Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Shana Alexander, fully Shana Agar Alexander

American Journalist, Staff Writer and Columnist for Life Magazine, best known for participation in "Point-Counterpoint" debate segments of 60 Minutes

"The sad truth is that excellence makes people nervous."

"A handwritten, personal letter has become a genuine modern-day luxury, like a child's pony ride."

"A plane is a bad place for an all-out sleep, but a good place to begin rest and recovery from the trip to the faraway places you've been, a decompression chamber between Here and There. Though a plane is not the ideal place really to think, to reassess or reevaluate things, it is a great place to have the illusion of doing so, and often the illusion will suffice."

"Americans ought to be the best-traveled, most cosmopolitan people on earth, not only because experience of the world is desirable in its own right, but because as a people acquires a great concentration of power, worldliness becomes a moral imperative."

"An artificial style of dance confected for 18th-century kings evolved into a popular American art form. an astonishing development for what until recently had been considered manna for aesthetes only, the quiche of the performing arts."

"As a general rule, fans and idols should always be kept at arm's length, the length of the arm to be proportionate to the degree of sheer idolatry involved. Don't take a Beatle to lunch. Don't wait up to see if the Easter Bunny is real. Just enjoy the egg hunt."

"At Gatling-gun tempo word-perfect the first time out. the journalistic equivalent of a high-wire front somersault without a net."

"Ballet's image of perfection is fashioned amid a milieu of wracked bodies, fevered imaginations, Balkan intrigue, and sulfurous hatreds where anything is likely, and dancers know it."

"Between the two poles of whole-truth and half-truth is slung the chancy hammock in which we all rock."

"Californians tend to be outspoken. When the great migration began, the more timid people must have stayed home, and the bolder ones headed west."

"Every millennium, another foot or so of California disappears. Geologists spend a lot of time measuring its slow but inexorable westward slide. I wish somebody would study the slippage in the other direction. Nearly all of our national fads and foibles, political trends, and social seizures seem to begin in California. They appear along the Pacific shoreline like salamanders crawling up onto the beaches out of the sunset's fire to begin the trek. Eastward, ho! As a cradle of contemporary civilization, the sands of Santa Monica rival those of the Nile Valley. Consider hula hoops, bikini suits, skateboards, smog alerts, encounter groups, jogging, open sex, swinging singles, BankAmericards, Frisbees, McDonald's, I Ching, Zen tennis, topless cocktails, and black power. Consider the taxpayers' revolt -- Proposition 13. Consider picture windows. Think of it! The very flesh and profile of today, all blooming first in the warm California sunshine! The place is prototypical America. The entire state is a series of stage sets, from the forced-perspective streets of San Francisco to the faded, painted backcloth of Los Angeles. The apparent unreality of California may be what is most real about it. The place is continually in the process of becoming, perpetually emergent, like a darkroom image developing in its chemical bath, and what is liveliest about America, most energetic, most dissatisfied with things-as-they-are, most ardent for things-as-they-might-be, most rootless, most forward-looking, most superficial, most contemporary, most independent, most existential, most flimsy, all piles up along our teeming western edge."

"Evolution is fascinating to watch. To me it is the most interesting when one can observe the evolution of a single man."

"Faithful horoscope-watching, practiced daily, provides just the sort of small but warm and infinitely reassuring fillip that gets matters off to a spirited start."

"Good drama should sandpaper the mind."

"Hair brings one's self-image into focus; it is vanity's proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices."

"How is the newcomer to deal with Rome? What is one to make of this marble rubble, this milk of wolves, this blood of Caesars, this sunrise of Renaissance, this baroquery of blown stone, this warm hive of Italians, this antipasto of civilization?"

"Huge herds of vigorous, curious, open-eyed Americans freely roaming the world are, it seems to me, quite possibly a vital national resource today as at no other time in our history."

"I don't believe man is a woman's natural enemy. Perhaps his lawyer is."

"I reserve my greatest admiration for those who continue to struggle to embrace the whole impossible tangle of snakes that is our society; those who fight to identify and strengthen human connections, and defeat polarizing forces that strain to drive us apart."

"In a nation of celebrity worshipers, amid followers of the cult of personality, individual modesty becomes a heroic quality. I find heroism in the acceptance of anonymity, in the studied resistance to the normal American tropism toward the limelight."

"Ireland is not at all a simple place, and in many ways it is spare and sad. It has no wealth, no power, no stability, no influence, no fashion, no size. Its only real arts are song and drama and poem. But Limerick alone has two thousand ruined castles and surely that many practicing poets."

"Letters are expectation packaged in an envelope."

"Mind and body are not to be taken lightly. Their connection is intimate and mysterious, and better mapped by poets than pornographers."

"Natural villains are hard to come by, what with all the shrinks and social-scientist types threatening to understand everybody into the ground ..."

"Ours is the first society in history in which parents expect to learn from their children, rather than the other way around. Such a topsy-turvy situation has come about at least in part because, unlike the rest of the world, we are an immigrant society, and for immigrants the only hope is in the kids."

"Ours was the Togetherness Generation. We equated togetherness with salvation, and expected so much from it that it was bound to let us down. Companionship, security, lifelong physical and spiritual and emotional warmth -- all were to be had for the twist of a ring and the breathing of a vow. And to be had no other way."

"Rome's riches are in too immediate juxtaposition. Under the lid of awful August heat, one moves dizzily from church to palace to fountain to ruin, a single fly at a banquet, not knowing where to light."

"Roughly speaking, the President of the United States knows what his job is. Constitution and custom spell it out, for him as well as for us. His wife has no such luck. The First Lady has no rules rather each new woman must make her own."

"Rumor and gossip, like sound itself, appear to travel by wave-effect, sheer preposterosity being no barrier."

"She will not be interrupted. Break into her train of thought, and she simply starts over. From the top. It is like trying to hold a conversation with a cassette."

"The difficulty with becoming a patient is that as soon as you get horizontal, part of your being yearns, not for a doctor, but for a medicine man."

"The Federal Building's large Ceremonial Courtroom, reserved for show trials, is veneered in executive teak. Bench, counsel tables, jury boxes, entrances, and exits -- all are as formally arranged as an Elizabethan stage. Only the drama is shapeless, at least to those of us who have never seen a trial before. We see only random movements, sequences, comings and goings, no form or agenda apparent. To us the action is less like watching a play than watching an aquarium."

"The graceful Georgian streets and squares, a series of steel engravings under a wet sky."

"The law changes and flows like water, and the stream of women's rights law has become a sudden rushing torrent."

"The mark of a true crush (whether the object is man, woman or city) is that you fall in love first and grope for reasons afterward."

"The mark of a true crush... is that you fall in love first and grope for reasons afterward."

"The metabolism of a consumer society requires it continually to eat and excrete, every day throwing itself away in plastic bags."

"The notion that the great artist requires a great patron has been around since the Pharaohs. That the born patron also needs an artist to patronize is a less-studied phenomenon."

"The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling as the one which exists only in the mind's eye."

"The price of shallow sex may be a corresponding loss of capacity for deep love."

"The real trouble with the doctor image in America is that it has been grayed by the image of the doctor-as-businessman, the doctor-as-bureaucrat, the doctor-as-medical-robot, and the doctor-as-terrified-victim-of-malpractice-suits."

"The real weakness of all porn, it seems to me, is its necessary repetition ... the pornographer must continually invent new sauces for old meats."

"The rich plankton of pop heroes and pop villains on which we Americans are accustomed to feed, the daily media soup of sports figures, ax murderers, politicians, and rock singers, the ever-running river of celebs, heavies, and oddballs that we use to spice up our own relatively humdrum lives has of late become a very watery gruel. Where have all the good guys and bad guys gone? Why does everyone out there look so gray?"

"The Sugarplum Fairy herself could have made no grander gesture."

"This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about. It is not really rest or even leisure we chase. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again."

"Though a plane is not the ideal place really to think, to reassess or reevaluate things, it is a great place to have the illusion of doing so, and often the illusion will suffice."

"Today it is the richest, most populous, looniest state, and a host of other superlatives, but above all it is first. Soothsayers once foretold the future by dropping molten gold into water. If we could drop the dogleg of California into water, we could forecast America. The sun moves from east to west, but as every long-suffering California reporter knows, everything else in the United States moves in the opposite direction. What happens today in California turns up tomorrow in the Midwest and only then arrives in the decaying and moribund cities of the East."

"Tourists moved over the piazza like drugged insects on a painted plate."

"Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell."

"Until quite recently dance in America was the ragged Cinderella of the arts."