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Pretty Blatant Plagiarism (Act II)
On the train home from work a few weeks ago, a physically imposing businessman planted himself down next to me on a two-seater. My goodness. This man had sat before, I’m pretty sure I became momentarily airborne. He was a tour de force of chair sitting. I’d say he was at least a full human head taller than me, his hands were like oven mitts. No smile. I got the sense that no one had ever made fun of him in his entire life. And then, once sat, he gave me such a sincere and commanding curt nod that it knocked the air out of my lungs, catapulted me into the window. He cleared his throat in a way that seemed to clear my throat also. I lamely picked up my book from the floor and tried to remember how to breathe.
A man like this does not sit and think. He does. Like how a shark can’t stop swimming. He got out his laptop and began to click and to clack and to huff and to mutter and to do that thing that businessmen sometimes do when they ostentatiously rub their temple while also exhaling so as to communicate to all the laypeople in the vicinity that they and their thoughts and the work that they’re doing are more complex and important than our tiny minds can comprehend.
Knowing, immediately, that I would write about this person in my blog, I thought it was not only perfectly socially kosher but in fact my journalistic responsibility to cast my eye over at his screen.
The first glance I stole was of a spreadsheet with overcooked formatting—bright yellow columns, red bolded numbers. My own temple throbbed.
The second glance I stole was of his desktop, one of the messiest I have ever seen in my life—imagine, if you can, and want to, a digital pipe bomb exploding in the middle of a sizable zip folder.
The third and final glance I stole before he slammed the lid of his laptop and started angrily playing chess on his phone was an email. It read, ‘In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “An ounce of patience is worth more than a touch of preaching.” Speak tomorrow, Beth.’ The effect of these words on the man was profound, immediate, and complete. He seemed to shrink to normal human proportions before my very eyes.
Weaponising quotes to score small psychological victories over colleagues and loved ones was something I hadn’t considered before this train journey, but wow, what a scheme. Beth is a visionary. It reminded me of the first act of the Pretty Blatant Plagiarism series, where I listed a whole bunch of nice quotes from books I’d recently read—good lines, interesting turns of phrase, that kind of thing. Today’s egg is going to be more of the same.
I appreciate this is a bit lazy, but I’m busy. Kind of. Regular stories will resume shortly.
If you have a mousepad quote notebook, or equivalent, of your own, then I’d love to hear any good sentences or paragraphs that you have enjoyed recently. Just reply to this email with whatever. On with the weaponising!
For bamboozling your enemies with cryptic pseudo scripture:
‘Yes, Josh, for it is written: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to be a fish and his friends eat for a week.” Amphibians, five-seven.’
— Christopher Moore, ‘Lamb’
For whenever you wonder if your Tamagotchi is still alive:
One horror of motherhood lies in the moment when she can see both the exquisiteness of her child and his utter inconsequence to others. There are so many boys in the world.
— Jennifer Egan, ‘The Candy House’
For when a colleague or family member mildly inconveniences you:
He was a hard shrewd jovial politician, whose act of kindness served his interest and whose interest was himself. His type is pan human. I had met him on Earth, and on Hain, and on Ollul. I expect to meet him in Hell.
— Ursula Le Guin, ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’
For when you’re in traffic:
The drivers here are horrible. And by horrible, I mean they don’t realise I have somewhere to be.
— Maria semple, ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’
For pulling a colleague or family member’s delusions of grandeur into check:
The Trafalmadorians had a sense of humour and so knew themselves for the severely limited lunkers, not to say crazy lunkers, they really were. They laughed right away when the idea popped up in their heads that they were the glory of the universe, and that they were supposed to colonise other planets with their incomparable magnificence. They knew how clumsy and dumb they were, even though they could talk and some of them could read and write and do math.
But the people here on Earth, being humourless, found the idea quite acceptable.
— Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Hocus Pocus’
For when you need a fresh perspective:
The shedding of skin, rebirth. Animals, birds, and insects can provide such useful insights. If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.
— Gail Honeyman, ‘Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’
For when the killer email draft doesn’t quite feel the same after you send it:
That scene and every other seemed to vibrate with brilliance and humour as I typed them. The next day they read like the work of a fifteen-year-old with encouraging parents.
— Meg Mason, ‘Sorrow and Bliss’
For when you finally remember the name of that actor in the movie you’re watching:
The old man’s eyes were bright with remembrance, and his wrinkled face, for a moment, looked ancient, as if he had looked deep into the mysteries of things and found at the heart of it a smile.
— Alan Spence, ‘Its Colours They Are Fine’
For the importance of positive self-talk:
At the time, I thought my life couldn’t get any worse. Here’s some advice: Don’t ever think that.
— Barbara Kingsolver, ‘Demon Copperhead’
For treating your own imposter syndrome:
You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes. But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think...There is universes inside you, all the endless, invented fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't?
— David Foster Wallace, ‘Good Old Neon’
For a life lesson to live by:
Instead of self-medicating, I recently got involved with a dog. Judge that however you may wish but I’ll tell you right now I’ve never been happier.
— Zadie Smith, Grand Union