On Life & Living


The only serious philosophical question: “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
~ Albert Camus, The Stranger

“You are all a lost generation.” ~ Gertrude Stein


  • “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”~ Joseph Campbell

  • “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”  ~  Henry Miller

  • “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose.”~ Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands

  • “I want to be inside your darkest everything.”  ~ Frida Kahlo
  • “I am not a novelist, really not even a writer; I am a storyteller. One of my friends said about me that I think all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them, and perhaps this is not entirely untrue. To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern. And I feel in life such an infinite, truly inconceivable fantasy.” ~  Isak Dinesen from an interview with in The New York Times Book Review (3 November 1957) 
  • “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”  ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
  • “I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”  ~  Joan Didion
  • “You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret. Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the street trying to find enough to eat, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world.” ~ Charlie Chaplin.
  • “Life itself, she thought, as she went upstairs to dress for dinner, was stranger than dreams and far, far more disordered.”  ~  Nancy Mitford, Christmas Pudding
  • “So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can’t rearrange the universe.” ~  Isaac Asimov
  • “Been working and working But I still got so terribly far to go.” ~ Oscar Brown, Jr.
  • “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”  ~ Orson Welles
  • “I meant to write about death, only life cam breaking in as usual.”  ~ Virginia Wolf
  • “Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”  ~  Hunter S. Thompson

  • “The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.”  ~ Norman Cousins 
  • “I don’t want to live ~ I want to love first, and live incidentally.”  ~ Zelda Fitzgerald
  • “Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.”  ~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
  • “And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”  ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

  • “What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”  ~ Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the One Day
  • “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”  ~  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
  • “It’s so easy to be easy – if you let it.” ~  Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

  • “We are duplicitous, we’re blind – and it is hard to live, trusting only in life: earthly life is a murky translation from the divine original; the general thought is clear but the primordial music is missing in its words. . . What are passions? Mistakes in the translation. What is love? A rhyme lost in transmission to our discordant language. . . It’s time for me to take up the original!”  ~ Vladimir Nabokov The Tragedy of Mister Morn

  • “The tragedy of life, Howard, is not that the beautiful die young, but that they grow old and mean.”  ~ Raymond Chandler

  • “I have not told the half of what I saw.” ~  Marco Polo

  • “Too often the people complain that they have done nothing with their lives and then they wait for somebody to tell them that this isn’t so.” ~  Charles Bukowski, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire
  • “The end of the world. Let me tell you about the end of the world. It happened fifty years ago. Maybe a hundred. And since then it’s been lovely. I mean it. Nobody tries to bother you. You can relax. You know what? I like the end of the world.”  ~ Thomas M. Disch, 334

  • “How often when we are comfortable, we begin to long for something new…” ~ Jacob Grimm, The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage

  • “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” ~  Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

  • “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” ~ Albert Camus, from “Intuitions” (October 1932), published in Youthful Writings (1976)

  •  “But what you are left with is a premonition of the way your life will fade behind you, like a book you have read too quickly, leaving a dwindling trail of images and emotions, until all you can remember is a name.” ~ Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City (1984)
  •  “When I look at small things, I think I shall go on living: drops of rain, leather gloves shrunk by being wet…When I look at something too big, I want to die: the Diet Building, or a map of the world…” ~  Kōbō Abe, The Box Man
  • “You know what she died of, Mother Pegg? Of darkness.”  ~  Samuel Beckett, Endgame
  • “It’s better to look at the sky than live there. Such an empty place; so vague. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.” ~ Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

  • “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • “Why does peace elude us so frequently, when it is so sincerely desired?”  ~  Marlene Dietrich
  • “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” ~ Leonard Cohen
  • “Everyone underestimates their own life. Funny thing is, in the end, all our stories…they’re the same. In fact, no matter where you go in the world, there is only one important story: of youth, loss and yearning for redemption. So we tell the same story, over and over. Just the details are different.” ~ Rohinton Mistry, Family Matters

  • “From infancy on, we are all spies; the shame is not this but that the secrets to be discovered are so paltry and few.”  ~  John Updike, Bech, A Book (1970)

  • “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.” ~  Simone de Beauvoir
  • “People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.” ~  Charles Bukowski
  • “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” ~ Albert Camus

  • “Be a loner.  That gives you time to wonder, to search for truth.  Have holy curiosity.  Make your life worth living.”  ~ Albert Einstein 

  •  “The secret of good old-age is none other than an honest pact with solitude.”  ~  Gabriel García Márquez
  • “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”  ~ Joan Didion, The White Album
  • “I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way.” ~ Voltaire

  • ‘We only begin to live when we conceive life as tragedy.’ ~ W. B. Yeats

  • “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” ~  Toni Morrison, Beloved

  • “In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.” ~ Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places: Stories

  • “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” ~  Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

  • “How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting.” ~  Graham Swift, Tomorrow
  • “The labor into which a heart has poured its whole love—where will it have its say, to excite and inspire, and when?” ~  Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country

  • “There is no good reason. Don’t waste your life waiting for good reasons…You’ll wait and wait.” ~  Susan Minot, Evening

  • “One must have one’s delusions to live.  If you look at life too honestly and clearly, life becomes unbearable because it’s a pretty grim enterprise, you will admit.”  ~ Woody Allen 


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