I have long been a fan of quotes, pithy, profound, convoluted, simple, poetic, evocative, musical, gracious, linear and circular. I’m ever on the alert to understand how people do what they do, how they understand themselves, how they keep going, how they see themselves in the world. There is no particular discipline represented here, except discipline itself. I’ll go with that. I’ve put them in an order that means something to me, but, to quote Michael Lewis: “The book you wrote may not be the book people read.”
“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
– David Bowie
“At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste. Your destination is the dictionary. Suppose you sense an opportunity beyond the word “intention.” You read the dictionary’s thesaurian list of synonyms: “intention, intent, purpose, design, aim, end, object, objective, goal.” But the dictionary doesn’t let it go at that. It goes on to tell you the differences all the way down the line—how each listed word differs from all the others. Some dictionaries keep themselves trim by just listing synonyms and not going on to make distinctions. You want the first kind, in which you are not just getting a list of words; you are being told the differences in their hues, as if you were looking at the stripes in an awning, each of a subtly different green.”
– John McPhee, writer, from Draft # 4.
“The ‘secret’ is skill. If you haven’t learned how to do something, the people who have may seem to be magicians, possessors of mysterious secrets. In a fairly simple art, such as making pie crust, there are certain teachable “secrets” of method that lead almost infallibly to good results; but in any complex art, such as housekeeping, piano-playing, clothes-making, or story-writing, there are so many techniques, skills, choices of method, so many variables, so many “secrets,” some teachable and some not, that you can learn them only by methodical, repeated, long-continued practice — in other words, by work.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, from her essay “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From”, in her collection Dancing at the Edge of the World, Thoughts on Words, Women, Places.
“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”
– Carved in stone on the wall of the Scottish Parliament.
“My father was a business man and I am a business man. I want philosophy to be business-like, to get something done, to get something settled.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein in a letter to M. O’C. Drury, 1930
“I didn’t have the nerve to do what came next, so I had to do it without the nerve.”
—Paula Fox, author
“There is no formula. The formula comes out of you. So, whether it’s a top light or whether it’s some other thing. It just happened to be — that’s what was necessary to do this particular movie or this particular scene. So, I did it. Bottom line is, the design behind all of that, or the thinking behind the design of all of that came out of Marlon Brando, because Marlon had this makeup stuff he was using, so top light seemed to be the most effective way of dealing with him. You don’t really want to see his eyes. There was a big Hollywood rush about, “You can’t see his eyes.” That’s right. You can’t.”
– Gordon Willis, director of photography, about lighting Marlon Brando in The Godfather, during an interview with Craft Truck.
“Always play for the song.”
– Steven Van Zandt, musician
“I’ve not read The English Patient since it came out in 1992 and I suspect, and know more than any one, that it remains cloudy with errors and pacing. And at the back of my mind I keep recalling one of my favorite remarks, that Erik Satie made when asked about the fact that Ravel had turned down the Legion of Honour: “It’s not enough to have refused the Legion D’honneur. The important thing is not to have deserved it in the first place.”
– From Michael Ondaatje’s speech in 2018 upon winning the Golden Man Booker prize, by vote of the public, for The English Patient, honoring the most popular Man Booker novel of the last 50 years.
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful – be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”
– Patti Smith
“As you can imagine, these changes didn’t arrive without some resistance. One of the biggest defenders of the status quo was, unfortunately, the carpenters’ union. The group feared that change would mean less work for its members. I remember a union business agent visiting our job site in 1954. He asked to see my long-handle hammer. He walked to a saw and cut off several inches of the handle so that it would comply with union rules. I went home that evening and put on an even longer handle.”
-Larry Haun, from his book A Carpenter’s Life As Told by Houses
“I’m reminded also of the three rules we came up with, rules to live by. And I’m just going to tell you what they are because they come in really handy. Because things happen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watchwords to fall back on.
And the first one is: One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”
– Laurie Anderson, from her speech inducting her recently deceased husband, Lou Reed, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“When you create something out of nothing, the first rule is to agree.”
– Tina Fey
“Objectivity is the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.”
— Heinz von Foerster
“Beauty will result from the form and correspondence of the whole, with respect to the several parts, of the parts with regard to each other, and of these again to the whole; that the structure may appear an entire and complete body, wherein each member agrees with the other, and all necessary to compose what you intend to form.”
– Andrea Palladio, Architecture, Book I