Going to the Woods

I am not generally a big fan of New Years’ resolutions, or resolutions in general, or even resolve. I am more likely to casually ponder doing something than to resolve to do it. Consequently, there are many things that I ponder but never actually do. I consider my lack of accomplishment a fair trade-off for a relatively relaxed and low-stress life. In my more content and optimistic moments, I think of myself as having a Zen approach to life. I tell myself, it’s ok to not be achievement-oriented, because I would rather focus on simply “being” than on “doing.” In my more self-critical moments, I think of myself as a lazy slacker. I suppose I am somewhere in the middle. (A “Zlacker” maybe?)

But here we are at the end of another year, and I am approaching the end of another decade of life. I’ll turn 49 this year, which makes me very aware of the approaching 5-0 milestone, and of the way life seems to speed by as we get older. As I sit and watch my two boys happily playing with their Christmas Lego sets, I am deeply grateful for all of the blessings and privileges in my life. I am also aware of this little river of sludge that seems to have been building up in me for the past few years—in my brain, in my body, in my spirit. I feel out of shape and dull—not a condition that is likely to help me get the most out of life.

Professionally, I have given my life to the business of paying attention to words. I teach writing and literature, and I chose this path because books and poems have had a deep impact on me for my entire life. I have little fragments of favorite poems, novels, and essays floating around in my head at any given moment. One that has been rising to the surface most often recently is the well-known passage from the second chapter of Thoreau’s Walden:

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. . . . I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear . . . . I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

I often quote these lines when discussing the purpose of reading and writing with my students. I argue that the value of reading great literature and of writing is that both acts force us to pay attention. To notice detail. To make judgments. To appreciate. To live deliberately, in other words. I am realizing that if I am going to suck out the marrow of life’s bones, I first need to purge the sludge from my own bones. And the best way to wake myself up may be to commit to writing more often, to use writing as a way to more fully experience each day.

I know that blogs are “supposed to” have a clear, specific focus, and I contemplated several angles for this blog, but since it will primarily be a personal blog, mostly for myself, I am going to ignore this “supposed to” (as I do most of them, anyway) and keep this pretty broad. I’ll write about what I am noticing and thinking about. Of the many titles for the blog that I considered, I settled on “my woods” because this is where I will be coming to make sure that I am living deliberately.

I went looking for a picture of just woods, but decided to use this one that includes my boys, since they are two of the main reasons I need to begin to live more deliberately. This photo is from one of our favorite places to camp as a family -- Smoky Mountains National Park -- and it shows their personalities. Oliver is carefully examining some minute detail in the creek, while Emerson is being a ham.

I went looking for a picture of just woods, but decided to use this one that includes my boys, since they are two of the main reasons I need to begin to live more deliberately. This photo is from one of our favorite places to camp as a family — Smoky Mountains National Park — and it shows their personalities. Oliver is carefully examining some minute detail in the creek, while Emerson is being a ham.

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