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17 Apr 2012
The why and how of it all

Idealist asked: “Tell us: What quotation reminds you to keep your priorities straight? #favoritequotesroundup”

I’m such a literary packrat that I couldn’t fit my answer into 140 characters, so here goes instead:

From my best-beloved Buckminster Fuller, in his Everything I know (emphasis added):

“I’ve wanted you to think about, "Why are humans here?” “Why do they have that beautiful mind and why they have access to the great principles of Universe itself, of the great design nothing else we know has access to?” I say we, common to all human beings, in all history, completely independent of any ethnic nuance or whatever it may be have problems, problems, problems because WE ARE HERE FOR PROBLEM SOLVING. Not to have problems out of the way in some stupid, sublime something called peace. We’re here strictly for problem solving, and the better you get at it, the more problems you’re going to get to solve.

Also from Buckminster Fuller:

"When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

From Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life (via PC Wordsmiths):

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, write as if for an audience consisting only of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

“…One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

“After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ‘Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.’”

From Keith Olbermann:

”…the simple idea that those other people you see every day, the background characters, the extras in the movie that is your life, that they count too, and that the only obligation you truly have in life is to try to do something, something for them, even if you will never meet them, even if you will never know them. Something. Not everything. Something. …You will die and I will die and everybody you will see tomorrow will die and so will their children and their descendents, and we will be, at best, memories. And by what are all those who preceded us judged? Name anybody in history—name anybody we all know or somebody only you know—by what are they judged? The answer, stripped of the bells and whistles, is not wealth nor fame not beauty nor power, but what impact did they have on the lives of others?“

From Neil deGrasse Tyson:

"For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

From Kasey Chambers:

“The miles take time, but the time is mine, and always moving suits me fine. I’ll catch my breath when I sleep. And after all that I’ve done, I’m not half what I’d hope that I’d become. There is still a long way to go.”

And a few from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:

“The riders in a race do not stop short when they reach the goal. There is a little finishing canter before coming to a standstill. There is time to hear the kind voice of friends and to say to one’s self: ‘The work is done.’ But just as one says that, the answer comes: ‘The race is over, but the work never is done while the power to work remains.’ The canter that brings you to a standstill need not be only coming to rest. It cannot be while you still live. For to live is to function. That is all there is in living. And so I end with a line from a Latin poet who uttered the message more than fifteen hundred years ago: ‘Death plucks my ears and says, Live – I am coming.’”
“Alas, gentlemen, that is life. I often imagine Shakespeare or Napoleon summing himself up and thinking: ‘Yes, I have written five thousand lines of solid gold and a good deal of padding – I, who would have covered the milky way with words which outshone the stars!’ ‘Yes, I beat the Austrians in Italy and elsewhere: I made a few brilliant campaigns, and I ended in middle life in a cul-de-sac – I, who had dreamed of a world monarchy and Asiatic power.’ We cannot live our dreams. We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of our best, and if in our hearts we can feel that it has been nobly done.”
“The rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one. I confess that altruistic and cynically selfish talk seem to me about equally unreal. With all humility, I think ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,’ infinitely more important than the vain attempt to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. If you want to hit a bird on the wing, you must have all your will in a focus, you must not be thinking about yourself, and, equally, you must not be thinking about your neighbor; you must be living in your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing.”