Monday, June 26, 2017

Quotations and My Discontents

     A stock photo of a curling piece of notebook paper. Just a corner, torn from a larger sheet.  A note, written in the fat, looping letters of a “tween”-age girl. On the paper, the following quotation: 

     “You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear. ---Oscar Wilde.”
     Oscar Wilde?     
     Along with postcards, cookbooks, Crayola themed tchotchkes, and journals, I hoard quotations. Long ago, when memes were “Xerox Lore” and my Pinterest board was an actual corkboard behind my desk, I started.  Now, the Internet has become a crowded bazaar of quotations of all kinds, and I’m glad because I am a fan of a well-turned phrase, but I am also a fan of proper citation. One of the things I appreciate about a good quotation is how the tone of matches the tone of the author. Many times I’ll find a quotation I like, but the attribution is wrong. It’s almost as though Oscar Wilde was responsible for every British ‘bon mot’ and either Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln in charge of the American equivalent.
     Here are five of the most meaningful quotations I find myself returning over and over. Each of them represent the voice of the author, even though even I am guilty of crediting the wrong person occasionally.

     I’ve pasted Gaiman’s quotation into my journal at the beginning of each new annum for three years running now. Every time I flip by it, the words remind me to make time for the things that matter.

    I’ve tried keeping a gratitude journal and it just doesn’t work for me. What does work is stopping to marvel at some of the random moments that make me happy: seeing the bunnies that have taken up residence in our yard, hearing my favorite Van Morrison song pop up on my iPod mix, smelling the vanilla as it heats up in the pudding I stir on the stove. Vonnegut's words remind us to find small joys and savor them.

     The oldest exhibit in my little museum.  My sister sent this one to me when I was in high school, competing on the Oklahoma high school forensics circuit and discovering that I loved a captive audience. Roosevelt never stood on the sidelines; this is all about taking risks.

    I misattribute this one to Natalie Goldberg even though I know she was quoting Richard Brautigan when she included it in her book.  This quotation is the most important to me as a teacher.  These words remind me that there are only so many minutes in a school year and that I don’t want to be that teacher Brautigan and Golberg describe. Those minutes matter.

     Another quotation that I go back to for inspiration throughout the school year.  I’m not going to make a kid love learning lines or painting flats black, but I can help them discover that once the lines are learned, being someone else onstage is fun, or that hanging out with other people with paintbrushes in their hands is an okay way to spend an afternoon.  I can’t tell them how competing made me feel, but I can get the bus out at 5:30 in the morning and haul them off to another speech tournament so they can discover it themselves.
     Should I be more forgiving of a foible I indulge in myself? Perhaps. Still, I’ve found Garson O’Toole’s engaging reference, Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations, a swell guide to some of the crimes against authorship the World Wide Web hosts.  His website, The QuoteInvestigator,is a useful and detailed resource for checking out suspect quotations. I like to check things there when I read a quotation that doesn’t sound just right.
     In the end, Shakespeare's words apply:


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