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Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) American expatriate author, feminist
Everybody’s Autobiography, ch. 1 (1937)
Added on 1-Mar-24 | Last updated 29-Feb-24
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Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance.

dan greenburg
Dan Greenburg (1936-2023) American writer, humorist, journalist
In Bill Hayward, Cat People (1978)
Added on 1-Feb-24 | Last updated 1-Feb-24
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The enemy for the fanatic is pleasure, which makes it extremely important to continue to indulge in pleasure. Dance madly. That is how you get rid of terrorism.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
“Public Event, Private Lives,” speech, University of Colorado, Boulder (2013-04-17)
Added on 27-Nov-23 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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For always the man in whom thought springs up over thought sets his mark farther off, for the one thought saps the force of the other.

[Ché sempre l’omo in cui pensier rampolla
sovra pensier, da sé dilunga il segno,
perché la foga l’un de l’altro insolla]

Dante Alighieri the poet
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 2 “Purgatorio,” Canto 5, l. 16ff (5.16-18) (1314) [tr. Sinclair (1939)]

Virgil telling Dante he's overthinking things, letting himself be distracted.

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

He, that permits his Fancy thus to stray.
With every lure, will rarely find his way
To that great end, to which his soul is bent:
For gath'ring fancies warp the steady light
Of Reason's beam, and leave her whelm'd in night,
For ever baffled of her first intent.
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 3]

He, in whose bosom thought on thought shoots out,
Still of his aim is wide, in that the one
Sicklies and wastes to nought the other’s strength.
[tr. Cary (1814)]

He in whose bosom thought springs up to thought,
Destroys himself the figures of his loom --
The birth of one prepares the others's tomb.
[tr. Bannerman (1850)]

For evermore the man in whom is springing
Thought upon thought, removes from him the mark,
Because the force of one the other weakens.
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]

For ever the man, in whom thought wells up over thought, removes far from himself his mark, because the rush of the second slackens the first.
[tr. Butler (1885)]

Always the man in whom new thought doth grow
On previous thought, from his true course doth roam,
Because the one doth flag the other's glow.
[tr. Minchin (1885)]

For always the man in whom thought on thought wells up removes from himself his aim, for the force of one weakens the other.
[tr. Norton (1892)]

For ever the man in whom thought wells up on thought, sets back his mark, because the one saps the force of the other.
[tr. Okey (1901)]

For always he in whom thought overtakes
The former thought, his goal less clearly sees.
Because the one the other must relax.
[tr. Binyon (1943)]

He aims beside the mark whose fancies bubble
One on another, driving back and drumming
Each other out, so that his eye sees double.
[tr. Sayers (1955)]

For when a man lets his attention range
toward every wisp, he loses true direction,
sapping his mind's force with continual change.
[tr. Ciardi (1961)]

For always the man in whom thought wells
up on thought sets back his mark,
for one thought weakens the force of the other.
[tr. Singleton (1973)]

The man who lets his thoughts be turned aside
by one thing or another, will lose sight
of his true goal, his mind sapped of its strength.
[tr. Musa (1981)]

Because the man in whom thoughts bubble up
One after the other, goes wide of the mark,
Because one thought weakens the force of another.
[tr. Sisson (1981)]

The man in whom thought thrusts ahead of thought
allows the goal he’s set to move far off --
the force of one thought saps the other’s force.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1982)]

For always the man in whom one care sprouts above the other makes his target more distant, because the impulse of the one weakens the other.
[tr. Durling (2003)]

Since the man, in whom thought rises on thought, sets himself back, because the force of the one weakens the other.
[tr. Kline (2002)]

When thought is bred too rampantly from thought,
then, of himself, a man will miss the mark.
Each mental thrust debilitates the first.
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2007)]

For any man who lets one thought --
and then another -- take him over
will soon lose track of his first goal.
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]

A man whose mind is distracted lets thought after thought
Keep him from getting where he wants to go:
They hammer each other down; nothing can grow.
[tr. Raffel (2010)]

Added on 3-Nov-23 | Last updated 3-Nov-23
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Parents are often so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of trees is lost when raking leaves.

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Marcelene Cox (1900-1998) American writer, columnist, aphorist
“Ask Any Woman” column, Ladies’ Home Journal (1945-05)
Added on 28-Aug-23 | Last updated 28-Aug-23
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I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
“The Art of Fiction: Saul Bellow,” interview by Gordon Lloyd Harper, The Paris Review (Winter 1966)

Reprinted in Gloria Cronin and Ben Siegel, ed., Conversations with Saul Bellow (1994).
Added on 13-Jul-23 | Last updated 13-Jul-23
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There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow. Employment, even melancholy, may dispel melancholy, and her occupations were hopeful.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775-1817) English novelist
Mansfield Park, ch. 46 (1814)
Added on 11-May-23 | Last updated 11-May-23
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Sparks are a secretive lot, and they keep their blasphemous secrets held close to their vests. On average, a good Spark will invest anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of his or her time and energy on the design and hiding of an elaborate lair, as they seem to have an instinctual understanding that people work best in an environment where the controls to all the deathtraps are right at their fingertips. This is a good thing, overall, as time spent digging an elaborate “Maze of Madness” is less time spent trying to find a way to turn the nearest city into a beautiful volcanic moonscape.

Phil Foglio (b. 1956) American writer, cartoonist
Agatha H and the Voice of the Castle (2014) [with Kaja Foglio]
Added on 7-Mar-22 | Last updated 7-Mar-22
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Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against all the disappointments of life. I have never known any trouble that an hour’s reading would not dissipate.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Mes Pensées [My Thoughts] (1720-1755)

Alternate translations:

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the vexations of life, having never had an annoyance that one hour's reading did not dissipate.

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the troubles of life, and I have never had a grief that an hour's reading would not dissipate.

Added on 21-Jan-22 | Last updated 21-Jan-22
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At least there are more forms of escapism than those who bandy that word about are always aware of. An artist, for instance, may escape from the problems of his art — which are hard to solve — into a consideration of the problems of society which he sometimes seems to think require of him only that he complain about them. Even the ordinary citizen is not always guiltless of similar techniques and it is, for example, sometimes easier to head an institute for the study of child guidance than it is to turn one brat into a decent human being.

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American educator, writer, critic, naturalist
“Whom Do We Picket Tonight?” Harper’s (Mar 1950)

Reprinted in If You Don't Mind My Saying (1964).
Added on 28-Oct-21 | Last updated 28-Oct-21
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Objects close to the eye shut out much larger objects on the horizon; and splendors born only of the earth eclipse the stars. So a man sometimes covers up the entire disk of eternity with a dollar, and quenches transcendent glories with a little shining dust.

Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880) American clergyman
Living Words (1860)
Added on 11-Sep-20 | Last updated 11-Sep-20
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The worst days of darkness through which I have ever passed have been greatly alleviated by throwing myself with all my energy into some work relating to others.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter to B. A. Hinsdale (30 Apr 1874)
Added on 10-Jul-20 | Last updated 10-Jul-20
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Tell him I was too fucking busy — or vice versa.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer

In Hard Times, Vol. 6 (1967), the anecdote is that a messenger pounded on her door for several minutes, having been sent by a New Yorker editor for some promised writing. She finally opened a second-floor window, called down to find out what was the matter, and provided this retort.

In Oscar Levant, The Unimportance of Being Oscar (1968), it's phrased "Too fucking busy, and vice versa."
Added on 8-Jun-20 | Last updated 8-Jun-20
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There’s some devil in us that drives us to and fro on everlasting idiocies. There’s time for everything except the things worth doing. Think of something you really care about. Then add hour to hour and calculate the fraction of your life that you’ve actually spent in doing it. And then calculate the time you’ve spent on things like shaving, riding to and fro on buses, waiting in railway, junctions, swapping dirty stories, and reading the newspapers.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
Coming up for Air, ch. 5 (1939)
Added on 26-May-20 | Last updated 26-May-20
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Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme —
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“Faute de Mieux,” Enough Rope (1926)

Faute de mieux means "for lack of something better or more desirable."
Added on 11-May-20 | Last updated 11-May-20
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ASA: Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Tom Taylor, Our American Cousin, Act 3, sc. 2 (1858)

The biggest laugh line in the play, so chosen by John Wilkes Booth to use as a cover for his shooting Abraham Lincoln on 14 Apr 1865.

Added on 16-Aug-19 | Last updated 16-Aug-19
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It is the trifles of life that are its bores, after all. Most men can meet ruin calmly, for instance, or laugh when they lie in a ditch with their own knee-joint and their hunter’s spine broken over the double post and rails: it is the mud that has choked up your horn just when you wanted to rally the pack; it’s the whip who carries you off to a division just when you’ve sat down to your turbot; it’s the ten seconds by which you miss the train; it’s the dust that gets in your eyes as you go down to Epsom; it’s the pretty little rose note that went by accident to your house instead of your club, and raised a storm from madame; it’s the dog that always will run wild into the birds; it’s the cook who always will season the white soup wrong — it is these that are the bores of life, and that try the temper of your philosophy.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
Under Two Flags, ch. 1 (1867)
Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing.

Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) English actor
In The New York Herald Tribune (19 May 1946)
Added on 13-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jun-17
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There are millions of ways to not be writing.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Rod Serling: The Facts of Life,” Interview with Linda Brevelle (4 Mar 1975)
Added on 22-May-17 | Last updated 22-May-17
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One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist

This is frequently cited to Arendt, often to The Origins of Totalitarianism, (1951), but is not found as such in her works. The source appears to be a paraphrase of Arendt in a 1999 New Yorker article.

Stuart Elden suggested the following from The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 11, might be original quotation the paraphrase was built on, though the overall meaning is different:

The elite is not composed of ideologists; its members’ whole education is aimed at abolishing their capacity for distinguishing between truth and falsehood, between reality and fiction. Their superiority consists in their ability immediately to dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose.
Added on 17-May-17 | Last updated 5-Jul-22
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We discovered at one point that the brick wall of the pillar would hold up a sock pretty well. This led to sorting socks by putting them on the wall, which in turn led to mosaics built entirely of socks. Mission drift is a hazard in all pursuits, including doing the laundry.

James Nicoll (b. 1961) Canadian reviewer, editor
“Another question about expectations,” rec.arts.sf.written, Usenet (22 May 2005)
Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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Men love better books which please them than those which instruct. Since their ennui troubles them more than their ignorance, they prefer being amused to being informed.

Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765-1848) French Catholic missionary in India [Abbe J. A. Dubois]

Earliest found attribution in The New Era (Jan 1873).
Added on 12-Feb-16 | Last updated 12-Feb-16
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Sorrow preys upon
Its solitude, and nothing diverts it
From its sad visions of the other world
Than calling it at moments back to this.
The busy have no time for tears.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
The Two Foscari, Act 4, sc. 1 [Loredano] (1821)
Added on 10-Dec-15 | Last updated 6-Mar-23
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When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hopes hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go for a good spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) British writer and physician
In The American Bee Keeper (May 1895)
Added on 19-Nov-15 | Last updated 11-Mar-21
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If I had a dollar for every time I got distracted, I wish I had some ice cream.

Sig Lines
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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No man is lonely while eating spaghetti — it requires too much attention.

Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American journalist, novelist, essayist, poet
In Life (24 Oct 1969)
Added on 21-Nov-14 | Last updated 21-Nov-14
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Composition is, for the most part, an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by necessity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amusements.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Adventurer, #138 (2 Mar 1754)
Added on 9-May-14 | Last updated 9-May-14
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The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses!

[Nam qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses.]

Juvenal (c.55-127) Roman satirist [Decimus Junius Juvinalis]
Satires, Satire 10, l. 78-79

Alt. trans.: "The people long for only two things: bread and circuses."
Added on 5-Nov-13 | Last updated 25-Apr-17
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Every whisper of infamy is industriously circulated, every hint of suspicion eagerly improved, and every failure of conduct joyfully published by those whose interest it is that the eye and voice of the public should be employed on any rather than themselves.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #76 (8 Dec 1750)
Added on 12-Jul-13 | Last updated 26-Jun-22
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HARRIS: Sitting there at that moment I thought of something else Shakespeare said. He said, “Hey … life is pretty stupid; with lots of hubbub to keep you busy, but really not amounting to much.” Of course I’m paraphrasing: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Steve Martin (b. 1945) American comedian, actor, writer, producer, musician
L. A. Story (1991)
Added on 18-Apr-12 | Last updated 19-Feb-24
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Many irons on the Fire, some must cool.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Scottish Proverb

In James Kelly, A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs, M.93 (1721)
Added on 18-Jan-12 | Last updated 3-Apr-14
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What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.

Vyacheslav Plehve
Vyacheslav von Pléhve (1846-1904) Russian Tsarist security director, Interior Minister [Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve, or Pleve; Вячесла́в Константи́нович фон Пле́ве]
Comment (1903) [tr. Walder (1974)]

Regarding the impending Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Possibly apocryphal; the comment is quoted in the memoirs of Count Sergei Witte, an opponent of Plehve, several years later (and well after Plehve's 1904 assassination). Witte recounted it as a retort by Plehve to General Alexey Nikolayevich Kuropatkin, who accused Plehve of supporting the conflict for adventurist/expansionist reasons.

Russia, though considered much stronger than Japan militarily, ended up losing the war, destabilizing the government and ironically leading to revolutions in 1905 and 1917.

Alternate translations:
  • "We need a little victorious war to stem the tide of revolution." [tr. Yarmolinsky (1921)]
  • "We need a little, victorious war to stem the revolution." [tr. Harcave (1990)]
  • "To contain the revolution, we need a short victorious war." [tr Hodson (2017)]
Added on 23-Mar-11 | Last updated 28-Feb-22
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I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.

Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) Canadian-American novelist and poet
On the Road, Part 2, ch. 4 (1957)
Added on 1-Mar-11 | Last updated 4-Nov-20
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I confess I am a little cynical on some topics, and when a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.

Emerson - whole nation roaring patriotism cleanness hands purity heart - wist.info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1824-12-10)
Added on 26-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-Jun-23
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In the practice of art, as well as in morals, it is necessary to keep a watchful and jealous eye over ourselves; idleness, assuming the specious disguise of industry, will lull to sleep all suspicion of our want of an active exertion of strength. A provision of endless apparatus, a bustle of infinite enquiry and research, or even the mere mechanical labour of copying, may be employed, to evade and shuffle off real labour, — the real labour of thinking.

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) British painter, critic
Speech to the Royal Academy, London (10 Dec 1784)

Paraphrased over a long period of time (and still attributed to Reynolds) as: "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking."

The lecture was later described as the Twelfth Discourse in a 1797 collection of Reynolds' works.

Often attributed to Thomas Edison. More information here.

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-May-14
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I could do great things, if I weren’t so busy doing little things.

Ashleigh Brilliant (b. 1933) Anglo-American epigramist, aphorist, cartoonist
Pot-Shots, #0828
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-May-15
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