14 August 2010

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe. . .Part 1

The day that I blundered onto Stephanie Rosenbloom's report in the New York Times, But Will It Make You Happy?, was a happy day for me indeed. It has been a never-ending entertainment on so many levels to the extent that I have read it several times. I find it hilarious, but then I am easily amused. . .as this posting will no doubt demonstrate.

The article announces its primary thesis—simplify, simplify--supported by a good deal of contemporary research and expert commentary, as if announcing the invention of the wheel. At the time I first read the piece, it was the most emailed article in the paper. In other words it was received by its readers just as news of the invention of the wheel would be received today, “God, this is interesting! I think I will email this to a friend before I move on.”

SHE had so much.

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. . . .

In the course of her research, I cannot help but believe that Tammy stumbled upon one of my own favorite books, Thoreau's Walden. I am not nearly so sure that Stephanie stumbled upon it during her research for the article itself, given her evident conviction of the novelty of the pronouncements that she reports.

It occurred to me to do a little series comparing the manner in which “simplify, simpify” is understood and presented in Stephanie's thoroughly modern Millie's essay and grumpy, old Henry David's antique one. Why? Because it amuses me to do so.

Everyone is familiar with some of Thoreau's words, such as, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I suspect that some of his other longer passages have for the most part been read and forgotten, primarily because they are longer. His prose is a sprawling, slowly blooming flower bed of words.

For example, relevant to Tammy's disencumbering herself of her stuff:

Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. As if one were to wear any sort of coat which the tailor might cut out for him, or, gradually leaving off palm-leaf hat or cap of woodchuck skin, complain of hard times because he could not afford to buy him a crown! It is possible to invent a house still more convenient and luxurious than we have, which yet all would admit that man could not afford to pay for. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less? Shall the respectable citizen thus gravely teach, by precept and example, the necessity of the young man's providing a certain number of superfluous glow-shoes, and umbrellas, and empty guest chambers for empty guests, before he dies? Why should not our furniture be as simple as the Arab's or the Indian's? When I think of the benefactors of the race, whom we have apotheosized as messengers from heaven, bearers of divine gifts to man, I do not see in my mind any retinue at their heels, any carload of fashionable furniture. Or what if I were to allow--would it not be a singular allowance?--that our furniture should be more complex than the Arab's, in proportion as we are morally and intellectually his superiors! At present our houses are cluttered and defiled with it, and a good housewife would sweep out the greater part into the dust hole, and not leave her morning's work undone. Morning work! By the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man's morning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground.

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