Henry David Thoreau: Hopelessly Discontent

The following is an indirect response to Kathryn Schulz’s article “Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau’s Moral Myopia,” from The New Yorker, October 19, 2015:

Henry_David_Thoreau_Walden“I have travelled,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “a good deal in Concord: and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways.” This displeased Thoreau. He didn’t want to live a life of penance.

He wanted a life more meaningful than one filled with busywork at shops and pointless toil in the fields. He wanted a life, as he put it, more “deliberate.”

“There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world,” wrote Thoreau, “and yet we tolerate incredible dullness.” So, Thoreau got himself some land and built a small house out at Walden Pond. He was, as he says, “a mile from any neighbor.” What he does not mention in Walden is that he was also only a short, few miles’ walk from his mom’s house. He would go there sometimes during his time at Walden for cookies and tea. [Read more…]

Friendship, by Guilt or Grace

In February I published Love and Salt, a book of letters I wrote with my friend Amy Andrews, and found myself in the uncomfortable position of being expected to talk and write about the subject of friendship.

I’ve become something of an expert on the topic. I can quote Cicero and Aristotle and Montaigne and Lewis on the subject. I can tell you stories of great friendships in literature, from Ruth and Naomi to Frodo and Samwise. I can even call up statistics that show friendship is on the decline in the digital age and a scientific study that posits women are biologically hardwired to make friends.

But here’s my dirty little secret: my knowledge is all academic. The truth is, I’m not a very good friend.  Growing up, my closest and most treasured friend was a long-distance pen pal I only saw a couple of times a year.  Thirty years later, nothing has changed but the pen pal.

[Read more…]