Reading Walden

Posted by Thomas Gideon on 24 March 2015

Chris Miller turned me on to The Jefferson Hour. A few episodes back, they got to talking about Walden. What struck me was the discussion of one of Thoreau's main points, apparently, about leading a deliberate life. This makes sense, he is most often quoted for his thought on the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation. I am only a chapter or so in but have already encountered the quote. The context is his pondering of how so many of us go through life driven by perceived obligation--that we have a certain job, possess certain things, make certain choices.

I have yet to reach any of Thoreau's thoughts on how to avoid the pitfall he elaborates so well. As I said, I've only just started reading. I am squeezing in pages amongst my other reading. My night time routine of decades is to read a bit of fiction before sleep. I find myself anxious if I skip this and less able to readily sleep. I am still grappling with more than one learning curve, at work. I have books I am trying to keep pushing along on JavaScript, Node and Scala.

I will say I have a bit of a worry. Thoreau was only just thirty when he wrote the book. Tonally, it shows, especially in his extended rant about how those older than him didn't necessarily have anything to teach him. I get his point, to a degree, that time on this earth alone isn't an adequate predictor of wisdom. Even where someone has acquired hard won insight through experience, those experiences may not be anywhere near universally applicable. I guess as someone tarred by the brush with which he paints, and a parent to boot, I could have wished for a bit more humility, nuance or both at that point in the opening of the book. My complaint isn't strong enough for me to set the book down but I do wonder if I should have read it well before now.

I hope to find some sort of a pace that makes regular thoughts on the book at least somewhat coherent, here. I have been thinking more lately about the non-technical parts of my professional life. I mentioned this more on my other site but I have returned to Franklin's 13 virtues, another idea introduced to me by Chris Miller. Walden's notion of a deliberate life seems highlight compatible with Franklin's idea of both a highly contemplated, daily life and a set of ideals around which regular reflection should be focused.

As a geek of a certain age, I am starting to feel that my ability to learn new technology and apply it may not be as valuable as these other, less tangible aspects of my professional life. At my current gig, which I started at the end of last year, I am well north of the average age of my peers. They hired me despite a deficit of recently hands on coding experience, at a pretty senior level, too. Looking to my role models, living and historical, long admired and newly found, seems like a good lense through which to start getting my thoughts and values clearer in my own mind so that I can apply them, well, more deliberately.