Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

Phoniness

In My Writing on July 7, 2013 at 11:24 am

It’s what makes The Catcher in the Rye so good: a teenager can so clearly see the inauthenticity in everyone around him. I realized today, when looking up the spelling, that phoniness is also a big part of my novel. Who are you if you’re born in a place you should not have been born? What if someone else made the mistake – how do you fix it?

I’m a phony when I go to a bar and I dance and my arms don’t know what to do. I’m a phony when I stand in front of a classroom and talk about historical events (or current ones!) I’m a phony when I put exclamation marks in my text messages and when I wear a small bikini on the beach and when I drive with my arm hanging out the window.

Phoniness is everything that feels wrong but you find yourself doing because we’re monkeys and we mimic. A good formula to stop being a phony is to close your eyes and start dancing.

My dad loves a quote by Thoreau:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I like that. Your music could be so far away that you haven’t heard it yet, but somewhere out there it’s playing. Maybe you have to go back to where you came from or maybe you have to find the place where you are going, and it is there that the music will be playing.

walden-pond

(Photo of Walden Pond in the fall, taken from http://www.shutterfeet.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/walden-pond.jpg)

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I went looking for a pencil sharpener

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on February 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm

There’s a trend, now that the world is getting more complex, to want the world to be simpler. I want to live in a cabin without electricity. I want to read by candlelight. I want to write a novel. It’s a spoiled thing, really, but maybe it’s a nice thing too. My heart isn’t connected to the internet.

I spent fifteen minutes today looking for a pencil sharpener. It was probably five minutes, but felt like fifteen. There were five minutes before I got out of my seat spent deciding whether it was efficient go look for the pencil sharpener. There were five minutes after admonishing myself for going looking for a pencil sharpener I hadn’t found.

The thing is I really wanted to go looking for it. I wanted to look for something as simple as a pencil sharpener, something once so integral but which I hadn’t used for years. I use mechanical pencils. I write with my finger on the screen of an iPad.

I held up an exacto knife instead of a pencil sharpener at one point, wondering if I was that Romantic. I wasn’t. I just used another pencil.

1886_Gould_and_Cook_Gem_pencil_sharpener_back

(from officemuseum.com)

I received the wonderful gift of an iPad mini for my birthday. It is such an incredible device, yet I’ve found myself doing such silly things on it. Mostly I’ve played a Boggle game called Scramble with Friends. It’s just Boggle.

Do I deserve all this technology, all this painstaking advancement in human capacity, when I find myself wishing for something simpler? I keep reading books about people who have decided to live like hermits (Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and now We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich), and wishing I had that kind of courage. Really, I’m wishing that I had that kind of skill. I couldn’t build a house in the woods. It would become immediately evident, if in the woods, that I didn’t know how to do anything.

I’m reading about art education, and how educators can either decide to turn a blind eye to popular culture and technology or incorporate it in their teaching. The author seemed to think it was evident that a blind eye was not the way to go. But how much technology can we incorporate into our education, into our lives and our bodies until we become consumed by it? Maybe a blind eye would help us out sometimes. Maybe instead of doing an app where you build a cabin, you might gain something out of building your own. Something that is not efficiency. Something that is closer to the heart than efficiency.

I know I don’t want to give it all up, but sometimes I just need to make myself spend the day looking for pencil sharpeners, in order to remind myself that my body is manual and that I need to take the time to remember how things used to be, even though I grew up in a time when you threw out pencils and I’m only dreaming of a time when knives were used to sharpen the lead.

Why read about disasters

In Literary Events on December 17, 2012 at 10:10 am

I try not to, but I read about disasters. I listen to the radio and I read the newspapers. We have all heard what happened in Connecticut. Isn’t it enough to be aware that it happened? What could we learn from hearing any more about this horrible incident?

 

People love the news. Thoreau, in the 19th century, observed how people consumed the newspaper: “After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. ‘Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe’ “I’ve been trying to stay away from it for the past few days. It’s too hard to listen to.

Then last night I went and watched Titanic. As if enough bad isn’t already going on, I found a hundred-year-old tragedy.

 

 

Why do we watch these things? Why didn’t I shut my eyes as twenty half-filled lifeboats left 1,500 people to die in their lifejackets in the Atlantic Ocean? Why do we tune into the news when we know it’s always the horrors we’re going to find out about?

bp11

 

 

(from http://inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs

/bigpicture/titanic_040612/bp11.jpg)

 

Thoreau said, “If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

 

I know one reason I need to read of all the instances is because I forget. I forget I’m lucky and I forget I need to be careful of what can happen.

I also need to read them because I need to feel it. Something that I think is my human nature tells me that empathy is important.

We want to feel connected to each other, and it’s unfortunate that the only way we can is through the sharing of someone else’s tragedy. We outside get to see the world again through new eyes, eyes that know something they didn’t before. We outside get one step closer to something we know we won’t ever fully understand.

The experience of tragedy is a human emotion, because at one point in all of our lives, we are faced with our own tragic moment. Anything until that moment is practice: empathy for who we will soon need to be. So I feel for you because you are a human, like me, going through the awful things us humans have to go through. The tragic part of it all is that we’re causing most of them.

Changing a Morning Routine

In Inspiration on October 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Mornings are difficult because they are so hard to adjust to. You just got to leave the world for five to twelve hours and now you have to go back into it. That is incomparable to most other things. Most things in life aren’t thrown at you after long periods of unconsciousness. Mornings are.

I’ve never been able to change my morning routine. These are the things I would like to do in the morning:

1. Exercise.

2. Eat something healthier than cereal.

3. Write down my dreams

4. Have a coffee at home

5. Watch the news

Thinking about even one of these things in the first few minutes after waking up immediately takes them off the list. I never get any of these things done. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one of these things done without my now remembering that day as a glory moment. It’s easier not to exercise, it’s easier to eat cereal, it’s easier to forget my dreams, it’s easier to buy good coffee elsewhere and it’s easier to forget about the rest of the world. So every morning, the first thing I do is break a promise to myself.

I’ve given up trying, of course, to do any of these things, because I know the person who is going to wake up tomorrow morning and it’s not going to be the same person who lined up her running shoes the night before. The morning person hates that person. The other morning I tossed a coin to decide whether I was allowed to eat cereal. Shocker: I was.

Now, I do hear great things from other people. Someone told me they get up at 4 a.m. and stay in bed with a coffee marking papers before going for a run at 7 with their dogs. Okay, yes, that sounds wonderful in principle. Countless people in Vancouver exercise in the morning. I bet even in Paris people go to coffee shops in the morning. Lots of people go to work early so they can get off early. People even do the crossword in the morning! Why does this all sound so great right now, but so terrible, so incredibly terrible in the morning?

There has only been one time in my life that I had a plane ticket booked to Paris. I remember when my alarm clock rang. I didn’t even want to go anymore.

I think maybe we’re nocturnal? I don’t get it!

Because I’ve lately been quoting Thoreau, I’d like to share what he has to say about mornings:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”

I have never woken up and thought that! Do we all need to build our own cabins on the edges of lakes?

(photo from “Andy the Fly Guy”)

And then, All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

I will end here with that quote, because if all important things in life happen in the morning and in a morning atmosphere, then I am doomed to approach each supposed milestone in my life with the greatest distaste and lethargy. But maybe what Thoreau is saying is that this list I just made up of 5 things I wish I could do in the morning time are actually the most important things. I might be able to see how that makes sense.

Maybe if I were to take the time to change myself in the morning, to not keep waking up a bad person, maybe that’s the most important thing. Because if I could change myself in the morning, then I could change myself for at least the other sixteen hours I am awake, before I fall back unconscious and reset myself for the following horrible morning.

Good luck, me tomorrow morning!

Why Thoreau Got It Right

In Thoughts on Writing on October 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

taken from Walden, from the chapter called “Visitors”

“I have three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

“Many of our houses, both public and private, with their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitions of peace, appear to me extravagantly large for their inhabitants. They are so fast and magnificent that the latter seem to be only vermin which infest them.”

“One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get sailing trim and run a course before they make their port. … I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, – we could not speak low enough to be heard.”

Why isn’t everyone reading Walden?

In Book Club, Inspiration on September 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm

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.

(from mapsofdeserts.wordpress.com)

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?”

(from nevalee.wordpress.com)

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.

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