"…it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved."

-David Foster Wallace

What is important is this: we've not yet explored nor understood our own sexualities. Sexuality is a world. Maybe we should take a break from colonizing every thing and every one and every place and every resource within our reach and learn to "discover"—without colonizing—our own bodies. We are as amazing as planets and space. In fact, we ARE star stuff.

How someone can become empowered to take control of it for themselves is this: invent the language that precisely corresponds to your experience. Or stage a break-in to regular language and fuck it up.

—Lidia Yuknavitch

For writers, money woes are the world outside tugging on us, yanking at the tails we have buried deep in our throats, reminding us that the world within is an illusion. And we resent this. We possess the knowledge that the world outside is an illusion too. We long, without quite admitting it, to disappear inside ourselves. We long to create. We resist being created. For that which is created is also destroyed one day. But that which creates. . . .

—Mohsin Hamid

 I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, nonindividual activities that this age forces on all of us.

—George Orwell

To be young is to be particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of luck: to tear open an envelope and discover that your life has been set upon a course you could not have predicted.

—Joyce Carol Oates, "Nighthawk"

"I was beginning to realize that I'd never seen him so upset before. With another part of my mind I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be one of those things kids go through and that I shouldn't make it seem important by pushing it too hard. Still, I didn't think it would do any harm to ask: 'Doesn't all this take a lot of time? Can you make a living at it?'

He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. 'Everything takes time,' he said, 'and—well, yes, sure, I can make a living at it. But what I don't seem to be able to make you understand is that it's the only thing I want to do.'

'Well, Sonny,' I said, gently, "you know people can't always do exactly what they want to do—'

'No, I don't know that,' said Sonny, surprising me.  'I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?'"

—James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues 


“All our language is composed of brief little dreams; and the wonderful thing is that we sometimes make of them strangely accurate and marvelously reasonable thoughts.  What should we be without the help of that which does not exist?  Very little.  And our unoccupied minds would languish if fables, mistaken notions, abstractions, beliefs, and monsters, hypotheses, and the so-called problems of metaphysics did not people with beings and objectless images our natural depths and darkness.  Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves.  We cannot act without moving towards a phantom. We can love only what we create.” 

—Paul Valéry 

The Reinvention of Happiness

I remember how I'd lie on my roof

listening to the fat violinist

below in the sleeping village 

play Schubert so badly, so well.

—Jack Gilbert

What I do in my films is very … oh, I think very distinctively … I think they are the films of a woman, and I think that their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think that the strength of men is their great sense of immediacy. They are a now creature and a woman has strength to wait because she’s had to wait. She has to wait nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body in the sense of becomingness. And she sees everything in terms of it being in the stage of becoming. She raises a child knowing not what it is at any moment but seeing always the person that it will become. Her whole life from her very beginning — it’s built into her — a sense of becoming. Now, in any time form, this is a very important sense. I think that my films, putting as much stress as they do upon the constant metamorphosis — one image is always becoming another. That is, it is what is happening that is important in my films, not what is at any moment. This is a woman’s time sense and I think it happens more in my films than in almost anyone else’s.

— Maya Deren

But it is time, as the saying goes, to put away childish things. I am not, as I would like to think, hatched from an egg. It has taken me all my life to understand that I am a link in a long chain of fearless and flawed people: my grandparents, now dead; my aunts and uncles; my great-grandparents who came to Philadelphia from the South under harrowing circumstances at the beginning of the twentieth century. Also mine are Bettie Mae Fikes, and the millions who fled the Jim Crow South with nothing but a crumpled address and a few dollars in their pockets, the little children in those old colored schools with handed-down textbooks and more pride and hope than I can conceive of, and the children in the present iterations of those schools in Philadelphia and New York and all across this country. Also mine: Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill. To think that for so many years I refused to turn my head to see these luminous chains of souls, stretching across time and geography, to which I belong. I still turn away frequently. It is difficult for me to cede any bit of my growling individuality. But I have a few family photos, and I have the music I love, to chastise me when I am arrogant and to brace me when I falter.

God is in all of this. I don’t mean the God I encountered at church when I was a girl, the bearded tyrant up in the firmament jerking us around like marionettes. Rather, I believe in the God of the links in the chain of being. This includes ancestry and culture and history, but it extends beyond those particularities into a vast constellation of belonging, which seems to me to be a form of grace, and a bulwark against despair and disconnection. Certainly, it is what I mean by love.

—Ayana Mathis, What Will Happen to All of that Beauty

"What I admire in a dreamer: her confidence in her capacities, her insusceptibility to the frivolous, and her faith that the good and the real shall triumph and last. A real dreamer must have a mutual trust with time."

—Yiyun Li 

"Perhaps it has something to do with the enormous subterranean architecture she is discovering with its roots, shadows, and branching networks. This is beneath her feet all the time. This is what children snese under the bed. This is the secret structure of the world, and the children feel its spine."

—Kate Braverman 

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. 

—Rainer Maria Rilke

“There’s a certain kind of ontological discomfort that seasons thought. I have always been — always from childhood’s hour, as Poe would say — in the habit of feeling quite a stark difference between myself and the world I navigated. Which was any world I navigated. And then, at a certain point, I found out that that was a) very formative and b) probably an error, although it was that discomfort that made me feel like writing, the feeling of difference.

To the extent that I was ever an unhappy person, I was happy with my unhappiness.

“People do things very differently. And it probably has to do with genes and child rearing and all sorts of things. But you can feel a distance as regrettable and at the same time take a kind of pride in it. The stalwartness of the self. That it can endure. And that even though you can kind of theoretically see how you could be more like the world that excludes you, you know that you can rely on yourself not to be.

Somebody who had read ‘Lila’ asked me, ‘Why do you write about the problem of loneliness?’ I said: ‘It’s not a problem. It’s a condition. It’s a passion of a kind. It’s not a problem. I think that people make it a problem by interpreting it that way.”

—Marilynne Robinson

That the world “swarms with male and female scum” is perfectly true. Human nature is imperfect…But to think that the task of literature is to gather the pure grain from the muck heap is to reject literature itself. Artistic literature is called so because it depicts life as it really is. Its aim is truth — unconditional and honest…A writer is not a confectioner, not a dealer in cosmetics, not an entertainer; he is a man bound under compulsion, by the realization of his duty and by his conscience…To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist.

It seems to me that the writer should not try to solve such questions as those of God, pessimism, etc. His business is but to describe those who have been speaking or thinking about God and pessimism, how and under what circumstances. The artist should not be the judge of his characters and conversations, but only an unbiased observer.

You are right in demanding that an artist should take an intelligent attitude to his work, but you confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist.


— Chekhov

Guess what: we’re living in a declivity
Called the twenty-first century.
None of us occupy a very terre haute now.
Every Sublime gotta have its rock bottom
every Mont Blanc its chasm
every blanc mange its spasm
every icy berg its lower berths.
To bear the damage.

That’s me. That’s thee, S.V.P.
I’m new here, to the twenty-first centuree, encargoed
with the fiji mermaids, hunger artists,
hottentott venuses, Jackson whites,
and those with the falling disease.
Oh My Anthropocene. My New Found Land.

Joyelle McSweeney

What still stuns me about sentences is that the removal or addition of a single syllable can completely alter the effect. The architecture is fragile, and anything seems possible, any mood, any tone, any feeling. Writing sentences is a bottomless project… It’s my bafflement and respect for the mystery and flexibility of sentences that keeps me returning to them over and over.

—Ben Marcus 

I like how stories can feel like some shiny thing on the ground, something that might be malachite, or might be a fragment of a comet, or might be a rusted old ignition. The writing process for a short story feels more like field geology, where you keep turning the thing over and over, noting its qualities in detail, hammering at it, putting it near flame, pouring different acids on it, and then finally you figure out what it is, or you just give up and mount it on a ring and have an awkward chunky piece of jewelry that seems weirdly dominating but that you for some reason like. I could be wrong about field geology here.

—Rivka Galchen