It's the birthday of writer Robert Pirsig, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis (1928). He's best known for his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), which 120 editors turned down before one finally offered a standard $3000 advance. The book is about the 1968 motorcycle trip he made from Minneapolis to San Francisco with his 12-year-old son Christopher. But the trip is really a backdrop for Pirsig's philosophical meditations on nature and technology. It was a completely unexpected best seller. He wrote: "The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower."
Zen was a cherished book for me as a younger man, and I have meant to go back to it for some time now. It helped cement my orientation toward philosophy, and, when I found out his record with publishers as stated above, heartened me in my own writing efforts.
On this day in 1847, Henry David Thoreau (books by this author) left Walden Pond and moved back to his father's house in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau had lived in the hut for two years, leading a simple life of gardening and contemplation, subsisting on a daily budget of 27-1/2 cents. When he moved back to Concord, he took with him the first draft of his book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, strung together from 10 years of journal entries.
As a MA native, I grew up thinking about Thoreau. When the first book I coedited was compared to Walden by an overly kind foreword writer, I can't say I wasn't pleased, though it was not our intention with that volume. I laughed when a colleague later informed me that HDT went home to lunch with his mother most days, though I have never confirmed this item.
I finally visited Walden Pond one year, on the way home from a program to recruit minority graduate students at Phillips Academy (Andover). As I sat on its public beach, after touring the tiny and famous hut reconstructed on the site, a Latino toddler next to me pulled his shorts down and urinated in the water. I couldn't stop smiling. I think Thoreau might have loved this juxtaposition. I certainly did.