Favorite Quotations

No they're not doing all they could, because if they stopped working on the science altogether and spent all their time trying to inform people what they just finished doing, then, of course, they would do more. Don't forget that they have a profession. Furthermore, that they went into this with the reason that they're interested in nature, and not in informing people. A lot of scientists have gone into science because they're not too interested in the relations of human beings. That is, that's not their central interest, so it becomes work to a certain extent to inform. That's not a fair answer, because there are all kinds of different kinds of people, and there are many fellows who want to inform. In fact, we all do, more or less. We inform our students; we teach. Whenever we get an opportunity to give lectures and so forth, we try to. It's very difficult to inform, because there's an enormous amount of information that's been gathered in the last two or three hundred years of science, and people are pretty ignorant of it. It takes a lot of patience to try to explain some of the things because they usually ask you what you are doing now. And what you're doing now is research on the very, very front edge of something that has a tremendous backlog of information and so forth for the last three hundred years of research. And it's very difficult to carry over the whole backlog to explain why that problem is interesting.

—Richard Feynman. "Interview with Richard P. Feynman for Viewpoint." Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.

Don't pay attention to "authorities," think for yourself.

—Richard Feynman. "Letter to Mark Minguillon, 23 April 1976." Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.

It seems that the influence of your teacher has been to give you a false idea of what are the worthwhile problems. The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. A problem is grand in science if it lies before us unsolved and we see some way for us to make a little headway into it.

—Richard Feynman. "Letter to Koichi Mano, 3 Feb 1966." Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.

Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?

—Aldo Leopold. "The Green Lagoons." Collected in A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation.

By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men. For all our penny-wisdom, for all our soul-destroying slavery to habit, it is not to be doubted that all men have sublime thoughts; that all men value the few real hours of life; they love to be heard; they love to be caught up into the vision of principles. We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson. "An Address." Collected in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson. "An Address." Collected in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

To build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country really needs.

—Aldo Leopold. "Marshland Elegy." Collected in A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation.

One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain't nothing can beat teamwork.

—Edward Abbey. The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Lecturers traveled all over Northern Europe with such pictures in olden times. With assistants to unroll one end and roll up the other, they urged all ambitious and able persons to abandon tired old Europe and lay claim to rich and beautiful properties in the Promised Land, which were practically theirs for the asking.

Why should a real man stay home when he could be raping a virgin continent?

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

"I can't help it," I said. "My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat keeps right on doing bad, dumb things."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else. That higher civilization doesn't have to be another country. It can be the past instead—the United States as it was before it was spoiled by immigrants and the enfranchisement of the blacks.

This state of mind allows too many of us to lie and cheat and steal from the rest of us, to sell us junk and addictive poisons and corrupting entertainments. What are the rest of us, after all, but sub-human aborigines?

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

Well—I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

"Maybe, when they suddenly started doing something they'd never done before, and their personalities changed, too—" she said, "maybe they had started picking up signals from another station, which had very different ideas about what they should say and do."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

That's what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn't make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world's champions.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

That was an ordinary way for a patriotic American to talk back then. It's hard to believe how sick of war we used to be. We used to boast of how small our Army and Navy were, and how little influence generals and admirals had in Washington. We used to call armaments manufacturers "Merchants of Death."

Can you imagine that?

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

"If anybody has discovered what life is all about,", Father might say, "it is too late. I am no longer interested."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard.

The ideal off-road journey? I'll tell you: under water. I would like to see every four-by-four on earth, every three-wheeler, every dirt bike, trail bike, and Big Foot truck driven straight into the Marianas Trench, three thousand feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean and parked there—left there—for the duration.

—Edward Abbey. "Letter to Ms. Shute, 12 Feb 1986." Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.

Transmission problem. Can't get my ass in gear.

—Edward Abbey. "Letter to Doug Peacock, December 1986." Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions.

I think that in the talk there on the veranda it was said that in Fiji, as in the Sandwich Islands, native kings and chiefs are of much grander size and build than the commoners. This man was clothed in flowing white vestments, and they were just the thing for him; they comported well with his great stature and his kingly port and dignity. European clothes would have degraded him and made him commonplace. I know that, because they do that with everybody that wears them.

—Mark Twain. "Chapter VII." Following the Equator.

It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive. There are people who think that honesty is always the best policy. This is a superstition; there are times when the appearance of it is worth six of it.

—Mark Twain. "Chapter V." Following the Equator.

Afternoon. Crossed the equator. In the distance it looked like a blue ribbon stretched across the ocean. Several passengers kodak'd it. We had no fool ceremonies, no fantastics, no horse play. All that sort of thing has gone out. In old times a sailor, dressed as Neptune, used to come in over the bows, with his suite, and lather up and shave everybody who was crossing the equator for the first time, and then cleanse these unfortunates by swinging them from the yard-arm and ducking them three times in the sea. This was considered funny. Nobody knows why. No, that is not true. We do know why. Such a thing could never be funny on land; no part of the old-time grotesque performances gotten up on shipboard to celebrate the passage of the line could ever be funny on shore—they would seem dreary and witless to shore people. But the shore people would change their minds about it at sea, on a long voyage. On such a voyage, with its eternal monotonies, people's intellects deteriorate; the owners of the intellects soon reach a point where they almost seem to prefer childish things to things of a maturer degree. One is often surprised at the juvenilities which grown people indulge in at sea, and the interest they take in them, and the consuming enjoyment they get out of them. This is on long voyages only. The mind gradually becomes inert, dull, blunted; it loses its accustomed interest in intellectual things; nothing but horse-play can rouse it, nothing but wild and foolish grotesqueries can entertain it. On short voyages it makes no such exposure of itself; it hasn't time to slump down to this sorrowful level.

—Mark Twain. "Chapter IV." Following the Equator.

It is true that, like the sea, the steppe is grand and impressive; but it is utterly monotonous and melancholy. I drove across it, day in, day out, at a giddy speed; but the landscape always remained the same. The tarantass was always the centre of a vast expanse without boundary or horizon, so vast indeed that it seemed almost possible to discern the globular shape of the earth.

—Sven Hedin. "Across the Kirghiz Steppes." Through Asia.

Only those who have left their country for a lengthened period, and with the clouds of uncertainty before them, can conceive the feelings which such a break occasions. But, on the other hand, the whole wide world was before me, and I determined to do all that lay in my power to solve the problems which I had set myself.

—Sven Hedin. "The Plan and Objects of My Journey." Through Asia.

It is easier to devise a scheme of this character at one's writing-table than it is to carry it out.

—Sven Hedin. "The Plan and Objects of My Journey." Through Asia.

My own notion of moral fiction I'd phrase like this: It is the writer's duty to hate injustice, to defy the powerful, and to speak for the voiceless. To be, as Isaiah was, and St Francis, and Diogenes, and Rabelais, and Villon, and Thoreau and Mark Twain and Tolstoy, to name but a handful, the severest critics of our own societies.

Any fool and coward can rail away at foreign enemies; moral courage implies the willingness to risk attacking those who call themselves our friends, protectors, lords etc. Moral fiction, and moral art in general, must take a part in the apparently endless struggle not merely to keep old ideals alive and functioning, but to prevent evil from triumphing through our tendency to passive acquiescence. We must measure the worth of America, e.g., not by comparing it to Russia or Argentina (those regimes of torture, terror, extermination, which our "authorities" always end up supporting), but by comparing it to what it could be.

—Edward Abbey. "Letter to John Gardner, 5 Apr 1982." Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.

Sooner or later, we Americans are going to have to grow beyond the Greed & Gluttony Lifestyle into something a little simpler, saner, quieter, more human and humane. The only question is, Shall we do it voluntarily, rationally, in a way that is fair for all, or shall we continue to drift toward ecological disaster, violence and civil strife, and either nuclear war or technological tyranny as the ultimate solution?

—Edward Abbey. "Letter to Mr. Williams, Utah Holiday Magazine, 26 Nov 1977." Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.

Ah yes, the head is full of books. The hard part is to force them down through the bloodstream and out through the fingers.

—Edward Abbey. "Letter to Frederick W. Hills, 20 Jan 1976." Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.

Seldom indeed under natural conditions does one species threaten the existence of another. Genocide is a human invention, and only man commonly wages wars of extermination. Moreover, though to eat and be eaten is certainly a law of nature, we are learning that it is neither the only law nor alone responsible for the maintenance of the balance.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The balance of nature." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

Nature, unlike man, is too "wise" to permit a species to become so "successful" as to endanger its own existence by destroying the environment upon which its life depends.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The balance of nature." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

Most of man's ignorant and disastrous interventions in nature's far from simple plan have been in his own supposed interest, but his disinterested attempts to improve upon the existing situation from the standpoint of the flora and fauna themselves have often been worse than unsuccessful.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The balance of nature." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

But our civilization is rapidly becoming one in which only two values are recognized: power and amusement.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The north rim world." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

Someday, I regret to say, progress may gratify their desire to see as little as possible as quickly as possible.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The longest ten miles." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

The fact that the slowest growing trees of the bristlecone species live longest suggests that the more rapidly a certain potentiality is used up, the sooner it is irreparably exhausted.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "The paradox of a lava flow." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

If trilobites could have thought at all, they would probably have wondered, as foolish men still sometimes do, just which of their special needs this or that other living thing had been created to supply.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "Farther journey in more time." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

The explanation would never have been accepted by, and would probably never have occurred to anyone two centuries ago. Like all the explanations offered by geology today, it assumes vast stretches of time and assumes that the earth has existed for very much longer than anyone formerly dreamed it had. The belief that its age was measured in a few thousands, not in many millions of years, was supported by the Biblical story. But even without that, the assumption was almost inevitable to a creature who instinctively measures things on a scale related to his own experience. It just didn't seem probable that anything had endured so much longer than man or the history he knew. Yet the existence of the Goosenecks and the Canyon—for which no credible explanation not involving millions of years is discoverable—is just one of the many kinds of things which gradually forced upon the human mind the intellectual conviction that the mountains, plains, and rivers among which man passes his brief life are old beyond his power to grasp, and make demands on his imagination that it can hardly compass.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "Water doesn't run uphill." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

No age before would have made such an assumption. Man has always before thought of himself as puny by comparison with natural forces, and he was humble before them. But we have been so impressed by the achievements of technology that we are likely to think we can do more than nature herself. We dug the Panama Canal, didn't we? Why not the Grand Canyon? Actually we are suffering from delusions of grandeur, from a state of hubris which may bring about a tragic catastrophe in the end.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "Water doesn't run uphill." The Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays.

This is the problem with this rich and anguished generation. Somewhere a long time ago they fell in love with the idea that politicians—even the slickest and brightest presidential candidates—were real heroes and truly exciting people.

That is wrong on its face. They are mainly dull people with corrupt instincts and criminal children.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Dance of the Seven Dwarfs." San Francisco Examiner. 6 July 1986. (Collected in Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80's)

It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "The Gonzo Salvage Co." San Francisco Examiner. 3 March 1986. (Collected in Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80's)

I am no ascetic and, so at least I believe, no fanatic of any other sort. I am not praising want and I have no romantic notion that distresses should not be relieved. But I do, in all seriousness, question the assumption that endless progress implies the endless multiplication of goods and gadgets, even that "real wages" and "production per man hour" are necessarily an approximate index of welfare. I am not saying that a reduction in the standard of material living brings with it an increase in happiness or nobility, but I do doubt that the converse is true, and I do find it astonishing that this doubt seems so seldom shared.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "Tour of Inspection." The Desert Year.

In youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all alive, and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both its weariness and its refreshment were sweet to me. This earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains.

—Henry David Thoreau. "Journal: July 16, 1851." I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau.

For our natural insensibility there is no permanent cure. One may seek new sights and new wonders, but that aid to awareness, like other stimulants, must be used with caution. If the familiar has a way of becoming invisible, the novel has a way of seeming unreal--more like a dream or a picture than an actuality. And certainly no man is less aware of things than the conscientious traveler who hurries from wonder to wonder until nothing less than the opening of the heavens on judgment day would catch the attention of his jaded brain. Madder music and stronger wine pay diminishing returns.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "How to See It." The Desert Year.

The pleasures of ignorance—at least when accompanied by curiosity—rival those of knowledge, and I get a certain pleasure in this new country by assuming that it is actually unexplored so that what I find has never been found before.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "Desert Rain." The Desert Year.

One need not, to believe in one universe, deny the other.

—Joseph Wood Krutch. "From a Mountaintop." The Desert Year.

I'm not going to bed after all. Somebody around here hath murdered sleep. Good for him.

—J.D. Salinger. "Seymour: An Introduction." Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.

You have to have achieved something inside. You can’t make a poem out of something that’s not there. And it won’t be there unless you want it to be there. And if you don’t want it to be there, you’re in trouble.

—Jack Gilbert. "The Art of Poetry No. 91." The Paris Review, Fall/Winter 2005.

Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning. The ice looked colder and more mysterious, the sky a cleaner shade of blue. The unnamed peaks towering over the glacier were bigger and comelier and infinitely more menacing than they would have been were I in the company of another person. And my emotions were similarly amplified: The highs were higher; the periods of despair were deeper and darker. To a self-possessed young man inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life, all of this held enormous appeal.

—Jon Krakauer. Into the Wild.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

—Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Fiction is a bridge to the truth that journalism can't reach. Facts are lies when they're added up, and the only kind of journalism I can pay much attention to is something like Down and Out in Paris and London.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Letter to Angus Cameron, 28 June 1965." The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967.

It is an unsalaried job; I am also young, inexperienced and moderately paid--and if those are sins, then hell must be full of good correspondents.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Letter to Philip L. Graham, 8 February 1963." The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967.

The effect of mass migrations has been the creation of radically new types of human being: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves--because they are so defined by others--by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves. The migrant suspects reality: having experienced several ways of being, he understands their illusory nature. To see things plainly, you have to cross a frontier.

—Salman Rushdie. "The Location of Brazil." Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991.

I'm too greedy to wish you much luck, but if you can break through without stepping on my head, I hope you make it.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Letter to William J. Kennedy, 10 August 1960." The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967.

History is always ambiguous. Facts are hard to establish, and capable of being given many meanings. Reality is built on our prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance as well as on our perceptiveness and knowledge.

—Salman Rushdie. "'Errata': or, Unreliable Narration in Midnight's Children." Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991.

The pleasure of sport was so often the chance to indulge the cessation of time itself--the pitcher dawdling on the mound, the skier poised at the top of a mountain trail, the basketball player with the rough skin of the ball against his palm preparing for a foul shot, the tennis player at set point over his opponent--all of them savoring a moment before committing themselves to action.

—George Plimpton. Paper Lion.

The Edge . . . There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others--the living--are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

—Hunter S. Thompson. Hell's Angels.

The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It's come to the point where you almost can't run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "December." Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here--not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "December." Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

Live steady. Don't fuck around. Give anything weird a wide berth--including people. It's not worth it. I learned this the hard way, through brutal overindulgence.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "December." Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

—David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest.

There is only one road to L.A.--US Interstate 15, a straight run with no backroads or alternate routes, just a flat-out high-speed burn through Baker and Barstow and Berdoo and then on the Hollywood Freeway straight into frantic oblivion: safety, obscurity, just another freak in the Freak Kingdom.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Aaawww, Mama, Can This Really Be the End?... Down and Out in Vegas with Amphetamine Psychosis Again?." Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In a town full of bedrock crazies, nobody even notices an acid freak.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Strange Medicine on the Desert... a Crisis of Confidence." Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.

—Hunter S. Thompson. "Strange Medicine on the Desert... a Crisis of Confidence." Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever, because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.

—Steve Jobs. "Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address."

Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naïveté, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.

—Steve Martin. "Disneyland." Born Standing Up.

And before long there will be no more milk in bottles delivered to the doorstep or sleepy rural pubs, and the countryside will be mostly shopping centers and theme parks. Forgive me. I don't mean to get upset. But you are taking my world away from me, piece by little piece, and sometimes it just pisses me off. Sorry.

—Bill Bryson. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.

In the morning I awoke early and experienced that sinking sensation that overcomes you when you first open your eyes and realize that instead of a normal day ahead of you, with its scatterings of simple gratifications, you are going to have a day without even the tiniest of pleasures; you are going to drive across Ohio.

—Bill Bryson. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.

Boston's freeway system was insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains. Every few hundred yards I would find my lane vanishing beneath me and other lanes merging with it from the right or left, or sometimes both. This wasn't a road system, it was mobile hysteria. Everybody looked worried. I had never seen people working so hard to keep from crashing into each other.

—Bill Bryson. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.

Before I left home, I had told someone that part of my purpose for the trip was to be inconvenienced so I might see what would come from dislocation and disrupted custom. Answer: severe irritability.

—William Least Heat Moon. "North by Northwest." Blue Highways.

The highway, oh, the highway. No place, in theory, is boring of itself. Boredom lies only with the traveler's limited perception and his failure to explore deeply enough.

—William Least Heat Moon. "North by Northwest." Blue Highways.

A man's never out of work if he's worth a damn. It's just sometimes he doesn't get paid. I've gone unpaid my share and I've pulled my share of pay. But that's got nothing to do with working. A man's work is doing what he's supposed to do, and that's why he needs a catastrophe now and again to show him a bad turn isn't the end, because a bad stroke never stops a good man's work.

—William Least Heat Moon. "West by Southwest." Blue Highways.

I understood that no highway went for long without getting rough, but I couldn't break myself of the notion that whenever I hit good road it would hold to the end. I just couldn't remember cycles, the circles.

—William Least Heat Moon. "West by Southwest." Blue Highways.

When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

—William Least Heat Moon. "South by Southwest." Blue Highways.

"I could write a book about my life," he said. "I'd call it Ten Thousand Mistakes. I've made them all: wife, kids, job, education. I can't even remember the first six thousand."

—William Least Heat Moon. "South by Southwest." Blue Highways.

People who think the past lives on in Sturbridge Village or Mystic Seaport haven't seen Fredericksburg. Things live on here in the only way the past ever lives -- by not dying. It wasn't a town brought back from the edge of history; rather, it was just slow getting there.

—William Least Heat Moon. "South by Southwest." Blue Highways.

But almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.

—Samuel Johnson. "The Rambler, No. 135." The works of Samuel Johnson, L. L. D.: in twelve volumes, Volume 6.

Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place, I'd never have found this spring under the sycamores. Since leaving home, I felt for the first time at rest. Sitting full in the moment, I practiced on the god-awful difficulty of just paying attention. It's a contention of Heat Moon's -- believing as he does any traveler who misses the journey misses about all he's going to get -- that a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him.

—William Least Heat Moon. "East." Blue Highways.

He said, "I noticed that you use work and job interchangeably. Oughten to do that. A job's what you force yourself to pay attention to for money. With work, you don't have to force yourself. There are a lot of jobs in this country, and that's good because they keep people occupied. That's why they're called 'occupations.' "

The woman said, "Cal works at General Electric in Louisville. He's a metallurgical engineer."

"I don't work there, I'm employed there," he said to her. Then to me, "I'm supposed to spend my time 'imagineering,' but the job isn't so much a matter of getting something new made. It's a matter of making it look like we're getting something made. You know what my work is? You know what I pay attention to? Covering my tracks. Pretending, covering my tracks, and getting through another day. That's my work. Imagineering's my job."

"It isn't that bad, darling."

"It isn't that bad on a stick. What I do doesn't matter. There's no damn future whatsoever in what I do, and I don't mean built-in obsolescence. What I do begins and stops each day. There's no covergence between what I know and what I do. And even less with what I want to know."

Now he was hoisting his wife's salad plate, rolling her cherry tomato around. "You've learned lots," she said. "Just lots."

"I've learned this, Twinkie: when America outgrows engineering, we'll begin to have something."

—William Least Heat Moon. "East." Blue Highways.

He offered no further explanation and I was not inclined to pursue the matter. I felt depressed. In India even the most mundane inquiries have a habit of ending this way. There may be two answers, there may be five, a dozen or a hundred; the only thing that is certain is that all will be different.

—Eric Newby. "Terra Firma." Slowly Down the Ganges.

She is dressed this morning like a gypsy in full skirt, flowered blouse, a scarlet kerchief on her head and golden hoops dangling from her pierced ears. She wears sandals. She plays the guitar. She smokes a pipe, farts when she feels like it, and swears like a man. A good honest woman.

—Edward Abbey. "My Friend Debris." Down the River.

We reach the mouth of the canyon and the old trail uphill to the roadhead in time to see the first stars come out. Barely in time. Nightfall is quick in this arid climate and the air feels already cold. But we have earned enough memories, stored enough mental-emotional images in our heads, from one brief day in Aravaipa Canyon, to enrich the urban days to come. As Thoreau found a universe in the woods around Concord, any person whose senses are alive can make a world of any natural place, however limited it might seem, on this subtle planet of ours.

"The world is big but it is comprehensible," says R. Buckminster Fuller. But it seems to me that the world is not nearly big enough and that any portion of its surface, left unpaved and alive, is infinitely rich in details and relationships, in wonder, beauty, mystery, comprehensible only in part. The very existence of existence is itself suggestive of the unknown--not a problem but a mystery.

We will never get to the end of it, never plumb the bottom of it, never know the whole of even so small and trivial and useless and precious a place as Aravaipa. Therein lies our redemption.

—Edward Abbey. "Aravaipa Canyon." Down the River.

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? You may say the wisest thing you can, old man--you who have lived seventy years, not without honor of a kind--I hear an irresistible voice which invites me away from all that. One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.

—Henry David Thoreau. "Economy." Walden; or, Life in the Woods.

But, no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving. And don't wear a watch. Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That's what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That’s how it is. We are trapped in the now.

—Sherman Alexie. "A Drug Called Tradition." The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

When I got back to the reservation, my family wasn't surprised to see me. They'd been expecting me back since the day I left for Seattle. There's an old Indian poet who said that Indians can reside in the city, but they can never live there. That's as close to the truth as any of us can get.

—Sherman Alexie. "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

Humor was an antiseptic that cleaned the deepest of personal wounds.

—Sherman Alexie. "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor." The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

"If Checker Charley was out to make chumps out of men, he could damn well fix his own connections. Paul looks after his own circuits; let Charley do the same. Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.

Finnerty shook his head. "He'd pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center." He nodded. "Big, undreamed-of things--the people on the edge see them first."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.

"In order to get what we've got, Anita, we have, in effect, traded these people out of what was the most important thing on earth to them--the feeling of being needed and useful, the foundation of self-respect."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.

"Nobody's so damn well educated that you can't learn ninety per cent of what he knows in six weeks. The other ten per cent is decoration."

"Yes, sir."

"Show me a specialist, and I'll show you a man who's so scared he's dug a hole for himself to hide in."

"Yes, sir."

"Almost nobody's competent, Paul. It's enough to make you cry to see how bad most people are at their jobs. If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano.

If you seek out critics, bureaucrats, gatekeepers, form-fillers, and by-the-book bosses when you're looking for feedback, should you be surprised that you end up doing the things that please them?

They have the attitude that there is an endless line of cogs just like you, and you better fit in, bow down, and do what you're told, or they'll just go to the next person in line.

Without your consent, they can't hold on to the status quo, can't make you miserable, can't maintain their hold on power. It's up to you. You can spend your time on stage pleasing the heckler in the back, or you can devote it to the audience that came to hear you perform.

—Seth Godin. Linchpin.

You may say, "But I'll get fired for breaking the rules." The linchpin says, "If I lean enough, it's okay if I get fired, because I'll have demonstrated my value to the marketplace. If the rules are the only things between me and becoming indispensable, I don't need the rules."

—Seth Godin. Linchpin.

I might also say, regarding reviews and reviewers, that I have yet to read a review of any of my own books which I could not have written much better myself.

—Edward Abbey. "Preliminary Notes." Down the River.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Mother Night.

The question 'What is it?' took on, here, an aspect of impertinence; one might only learn what it had successively been.

—Shirley Hazzard. The Bay of Noon.

I had no cause to regret my lost innocence, for it had never done me any good: I have lived a much more virtuous life without it.

—Shirley Hazzard. The Bay of Noon.

They had a notice, Please do not touch the paintings; they should forbid the paintings to touch you.

—Shirley Hazzard. The Bay of Noon.

'If you knew,' I told them. 'If you only knew how boring it is.' It was again the contrast between their lives and mine. They, who spent their days freely using their intelligence, could never conceive of work such as mine. 'You couldn’t even imagine it.'

—Shirley Hazzard. The Bay of Noon.

I wish I had the courage to travel light, like John Muir, with only raisins and a crust of pumpernickel in my pockets. But he was wandering in the friendly High Sierra, where brooks babble and berries ripen in the placid sunshine.

—Edward Abbey. "A Walk in the Desert Hills." Beyond the Wall.

One mile farther and I come to a second grave beside the road, nameless like the other, marked only with the dull blue-black stones of the badlands. I do not pause this time. The more often you stop the more difficult it is to continue. Stop too long and they cover you with rocks.

—Edward Abbey. "A Walk in the Desert Hills." Beyond the Wall.

This paradox of rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way. The problem arises when people are so fixated on what they want to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens, they forfeit their chance of contentment.

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Since what we experience is reality, as far as we are concerned, we can transform reality to the extent that we influence what happens in consciousness and thus free ourselves from the threats and blandishments of the outside world.

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Within minutes my 115-mile walk through the desert hills becomes a thing apart, a disjunct reality on the far side of a bottomless abyss, immediately beyond physical recollection.

But it’s all still there in my heart and soul. The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure—they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days to come, like a treasure found and then, voluntarily, surrendered. Returned to the mountains with my blessing. It leaves a golden glowing on the mind.

—Edward Abbey. "A Walk in the Desert Hills." Beyond the Wall.

I thought of the wilderness we had left behind us, open to sea and sky, joyous in its plenitude and simplicity, perfect yet vulnerable, unaware of what is coming, defended by nothing, guarded by no one.

—Edward Abbey. "Down to the Sea of Cortez." Beyond the Wall.

As this example illustrates, what people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations. It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.

—Minaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Tennis has a Dip. The difference between a mediocre club player and a regional champion isn’t inborn talent—it’s the ability to push through the moments where it’s just easier to quit. Politics has a Dip as well—it’s way more fun to win an election than to lose one, and the entire process is built around many people starting while most people quit.

The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.

—Seth Godin. “If It Is Worth Doing, There’s Probably a Dip.” The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).