Only One Thing Matters

July 22, 2014

Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Second Evening on the Scat Lounge

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distraught over many things.  Ony one thing matters.  Mary has chosen that good portion, and it will not be taken from her.

Jesus (Luke 10:41-42)

-You city folk worry about a lotta shit. . . . Y’all come up here about the same age.   Same problems.  Spend about fifty weeks a year gettin’ knots in your rope.  Then you think two weeks up here’ll untie ‘em for you.   None of you get it.  Do you know what the secret of life is?

- No. What?

- This.

- Your finger?

-One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.

-That’s great, but… what’s the one thing?

-That’s what you gotta figure out.

Dialogue between Curly and Mitch, (City Slickers)

This morning, as I sought to untie a few knots, I looked up the passage about Jesus visiting in the home of Mary and Martha, and then read a fine Paul Tillich sermon on the text, titled “Our Ultimate Concern.”  As I wrote in my journal and pondered on the one thing that matters, I recalled the scene from the motion picture City Slickers that made me laugh many years ago.  Yesterday’s thoughts about Captain Ahab’s challenge to “strke through the mask” was still fresh on my heart, and I began to write about the values that matter to me now at this age, and how much they have been challenged over the decades.  It seems that much of our hitting against that mask is an attempt to clarify what it is exactly that matters to each of us.

At this point, I’m not going to address what matters in my life, but encourage anyone who reads to consider what matters most in his or her life, and try to keep it in perspective when other distractions demand attention to the diminishment of that one thing which matters.  What Martha did in the gospel story was important, but so was that which Mary chose.  I feel that readers of the story too often try to take sides between the two.  Jesus didn’t do that–he only admonished the one criticizing that the source of her angst lay in the reality that she was responding to too many stimuli; only one thing matters.  Emerson addressed this problem as well, saying that oftentimes we try to answer to everything around us that demands our attention, and that action only manages to “scatter our force.”

The painting posted above appears as though not much has happend to it in the past twenty-four hours.  Actually there has been substantial work added.  I spent a good portion of the afternoon layering transparent wash on about fifty percent of the surface (right-hand side) and then salting, spritzing and drawing into the wet surface.  It will take awhile for me to get these brick textures to do what I want them to do.  But I’m feeling confident and in control of this one, though I’m still aware of how much slower it’s going, due to the overall size of the composition.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Strike Through that Mask!

July 21, 2014

Strike Through that Mask!.

Strike Through that Mask!

July 21, 2014

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth's Jazz Scat Lounge

Progress on a Large Watercolor of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event–in the living act, the undoubted deed–there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!

Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s speech

Nothing auspicious loomed on my radar this morning when I sat down to breakfast around 6:40.  It was Monday, the beginning of another week of summer school was waiting, fifty minutes around the corner.  I had Moby Dick lying open beside my plate and was reading while slowly chewing bites of breakfast.  I had to stop and close the book when I read this passage, ideas swarmed so thickly I could scarcely begin to process them.  I wished for an hour at my writing desk, but had to dash to school to be on time for a 7:30 class.

For nearly thirty years, I have patiently pointed out to anyone who would listen, in the lecture rooms or in the lounges, the scaffolding of Platonist thought in literature.  Plato’s split-world view was divided between Ideas and Appearances, the former permanent and spiritual, the latter ephemeral and physical.  And the transcendent ideas provide the scaffolding for the physical appearances.  In this dramatic confrontation in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab publicly confronts a reluctant Starbuck who protests that selfishly seeking revenge on a white whale is impractical business.  Ahab twice retorts that Starbuck inhabits a “little lower layer”–the realm of money, measurement, accounting and computing.  This layer is only a portion of the pasteboard mask that hides the real intelligence lurking behind it.  I heard Ahab shouting at me when he cried out: “If man will strike, strike through the mask!”  

All dissatisfaction that arises from life today springs from our efforts to “strike through that mask.”  What is the mask, the wall, the barrier, standing between us and what we seek?  I shudder every semester when my philosophy class reads and discusses Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  The one prisoner breaks his chains, and rises to the world of truth.  The class discussion can turn lively when students begin to discuss the chains that bind us, the masks that fool us.  The human predicament is the quest for something more, only to find out that that “something more” was a mask, and not what we really thought we were seeking.  There is so much to ponder here.  What is the nature of the mask through which we are challenged to strike?

Tonight I am posting a watercolor that I began a month or two ago and revived this afternoon.  Large works do tend to intimidate me, but it doesn’t take long to feel that I have gotten up to my elbows comfortably, wading around inside this composition.  All of my work this afternoon has been on the sign, and it’s not going fast, but I’m enjoying the process so far.  As I work, I listen gladly to PBS documentaries of various poets (the Voices and Visions series), and feel such a connection with Wallace Stevens, working in an insurance firm, but working on poems in his mind his entire life, while most of his surrounding colleagues remained unaware of the reality that was driving him.  He was constantly striking through the mask.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Memories Arriving in Layers, Like Waves

July 19, 2014

Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks

Relaxing on the Oregon Coast among the Rocks, July 26, 1992

The ocean is the ultimate earth mother,I mean the constant change of the tides, its relation to the moon, the sound of it rolling back and forth—it’s almost too beautiful.  And I regard being on the water during the summer as my substitute for a Parisian café, and I can sit there by the hour.  It is certainly not profound, but it’s—I enjoy it.  All artists are voyeurs, not people of action.

Robert Motherwell (interview)

Sleep did not come easily last night.  My mind continually drifted over what I had been reading in Moby Dick.  Decades ago, I scoffed that I had probably been a whaler in a former life.  The legend of Moby Dick has always resonated with me, as have thoughts about life in nineteenth-century New England, though I have never even been to the coast in that region; Concord, Massachusetts is as close as I ever got.  

When I awoke this morning, my first thoughts recalled a 1990 summer afternoon in rural Waxahachie, Texas, when I gazed across a vast field bathed in the golden glow of the afternoon sun.  I was spending the day at an annual Renaissance Festival, Scarborough Faire, and as my mind drifted, I heard the voice of a storyteller entertaining an audience of children with a seafaring tale.  He was shouting in the dialect that I was reading in those days from Herman Melville short stories, and recalling that sound today makes me think of the settings in New Bedford and Nantucket.  I felt on that afternoon in 1990 that I was being transported far back to another era, another space, and the undulating meadow before me was turning into a rolling ocean.

Growing up in the Midwest, I never even saw an ocean until I was thirty-eight years old, in 1992.  I landed in the Pacific Northwest for a five-week study in New England Transcendentalism at Oregon State University.  My plane touched down in Portland, and my rental car took me westward to the coast for that first look at the vast, sprawling Pacific.  Above, I have posted a photo taken of me on Sunday, July 26, as I relaxed for a day on the coast, reading from Emerson and Thoreau, and listening to the thunder of the tides crashing against the cliffs that enclosed me.

Throughout this Saturday, I have not shaken off these deep feelings induced by Melville and personal memories.  I pulled my volumes of journals and read all my handwritten entries from that month spent in Oregon, as well as the dawn I sat on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, six years later, translating The Iliad and reading from Thoreau’s Walden.  Today has been a day of ocean memories, and I have gladly been enveloped by an ocean of space and time–no appointments, no agenda–just reading, reflecting, recalling.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Stirring of the Muses on a Friday Night

July 18, 2014

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Aaron Copland plays “Appalachian Spring” as I sit up late on a Friday night, with a desire to think, to write, to be.  The day started beautifully at 6:00 a.m., with no school to go and teach.  I love the three-day weekends of summer school.  I sat in my living room and watched through the open blinds the dawn breaking across my backyard while I re-read chapter two of Thoreau’s Walden,“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”  I love his salute to Aurora and the beautiful meditations about the dawn being the heroic age–that all intelligences awake with the dawn.  The chapter marked a delicious start to the day.  Following Thoreau, I then turned to Proust and to Melville, reading for well over an hour before rising to enter the kitchen and make breakfast.  Following breakfast I worked a long time in the watercolor studio, mostly finishing up abandoned work that had piled up the past couple of months.

To begin this delicious night in my darkened studio, Marcel Proust delivered beautiful images in Swann’s Way.  The young narrator is smitten by the sight of a girl with a fair complexion and azure eyes.  The mere sight of her overpowers his eyes at the same time the hawthorns are flooding his senses.  He cannot separate the beauty of the two.  How many of us still recall those first instances of romantic love and how we lost all bearings?  What a marvelous gift it would be to set such a profound experience down in prose as Proust managed to do.

In Moby Dick, after 120 pages, Captain Ahab finally emerged into view, and what a powerful force his presence exerted on his surrounding environment.  Like the solid bronze of Cellini’s Perseus, he towers above his ship and crew, the mere sight of him with no accompanying speech evoking a sense of genuine awe from the narrator.  His aggressive gesture toward second mate Stubb rattled the otherwise stalwart officer, leaving the bemused fellow wondering what it was exactly that evoked such a fear from him.

With sadness, I resumed reading a biography of Jack Kerouac by Tom Clark.  I read the book several years ago, then lent it out and never got it back.  So now I’m reading a newly purchased copy, re-highlighting, etc., and of course, am very surprised at how much of the content I have already forgotten from the first reading.  The details of Kerouac’s migratory life always leave me with the same kind of disturbed thoughts that I get from reading about Hemingway: these men had such a passion for disciplined writing that always drives me to find another gear to crank out work, no matter how tired or discouraged I may become in my own life and work.  They truly induce me to work even harder in my research, thinking and writing.  But the misery of both these men brings me to such overwhelming sadness.  I’m glad I never mixed alcohol with my life’s work—I am not able to identify with that problem on a gut-level.  But the despondency, the self-doubt, the second-guessing—that kind of a hell I have known all-too-well, and don’t like to visit or re-visit.  And it hurts deeply every time I read these details in their life’s work.

This afternoon, I was deeply moved, listening to a trio of thirty-minute lectures from The Teaching Company.  I have been so fortunate to receive a number of these lecture sets, first in VHS and later in DVD, from a number of dear friends and occasionally from one of those “can’t miss” sales that the company offers.  One lecture was from Daren Staloff (“Hegel—History and Historicism”), and the other two from Daniel N. Robinson (“The Idea of Freedom” and “Human History as the Unfolding of the Ideal: The Hegelians”).  The lectures prompted me to draw out a volume placed in my hands earlier this year by our remarkable school librarian, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Anyone familiar with this volume is no doubt grinning already, but I am actually getting enough from the text to stay with it.  Hegel’s mind was Faustian in the way he incorporated and excerpted virtually everything he studied throughout his lengthy life, and then fashioned all that knowledge into a comprehensive system.  His mind reminds me very much of that of Paul Tillich, with that interdisciplinary drive, and of course I have always wanted to be that way.  So, tonight I also spent some more time working over Hegel’s text and recording observations in my journal.

Last night I took out my Latin grammars and workbooks and resumed a project I started in 2003, but abandoned on three subsequent occasions.  Eleven years later, I still cannot read Latin, but love and respect the language and am now finding myself devoting some summer evenings to working on my vocabulary and grammar exercises, and pulling out occasional texts from one of my Loeb Classical Library volumes as well as my Biblia Sacra Vulgata.  Tonight marks my second consecutive night working in the Latin text.  I had always hoped I could work this language as I do the ancient Greek, but alas, I took many semesters of Greek and it stayed with me fortunately.  Latin was never available in the schools I attended.  I love the line from Byron’s Beppo:

I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,

Which melts like kisses from a female mouth.

All of tonight has been given to reading, note-taking and writing.  I did manage today to finish a number of watercolor projects that had been abandoned over the past months.  Above, I have posted my finished product of the historic flatiron building on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  I don’t know why I had laid it aside for so long, but now I’m glad it’s finished and has been delivered to the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Late Night Moments with Proust

July 17, 2014

Proust Collage and French Editions

Proust Collage and French Editions

I dined with Legrandin on the terrace of his house, by moonlight.  “There is a charming quality, is there not,” he said to me, “in this silence; for hearts that are wounded, as mine is, a novelist whom you will read in time to come asserts that there is no remedy but silence and shadow.  And see you this, my boy, there comes in all our lives a time, towards which you still have far to go, when the weary eyes can endure but one kind of light, the light which a fine evening like this prepares for us in the stillroom of darkness, when the ears can listen to no music save what the moonlight breathes through the flute of silence.”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

The hour is drawing late.  I have read and written since about 4:30 this afternoon.  I taught summer school from 7:30 till 12:45.  But there is no school on Fridays, and that is very good, since sleep is nowhere near at this point for me, and I am deeply stirred by these beautiful words, even in translation.  I am perpetually amazed that a French author can resonate so deeply with me, knowing that I am reading an English translation, and wondering at the same time what it must be like to read him directly in his own language.  What amazing feeling and insight!  As I read these words, I had the soulful harp music playing from Hilary Stagg’s CD “The Edge of Forever.”  The ethereal quality of this music is no doubt enhancing the kind of reading I’m doing tonight.  I am committed to reading Proust because he wrote from a perspective that we experience primal re-visitations of warm memories from our past, often triggered by some sensation of taste, hearing, touch, smell or vision.  I have always held firmly to that conviction, and love reading his work.

I have posted a small collage I did of Proust some years back, and added some photos of his early publications that were sent me last year when I placed in a Proust competition sponsored by one of our WordPress bloggers.  

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog ro remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Blogging and Loading the Dishwasher

July 17, 2014

One of my Recent Watercolors now Featured on a Coaster

One of my Recent Watercolors now Featured on a Coaster

“I’m going to go upstairs and write for a while,” became as normal a sentence as, “I’m going to go downstairs and tackle some of the laundry.”  My novel was simply one more job I had set for myself.  I cooked meals, did laundry, helped kids with their homework, and I wrote.

Julia Cameron, FInding Water: The Art of Perseverence

Tonight’s blog may come across as silly, but I am writing straight from the heart.  Yesterday I was notifed by WordPress that the day marked the five-year anniversary since I started this blog.  It doesn’t feel like five years, and I certainly never expected to gain the readership I’ve known the past five years.  All of this is still surreal.  As a teacher, I have known the pleasure of leading plenty of workshops, formerly of a pedagogical nature for English and Art teachers, more recently for watercolor enthusiasts.  I doubt sincerely that I will ever lead a “blogging” workshop, so I thought I would take this moment to share the “inside” of why I am doing this.

Years ago, I made the acquaintance (via librarything.com) of a writing professor at a college in Ohio.  I had already reached that age of taking very little advice from others, but for reasons I cannot explain, it seems that whatever she recommended, I believed her and tried it: first facebook, then the blog.  So I have you, Theresa, to thank for starting me down this road.  This was your idea, and it has proved an excellent one.  You’ll never know what all this has come to mean to me.

So, why do I blog?  Well . . . for several decades, my mind has swirled daily with more ideas than I could ever capture and package for lectures and works of art.  My inspiration comes from reading, from writing in a journal (well over a hundred volumes now), from studying the history of ideas, particularly in art, philosophy, literature and religion–and there have never been enough outlets for me to release all these things.  The blog has given me one more avenue, one more venue, for sharing.  Today I read and wrote until my head was spinning, and I realized I could not pull all these ideas together to put in a single blog, so I drafted five more blog entries (perhaps to be released later, if they ever make sense).  Today I was rocked by Melville, Goethe, Kant, Hegel, Shelley, Keats and Proust, as well as some reading in general history of 18th-century Europe.  I just couldn’t seem to slip a harness over this body of ideas, so I gave up, and decided instead to write this general confessional about why I blog.  Blogging has become as normal a habit for me as loading the dishwasher or doing my laundry.  I just do it, and still enjoy it.  And when my ideas move someone else, I am humbled and grateful.

Thanks for reading my blog.

P. S.  I posted a photo of a coaster I just had made that features one of my latest watercolors.  This is the first time I’ve taken this step.  I think I’ll have others made as well.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

i blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Poetry for a New Age

July 16, 2014

The Beginning of a Small Still Life

The Beginning of a Small Still Life

Only poetry can fill the moral vacuum and give to progress a truly creative force.  Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.  Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

My summer school class closed out the Romantic unit today and will open the Victorian tomorrow.  But that doesn’t mean I have to stop reading Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley.  Sometimes I move on personally in my reading as the curriculum moves on; sometimes I lag behind, and this time I am glad to do the latter.  Today I have been enriched by Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ozymandias.”  I also took some time to re-read the chapter covering his biography in a small book titled Intellectuals that I purchased a few years ago and have enjoyed perusing.

Once I got home to the studio I immediately went to work on this small still life that I began yesterday.  I only got to lay in the background washes on the previous day–six layers of them all told.  I had to spend a great deal of time waiting for each layer to dry (plenty of quality reading time!).  After spending considerable time working on the spine of this one volume, I’m finally starting to figure some things out–it’s not coming easily, by any means.  The volume dates from around 1756, and I was ecstatic to learn that this book (Newton’s Dissertation on the Prophecies) was on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reading list of ten books when he entered Harvard Divinity School.  I traded a watercolor for this old volume back around 1975 when I lived in north Missouri.  The front cover is detached and the back cover has been lost.  The book also has broken in half, right down the center of the spine.  So it has no monetary value.  But I have enjoyed it as a prop for years.  In fact, I used it on a large acryilc painting I did of Nietzsche back in the late 1980′s.  I’ll post the picture if I can find an image of it somewhere–I sold the painting many years back.  

We’ll see if I can manage a decent watercolor of the book, up close and personal.  I’m working on it now as I gallery-sit as a volunteer for Trinity Arts Guild in Bedord, Texas.  The place is pretty quiet so far, so I’m able to get some quality work done.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Pat Weaver–you can extract just as much philosophy from one stanza of poetry as a chapter from Kant.

Clay Boley–King James Bible stays with you longer than Living Bible because you have to work at it, you have to linger over the text to “get it.”

On my 60th birthday, I thought about the discipline of writing poetic verse, and the thrift of language.

Seated at my writing desk,looking out at the glittering lights, I strive for a sense of optimism, a feeling that as small as I am, what I am doing still matters in the scheme of things.”

Julia Cameron, Finding Water

A Day with the Romantic Poets

July 15, 2014

Pausing for Awhile with the McNeely House

Pausing for Awhile with the McNeely House

“When you become creative in any field,” [Paul Tillich] stated, “your creativity is released in all other fields at the same time.” . . . [Tillich] believed that if you know one thing completely, it serves as a center—like a magnet around which iron filings coalesce—for all your other knowledge.  Then what you learn about anything else will fall into pattern.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

A morning spent with the British Romantic poets in a senior English summer school class fed my spirit with exquisite feelings.  We talked for a short while about Wordsworth’s sentiments when he stood in the presence of the wrecked Medieval Tintern Abbey.  Though my words probably failed me, I tried to address the dual sense of loss and presence we experience when we stand pensively in the midst of an abandoned ruin.  My own thoughts of course returned to this structure I’ve posted above–the remnants of the house where my mother lived throughout her childhood and where I visited during summers on my grandparents’ farm.  I find it difficult to describe romantic stirrings, but as the students worked on their assignments, I moved on in silence to some of the featured works of Keats: “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Melancholy,” and “On First Looking into Chaptman’s Homer.”  From that point I turned to a chapter on Shelley in Paul Johnson’s monograph Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky.  By the time I got home for lunch, I was ready for another romp in Mehville’s Moby Dick and now have passed one hundred pages in this remarkable story.  After reading awhile, I picked up the brush and worked a little more on Grandmother’s decaying house.  Then I decided to lay it aside for awhile, and began a still life, focusing on a volume I traded for back in the mid 1970′s that was published in 1756.  I have fancied for a number of years what it would be like to do a close, detailed watercolor rendering of an old leather volume.  I’m still tinting in the darkened background, and have already applied four washes of color.  It looks like I’ll be requiring two or three more washes before I can finally get down to the subject.  It’s been a good day for reading, painting and thinking.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Enjoying the Gentle Rain of a Darkening Evening

July 14, 2014

Still Working on the Latest Edition of Grandma McNeely's House

Still Working on the Latest Edition of Grandma McNeely’s House

Why is it that there is something melancholy in antiquity? . . . The heavens stood over the heads of our ancestors as near as to us.  Any living word in their books abolishes the difference of time.  It need only be considered from the present standpoint.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 14, 1841.

I got a quick jump on this new sketch of my grandmother’s old house over the weekend before returning to school for the new summer semester today.  In short, it was an excellent first day, and I’m looking forward to returning in the morning for round two.  The afternoon has been exquisite with darkening skies followed by loud thunderclaps and hard, drenching rain.  It is still dark outside, and I found that dividing my time between chipping away at this watercolor and reading further into Moby Dick to be very soothing indeed.  I’m glad that I spent a good part of my vacation making my dwelling more liveable and therefore more pleasant.  It’s been a very comfortable afternoon and evening indoors.  

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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