Thoreauvian Concepts Essay, Research Paper
Life at It’s Simplest
A Practical Application of Interpreted Emersonian and Thoreauvian Concepts
Due to a variety of coincidental circumstance, I have recently found myself in the position to write a paper exploring the practical application of Emersonian and Thoreauvian concepts in modern society. As a college student in a metropolitan city, I’m witness to the everyday hustle and bustle that city life breeds. You’re kidding yourself if you say we live in a simple time—everyone knows that—and with so much everyday stimuli there are bound to be simpler aspects of life that get neglected. The primary goal of early nineteenth century writers Henry James Emerson and David Thoreau is the exploration of what they believe to be the forgotten, but most important, parts of life: the simplest. Here’s what happens when an average, city-dwelling, college student gets back in touch with life at it’s simplest.
It’s 10 am, I’m running late for school, I’m hungry, it’s freezing, and I have no money in my wallet. Now, a person often says he is broke, meaning he can’t buy a new pair of sneakers, but I literally have not a dollar to my name, having quit one job and having yet to land another. Being without money is not a reason to avoid school, however, so I grab a bananna and rush to school only to realize that I can’t park in the school’s lot (that I have parked in everyday for the last three years without a problem.) A two dollar fee never seemed so large. I pull over and scrounge through my trunk, foolishly believing there might be a few quarters lying around. Not in this city. I end up driving around Park Merced for 20 precious minutes searching for free parking. Is everyone else as broke as I am?
I head to my favorite coffee shop for their specialty, the white mocha, only to turn red as the cashier looks to me for payment. I can’t believe I’m this broke. How am I supposed to go all day without coffee? The same thing happens at lunch, but this time I stop myself before reaching the cashier. Looks like I’m learning. I stop at the supermarket on the way home and pick up coffee and lunch supplies, determined to get up early enough to make coffee before school and pack a lunch. Needless to say, I pay the cashier in plastic. Later, I have to do the same at the gas station, but I know I can’t keep using my credit card like this. What am I supposed to do, though? I need gas, food, and coffee. I also need to get my nails done, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
The end of the day leaves me frustrated. I need a job. This no money thing will not work.
The CD player in my car breaks. This may not sound like such a big deal, but I certainly do not have the money to fix it, and there is no radio, so now I’m left with no sound in my vehicle. Driving to school, I can hear my car’s little engine huffing and puffing—I’ve never really heard it before since I always have my Britney Spears playing so loud. I pull into the student lot (I’ve managed to snag my roommate’s pass from earlier) and reach out of habit to remove my stereo’s face. But, right, nothing is there.
The drive into the city is what really gets me. Four o’clock traffic downtown is frustrating under any circumstance, but without any distraction to pass the time? I call my parents (asking for money, hehe), call my roommate (just to chat), call my boyfriend (won’t you buy me a new CD player?).
That night on the way to the (free) party everyone makes fun of my ghetto car for having no music. We all laugh and imitate the grunts that come from the engine, but you know what? I’m coming to understand my car a little better. I can hear how she struggles to get up those San Francisco hills, how the brakes are squeaking on the way down (I wonder how long that’s been going on?), and how maybe a little warming up would be better before starting. Maybe this no distraction thing will improve my driving!
Today I feel more reprecussions of not having a job. A few weeks ago my roommates and I made the executive descion to cancel our cable, once we realized we were somehow getting free cable from the neighbors. Last night, however, the Cable Gods took our free cable away with a big rainstorm that blew away our mysterious free-cable hook-up. Now, you can’t just call the cable guy and say, “Hey, gimme back my free cable,” so here we are, without television. My roommate has the day off work and she’s pissed. No Oprah, no Jerry, no Montel. I try to convince her to write a paper for me or something, but she refuses.
I’m off to school, (money-free, music-free, morning-MTV-newsflash-free) and it occurs to me that my gym membership is due today. I’ll have to cancel it. I guess I can jog around my neighborhood and do some sit ups at home for awhile until I get a job. But no Stairmaster? No fan? No drinking fountain? How will I know how many calories I’ve burned? And who will be around to watch me look cute in my little workout outfit? This simple living is getting highly inconvienient.
Catastrophe! Last night my roommate mistook my cell phone for hers. Now my phone, my link to life, is on a plane on it’s way to New York! Going as frequently as I do between my boyfriend’s place and mine (and primarily because my father pays the bill) the only phone line I have is my cell phone. I use it for everything. Everything. Arranging rides, dealing with banks, landlords, potential employers, co-ordinating schedules with my boy, my roommates, my sister. I don’t even know my sister’s phone number–all I ever do is get her on speed dial. Not only can I not reach anyone, but no one can reach me. It’s like I’m suddenly alone.
I know my other roommate is out of school by now. If only I could call her, I could arrange to trade off her parking pass instead of driving around fighting for free parking. If I had my phone, I could also call my gym on the way to school and cancel my membership before I start accumulating late fees. (Today is the absolute final deadline to cancel.) I could also check in with my internship and let them know I’m running late today, to avoid stern faces when I finally arrive.
Now, driving around trying to find this resturaunt I’m supposed to meet my boyfriend at, I wonder how people used to get around without cell phones? Did they just give better directions? Did they just arrange meeting times and actually stick to them? This is pathetic. I am at the mercy of technology! Thank God I finally get in touch with Miss New York and she agrees to Next-Day my phone to me. Assuming, of course, that I Next-Day hers to New York. More dollars on the credit card.
Okay. I have my cell phone back. I have cash from my father. I’m actually enjoying my break from the gym. (I’ve found so many shortcuts in the woods I never knew existed!) We’ve put the television in a new spot, so we’re getting three channels and sometimes four. Things are looking up, and then…
We lose power.
This is the grand finale to my Emersonian/Thoreauvian experience. You really don’t know how much you rely on a department such as PG&E until it’s gone. Our total reliance makes this state’s energy crisis pretty scary.
My house loses power around 5 pm, just before dinner is started. I call PG&E from my cell phone (thank God for cell phones!) only to learn that our ex-roommate, whose name our account is still listed under, has requested that the account be terminated. Thank you, Nicole, for the notification. Danny, the unsympathetic operator, tells me we will have power again sometime tomorrow when the new account is activated. This leaves us powerless all night. Uh, problem. Tonight we’re showing Nicole’s old room to potential roommates. The first appointment is in 30 minutes, and we can’t get in touch with any of our appointments because we didn’t take any numbers. We hear the phone ring, but we can’t pick it up to warn them not to come. It’s a cordless phone.
We frantically search the house for candles and flashlights. We light all the candles, which fills the room a wide variety of scents, and which then sets the smoke alarm off. We open the windows to air out the house and shut the stupid alarm up, but it’s freezing outside, and we have no heat. People keep showing up, and we have to keep turning them away—you can’t show a house if you can’t see it. When talk of dinner comes up, we realize that not only can we not cook dinner, but all the food in our ‘fridge/freezer is going to rot. And, my roommate can’t run the washer/dryer to wash the clothes she needs for work the next morning. So here we are, bundled up, blind, hungry, irritated by the incessant smoke alarm, turning potential roommates away, and beginning to realize that life without power is difficult.
A few weeks later, my car breaks down and I end up walking all over my neighborhood in Daly City to find a car repair shop. The things I’ve talked about can seem so trivial, so simple. But tell me, who has time today to walk for hours when it would take a few minutes in a car? Who has time to do the wash by hand instead of using a washing machine? To plan a lunch three days ahead? One can ask why today’s society is so reliant on instant access, but that’s about as effective as asking why the sky is blue. (The length of light waves that the human eye can see makes the sky blue, but that’s beside the point.) Evolution of the celebration of convienence in today’s society has us trapped in a world where we think we need all the things life can provide. What about all the stress and anxiety that is caused by living with these complicated simplifiers? The question is: why don’t we take breaks? Do we humans honestly believe that the way we live our lives now is the way it must be done? I may think I need all the things modern life has to offer, but look how lost I grew when they were taken away.
It looks like Emerson and Thoreau’s writing is more applicable than we may like to admit.