Personal Archaeology 8: Can I Quote You on That?

The first page of this particular journal.  Note the two Orwell quotes.

Perhaps it was a search for something profound.  Maybe I was looking for a sense of identity.  No matter the reason, I collected a serious number of quotes when I was in high school and college, and as I attempted to start the “next chapter” of my life (as dictated by the journal I got at the Loyola Honors Program retreat), I decided that I would spend the first few pages of that new journal writing down all of the quotes I had kept, or at least the ones that I had kept and thought were worth hanging onto.

Of course, if the story were that simple, I probably wouldn’t have enough material to write an entire post, but when I was eighteen, I envolped myself in various quotations by creating a quote wall in my dorm room.  I honestly can’t tell you how it got started, although something inside of me wanted to find ways to express myself when i was a college freshman, probably because I had been complaining about spending the prior four years (and if you count junior high, six) being forced to play the role that I had been assigned by my insular school and my insular town.  I didn’t realize the irony in having chosen an insular group of people to spend time with at an insular college, but i was kind of a total moron when i was a freshman (and for most of college).

Nevertheless, my room was wallpapered in quotations that I came across, until I eventually took them down in the name of either redecorating or moving out.  They would be saved as backgrounds for the pages of a scrapbook years later, and written down in that journal.  As I flipped through it, I counted 31 total quotations.  I’m not going to torture you with all of them here (those of you who are actually still reading), but I thought it might be fun to share ten of them.  In the very least, it’ll give you some clue as to what “inspired” me back in the late 1990s.

If you become the person others want you to be, you are wasting the person you are.


I really wish I knew if I had found this in high school or college and I do wish that it was life advice or I had followed more truly at hte time, since i spent a lot of effort trying to seem “cool” in some way or at least ingratiate myself into a group of people.  Th eirony that later on I would be complimented on my genuineness at the front of that journal is not lost on me, so perhaps I actually got closer to the meaning of this quote by graduation that I thought.  Or in the very least, maybe I found ways to be myself that was in contrast to those I was around and the role they expected me to play.

Well, patience is a virtue–and it’s about fucking time!

-Chris Sommella

Chris is one of my best friends since the third grade and I remember the day he said this.  We’d been at some softball game and were walking around looking for a convenience store that we could have sworn was nearby.  After what seemed like an hour (but was probably 10-15 minutes), we eventually came upon a 7-Eleven or something similar and he blurted this out.  So it was said in jest–or relief–but I wrote it down at one point on an index card and taped that index card to the inside of my locker where it would stay for both my junior and senior years of high school.

Writing Tip

The meaning lies
in wait beneath
the surface

The surface lies.

-J.D. Engle, Jr.

This was on the wall of my 10th grade English teacher’s classroom, and at some point I copied it down and kept it with me.  I have no idea who J.D. Engle, Jr. is or was.  They may have been an actual poet or may have been one of Mrs. Taber’s students.  It’s possible that it was latter.  I have friends and former girlfriends who loathed the woman, but I do know that she had a fondness for celebrating her students’ work and giving them proper credit (which not everybody does).

This is printed out on a piece of paper and is above the door of my classroom because it speaks to so much of what I teach in both literary analysis and critical thinking.  Out of all of these quotes, I find it to be one of the most profound, and the closest to a personal philosophy statement.

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies
And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It’s either sadness or euphoria.

-Billy Joel

The final lines of one of my favorite songs ever, “Summer, Highland Falls”, these spoke to me toward the end of high school as I fell prey to suburban ennui and did begin to wonder what was beyond the confines of my small town and my friends.  Plus, it’s a Billy Joel lyric and I had been more or less raised on the music of Long Island’s Poet Laureate, his songs being the anthems of my youth more than those by popular contemporary bands of the time (not that I don’t own my fair share of ’90s alternative music).  I eventually discovered what was beyond those confines, and I did so while keeping in touch with them.  There’s a bittersweetness to these lyrics whose meaning I didn’t fully get when I first heard them but eventually came to realize encapsulated what I was feeling when my friends and I were all a little tired of one another after high school ended (and that can be its own story).  I miss seeing those people every day, although I am glad we keep in touch.

What is a friend?  A single soul dwelling in two bodies.


This is easily the most basic bitch of my collected quotes.  It’s one of those quotes that flies around the Internet and winds up in high school yearbooks, and I have honestly never been able to figure out exactly which of Aristotle’s works it comes from.  But as I was trying to forge friendships with people when I was a freshman, this seemed to be the most important question and answer I came across.  Do I believe it now?  I think that it’s true, but as I get older, I feel that it’s an idea reserved only for select people.  The phrase implies an intimacy that only those closest to you earn.

Diane Court: Nobody really thinks this is going to work, do they?

Lloyd Dobler:  You just described every great success story.

-from Say Anything…

More than “I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen” and “I don’t want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything as a career …”, this is my favorite quote from the film.  These days, Say Anything … is not seen as romantic as it was in the early 1990s (I am sure some would categorize its most famous scene as “problematic”), but it still remains in my top five movies of all time.  What Lloyd says to Diane as their plane takes off at the end encapsulates so much of his desire for a “dare to be great situation” and only John Cusack could pull off that sort of sincerity without seeming smarmy or cheesy.

It’s funny.  Don’t ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you’ll start missing everybody.

-Holden Caulfield

These are the very last sentences of The Catcher in the Rye, and if I am a basic bitch for the Aristotle quote, I’m even worse for this.  How many teenagers have glommed onto the disaffected whining of J.D. Salinger’s protagonist since the book’s publication?  Conversely, how many have pointed out that this book and character that served as an archetype for so many angry rebellious teen characters in the 1950s is nothing but white privilege personified?  There’s so much criticism I have of him as a character and yet so much that I get out of this novel, especially its last lines.

Now it’s over, I’m dead
and I haven’t done anything that I want–
or I’m still alive
and there’s nothing I want to do.

-They Might Be Giants

Flood is a formative album for me, one I bought early in high school after hearing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” on an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures.  These lyrics are from the chorus of “Dead,” the song that comes after “Istanbul.”  I played that album all the time and it had a weirdness and honesty that my high school friends’ diet of metal just didn’t; plus, it felt like I was listening to something older and more sophisticated than was meant for me.   And I completely got the irony in these words.

Pay attention: the insane drivel of today’s madman may be the profound words of tomorrow’s poet.

-Tom Panarese

Yes, I quoted myself.

Okay, some back story here.  The first time i ever saw a quote wall was when I was in the yearbook office during my senior year of high school.  My friends had taken long strips of masking tape, written on them with Sharpie, and then put them on the wall.  I number of the quotes were crazy things we all said or other inside jokes, and this was my contribution.  I think I was trying to be random or odd, or maybe just thought I was witty.  And granted, it does take the world too long to appreciate its great minds.  I suppose something could really be said here, but seeing this and some of the others that remind me of high school makes me wistful and nostalgic in a positive way that has overshadowed much of the anxiety sent my way in recent years.

It’s a lot of fun when everyone’s a dork of some sort or another.

-Vanessa McAnaney

The origin of this quote is detailed in a very old post on Pop Culture Affidavit where I write about the Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories song “Stay (I Missed You)”, so if you are interested in the long version, check it out.  The short version is that Vanessa was my friend in high school, and she wrote me a letter after she left for college with these words describing her dorm at Brown.  A year after I graduated college and maybe eighteen months after I had last met her for lunch, she took her own life.  For years afterward, it became my email and message board signature quote, something akin to finding your joy or embracing your weird.

As I reread and reflect on these, I don’t see anything but the mind of someone who had felt like he was finally able to explore the world and absorb whatever he came across.  This is something I don’t do much of anymore–in fact, I can’t stand it when people share quotes in .jpg format on social media because it reeks of a Hallmark-like insincerity and lack of nuance.  So maybe I’m more cynical; or maybe I’ve found something in these past couple of decades.  At least I was able to take a moment to appreciate that my “Next Chapter” journal was largely spent keeping stuff from the prior ones.

One thought on “Personal Archaeology 8: Can I Quote You on That?

  1. Pingback: Personal Archaeology 22: On College, Philosophy, Love, Friendship, and Acceptance – The Uncollecting

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