I used to keep a file of quotations. It grew to about 16 pages in Microsoft Word. Today I scribble them down in my bullet journal when they hit me especially hard, but I don’t go out of my way looking for them any longer.

I’m leaving aside the monologues I love – Richard III’s “Winter of our discontent,” Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” or Hamlet’s “Quintessence of dust.” While some of these could be considered quotes, they’re more performance pieces.

I’m also leaving out song lyrics. Even though there are some lovely sentiments in song, and some poems that masquerade as songs – looking at you, Lou Reed – I feel like the question is more literary and less lyrical.

Timing is also important. For example, while I delivered this Joyce Cary quote to my graduating senior class at Illinois Wesleyan University, I no longer believe it as fervently as I did in my maudlin youth:

“The truth is that life is hard and dangerous; that he who seeks his own happiness does not find it; that he who is weak must suffer; that he who demands love will be disappointed; that he who is greedy will not be fed; that he who seeks peace will find strife; that truth is only for the brave; that joy is only for him who does not fear to be alone; that life is only for the one who is not afraid to die.”

It still rings true to me, but it no longer seems a quote to live by.

Still, some quotes are timeless. At our core, we rarely change who we truly are, and our values are often reflected in the words which ring most true. When I pause to think, and sift through the dozens of quotes which have meant something to me, I continually come back to the one which has served as a rudder for me throughout the years:

“A moment of patience in a moment of anger can prevent a thousand moments of sorrow.”

This version of the quote is variously attributed, though the front runner seems to be one Imam Ali, about whom I know nothing. It’s a wonderful quote and a good reminder that when I wish to snap, I can play the clock forward to consider the consequences of my actions.

Of course, I recently came across another quote which seems to counterbalance the one above. Virginia Woolf tells us, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

This quote is part of the reason I took up the Ten-Minute Topic challenge. While I offer many of my strongest opinions – most of which are, sadly, political in nature – I have often been reluctant to offer smaller ones, or to share one on one with those who mean most to me and whom I fear may disagree.

By challenging myself to quickly write in response to these prompts, I am trying to see where my natural opinions and quirks arise, rather than working to polish them into a finely honed response. I’m already learning more about myself, not all of it good.

But by the same token, I am no longer avoiding life.