Many people I know have quotes or small passages of writing hanging in their studios, offices or bedrooms. Small touchstones that remind them how to live. A friend of mine once scribbled a date that he had experienced a realisation onto a piece of A4 paper and stuck it on his wall. It hung there til it yellowed and aged. One of my first girlfriends, who had beautiful handwriting, had this short passage from T.S. Eliot's Preludes written in dancing letters onto a scrap of paper that sat next to her electric typewriter.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Many years back, along with a few friends, we made a film called the Oscar Wilde Projects in which a whole host of people told us their passages or quotes. They were beautiful and illuminating and inspiring. Those small things we cling to that remind us how to live are jewels that shimmer inside us. I, personally, got a tattoo when I was very young of an ancient glyph printed above a particularly significant passage in a very sexy publication of Eduardo Galeano's 'Genesis'. Like the passage itself, this aging, blue-ing, smeared tattoo - raised from the skin in keloid scarring - always reminds me how to live. But, alongside this, for many years it was a small excerpt from Philippe Djian's novel 'Betty Blue' that always sat on my desk as my real anchor in life:
“Over Dispersal, I choose Concentration. I have one life—the only thing I’m interested in is making it shine.”
It was always a small, good thing that kept me on track. I copied it from the book when I first read it but I lost the post-it note on which I wrote it during one of many moves. I have absent-mindedly searched the book many times since to ensure my memory of the text was accurate and have never been able to find the passage in the context of the book. Until today. It's 38 degrees in the shade and, while lying in front of the lilting, tilting fan, I only had the energy to reach onto the book shelf, grab the book and flick through the pages with a heat sodden gaze. And, I found it again. What I didn't remember about this passage is that the paragraphs immediately preceding it are also worth thinking on and preserving. It really is a beautiful, crystalline bit of prose. It still is a great piece of advice on how to live.
“I turned my back to her. I felt a slight burning on the back of my neck.
“Listen to me,” I went on. “I never was much for fucking around, I never got much out of it. I know that everybody else does it; but it’s no fun if you just do like everybody else. To tell you the truth, it bores me, It does you good to live according to your ideas, to not betray yourself, not cop out at the last minute just because some girl has a nice ass, or someone offers you a huge check, or because the path of least resistance runs by your front door. It does you good to hang tough. It’s good for the soul.”
I turned around to tell her the Big Secret; “Over Dispersal, I choose Concentration. I have one life—the only thing I’m interested in is making it shine.”