Memorizing Emotionally Salient Quotations

One of the more unusual projects I undertook a few years back was memorizing a bunch of quotations. In particular, I mostly picked ones that seemed emotionally salient.

I love it when I read something that lets me glimpse a truth about the world that I hadn’t quite noticed or thought of in that way. And typically, the clue that I’m realizing something is that I have an emotional reaction.

I did find that if I spent enough time with the quotations, I was able to grok them more fully. I could update my model of the world and internalize the meaning that I had been reacting too. I was still able to recognize the words as beautiful afterwards, but the character of my appreciation for them had changed to something softer.

Looking back at some of the passages I memorized at the time, I thought I’d share a few and what I think I learned from them.

I felt a sudden rush of the past upon me; for a moment grief pierced me like a winter night; yet it came to me like an old grief, I had suffered it long since and now it was behind me. Everything is change; you cannot step twice into the same river.

That one was from The Last of the Wine. I remember resisting something about it when I read it at first. At the time, I didn’t understand how possible it really was to process and leave behind emotional pain that had existed for a long time. So, I was uncomfortable with the quotation because I assumed the person saying it had some judgement about the pain and was choosing to gloss over it even though he really felt it. Maybe that it wasn’t mature to wallow, so he let it go. I think there may be some truth to that interpretation, but I see it differently now. I think the speaker really did just feel an echo and was truly okay with moving on.

One solution to boredom on certain kinds of jobs such as greasing and oil changing and tuning is to turn them into a kind of ritual. There’s an esthetic to doing things that are unfamiliar and another esthetic to doing things that are familiar. I have heard that there are two kinds of welders: production welders, who don’t like tricky setups and enjoy doing the same thing over and over again; and maintenance welders, who hate it when they have to do the same job twice. The advice was that if you hire a welder make sure which kind he is, because they’re not interchangeable. I’m in that latter class, and that’s probably why I enjoy troubleshooting more than most and dislike cleaning more than most. But I can do both when I have to and so can anyone else. When cleaning I do it the way people go to church…not so much to discover anything new, although I’m alert for new things, but mainly to reacquaint myself with the familiar. It’s nice sometimes to go over familiar paths.

There’s another one that’s more self-explanatory, I think. I am somewhat of a novelty seeker. It’s been easy for me to notice this recently as I’ve been teaching our new puppy. It’s very easy for me to get motivated by new behavior emerging and very hard for me to be motivated by detailed maintenance work where we fine tune behaviors. I see the importance of both, and I have a sense of how I’m supposed to appreciate both. But it hasn’t come naturally to me. This quotation helps me get in touch with the other aesthetic.

One more:

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world.  If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years.  If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge.  If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime.  If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad. 

This is a quotation I often refer people to, because I meet fairly many people that I know would strongly identify with it. I did, and do, to a certain extent myself, though it’s more of a male perspective. It’s easy to feel the tug described in the quotation. But when I remember that it’s a very common desire, i think I relate to it in a healthier way.

That’s all for today! I may share more quotations another time.