Have you ever wished for a simpler lifestyle? A slower pace?
We downsized a year ago. I’d hoped a smaller home—less to care for—would give me more time to write. But that hasn’t happened. Yet. Our new home was in great shape, but still—that one small word—there were things that needed doing.
So as I sit at my desk a year later and relive what has taken me so long to get here, and question what could I do differently, I remember my high school infatuation with Thoreau. ( I wonder if they even study Thoreau in public schools anymore.)
Our life is frittered away by detail.
Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary, eat but one,
Instead of a hundred dishes, five;
And reduce other things in proportion.—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Thoreau’s unquestionable wisdom yells at me all night and into the early morning hours and during blogging and writing times. His unmatchable advice to simplify is muted by the clamor of smartphones, smart TVs, iPads, iPods, iMax, laptops, and eCommerce.
Entered the itty, biddy trailer embellished with only the necessities. No pull-outs. No showers. Not even a toilet. A bed on wheels that could be towed anywhere. Just you, me, and a Rocky Mountain high. (I know it’s legal here, but not the high I am referring.)
Seven years ago, I thought the itty, biddy trailer was the answer. It was not because having a bathroom really comes in handy on cold, snowy nights in the mountains.
And even in designated campgrounds, there is no WiFi and very little cell service. Two unsimplified demons I’ve become depend upon.
COVID and Working Remotely
I’m a fan of watching stocks rise and fall and rise…and fall on CNBC. Early mornings, as the sun peers at me from over the tops of mountains, I sip my tea and study the charts and listen to the news. (BTW, CNBC does a much better job of reporting the news and it’s unbiased.)
It’s crazy how every morning on Squawk on the Street co anchors, Jim Cramer and David Faber, talk about how people are not going back to work. Over and over they ask, why. And I want to scream and say: people acquired a taste for a simpler lifestyle. They became fed up with the constant stress and guilt. Traffic. Poor pay. Long hours. Weekends. Short or no lunch breaks.
The guilt that comes with not being available for your children. The tiredness. The worry. Folks wanted out. Out. OUT. They rushed out of big cities. Even out of the burbs. In our little rural town of 500 full time residents, we stood by with our mouths gapping as we watched every house on the market and every piece of available property snatched up over a three-month-summer-feeding frenzy.
I think folks—who are not returning to work—are trying to find their Walden, understanding that there is a better way to live.
As I ponder how to find more time to write, I investigated what Thoreau had to do. His simple one room cabin in the woods resembles the tiny homes being built today. But as I mentioned above, I already—unsuccessfully—tried the tiny trailer.
Thoreau, like me and many writers, wanted to find time to write more. Thus, he embarked upon a two year experiment in living simply. He built, with his own hands, a tiny home on property owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life… —Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden
Like the other writers I have mentioned in my previous blogs, Thoreau’s works did not find immediate success. In fact many of his writings were published after his death.
Upon graduating from Harvard University in 1837, Thoreau worked a few weeks as a teacher for the Concord public school, but rather than administer corporal punishment to students, he resigned. Whereupon, he and his brother John opened a grammar school in Concord. Following the guidance and beliefs of Thoreau, the school was visionary in scope and curriculum. It incorporated nature walks and trips to shops and businesses into the school day.
However, John nicked himself shaving and died of tetanus in Thoreau’s arms at the age of 27. The school closed.
Thoreau’s older sister, Helen, also died young at the age of 36 after contracting tuberculosis. Thoreau himself died of tuberculosis at 47 years old. He was survived by his younger sister Sophia who died of tuberculosis as well. None of the Thoreau siblings married.
While at Walden Pond, Thoreau wrote his first draft of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers , which was an elegy to John. It described their trip to the White Mountains. Unable to find a publisher, Thoreau self-published in 1849 and had 1000 copies printed.
His first book cost him several hundred dollars to print but only sold 219 copies. The printer returned 706 of the copies to Thoreau. Of the experience, Thoreau wrote: “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”
In 1868, six years after Thoreau’s death, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers found a publisher. It was marginally revised based on Thoreau’s own corrections.
Like the other famous authors we’ve studied, Thoreau’s fame did not come easily nor was it during his lifetime. He loved to write. He loved nature. The two reasons this author is so dear to my heart. I’m sure he too found that life got in the way of what he wanted to do most.
It took five years for Walden to sell 2,000 copies. It went out of print until Thoreau’s death in 1862.
Why did Thoreau live a Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days, you might ask?
Henry went forth to battle when he took to the woods, and Walden is the report of a man torn by two powerful and opposing drives—the desire to enjoy the world and the urge to set the world straight. —E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web
A Journey for Me…and You
This concludes my motivational journey into the struggles of well known authors. It has helped me to realize I’m not the only one who is tortured with the everyday intrusions of life. And that the wanting of more time is universal. Yet these authors continued to dream. And to write. Which encourages me to do the same.
And if you happen to be that starry-eyed newcomer to life as a writer, hoping to be an immediate success, I say to you the odds are against you, however, never give up. But if you are only in the writing business for fame and fortune, throw in the towel now. That is not a real reason to write.
I’m always in search of a Walden Pond. A simpler lifestyle. But one with all the bells and whistles. Is that too much to ask? I let you know if and when I find it. For now, and perhaps forever, my tiny loft office with a view of mountains and dancing aspens will be my Walden.
(ProbeNote: Thoreau’s name was actually David Henry. Though not officially changed, after graduating from Harvard, he switched his first and middle name to Henry David.)
Do you have a Walden? If so, tell me about it. I love hearing from you.