“Keep it short and sweet,” pretty much everyone everywhere has said at one time or another. So we’ll get straight to the point. Here are the quotes that members of the MEL staff think about most often and why.
The Quote: “You dance with the one you done brought.”
The Explanation: Until just now, I had no idea a variation of this quote was the name of a Shania Twain song (with a video directed by Sean Penn, no less). I first heard it from one of my earliest mentors, circa 2004. He could’ve very well borrowed it from Shania, but considering it’s a country song and his wife had family in Atlanta, it’s probably more likely that it’s a piece of folk wisdom he picked up while visiting them.
Whatever the case, I like the reality of it — alternatives are wishful thinking and excuses are bullshit. Instead, make the best out of what’s in front of you. It’s also a more hopeful twist on two of my other favorites: “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit,” and the more poetic, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The Quote: “Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you.”
The Explanation: One of my favorite movie quotes ever. I like that it’s a modified version of “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you,” but that it also works as-is. It’s meant to sum up the experience of the character The Dude in The Big Lebowski, but it also sums up a lot about anyone’s life experience — as long you don’t interpret “bar” literally. Or maybe that works, too.
The Quote: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.”
The Explanation: My A.P. English teacher wrote that in a graduation card he gave me when I left high school. For years, I thought it was tautological nonsense. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve come to see how profound it is.
The Quote: “Shit your pants and dive in and swim.”
The Explanation: I get it: Having a line from a Tarantino movie (in this case, Reservoir Dogs) as my life motto makes me the most painfully basic dude-bro imaginable. So I’m going to defend myself by saying that yes, of course there are other, more literary quotes that mean a lot to me. For example:
“I am flesh and blood, but my mind is the focus of much lightning. I change with the weather, with the state of my finances, with the work I do, with my company. But truly none of these is accountable for the majestic flaws of mind which have left my brain open to hallucination.” — ‘Psalm 1,’ Allen Ginsberg
Beautiful. But the quote that’s been most useful to me? That would be the line spoken by Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs:
Let me explain: I spent a good few years dealing with crippling panic attacks. If you’ve never had one, this isn’t a sense of mild anxiety; it’s a very literal feeling that you’re about to die, often triggered by next to nothing at all. There were periods of up to six months where I could barely leave the house. They are, in short, not fun.
So when I landed my first big writer job, I suddenly found myself forced to confront these problems — which, admittedly, I’d already gone a long way toward fixing — in a whole new way. Because a big part of my job was being, essentially, the office stuntman/idiot (depending who you ask). On any given week, I was getting set on fire; swimming with great white sharks; performing as a male stripper; dangling under a flying helicopter; getting liposuction; wrestling an alligator; and many, many more increasingly stupid and dangerous things.
And each time I was about to do one of these things, my brain yammering that this time was too far, that I couldn’t possibly do it, this assured, gravelly voice would pop in:
“Shit your pants and jump in.”
Which is how I recalled the line: It’s only now, in fact, that I realize I’ve had it wrong all these years. Something about the simplicity of it — yes, you’re terrified, so just allow yourself to accept that, then do the thing you came here to do — made all of it possible.
And so, over the years, I’ve shat in a lot of pants.
But I’ve also never failed to jump.
The Quote: “I really don’t like it and, uh, I’m not gonna go.”
The Explanation: I saw Office Space and The Big Lebowski for the first time within weeks of each other in college. The latter affected me on a cellular level; the former presented a useful tutorial on not giving a fuck.
I found Peter Gibbons’ realization that he had the power to escape his meaningless corporate existence to be wonderfully liberating for me, too. Rather than blindly accepting invitations to engagements I didn’t want to attend and then struggling to endure them, I began saying to myself — and eventually aloud — “Nah. I really don’t like it, and uh, I’m not gonna go.”
I quickly learned the limitations of this mantra, however. Like when I told it to my mother on Christmas Day. Needless to say, for her sake, I went, and uh, pretended to like it.
The Quote: “Nobody exists on purpose; nobody belongs anywhere; everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”
The Explanation: I’m admittedly nihilistic, which generates a lot of pessimism. Being a nihilistic doesn’t have to mean being chronically depressed, though; it can mean having the freedom to sit back and enjoy whatever this chaotic world brings your way, something this quote from Rick and Morty constantly reminds me of.
The Quote: “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools / ‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who”
The Explanation: Because I spend too much time on Twitter, I notice the prevalence of backbiting and feuding that goes on there. For people in the media, indulging in this kind of feverish behavior is tempting: Letting fly with passionate, divisive opinions can be a way to cut through the din and bring attention to oneself. Oftentimes, though, it’s just more noise — and occasionally I’ll want to rail against it by responding in kind to something stupid or childish that I’ll see in my timeline. At that moment, a line from Jay Z’s “Takeover” comes flooding into my head:
A wise man told me don’t argue with fools
‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who
It works like a charm every time and reminds me to resist the urge to believe that the only way to make an impression is to be louder and more demonstrative than the other person. Volume and obnoxiousness create illusions of power and importance — saying less and letting the fools hang themselves with their own idiocy is power, too.
The Quote: “If you’re not living life, you’re dying death.”
The Explanation: I hate motivational quotes, and if I’m ever inspired by some words, the inspiration is fleeting. This quote, however, makes me laugh. Plain and simple. If I had to figure out any meaning from it, I couldn’t. But ever since my best friend used it, which he made up on the spot, as his senior quote in the yearbook, it’s been the one I think about most often. Because who does that? Who quotes himself in the yearbook? A genius savant, that’s who.
Sam Dworkin, Assistant Art Director
The Quote: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
The Explanation: When you grow up with a father who’s a Jewish historian there are three things you must live by: Pastrami with spicy mustard, Hank Greenberg and quotes from the Marx Brothers.