Saturday, April 28, 2007


Every year when I teach Walden, I begin asking myself some deep questions: Am I doing what I want to do with my life? Am I living deliberately or robotically? Am I spending my life pursuing "stuff," forgetting the truly valuable things in life?

Thoreau was a crank, a jerk, a hypocrite, but that does not change the fact that almost everything he said was true. When many think of Thoreau and Walden, they think he suggested we all drop out of society and go live in the woods as a hermit. The fact is, Thoreau was not a hermit--he walked to town almost every day. Rather, he decided to simplify his life, so he could determine truly what his life should be--that is, once you strip away all the unnecessaries of life, you will, by definition, be left with only what is necessary.

And, what is necessary for you must, of course, be different that what is necessary for me. Thus, Walden was simply a call for every one of us to simplify our life, determine what our goals are, and advance confidently in their direction.

Perhaps my favorite quotation from Walden is this:
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, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Every year I learn something from reading Walden. Reading it also puts me on the lookout for modern day Thoreaus, like this guy.

Down a rambling residential road on the outskirts of Sebastopol, the dream house sits like a testament to discriminating taste.

This dream house is the love child of artist-builder Jay Shafer, who lovingly hand-crafted it. The stainless-steel kitchen, gleaming next to the natural wood interior, is outfitted with customized storage and built-ins. From his bed, Shafer can gaze into the Northern California sky through a cathedral window. In his immaculate office space, a laptop sits alongside rows of architectural books and magazines -- many featuring his house on the cover. And from the old-fashioned front porch, he can look out on a breathtaking setting: an apple orchard in full bloom.

But in an era when bigger is taken as a synonym for better, calling Shafer's home a dream house might strike some as an oxymoron. Why? The entire house, including sleeping loft, measures only 96 square feet -- smaller than many people's bathrooms. But Jay Shafer's dream isn't of a lifestyle writ large but of one carefully created and then writ tiny.

Read the entire article (and see pictures of the house) here.

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