Reading Walden

I started reading Walden a couple of days ago. Period.

I’ve just been reading a little at a time. It’s crazy how many books I’ve read but if you ask me about some of them I sort of remember what they said and try to use that to show that I know about them or have read them, but you can see I don’t really know about them, like in the Socratic way someone would know something.

Socrates, I read in Proust and the Squid, was not in favor of writing because among other things he said reading things would give people the illusion of knowledge. Now we have it to the extreme, with iPhones we are all cyborgs. I don’t have one yet, but I wouldn’t turn down a free one. But with an iPhone, or a smartphone actually, any smartphone, is what I mean, with one of those things you have the knowledge of humanity in easy reach, almost as easy and in some cases easier than retrieving knowledge from your own brain. But we don’t really know a whole lot. Or at least I don’t. And I don’t even have a smartphone so I’m really fucked.

Anyway, I think I have mentioned that part of Proust and the Squid before, because that’s pretty much the only thing I remember from reading that whole book. It’s amazing the amount of things I have learned from books and then quickly forgot, or maybe not even quickly, even slowly forgot, until I pick that book up again and read the whole thing and remember and think damn if I had only remembered that instead of forgetting it.

So I’m trying to read slowly and really internalize what I’m reading.

I was thinking for this post I should look up the context that this journal was written in and really have an understanding about this shit, but then I said fuck it. There does happen to be some interesting context written on the jacket. It seems that Thoreau died in obscurity and his journals were discovered later as works of importance. That’s what the cover seems to imply.

It says to wit that he was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, the son of a pencil manufacturer. He graduated from Harvard and started teaching, but then gave it up because “of the stern methods he was expected to undertake.” I don’t really understand what that means but I guess he just thought the shit was too rigid or something. Apparently he tried his hand at various jobs, started writing journals, and was close friends or at least in “a close relationship” with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was older than him and had property at Walden Pond. When Thoreau was 28 he built a cabin on that property and published Walden nine years later, and it was “received poorly.” Then he died at forty-five years old in “relative obscurity.”

In the front description of the book it says Thoreau rejected the tenants of the industrial revolution and he searched for something more meaningful than materialism. This of course is very interesting for us today who are so affected by the industrial revolution that we do not even know in what ways we are or are not or how we would be different if it had never happened, and so on until there was no internet.

What did I know about this book before I read it? Well, a lot more than I do about most books I guess, which is nothing. I knew that it said somewhere that he went into the woods in order to live life deliberately, and by that I guess he meant he went in there to do everything the way he wanted to do it, to have a reason for doing everything instead of waking up and shaving because that’s what your dad did.

What else? I think he says “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day,” but that might be Emerson. Anyway I see it on the side of a bank sometimes. Also I know that people who are libertarians like the book, and park rangers and people who like to do things themselves and independent people and a lot of patriotic people sometimes say something about it, and I know that Thoreau is considered somewhat of a philosopher, at least enough that my parents would mistrust anything he had to say since it would obviously be outside of God’s divine plan.

I know Walden was a pond, or didn’t I know that before I read the jacket? I don’t know. I know something about, well I heard this thing at one point in my life I don’t know when but I’ve always thought about it and never done it, something about he avoided making a path to his door either purposefully or with his feet over time, because he thought that one should always be trying new roads and paths in order to experience life more broadly. That’s the general memory I have of someone saying something like that to me once that, if I don’t examine it, becomes sort of like a belief that I have about the book and about life in general, some background thought that affects my life in some unconscious, subtle way once in a while.

Well, I think that’s all I thought I knew about the book before I started reading. My general list of assumptions about the book.

I’m up to page thirty or something like that, where he’s talking about how cheaply he built his house in the woods and how expensive it is for the students of Cambridge College to be housed in less luxurious rooms and how they don’t even have the advantage of having built the place they are living in, and so cannot fully appreciate it. He’s talking about how people don’t learn anything. He says instead of a student taking a bunch of metalurgy classes, he should just go make his own knife by digging ore out of the ground and smelting it and so on. But instead his father buys him a knife and sends him to school and pays dearly for both with money and therefore with time spent earning the money and therefore with pieces of his life, all of which the student has no connection with and therefore benefits little.

Thoreau’s writing in this book is highly quotable, and it’s hard to feel like you’re getting everything he says because almost every sentence is memorable.

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.

I mean that right there is a great line. But the problem with that line is that it starts a thought that continues for four more lines, which are all bad ass, so it’s hard to remember how effective it is as a punchy one liner. Observe:

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would sent to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.

Alright and that’s on page one so…shit. At this point I’m thinking, this mother fucker is like thirty years old right now, writing like that. Talking about what he, on his side, requires of every writer. He thinks enough of himself to require some shit from another writer. I don’t know that shit is blowing my mind right now. It’s like I was thinking about Don Draper on Mad Men the other day, because I was catching up on the episodes, and I was thinking, that dude commands respect, he just is…well he’s just old. Like he’s not growing up. The thing too with that character is that he’s not grown up, he hasn’t figured life out at all, but then I guess you never do, but he just somehow acts like he has and why the fuck haven’t you? Stay out of my office with your childish crap. Hm but that’s just probably some weird connection that makes no sense, I’ll work on it.

Anyway he’s already talking about living sincerely, so that makes me think of Linus in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the great pumpkin, talking about how sincere is the pumpkin patch. And mother fuckers just aren’t sincere any more. Everyone is ironic and sarcastic and evasive. I sure as hell am. But anyway, I’ll continue.

The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra’s head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.

Alright now we’re only page two and this mother fucker is dropping it like it’s hot. He’s talking about the normal existence of old time industrial revolution slaves going to work every day and hating themselves, not accomplishing shit. And how well he writes, and for no one but himself, really. This is some journal type shit. I guess he was writing for the townspeople of New England. I don’t know. But I didn’t even know Iolaus had a name. See so we’re already learning some Greek shit up in here. I mean I guess most people know about the hydra, or learned about it sometime. The hydra had a million heads or something and Hercules was hacking away at them…shit you know what I just realized I only really know this story because I saw the cartoon movie Hercules. Ha! Shit. Fuck I should have paid attention in high school. Anyway, the more he chops this son of a bitch up the more heads come up and you’re like damn Herk that shit obviously ain’t going to work! So apparently this Iolaus mother fucker rolls up with a blow torch or a hot iron as it were and seals the heads as Hercules chopped them. But these poor townspeople got to go to work every day and move in the same way and all that like in a Charlie Chaplin movie.

Alright fuck, every line is gold so I’ll just randomly skip some of them.

How can he [humans] remember well his ignorance—which his growth requires—who has so often to use his knowledge?

So basically if you don’t have time for leisure because you’re always working on something then you’ll never realize that there are a lot of things which you have never thought of and only by thinking of those things can you grow…or at least you have to realize that you don’t know a lot before you know what you know…or something like that. Ah fuck it why am I trying to explain it, just read it again.

I definitely feel this next line. I used to tell my brothers about debt and how they should avoid it. I was like, well every time I spend a dollar on a coffee or something stupid, I’m stealing that dollar from my creditors, because I owe them more every month than I make. Thoreau says:

Some of you…are poor…I have no doubt that some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners which you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour. It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live…

Ha, and to continue with his description of the state of the world as he sees it in the common New Englander:

Talk of a divinity in man! Look at the teamster on the highway, wending to market by day or night; does any divinity stir within him? His highest duty to fodder and water his horses! What is his destiny to him compared with the shipping interests?

And then it gets really interesting as he starts to talk about people’s opinions of themselves. And here’s where I really relate to the text.

See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all the day he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.

That’s a great one-liner in there, too, covered up by the genius of the whole description: Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. If I could just think of myself as being a good person, a nice person, a worthwhile person, which is how I act like I think of myself, well then life would just be better. Somehow I always thought you could just fake it till you make it. I’ve been told that a million times. Not happy? Smile, if you act happy, you’ll become happy.

Here there is also another connection to Don Draper (sorry, I’m obsessed with him. There was some article or TV clip my friend was telling me about last year that said, “I wish everyone would stop talking about their imaginary friend Don Draper.”). Draper is a big shot and no one would argue with that, but on the inside he’s still Dick Whitman and he hates himself for it. So in public he’s got it all, but he’s very unhappy because of his own private opinion of himself.

Then there’s another incredible line, which I can’t even comprehend at all but I know means something awesome:

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

As what’s her name would say in that one movie, “As if!” Well shit I just talked about that the other day, how if you had eternity you could kill a trillion years and still have the same amount of time left, which is just the opposite of this seriously legit one liner. Like I said, don’t really understand why not, I’ll keep thinking about it.

This is obviously too long now so I’ll leave it at that. And I’m up to page five. I’ll leave you with this:

It is never too late to give up our prejudices.

Brief Recap

Holy Christ it’s snowing again. I’ve never seen so much snow. I mean compared to Canada and Minnesota it’s nothing but I think it’s come down and then cleared away and then come down again like four times. I’m used to one big snow a year if that. This shit is crazy. Walking through the snow is a real work out too. I went all the way from GF’s bus stop to the Faneuil Square Library to get a pass for GF so I think I should get some kind of medal.

And now I’m going to work where no one will be because of all the god damned snow. I swear come spring time I better be making some real money! Of course I can’t really complain about the money I make, there’s a lot of it, there are just more debts than money.

It’s funny how just a couple years ago I would have been delighted at the thought of making what I do now on slow days, but now I’m like WTF.

I just finished reading Proust and the Squid and the beginning was way better than the middle and the end. It got really technical and stuff and I guess I was just looking for something more philosophical. Now I’m going to start reading Anxious Decades, a book I stole from the University of Delaware and then had to pay like 80 dollars for. It’s about United States history in the 1900s or 1920s or something.

I’ve been watching this movie on Netflix called Caravaggio about Caravaggio. I don’t really understand it but it seems crazy. I just watch it like twenty minutes at a time.

My family has my Netflix account password and they watch so much TV that by the time I go to look on the Recently Watched page for Caravaggio, even though I just watched it the day before, I already can’t find that shit.

Anyway I don’t understand how in the movie there is a typewriter and what looks like a calculator. I’m obviously missing something, how long has that shit been around? Certainly there were no small calculators until the 1970s or something. And I think the movie takes place in like 1650. Whatever, probably some symbolism I’m supposed to understand or figure out.

Off to work now, back in the button up.

Nothing That I Can Think Of

It took a long time to catch up on all you’ve been writing. You guys write a lot. But it was fun. Shit I didn’t think it would take five hours. At least I was doing my laundry at the same time. GF will be out of school soon and it’s back to the god forsaken grocery stores. And Target. To get paper towels and toilet paper. And a bike tire. Fuck it. I was going to try to shop local, but I’m too lazy. And so the world will end in fire.

My bike’s been busted for a week but I am too lazy to go to the bike store and get another tire. Besides I am afraid of those guys. They will probably laugh at me.

My lip hurts. Last night I had a dream that my best friend who I don’t talk to any more who’s in Afghanistan was here and we were in some kind of apartment complex with many floors. We were trying to figure out a puzzle, like a fucked up crossword, and if we didn’t figure it out it was sure death for everyone. And there was another annoying guy with us, fucking the whole thing up. He said he was trying to solve it, too, but we knew he couldn’t, but he wouldn’t get out of the way. We went downstairs and there were some rich white guys in a truck and they flashed a gun at us when someone said something disparaging. I knew it was going to happen. I ran for cover and heard the shot and knew there was a gun in my car, which was next to where I was hiding. Then that annoying guy popped out with my gun, it was a little revolver. He shot at the guys and then things got tense. I knew those rich white dudes were just shooting to scare us, but now someone was going to die. I cursed the bastard and suddenly there was a rifle in my hands and two girls in my car. And I didn’t know if my best friend was dead yet, so I ran up to the white guys’ car and shot wildly. Then there was no one in the car and a tall black man in a military uniform was pulling a sidearm and I knew he was going to kill me. So I shot him in the shoulder. I didn’t know how to cock the gun, but I figured it out as he slowly gathered himself to raise his gun again. And then I shot him in the heart. He looked annoyed and like he was going to die, but he gathered his strength as I cocked the gun again and I aimed for his hand, and I shot that.

Then GF woke me up by asking me if I was tired.

Switching between worlds like that is so jarring. I try to tell her that it is, but she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t have dreams, or anyway she can’t remember if she does. She never understands why I wake up feeling weird or scared.

Dreams are fucking weird. Especially because to me they are so real.

And I don’t know if they end and it just seems like I wake up right away, always breaking them up weirdly, or I’m always waking up mid-dream, which is why I feel so what’s the word ah shit I can’t think of it but you know what I mean. Disoriented.

But anyway. Shit. What’s going on around here? Today GF forgot her chef coat, and we were halfway down the street to the train when she remembered, so I ran back while she kept walking, and then caught back up with her. That was too much running in the clothes I was wearing. It’s pretty windy out there. All the snow’s gone but the scraping woman was out again. Her companion has not been around.

I’m almost to the end of Great Expectations and I’ve pretty much forgotten or perhaps never read all that happens after this point. I think I read it all but it was probably on an all nighter in high school.

I’m reading Proust and the Squid and it’s really interesting. It’s just about reading. And it makes me want to read Proust. But I feel like I should learn French if I’m going to do that.

Watching Midnight in Paris has really made me want to read more Hemingway. And reading Proust and the Squid, since it’s so dense I end up skipping through the middles of some sentences, not on purpose but just because I want to finish, even though I go back and try to reread and get every word, well anyway it made me think of Elmer Leonard’s quote, “I leave out the parts that people skip.” As much as I like wordplay, I think I’m more of a story guy. Just clean writing thanks. But then again I’ll change my mind tomorrow.

Anyway, trying to be more “manly” and have an effect on my environment. Trying to believe I can change things or that life matters. Trying to grow up. Just like always.

When I walk around the city and people walk into me like I am a ghost, it happens all the time, it usually gets on my nerves more than most things. Like Christ people don’t you know how to walk? If there are four of you coming towards me, one of you needs to move to the back so I can get through! Jesus fuck and those god damn strollers! Fucking hell! It’s a baby not a license to plow humanity under like a cornfield. Jesus mother fucking Christ I swear I’m going to get a stroller and put an old time iron ass cow catcher on the front of that shit and mow motherfuckers down!

Alright so yeah that shit really gets on my nerves because I just think people should respect each other. But I’ve started thinking that I’m at war with everyone. Like there are two sides to this war, considerate people and inconsiderate people. I’ll always be considerate, because that’s what side I’m on, but if those bastards on the other side want to be inconsiderate, well I shouldn’t expect any different. That’s what makes it maddening, is that you go out in the world just expecting other people to be considerate. If you expect them all to be inconsiderate because they’re at war with you, well you’re not surprised. And surprisingly there are some other people on my side of the war, and we smile as we pass each other, leaving each enough room to comfortably walk.

I’ve also thought this way about customers and older people. Like I heard this one guy talking at a party I was working, he was talking to this young architect about how he doesn’t understand why young people don’t want to work. He was commending this young man for having a real job instead of just opting out of life and so on. He said it drives him crazy that young people don’t want to work. Well little did that fuckface know but the guy serving him bruschetta on a stick was an out of work architect. Guess what mother fucker people want to be architects but they can’t because no one’s building shit right now!

But of course that guy is probably totally a good person with a wife and kids and struggles and such. He probably would be fun to have dinner with. Maybe. Probably. And on top of that, the server I’m talking about who’s also an architect, well he’s basically a pretentious asshole and I hate him. Not really. He has a good heart and he’s interesting and fun to hang out with. But he’s also pretentious and an asshole and I can see why some people hate him. Or would hate him if they didn’t know him.

The incident made me think of this really awesome blog post on Rarasaur, which was also probably the first inspiration for me to start thinking this way.

But when I think that we’re at war, it helps me to manage my expectations and be more like myself instead of getting really angry on the inside. It’s really not a generational thing, it’s just that this guy and the generations and generations of humanity before us have helped hold up an idea of what society should be that in the end might not be sustainable, and is certainly irrational, and the only logical response to an irrational world is non-participation. Or at least it’s one logical response.

So I think to myself, that’s ok, he’s on the asshole team. Of course he hates me, we’re at war, and I’m on the not-an-asshole team. But just like the Germans and the French that one time on the battlefield, if some shit happened where we could temporarily forget our uniforms, we could sit down and enjoy a beer together.

But yeah, non-participation. I was thinking maybe fuck it, if this is the way the world is, I might as well act like it matters. Even if it really doesn’t, I guess it’s a little like what I was telling Matt on his blog, about induction and probability and shit. The probability of anything happening, really, philosophically, is 50/50. Or at least that’s what David Hume postulated. And it makes sense if you think about it. Like the coin toss and what not, if you flip it 100 times, 50 times or so it will be heads, that’s true. But say you flipped it ten times and all those times it was tails. Well, now you’ve got to believe that this time it will be heads. I would guess the probability of it being heads at that point would be about 91 percent or some shit. But think about the coin. It doesn’t know it’s been flipped ten times and the universe could give a shit less about you flipping a coin so it’s not keeping track. There is nothing keeping track of your flips so there’s nothing that really makes this particular coin toss 91 percent likely to be heads. Nope every time you flip the coin it’s a 50/50 chance of being heads or tails. That is unless you take into account that it also has as much chance (and this is taking a philosophical bullshit leap) to burst into flames or become sentient or ask you “do you want some more?” like that machine in The Fifth Element. Anything could happen, but we don’t really believe that because we believe the past is a predictor of the future, which according to Hume is the logical fallacy upon which science is built.

But anyway, shit what was I saying?

Oh right, non participation. So Hume was a fucking crazy ass for thinking of this shit and articulating it and what all but in the end even he had to agree that a person can’t live without basing his idea of the future on his idea of the past. I mean you can’t live a fulfilling life if you walk around continually conscious of the fact that the sun is just as likely to rape you in the ass as it is to rise tomorrow morning. So the point is to just be aware of it as a logical construct and then just go with it, if it works. Which is somewhat the same as functionality…or shit what is the real word for it? I don’t know but it’s what Newton and those fuckers thought about when they made their theories. Maybe the basis isn’t true, but the end result is true. Maybe calculus depends on something irrational and non-existent, but it accomplishes the desired end so that’s fine.

So probability is bullshit but in a coin toss I’d bet twenty dollars that the coin that’s been tails 10 times will be heads on the eleventh. And if I think this way about that, well shit, I might as well deal with the world as it is. Like some kind of rationality is possible. Like change does matter, however futile it is in the long run.

Ah but it’s so hard, since the world is so farcical. And life is a joke and death is the punch line. Working within the system to change the system. Shit I don’t know. The system is fucked with a capital K but then again, maybe that’s a bunch of horseshit. Maybe there is no system. Maybe the internet is a construct. Maybe they’re after all of us.

But really, you can’t save the world by changing your light bulbs and not going to target.

Mother Theresa said we can’t do great things, only small things with great love.

Be the change you want to see in the world and all that.

But even that was a simpler time.

Or just as fucked up, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe everything that happens has to happen.

Alright well I’ve stopped making sense about a thousand words ago. But what I’m trying to say is that I think I’m going to try to act like the world is a rational place. I’m going to try to make a small difference in it. I’m going to stop thinking that everything is futile and meaningless and just pretend like it isn’t. Just for the hell of it. What have I got to lose?