other people’s words.

I am a notorious word nerd.

I’ve dabbled in the study of four languages, can say thank you in eight (including English), and have an unhealthy obsession with the similarities between Swedish and German when they both use the neuter article as part of a phrase. For instance, the Germans use das to say mach’ das nicht, or don’t do that, where Swedish says gör inte det, and though the word order and everything else is basically different, das and det are both the article used for nouns of the neuter gender. This is true despite the fact that German has three genders and Swedish has two. And yes, I actually like this stuff. I also might be one of the only people under twenty ever to use comprise correctly.

So it should come as no surprise that I love exploring the ways other people have combined words (and yes, that entire paragraph was an excuse to talk about cool linguistic nonsense). I make a (perhaps excessive) habit of logging the quotes that appeal to me on my Facebook profile, and today I looked at the collection and decided it was rather demonstrative of my entire existence, so I’m going to talk about it in detail.

1. I am absurd and small. F. Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, spoken by the character Lise.

I just like this one. In the scene, Lise blurts it out to Alyosha as they are in the middle of getting engaged (spoilers) to contrast her absurdity and smallness with how wonderful she thinks he is. I love the use of the word absurd (I wonder what the Russian word for absurd is), and the combination of it with small is how I often feel, so it seems to fit.

2. I go my own quiet way. R. Kennedy, Selected Poems of e. e. cummings, from the dedication.

The actual dedication of the book is “For Jim, who goes his own quiet way,” and I actually have the book because someone named Jim passed it on to me. I don’t think it’s the same Jim as is mentioned in the dedication (it was my tenth grade English teacher). But I quite like the idea of going your own quiet way – a quiet, unobtrusive individuality which does not feel the need to prove itself, but is instead simply on a path of its own.

3. Wenn ich Dich liebe, was geht’s Dich an? If I love you, what business is it of yours? J. W. von Goethe.

I don’t know where in Goethe’s work this comes from, but I have loved these words since I discovered them senior year while looking for Goethe quotes Hannah and I could incorporate into the tattoos we were planning to get together. We haven’t done that yet, but this is still one of my favorite candidates, simply because of the incredible notion that someone could love you and it doesn’t have to concern you at all.

4. If you keep a hold [of my hand], you will know who I am all the time, even when you look at me and cannot see me the least like [myself]. G. MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind, spoken by the North Wind herself.

I quite like this because a. I adore George MacDonald, and b. the idea of either literal or figurative touch being the thing to link two people when one or both is confused and turbulent as the North Wind.

5. I don’t have any reasons, I left them all behind. B. Joel, “New York State of Mind.”

I love Billy Joel with a lot of my heart (the rest belongs to Christopher Eccleston and words), and this is one of his best lines, though I don’t remember much else from the particular song. I love the idea of leaving behind reason, even though I don’t find it terribly useful in daily life, except when being unreasonably honest, as is my thing lately.

6. You had your children, you wrote your book; now don’t be greedy. K. Vonnegut.

I have never read Kurt Vonnegut (though he is on my list) and don’t know where in his life or if in his work he said this, but I love it. Frankly these two things are basically the great goals of my life (though both sort of on the back burner at the moment). So I took this idea quite to heart – that my job, as it were, on this planet, is to have my children and write my book.

7. Love, not answers. M. L’Engle, Walking on Water.

Of course we couldn’t get through this list of Quotes that Define My Life without touching on L’Engle at least once (and frankly, Love with open hands deserves a place on this list too). I quite like this one, for reasons explained in the blog post of the same name back in January. You don’t need to know the answers. You just need to love.

8. Everybody can’t be done to all the same. Everybody’s not ready for the same thing. G. MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind, spoken by the North Wind herself.

Did I mention my love for George MacDonald? Yes? Oh. Well, at any rate, this line is, in my opinion, an excellent question to the answering buzzword equality. Do we all need identical treatment? And from there you get back to L’Engle’s Like and equal are not the same thing at all (A Wrinkle in Time), and discover that socialism isn’t necessarily even kind. Or is that just me?

9. When I think of my calling I am not afraid of life. A. Chekhov, The Seagull, spoken, I believe, by Nina.

I didn’t find this by reading Chekhov, but rather by reading L’Engle. (Anton Chekhov was to Madeleine L’Engle as Madeleine L’Engle is to me.) And yet I love it. It is so simple – you have a purpose, and there is nothing for you to be afraid of. Carry on living. Find and follow your purpose. It’s really that simple.

10. Toutes les langues sont belles pour ceux qui les parlent. All languages are beautiful to those who speak them. J. Adiaffi.

I do not know who Jean-Marie Adiaffi is nor where he set this down, nor do I speak French (although I have managed to figure out from this that the plural adjective ending in French is -s and the third-person plural verb ending is either -t or -nt). But I love this because I speak German, which sounds harsh to a lot of people, and Swedish, which sounds funny to a lot of people. Yet I love them – I love and I am not ashamed, as I said in my college essay about it. I love the sounds of German that sound harsh and demanding and terrifying to other people’s ears (and if you don’t think Schmetterling is a beautiful word, I’m doing my job wrong). And I might love the sounds of Swedish even more, though no one in the world who doesn’t speak Swedish has ever said, “Swedish is the most beautiful language to listen to.”

(I don’t actually know that, but it’s possible, I think.)

Okay, there you go; ten quotes that define my life. Going my own way, languages, capitalism, trying to squash the everlasting need to know everything. Me in a nutshell.


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