Vectors 3.0: Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays

170 aphorisms, mini essays or poems on life by James Richardson
poetry, philosophy
2018-10-272018-11-28 finished certainty: log importance: 2

is an Amer­i­can aca­d­e­mic poet & critic at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. Sev­eral of his poetry col­lec­tions fea­ture com­pi­la­tions, typ­i­cally named “Vec­tors”, of short non­fic­tion prose: apho­risms, com­ments, & “ten-sec­ond essays”, reflect­ing on life. They are among the most pop­u­lar of his writ­ings.

Vec­tors 3.0 is excerpted here.

By The Num­bers, Richard­son 2010

Vec­tors 3.0 has been extracted from By The Num­bers, James Richard­son 2010 (ISBN: 978-1-55659-320-8), pg38–67 of the e-book. This is a com­plete ver­sion (the Lit­er­ary Review only excerpted 32 of the 170). It is the third in a series: Vec­tors 1.0 was pub­lished in Vec­tors: Apho­risms & Ten-Sec­ond Essays, Richard­son 2001; and Vec­tors 2.0 in Inter­glacial: New and Selected Poems & Apho­risms, Richard­son 2004. (See also my GPT-3 neural net­work imi­ta­tions of Richard­son.)

“Vectors 3.0: Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays”

By James Richard­son

  1. The odds against today were insur­mount­able, until it hap­pened.

  2. If you can’t take the first step, take the sec­ond.

  3. Expe­ri­ence afraid of its inno­cence is use­less: no one is rich who can­not give his riches away.

  4. Spon­tane­ity takes a few rehearsals.

  5. The days are in order, the months, the sea­sons, the years. But the weeks are work. They have no names; they repeat.

  6. Noth­ing dirt­ier than old soap.

  7. Office sup­plies stores are the cathe­drals of Work in Gen­er­al. They for­give, they con­sole, they promise a new start. These sup­plies have done work like yours a mil­lion times. Take them home and they will do it for you.

  8. When it gets ahead of itself, the wave breaks.

  9. Few plans sur­vive their first suc­cess, which sug­gests they were less about their goals than about the pos­si­bil­ity of a lit­tle suc­cess.

  10. The heart is a small, cracked cup, easy to fill, impos­si­ble to keep full.

  11. Hard disk: the let­ter I remem­bered as embar­rass­ing is OK after all. I must have revised it just before send­ing. I never con­fuse what I dreamed with what I actu­ally did, but this is dif­fer­ent: which draft am I?

  12. Work is required play.

  13. My mis­takes are not mine, but they are embar­rass­ing because you might mis­take them for my sins, which are.

  14. Per­fec­tion is besieged. Hap­pier is the man who has done just a lit­tle bet­ter than he expect­ed.

  15. How proud we are of our mul­ti­task­ing. What is Life but some­thing to get off our desks, cross off our lists?

  16. I find my mar­gin­a­lia in an old book and real­ize that for decades I’ve been walk­ing in a cir­cle.

  17. The reader lives faster than life, the writer lives slow­er.

  18. Snakes can­not back up.

  19. First frost, first snow. But win­ter does­n’t really start till you’re sure that spring will never come.

  20. No one in human his­tory has ever writ­ten exactly this sen­tence. Or any­way these two.

  21. Noth­ing impor­tant comes with instruc­tions.

  22. The mod­esty of avoid­ing rep­e­ti­tion is the van­ity of think­ing they must have been lis­ten­ing the first time.

  23. It can’t hurt to ask is a phrase favored by those who can’t quite tell peo­ple from insti­tu­tions, think­ing of both as ran­domly dis­pens­ing or refus­ing favors. Actu­al­ly, it hurts me to be treated like a slot machine, maybe enough to pass the hurt along to you.

  24. I need some­one above me—the Com­mit­tee, the Law, Mon­ey, Time—to be able to say No. Sad my lack of integri­ty, though I sup­pose it would be sad­der to need them to say Yes.

  25. The knife likes to think of itself as a mir­ror.

  26. The tyran­t’s self­-es­teem is just fine, thank you. It’s you he does­n’t care much for. And yes, he rec­og­nizes that he does­n’t feel what you feel. Which is a good thing, since your feel­ing is so weak that it makes him need to beat you up.

  27. Self­-­suf­fi­ciency clings… to itself.

  28. He’s angry at the wronged for mak­ing the world unjust.

  29. If you do more than your share you’d bet­ter want to: oth­er­wise you’re pay­ing your­self in a cur­rency rec­og­nized nowhere else.

  30. The ascetic’s last plea­sure is blam­ing you for all he has for­gone.

  31. There are two kinds of peo­ple in the world… and who is not both of them?

  32. Beware speak­ing of The Rich as if they were some­one else.

  33. We’ve learned to won­der which neu­tral­izes truth more effec­tive­ly, the tyran­ny’s cen­sor­ship or the democ­ra­cy’s ten thou­sand media out­lets. In the for­mer truth is too cost­ly, in the lat­ter there’s no mar­ket for it.

    In Freud the facts get around the cen­sor in the metaphors of dreams, in Shel­ley we live in a dream of over­fa­mil­iar­ity and dead metaphor that only the poet can reviv­i­fy. Does rep­e­ti­tion empha­size or hyp­no­tize? Which is clear­er, what we see or what we don’t see. Are we new or old? Do we love hate or hate love?

  34. You have two kinds of secrets. The ones only you know. The ones only you don’t.

  35. Some­how the guy who’s really inter­ested in absolutely every­thing is really bor­ing.

  36. Sophis­ti­ca­tion is upscale con­for­mi­ty.

  37. The mir­ror’s so quick it only sees what’s in front of it.

  38. Know­ing how to be pleased with what’s there is a great secret of happy liv­ing, sen­si­tive read­ing, and bad writ­ing.

  39. If you think you might be lost, you are. If you know you’re lost, you’re at least free to look for the way.

  40. What keeps us deceived is the hope that we aren’t.

  41. Every­thing is about pol­i­tics. No, wait: every­thing is about sex. Mon­ey, art, God, self, work.

  42. For those who tread lightly enough the air is a stair.

  43. I often find myself inton­ing Clarke’s Any suf­fi­ciently advanced tech­nol­ogy is indis­tin­guish­able from magic, or any­way half of it, since every­one’s heard it already and inter­rupts. Actu­ally the tech­nol­ogy does­n’t have to be very advanced. I drive a car and grasp the basics of inter­nal com­bus­tion engines but I still treat mine as halfway between pet and malev­o­lent deity, mut­ter­ing reas­sur­ances, curses and spells. Maybe a chip designer gets com­put­ers well enough that they are purely tech­nol­o­gy, but he can’t know that much about mete­o­rol­ogy or gene-s­plic­ing or, well, poems. What dif­fer­en­ti­ates tech­nol­ogy from magic is not our knowl­edge but our faith: that some­one else under­stands.

  44. Clar­ity is nei­ther trans­parency nor light. It’s the angle that sud­denly lets you see through the win­dow’s glare, the pond’s reflec­tions.

  45. Faith is broad. It’s Doubt that’s deep.

  46. How badly I’d like to believe that my cher­ished mod­er­a­tion and heav­ily defended calm could rule the world. But as things are, some­body has to feel too much, some­body has to speak too loud, some­body has to be com­pletely unrea­son­able.

  47. Don’t trust the rev­o­lu­tion­ist with your free­dom: he’s an author­i­tar­ian who just hap­pens to be out of pow­er.

  48. Patience is eas­i­est when it’s the best way to make Impa­tience really mad.

  49. Is he talk­ing about world hunger or just hun­gry to talk, is he angry at injus­tice or just angry, is he ruled by con­science or does he just need to rule mine? Prob­a­bly my scru­ple about purity of Faith is irrel­e­vant, but so, if the stan­dard is Good Works, are his words.

  50. Lis­ten hard­est to the one you hope is not telling the truth.

  51. The coy and impo­tent self­-im­por­tance of sub­ver­sive. A bunch of kids in black who can’t think of any­thing bet­ter to talk about between drags than how uncool their par­ents are.

  52. Thoughts are dis­cussed, opin­ions dis­played.

  53. The peril of argu­ing with you is for­get­ting to argue with myself. Don’t make me con­vince you: I don’t want to believe that much.

  54. Tyranny and fan­tasy both like to write every­one else’s lines.

  55. He prides him­self on hav­ing lots of opin­ions, like bad moods he’s enti­tled to. Worse than stu­pid­ity is intel­li­gence that claims the right to be stu­pid.

  56. No one blames you for hav­ing your dream, just for telling it.

  57. Every­one’s psy­ched that elec­tions are decided by a sin­gle vote! That it’s a close game! That choice approx­i­mates chance!

  58. The lesser of two evils is the one with the less evil friends.

  59. How com­fort­ing, your para­noia: some­one’s lis­ten­ing, some­one’s watch­ing, some­one’s think­ing about you all the time.

  60. Build bot­tom up, clean top down.

  61. Pre­ci­sion strike. We’re only killing that one guy. And actu­ally only his worst thought. And there, just a lit­tle to the left of the mid­dle, only the very worst part of that.

  62. The fire does­n’t know where all that smoke came from.

  63. The pat­terned shirt, the speck­led wal­l-­to-wall don’t show dirt. Some­times, truth be damned, we need relief from see­ing. Our response is a big­ger prob­lem than the prob­lem.

  64. For­give the evil done to you. Real­ly? I can’t help think­ing the Book just did­n’t trust me enough to say what it meant: In time you will see that much of it was not evil, and that much of the evil was yours.

  65. Too much apol­ogy dou­bles the offense.

  66. For­give­ness is free­dom, the saints say, but they are saints and do not care that it may be free­dom even from love.

  67. All those days that changed the world forever! Yet here it is.

  68. Let us explain to our­selves the dif­fer­ence. A rock might be very big, like Ply­mouth Rock or the Rock of Gibral­tar. Or under­ground, as in bedrock. A rock is rough. A stone is smooth: it might well be cut into a grave­stone, a cob­ble­stone. Rocks you clam­ber over, stones you step on. What’s that bril­liance on her fin­ger, a rock or a stone? The rock­-thrower is anony­mous. Let him who is with­out sin cast the first stone.

  69. Do unto oth­ers and an eye for an eye have the same pay­ment plan.

  70. For Sisy­phus the trou­ble of push­ing the rock uphill was worth it for the thrill of watch­ing it smash every­thing on the way down.

  71. That lit­tle bird, pretty calm there in the snow, is cold, but it must be a dis­con­tin­u­ous and lightly reg­is­tered sen­sa­tion. Cold. Peck peck. What’s that? Oh yeah, cold. Whereas I would be des­per­ate in a few min­utes think­ing about freez­ing For­ever and Ever. Some­where in evo­lu­tion we traded endurance for fore­sight. Intel­li­gence was first of all the abil­ity to wor­ry.

  72. That half-sec­ond between stub­bing your toe and con­vuls­ing with pain? Some live there for­ev­er.

  73. We ask What’s the worst that could hap­pen? see that it would­n’t be so bad, calm down a lit­tle. What I want to know is: what is that Worse than the Worst we have to fig­ure out over and over is not going to hap­pen?

  74. The squir­rel strug­gling in the road. Some­thing very deep says If it can’t live it should die. I kill it with a stick. Maybe to stop my own suf­fer­ing, but I don’t think so: I’d rather walk away. Maybe Nature wants me to think this way about my own kind? The thought strug­gles in me. I kill it with a stick.

  75. Stones, toys, ants, birds, chil­dren: the more we decide is less than human, the less human we become.

  76. Her grief repeats with a high cracked sound, like an engine in which some­thing has bro­ken loose and is smash­ing around. Peo­ple scare us when they’re like machi­nes, when they’re so human.

  77. If we were really sure of our free­dom we would­n’t be so dis­com­fited by those who make pas­sion a habit, or habit a pas­sion.

  78. Slug, fun­gus: part of your body has fallen out. Snake, rat: part of it might try to get back in.

  79. Trea­sury reports that its green ink absorbs opi­ates: every bill car­ries ten nanograms of cocaine. Amaz­ing what this might be made to say about sev­eral addic­tions, but I’m going to stop right now.

  80. Road­kill. Some­thing eats the eyes first, starved for… what?

  81. The rich man thought he was hoard­ing free­dom, but he could­n’t stop and in the end it all turned out to be mon­ey.

  82. Last Day say all the stores.

  83. In a strange city, my one ten­u­ous root is a lit room in Hotel X. Pass­ing Hotel Y, I imag­ine tak­ing a room there as well, trav­el­ing away from my trav­el, pure waste, lost or free, what­ever the dif­fer­ence is. Has any­one ever done this and man­aged to get home? Please write.

  84. Of course I’m an escapist. I’m try­ing to get some­where real.

  85. It’s not that they give things of no worth: that, too, is giv­ing. It’s what they want for them.

  86. The Vic­to­rian hotel has a mar­ble colon­nade, gilt, ori­en­tal rugs, but there’s not a tux in sight: shirt­s-out-over-­jeans mix with busi­ness suits. Is it free­dom that we no longer have to dress up to such ele­gance, or is it his­to­ry-is-ours arro­gance? Prob­a­bly it’s more that life now is a theme park: when you visit Dis­ney World you don’t dress as Mickey or Goofy.

  87. Tragedy and com­edy ended with death or mar­riage, but our shows, mys­tery and sit­com, begin with them.

  88. We don’t blame the vic­tim, already mur­dered when the show starts. We don’t even blame the perp too much—we just want to find out who he is. We don’t blame the cops for blam­ing him. Best of all, we don’t blame our­selves, so triv­ial our own crimes in com­par­i­son. And if any­one wants to blame us we’ve got a per­fect alibi for prime time.

  89. You have the right to lie when they have no right to ask.

  90. Since God died, no one has remem­bered you. But now it seems your DNA is every­where and could be fol­lowed like a trail, if you could just act sus­pi­cious enough.

  91. He spends min­utes look­ing for a park­ing place that short­ens his walk by sec­onds, days look­ing for a price lower by an hour’s wage, as if he would oth­er­wise be fooled.

  92. The bou­tique wants you to think you’re col­lect­ing, the dis­counter that you’re steal­ing.

  93. The thing about the nat­ural world, beau­ti­ful or bleak or bleakly beau­ti­ful, is that noth­ing seems to be in the wrong place. From this win­dow, how­ev­er, I can see the trowel I left in the yard, and I’m going to have to go down and do some­thing about it.

  94. The way your walk changes enter­ing a store or muse­um, slow­ing, widen­ing a lit­tle, eyes sweep­ing lev­el. For­ag­ing on the ancient savanna for some­thing to eat, some­thing to use.

  95. The Mys­tery we’re absorbed in takes prece­dence over all the mys­ter­ies that won’t be solved when the hour ends, a pro­tec­tive paren­the­sis within the larger sto­ries of Love and Work, which are inside the story of Life, which is inside Big Bang. Actu­ally scale is irrel­e­vant: it’s just as likely we’d use cos­mol­ogy to dis­tract us from a bad day at the office. The­o­ret­i­cally all these are con­tained within a larger Sto­ry­less­ness, but that itself is only the roman­tic story I have at last attained free­dom, which in an instant decays into more sta­ble sto­ries such as I’m so bored I’d rather be afraid or I must pun­ish the deluded masses with this hard truth or Let’s watch TV.

  96. From the tipped tree you learn how shal­low roots are. More meets the eye than does­n’t.

  97. Joe Cool is play­ing at Cold. And his babe is Hot, which is also play, and in that more like Cool than like Warm: no one exclaims delight­edly “Man, that’s Warm!” We’ll pay to watch the play­ers of Hot and Cool, but we flee the sales­men, priests and politi­cians solemnly emit­ting Warm.

  98. That our feel­ings flicker so obvi­ously in our faces must mean Nature thought it was more impor­tant that every­one be able to read them than that indi­vid­u­als be able to hide them. Maybe it tells us, too, that the most dan­ger­ous faces are the ones behind which there is no feel­ing at all.

  99. Glass­es, for exam­ple, have gone from uptight to wide-eyed and back again. Fash­ion is feel­ing, open­ing and clos­ing, cycling between warm and cool, wel­com­ing and slick. Or rather, it decides which half of feel­ing will be parad­ed, which half will seem hid­den, and some­how truer.

  100. The sun’s so bright it has no face.

  101. Yet some­times maybe I decide to let an emo­tion I really could con­ceal flit faintly across my face. If it seems I betrayed it unwill­ing­ly, you are less likely to respond as if you had seen it. Though maybe that lit­tle bit of act­ing is not really a con­scious strat­egy but a deep instinct: in the ani­mal world, too, emo­tions are often merely the­atri­cal, and so many threats, fake fights and sex­ual dis­plays send mes­sages but end in noth­ing.

  102. More and more grad­u­ates of the School of The­atri­cal Par­ent­ing. The guy being a Good Father so loudly we can all appre­ci­ate him, the woman with the wail­ing infant rolling her eyes as if to say “Can you believe this baby?”

  103. Pas­sion is faintly rhetor­i­cal, as if we needed to con­vince our­selves we were capa­ble of it.

  104. Am I try­ing to help, or do I just want you to like me? The way feel­ings are, it’s not so easy to dis­tin­guish your hap­pi­ness from mine.

  105. Her grief is eased when all grieve with her, his when he sees that grief is only his.

  106. I say Be rea­son­able when I am afraid to feel what you feel.

  107. A feather lands on the pond and a dozen gold­fish come to poke at it. We are who­ever rises into our eyes to have a look.

  108. Those so thor­ough you can­not in mercy ask them to do any­thing. Those so empa­thetic it is cruel to tell them a trou­ble.

  109. As a cou­ple they are salt of the earth, sodium chlo­ride. As sin­gle ele­ments, she was a poi­so­nous gas and he a soft and des­per­ate met­al, turn­ing even water into roil and flame.

  110. When we talk it’s not you or me we are get­ting to know. It may be noth­ing at all, it may be bet­ter than both of us.

  111. Don’t touch, don’t stare. But no one minds how hard you lis­ten.

  112. No one so enter­tain­ing as the one who thinks you are.

  113. The Boy wants mag­i­cal pow­ers. He wants the world to respond gigan­ti­cally to every lit­tle thing he does and says, and even all he does­n’t say and do. Until he meets the Girl who does just that.

  114. Lov­ing your­self is about as likely as tick­ling your­self.

  115. That book, that wom­an, life: now that I under­stand them a lit­tle I real­ize there was some­thing I under­stood bet­ter when they baf­fled and scared me.

  116. A knot is strings get­ting in each oth­er’s way. What keeps us together is what keeps us apart.

  117. Nos­tal­gia for a Lost Love. At a cer­tain dis­tance the parts of you and her that could never love each other become invis­i­ble, which is how you got into that whole mess in the first place.

  118. My loss is sad: I have not yet lost it all.

  119. Finally peace. And then the whis­per: Does that pas­sion work any­more? I’ll wake it up and see…

  120. The will has a will of its own.

  121. It is with poetry as with love: forc­ing your­self is use­less, you have to want to. Yet how tire­some and ungen­er­ous is the one sprawled among flow­ers wait­ing for his impulse. There’s such a thing as know­ing how to make your­self want to.

  122. Our res­o­lu­tions for self­-­con­trol are like our wars for peace.

  123. Free­dom has just escaped. Peace has for­got­ten. Bore­dom is pound­ing on the prison gates to be let back in.

  124. To begin the jour­ney, buy what you need. To fin­ish, dis­card what you don’t.

  125. As for my writ­ing. I like it enough to keep going. I dis­like it enough to keep going.

  126. What hope we had when we knew every­thing would last forever, and what hope­less­ness.

  127. Now the mail is not Hope but What Do They Want from Me? I still fetch it, per­haps know­ing that some­day I’ll be reduced to hop­ing they still want some­thing from me.

  128. It takes thick gloves, pry­ing down to the knotty junc­tion, get­ting as many of the roots as I can, to take care of them for maybe a year, the bram­bles. But I’m avoid­ing the point, pas­toral­ly, which is the dul­l-wit­ted malig­nancy that’s tak­ing you over, that there’s no scalpel pre­cise enough to excise one bad cell at a time, no chemother­apy bomb smart enough to kill them all with­out killing you. I need to be a gar­dener small enough to pull out one by one the run­ners that are re-wiring you. Here, the gods have granted my wish but I am just as help­less, hands blood­ier and blood­ier as I work far into the night. There are acres and acres to go before that lit­tle rise where the thorns have over­grown the cas­tle where you are strug­gling not to sleep. I can do this, I can do what­ever is nec­es­sary. It won’t take forever, noth­ing takes forever, but so many things take longer than we have.

  129. Of course when I look in the mir­ror I see what was there 10, 20, 30 years ago. It’s not just van­i­ty, dear: I see through you the same way.

  130. The myths tell us what we already know: that it will be the last light left burn­ing, wak­ing us even after death. Seems I have spent my whole life flee­ing Judg­ment, and yet I must not believe in it, since no fail­ure, no betrayal forces me to admit Yes, at last that is myself. What a strange relief it would be to finally hit that bot­tom, a hypochon­driac who learns at last what he will die of.

  131. Behind your face, which hardly changes, who knows what thoughts. It’s the oppo­site with the gods: their pow­ers and sto­ries are con­stant, but painters give them ran­dom faces.

  132. That let­ter, what would it have been, of love, of praise, of anni­hi­lat­ing under­stand­ing? It seems, almost sad­ly, that I no longer want to get it. Occa­sion­ally I still want to write it, but how could I send to any­one else what I would not myself receive?

  133. Alas, how quickly my sin­cer­est praise turns into apol­ogy for secret doubts.

  134. Faces are motion, which is why all the pho­tos of you are bad. Even the most nat­u­ral-look­ing por­trait is a sen­tence inter­rupt­ed. And faces in motion hide an even deeper motion. You seem to sit there and meet my eyes across the table, but you are so many other places, cling­ing here for a moment against all the cur­rents that will soon sweep you onward. We are so moved by the faces caught in the win­dows of trains going the other way because they tell us how all faces really are.

  135. A very few peo­ple have seen me only at my best. They are pre­cious friends, but I dare not meet them again.

  136. What was it like before lan­guage? My occa­sional thought, more than urge but still less than words, that would trans­late as Eat now, there may be no food where we’re going.

  137. Out walk­ing, I think of that face I love or some scene of awful embar­rass­ment and stop dead in my tracks, as if I had to choose between mov­ing and being moved.

  138. Clar­i­ty, even in per­son, can be pretty hard. Tele­phones are hard­er: if I can’t see your eyes, how do I know what I’m say­ing? With writ­ing, mis­un­der­stand­ings mul­ti­ply, since tiny shifts in tone and speed are no longer audi­ble—the writer tries to com­pen­sate by man­ag­ing rhythm and punc­tu­a­tion and deploy­ing a larger and more nuanced vocab­u­lary than we need for speech. Along comes e-mail and from all sides the com­plaint that it is a pecu­liarly tone­less genre that reg­u­larly offends and annoys and mis­in­forms. Though screens are not as sta­ble as pages, e-mail is not essen­tially dif­fer­ent from other writ­ing. The dif­fer­ence is us: we write it too quick­ly, we read it even more quick­ly. A lot of e-mails are work, to be got­ten out of the way. And even the young, who grew up with it—e­spe­cially the young, who grew up with it—seem inca­pable of read­ing fur­ther than three sen­tences before flap­ping off into some heaven of I already know this. Not a prob­lem if the e-mail­ers or tex­ters are in con­stant chat and so deep in a shared con­text that mis­un­der­stand­ing can be averted with crude steer­ing like smi­ley face and LOL, or if they’re using the form as a kind of con­tent­less I was here, the way peo­ple used to leave their cards. But the temp­ta­tion is to e-mail lit­tle essays. The temp­ta­tion is, worse, to try to replace our unpre­dictable and wound­ing social drama with writ­ing: the pro­tec­tion of its dis­tance, the smooth­ness of its infi­nite rehearsals. But who has the patience to be a good writer all day? Inevitably, we send too soon and get back reports of the dam­age. I resolve to quit e-mail and get a life. Or maybe just do one more revi­sion. Thanks for read­ing to the end.

  139. Of course we want to write what we loved read­ing over and over. That’s dif­fer­ent from con­struct­ing an Object of Study, which is sort of like bait­ing a trap with sta­ples or capac­i­tors. Such con­trap­tions sub­sist on the praise of those who want per­mis­sion for sim­i­lar self­-in­dul­gences, even though the only mice ever seen near them are mechan­i­cal.

  140. When you think in words, are you sure it’s your own voice you hear?

  141. I want to kill the guy dom­i­nat­ing the train with his cell phone. What’s his prob­lem, pathetic self­-im­por­tance or pathetic depen­dence? Ah well, maybe if we still had real lives we’d all be gab­bing around the fire, gos­sip­ing at the pump. What’s remark­able, after all, is not his self­-im­por­tant prat­tle but that some­one is lis­ten­ing to it. Or so I’ve assumed: maybe there’s really no one on the other end?

  142. Soli­tude: that home water whose sweet­ness you taste only when you’ve been some­one else too long.

  143. The audi­ence is face­less, back rows dis­ap­pear­ing into dim­ness, and it does­n’t talk back. Find your audi­ence and you will blath­er. Write, instead, to the lis­tener at your table for two, the one in your head whose faint blush, half-s­mile, glazed eyes make you cor­rect course in mid­sen­tence, back off, explain, stop to lis­ten.

  144. Fame is under­writ­ten by those who want it to be there when it is their turn to have it.

  145. Old radios hummed a lit­tle before they could think what to say, their deep inte­ri­ors like embers blown on. They told the great sto­ries, in them the great stars sang. New radios, sleek and com­pul­sively chat­ty, instantly repeat what they have heard. The TV, their doe-eyed younger sis­ter, grew up adored. She wants so much to be looked at that you stare at your feet, abashed. She says Have a drink with me, and then I’m so lonely that I can love noth­ing. Stay for anoth­er.

  146. It is the empty seats that lis­ten most rapt­ly.

  147. The great man’s not sure he wants you to crit­i­cize even his great rival, lest there be no such thing as great­ness.

  148. Talk­ing to your­self is not the same as talk­ing to no one.

  149. I’m forced to admit I’m sec­ond-rate: I don’t have the genius’s cer­tainty about who he is. And when I talk myself into that cer­tain­ty? I’m third-rate.

  150. It’s not suc­cess but self­-­con­grat­u­la­tion that the Furies scent.

  151. Would it have been bet­ter or worse if I could have whis­pered to myself back then I know the way. Fol­low me. But it will take 30 years.

  152. My best critic is me, too late.

  153. I look over my old books, hap­pi­est when I find a line it seems I could not have writ­ten.

  154. Only your unno­ticed vic­to­ries last: the rest are avenged.

  155. I’m scared of the huge ocean—what pre­vents it from throw­ing itself over me and the tiny con­ti­nents? So much harder to see what’s hold­ing oth­ers back.

  156. By spend­ing so much on insur­ance—med­ical, car, fire, dis­abil­i­ty, retire­ment, ter­mite, appli­ance—I try to make every year aver­age. I guar­an­tee that I’ll be peren­ni­ally slightly short of cash in the hope that I’ll never be totally broke. A mort­gage, broadly speak­ing, is also a kind of insur­ance—a­gainst ever hav­ing to ask Where shall I lie down? Other kinds of pay­ments ensure more or less con­stant answers to the ques­tions of who to be, who to be with, what to do, whether to live.

  157. What is more yours than what always holds you back?

  158. What I can’t do at all is no trou­ble. But save me from what I do pretty well with dis­pro­por­tion­ate effort and dis­tor­tion of soul. For that I am in Hell.

  159. Is this poet­ry? Is the tomato a fruit? Yes to a botanist, no to some­one mak­ing a fruit sal­ad. If the world is divided into poetry and prose, this is prose. If it’s divided into fic­tion, non­fic­tion, and poet­ry, this is poet­ry.

  160. The gods give no credit for the good deeds I com­plain about doing.

  161. All my life I’ve been work­ing on an excuse no one will ever want to hear.

  162. The sin­ner hopes there is no God. The just man look­ing at the world thinks there can­not be. The lazy man just can’t imag­ine any­one want­ing the job.

  163. I’ve lived here so long I trip on what has been gone for years.

  164. How do you know life is not a dream? Because things change so slow­ly. Because you can focus on a page or dial a num­ber, and when you go back to your study for your glass­es, there they are, just where you left them. Because you can’t fly and they don’t come back from the dead. Because so often you want to believe that life is a dream.

  165. I shorten my life by imag­in­ing it’s too late for every­thing I really did­n’t want to do any­way.

  166. No one has yet failed in the future.

  167. At first skep­ti­cism keeps you from being too much like every­one else, then, you hope, from being too much like your­self.

  168. Sure, no one’s lis­ten­ing, Eng­lish will die in a hun­dred years, and the far future is stones and rays. But here’s the thing, you Oth­ers, you Years to Come: you do not exist.

  169. That one thing in Life I’m meant to do?—well, I have to fin­ish this first.

  170. Clos­ing a door very gen­tly, you pull with one hand, push with the oth­er.