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Annie Dillard

  • Nature seems to exult in abounding radicality, extremism, anarchy. If we were to judge nature by its common sense or likelihood, we wouldn't believe the world existed. In nature, improbabilities are the one stock in trade. The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. ... No claims of any and all revelations could be so far-fetched as a single giraffe.

  • Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature, is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place?

  • The present is the wave that explodes over my head, flinging the air with particles at the height of its breathless unroll; it is the live water and light that bears from undisclosed sources the freshest news, renewed and renewing, world without end.

  • If the day is fine, any walk will do; it all looks good.

  • Time is the continuous loop, the snakeskin with scales endlessly overlapping without beginning or end, or time is an ascending spiral if you will, like a child's toy Slinky. Of course we have no idea which arc on the loop is our time, let alone where the loop itself is, so to speak, or down whose lofty flight of stairs the Slinky so uncannily walks

  • What I call innocence is the spirit's unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration.

  • Landscape consists in the multiple, overlapping intricacies and forms that exist in a given space at a moment in time.

  • Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous.

  • Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.

  • Somewhere, and I can't find where, I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, 'If I did not know about god and sin, would I go to hell?' 'No,' said the priest, 'not if you did not know.' 'Then why,' asked the Eskimo earnestly, 'did you tell me?'

  • The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet.

  • I think that the dying pray at the last not 'please,' but 'thank you,' as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks.

  • Time is the warp and matter the weft of the woven texture of beauty in space, and death is the hurling shuttle.

  • I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.

  • Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time.

  • We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all.

  • I startled a weasel who startled me, and we exchanged a long glance. ... Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

  • Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?

  • It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.

  • Nature's silence is its one remark, and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block.

  • Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus.

  • Fiction keeps its audience by retaining the world as its subject matter. People like the world. Many people actually prefer it to art and spend their days by choice in the thick of it.

  • The notion of novelist as gifted savage dies hard ... if Faulkner was a man of letters like thee and me, why have we not written great novels?

  • ... poetry has been able to function quite directly as human interpretation of the raw, loose universe. It is a mixture, if you will, of journalism and metaphysics, or of science and religion.

  • The novel is a game or joke shared between author and reader.

  • Almost all of my many passionate interests, and my many changes of mind, came through books. Books prompted the many vows I made to myself.

    • Annie Dillard,
    • in Willian Zinsser, ed., Inventing the Truth ()
  • You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader's arm, like a drunk, and say, 'And then I did this and it was so interesting.'

    • Annie Dillard,
    • in Willian Zinsser, ed., Inventing the Truth ()
  • As a life's work, I would remember everything — everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net.

  • Time itself bent you and cracked you on its wheel.

  • ... I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day, as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive.

  • Young children have no sense of wonder. They bewilder well, but few things surprise them. All of it is new to young children, after all, and equally gratuitous.

  • The blinding sway of their inner lives makes children immoral.

  • What is a house but a bigger skin, and a neighborhood map but the world's skin ever expanding?

  • For all the insularity of the old guard, Pittsburgh was always an open and democratic town.

  • Pittsburgh wasn't really Andrew Carnegie's town. We just thought it was. Steel wasn't the only major industry in Pittsburgh. We just had to think to recall the others.

  • Living, you stand under a waterfall. ... What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling! It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.

  • Private life, book life, took place where words met imagination without passing through the world.

  • I felt time in full stream, and I felt consciouness in full stream joining it, like the rivers.

  • Fingering insects was touching the rim of nightmare. But you have to study something. I never considered turning away from them just because I was afraid of them.

  • Loss came with the seasons, blew into the house when you opened the windows, piled up in the bottom desk and dresser drawers, accumulated in the back of closets, heaped in the basement starting by the furnace, and came creeping up the basement stairs. Loss grew as you did, without your consent; your losses mounted beside you like earthworm castings.

  • There must be bands of enthusiasts for everything on earth — fanatics who shared a vocabulary, a batch of technical skills and equipment, and, perhaps, a vision of some single slice of the beauty and mystery of things, of their complexity, fascination, and unexpectedness.

  • What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. ... What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces, whose people and events and days lived, actually matched the exaltation of the interior life. There you could live.

  • ... I was in my own way; I myself was a dark object I could not ignore. I couldn't remember how to forget myself. I didn't want to think about myself, to reckon myself in, to deal with myself every livelong minute on top of everything else — but swerve as I might, I couldn't avoid it. I was a boulder blocking my own path. I was a dog barking between my own ears, a barking dog who wouldn't hush. So this was adolescence.

  • How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

  • There was a tiny range within which coffee was effective, short of which it was useless, and beyond which, fatal.

  • The dog opened one eye, cocked it at me, and rolled it up before her lids closed. People should not feed moralistic animals. If they're so holy, where are their books?

  • A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.

  • Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles.

  • It takes years to write a book — between two and ten years. ... Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

  • Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

  • Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself.

  • Novels written with film contracts in mind have a faint but unmistakable, and ruinous, odor.

  • Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.

  • It should surprise no one that the life of the writer — such as it is — is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.

  • Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left.

  • A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

  • The writer ... is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.

  • I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.

  • A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.

  • Whenever an encounter between a writer of good will and a regular person of good will happens to touch on the subject of writing, each person discovers, dismayed, that good will is of no earthly use. The conversation cannot proceed.

  • The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.

  • Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?

  • The body of literature, with its limits and edges, exists outside some people and inside others. Only after the writer lets literature shape her can she perhaps shape literature.

  • The irrational haunts the metaphysical.

  • [On writer's block:] You notice only this: your worker — your one and only, your prized, coddled, and driven worker — is not going out on that job. Will not budge, not even for you, boss. Has been at it long enough to know when the air smells wrong; can sense a tremor through boot soles. Nonsense, you say; it is perfectly safe. But the worker will not go. Will not even look at the site. Just developed heart trouble. Would rather starve. Sorry.

  • There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.

  • One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

  • Overhead some white puffed clouds sped, and threw their blue shadows up the leafy stumps where the hops grew, and threw the shadows down the stumps' other sides and into the woods fast as snakes.

  • They had quarreled about this single, solitary sore point: their life.

  • No child on earth was ever meant to be ordinary, and you can see it in them, and they know it, too, but then the times get to them, and the wear out their brains learning what folks expect, and spend their strength trying to rise over those same folks.

  • Of all God's works, little girls were the superior article: broadest in sympathy, deepest in wisdom, and purest in impulse.

  • Possibly everyone now dead considered his own death as a freak accident, a mistake. Some bad luck caused it. Every enterprising man jack of them, and every sunlit vigorous woman and child, too, who had seemed so alive and pleased, was cold as a meat hook, and new chattering people trampled their bones unregarding, and rubbed their hands together and got to work improving their prospects till their own feet slipped and they went under themselves ... Every place was a tilting edge.

  • Time was a hook in his mouth. Time was reeling him in jawfirst; it was reeling him in, headlong and breathless, to a shore he had not known was there.

  • The seasons pitched and heaved a man from rail to rail, from weather side to lee side and back, and a lunatic hogged the helm. Shall these bones remember?

  • ... she never believed that 'nothing could be done.' Something could always be done; that is what people were for.

  • Society's loyal members, having sacrificed their only lives to its caprices, hastened to entrap the next generation into agreement, so their follies would not have been vain and they could all go down together, blind and well turned out.

  • ... nothing moves a woman so deeply as the boyhood of the man she loves.

  • Marriage began to strike him as a theater, where actors gratefully dissimulate, in ordinary affection and trust, their bottom feeling, which is a mystery too powerful to be endured. They know and feel more than life in time can match; they must anchor themselves against eternity, so they play on a painted set, lest they swing out into the twining realms.

  • Clare had recently arrived at this notion, then, that the ideal alone is real, and contempt is misunderstanding, and indifference is mental failure.

  • Time expanded. The day widened, pulled from both ends by the shrinking dark, as if darkness itself were a pair of hands and daylight a skein between them, a flexible membrane, and the hands that had pressed together all winter — praying, paralyzed with foreboding — now flung open wide.

  • He had fancied himself free from illusion, if on no other subject, at least on that of his own courage — confusing courage, perhaps, with fearlessness.

  • ... she realized that the dying must often feel this way — steaming along just fine, while on ahead someone has torn up the rails.

  • Through the tall window by her cot she saw two blue shadows slide down Chuckanut Ridge quick as otters, but she could not see the clouds that made them.

  • He had vowed long ago, and renewed his vow frequently, that if holding hands in a circle and singing hymns, as it were, was what it took to make life endurable, he would rather die.

  • Sentiment based on fact was the most grievous sort, she thought, for the only escape from it was to shrug off the fact — that babies died, say, or that people lost lands they loved, that youth aged, love faded, everybody ended in graves, and nothing would ever again be the same. She pounded herself to tears with these melancholy truths, as if to ensure that she would not betray herself by forgetting them — which, however, she knew full well that she would as all other grown persons have done, to their manifestly improved mental balance.

  • ... the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less.

  • Ecstasy, I think, is a soul's response to the waves holiness makes as it nears.

  • I work mornings only. I go out to lunch. Afternoons I play with the baby, walk with my husband, or shovel mail.

    • Annie Dillard
  • The dedicated life is the life worth living. You must give with your whole heart.

    • Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard, U.S. writer, poet, naturalist


Full name: Annie Doak Dillard.