Editor’s Notebook: Our Homepage Quotes
Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake. —Jean Rhys
Originally, we expected to use this Jean Rhys quote from our inaugural issue (September 2020) as a permanently published inspirational “header” for each issue of Waterwheel Review. But somewhere along the way, one of us suggested we choose a new quote for every issue, and I’m pretty sure we agreed with no need for discussion.
We take turns selecting the quote, and I’m very happy to report that because I accidentally took the first turn by choosing the Rhys quote—I think I included it when I pitched (via email) the idea of this magazine to Cheryl and Suzanne, and it stayed with us as a guiding star as we developed our plans—I will always be blissfully free of the task in our final two months of the (nine-month) season. Because I DO see it as a task, rather than as a joyful opportunity, I always get a little anxious about it. I want to get it right.
What does it mean to get it right? I want the quote I select to speak to the three pieces we’re publishing that month and what we’re hearing in the news and what each of the three of us is experiencing in our lives and say something important and timeless about art and writing. About which—all of which—I always think too much. Until I get tired of thinking about it all and decide instead to think about how I feel about all of these things and reach for a line that sums up that feeling. Maybe. I’m really not sure. I just know I eventually land on something, and I’m always very thankful when Cheryl and Suzanne give me the thumbs up.
I decided not to ask my co-editors, for this post, what their quote-seeking missions are like, and whether they experience anxiety. I’d rather preserve the mystery. In each not-my-turn month, I find myself wondering, as the weeks go by, what sort of tone my co-editor’s chosen quote will have, what element of writing or art-making might be addressed. Will I feel a rush of recognition and hold it close? Or will I take a long look, sigh into it, wonder about it. Sometimes the quote speaks directly to where I am as a writer the day I see it, which feels like a small miracle.
I hope—but I don’t want to know!—that Cheryl and Suzanne don’t worry quite so much about whether they’re getting their quote… right. Anyway they always do.
Much more fun: I asked each of my co-editors to tell us which of our eighteen chosen quotes is her all-time favorite.
Cheryl’s favorite comes from Issue #3 (November 2020):
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. —J.R.R. Tolkein
I love the colloquial diction and the soft and rhythmic syntax. How it begins with the lofty, “All we have to decide,” as if decisions were easy, as if deciding what to do with one’s time, which measures into one’s life, is simple. As if everyone has such luxury. The statement ends with the more quotidian, “the time that is given us”—a call to remain present, intentional, like a prayer or meditation. This blend of high-minded with the everyday reminds me that making a life is a matter of ongoing complexity, while on the surface, life often seems like only a matter of which television show to binge-watch.
Suzanne chose four favorites, including the Jean Rhys quote—“This speaks to me as publisher of Waterwheel Review (I will listen, Jean Rhys)”—and the following three:
Above all, don’t forget. Commit everything—each blade of grass, each teary-eyed child, each unmarked grave—to memory. Then when you survive and are older, tell your story. —Andrew Lam (From Issue #5, January 2021)
As a writer without childhood memory, I commit everything—each moment when something feels off, each delightfully funny experience with my children, each surprising image that pops into my mind—to paper. Any and all of it is story.
The line of words fingers your own heart. It invades arteries, and enters the heart on a flood of breath; it presses the moving rims of thick valves; it palpates the dark muscle strong as horses, feeling for something, it knows not what. —Annie Dillard (From Issue #8, April 2021)
This is why I love to read, for WWR and in general. My heart engages.
Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. —Frances Hodgson Burnett (From Issue #17, April 2022)
Burnett’s line from The Little Prince comes closest to my idea of the spiritual.
And my favorite? One that gets it right, of course! Even more right than our inaugural Rhys quote that I will always hold dear. Always right. And it’s from one of my all-time favorite writers, who wrote one of my all-time favorite short stories, “A Hunger Artist.”
I give you the quote Suzanne selected for Issue #2 (October 2020):
Writing is a form of prayer. —Franz Kafka
My blog post, my decree: We will never do better than that.
To my dear Cheryl and Suzanne, and to our dear (54!) authors, I’m sending all the gratitude and love your way as we close out our second glorious season of Waterwheel Review. May we all keep feeding the lake.