Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tiny houses (Walden 24)

Via Wikimedia Commons
Via Wikimedia Commons

Have you heard of the small house movement? These are people who are essential asking the same question as Thoreau: How much stuff do you really need? I find their tiny abodes fascinating (even though I’m not going to move into one myself).

If nothing else, looking at a picture like the one at left will probably make your own home seem palatial in scale. Most of these are full of modern conveniences that Henry would find unnecessary, but I think the spirit is essentially the same: Simplify. Continue reading

An improved way of reckoning cost (Walden 23)

“[T]he cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “Economy,” Walden

What would our society look like if this became our primary measure of value?

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Henry Thoreau: Fashion Consultant (Walden 22)

Just one more on fashion and then we’ll move on. Take it away, Henry:

“We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.”

According to the Thoreau Society’s annotated edition of Walden, the Graces in Greek mythology are the three sister goddesses of charm and beauty, while the Parcae is the Roman name for the Fates. Continue reading

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes (Walden 21)

A dapper Thoreau sports a neck-beard in this June 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham. Wikimedia Commons

A dapper Thoreau sports a neck-beard in this June 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham. Wikimedia Commons

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?” — Henry David Thoreau, from “Economy,” Walden

I have a image in my mind right now of Henry in his old, 1840s clothes, giving a leadership seminar in the corporate world, and putting the above quote up on a PowerPoint slide.

I know. It would never happen, but I’d love to see it. Shopping for a new suit, a new dress? Have our fashion consultant Henry Thoreau advise you: Continue reading

My life in typefaces

Are you geek enough to watch a TED about typefaces? I am. (Granted, I’m an editor privileged to work with talented graphic designers.) Type designer Matthew Carter (you’ve seen his work) talks about design and the constraints of technology. His words are helpful, I think, whatever your creative endeavor.

“Does a constraint force a compromise?” he asks. “By accepting a constraint are you working to a lower standard?” During Carter’s career, constraints have been imposed by the limitations of printing, screen display, and information technology. But every form of creativity faces constraints of one kind or another. The question is, how do you respond? And can overcoming a particular technical challenge lead to aesthetic discoveries?

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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