I’ve Been so Busy I’ve Become Useless

Dear Students,
This is Henry David Thoreau.
The guy who wrote Walden.
The book about living in a cabin in the woods.

Thoreau kept a lifelong journal that is filled with, well, read it–there are several different collections–the journals are about 2 million words long (so I’ve been told; I’ve not read even close to all of it)–and also pieces of it online.

Read some.
I know you read Walden in high school, but that doesn’t count.
It’s impossible in your teens to understand what Thoreau was putting at stake by going out to live by himself in the woods as an adult.
In your teens your instructors, even in college, would have taught Walden as man escaping from the real world.

Man trying to get away.
Man trying to find himself.
I used to wonder about that.
What is so far inside you that you have to go way out to nowhere to find?

I see the opposite.
I think Thoreau’s story–from both Walden & the Journals– is man escaping from busy-ness to what is real in life.
Escape from busy-ness not to nothingness but to engagement.

Thoreau engaged with what surrounded him.
Read the Journals and you see a man intimate with plants, trees, agriculture, making a living out of where he was, the well-being of his friends, and his own thoughts.
Engaged with what was there, not with all that wasn’t.
A man happy with and filled by his apprehension of what came each day into his path of walking and paths of thinking.

There was a busyness in his world that oppressed him.
I think Walden was not retreat from that busyness but the removal of busyness because it hinders engagement.


…is one bitch of a master.
The continually shortening timelines we are conducting the ad business by leave less and less time for thinking.
Specifically and most destructively, for the kind of thinking the creators of joy need in order to flourish.

Busy-ness keeps me from engaging with what surrounds me.
It keeps me from the lazy playfulness that surprising insight comes from.
Producing to too tight a schedule results in snap insights.
Snap insights, while they can be true and have value, are more snapthan thought, and tend to be the same insights other people get when they don’t think about an idea for long.

When I am busy I am not able to sit idly with a thought others deem ridiculous, turning it over and over until something in it strikes me and I can follow that thought out until it turns into something funny/true and etc.
There may be none of the originating impulse left in the thought by the time it turns into a piece of work.
Nevertheless, the significance of the starting point–and this includes my attitude toward it and the lazy time that inspires it–cannot be overestimated, it seems to me.
Judging by the work I’ve done, at least.
And that of people I’ve seen with like minds.

But this should not surprise.
The value of the kind of engagement with the world Thoreau spent time at and which filled his thinking and writing is not obvious to the world.
Which is to say THE MONEY can’t see value in it.
And whatever THE MONEY can’t see doesn’t exist.

What am I suggesting you do?
1) There is a laziness in the thought process that is important.

Do not be bashful about indulging in it. Do not let the nimcompoops bully you out of it. Don’t be a bully to others. It’s part of the process.
2) Look for the chance to engage with the world instead of engaging with the busyness of the job. The joy you seek to inspire in others does not & will not rise up out of the clammy-handed nothingness of a Blackberry.
Technology contains no salvation.
I have no gripe with timeliness and in no way do I suggest there is not significant & life-giving power in deadlines.
But without engagement with the world about you and the people about you, the word dead in deadlines becomes more powerful.
3) Read. Thoreau, Emerson, U.S. Grant’s Memoirs.
Good writers read.