A Utopia of One: Revisiting Thoreau

I grew up outside of Boston, a stone’s throw from Walden Pond. Every summer I prowled through its woods and floated in its shadowy waters; I even dated one of its rangers. Perhaps because of this, I considered Henry David Thoreau to be a neighbor and a mentor, and his Walden to be a sort of local pamphlet, not unlike a collection of blueberry recipes you might find in a Maine library. It wasn’t until I left home that I grasped the full impact of his screed. Thoreau didn’t just immortalize my neighborhood; he offered an anti-establishment, back-to-nature alternative to the Manifest Destiny mishegoss that has run rampant in this country since its inception.

Of course, my younger perception of Thoreau was also accurate. Though he abandoned a career in pedagogy soon after leaving Harvard, Walden can be read not only as a meditation but as the sort of educational pamphlet that used to fuel social movements; it goes so far as to dictate how many chairs we should own and what beverages we should consume. (Answer: Nothing but water, son.) Dying in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, at age forty-four – he would have celebrated his two-hundredth birthday this month – he remained a local boy for most of his life. Certainly his “hermit saint” persona – an “ignore thy neighbor” isolationism coupled with a passion for social justice (he was a fierce abolitionist and tax resister) – was completely and totally New England. Continue Reading →

Excavating Bella Abzug (and Other Leo Moons)

So you know how you fall into video clip scavenger hunts when you should be doing something else? I was really affected by the death of soulful, rumpled John Heard, whom I loved in Out On A Limb, the crazy and I mean crazy TV miniseries he made with Shirley Maclaine based on her memoir about transchanneling, reincarnation, extraterrestrials and best friend Bella Abzug. So I watched the whole series, which was even better than I remembered, and it led me to watching the feminist state rep’s entire 1998 memorial service, at which such lady luminaries as Shirley, Jane Fonda (pictured in one of Bella’s more conservative hats), Fay Wattleton, and all of Bella’s activist besties from 1930s Hunter College spoke. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy