Back in college we had this saying: “At Mudd there are three “S”s: Studying, Socializing, and Sleeping. Pick two.” I’m sure other schools had similar sayings but at Mudd it is actually true. Naturally, for me it was always a fight between Studying and Sleeping because I sure as shit wasn’t going to stop the party for those trivialities if it could be at all helped. One area where Sleep tended to win out was with respect to my off-campus humanities courses at the other Claremont Colleges. I’d stay up all night studying for my real classes at Mudd when called for, but I’d never do the same to finish a book from a class I couldn’t fail if I tried. The end result being that I have an ass-load of books stashed in ratty old boxes in my closet that I’ve never read or have only read a few pages of at most.
Just over a year ago, I was digging through such a box of these once-forgotten tomes, looking for something to read in an act of penance toward my former professors whose classes I ignored. Amongst the neglected was a short little number by Jean-Jacques Rousseau titled Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Only 160 pages long but I never cracked it open once, nor did I even remember what class I was supposed to have read it for. I’m not sure why I chose that one, but I was looking for something kind of inspiring or at least somewhat up-lifting. I may have been confusing it with another of the books in the boxes I never read: Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is about the same size and color and is also written by a dude with three names.
So without paying much attention, I started reading Rousseau half-expecting a Transcendentalist treatise or something. Boy was I in for a surprise. Turns out the class that I bought this book for was the “Paranoia in Modern Literature and Culture” class at Claremont McKenna. If you couldn’t tell from the title, that was a fucking bad-ass class. The books from that class which I actually read (Kafka‘s The Trial, Pynchon‘s The Crying of Lot 49, etc.) were amazing and the professor was really cool.
As I discovered, the book was really a collection of Rousseau’s thoughts as he went on long walks through the Paris streets near the end of his life. Enfeebled and embittered, writing about these walks, along with his botany hobby, were apparently some of the few remaining things he could do in his advanced age that still brought him joy. His pains were both real and imagined, and I’m not familiar enough with his life or his other works to always tell one from the other, but his writing here was most certainly paranoid. The opening sentence reads: “So now I am alone in the world, with no brother, neighbor or friend, nor any company left me but my own.” Yeah, and there’s a lot more where that came from.
But oddly enough, it was actually an inspiring read after all. Self-pity is indulgence. Although delusional, and kind of douchey, Rousseau can be quite an endearing cat, I found. I myself, as of late, have taken to wandering about the Courts and Ways of my fair city, the Paris of the Southland [deadpan]. Say what you want about Long Beach, and I admit it is no 1770’s Paris, but what it lacks in horse-drawn carriages and child street-urchins, it more than makes up for with it’s own sort of beleaguered charm. And in honor of that, I’ve decided to take a page (figuratively) from Rousseau’s book (literally) and write up some reveries of my own. I mean, it’s just walking around and writing about the stupid shit that comes into his/my head. I can do that. The pathways of Long Beach feel the soles of enough shoes that they surely can provide ample fodder for the pen and the brain. Walk. Observe. Walk. Contemplate. Walk. Experience. But mostly walk. I decided to finally give it a go last year on Halloween night…