visual culture
shoeless sports bar
dust jacket syndrome
kaleidoscope wise
the power button
the listening booth
the narrative thread
la vie poeme
the scientific method
soul kitchen
alphabet zen
the cyber district
Established: August 2000
Matt Borondy
Author Database
Submission Guidelines

Commonplace Book

One of the most frequent comments I hear everywhere, right up there with "what’s for dinner" and "I want to be somebody" is "I don’t have time to read," which is essentially telling you, a lifelong writer, that your
profession is below that of communal spritzers and flossing, and frequent social ass scratching. Everyone has to learn over and over that at best time is seized and then you flee.
-Jim Harrison


I have no respect for writers. They never make money. They’re like poor
people looking in the windows.
-NY Publicist Peggy Seigal, quoted in Toby Young's How to Lose Friends and Influence People


The beauty of the Internet was that Chip could post whole cloth fabrications without troubling to even check his spelling. Reliability on the Web was 98% a function of how slick and cool your site looked. Although Chip personally wasn’t fluent in Web, he was an American under 40 and Americans under 40 were exquisite judges of what was slick and cool and what was not. - Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections


The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainments and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence… - Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections


There is nothing...that is not beautiful or that will last. - Joe Bolton, "Tropical Paradise"


The best thing for being to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. - T.H. White, The Once and Future King


The difference between Socrates and Jesus is that no one has ever been put to death in Socrates' name. And that is because Socrates' ideas were never made into law. - E.L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel


The ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. - Jack Kerouac, On The Road


All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion. - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


Buying is much more American than thinking and I'm as American as they come. In Europe and the Orient people like to trade—buy and sell, sell and buy—they're basically merchants. Americans are not so interested in selling—in fact, they'd rather throw out than sell. What they really like to do is buy—people, money, countries. - Andy Warhol, THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol


"You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch." "Yes." "It's sort of what we have instead of God." - Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises


America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves.... It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet


I do not like experts. They are our jailers. I despise experts more than anyone on earth...They solve nothing! They are servants of whatever system hires them. They perpetuate it. When we are tortured, we shall be tortured by experts. When we are hanged, experts will hang us...When the world is destroyed, it will be destroyed not by its madmen but by the sanity of its experts and the superior ignorance of its bureaucrats. - John Le Carre, Russia House


So let's dismiss non-fiction as something any child of eleven can do and let's dismiss most forms of fiction as writing that requires no discipline whatever. The novel, in particular, is by definition a form that defies definition. Moreover, most novelists at work today are writing as poorly as the people writing non-fiction. What it's come down to, if a person can successfully string together nine or ten plain words to fashion a simple sentence, then he or she may be dubbed 'author' and be permitted to go on author's tours and speak at Book and Author Luncheons and generally behave like a writer...

An author is anyone who's written a book. The book can be a diet book, or a cookbook, or a book about the sex life of the tsetse fly in Rwanda, or it can be a trashy woman-in-jeopardy mystery, or a high tech novel about a missing Russian diplomat, or any one of a thousand poorly written screeds or palimpsests. An author doesn't need to study literature, he doesn't need to take any courses in the craft of writing. All he needs to do is impulsively and ambitiously sit himself down in front of a computer and write as badly as he knows how to write. In this great land of the literary jackpot, if he writes badly enough, he may hit it really big, therfore qualifying AS a boba fide author entitled to go on book tours and television talk shows... - Ed McBain, Romance


President McKinley Explains That the United States Should Keep the Philippines by Direct Order of God...

I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don't know how it was but it came; first, that we could not give [the Philippines] back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; second, that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; third, we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for government, and they would soon have anarchy and misrule of there worse than Spain's was; and fourth, that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep and slept soundly. - Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire


Life is like licking honey from a thorn. [Old Hungarian saying] - Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows


It's a proven fact that those who have epilepsy also have a higher incidence of depression, but I wonder if the epilepsy causes the depression, or if the depression is because of the epilepsy, which is, when all is said and done, an illness so existential, so oddly spiritual, you are stuck out in the stratosphere with Sartre and Kierkegaard, with dead dogs and owls. - Lauren Slater, Lying


“You asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you put down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write didn’t you. I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get somebody to add commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people that do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there were hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page and you write in 'Fade out' and that’s the end and you’re done.” - Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty


Furthermore, those late nights I have driven back to the pooldar apartments in Berkeley after working, I have seen in the windows the pale blue glow of at least one television in every home. And I am told that many family meals are eaten in front of this screen as well. And perhaps this explains the face of Americans, the eyes that never appear satisfied, at peace with their work, or the day God has given them; these people have the eyes of very small children who are forever looking for their next source of distraction, entertainment, or a sweet taste in the mouth. And it is no longer to me a surprise that it is the recent immigrants who excel in this land, the Orientals, the Greeks, and yes, the Persians. We know rich opportunity when we see it. - Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog


Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zig-zag towards a more decent society.

We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. - Howard Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train


To contemplate truth, without sorrow, is the greatest gift. - The Kaballah


He'd once told me that the art of getting ahead in New York was based on learning how to express dissatisfaction in an interesting way. The air was full of rage and complaint. People had no tolerance for your particular hardship unless you knew how to entertain them with it. - Don DeLillo, White Noise


I see myself as half narrative...contentless form...I must compose myself. - John Barthes, Lost in the Funhouse


The only thing that is immune to change is our desire for meaning. - Douglas Coupland, Microserfs


Frankly, I have no mind for rational solutions to these immense problems. Nothing I ever hear from Washington, D.C., has any relationship with the reality I know down here. I’m seeing delirium, hunger, acute suffering, which are not solved, assuaged or aired by the stentorian fart breath of the House and Senate.

I’m also wondering if it behooves a writer to try to be right. Yeats warned about cutting off a horse's legs to get it into a box. Simon Ortiz, the grand Acomo Pueblo poet, said that there are no truths, only stories…

A historian might very well consider the validity of the Gadsen Purchase, wherein we bought my locale for fifty-two cents an acre from a group of Mexicans that had no right to sell it. The United Nations would question our right to take all of the Colorado River’s water, leaving the estuarine area in Mexico as dry as the bones their people leave up here in the desert. A true disciple of Jesus would say that we have to do something about these desperate people, though this is the smallest voice of all. Most politicians have the same moral imperative as a cancer cell: continue what you’re up to at all costs. Meanwhile the xenophobes, better known as the xenoids, merely jump up an down on the border screeching, surely a full testament to our primate roots. Everyone not already here must be kept out, and anyone here illegally, if not immediately expunged, should be made as uncomfortable as possible.

So Ana Claudia crossed with her brother and child into Indian country, walking up a dry wash for forty miles, but when she reached the highway she simply dropped dead near the place where recently a nineteen year old girl also died from thirst with a baby at her breast. The baby was covered with sun blisters, but lived. So did Ana Claudia’s. The particular cruelty of a dry wash is that everywhere there is evidence of water that once passed this way, with the banks verdant with flora. We don’t know how long it took Ana Claudia to walk her only forty miles in America, but we know what her last hours were like. Her body progressed from losing one quart of water to seven quarts: lethargy, increasing pulse, nausea, dizziness, blue shading of vision, delirium, swelling of the tongue, deafness, dimness of vision, shriveling of the skin, and then death, the fallen body wrenched into a question mark. How could we not wish that politicians on both sides of the border who let her die this way would die in the same manner? But then such people have never missed a single lunch. Ana Claudia Villa Herrera. What a lovely name. - Jim Harrison, "Life on the Border" (Men’s Journal, July 2001)


If I could believe that going to a barricade would affect man's fate in the slightest I would go to that barricade, and quite often I wish that I could, but it would be less than honest to say that I expect to happen upon such a happy ending. - Joan Didion, "On the Morning After the Sixties" (from The White Album)


You can never change the Past, but you can see it.
You can never see the Future, but you can change it.
- Charles Laquidara


A new question has arisen in man's mind, the question, namely, whether 'life is worth living,' and correspondingly, the feeling that one's life 'is a failure,' or is 'a success.' This idea is based on the concept of life as an enterprise which should show a profit. The failure is like the bankruptcy of a business in which the losses are greater than the gains. This concept is nonsensical. We may be happy or unhappy, achieve some aims, and not achieve others; yet there is no sensible balance which could show whether life is worth while living. Maybe from the standpoint of a balance life is never worth while living. It ends necessarily with death; many of our hopes are disappointed; it involves suffering and effort; from the standpoint of this balance, it would seem to make more sense not to have been born at all, or to die in infancy. On the other hand, who will tell whether on happy moment of love, or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies? Life is a unique gift and challenge, not to be measured in terms of anything else, and no sensible answer can be given to the question whether it is 'worth while' living, because the question does not make any sense. - Erich Fromm, The Sane Society


The "working poor" as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for: they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else. - Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed


Sometime in the Eighties, Americans had a new set of "traditional values" installed. It was part of what may someday be known as the "Reagan renovation," that finely balanced mix of cosmetic refinement and moral coarseness which brought $200,000 china to the White House dinner table and mayhem to the beleaguered peasantry of Central America. All of the new traditions had venerable sources. In economics, we borrowed from the Bourbons: in foreign policy, we drew on themes fashioned by the nomad warriors of the Eurasian steppes. In spiritual matters, we emulated the braying intolerance of our archenemies and esteemed customers, the Shi’ite fundamentalists.

A case could be made, of course, for the genuine American provenance of all these new "traditions." We’ve had our own robber barons, military adventurers, and certainly more than our share of enterprising evangelists promoting ignorance and parochialism as a state of grace. From the vantage point of the continent’s original inhabitants, or, for example, the captive African laborers who made America a great agricultural power, our "traditional values" have always been bigotry, greed and belligerence, buttressed by wanton appeals to a God of love. - Barbara Ehrenreich, The Worst Years of Our Lives


Nothing is more real than nothing. - Samuel Beckett


Patty Keene was stupid on purpose, which was the case with most women in Midland City. The women all had big minds because they were big animals, but they did not use them much for this reason: unusual ideas could make enemies, and the women, if they were going to achieve any sort of comfort and safety, needed all the friends they could get.

So, in the interests of survival, they trained themselves to be agreeing machines instead of thinking machines. All their minds had to do was to discover what other people were thinking, and then they thought that, too. - Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions


"The sky is blue because you wanta know why the sky is blue." - Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums


The shack had been built by an old man to die in, years ago. It was well built. - Jack Kerouac, The DharmasBums


His own lonely impunity is rank: it smells to heaven. If it is allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs: strong enough to detain only the weak, and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims, known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand. - Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger


Four more years of an unwinnable war and undeclared and murderous war, which was to spread before it burned out, and was to end on the same terms and conditions as had been on the table in the fall of 1968. That was what it took to promote Henry Kissinger. To promote him from being a mediocre and opportunist academic to becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity: the power worship and the absence of scruple: the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects also were present: the uncounted and expendable corpses: the official and unofficial lying about the cost: the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. K's global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies. - Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger


In a dark night of the soul, it's always 3 o'clock in the morning, over and
over again. -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up

Contribute your favorite quotes to Identity Theory's Commonplace Book by e-mailing