Patched clothes and a sound conscience (Walden 20)

“No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.”

Some things never change. And of course the fashion industry has learned to use this against us, changing styles so quickly that clothes often fall out of fashion before they wear out. (This is one of the things I enjoy about being a middle-aged man, and an editor by trade. I’m pretty much expected to be somewhat rumpled and unfashionable.)

Of course it’s not just clothes. It’s the whole package: house, car, career, all the trappings of status by which we size each other up. It saves time. Otherwise you have to get to know a person before categorizing them, and that’s hard to do. Our brains are wired to love such shortcuts. It seems we’re born to stereotype, born to judge by appearances. We can learn to do otherwise, but it takes effort. And don’t we like to have the mask of appearances to hide behind?

More Thoreauvian fashion tips next time.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Count the turtles

Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Nebraska, April 20, 2014

Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Nebraska, April 20, 2014

Spring is here, at least where I live. I drifted in my kayak closer and closer to these turtles but they didn’t move, even when I was practically on top of them.

Do yourself a favor and get outdoors. There’s so much going on this time of year, but you have to get out there and look for it. It’s amazing how much fun you can have at a city park with an inflatable kayak and a point-and-shoot camera.

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Thoreau’s “business” (Walden 19)

Not Walden Pond, but Holmes Creek, Nebraska, just above Conestoga Lake, early morning, July 2010.

Not Walden Pond, but Holmes Creek, Nebraska, just above Conestoga Lake, early morning, July 2010.

So far, Thoreau has had plenty to say about the high value his neighbors place on things that he doesn’t think are all that important. He’s spoken repeatedly of seeking something higher, more noble. What esoteric wisdom is he seeking, anyway? Or, as a Concord resident might have asked, what’s his line of business? Continue reading

Toeing the line between past and future (Walden 18)

More about yesterday’s entry, specifically the phrase “to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future.”

You hear a lot of talk about ‘living in the moment,’ but what I appreciate about Thoreau’s words is that he is not only in the moment, but he is there with an awareness of the place of that moment within the span of time, to the extent that he can comprehend it. Eternity future and eternity past, and here you stand, toeing that paper-thin margin where there former becomes the latter.

Again, it’s sometimes said that all you really have is the present moment. True enough. You can ruminate on the troubles of the past, or worry about the future, and that’s where focus on the present moment can help. Continue reading

The meeting of two eternities (Walden 17)

In any weather,

at any hour of the day or night,

I have been anxious to improve

the nick of time,

and notch it on my stick too;

to stand on the meeting of

two eternities,

the past and future,

which is precisely the present


to toe that line.

— Henry David Thoreau, from “Economy,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Adventure on life now (Walden 16)


Big bluestem, Nine Mile Prairie, Lincoln, Nebraska

“When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above?” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden Continue reading

Oh no! Someone’s wrong on the Internet!

Wise words from David Cain at Raptitude, in a post titled, “Why most internet activists don’t change any minds”. I’ll have more to say about it below. Cain writes:

On Facebook I quietly unsubscribe from friends who regularly make angry issue-related posts, even if they’re right. I don’t want to be pummeled by “truth,” no matter how true it is.

I understand why they do it. I’ve done it. Ignorance — of overfishing, of puppy mills, of normalized sexism, of what vaccines can and can’t do — can be genuinely dangerous, and wanting to reduce this ignorance is understandable.

Some are able to do it carefully and diplomatically, and I have learned a lot from these people.

But most internet activists let contempt seep into the message. It becomes about making others wrong instead of trying to help them be right. Just visit virtually any issue-related message board. It’s adversarial. It’s normal to blame people for their ignorance.

Ignorance, if that’s what it really is, isn’t something people can fairly be blamed for. We don’t choose what not to grasp, what not to have been taught, what not to have understood the significance of.

Ignorance is blind to itself. When you’re trying to rectify ignorance in someone else, it’s easy to forget that you’re ignorant too, in ways you can’t know. Read full post at Raptitude.

Continue reading