Emerson and Thoreau on Laundry Night (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)
It’s past midnight and I can’t sleep. In a few days, I’ll be teaching Emerson’s “Self Reliance” and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” With two small children in the house, an the usual full roster of “quality time” activities scheduled this weekend, I know I won’t get any work done over the weekend. I have a few uninterrupted hours of quiet ahead of me… maybe I should start reading.
On the other hand, I’m down to my last clean shirt. I really need to do laundry.
Do I spend three or four hours rekindling my relationship with the founders of a movement that defined the post-revolutionary American spirit, and so resign myself to teaching in my cleanest, least-wrinkled used shirt?
Do I fall to the allure of foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds, and give myself a headache trying to match the twenty assorted dark blue socks that I own? If I can’t tell the difference after squinting at them for a minute, why am I worried that a stranger who glimpses them for a second will mock my mismatched hosiery?
I do a little reading, the book propped open awkwardly before me, while putting shirts on hangars. “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it,” I read in Thoreau, “a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it.”
I almost fail to notice the missing button. I disrupt a stack of neatly folded washcloths, as I flip through Throeau looking for the “foolish consistency” quote because I can’t remember whether it reads “little minds” or “small minds”. Stupid me, that was Emerson, not Thoreau, no wonder I can’t find it. I shouldn’t put that shirt on a wire hanger.
Grr… this isn’t working. Transcendentalism or laundry? Laundry or transcendentalism?
I download copies of “Self Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience.” I fire up Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
“Action from principle–the perception and the performance of right –changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.”
As the voice drones in the early morning stillness, I collect into a large ball all the socks that I can’t instantly match. The twelve pairs of identical white tube socks and the six pairs of identical black dress socks will stay in the drawer. The rest get tied up (with one of the longer socks) into a little ball, and tossed aside.
“Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?” the voice continues. It seems disinterested with Thoreau, but is professional enough to give him a fair shake. “Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”