Go Out There and Do Something Remarkable. Don’t Live Down To Expectations

Wendy Wasserstein? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: We are told that people should live up to expectations. Yet, the chronically underestimated are implicitly told to live down to expectations. A graduation speaker once told an audience to do something remarkable and to refuse to live down to expectations. Would you please help me to trace this guidance?

Quote Investigator: U.S. playwright Wendy Wasserstein received a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her 1988 drama “The Heidi Chronicles”. She delivered the commencement address at her alma mater Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1990 offering graduating students the following encouragement. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Take all the goodness, honesty, intelligence, toughness, and wit that you have learned here and don’t compromise them. So much has been written about the women of the nineties. My response is the women of the nineties have yet to make their mark. Go out there and do something remarkable. Don’t live down to expectations. The women of the nineties are you.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Go Out There and Do Something Remarkable. Don’t Live Down To Expectations

Notes:

  1. Website: Alumnae Association Mount Holyoke College, Section title: Alumnae Speakers at Commencement, Article title: Wendy Wasserstein ’71, Commencement in 1990, Date on website: December 19, 2016, Website description: Information from the Alumnae Association of Mount Holyoke College, an academic institution for women in South Hadley, Massachusetts. (Accessed alumnae.mtholyoke.edu on December 13, 2019) link

How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Graham Wallas? E. M. Forster? André Gide? Anonymous Little Girl? Anonymous Old Lady? Herbert Samuel? W. H. Auden? C. S. Lewis? Arthur Koestler? Christopher Hollis?

Dear Quote Investigator: Pre-verbal and non-verbal thoughts are vitally important. Yet, there is an intimate relationship between thinking and using language especially when analysis and reflection are required. A family of comical remarks reflect this connection:

  • How can I know what I think till I see what I say?
  • How can I tell what I think till I know what I’ve said?
  • I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1926 book “The Art of Thought” by Graham Wallas who was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London. Wallas suggested that the processes of thinking and expressing were entangled for the poet because the precise selection of words was crucial to success. Wallas attributed the saying under examination to an anonymous young girl. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” A modern professed thinker must, however, sooner or later in the process of thought, make the conscious effort of expression, with all its risks.

The next match known to QI appeared in the 1927 book “Aspects Of The Novel” by the prominent literary figure E. M. Forster who discussed the recent novel “Les Faux Monnayeurs” (“The Counterfeiters”) by André Gide. Gide’s complex work employed a novel-within-a-novel framework, and its plot was presented via fragments. Forster stated that the novel was “all to pieces logically”.

In the following passage, Forster attributed the saying under examination to an old lady in an anecdote. The phrase “distinguished critic” was a humorous reference to the old lady: 2

Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide—that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her nieces of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. “Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!” she exclaimed. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up to date than they were.

Thus, the saying was popularized by both Graham Wallas and E. M. Forster although both disclaimed credit for authorship. Instead, the words were ascribed to two anonymous figures: a little girl and an old lady. The saying has also been attributed to Gide. The passage above is not easy to parse. But QI believes that the attribution to Gide is based on a misreading of Forster.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Notes:

  1. 1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Style Is the Stuff You Get Wrong

Neil Gaiman? Jerry Garcia? Elizabeth McCracken? Robert Burton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard two fascinating adages about artistic style:

  1. Style is the stuff you can’t help doing.
  2. Style is the stuff you get wrong.

Both statements were made by the prominent fantasist Neil Gaiman who writes short stories, novels, comic books, and screenplays. Yet, Gaiman credited both phrases to acclaimed guitarist Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead rock band. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in an interview of Neil Gaiman conducted by journalist Joe McCabe at the Boskone science fiction convention in February 2002. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I know Jerry Garcia said it once, but I know many people have said it before him, which is “Style is the stuff you can’t help doing.” Style in some ways is the stuff that you do wrong. Because perfect technique would be completely without style. Stuff that lets everybody know that it’s you playing is the falling away from perfect technique. So after you’ve written a few million words, the thing that lets anybody picking up a page read it and say, “Neil wrote that,” is style, it’s the stuff you can’t help doing.

Gaiman credited Garcia with the first adage: “Style is the stuff you can’t help doing.” However, the punctuation of the passage suggests that Gaiman himself crafted the second adage: “Style in some ways is the stuff that you do wrong. ” By 2007 Gaiman had refined the second adage to: “Style is the stuff you get wrong.” Confusingly, Gaiman attributed these words to Garcia.

Uncertainty remains because over the years Gaiman has credited both sayings to Garcia, and neither has yet been found in the interviews and writings of Garcia.

QI hopes that this article will encourage fans of Jerry Garcia, Neil Gaiman, and others to further explore this topic.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Style Is the Stuff You Get Wrong

Notes:

  1. 2004, Hanging Out With the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators by Joe McCabe, Chapter: Neil Gaiman: Part One, (Interview of Neil Gaiman conducted by Joe McCabe at Boskone 39, the Convention of the New England Science Fiction Association in February 2002; Gaiman was the Convention’s Guest of Honor), Start Page 5, Quote Page 14, Fantagraphics Books, Seattle, Washington. (Google Books Preview)

It Is Not Possible for One Man To Hold Another Man Down in the Ditch Without Staying Down There With Him

Booker T. Washington? Henry H. Proctor? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous educator and orator Booker T. Washington believed that the disadvantaged in society should be uplifted because a thoughtful program of amelioration would help everyone. During speeches Washington used the metaphor of two individuals fighting in a ditch. If one person wanted to hold the other down then both would be required to stay in the ditch. Booker’s audience ruefully recognized that both individuals would benefit from simply leaving the ditch. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1909 Booker T. Washington published “The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . the uplifting of the Negro in the South means the uplifting of labour there; for the cause of the Negro is the cause of the man who is farthest down everywhere in the world. Educate him, give him character, and make him efficient as a labourer, and every other portion of the community will be lifted higher. Degrade the Negro, hold him in peonage, ignorance, or any other form of slavery and the great mass of the people in the community will be held down with him. It is not possible for one man to hold another man down in the ditch without staying down there with him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Not Possible for One Man To Hold Another Man Down in the Ditch Without Staying Down There With Him

Notes:

  1. 1909, The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery by Booker T. Washington, Volume 1, Chapter 6: The First Slaves, Quote Page 124, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) list

Self-Consciousness Is the Enemy of All Art

Ray Bradbury? Erica Jong? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The science fiction luminary Ray Bradbury relied deeply on his intuitions and his imagination to compose lyrical prose. He believed that creativity was obstructed by over-thinking and intellectualizing. The following two statements have been attributed to him:

  • Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art.
  • Thinking is the enemy of creativity.

Are these quotations genuine? Would you please help me to find citations?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 Ray Bradbury wrote an essay titled “The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword” which discussed his seven month sojourn in Ireland where he succeeded in his primary goal of co-authoring the screenplay of “Moby Dick”. Bradbury also learned about the Irish people which later inspired the short play “The Anthem Sprinters”. His essay featured musings on the creative process. Bradbury stated that an artist should not attempt to explain an artwork while it is being created. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To try to know beforehand is to freeze and kill.
Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

In 1971 Bradbury addressed the opening banquet of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association held in Park City, Utah. He presented guidance for writers: 2

The speaker said television is the place you learn how to be mediocre. You learn from it, you grow from it, you learn how not to do things.”

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You cannot intellectualize creativity. You can think about something before or after — but not during,” he declared.

These two citations provide solid evidence that Bradbury employed both of the statements mentioned by the questioner. Further, the citations below show that he reiterated these observations later in life.

Continue reading Self-Consciousness Is the Enemy of All Art

Notes:

  1. 1963, The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics by Ray Bradbury, Chapter 5: The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword by Ray Bradbury, (Essay date: July 31, 1962), Quote Page 154, Apollo Editions: The Dial Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1971 April 16, The Salt Lake Tribune, ‘Instill Fun,’ College Writers Urged (Special to the Tribune), Quote Page 4B, Column 6 and 7, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Newspapers_com)

A Reputation Is Like a Death Mask. I Wanted To Smash the Mask

Graham Greene? Doris Lessing? Erica Jong?

Dear Quote Investigator: An artist who has achieved a distinctive reputation with critics and the general public is placed into a metaphorical strait jacket. Newly fashioned artworks are expected to be similar to previous artworks. Change and innovation are frowned upon. This notion can be expressed using a harsher analogue:

A reputation is a death mask.

A death mask is a rigidly fixed depiction of an impassive human face obtained via a wax or plaster mold after death. The vivid phrase about reputation has been attributed to three literary figures: Doris Lessing, Graham Greene, and Erica Jong. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Graham Greene acquired a strong literary standing with works such as “Brighton Rock”, “The Power and the Glory”, and “The End of the Affair”. Yet, he did not want his creativity to be constrained by this series of successes. So he changed his style and released a light-hearted work titled “Loser Takes All” in 1955. He described this pivotal episode in his autobiography “Ways of Escape” in 1980. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The mood of escape . . . took me . . . to Monte Carlo . . . to write what I hoped would prove an amusing, agreeably sentimental novella—something which neither my friends nor my enemies would expect. It was to be called Loser Takes All. A reputation is like a death mask. I wanted to smash the mask.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Reputation Is Like a Death Mask. I Wanted To Smash the Mask

Notes:

  1. 1980, Ways of Escape: An Autobiography by Graham Greene, Chapter 7, Quote Page 224, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)

We’d All Like a Reputation for Generosity, and We’d All Like To Buy It Cheap

Mignon McLaughlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: December is a season of generosity for many, but the eagerness of participants varies. A friend recently joked that she wanted to achieve a reputation for generosity as cheaply as possible. She disclaimed authorship of this quip. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in “The Neurotic’s Notebook” by Mignon McLaughlin in 1963. The compendium contained quips, adages, and observations such as the following two items: 1

We’d all like a reputation for generosity, and we’d all like to buy it cheap.

Life marks us all down, so it’s just as well that we start out by overpricing ourselves.

McLaughlin worked as a writer and editor at magazines such as “The Atlantic Monthly”, “Glamour”, and “Vogue” for decades from the 1940s to the 1970s. She was known for her witticisms.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We’d All Like a Reputation for Generosity, and We’d All Like To Buy It Cheap

Notes:

  1. 1963, The Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 9: Getting and Spending, Quote Page 82, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)

We Cannot Cure the World of Sorrows, But We Can Choose To Live in Joy

Joseph Campbell? Diane K. Osbon? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I watch the news I see endless reports signaling that the world is a mess. Efforts to mend the world are necessary and laudable; however, I am reminded of the advice given by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. The world has always been a mess, and priority should be given to straightening out our own lives. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: This guidance occurred in the 1991 book “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field”, and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.

Below is one additional selected citation.

Continue reading We Cannot Cure the World of Sorrows, But We Can Choose To Live in Joy

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Chapter: In the Field, Quote Page 8 and Page 17, HarperCollins, New York, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Bette Davis? Ruth S. Hain? Malcolm Forbes? John S. Whelan? Paul Newman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One grows in wisdom as the decades accumulate, but the challenges to health and intellect also increase. Here are four versions of a spirited adage:

  • Old age is no place for sissies.
  • Getting old is not for sissies.
  • Aging is not for wimps.
  • Gettin’ old ain’t for wimps.

In this context, the words sissy and wimp refer to a weak or cowardly person. This adage has been credited to Academy Award winning actress Bette Davis. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine of April 1968 within a section called “Life in These United States” which printed vignettes contributed by readers. A piece from Ruth S. Hain of Castro Valley, California described a group of elderly friends who gathered together and shared tales of arthritic joints and hardening arteries. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

. . . one old gentleman detailed his stomach distress—all with considerable general comment. “Well, it just proves one thing, Hilda,” one woman finally said to her neighbor. “Old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

The guidelines published in “Reader’s Digest” state that vignettes submitted to the periodical “must be true, unpublished stories from your own experience”. 2 QI conjectures that the punchline was crafted by the anonymous discussion participant above and popularized by Hain although it remains possible that Hain was recycling a pre-existing quip.

There is good evidence that Bette Davis owned a pillow with the slogan: Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies. Yet, the supporting citations appeared years after the saying was already in circulation. See further below for details.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Age Sure Ain’t for Sissies

Notes:

  1. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Life in These United States, Start Page 81, Quote Page 82, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  2. 1968 April, Reader’s Digest, Volume 92, Have You An Amusing Anecdote—An Unusual Story?, Quote Page 12, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)

Serious-Minded People Have Few Ideas. People With Many Ideas Are Never Serious

Paul Valéry? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following appeared as an epigraph to an article I saw recently:

Serious-minded people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.

The words were attributed to the French poet and commentator Paul Valéry. I am not sure precisely what the remark means. Would you please help me to find a citation for the original statement in French?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Paul Valéry published “Mauvaises pensées et autres” (“Bad thoughts and others”) which contained a collection of short passages about a variety of topics. The following statement was included: 1

Un homme sérieux a peu d’idées. Un homme à idées n’est jamais sérieux.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

Serious people have few ideas. People with ideas are never serious.

QI can only guess at the meaning. Perhaps the remark suggests that serious people offer few panaceas, and people who do offer panaceas should not be taken seriously.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Serious-Minded People Have Few Ideas. People With Many Ideas Are Never Serious

Notes:

  1. 1960, Oeuvres de Paul Valéry, Volume 2, Édition Établie at Annotée par Jean Hytier, Section: Mauvaises pensées et autres (Bad thoughts and others), Quote Page 844, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris. (Verified with scans)