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Barbara Holland

  • Very few people have no opinions about cats.

  • The new little black cat never opens her mouth to say anything, but speaks in her throat, to herself, trotting up and down stairs and in and out of closets chirping and murmuring and exclaiming in a kind of watered-silk pattern of sound that can make the possessor of mere English feel as mute and flightless as a turnip.

  • She's a cat with a strong sense of order and the rightness of things, and would have made an excellent secretary.

  • By and large, people who enjoy teaching animals to roll over will find themselves happier with a dog.

  • Cats vary so widely that all data is meaningless and the professional classifiers gnash their teeth trying to come up with even a single fact common to all.

  • However long you have a cat and however plainly he lays his life open before you, there is always something hidden, some name he goes by in a place you never heard of.

  • It's curious that throughout our history together, with no apparent effort, people have been able to think of the cat simultaneously as the guardian spirit of the hearth and home, and as the emblem of freedom, independence, and rootlessness.

  • The trouble with American History is that you don't remember it, and why should you? Nobody does.

  • No doubt about it, solitude is improved by being voluntary.

  • Sometimes, with luck, we find the kind of true friend, male or female, that appears only two or three times in a lucky lifetime, one that will winter us and summer us, grieve, rejoice, and travel with us.

  • We're a shifty, sliding population. ... What we refer to as 'home' may be a place we haven't seen in years; a place where there's no one left who knows our name.

  • ... a woman may be called a wife and mother for most of her life, while a man is called a husband and father only at his funeral.

  • The larger the ego, the less the need for other egos around. The more modest, humble, and self-effacing we feel, the more we suffer from solitude, feeling ourselves inadequate company.

  • Maybe tips act as a magnet for all our insecurities. Maybe they're the final exam on our ability to survive on our own; will we leave too much out of nervous apology for our lives, or not enough, out of sheer incompetence?

  • Exercise, to qualify at all, must be lonely, painful, humorless, and boring.

  • Recreational talking is, along with private singing, one of our saddest recent losses. Like singing, talking has become a job for trained professionals, who are paid considerable sums of money to do it on television and radio while we sit silently listening or, if we're truly lonely and determined, call the station and sit holding the phone waiting for a chance to contribute our two cents' worth.

  • Life, after we'd had a few millennia to observe it, turned out to be dreadfully unfair, so we invented sports.

  • Coaches and headmasters praise sport as a preparation for the great game of life, but this is absurd. Nothing could be more different from life. For one thing sports, unlike life, are played according to rules. Indeed, the rules are the sport: life may behave bizarrely and still be life, but if the runner circles the bases clockwise it's no longer baseball.

  • Cussing is a great releaser of the tensions, a detumescence, a loosening of the corsets and lightening of the accumulated load, a stimulating explosion in the cylinder head of the spirit. Like so many joys, bad words suffer dilution from overuse, and those who have served in the armed forces, advertising agencies, or the Nixon White House may find they have lost their savor ...

  • A cardinal in a slant of winter sunlight goes straight to the bloodstream like brandy, and the heart leaps up like a startled stag.

  • Almost any dog thinks almost any human is the Great Spirit, the Primal Creator, and the Universal Force Behind the Sun and Tides. What human can resist?

  • ... parents needn't bother driving small children around to see the purple mountains' majesties; the children will go right on duking it out in the back seat and whining for food as if you were showing them Cincinnati. No one under twenty really wants to look at scenery.

  • In America, snobs who wouldn't be seen dead with a lottery ticket play the stock market. We like to gamble. Winning, we have closed our eyes, leapt across the yawning abyss, and landed knee-deep in daisies. Even losing has a certain gloomy glamour: the gods of chance are worthy opponents; we have engaged them in hand-to-hand combat and though we lost, at least we shrank not from the contest.

  • Speed haunts our metaphors: the front-runner, the fast lane, the finish line, the mayoral race. ... Long ago, stumbling and gasping, we gave up and watched dinner hightailing it effortlessly over the hill, or glanced over our shoulder at the bear that was effortlessly gaining on us, and surely it was reasonable to want to be faster. If we were going to get anywhere at all or catch anything to eat, it was clear we couldn't do it on our personal feet like everything else.

  • Everything from a train window has the feverish reality we yearn for when we travel.

  • Visiting is a pleasure; being visited is usually a mixed or ambivalent joy. ... The visitor can always go home; the visitee is already home, trapped like a rat in a drainpipe.

  • As a child ... I thought if I could whistle it would spread open and light up my whole life and make me a different person. I thought it would be my best and bravest companion. I thought nobody who could whistle would ever be completely unhappy or very badly frightened, and I was probably right on all points. ... The whistler never looks back, regrets nothing, apologizes for nothing, and may never stop walking till he comes to the sea.

  • One's own flowers and some of one's own vegetables make acceptable, free, self-congratulatory gifts when visiting friends, though giving zucchini — or leaving it on the doorstep, ringing the bell, and running — is a social faux pas.

  • Gloom we have always with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.

  • For some of us, the soul is resident in the sole, and yearns ceaselessly for light and air and self-expression. Our feet are our very selves. The touch of floor or carpet, grass or mud or asphalt, speaks to us loud and clear from the foot, that scorned and lowly organ as dear to us as our eyes and ears.

  • Napping is too luxurious, too sybaritic, too unproductive, and it's free; pleasures for which we don't pay make us anxious. Besides, it seems to be a natural inclination. ... Fighting off natural inclinations is a major Puritan virtue, and nothing that feels that good can be respectable.

  • A good-looking piece of scenery anywhere delights the eye and elevates the spirits. Some of us, crude creatures that we are, are merely excited; finer souls draw ethical and spiritual nutrients from the sight.

  • ... moral indignation is a pleasure, often the only pleasure, in many lives. It's also one of the few pleasures people feel obliged to force on other people.

  • We don't get enough pampering. If we were once the only child of an adoring mother, we developed a taste for it; if not, we developed a thirst for it.

  • Naked ourselves, we long for fur. Fur is superior to human skin in every cosmetic and practical respect; it insulates the flesh, resists sunburn, and doesn't show wrinkles, bruises, acne, sweat, or cellulite. It looks much the same in old age as in youth. It feels good, too. We like to touch it, but in recent years a cloud has fallen over the ancient custom of appropriating animal furs and swaggering around pretending they're ours. If we're going to run our hands over fur, it's now correct only if the creature's still in it. (Actually, it feels better that way, the creature adding a warmth and solidity under the softness.)

  • Anyone who has raised more than one child knows full well that kids turn out the way they turn out — astonishingly, for the most part, and usually quite unlike their siblings, even their twins, raised under the same flawed rooftree. Little we have done or said, or left undone and unsaid, seems to have made much mark. It's hubris to suppose ourselves so influential; a casual remark on the playground is as likely to change their lives as any dedicated campaign of ours. They come with much of their own software already in place, waiting, and none of the keys we press will override it.

  • Last summer, a man in one of the villages up the road sold the house in which he'd been born and lived for eighty-one years, and bought and moved into the house next door. A friend of mine asked him why. The fellow said, poker-faced, 'I reckon it's just the gypsy in me.'

    • Barbara Holland,
    • Coming From Away
    • ()
  • Dogwoods are great optimists. Daffodils wait and see, crouching firmly underground just in case spring doesn't come this year, but dogwoods have faith.

    • Barbara Holland,
    • Coming From Away
    • ()
  • I have ferreted out the alarm clock, plugged it in, and set it, musing on the word 'alarm' and why the world must be wakened daily to cries of panic and danger.

    • Barbara Holland,
    • Coming From Away
    • ()
  • The only people who still read poetry are poets, and they mostly read their own.

  • Once considered an art form that called for talent, or at least a craft that called for practice, a poem now needs only sincerity. Everyone, we're assured, is a poet. Writing poetry is good for us. It expresses our inmost feelings, which is wholesome. Reading other people's poems is pointless since those aren't our own inmost feelings.

  • Parties happened more easily and more often in the olden days; a piano and three or more people constituted a party.

  • For decades, you couldn't hold up your head without one. 'My analyst says ...,' you offered airily, and strangers knew you immediately for a person of education and discernment.

  • 'Are you seeing a psychiatrist?' as a conversation opener would nowadays earn you a punch in the nose, but for fifty years it was a compliment. It meant, 'One can plainly see you are sensitive, intense, and interesting, and therefore neurotic.' Only the dullest of clods trudged around without a neurosis.

  • Hospitality, or flinging wide the door to friends and wayfarers alike, was once important, back in a world without motels or safety nets, where a friend might find his castle burnt down or a wayfarer find bandits on his trail.

  • In the suburbs, everywhere you go you're trespassing, but a city is public property; if you're there, it's yours, and we set our feet down on our city as firmly as kings.

  • Sophistication called for a variety of talents and attitudes, but the minimum requirement was being in New York. Not all New Yorkers achieved it, but nobody elsewhere had a prayer.

  • New York was where we wanted to live when we were finally grown up, and drink martinis and stay out past bedtime ...

  • Nobody complains about hospital food anymore; perhaps hospitals no longer need to serve food, since all the patients are sent home before dinnertime. Consumer advocates urge us to get tough with our provide organizations, demand our rights, and stomp out in a snit to try elsewhere, but this is a lot to ask when we're wobbly and feverish, or perhaps unconscious.

  • In civilized places idleness, once the prerequisite for abstract thought, poetry, religion, philosophy, and falling in love, has become a character flaw. In America we've managed to stamp it out almost completely, and few people under forty can remember a single moment of it, even in earliest childhood. The phrase 'spare time' has vanished from the land.

  • If a quick glance back over world history shows us anything, it shows us that war was one of our most universal joys from our earliest beginnings, savored at every possible opportunity and even some quite incomprehensible ones ...

  • Smiting enemies has always been so admired that, unlike medicine or archaeology, it entitled its successful practitioners to become kings, emperors, and presidents ...

  • Success in war was the only success that counted; failure was a disgrace to be wiped out only by starting another war and winning it.

  • War was ... the chief or maybe the only source of patriotism, and many a politician, from prehistory up to this morning, unified a discontented citizenry by pointing out a national danger and declaring war on it.

  • True ownership of anything requires time ...

  • The United States government, in figuring our gross national product, defines 'durable goods' as anything that will last three years.

  • For the first time in six or seven thousand years, many people of goodwill find themselves confused about art. They want to enjoy it because enjoying art is something they expect of themselves as civilized persons, but they're unsure how to do so. They aren't even sure which of the visible objects are art and which are furniture, clothes, hors d'oeuvres, or construction rubble, and whether a pile of dead and decomposing rats is deliberate art or just another pile of decomposing rats.

  • Single life should be experimental in nature and open to accidents. Some accidents are happy ones.

    • Barbara Holland
  • A catless writer is almost inconceivable ... It's a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys.

Barbara Holland, U.S. writer

(1933 - 2010)