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15 Nora Ephron Quotes on Life

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1. On aging

"If I'm following a young person down the street and the young person passes a mirror, I see the fabulous way he or she turns toward it and kind of smiles and checks himself/herself out and they know what they're going to see. We don't know. There's a certain moment where you're just terrified about what you're going to see. So if you are forced to look at a mirror, you squint and then gently open your eyes to see if it's safe. And if it's not, you close them and walk on."

In an interview with NPR

2. On change

“We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was [in my twenties], I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy.”

From her Commencement Address to Wellesley Class of 1996, via The Most of Nora Ephron

3. On “getting over it”

“I was just with someone complaining about his mother. He's 70 and his mother is dead. I sat there thinking, 'This is unbelievable.' He was complaining about things she did to him when he was a kid. There are also a lot of divorced people who five years later are still walking around angry when they should be grateful. They love being victims. You get to a certain point in life where if you were younger you'd say, 'Think about getting a shrink.' Then you get older and want to say, 'Pull up your socks. Get over it.'”

From an interview with The Wall Street Journal

4. On dinner parties

“You should try to relax about having people over. I have friends who are nervous hostesses, and it just contaminates the entire mood of the evening. They are always rushing from the room to check things and have a wild look in their eyes when they return from the kitchen.”

From "About Having People to Dinner," The Most of Nora Ephron

5. On the worst thing in New York City

“Bicycle messengers. They scare me. Sometimes, when I am not worrying about other forms of death, I am certain that I am going to be run over by a bicycle messenger.”

From an interview with the New York Times

6. On divorce

“When [my sister and I] were growing up, we used to love to hear the story of how our parents met and fell in love and eloped one summer when they were both camp counselors. It was so much a part of our lives, a song sung again and again, and no matter what happened, no matter how awful things became between the two of them, we always knew that our parents had once been madly in love. But in a divorce, you never tell your children that you were once madly in love with their father because it would be too confusing. And then, after a while, you can’t even remember whether you were.”

From "The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less," The Most of Nora Ephron

7. On carrying a purse

“Here’s what happens with a purse. You start small. You start pledging yourself to neatness. You start vowing that This Time It Will Be Different. You start with the things you absolutely need—your wallet and a few cosmetics that you have actually put into a brand-new shiny cosmetics bag, the kind used by your friends who are competent enough to manage more than one purse at a time. But within seconds, your purse has accumulated the debris of a lifetime.”

From "I Hate My Purse," The Most of Nora Ephron

8. On parenting

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

From "What I Wish I'd Known," The Most of Nora Ephron

9. On journalism

“Now I know that there’s no such thing as the truth. That people are constantly misquoted. That news organizations are full of conspiracy (and that, in any case, ineptness is a kind of conspiracy). That emotional detachment and cynicism get you only so far. But for many years I was in love with journalism.”

From her article "Journalism: A Love Story," The Most of Nora Ephron

10. On screenwriting

“The moment you stop work on a script seems to be determined not by whether you think the draft is good but simply by whether shooting is about to begin: if it is, you get to call your script a final draft; and if it’s not, you can always write another revision. This might seem to be a hateful way to live, but the odd thing is that it’s somehow comforting; as long as you’re revising, the project isn’t dead.”

From "Revision and Life: Take It from the Top -- Again," The Most of Nora Ephron

11. On last meals

“I mean this is one of the worst things I remember clearly when my friend Judy—whom I keep writing about because it was so devastating—was dying. She had tongue cancer. And she said one day, I’m not even going to be able to have my last meal. So it seems to me, have your last meal all the time, because you have to know that the odds are very, very small that you’ll be in the mood for a Nate ‘n’ Al’s hot dog, which is my last meal.”

From an interview with Salon

12. On email

“E-mail isn’t letter-writing at all, it’s something else entirely. It was just invented, it was just born, and overnight it turns out to have a form and a set of rules and a language all its own. Not since the printing press. Not since television. It’s revolutionary. It’s life-altering. It’s shorthand. Cut to the chase. Get to the point. It saves so much time.”

From "The Six Stages of E-Mail," The Most of Nora Ephron

13. On feminism

“There’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the workforce trick you—there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents. Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back.”

From her Commencement Address to Wellesley Class of 1996, via The Most of Nora Ephron

14. On Thanksgiving

“And so, Thanksgiving. Its the most amazing holiday. Just think about it — it's a miracle that once a year so many millions of Americans sit down to exactly the same meal as one another, exactly the same meal they grew up eating, and exactly the same meal they ate a year earlier. The turkey. The sweet potatoes. The stuffing. The pumpkin pie. Is there anything else we all can agree so vehemently about? I don't think so.”

From an article on The Huffington Post

15. On death

“Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

From her book, From I Feel Bad About My Neck

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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15 Empowering Quotes From Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 and dedicated her life to progressing the women’s rights movement in America. She organized, she rallied, advocated, protested, wrote, and, most importantly, spoke. Here are just a few of the activist’s most powerful words.

1. ON THE LIFE OF FRIEND SUSAN B. ANTHONY

"To live for a principle, for the triumph of some reform by which all mankind are to be lifted up—to be wedded to an idea—may be, after all, the holiest and happiest of marriages."

— From The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony

2. ON HER HOPES FOR YOUNG WOMEN

“I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives, but as nouns.”

— From an 1870 lecture called “Our Girls”

3. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL EQUALITY

“To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property is like cutting off the hands. To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect, of credit in the market place, of recompense in the world of work, of a voice in choosing those who make and administer the law, a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment.”

— From “Solitude of Self

4. ON HOW THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE COULD USE AN EDIT

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

— From "The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments"

5. ON THE CHANGING TIMES

“Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.”

— From The Woman’s Bible

6. ON TRUTH

“Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.”

— From The Woman’s Bible

7. ON KEEPING BUSY.

“In a word, I am always busy, which is perhaps the chief reason why I am always well.”

— From Stanton’s diaries

8. ON INDEPENDENCE

"Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. In the tragedies and triumphs of human experience, each mortal stands alone."

— From “Solitude of Self

9. ON GETTING OLDER

“... the hey-day of woman's life is on the shady side of fifty, when the vital forces heretofore expended in other ways are garnered in the brain …”

— From Elizabeth Cady Stanton as revealed in her letters, diary and reminiscences

10. ON COURAGE

“The best protection any woman can have ... is courage.”

— From Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Fighting Together for Women's Rights

11. ON BETTERING ONESELF

“Put it down in capital letters: SELF-DEVELOPMENT IS A HIGHER DUTY THAN SELF-SACRIFICE. The thing that most retards and militates against women’s self development is self-sacrifice.”

— As told to a reporter, via In a Different Voice

12. ON THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

“It was just so in the American Revolution, in 1776, the first delicacy the men threw overboard in Boston harbor was the tea, woman's favorite beverage. The tobacco and whiskey, though heavily taxed, they clung to with the tenacity of the devil-fish.”

― From The Women’s Bible

13. ON HOW TO BECOME A BETTER PUBLIC SPEAKER

“Dress loose, take a great deal of exercise, and be particular about your diet and sleep sound enough, the body has a great effect on the mind.”

— As told to Susan B. Anthony

14. ON LIVING YOUR TRUTH

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep for ourselves alone, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.”

— From an 1890 speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association

15. ON MOTHERHOOD

“We are, as a sex, infinitely superior to men, and if we were free and developed, healthy in body and mind, as we should be under natural conditions, our motherhood would be our glory. That function gives women such wisdom and power as no male can possess.”

— From Stanton’s letters

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