I forgot to do this today. It was quite busy at work today, I’m exhausted from getting up entirely too early to get that work started, and I spent a fair amount of the afternoon arguing with some malfunctioning equipment. The entire day seemed like some kind of elaborate Saw movie set piece, designed specifically to make me cranky. It succeeded.

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Happy Birthday Abby and Alex

Today we commemorate the birth of two of my very favorite people, my niece and nephew, Abby and Alex. They are twins, and are seven years old today. You are now wishing them a happy birthday by reading this sentence, because by the time you realized that a happy birthday message was passing through your brain, it was already too late. You can’t unread something. Jokes on you, suckers.

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I’ve started reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Amazon describes it like this:

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a cabin by Walden Pond. With the intention of immersing himself in nature and distancing himself from the distractions of social life, Thoreau sustained his retreat for just over two years. More popular than ever, “Walden” is a paean to the virtues of simplicity and self-sufficiency.

I haven’t read it before, probably because Walden isn’t a book people typically read voluntarily. Walden is a homework book, and as such, is universally accepted not as a document to be consumed for enjoyment, but as an obligation to be fulfilled. You are assigned Walden. In this case, I have assigned it to myself.

Walden can be found alongside titles like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Old Man and the Sea in the pantheon of books too important to read. They make up a category of content called literature, which means they have been deemed by people smarter than I am to be words of value and great cultural significance. These aren’t the dumb-dumb words you and I like to read. These are very important words that are to be taken seriously, which is a horrible burden for any collection of thoughts to try to overcome.

Literature isn’t fun. Nothing bound in leather can be very fun, unless you’re a person who instantly balked at that statement, in which case you are either a literature enthusiast, or were thinking about sex. You might be both, and if so I applaud you, you beautiful well-read sex goblin. Go get yours.

For anyone else, if it’s bound-in-leather, avoid-it-forever.

There is a lot of literature out there to be avoided. A person’s tolerance for AP English material can vary, but for almost anyone, their exposure to this kind of writing is at the behest of someone else. Walden is required reading, and as we all know, required things are seldom very fun. Fun things don’t need to be compulsory. Fun things never have to manufacture an audience. If you want to take the fun out of something as efficiently as possible, require it.

I’ve endured quite a lot of literature over the years, and in every case it was because someone was trying to make me smarter. When I was in a classroom, learning how to learn, English professors reliably had a syllabus handy to guide the way, and every book on it was a Walden in its own way. As an adult, you have to prepare these materials yourself. Eventually the only person left in the world with an interest in making you smarter is yourself, and hopefully you’ve had some teachers along the way who helped you get good at it. Everyone else is probably selling something, and is wagering that your teachers did a bad job at making you smart enough to notice. Literature is the broccoli of thought. No one wants to consume it unless it’s covered in cheese or something. Otherwise it’s just a chore.

Why Walden? Because I heard it mentioned on a TV show called Northern Exposure, and I am a dumpster raccoon in a pair of glasses. I feather my nest with trash both practical and intellectual, and obtain most of my inspiration from discarded garbage. I live for the shiny treasure salvaged from the dirt, and usually apply no distinction between pure silver and tinfoil. Something about it caught my attention.

The book was described as a sort of philosophical treatise on self-reliance and oneness with nature. Real Instagram influencer stuff. The skepticism I have for this kind of thinking is as hardwired into my nervous system as the fight or flight response, but I do find myself attracted to the romance of that notion. Some guy in his late twenties built a cabin in the woods then lived there for a couple of years. There is a lake involved, which probably means mist, and nothing sparks a sense of philosophical introspection like a misty lake in the woods. 

Was it his proximity to trees that made him think up things we still find useful a couple of centuries after he thought of them, or was it just that you can only chop so much wood, and that kind of lifestyle leaves a lot of time and space for detailed pondering?

I suppose I’ll find out when I read it, but it sounds compelling and self indulgent and deeply silly; more like a reality TV show than it would probably like to admit. I’m in. It’s a show I’d watch on a lazy Sunday if something better wasn’t available.

I do a fair amount of pondering myself, and I’m interested in how his blog about that time he went camping during his gap year turned into what amounts to a foundational document for the naturalist movement. At first glance, the book would seem to be more about the value of solitude than a prototype for Unabomber-style living, but what do I know? I’m a raccoon in a pair of glasses, and this isn’t just some book, this is literature we’re talking about here. It’s both old and leather bound, and I think the author picture is an engraving, so this is clearly a book that is to be approached with reverence and respect. This isn’t about fun. This is serious. This book has a forward written by someone with a PhD. That’s as serious as it gets.

Luckily, I’m pretty good at resetting inherited respect. First off, Thoreau was in his twenties when he did all of this pondering, and you can’t take anything someone in their twenties says too seriously. They might not be wrong, but they aren’t nearly as right as they think they are. I don’t care how long ago it was or how long they spent screwing around in the woods.

Also, one man’s timeless classic is another’s impenetrable bore. For me, it’s just another book on the shelf. I am raccoon-folk, so for us, something like Walden is only as valuable as it is useful or interesting. Racoons don’t see the leather binding. We will first try eating the book, and if that doesn’t work out, we will rip it to pieces and try to make good use of the components. This may seem rude to those who cherish the text as untouchable, but deconstruction is simply our way. It is how we experience the world. We are scavengers. You may see chunks of your sacred texts lining the walls of our nests. What can we say? They were shiny.

Walden isn’t any more sacred than a paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code in this respect. I’ll try to get what I can out of it and leave the rest where I found it. It is to be consumed for my use, on my terms. Don’t worry, they have plenty of copies, so it doesn’t matter what I do with mine.

My theory is that the worst thing you can do to any work of art is respect it too much. Once something has become sacred, it can no longer be consumed. You destroy something upon consuming it so that it can become part of you. Over-respected things can only be worshiped, which makes them impenetrable and therefore useless. These books are better than you. They are bound in leather so that even from a distance you can see how important they are. The people who wrote them are legends beyond reproach. They too are bound in leather. People who are smarter than you have consumed this art before you ever arrived, and its value has already been determined and distributed to humanity on your behalf. Walden’s nutrients have been fully accounted for, and all that’s left for you to do is look in from the outside and be impressed at how very important all of this is. The opinions of the thing become the thing itself, and the entire exercise is locked behind glass like an exhibit in a museum. 

We have museums for books. They are called libraries, and they don’t keep the exhibits behind glass. This is great for me, because ideas behind glass are meaningless to raccoon-kind. We have no respect for anything we cannot make immediate use of. Does Walden contain a few shiny bits I can bring back to my nest? People seem to think so. My hopes are high. Either way, make no mistake, this is my dumpster, and I’ll decide what is and isn’t trash around here.

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A Note From Yesterday

I’m very busy today, so I’m writing this yesterday. I’m going to go watch my niece and nephew for a few hours, then get Krystal and I lunch, before going to see Scott Thompson in his show “Buddy Cole in King” over at City Winery. I’ve been a massive fan of both him and that character ever since I was a high school-aged terminal closet case, and he was portraying the only gay person on television in the early nineties who wasn’t meant to teach people about Aids.

Given I’ll be otherwise occupied trying not to make eye contact with one of my heroes in a small comedy club, this seems like a good opportunity to test scheduling a post. Has this worked? I’m sure it has. I’ve been working with this software professionally for over a decade and can assure you that this post arrived on schedule. Still. Testing things that I know work is how I can be sure they are still working.

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A Note From Legal

A previous post made mention of advice we received from our legal department. On their request, we would like to make it clear that the legal department is imaginary and that this website is the product of one person.

There will be no further updates unless new information becomes available, mostly because the bit has worn thin.

The editorial department regrets that it too does not exist.

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Addendum to the Update on the Correction to the Correction

I neglected to actually add the corrected correction to the original post, as described in our previous update. Unfortunately, given that we have corrections to our subsequent corrections, and those corrections were not updated in the original post, nor in the updates, it would now be inappropriate to add alter any of these posts, corrections, or updates, as we believe it may cause unnecessary confusion.

The editorial department regrets this error and considers the matter closed, unless more information becomes available and additional corrections or updates become necessary.

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