable, that the family has to respect, that the neighbors have to respect, and that the law has to respect. And we don’t have another system for that yet. It’s an act of rescue to protect your partner to enter into that circle, and we are benefited by that. -Elizabeth Gilbert

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. -Oscar Wilde