I don’t think that Dorothy Parker did inspirational quotes, but if she did, they probably would have been the best inspirational quotes in the world.
Actually, I’m pretty sure she didn’t do them. I don’t think she paused mid-quip at the Algonquin, cigarette and bon mot held languidly in check, to gaze into the middle distance and murmur something sweetly significant about the importance of believing in oneself.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that I’m not a fan of inspirational quotes. There are plenty of times when a well-phrased kick up the arse serves to remind me of my good fortune – sometimes even when I come across it on Facebook (the phrase, not the arse, that is). What I am not so keen on is the daily stream of exhortations, carefully scripted in a beautiful font against the uplifting backdrop of a mountain or a sunset or a kitten nestled into the side of an alligator. I’m not so keen on the fact that they tend to come from the same people. I’m not keen at all on the idea that those people quite clearly see themselves as some kind of work in progress.
Here’s the thing. I am a fully grown woman. I am an adult, not some pupa or cocoon biding my time till I turn into a beautiful butterfly. Just as there is no “thin girl” inside me waiting to burst out, so my curmudgeonly contented self does not harbour a shiny-souled being desperate to reach the surface to beam on all she beholds. I am the sum total of almost forty years of life; I have a personality shaped by the people I’ve known (and been), the thoughts I’ve had, the experiences I’ve lived through. I am as likely to wake up one morning with an unquenchable zest to conquer the world as I am to suddenly become a petite brunette.
Perhaps it’s just a sign of age. Perhaps it’s natural to reach a point where malleability of character seems as fantastical a concept as happily ever after. Perhaps all these quotes fulfil a deep urge which in earlier ages would have been met with the hope of eternal redemption, a life after death for those who’ve picked up enough bonus points on their journey through this one – or, after all, perhaps there’s an argument that it’s better to work on reshaping ones inner, rather than outer, self.
Whether a spiritual or literal diet, though, it just seems a recipe for endless, unsettling dissatisfaction. I never liked weighing out portions of pasta and measuring cubes of cheese. I don’t want to get into calibrating my contentment, charting my progress along the path of becoming a Better Person. I couldn’t change my metabolic rate with a positive mental attitude and I’m not at all sure that I can make a significant difference in who I really am with it either.
So do I think we should just trudge along, eyes in the gutter, ignoring the stars above? Of course not. There are plenty of things about myself I don’t like, lots of habits I know I need to curb, tendencies I try to resist. Self improvement? Bring it on. Self-reinvention? Not so much. I quite like the idea of acknowledging where I stand; of owning who I am; of growing old(er) as me, not fretting till the last minutes of my life about what unrealised version of myself lay dormant inside. I’m not Marie of Romania. That’s her job.
As Dorothy Parker never said: extemporanea happens. The best we can do is to try to and sing along with the song.
And if that’s not worthy of an inspirational font and a sunset, I don’t know what is.