I am on page 77 of Walden and I have so far read Henry David Thoreau’s take on mortgages, fashion, DIY, travel and school. Thoreau published his masterpiece in 1854, but it feels so relevant – too relevant to be so good, so insightful. I don’t know why we aren’t all reading Walden right now.
Walden is the account of a social experiment. Thoreau built a cabin and lived on the edge of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts for two years in search of meaning in his life. Isn’t that what we are all reading right now? Memoirs of people looking for the meaning of life?
Thoreau is a philosopher of sorts – a trancendentalist. We read his quotes everywhere – on bookmarks and graduation gifts. His school of thought says that man is inherently good and needs to find ways to be independent and self-reliant or else he will be corrupted by organized religion and politics. Isn’t that a lot of what we’re reading right now? Books arguing for the power of the individual?
Thoreau on mortgages: “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”
Thoreau on fashion: “My tailoress tells me gravely, ‘They do not make them so, now,” not emphasizing the ‘They’ at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates.”
Thoreau on DIY: “Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? … Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.”
Thoreau on travel: “This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. ‘What!’ exclaim a million Irishmen.”
Thoreau on school: ” ‘But,’ says one, ‘you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?’ I do not mean that exactly, but I mean something which he might think a good deal like that; I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”
I can’t get over how much I want to be reading this 160 year old book right now. It’s exciting to feel that sometimes we can find the answers to the most pressing issues in the oldest, wisest places. I’ve maybe learned something about why people read the Bible: the answers were here, all along.
It might be that Walden caught me at the right moment in my life, and this moment in my life has coincided with the right moment in time.
Me, on mortgages: I am contemplating, in the Vancouver housing market, the possibility that if things go on this way I may never be able to buy my own home. And if by chance I am able to successfully buy my own home, still never own it.
Me, on fashion: As a young woman bombarded by media, I’ve developed a bad habit for spending money on frivolous items, such as the latest clothing and other ephemeral trends.
Me, on DIY: I’m attempting to eat and buy local in order to offset the negative impacts of globalization.
Me, on travel: I am at the point in my life where I’m supposed to travel, but also at the point in my life where I’m supposed to settle down.
Me, on school: I left school last year and am going back this year, all in search of what?
I don’t know why everyone isn’t talking about Walden right now. Then again, this headline was in The New York Times this morning. Maybe everyone is, and I just haven’t been listening.