Sarah Vowell quotes:

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  • While I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  • Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, Robert Lincoln bought a nice ski lodge.

  • The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War-when I really think about them they all seem about as likely as the parting of the Red Sea.

  • You know your country has a checkered past when you find yourself sitting around pondering the humanitarian upside of sticking with the British Empire.

  • The whole point of Louis Armstrong is that no one can really figure him out. There was a while where I thought you could try.

  • I was a big Nancy Drew reader. Nancy figures it out. Case closed.

  • Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.

  • Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.

  • I talk about going to [George W. Bush's] Inauguration and crying when he took the oath, 'cause I was so afraid he was going to wreck the economy and muck up the drinking water'... the failure of my pessimistic imagination at that moment boggles my mind now.

  • Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.

  • I hated the lost colony; in second grade, we were doing American History, and they said, We don't know what happened to them. That drove me nuts. That lost colony drove me crazy.

  • History is full of really good stories. That's the main reason I got into this racket: I want to make the argument that history is interesting.

  • Most people don't like to talk about violent historical death.

  • I talk about going to [George W. Bush's] Inauguration and cryingwhen he took the oath, 'cause I was so afraid he was going towreck the economy and muck up the drinking water'... the failure ofmy pessimistic imagination at that moment boggles my mind now."

  • Part of the success of This American Life, I think, is due to the fact that none of us sound like we should be on the radio. We don't sound professional; we sound like people you would know.

  • Assassins and presidents invite the same basic question: Just who do you think you are?

  • Along with voting, jury duty, and paying taxes, goofing off is one of the central obligations of American citizenship.

  • I seem to have no problem revealing my crush on the man who murdered Lincoln.

  • Clemenza's overriding responsibility is to his family. He takes a moment out of his routine madness to remember that he had promised his wife that he would bring dessert home. His instruction to his partner in crime is an entire moral manifesto in six little words: 'Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

  • I get younger people who watch Conan or The Daily Show, but before that it was mostly people who knew me from public radio. Those people are kind of old.

  • I'm a big fan of editing and keeping only the interesting bits in.

  • All those adorable towheaded kids in the promotional film are going to turn thirteen. Once a family member hits puberty, odds are that everybody is not going to have the same ideals. Unless everybody gets together and agrees that the new ideals involve turning the front yard into a skate ramp and officially changing Dad's name to Fuckhead.

  • The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government.

  • My audience is going to die before I do.

  • Still, compared to him, compared to the people we descend from, I am free of history. I'm so free of history I have to get in a car and drive seven states to find it.

  • That's what we Americans do when we find a place that's really special. We go there and act exactly like ourselves. And we are a bunch of fun-loving dopes.

  • I haven't decided if he deserved to eat bread made out of sticks or live in a rancid puddle, probably because I haven't made up my mind whether anyone deserves such treatment, though I suspect that the day a person gives up on the Geneva Conventions is the day a person gives up on the human race.

  • I probably am a cranky writer, but I am actually a fairly nice, normal person. Since I'm a grouchy writer, of course I have friends whose books are doing way better than mine.

  • After Hiram Bingham built the first church on Oahu the student recalls, "When it was completed some of the natives said among themselves, 'That house of worship built by the haoles is a place in which they will pray us all to death. It is meant to kill us."

  • The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.

  • I'm always disappointed when I see the word 'Puritan' tossed around as shorthand for a bunch of generic, boring, stupid, judgmental killjoys. Because to me, they are very specific, fascinating, sometimes brilliant, judgmental killjoys who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to Hell.

  • I discovered that Robert Todd Lincoln was there for each of the first three assassinations. I wanted to write about the Lincoln Memorial, so when I found out he had attended its dedication, that helped focus it further.

  • But when I am around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. Once I erupt, they'll be wiping my verbal ashes off their windshields as far away as North Dakota.

  • The modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top

  • Listening to the radio every day for an entire year was a prison sentence. It was the most depressing, annoying, debilitating project I have ever undertaken, and I have a master's degree in art history.

  • I loved that these two guys argued with each other as if movies actually mattered. Nobody I knew talked about movies that way, but Siskel and Ebert took each movie as it came and talked about whether it was a success on its own terms.

  • American history is a quagmire, and the more one knows, the quaggier the mire gets.

  • I have a similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I still like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period).

  • Relics are treasured as something close to the divine.

  • Robert Todd Lincoln, a.k.a. Jinxy McDeath.

  • In the United States, there was no simpler, more agreeable time.

  • Acts 16:9 is the meddler's motto, simultaneously selfless and self-serving, generous but stuck-up. Into every generation of Americans is born a new crop of buttinskys sniffing out the latest Macedonia that may or may not want their help.

  • History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between.

  • But I can no longer ready any faith's Napoleonic saber rattling without picturing smoking rubble on cable news. I guess if I had to pick a spiritual figurehead to possess the deed to the entirety of Earth, I'd go with Buddha, but only because he wouldn't want it.

  • I am pro-plaque.

  • ...there's nothing more depressing than bad capitalism.

  • ...the air has that bracing autumnal bite so that all you want to do is bob for apples or hang a witch or something.

  • Presidents and presidential assassins are like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Even though one city is all about sin and the other is all about salvation, they are identical, one-dimensional company towns built up by the sheer will of true believers.

  • I didn't come from any kind of academic background, but I lived in a college town and I knew people who weren't without pretense. There was this idea in the town that if something was European it would be good.

  • Being a nerd, which is to say going to far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. For me, the spark that turns an acquaintance into a friend has usually been kindled by some shared enthusiasm like detective novels or Ulysses S. Grant.

  • My lips are chapped from the winds of change.

  • No cowboys for Canada. Canada got Mounties instead - Dudley Do-Right, not John Wayne. It's a mind-set of "Here I come to save the day" versus "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

  • We go in to liberate Cuba, but Cuba still isn't free; we don't really think through what we'll do after the initial treaty is signed, but we're still occupying. There's chaos and torture and finally an outcry.

  • One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on a stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes.

  • Jesus and Lincoln, Moses and Jefferson can seem so long gone, so unbelievable, so dead.

  • The one time I was an actor, it happened to be in a globally dominant juggernaut. That was lucky.

  • A couple of times he called the second he'd finished reading a novel and just had to tell me about it, and I know it sounds hokey and librarianish to say so, but I just swooned when he did that.

  • Behind every bad law, a deep fear.

  • Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. For me, the spark that turns an acquaintance into a friend has usually been kindled by some shared enthusiasm . . . At fifteen, I couldn't say two words about the weather or how I was doing, but I could come up with a paragraph or two about the album Charlie Parker with Strings. In high school, I made the first real friends I ever had because one of them came up to me at lunch and started talking about the Cure.

  • Buffy's high school was built on top of a vortex of evil, the Hellmouth. And whose wasn't?

  • But truth be told, I'm not as dour-looking as I would like. I'm stuck with this round, sweetie-pie face, tiny heart-shaped lips, the daintiest dimples, and apple cheeks so rosy I appear in a perpetual blush. At five foot four, I barely squeak by average height. And then there's my voice: straight out of second grade. I come across so young and innocent and harmless that I have been carded for buying maple syrup. Tourists feel more safe approaching me for directions, telemarketers always ask if my mother is home, and waitresses always, always call me 'Hon.

  • Despite his consistent party-line voting record, some independents and Democrats still think of Senator McCain as the most palatable, independent-minded Republican. But this is the sort of empty compliment a friend of mine once compared to being called "the coolest Osmond.

  • Dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. Of course, this America does exist. It's called Canada.

  • Even writers need relief from words.

  • Except for the people who were there that one day they discovered the polio vaccine, being part of history is rarely a good idea. History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between.

  • I guess if I had to pick a spiritual figurehead to possess the deed to the entirety of Earth, I'd go with Buddha, but only because he wouldn't want it.

  • I no longer drink nearly as much as I used to but, still, my motto is Sine coffea nihil sum. Without coffee, I'm nothing.

  • I still believe in public radio's potential. Because it's the one mass medium that's still crafted almost entirely by true believers.

  • If I looked in the mirror someday and saw no dark circles under my eyes, I would probably look better. I just wouldn't look like me.

  • If I'm still wistful about On the Road, I look on the rest of the Kerouac oeuvre--the poems, the poems!--in horror. Read Satori in Paris lately? But if I had never read Jack Kerouac's horrendous poems, I never would have had the guts to write horrendous poems myself. I never would have signed up for Mrs. Safford's poetry class the spring of junior year, which led me to poetry readings, which introduced me to bad red wine, and after that it's all just one big blurry condemned path to journalism and San Francisco.

  • I'm not really the scented envelope kid of girl, preferring instead to send yellow Jiffy-lite mailers packed with whatever song is on my mind.

  • In death, you get upgraded into a saint no matter how much people hated you in life.

  • In the U.S.A., we want to sing along with the chorus and ignore the verses, ignore the blues. . . No one is going to hold up a cigarette lighter in a stadium to the tune of "mourn together, suffer together." City on a hill, though -- that has a backbeat we can dance to. And that's why the citizens of the United States not only elected and reelected Ronald Reagan; that's why we ARE Ronald Reagan.

  • In these fast and fickle times, it's nice to know that there are some things you can always count on: the enduring brilliance of the last page of The Great Gatsby; the near-religious harmonies of the Beach Boys' "California Girls"; and the lifelong friendship of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

  • Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle's Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.

  • My ideal picture of citizenship will always be an argument, not a sing-along.

  • No one I know actually reads what I write, so thank heavens for you strangers.

  • Not that I want the current president killed. I will, for the record and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm, clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it.

  • Oh my dear, idealists are the cruelest monsters of them all.

  • Once or twice a day, I am enveloped inside what I like to call the Impenetrable Shield of Melancholy. This shield, it is impenetrable. Hence the name. I cannot speak. And while I can feel myself freeze up, I can't do anything about it.

  • Owen is the most Hitchcockian preschooler I ever met. He's three. He knows maybe ninety word and one of them is 'crypt'?

  • Radio is the playground of coincidence.

  • That's what I like to call him, "the current president." I find it difficult to say or type his name, George W. Bush. I like to call him "the current president" because it's a hopeful phrase, implying that his administration is only temporary.

  • The only people who know about me are people who would know about me.

  • The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.

  • There are freaky talking mannequins in the Salem Witch Museum that recite the Lord's Prayer and while they do resemble shrunken apples they nevertheless help the visitor understand how hard it must have been for the condemned to say the line about forgiving those who trespass against us.

  • There are people who look forward to spending their sunset years in the sunshine; it is my own retirement dream to await my death indoors, dragging strangers up dusty staircases while coughing up one of the most thrilling phrases in the English language: 'It was on this spot"' My fantasy is to one day become a docent.

  • There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who alphabetize their record collections, and the kind who don't.

  • We are flawed creatures, all of us. Some of us think that means we should fix our flaws. But get rid of my flaws and there would be no one left.

  • What are you hiding? No one ever asks that.

  • When I think about my relationship with America, I feel like a battered wife: Yeah, he knocks me around a lot, but boy, he sure can dance.

  • When one of a culture's guiding credos is that "all men are created equal," any person who, say, becomes an expert on, say, nuclear weapons or, say, ecology, i.e., anyone who distinguishes himself through mental excellence, is a nuisance.

  • Why is America the last best hope of Earth? What if it's Liechtenstein? Or, worse, Canada?

  • Winthrop and his shipmates and their children and their children's children just wrote their own books and pretty much kept their noses in them up until the day God created the Red Sox.

  • You know you've reached a new plateau of group mediocrity when even a Canadian is alarmed by your lack of individuality.

  • You know, it's always good to have a synonym just for variety.

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