Her Hair Looks Awful, but I’m Not Going to Tell Her

December 19, 2009

“I put money in my wallet but it just flies away.”
“Yes—it’s like it has roller skates on it.”
• Two women talking in St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, Grants Pass, Oregon September 29, 2007

John Tinker, an autodidact, educated himself by reading books of quotations, claiming that “[i]n quotation books, you’re getting the condensed values of the culture” (in Mark Walsh, “Living History,” Education Week, May 4, 2005, p. 37). I’ve been collecting quotations for several decades, and, as I’ve said before, I have thousands of them written on 3×5 cards, categorized, and stashed in suitcases. I write down what my friends and students say, capturing words that would otherwise be lost forever.

Every day people around me say profound things, although the banality of celltalk can be overwhelming: “I’m in the aisle where the laundry detergent is. What kind do you like best?” “I got new shoes.” “She told him to drop dead.” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” “I’ll check out the cheese.” “It’s sunny here.” “It’s been raining for, like, three days.” “Wait by the telephone pole.” “Her hair looks awful, but I’m not going to tell her.” “I decided I like the red one better than the blue so I’m going to take it back.” “I just had a cheeseburger and fries.” “It should take me ten or fifteen more minutes.” “Where did you leave the book?” “His butt is really ugly–Mr. Saggy Pants.” Well, actually, I loved that last one. I’m going to use it with my breast quotations since I also include quotations about the “back cleavage” of bottoms.

I’m sure these were all important messages of some kind, but I’ve lost my enthusiasm for capturing them. I used to keep a small journal to write down cell conversation snippets I overheard, but I’ve yet to hear anything significant. Please note that I don’t consider this eavesdropping since all of these things are being said publicly and loudly in my vicinity. The insignificance of all of this is a good thing. I don’t really want to hear intimate personal details of someone’s life, nor do I want to know if there’s a conspiracy afoot or a crime is being planned.

Collecting quotations that are meaningful to you can tell you things about yourself and your interests. It’s a quick way to journal if you’re interested in getting started capturing your thoughts. Choose a quotation a day, write it down, and write one sentence about why you chose it—or why it chose you—which is what quotations often seem to do. Give it a try: choose a word and Google® “quotations about _____________.” You may find dozens of quotations about your chosen word, but only a few of them will “speak” to you. Then ask yourself why.

Here’s an example from my collection of quotations: Woody Harrelson said that a grownup is a child with layers on. I love this because it’s related to fun in learning and to keeping a childlike spirit alive within my adult self. I often think about the layers of grownupness I’ve donned and imagine them to be like heavy winter clothing I can take off if I choose, putting layers back on to protect me in the chilly world of adulthood. What are the layers that keep you from encountering the world with a childlike belief in wonder and possibility? This would make a great art project–it’s on one of my many back burners; I’ve used it several times with students, but I’d like to do something that represents me.

Find a quotation you find meaningful and write about why it appeals to you. Just one sentence about it will do, but be sure to write the quotation down. Trust me; you won’t remember in a year or two. Or create your own quotation, being sure to give yourself credit. You can use the one that follows for inspiration. What is life? It is. . . . .

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs itself across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
• Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator, 1980

I’ll be at my mother’s apartment with no internet connection—and I won’t be hunting for one, although I’ll be continuing with my obsessive writing. More later.


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