A breed of aimless wanderers can be found in California, working as mason’s helpers, carpenters, parking cars. They somehow keep a certain dignity, they are surprisingly unashamed. It’s one thing to know their faces will become lined, their plain talk stupid, that they will be crushed in the end by those who stayed in school, bought land, practiced law. Still, they have an infuriating power, that of condemned men. They can talk to anybody, they can speak the truth.
From Richard Aleas’s Little Girl Lost (2004)
I thought about all the other bruises I’d gotten over the past half decade of working for Leo, that and the other threats, the fights I’d only narrowly talked my way out of, the dirt I’d dug up on people who’d wanted to keep it hidden. How had I ended up doing this for a living? Around the time Miranda had been making plans to become a doctor, what was it I thought I’d be doing? I couldn’t remember, but it wasn’t this. I did remember the day I met Leo and the day I joined him full-time because it was either that or go to work for an Internet company, and I still had some self-respect.
From William Hazlitt’s The Indian Jugglers (1821), collected in On the Pleasure of Hating
[Seeing the Indian juggler] makes me ashamed of myself. I ask what there is that I can do as well as this? Nothing. What have I been doing all my life? Have I been idle, or have I nothing to shew for all my labours and pains? Or have I passed my time in pouring words like water into empty sieves, rolling a stone up a hill and then down again, trying to prove an argument in the teeth of facts, and looking for causes in the dark, and not finding them? Is there no one thing in which I can challenge competition, that I can bring as an instance of exact perfection, in which others cannot find a flaw? The utmost I can pretend to do is write a description of what this fellow can do. I can write a book: so can many others who have not even learned to spell. What abortions are these Essays! What errors, what ill-pieced transitions, what crooked reasons, what lame conclusions! How little is made out, and that little how ill! Yet they are the best I can do. I endeavour to recollect all I have ever observed or thought upon a subject, and to express it as nearly as I can.
From James Jones's From Here to Eternity (1951)