Thoreau Just Last Wednesday

So in the great reality show that is contemporary life, comes this concatenation of events:


I’m on the bus eavesreading over someone’s shoulder.  “Justin Bieber Caught Canoodling in L.A.”  I think, “Canoodling”?  I think, “That’s a headline??”  I think, “Poor kid, forced to live in public.”


I am just getting started pondering the decline and fall of empires, of newspapers, of public discourse, of privacy, when the bus whooshes to a stop and on hops a teenage girl with her pleasant-seeming friend.  The first girl is laughing and talking at top volume, though not with her pleasant-seeming friend, but with an imaginary one.  Or so it seems.   For the next fifteen minutes, I listen, for example, to the following:

Real Girl: So did he call her a bitch?  Or did you?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  *************  *****  **********

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ******   *************  ***  ******************  **

Real Girl: Who started it?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***   ****    **  *****   **   ******

Real Girl: Yeah, I miss my iPod, too.

Blue Tooth Fairy: ****  ***** ** * ******    **

Real Girl: You did?

Blue Tooth Fairy: ***

Real Girl: OMG !  !  !  (*Raucous laughing*)

Literally, she said the letters,­ “O.  M.  G.”

While I’m overhearing and thinking about declines and falls, canoodling teen idols with weird hair (and why or why not I should know this), living or not living in public, coerced and voluntary eavesdropping, teenagers—both widely known and not—in the age of reality media, feeling glad that I feel my next blog post coming on—which launches a whole new cascade of thinking about writing and meaning and why or why not there is any irony here—the girl’s real friend gazes out the window, watching the city roll by, utterly alone.


I hop off the bus at the university where I teach, glad for the hush of fog at 8 a.m., and stroll across the damp grass to drop some books off at the library.  I stroll by the “New Arrivals” shelf and browse titles.  I spy a book by James Hawes, WHY YOU SHOULD READ KAFKA BEFORE YOU WASTE YOUR LIFE.


I sit in my office, check and answer email, check for new status updates, check on tweets, click some links, ponder culpability for declines and falls and participation in same.  Ponder futility.  Ponder monkey-mind.  Ponder Thoreau.  Because that’s who I’m about to go talk about with my students, who live so far from Walden Pond they might as well live on, oh, Andromeda, maybe.  But they’re smart, and willing to engage the Transcendentalist on his terms, to wonder what the hell he was thinking but work to figure it out and to think about themselves in relation to it and the meaning of their own lives, and I feel glad.


Thoreau, on the telegraph: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate….As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly.”

Thoreau, ditto: “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”


In the quiet of the faculty writing room on a warm Saturday morning, sitting at the table with 12 other quiet, thinking colleagues, (thanggod for such things in the world), I am still pondering the great flapping American ear and the great flapping American tongue and the Princess Adelaide and the world in which the telegraph was a shiny new gizmo.  And I think how far or not we have come to arrive at now.


Writing this post, I am thinking about the coming afternoon, when I will drive back over the Bay Bridge to Oakland and walk out to  my garden, sit under the plum tree—still leafy even in September this year—and breathe in the shade.  And for the chance to think, ponder deeply, and sit in the fully-embodied state of being alive in the world filled with voices other than human, I will feel glad.  And I will remember this passage from Thoreau:

“If then, we would indeed restore mankind…let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up life into our pores.”


I am thinking.


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22 Responses to “Thoreau Just Last Wednesday”

  1. Dr John Latham Says:

    Beautiful writing. Familiar themes, perhaps, but beautifully put. Worth reading slowly before or after a walk down a country lane. And a great graphic of a television too.

  2. david Says:

    such a beautiful post tracy.

  3. John Latham Says:

    Sorry if my previous comment was a tiny bit irritating. It is beautiful writing. You can call me John if you like (I sometimes get stuck with the Dr thing) (I think I only did a PhD to annoy my psychiatrist and for the money, if I recall) and I might prefer it too.

  4. PJ Says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you (from my garden) for being so thoughtful.

  5. Trinity Baptist Church Says:

    I thought of this word before I read the other comments, I promise: That was beautiful. Love the juxtaposition of the first-half of the post–the pop culture–with the second half, which slows down and comes to a nice end.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Thinking about empires rising and falling. And newspapers.

  6. Bob Davidson Says:

    Sat next to your husband on the plane, and he turned me onto your blog! I will follow. Thanks

  7. mary ann maggiore Says:

    Thank you, Tracy. I walking with Thoreau in my mind these days, Amazing how much we need him now with the rush and whir of technology commanding us to move! move! move! I am looking for a quote, I think it’s by Thoreau, but maybe RWE something like “People will talk on any subject but are afraid to talk about money.” Do you know where I should look?

    • Tracy Seeley Says:

      I don’t know this quotation, Mary Ann. He has many things to say about money in *Walden*, but this one doesn’t ring a bell. With a deep sense of irony, I would suggest maybe Googling what you remember of the phrasing and see what turns up?

  8. Howard Says:

    Thoreau just last Wednesday–quite a soothing read.

  9. Tyler Gates Says:

    Hi Tracy,

    I’m enjoying your blog. Here’s another commentary on the vagaries of progress, i.e. the telegraph, from Mark Twain in his story “Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion”:

    “The Bermudians are hoping soon to have telegraphic communication with the world. But even after they shall have acquired this curse it will still be a good country to go to for a vacation, for there are charming little islets scattered about the inclosed sea where one could live secure from interruption. The telegraph-boy would have to come in a boat, and one could easily kill him while he was making his landing.”

    Hope you’re well!

    • Tracy Seeley Says:

      Tyler, this is brilliant! Thanks for sending it. I do so love a great wit; and Twain’s much funnier than Thoreau. I’m looking forward to reading his newly-published autobiography.

  10. molly campbell Says:

    OMG. I have a Kindle, and am addicted to it. I said a formal goodbye to the library yesterday. I have just discovered why children the world over love gaming on electronic devices. I am obviously not your type….lol (I just said it out loud: L O L) Good grief. I have not, however, uttered O M G out loud. xo molly

    • Tracy Seeley Says:

      I understand game addiction, too, Molly. I just won my 100th straight game of Free Cell. But I also love browsing library shelves and discovering things I never thought to look for, love the sensuousness of a paper book. I also love the accessibility of books in a library to those who can’t afford their own books, let alone an e-reader.

      Glad you like your Kindle. What’s your favorite game?

  11. steve doyle Says:


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