A quote to live by

I collect quotes and have for many years. Whenever I’m reading a book or article and come across a passage that jumps out at me I mark that passage to come back to later, or write the quote down straight away.

I have a ‘quote book’ that I started in 2003 where I keep shorter quotes. It’s indexed at the front and also has quotes from people I’ve been hanging out with when they use some turn of phrase that is particularly hilarious or memorable.

The very first quote in the book is: ‘An idle mind is the devil’s seedbed.’ It’s from Tad Williams’ The Dragonbone Chair, said by Binabik, the Qanuc Troll who acts as mentor/protector to the main character at the beginning of the book and is a bit of a philosopher.

My favourite quote for many years was: ‘read like a butterfly, write like a bee’, said by Philip Pullman, author of the wonderful His Dark Materials books. (The header picture, of Iorek protecting Lyra, is by Romanian artist Alexandra Bejenaru).

Of course Pullman’s quote is inspired by Muhammed Ali’s famous ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’

Pullman is talking about reading widely across a variety of areas and then writing with purpose. It fits in with another quote of his that I like: ‘I have stolen ideas from every book I have every read,’ talking about the influence his reading has on his work.

When I think of everything I’ve written, it’s not hard to see the influences, whether from the culture I’ve consumed or what’s been going on in my life in the time.

The greatest writing stands proudly on the shoulders of what has come before, taking influence and inspiration. Like Richard Flanagan’s wonderful The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which clearly cites its two major influences: Alfred Lord Tennyson 19th Century poem Ulysses and 17th Century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō’s Oku no Hosomichi (which can translate as ‘the Narrow Road to the Deep North’, funnily enough).

For me the quote is about more than reading and writing, like Pullman showed Ali’s quote was about more than boxing.

The first part is about maintaining a variety of interests and connections with people and different communities. Then I act with intent and purpose on what I’ve decided is my path, rather than let assertive and demanding interests pull me unknowingly in a particular direction.

I could think up a clever rephrasing of the Ali original, something like ‘dance like a butterfly, sing like a bee,’ but Pullman and Ali’s versions work well enough for now 🙂

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