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. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are considered two of the most influential and inspiring transcendentalist writers of this country. Their works consist of extensively studying and embracing nature as well as encouraging and practicing individualism and non-conformity. As a college student in a metropolitan city, I experience 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 end up neglected. The primary goal of Emerson and Thoreau seems to be the exploration of what they believe to be the forgotten, but most important, parts of life: the simplest. Here is what happens when an average, city dwelling, college student gets back in touch with life at its simplest.
Day 1 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. This day without money looks like the perfect opportunity to explore Thoreau’s concept of living without the common comfort money can bring.
But even Thoreau, with his dislike for money, eventually gets a job as a schoolteacher in Concord. (usmh12.usmd.edu/thoreau) I can’t really experience any Walden lake situation either, because I must go to school, and being without money is not an excuse to avoid it. I grab a banana 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. If I were in the forest, at least the parking would be free. 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. I don’t care what Emerson and Thoreau say about living simply. This no money thing will not work.
Day 2 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 know Thoreau said because he remained separate from the technically advanced world, he could find beauty everywhere. “His eye was open to beauty, and his ear to music.
He found these, not in rare conditions, but wheresoever he went.” (usmh12.usmd.edu/thoreau) Not me. 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! Yeah, right.
Day 3 Today I feel more repercussions of not having a job. A few weeks ago my roommates and I made the executive decision 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. At least she’s exercising nonconformity.
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.