Friday, December 24, 2010

little things

"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.”
~Henry David Thoreau~

To put it simply, I didn’t have much, growing up in that land of swimming pools and movie stars and sunshine and smog known as California. Bags of wilted hand-me-down clothes from churches and mysterious canned goods from community pantries were simply a matter of routine in the sparse apartments I shared with my mother and older brother. The secret laws of childhood friendships always seemed to elude me, and I spent more time with the books I horded from yard sales than with humans my own age. We moved frequently, and it seemed I forever had to winnow down my meager childhood possessions into ever smaller boxes each time we packed up the car and drove to the next tiny, temporary home.

Necessity, then, drove me to find intangible things to treasure: the smell of city sidewalks after rain, the way a bird painstakingly builds its nest from the litter in the streets, the sight of one lone star shining through the lingering haze of pollution in the night sky, and the power of my own childish mind to create something that could never be taken away from me.

To any poverty stricken child of intelligence, the public library is a sort of heaven. I first read a battered library copy of Thoreau’s Walden when I was ten or so. His story of a solitary life in a simple cabin built by his own hands in Massachusetts in the 1800’s, where he had the time to reflect on the implications of life in a Capitalist society, seemed strangely relevant to a poor young girl stranded in the twentieth century urban wasteland of California. Although at the time I failed to understand some of the political messages it contained, I immediately internalized this particular passage, identifying deeply with Thoreau’s emphasis on the importance of nonconformity, self-reliance, and the simple pleasures of nature and knowledge. In time, this passion for "the essential things of life" grew to encompass not only the literature and art I observed but the creation of it as well. Painting, writing, photography, critical thinking and the sharing of philosophical ideas, all the essential parts of my life as I now define it, stem from the seed planted by the reading of this simple idea.

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