George Saunders Quotes

We've searched our database for all the quotes and captions related to George Saunders. Here they are! All 200 of them:

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Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.
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George Saunders
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That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality–your soul, if you will–is as bright and shining as any that has ever been....Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
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George Saunders
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Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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It was that impossible thing: happiness that does not wilt to reveal the thin shoots of some new desire rising from within it.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Fuck concepts. Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.
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George Saunders
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What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Strange, isn't it? To have dedicated one's life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one's life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one's labors ultimately forgotten?
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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My heart goes out to him. Sort of. Because empathy depends on how you've spent your day.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Why was she dancing? No reason. Just alive, I guess.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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The generalizing writer is like the passionate drunk, stumbling into your house mumbling: I know I'm not being clear, exactly, but don't you kind of feel what I'm feeling?
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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...smile first, then speak.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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I don't think much new ever happens. Most of us spend our days the same way people spent their days in the year 1000: walking around smiling, trying to earn enough to eat, while neurotically doing these little self-proofs in our head about how much better we are than these other slobs, while simultaneously, in another part of our brain, secretly feeling woefully inadequate to these smarter, more beautiful people.
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George Saunders
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There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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In art, and maybe just in general, the idea is to be able to be really comfortable with contradictory ideas. In other words, wisdom might be, seem to be, two contradictory ideas both expressed at their highest level and just let to sit in the same cage sort of, vibrating. So, I think as a writer, I'm really never sure of what I really believe.
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George Saunders
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Why were we put here, so inclined to love, when end of our story = death? That harsh. That cruel. Do not like.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes, Literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet, says Literature. But unlike other systems of knowing, Literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another; rather, it teaches us to abide with the fact that, in their own way, all things are true, and helps us, in the face of this terrifying knowledge, continually push ourselves in the direction of Open the Hell Up.
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George Saunders
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Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up.
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George Saunders
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It's a big world, and I really like it.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Only then (nearly out the door, so to speak) did I realize how unspeakably beautiful all of this was, how precisely engineered for our pleasure, and saw that I was on the brink of squandering a wondrous gift, the gift of being allowed, every day, to wander this vast sensual paradise, this grand marketplace lovingly stocked with every sublime thing.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Every step was a victory. He had to remember that.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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When something really bad is going on in a culture, the average guy doesn’t see it. He can’t. He’s average. And is surrounded by and immersed in the cant and discourse of the status quo.
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George Saunders
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You know that feeling at the end of the day, when the anxiety of that-which-I-must-do falls away and, for maybe the first time that day, you see, with some clarity, the people you love and the ways you have, during that day, slightly ignored them, turned away from them to get back to what you were doing, blurted out some mildly hurtful thing, projected, instead of the deep love you really feel, a surge of defensiveness or self-protection or suspicion? That moment when you think, Oh God, what have I done with this day? And what am I doing with my life? And how must I change to avoid catastrophic end-of-life regrets? I feel like that now: tired of the Me I've always been, tired of making the same mistakes, repetitively stumbling after the same small ego strokes, being caught in the same loops of anxiety and defensiveness. At the end of my life, I know I won't be wishing I'd held more back, been less effusive, more often stood on ceremony, forgiven less, spent more days oblivious to the secret wishes and fears of the people around me... --"Buddha Boy
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departures caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help, or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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It was like either: (A) I was a terrible guy who was knowingly doing this rotten thing over and over, or (B) it wasn’t so rotten, really, just normal, and the way to confirm it was normal was to keep doing it, over and over.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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What I'm primarily saying,' he says, 'is that this is a time for knowledge assimilation, not backstabbing. We learned a lesson, you and I. We personally grew. Gratitude for this growth is an appropriate response. Gratitude, and being careful never to make the same mistake twice.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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Based on the experience of my life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it's not broke, don't fix it. And would go even further to: Even if it is broke, leave it alone, you'll probably make it worse.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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I have a sense that God is unfair and preferentially punishes his weak, his dumb, his fat, his lazy. I believe he takes more pleasure in his perfect creatures, and cheers them on like a brainless dad as they run roughshod over the rest of us. He gives us a need for love, and no way to get any. He gives us a desire to be liked, and personal attributes that make us utterly unlikable. Having placed his flawed and needy children in a world of exacting specifications, he deducts the difference between what we have and what we need from our hearts and our self-esteem and our mental health.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamourous reasonable voice.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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All over now. He is either in joy or nothingness. (So why grieve? The worst of it, for him, is over.) Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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A culture's ability to understand the world and itself is critical to its survival. But today we are led into the arena of public debate by seers whose main gift is their ability to compel people to continue to watch them.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Dad had once said, Trust your mind, Rob. If it smells like shit but has writing across it that says Happy Birthday and a candle stuck down in it, what is it? Is there icing on it? he'd said. Dad had done that thing of squinting his eyes when an answer was not quite there yet.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary energy-burst.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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What good the prophet in the wilderness may do is incremental and personal. It's good for us to hear someone speak the irrational truth. It's good for us when, in spite of all of the sober, pragmatic, and even correct arguments that war is sometimes necessary someone says: war is large-scale murder, us at our worst, the stupidest guy doing the cruelest thing to the weakest being.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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She said America was a spoiled child ignorant of grief.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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He was a father. That’s what a father does. Eases the burdens of those he loves. Saves the ones he loves from painful last images that might endure for a lifetime.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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In a culture that is becoming ever more story-stupid, in which a representative of the Coca-Cola company can, with a straight face, pronounce, as he donates a collection of archival Coca-Cola commercials to the Library of Congress, that 'Coca-Cola has become an integral part of people's lives by helping to tell these stories,' it is perhaps not surprising that people have trouble teaching and receiving a novel as complex and flawed as Huck Finn, but it is even more urgent that we learn to look passionately and technically at stories, if only to protect ourselves from the false and manipulative ones being circulated among us.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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If you want your Storys to end happy, try being niser.
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George Saunders (Fox 8)
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I guess you just have to trust your kids, trust that their innate interest in life will win out in the end, don’t you think?
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness. Only I did not think it would be so soon. Or that he would precede us. Two passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another. Two puffs of smoke became mutually fond. I mistook him for a solidity, and now must pay. I am not stable and Mary not stable and the very buildings and monuments here not stable and the greater city not stable and the wide world not stable. All alter, are altering, in every instant. (Are you comforted?) No. (It
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn't do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I busted my butt to get where I am, so don't come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Which maybe that’s what love was: liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get even better.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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He was like the bed at a party on which they pile the coats.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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When a child is lost there is no end to the self-torment a parent may inflict. When we love, and the object of our love is small, weak, and vulnerable, and has looked to us and us alone for protection; and when such protection, for whatever reason, has failed, what consolation (what justification, what defense) may there possibly be?
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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This may be the one clear truth of the so-called border issue: Put a poor country next to a rich one and watch which way the traffic flows. Add impediments, the traffic endeavors to flow around them. Eilimate disparity. the traffic stops.
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George Saunders
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Now I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what's inside the box bears some linear resemblance to "real life" -- he can put whatever he wants in there. What's important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Just before I doze off, I counsel myself grandiosely: Fuck concepts. Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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At times, they're so Right and I'm so Left, we agree.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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...and that feeling, that feeling of being accepted back again and again, of someone's affection for you expanding to encompass whatever new flawed thing had just manifested in you, that was the deepest, dearest thing he'd ever--
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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A novel is just a story that hasn't yet discovered a way to be brief.
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George Saunders
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No one who has ever done anything worth doing has gone uncriticized.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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She's sweet but too apocalyptic. You try kissing someone good-night who's just told you for the umpteenth time that the world's experiencing its last disgusting paroxysm before Rapture.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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I'm not a bad guy. If only I could stop hoping. If only I could say to my heart: Give up. Be alone forever. There's always opera. There's angel-food cake and neighborhood children caroling, and the look of autumn leaves on a wet roof. But no. My heart's some kind of idiotic fishing bobber.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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We were perhaps not so unlovable as we had come to believe.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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And I woslike: O wow.
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George Saunders (Fox 8)
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Why were we made just so, to find so many things that happened every day pretty?
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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That's it for me. I'm fucked. As per usual. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Although come to think of it I was never even the freaking bridesmaid. Look, show your cock. It's the shortest line between two points. The world ain't giving away nice lives. You got a trust fund? You a genius? Show your cock. It's what you got.
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George Saunders
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Be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalfβ€”seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of youβ€”and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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The thing about girls? Suzanne said. Is we are more content-driven.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Succeeding, whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it).
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George Saunders
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Working with language is a means by which we can identify the bullshit within ourselves (and others).
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing. Only
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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We consider speech to be the result of thought (we have a thought, then select a sentence with which to express it), but thought also results from speech (as we grope, in words, toward meaning, we discover what we think).
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Why sad? Don’t be sad. If sad, will make everyone sad.
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George Saunders
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I have lunch, flirt with some local grandmothers, undercut my flirting by crotching myself on the corner of a table as I leave. -- "The Great Divider
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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I wander cowboy sidewalks of wood, wearing a too-small hat, filled with remorse for the many lives I failed to lead.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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Err in the direction of kindness.
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George Saunders
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By honing the sentences you used to describe the world, you changed the inflection of your mind, which changed your perceptions.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Or to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It's a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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What America is, to me, is a guy doesn't want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let's go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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The mind is a machine that is constantly asking: What would I prefer? Close your eyes, refuse to move, and watch what your mind does. What it does is become discontent with That Which Is. A desire arises, you satisfy that desire, and another arises in its place. This wanting and rewanting is an endless cycle for which, turns out, there is already a name: samsara. Samsara is at the heart of the vast human carnival: greed, neurosis, mad ambition, adultery, crimes of passion, the hacking to death of a terrified man on a hillside in the name of A More Pure And Thus Perfect Nation--and all of this takes place because we believe we will be made happy once our desires have been satisfied. I know this. But still I'm full of desire... --"Buddha Boy
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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In the town where I live, I have frequently observed a phenomenon I have come to think of as Samish-Sex Marriage.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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. . . Absurdism was really just realism seen from close to the bottom.
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George Saunders
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The contours of the coming disaster expanded to include the deaths of all present.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Is this the baby?" I said. Ma turned on me again. "What do you think it is?" she said. "A midget that can't talk?
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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You were torturing a cat," she says. "With a freaking prod." "A prod I built myself in metal shop," he says. "But of course you never mention that.
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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I have plenty of friends," she says. "Name one." She looks at me. Which I guess is sort of sweet.
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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Don't think of yourself as a surrogate mule, think of yourself as an entrepreneur of the physical.
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George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
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A house on the park. He'd seen it a million times. And now was in it. It smelled of man sweat and spaghetti sauce and old books. Like a library where sweaty men went to cook spaghetti.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of youβ€”and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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Down in the city are the nice houses and the so-so houses and the lovers making out in dark yards and the babies crying for their moms, and I wonder if, other than Jesus, has this ever happened before. Maybe it happens all the time. Maybe there's angry dead all over, hiding in rooms, covered with blankets, bossing around their scared, embarrassed relatives. Because how would we know?
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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Strange, isn’t it? To have dedicated one’s life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one’s life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one’s labors utterly forgotten?
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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A short story works to remind us that if we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention.
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Ben Marcus
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We must see God not as a Him (some linear rewarding fellow) but an IT, a great beast beyond our understanding, who wants something from us, and we must give it, and all we may control is the spirit in which we give it and the ultimate end which the giving serves.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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And that, against this: the king-types who would snatch the apple from your hand and claim to have grown it, even though what they had, had come to them intact, or been gained unfairly (the nature of that unfairness perhaps being just that they had been born stronger, more clever, more energetic than others), and who, having seized the apple, would eat it so proudly, they seemed to think that not only had they grown it, but had invented the very idea of fruit, too,
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Oh, the pathos of it! - haggard, drawn into fixed lines of unutterable sadness, with a look of loneliness, as of a soul whose depth of sorrow and bitterness no human sympathy could ever reach. The impression I carried away was that I had seen, not so much the President of the United States, as the saddest man in the world.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Though firm, we are never too firm, though we love fun, we never have fun in a silly way that makes us appear ridiculous, unless that is our intent.
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George Saunders (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil)
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Kissing him last night at the pep rally had been like kissing an underpass.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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...graduate college, win Pam, get job, make babies, move ahead in job, forget former feeling of special destiny...
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Sometimes the truth is so bizarre and mind bending that it must be presented as fiction to be accepted. George Saunders The Bookseller
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C. Robert Cales
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Vonnegut's war was necessary. And yet it was massacre and screaming and confusion and blood and death. It was the mammoth projection outward of the confused inner life of men. In war, the sad tidy constructs we make to help us believe life is orderly and controllable are roughly thrown aside like the delusions they are. In war, love is outed as an insane, insupportable emotion, a kind of luxury emotion, because everywhere you look, someone beloved to someone is being slaughtered, by someone whose own beloved has been slaughtered, or will be, or could be.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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I loved Monty Python for the wordplay--this sense that you didn’t have to squash your intelligence to be funny. In fact, you could walk right into your intelligence and nerdiness and self-doubt, and that could be funny.
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George Saunders
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I took me to the Banks of the River, and tarried there awhile, as the lowering Sun made one with the Water, giving generously of Itself & its Diverse Colors, in a Splay of Magnificence that preceded a most wonderful Silence.
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George Saunders
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There’s a vast underground network for goodness at work in this worldβ€”a web of people who’ve put reading at the center of their lives because they know from experience that reading makes them more expansive, generous people…
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George Saunders (A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life)
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And there was nothing left for me to do, but go. Though the things of the world were strong with me still. Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-tilted streetlight; a frozen clock, bird-visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; toweling off one’s clinging shirt post–June rain. Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth. Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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A bad thing happened to you kids, Dad said. But it could have been worse. So much worse, Mom said. But because of you kids, Dad said, it wasn't. You did so good, Mom said. Did beautiful, Dad said.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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...There is no end to the making and selling of things there is no end to the making and selling of things there is no end... Man, it occurs to me, is a joyful, buying-and-selling piece of work. I have been wrong, dead wrong, when I've decried consumerism. Consumerism is what we are. It is, in a sense, a holy impulse. A human being is someone who joyfully goes in pursuit of things, brings them home, then immediately starts planning how to get more.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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I was back to feeling myself which, believe me, is no picnic.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Fiction is an urgent business. It is the Dying Us telling stories to the Dying Us, trying to crack the nonsense in our heads open with a big hammer pronto, before Death arrives.
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George Saunders
β€œ
Do not really like rich people, as they make us poor people feel dopey and inadequate. Not that we are poor. I would say we are middle. We are very, very lucky. I know that. But still, it is not right that rich people make us middle people feel dopey and inadequate.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
This [oatmeal] represents your soul in its pure state. Your soul on the day you were born. You were perfect. You were happy. You were good. Now, enter Concept Number Two: crap. Don't worry, folks. I don't use actual crap up here. Only imaginary crap. You'll have to supply the crap, using your mind. Now, if someone came up and crapped in your nice warm oatmeal, what would you say? Would you say: 'Wow, super, thanks, please continue crapping in my oatmeal'? Am I being silly? I'm being a little silly. But guess what, in real life people come up and crap in your oatmeal all the time--friends, co-workers, loved ones, even you kids, especially your kids!--and that's exactly what you do. You say, 'Thanks so much!' You say, 'Crap away!' You say, and here the metaphor breaks down a bit, 'Is there some way I can help you crap in my oatmeal?
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
We pretend to catch and eat more pretend bugs than could ever actually live in one cave. The number of pretend bugs we pretend to catch and eat would in reality basically fill a cave the size of our cave.
”
”
George Saunders (Pastoralia)
β€œ
But hereby resolve to write in this book at least twenty minutes a night. (If discouraged, just think of how much will have been recorded for posterity after one mere year!) (September 5) Oops. Missed a day.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
The thousand dresses, laid out so reverently that afternoon, flecks of dust brushed off carefully in doorways, hems gathered up for the carriage trip: where are they now? Is a single one museum-displayed? Are some few yet saved in attics? Most are dust. As are the women who wore them so proudly in that transient moment of radiance.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
American society is uncomfortable with the idea that some people’s lives are difficult past the point of sanity and that they aren’t necessarily to blame. There’s no way you can argue that everyone has a difficult life. This is an incredible culture; the majority of people live in amazing comfort, with real dignity, maybe more comfort and dignity than any other culture in the history of the world. We live relatively safe and sane lives, which, if you’ve ever loved anybody and therefore feared for them, is a wonderful thing. But part of our moral responsibility is to keep in our minds those whose lives are unsafe and insane. In this way, fiction can be like a meditation, a way of saying: Though things are this way for me right now, they could be different later and are different for others this very moment.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
...and finally, having lost what was to be lost, my torn and black heart rebels saying enough already, enough, this is as low as I go
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
It should, as Chekhov said, prepare us for tenderness. And in this regard it starts, I think, with intention.... Our intention is to crack life open for just a second.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
Her hair looked like her hair in the dream and her eyes looked like her eyes in the dream, and as for her body, he couldn't tell, she was wearing a mumu.
”
”
George Saunders (Pastoralia)
β€œ
Mr. A calls me into his office and says he's got bad news and bad news, and which do I want first. I say the bad news.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
He was not perfect; he was, remember, a little boy. Could be wild, naughty, overwrought. He was a boy. However - it must be said - he was quite a good boy.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
I can look back and see that I’ve spent much of my life in a cloud of things that have tended to push β€œbeing kind” to the periphery. Things like: Anxiety. Fear. Insecurity. Ambition. The mistaken belief that enough accomplishment will rid me of all that anxiety, fear, insecurity, and ambition. The belief that if I can only accrue enoughβ€”enough accomplishment, money, fameβ€”my neuroses will disappear. I’ve been in this fog certainly since, at least, my own graduation day. Over the years I’ve felt: Kindness, sureβ€”but first let me finish this semester, this degree, this book; let me succeed at this job, and afford this house, and raise these kids, and then, finally, when all is accomplished, I’ll get started on the kindness. Except it never all gets accomplished. It’s a cycle that can go on … well, forever.
”
”
George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
β€œ
Josh joined her at the window. She let him look. He should know that the world was not all lessons and iguanas and Nintendo. It was also this muddy simple boy tethered like an animal.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Across the sea fat kings watched and were gleeful, that something begun so well had now gone off the rails (as down South similar kings watched), and if it went off the rails, so went the whole kit, forever, and if someone ever thought to start it up again, well, it would be said (and said truly): The rabble cannot manage itself. Well, the rabble could. The rabble would. He would lead the rabble in managing. The thing would be won.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
The work that stirs the greatest passion is also the work that creates around it the greatest silence, the strongest imperative to stand back and admire and let others admire, without interfering.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
One feels such love for the little ones, such anticipation that all that is lovely in life will be known by them, such fondness for that set of attributes manifested uniquely in each: mannerisms of bravado, of vulnerability, habits of speech and mispronouncement and so forth; the smell of the hair and head, the feel of the tiny hand in yoursβ€”and then the little one is gone! Taken! One is thunderstruck that such a brutal violation has occurred in what had previously seemed a benevolent world. From nothingness, there arose great love; now, its source nullified, that love, searching and sick, converts to the most abysmal suffering imaginable.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departures caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
Good God, but life could be less than easy, not that he was unaware that it could certainly be a lot worse, but to go about in such a state, pulse high, face red, worried sick that someone would notice how nervous one was, was certainly less than ideal, and he felt sure that his body was secreting all kinds of harmful chemicals and that the more he worried about the harmful chemicals the faster they were pouring out of wherever it was they came from.
”
”
George Saunders (Pastoralia)
β€œ
If/when I die, do not want Pam lonely. Want her to remarry, have full life. As long as new husband is nice guy. Gentle guy. Religious guy. Very caring + good to kids. But kids not fooled. Kids prefer dead dad (i.e., me) to religious guy. Pale, boring, religious guy, with no oomph, who wears weird sweaters and is always a little sad, due to, cannot get boner, due to physical ailment. Ha ha. Death very much on my mind tonight, future reader. Can it be true? That I will die? That Pam, kids will die? Is awful. Why were we put here, so inclined to love, when end of our story = death? That harsh. That cruel. Do not like. Note to self: try harder, in all things, to be better person.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Somehow: Molly. He heard her in the entryway. Mol, Molly, oh boy. When they were first married they used to fight. Say the most insane things. Afterward, sometimes there would be tears. Tears in bed? And then they would - Molly pressing her hot wet face against his hot wet face. They were sorry, they were saying with their bodies, they were accepting each other back, and that feeling, that feeling of being accepted back again and again, of someone's affection for you expanding to encompass whatever new flawed thing had just manifested in you, that was the deepest, dearest thing he'd ever - She came in flustered and apologetic, a touch of anger in her face. He'd embarrassed her. He saw that. He'd embarrassed her by doing something that showed she hadn't sufficiently noticed him needing her. She'd been too busy nursing him to notice how scared he was. She was angry at him for pulling this stunt and ashamed of herself for feeling angry at him in his hour of need, and was trying to put the shame and anger behind her now so she could do what might be needed. All of this was in her face. He knew her so well. Also concern. Overriding everything else in that lovely face was concern. She came to him now, stumbling a bit on a swell in the floor of this stranger's house.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Trap. Horrible trap. At one’s birth it is sprung. Some last day must arrive. When you will need to get out of this body. Bad enough. Then we bring a baby here. The terms of the trap are compounded. That baby also must depart. All pleasures should be tainted by that knowledge. But hopeful dear us, we forget. Lord, what is this?
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
His mind was freshly inclined to sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in the world one must try to remember that all were suffering (non content all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone, and given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it. All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be. It was the nature of things. Though on the surface is seemed every person was different, this was not true. At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end; the many loses we must experience on the way to that end. We must try to see one another in this way. As suffering limited beings- Perennially outmatched by circumstance, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces. His sympathy extended to all in this instant, blundering in its strict logic, across all divides.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
A hip-looking teen watches an elderly woman hobble across the street on a walker. "Grammy's here!" he shouts. He puts some MacAttack Mac&Cheese in the microwave and dons headphones and takes out a video game so he won't be bored during the forty seconds it takes his lunch to cook. A truck comes around the corner and hits Grammy, sending her flying over the roof into the backyard, where luckily she lands on a trampoline. Unluckily, she bounces back over the roof, into the front yard, landing on a rosebush.
”
”
George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
β€œ
I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary energy-burst. I had reason to know this. Had he not looked this way at birth, that way at four, another way at seven, been made entirely anew at nine? He had never stayed the same, even instant to instant. He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness. Only I did not think it would be so soon. Or that he would precede us. Two passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another. Two puffs of smoke became mutually fond. I mistook him for a solidity and now must pay.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
There was nothing left for me to do, but go. Though the things of the world were strong with me still. Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-titled streetlight; a frozen clock, a bird visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; towering off one’s clinging shirt post-June rain. Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth. Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease. A bloody ross death-red on a platter; a headgetop under-hand as you flee late to some chalk-and-woodfire-smelling schoolhouse. Geese above, clover below, the sound of one’s own breath when winded. The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one’s beloved’s name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger. Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead. Goodbye, I must now say goodbye to all of it. Loon-call in the dark; calf-cramp in the spring; neck-rub in the parlour; milk-sip at end of day. Some brandy-legged dog proudly back-ploughs the grass to cover its modest shit; a cloud-mass down-valley breaks apart over the course of a brandy-deepened hour; louvered blinds yield dusty beneath your dragging finger, and it is nearly noon and you must decide; you have seen what you have seen, and it has wounded you, and it seems you have only one choice left. Blood-stained porcelain bowl wobbles face down on wood floor; orange peel not at all stirred by disbelieving last breath there among that fine summer dust-layer, fatal knife set down in pass-panic on familiar wobbly banister, later dropped (thrown) by Mother (dear Mother) (heartsick) into the slow-flowing, chocolate-brown Potomac. None of it was real; nothing was real. Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them. I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thought-burst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant. Goodbye goodbye good-
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
At precisely nine in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one... not a single one of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place... in addition, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings. All this was accomplished so surreptitiosly, it attracted little public notice.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
This meal we just ate?" says Aunt Lydia. "In many countries, this sort of meal would only be eaten by royalty." "There are countries where people could live one year on what we throw out in one week," says Grandpa Kirk. "I thought it was they could live one year on what we throw out in one day," says Grandma Sally. "I thought it was they could live ten years on what we throw out in one minute," says Uncle Gus. "Well anyway," says Doris. "We are very lucky.
”
”
George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
β€œ
There was a touch of prairie about the fellow. --hans vollman Yes. --roger bevins iii Like stepping into a summer barn late at night. --hans vollman Or a musty plains office, where some bright candle still burns. --roger bevins iii Vast. Windswept. New. Sad. --hans vollman Spacious. Curious. Doom-minded. Ambitious. --roger bevins iii Back slightly out. --hans vollman Right boot chafing. --roger bevins iii
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
Oh, mansion shmansion. Did Gandhi's house have the largest outdoor trampoline in the tristate area? Did Jesus have a two-acre remote-controlled car track, with mountains to scale and a little village that lit up at night? Not in his Bible.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
which made me feel the kind of shame you know you’re not going to cure by saying sorry, and where the only thing to do is: go out, get more shame.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
In spite of the strife the stars were bright as crystal.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
A fortunate birth, in other words, is a shock absorber." -The Thought Experiment
”
”
George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
β€œ
What a degraded cosmos. What a case of something starting out nice and going bad.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
Love, love, I know what you are.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
Ted, I swear to God, quothe he.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Sometimes with all the teasing his days were subtenable.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Our country is big, let us be big.
”
”
George Saunders (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil)
β€œ
Each night passed with a devastating sameness.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing, temporary energy-burst.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
I’m bleeding at the knees and choking from smoke and have no idea who these people are or where I’m going, but at least I’m off the hook in terms of the hand jobs.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
Stood awhile watching, thinking, praying: Lord, give us more. Give us enough. Help us not fall behind peers. Help us not, that is, fall further behind peers. For kids’ sake. Do not want them scarred by how far behind we are. That is all I ask.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
He is going, he realizes. He is going, and will not be coming back as Brad. He must try at least to retain this feeling of pity. If he can, whoever he becomes will inherit this feeling, and be driven to act on it, and will not, as Brad now sees he has done, waste his life on accumulation, trivia, self-protection, and vanity.
”
”
George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
β€œ
Possessing perfect knowledge I hover above him as he hacks me to bits. I see his rough childhood. I see his mother doing something horrid to him with a broomstick. I see the hate in his heart and the people he has yet to kill before pneumonia gets him at eighty-three. I see the dead kid’s mom unable to sleep, pounding her fists against her face in grief at the moment I was burying her son’s hand. I see the pain I’ve caused. I see the man I could have been, and the man I was, and then everything is bright and new and keen with love and I sweep through Sam’s body, trying to change him, trying so hard, and feeling only hate and hate, solid as stone.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
They were both so scared they weren't talking at all, which made me feel the kind of shame you know you're not going to cure by saying sorry, and where the only thing to do is: go out, get more shame.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
I say it must have been great to grow up when men were men. He says men have always been what the are now, namely incapable of coping with life without the intervention of God the Almighty. Then in the oven behind him my pizza starts smoking and he says case in point.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
We have loved each other well, dear Willie, but now, for reasons we cannot understand, that bond has been broken. But our bond can never be broken. As long as I live, you will always be with me, child.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
(So why grieve? The worst of it, for him, is over.) Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing. Only there is nothing left to do. Free
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
From across the woods, as if by common accord, birds left their trees and darted upward. I joined them, flew amount them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them, and I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Thomas: Wow, that treehouse is like twice the size of our actual house. Pam (whispering): Don't say 'like.' Me: Oh, ha ha, let him say what he wants, let's not be-- Thomas: That treehouse is twice the size of our actual house.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
That's what a book is: a failed attempt that, its failure notwithstanding, is sincere and hard-worked and expunged of as much falseness as he could manage, given his limited abilities, and has thus been imbued with a sort of purity.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
...if we define Megaphone as the composite of hundreds of voices we hear each day that come to us from people we don't know, via high-tech sources, it's clear that a significant and ascendant component of that voice has become bottom-dwelling, shrill, incurious, ranting, and agenda-driven. It strives to antagonize us, make us feel anxious, ineffective, and alone; convince us that the world is full of enemies and of people stupider and less agreeable than ourselves; is dedicated to the idea that, outside the sphere of our immediate experience, the world works in a different, more hostile, less knowable manner. This braindead tendency is viral and manifests intermittently; while it is the blood in the veins of some of your media figures, it flickers on and off in others.
”
”
George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
β€œ
And next time we hear someone saying something like, 'We are pursuing this strategy because other strategies, when we had considered them, we concluded that, in terms of overall effectiveness, they were not sound strategies, which is why we enacted the one we are now embarked upon, which our enemies would like to see us fail, due to they hate freedom,' we will wait to see if the anchorperson cracks up, or chokes back a sob of disgust, and if he or she does not, we'll feel a bit insane, and therefore less confident, and therefore more passive.
”
”
George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
β€œ
The best stories proceed from a mysterious truth-seeking impulse that narrative has when revised extensively; they are complex and baffling and ambiguous; they tend to make us slower to act, rather than quicker. They make us more humble, cause us to empathize with people we don’t know, because they help us imagine these people, and when we imagine themβ€”if the storytelling is good enoughβ€”we imagine them as being, essentially, like us. If the story is poor, or has an agenda, if it comes out of a paucity of imagination or is rushed, we imagine those other people as essentially unlike us: unknowable, inscrutable, incontrovertible.
”
”
George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
β€œ
Anyway, what I really think good writing does: It enlivens that part of us that actually believes we are in this world, right now, and that being here somehow matters. It reawakens the reader to the fact and the value of her own existence.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Still, accomplishment is unreliable. "Succeeding," whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there's the very real danger that "succeeding" will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
”
”
George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
β€œ
All over now. He is either in joy or nothingness. (So why grieve? The worst of it, for him, is over.) Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worry and doing. Only there is nothing left to do.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
What I'm putting forth," he said, "is that the four of us make some memories, become fast friends and abandon starchy old mind-sets about monogamy. The world's gone crazy. Let's do the same." "The answer is no," Dad said. "And I'm surprised I'm not punching you.
”
”
George Saunders (Pastoralia)
β€œ
Rachel got up and did this happy little shuffle, like she was some cheerful farmer chick who'd just stepped outside to find the hick she was in love with coming up the road with a calf under his arm or whatever. Why was she dancing? No reason. Just alive, I guess.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
Sweet Evelyn, I think, I should have loved you better. Possessing perfect knowledge I hover above him as he hacks me to bits. I see his rough childhood. I see his mother doing something horrid to him with a broomstick. I see the hate in his heart and the people he had yet to kill before pneumonia gets him at eighty-three. I see the dead kid's mom unable to sleep, pounding her fists against her face in grief at the moment I was burying her son's hand. I see the pain I've caused. I see the man I could have been, and the man I was, and then everything is bright and new and keen with love and I sweep through Sam's body, trying to change him, trying so hard, and feeling only hate and hate, solid as stone.
”
”
George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)
β€œ
Every human is born of man and woman. Every human, at birth, is, or at least has the potential to be, beloved of his/her mother/father. Thus every human is worthy of love.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
Why will it not work. What magic word made it work. Who is the keeper of that word. What did it profit Him to switch this one off. What a contraption it is. How did it ever run. What spark ran it. Grand little machine. Set up just so. Receiving the spark, it jumped to life.
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
A Clinton staffer tells me his theory. Think about Frank Sinatra, he says: born to sing. Think about Willie Mays: born to play ball. These guys got their power from living lives perfectly suited to their natures. Same with Clinton: his life is perfectly suited to his nature.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
He didn't like the thought of them knowing he'd been scared. Didn't like the thought of them knowing what a fool he'd been. Oh, to hell with that! Tell everyone! He'd done it! He'd been driven to do it and he'd done it and that was it. That was him. That was part of who he was.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
The time he'd cheated on Syl, Syl had seen through him, broken off their engagement, and cheated on him with Charles, which had fried his ass possibly worse than any single other ass frying he'd ever had, in a life that, it recently seemed, was simply a series of escalating ass fries.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
Having come so close to losing everything, I am freed now of all fear, hesitation, and timidity, and, once revived, intend to devoutly wander the earth, imbibing, smelling, sampling, loving whomever I please; touching, tasting, standing very still among the beautiful things of this world,
”
”
George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
β€œ
On Final Twist, five college friends take a sixth to an expensive Italian restaurant, supposedly to introduce him to a hot girl, actually to break the news that his mother is dead. This is the InitialTwist. During dessert they are told that, in fact, all of their mothers are dead. This is the SecondTwist. The ThirdTwist is, not only are all their mothers dead, the show paid to have them killed, and the fourth and FinalTwist is, the kids have just eaten their own grilled mothers.
”
”
George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
β€œ
To me, the process of writing is just reading what I’ve written andβ€”like running your hand over one of those mod glass stovetops to find where the heat isβ€”looking for where the energy is in the prose, then going in the direction of that. It’s an exercise in being open to whatever is there.
”
”
George Saunders
β€œ
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
”
”
George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
β€œ
One of pleasures of parenting, future reader: parent can positively influence kid, make moment kid will remember for rest of life, moment that alters his/her trajectory, opens up his/her heart + mind.
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
If at the moment when someone cuts us off in traffic or breaks our heart or begins bombing our ancestral village, we could withdraw from judging mode, and enter this other, more accepting mode, we could paradoxically, make ourselves more powerful. By resisting the urge to reduce, in order to subsequently destroy, we keep alive - if only for a few seconds more - the possibility of transformation. -The Thought Experiment
”
”
George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
β€œ
Because, as someone who does feng shui for a living, there's no way I could do my feng shui if I was whacked out on crack, because my business is about discerning energy fields, and if you're cracked up, or on pot, or even if you've had too much coffee, the energy field gets all wonky, believe me, I know used to smoke!
”
”
George Saunders (Tenth of December)
β€œ
For dinner Jade microwaves some Stars-n-Flags. They're addictive. They put sugar in the sauce and sugar in the meat nuggets. I think also caffeine. Someone told me the brown streaks in the Flags are caffeine. We have like five bowls each. After dinner the babies get fussy and Min puts a mush of ice cream and Hershey's syrup in their bottles and we watch The Worst That Could Happen, a half hour computer simulation of tragedies that have never actually occurred but theoretically could. A kid gets hit by a train and flies into a zoo, where he's eaten by wolves. A man cuts his hand off chopping wood and while he's wandering around screaming for help is picked up by a tornado and dropped on a preschool during recess and lands on a pregnant teacher.
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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The mind, it occurs to me, is an engine. There is an ambient mode in which the mind sits idling, before there is information. Some minds idle in a kind of dreading crouch, waiting to be offended. Others stand up straight, eyes slightly wide, expecting to be pleasantly surprised. Some minds, imaging the great What Is Out There, imagine it intends doom for them; others imagine there is something out there that may be suffering and in need of their help. Which is right? Neither. Both. Maybe all of our politics is simply neurology writ large. Maybe there are a finite number of idling modes. Maybe there are just two broad modes, and out of this fact comes our current division.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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Linda Hertney: It's like a final goodbye from Todd. (Linda = nut. Once claimed crow on ledge was reincarnation of her dead husband. Said she could telly by way crow's head was cocked disapprovingly at large lunch she was eating.)
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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When young, we’re anxious β€” understandably β€” to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you β€” in particular you, of this generation β€” may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . . And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously β€” as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves. Still, accomplishment is unreliable. β€œSucceeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that β€œsucceeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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Did he still want it? Did he still want to live? Yes, yes, oh, God, yes, please. Because, O.K., the thing wasβ€”he saw it now, was starting to see itβ€”if some guy, at the end, fell apart, and said or did bad things, or had to be helped, helped to quite a considerable extent? So what? What of it? Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting? Why should the shit not run down his legs? Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be manyβ€”many drops of goodness, is how it came to himβ€”many drops of happyβ€”of good fellowshipβ€”ahead, and those drops of fellowship were notβ€”had never beenβ€”his to withheld. Withhold.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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I hold the biscuits in front of his face and he stands up. "What do I have to do?" he says. "Nothing," I say. "They're for you." "Are they poisoned?" he says. "No," I say. "Eat one," he says. So I do. "Probably the others are poisoned," he says. "Eat a fraction of each." I eat a corner off each biscuit. He looks at the reminders suspiciously, then sniffs them. "I'm not sure it's worth it," he says. "How I wish you'd never come. Perhaps you've left the poison off of just those corners." I begin to realize I'll doubt whatever information he gives me. "Lick the entire biscuit," he says. "Then give them to me." So I lick each biscuit. "Both sides," he says. I lick both sides of each biscuit. I give him the wet biscuits and he cracks them open and sniffs them. Then he puts them in his pocket. "What do you want?" he says. "Now that you've failed to poison me to death.
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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O Lord I cannot bear the thought of Philip lying still in such a place as this and when that thought arises must hum some scrap of tune energetically while praying No no no take that cup away Lord let me go first before any of them I love (before Philip Mary Jack Jr before dear Lydia) only that’s no good either since when they reach their end I will not be there to help them?
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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O.K., then, all right, they would adopt a white-trash dog. Ha ha. They could name it Zeke, buy it a little corncob pipe and a straw hat. She imagined the puppy, having crapped on the rug, looking up at her, going, Cain’t hep it. But no. Had she come from a perfect place? Everything was transmutable. She imagined the puppy grown up, entertaining some friends, speaking to them in a British accent: My family of origin was, um, rather not, shall we say, of the most respectable... Ha ha, wow, the mind was amazing, always cranking out theseβ€”
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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I felt myself a new species of child. Not a boy (most assuredly) but neither a (mere) girl. That skirt-bound race perpetually moving about serving tea had nothing to do with me. I had such high hopes, you see. The boundaries of the world seemed vast. I would visit Rome, Paris, Constantinople. Underground cafΓ©s presented in my mind where, crushed against wet walls, a (handsome, generous) friend and I sat discussingβ€”many things. Deep things, new ideas. Strange green lights shone in the streets, the sea lapped nearby against greasy tilted moorings; there was trouble afoot, a revolution, into which my friend and I mustβ€” Well, as is often the case, my hopes were…not realized.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Night was falling. Birds were singing. Birds were, it occurred to me to say, enacting a frantic celebration of day's end. They were manifesting as the earth's bright-colored nerve endings, the sun's descent urging them into activity, filling them individually with life nectar, the life nectar then being passed into the world, out of each beak, in the form of that bird's distinctive song, which was, in turn, an accident of beak shape, throat shape, breast configuration, brain chemistry: some birds blessed in voice, others cursed; some squeaking, others rapturous.
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George Saunders
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Why was it, she sometimes wondered, that in dreams we can't do the simplest things? Like a crying puppy is standing on some broken glass and you want to pick it up and brush the shards off its pads but you can't because you're balancing a ball on your head. Or you're driving and there's this old guy on crutches and you go, to Mr. Feder, your Driver's Ed teacher, Should I swerve? And he's like, Uh, probably. But then you hear this big clunk and Feder makes a negative mark in his book.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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Those stories tended to be located around the places where things went wrong, and people were cruel to one another, and so on. They reflected what was probably the most urgent truth operating in me at that time: oh, shit, things can go wrong, and if they do, people get hurt, and I might be one of them, in spite of the fact that I am, you know, me.
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George Saunders
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A culture capable of imagining complexly is a humble culture. It acts, when it has to act, as late in the game as possibl, and as cautiously, because it knows its girth and the tight confines of the china shop it's blundering into. And it knows that no matter how well prepared it is -- no matter how ruthlessly it has held its projections up to intelligent scrutiny -- the place it is headed for is going to very different from the place it imagined. The shortfall between the imagined and the real, multiplied by the violence of one's intent, equals the evil one will do.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)
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To put it another way: having gone about as high up Hemingway Mountain as I could go, having realized that even at my best I could only ever hope to be an acolyte up there, resolving never again to commit the sin of being imitative, I stumbled back down into the valley and came upon a little shit-hill labeled β€œSaunders Mountain.” β€œHmm,” I thought. β€œIt’s so little. And it’s a shit-hill.” Then again, that was my name on it. This is a big moment for any artist (this moment of combined triumph and disappointment), when we have to decide whether to accept a work of art that we have to admit we weren’t in control of as we made it and of which we’re not entirely sure we approve. It is less, less than we wanted it to be, and yet it’s more, tooβ€”it’s small and a bit pathetic, judged against the work of the great masters, but there it is, all ours. What we have to do at that point, I think, is go over, sheepishly but boldly, and stand on our shit-hill, and hope it will grow.
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George Saunders (A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life)
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I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to β€˜real life’ β€” he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. In fact, β€˜Slaughterhouse-Five’ seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it.
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George Saunders
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And I don't know, it is one thing to look out a window, but when you are Out, actually Out, that is something very powerful, and how embarrassing was that, because I could not help it, I went down flat on my gut checking out those flowers, and the feeling of the one I chose was like the silk on that Hermes jacket I could never seem to get Reserved because Vance was always hogging it, except the flower was even better, it being very smooth and built in like layers? With the outside layer being yellow, and inside that a white thing like a bell, and inside the white bell-like thing were fifteen (I counted) smaller bell-like red things, and inside each red thing was an even smaller orange two-dingly-thing combo.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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But not to worry. Those of you who have no need to be worried should not in the least be worried. As for those of you who should be worried, it's a little late to start worrying now, you should have started months ago, when it could've done you some good, because at this point, what's decided is decided, or would have been decided, if those false rumors we are denying, the rumors about the firings which would be starting this week if they were slated to begin, were true, which we have jut told you, they aren't." (63)
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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One thing in our favor: some of this β€œbecoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish β€” how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was β€œmostly Love, now.
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George Saunders (Congratulations, by the way)
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Mid-December then and still no snow. Strange Chicago crèches appeared in front yards: Baby Jesus, freed from the manger, leaned against a Santa sled half his height. He was crouching, as if about to jump; he wore just a diaper. Single strings of colored lights lay across bushes, as if someone had hatefully thrown them there. We patched the roof of a Jamaican immigrant whose apartment had nothing in it but hundreds of rags, spread across the floor and hanging from interior clotheslines. Nobody asked why. As we left, she offered us three DietRite Colas.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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At Sea Oak there's no sea and no oak, just a hundred subsidized apartments and a rear view of FedEx. Min and Jade are feeding their babies while watching How My Child Died Violently. Min's my sister. Jade's our cousin. How My Child Died Violently is hosted by Matt Merton, a six-foot-five blond who's always giving the parents shoulder rubs and telling them they've been sainted by pain. Today's show features a ten-year-old who killed a five-year-old for refusing to join his gang. The ten-year-old strangled the five-year-old with a jump rope, filled his mouth with baseball cards, then locked himself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out until his parents agreed to take him to FunTimeZone, where he confessed, then dove screaming into a mesh cage full of plastic balls. The audience is shrieking threats at the parents of the killer while the parents of the victim urge restraint and forgiveness to such an extent that finally the audience starts shrieking threats at them too. Then it's a commercial.
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George Saunders (Pastoralia)
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And there was nothing left for me to do, but go. Though the things of the world were strong with me still. Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-tilted streetlight; a frozen clock, bird-visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; toweling off one’s clinging shirt post–June rain. Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth. Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease. A bloody roast death-red on a platter; a hedgetop under-hand as you flee late to some chalk-and-woodfire-smelling schoolhouse. Geese above, clover below, the sound of one’s own breath when winded. The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one’s beloved’s name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger. Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead.
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George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo)
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Note to self: Try to extend positive feelings associated with Scratch-Off win into all areas of life. Be bigger presence at work. Race up ladder (joyfully, w/smile on face), get raise. Get in best shape of life, start dressing nicer. Learn guitar? Make point of noticing beauty of world? Why not educate self re. birds, flowers, trees, constellations, become true citizen of natural world, walk around neighborhood w/kids, patiently teaching kids names of birds, flowers, etc. etc.? Why not take kids to Europe? Kids have never been. Have never, in Alps, had hot chocolate in mountain cafΓ©, served by kindly white-haired innkeeper, who finds them so sophisticated/friendly relative to usual snotty/rich American kids (who always ignore his pretty but crippled daughter w/braids) that he shows them secret hiking path to incredible glade, kids frolic in glade, sit with crippled pretty girl on grass, later say it was most beautiful day of their lives, keep in touch with crippled girl via email, we arrange surgery here for her, surgeon so touched he agrees to do surgery for free, she is on front page of our paper, we are on front page of their paper in Alps? Ha ha. Just happy.
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George Saunders (Tenth of December)
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As the van door starts to close, Brad suddenly realizes that the instant the doors close completely, the van interior will become the terrifying bland gray space he's heard about all his life, the place one goes when one has been Written Out. The van interior becomes the bland gray space. From the front yard TV comes the brash martial music that indicates UrgentUpdateNewsMinute. Animal rights activists have expressed concern over the recent trend of spraying live Canadian geese with a styrene coating which instantaneously kills them while leaving them extremely malleable, so it then becomes easy to shape them into comical positions and write funny sayings in DryErase cartoon balloons emanating from their beaks, which, apparently, is the new trend for outdoor summer parties.
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George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)
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In the beginning, there’s a blank mind. Then that mind gets an idea in it, and the trouble begins, because the mind mistakes the idea for the world. Mistaking the idea for the world, the mind formulates a theory and, having formulated a theory, feels inclined to act. Because the idea is always only an approximation of the world, whether that action will be catastrophic or beneficial depends on the distance between the idea and the world. Mass media’s job is to provide this simulacra of the world, upon which we build our ideas. There’s another name for this simulacra-building: storytelling. Megaphone Guy is a storyteller, but his stories are not so good. Or rather, his stories are limited. His stories have not had time to gestateβ€”they go out too fast and to too broad an audience. Storytelling is a language-rich enterprise, but Megaphone Guy does not have time to generate powerful language. The best stories proceed from a mysterious truth-seeking impulse that narrative has when revised extensively; they are complex and baffling and ambiguous; they tend to make us slower to act, rather than quicker. They make us more humble, cause us to empathize with people we don’t know, because they help us imagine these people, and when we imagine themβ€”if the storytelling is good enoughβ€”we imagine them as being, essentially, like us. If the story is poor, or has an agenda, if it comes out of a paucity of imagination or is rushed, we imagine those other people as essentially unlike us: unknowable, inscrutable, inconvertible. Our venture in Iraq was a literary failure, by which I mean a failure of imagination. A culture better at imagining richly, three-dimensionally, would have had a greater respect for war than we did, more awareness of the law of unintended consequences, more familiarity with the world’s tendency to throw aggressive energy back at the aggressor in ways he did not expect. A culture capable of imagining complexly is a humble culture. It acts, when it has to act, as late in the game as possible, and as cautiously, because it knows its own girth and the tight confines of the china shop it’s blundering into. And it knows that no matter how well-prepared it isβ€”no matter how ruthlessly it has held its projections up to intelligent scrutinyβ€”the place it is headed for is going to be very different from the place it imagined. The shortfall between the imagined and the real, multiplied by the violence of one’s intent, equals the evil one will do.
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George Saunders (The Braindead Megaphone)