03/15/2013 03:00 pm ET Updated May 15, 2013

Showing My Collection

I gave a personalized copy of my book to a friend, a compilation of quotations entitled 2500 Years of Wisdom (Jan. 2013, Divine Arts), and he held it up and asked: "How does it feel to have it in print?" From his smile, I know he was prompting me to admit to the emotion of pride, and that was, no doubt, part of the experience, but the first thing that came out was, "It's strange."

Maybe it's the same feeling super rich people have who collect art and then give it to a museum where it's shown in a special room. They chose the paintings because they connected with them personally and over the years; each object created intimate associations and now people, anonymous people, were going to be walking by and surveying the works and they would judge. Okay, I'm not fabulously wealthy and my situation isn't really the same because the masterpieces I collected were, in most cases, widely available. But, nonetheless, I've had a private relationship with each piece and the feeling I have that these items that I deeply love will now be exposed to new eyes and hearts, offered up for different reactions and different interpretations, is an odd one.

I've always been collecting quotations. I can't tell you when it started or what was the first book of actual quotes I encountered. It's likely it was a Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, but I can't be sure. I know it was before the common use of the yellow highlighter, and I never switched over to its use, always underlining my selections with a pencil and putting a small star in the margin. These then I would type out onto pages that I kept in a binder. I was in my early 20s when I started arranging them. I don't mean just setting them in the usual categories you might find, by author or general topics -- I started organizing the writings in such a way that they could read as if issuing from a single train of thought.

I blended the quotations so that a quote by a given author was extended by a different author, putting the point another way or expanding on what was said, developing and evolving the sentiments. This created a kind of river of branching concepts, difficult to pigeonhole using the conventional labels of standard compilations. When I encountered in my readings a new phrasing and perspective of genius that would charm me (no, stab is more accurate, or brace) this quotation would go in the binder. Later, if a proper spot could be discovered in the flow it would be then be set into what I came to call "a symphony of thought." Each quotation, however, had to be selected first on its own merits, not because it would fit nicely with the others, and only if it achieved the magnitude to rock me sufficiently on its own, would I seek a place for it. If no dynamic place for the quotation could be found ... well, I still have plenty of beautiful orphans I can show you.

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