Ever since Thoreau went to live by Walden Pond, others have been referencing the phrase “to live deliberately” during their own attempts to live simply, which I believe is another way of saying to break free from what they perceive shields them from self-actualization (Hello, Maslow). This was a topic already on my mind when I started thinking about what all has been done in that spirit since Walden’s 1854 publication. Probably a hell of a lot, a random viewing of The Dead Poets Society told me. To strip away the excess or unnecessary so one can taste the nectar of life in its purest form and seize the day, that’s the boiled-down goal of living deliberately, as I understand it, although I’m sure there are other interpretations and an infinite amount of results.*
For years now, I’ve had my own desire to find my own pond, metaphoric if not literal, and have a more consistent and direct impact on what I really want to do with these few remaining moments I am allotted in life. Granted, I did manage to finish my first novel in 2015. This website is self-titled in case if I can ever get anyone to consider me worthy of publication, but to note, Walden Pond is briefly alluded to even in that decade of work. Counselors and Comedians was written like a Sisyphean tale through years of my sickness, and within it a local pond was renamed “George’s Pond” as a take on Walden Pond, but at George’s Pond the water is forever dark, and nothing lives in the water, and no one but the bleakest go and walk by its shore. Counselors and Comedians kept me alive while the subject was killing me, but now I need more in my life so that the subject doesn’t grow comfortable in killing me without challenge.
I know I can be more than my depression story. I know others can be, too.
“Do you understand, George?”
“I get the horrible feeling that’s not my real name, or if my name really is George, then this pond isn’t mine and I only decided to park here one day. I constantly find myself revisiting this silent and black looking glass. There’s not even a fish. Not even a bird will come down and touch this heavy water. In my mind I’ve escaped a thousand times. I’ve escaped and taken over the world. I’ve married and remarried. I’ve met my two-thousand grandchildren.** I’ve had jobs that would make men squirm in envy. Yet when I wake up, here is this unsettling pond, a dead eye, a drowning pool for time. Yes, I understand, but I do not have a mountain. I have this pond, and one day I know the pond will take me forever, and I know that day is soon.” [Counselors and Comedians, 407]
But tell me if this is a familiar series of events of this or any age… You wake up and do the same thing as you have done for years before, like birds returning to the same tree every season, but your season is every day. Near the end of the day you concoct grand plans on how you’re going to change. Nothing ever changes, though, at least not in any significant manner.
I feel like that one book I wrote is the exception and not the practice. The truth is closer to a reality where I got a computer when I was fourteen and have been caught in a worsening feedback loop ever since. Not only am I the last generation to have known childhood without the complete absorption of or by electronics outside of televisions, but I was one of the first who entered the electronic threshold and spent most of my time there, and at first to the perplexity of others. Since then, I have seen many permutations of the internet, from a loose collection of pages to the current worldwide hybrid organism it has made of humanity. Gone are the days when people would ask me what I do online, and now are the times when it’s not even presented as a possibility to the routine public consciousness that one can go without. Along the way I’ve also seen contrived attempts by large groups to convince themselves of the need for an ever-growing presence of computer and internet technology. My university was one of the first in the United States or anywhere to issue all students and faculty an IPad. It’s almost like the dean said, “Here’s a lesson in planned obsolescence. In a few years you won’t even be able to check your email without the device crashing due to ‘security and bug fixes’, but by then you’ll be so used to it you’ll have little choice but to buy a new device and continue the cycle.”
Now, at thirty-three, it is my time to make a Walden Pond in the middle of the modern world. One does not have to go out into the woods to get away from the major current of society; all one has to do is pull the plug. And I’m not talking about doing what’s known as “cutting the cord,” a practice that once saved a person money by ditching cable television, but I mean to say, get rid of home internet and television all together. To focus not on the incomprehensible and perpetual noise of world, but on a few select endeavors – making sure your attention isn’t divided and conquered. To live deliberately would then be to use the internet as a tool for specific purposes and never without aim, always having to go out of the home to do so, as Thoreau did when he ventured into town. He was far from a Hermit, you see. It would also mean the courage to become bored at times, and realize how wonderful that could potentially be for organizing one’s own thought and learning. Lastly, it would mean to cease the unending pursuit of cheap or worthless validation from others, turning instead to macro goals and validation that comes in the form of enabling one to buy calories or pay the rent.***
This aim at deliberate living not only helps a person to concentrate****, but it takes a stand against many of the afflictions that are now interwoven into everyday life for the public at large. Superficial communication, news without integrity, the surveillance state, constant bombardments of propaganda and advertisement, violence and fear: these have become the Trojan horses of the digital age – the screens now binge watch the people give their days away. On a more obvious front, home internet and cable prices are getting to be absurd – and if I understand it correctly, the prices are that way just because they can be in the wake of this so-called necessity.
If you understand my point or come to understand, try to explain the effects of an always-connected culture and for sure you will find deaf ears. For example, just yesterday I was telling a friend that the internet-based alerts she was getting was doing nothing but generating worry. If she didn’t have the alerts, I tried explaining, the political result would be the same in Harrisburg but she would have spent the day in peace. But I have come to see that people love their worry. They love their fear. They love their uncertainty and gossip. It is all entertainment, which is to say, a distraction, which makes me wonder if the poison of the feedback loop is a cultural precedent and not merely a personal or isolated one.
Not everyone can go to Walden Pond, though, nor should they. Many might go crazy or simply don’t have the choice because of what’s become an embedded system. After living over half my life in the growing web of the information age, I might be the most vulnerable at that crazy possibility, but I don’t want to live realizing I hadn’t lived at all. I don’t want to wake up to the same dissatisfaction anymore. I will finally drown in George’s Pond by realizing I threw away the only thing I had that kept me going, or I will become the envy of myself in the spirit of Thoreau. Probably a mix.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden
*I learned about a year ago with the publication of an article that went viral (Is Reddit Dead? Welcome to the Propaganda Machine), there will be those who will take a message, hollow it out, and fit the new incarnation to their own agenda. I wrote about media manipulation on the internet, and political supporters on both sides had a field day. They did the equivalent of filling in Walden Pond with concrete.
**George used to be a history professor at the abandoned college visible just over the tree line from the pond, but he developed memory issues as the world started to turn for the worse, the embodiment of history’s only true fate. But he vaguely remembers all the students, and he wonders why they don’t come around anymore.
***I used to believe that any validation as an artist was a sign of growing audience and refining craft, a way to fatten the bio and all that on the path to becoming a professional, but not once has this brought me any closer to becoming a paid writer. If anything, I think it perpetuates a culture where a writer’s work is devalued. Any blogging site knows this well: to keep the machine going, bots and those who seek attention in return will give you that grain of validation.
****Numerous essays online have reported a change in attention span as a result of disconnecting. Without the web to turn to, there simply becomes little reason to stop doing whatever it is you decide to do. No one says it’s easy, though.
*****Next time you’re in a waiting room or anywhere else with a gathering of strangers, look up from your phone screen and study the faces of others and think about this article. Go ahead. They won’t notice you.