In a recent McSweeney’s article titled “RIP, 2017” writer Pete Reynolds unapologetically sums up, “In life, 2017 was an avid collector of mass shootings, devastating natural disasters, and unfortunate accounts of famous old men groping their female colleagues.” Counter to the resoundingly “bad”, 2017 also delivered varying degrees of good, including the Women’s March, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia, and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Ladybird. Whether your outlook is steely focused on inspiring stories of progress, or fixated on negative tales of resurgent fascism and our seemingly obdurate march toward nuclear warfare, I think we can all agree that we are bidding adieu to 2017 on a somewhat conflicted note.
It’s a troubling time in a number of pervasive and globally impactful ways. It takes a disciplined mindset coupled with a high-dose of optimism to stay informed on world events and not feel like our collective integrity has been compromised. Although there is much to be grateful for, and the value of an unyielding hopefulness is imperative in the face of adversity, maintaining a perspective that isn’t downtrodden in light of recent affairs can be challenging.
As 2017 winds down and we enter into 2018, a year already charged with political uncertainty, I decided to draw upon my trusted arsenal of wisdom—an archaic notebook, which I’ve had for nearly fifteen years. The structural integrity of which has been seriously compromised, its binding all but deteriorated so that pages fall out with each opening. For years, I’ve dedicatedly jotted down quotes from some of my favorite books. Toward the end of each year, when self-reflection and renewed perspective are much needed, I’ll take out this archive of borrowed ingenuity and insight and thumb through its pages.
This blog post isn’t a listicle featuring “10 Ways to Start the New Year Right” (which I’ll personally be perusing later) but rather, a tribute of prevailing goodwill to a double-edged year. A year which undoubtedly cut both ways—both good and bad. I hope that an excerpt or two will resonate with you and offer a glimmer of grace and guidance.
And if none of the below listed quotes succeed in stirring a sense of idealism, just keep in mind, Trump’s term ends in approximately 1,115 days.
Happy New Year, friends.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
-Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
“But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”
-Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.”
-Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
“Sometimes it’s about playing a poor hand well.”
-Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception. The very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
-Janet Fitch, White Oleander
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
-Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“I let it go. It’s like swimming against the current. It exhausts you. After a while, whoever you are, you just have to let go, and the river brings you home.”
-Joanne Harris, Five Quarters of the Orange
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”
-Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
“The stars are always up in the sky…then when it is perfectly black, they feel less vulnerable and out they come.”
-Heather O’Neill, Lullabies for Little Criminals
“The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat-trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.
The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.”
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
“What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
-Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“But these thoughts broke apart in his head and were replaced by strange fragments: This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air.”
-Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
-Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar