Philosophy is Next

August 22, 2016

 me

Exhausted but Content, after Day One

No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and thus draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

Emerson delivered these bold words at Dartmouth College, two weeks after infuriating the Harvard Divinity School faculty with his infamous (and still unnamed) “Address” of 1838. Choosing not to grouse over the public rejection he endured, Emerson continued to play ball, pitching these encouraging words to young minds who dared to think independently. Emerson, immortalized by his “Self-Reliance” essay, pointed out how dismissive we are of our own independent ideas.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Tomorrow is the second day of school for me, and the first meeting of my Philosophy class. Every time I open a new semester with this class, I try to challenge the students to find their own voice and dare to speak their own mind. In 1784, when the European Enlightenment was at its peak, Immanuel Kant published his essay, What is Enlightenment (Was ist Aufklärung?). He described the experience as the individual emerging from his/her own tutelage, daring to think independently (Sapere aude). That’s what I wish to challenge my students to do: dare to know. We stand on the stratified centuries of intellectual tradition, yet too often pride ourselves only in mastering and reciting the material rather than believing that we can do it better, that we can push the envelope further than earlier visionaries saw or dared to push.

This day has been very satisfying. I’m hoping that tomorrow is as well.

Thanks for reading.

 

Altar Building

August 21, 2016

altar

My Favorite Room on this Planet–a Sacred Space

Emerson knew there was “an innavigable sea of silent waves between us and the things we aim at”.

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Sunday is a day set aside for worship by many. Personally, I feel that I worship far more frequently than weekly. Nevertheless, throughout this day, I’ve been building an altar in preparation for tomorrow morning when school begins for the 2016-2017 term. I could easily say that the altar preparation began when I left the last day of the Spring term. But it would be even more accurate to say that this altar has been under construction for decades. I don’t know when I first thought I would actually be an educator by professionI signed my first contract in 1985 when the University of North Texas offered me an adjunct post, teaching Introduction to Philosophy. It was then that I knew for certain how I wished to live out the rest of my life.

Tomorrow I meet my sections of Advanced Placement and Regular Art History, three ninety-minute classes total. I’m gratified to see a roster filled with familiar names–students I have already had in Regular Art History, Philosophy or A.V.I.D. When I see their faces, I will experience a homecoming of sorts. And knowing they chose this elective class gratifies me even more deeply. I hear many teachers express that they want to be liked, and of course I know that feeling. But far more satisfying to me is the idea that these students trust me.  They chose to return because they trust me. And I trust them. That is why I feel so much potential for good as we enter this relationship for a second year. Two of these students entered my classroom last week when I was setting things in order. I can’t explain what I felt when I saw them come through that door. I had no idea how much this summer I had missed their enthusiasm and positive contributions to the classroom environment. And now tomorrow, I get to see them again, and begin a new chapter in this odyssey.

Altar building. A teacher invests a great deal of time and effort, assembling material for the day’s learning, enters the room and tries to set the materials afire. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the match is wet and won’t strike. Sometimes the match ignites, but the material isn’t combustible. Sometimes the match ignites, the materials flame up, but the students are looking at their phones and don’t notice any of it. There is so much that can go wrong, even when one spends hours, days, indeed a lifetime preparing for the Event. But there is so much that can go right. And that thought is what keeps us coming back.

The altar has been prepared, and I’m praying for fire.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Ancestral Voices

August 19, 2016

bluff 2

Trying to pierce the mystery with our categories is like trying to bite a wall. Science extends rather than limits the scope of the ineffable, and our radical amazement is enhanced rather than reduced by the advancement of knowledge.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

Good morning, Friends. I awoke with the thoughts of the divine Abraham Heschel surging through me. I guess it is nearly time to start school again. And I am ready, spiritually (intellectually may be another matter). Today is Friday, the last assigned day to have our classrooms ready (although we are allowed access tomorrow, if necessary).

Mornings that begin over a watercolor are better than those that do not. Over coffee, I lingered awhile re-reading this magnificent biography by Robert Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire. While reading and allowing my mind to drift, I thought over the collage of role models who have motivated me over nearly three decades of classroom experience: the erudition of Paul Tillich, eloquence of Emerson, wildness of Thoreau, inventiveness of Shakespeare, alertness of William Carlos Williams, confidence of Walt Whitman, daring of Picasso, and more recently the sensitivity of Annie Dillard. I suppose I’m never sure what exactly David Tripp will be as the semester unfolds, but in these later years, I hope I’m not as conscious of that as I am of the richness of ideas, dreams and explorations offered as we enter that arena of education.

This watercolor I’ve posted is a small sketch, approximately 9 x 12″ unframed. I think it may be done, and will probably decide when I get home from school this afternoon. I’m ready to plunge into a larger work, more like 18 x 24″ taking as my subject another of the Big River bluffs my friend Wayne White photographed and sent to me.  Again, I can relive the kayaking experiences I knew this summer with both Wayne and Mark Nelson, grateful that such gifts are still offered in this life.

Time to leave for school, again. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

They’re Coming, and I’m Ready

August 18, 2016

bluff

The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible. And they are. They want awakening. Get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep, out into God’s universe, to a perception of its beauty, and hearing of its call, and your vulgar man, your prosy, selfish sensualist awakes, a god, and is conscious of force to shake the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, April 20, 1834

Today the anticipated feeling arrived. Today I rose to enter my classroom, free of any further meetings this week, free to retreat to my classroom, my sanctuary, and prepare for the arrival of students Monday morning. I still have tomorrow, and Saturday, if necessary to finish preparations, and my spirits are rising.

Monday is when the magic may begin. Students will enter my world, my sanctuary, my playground, Room 114 of Martin High School. They are invited to enter my arena of ideas, of enthusiasm, of new beginnings. Art, philosophy, literature, the humanities, the core of human creativity–these are the forces beckon all of us to partake in the Event. As Whitman wrote: “the powerful play moves on, and you may contribute a verse.”

I have been told that my students are lucky to have me. I always appreciate that kind word. But it is I who am lucky to have them. They are the ones who keep me alive. They are the ones who challenge me. They are the ones who ask questions I can never anticipate. The curiosity is epidemic, and they are the carriers, not I. So I look forward to a new year, to new beginnings, to a new hope.

After a week of watercolor dormancy, I am happy that I got to pick up the brush again this evening. My friend Wayne White shot a magnificent photograph while kayaking the Big River in Missouri, and was kind enough to send the image to me. I’m working hard to reproduce the wonders and floods of feelings I get every time I look at this image and remember one of the highlights of my summer vacation. Thanks, Wayne.

And thank you for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

A Quiet, Reflective Afternoon

August 17, 2016

baroque cat

Baroque Still Life of Rich Foods and Sleeping Cat

Emerson lived for ideas, but he did so with the reckless, headlong ardor of a lover.

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Good afternoon from a dark, rain-soaked Texas afternoon. After weeks of triple-digit temperatures, my home territory has been soaked in rain for three days running, and forecasts say it could last a few days more. The darkness of the afternoon provides quite a respite for my weary soul, having just finished my third day of Inservice in preparation for the opening of a pair of campuses. My college began its first day today, and high school will open Monday. Meanwhile, we educators are slogging through hours and hours of daily meetings. Thursday and Friday “promise” to be uninterrupted days spent in our classrooms putting things in order, and of course, the building will be open Saturday if we need still another day to get ready.

Time has not allowed me the luxury to paint at all this week, so instead of my recent watercolor activity I’ve chosen to post a photo I took recently while dining quietly one afternoon at the College Street Pub in Waxahachie. The temperatures that afternoon hovered around 103 degrees, and the floor fans on the porch were doing their best to cool off the patrons. I could not resist pointing my camera phone at the slumbering cat stretched out on one of the cafe tables. I was reminded of a Dutch still life composition of objects assembled to depict the good life as well as the notion of vanitas. 

While reading last night, I came across this line concerning Emerson that I posted above. The Richardson biography I read when it was a brand new publication, then alas, someone stole the volume out of my classroom about ten years ago. Having just purchased a new one, I have to read it once more, and underline once again the passages that resonate with me. I felt genuinely exposed when I read the author’s assessment of Emerson’s passion-driven life of the mind. I know the pain associated with having lived such a life, and am more conscious than ever of others I have hurt in the past as I’ve charged full-bore along such a path. One hates to come into the senior years with a sense of regret, but indeed I look back and regret that there are things I cannot re-do. When I approach my Philosophy class this coming semester, I think I’m going to explore some of these character issues from an existential framework. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that our character is the sum-total of our decisions in life: the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are what we have made ourselves to be, nothing more, nothing less. I wish someone would have talked to me of such matters when I sat at a high school desk. Maybe the teachers did, and I was just too indolent to listen. I don’t know. Now it’s my turn to talk to the next generation, and I’m grateful to have the chance once again this semester to try and get it right.

Looking back over this post, I fear it sounds more pessimistic than I feel right now. I’m tired from the three days of meetings, but not morose, not depressed. With a little rest, I anticipate I’ll regather some energy to face what lies ahead, grateful that I still have a few days . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Addled

August 16, 2016

pine lorraine

Second Plein Air Sketch from Rolla, Missouri

Curly:  You city folk, you worry about a lotta shit . . . . You all come here at about the same age, with the same problems. Spend about fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope, and then you think two weeks out here will untie them for you. None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is?  . . .  One thing. Just one thing.

City Slickers

I awoke this morning with this motion picture dialogue in my head. Yesterday was the first day of Inservice as I returned to my high school job. As expected, the day dumped a myriad of details on our heads, and life by last evening was everything but simple. My college job resumes tomorrow. But I’m happy tonight, because all the knots in the rope of my online course got untied today, thanks to timely help again from Texas Wesleyan University’s CETL department–they are always, always there to assist, thank you Natalie and Linda.

A parallel dialogue to Curly’s (minus the profane language) is found in The Gospel According to Luke, chapter ten. In that text, Jesus offers a calming word to a frantic Martha, pointing out that she is distracted over many things, but only one thing is necessary. Both of these dialogues flooded my heart with peace this afternoon as I sorted out school matters, preparing to begin a new year, and remembering what exactly this is all about.

addledAddled

I will never, ever successfully dot all the i’s and cross the t’s that are demanded of me. But I’ll still pour my best into the task, as I have for nearly thirty years. And at the end of most days, I’ll look back, satisfied that I did the best I could with what time and resources I had.

Posted at the top is the second plein air watercolor I began in Rolla, Missouri a few weeks ago with my friend Lorraine McFarland. I suppose I’ll always be enchanted at the site of a stand of pines. I cannot call it “finished” yet, and probably didn’t give it the best of my attention as I was “distracted” on that day as well (story of my life). I was on my way Home when I began the work, but now that I have arrived, I’m looking at it every day, trying to figure out what to do next.  I’ll post it again when it’s finished.

Thanks for reading.

I paint, wondering what I’ll learn next.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog, always grateful that I am not alone.

 

Coming Home

August 15, 2016

Summer ends this morning for me. Day One of back-to-school Inservice commences today. The summer break was too rich to encapsulate, though I attempted to in my blog posts. The best I can say about it this morning is that I felt the dynamics of Whitman’s “Noiseless, Patient Spider”.  I seemed to spend most of my days suspended in a vast chasm, casting out filament, longing for a connection somewhere. Fortunately, the ductile thread caught in several places, I felt a renewed hope, and I was able to come Home. I’m so glad to be Home.

The watercolor above is the finished plein air piece I started in Rolla, Missouri with my friend Lorraine McFarland.

Thanks for reading.

The Greatest Poem

August 13, 2016

station new

The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.

Walt Whitman, 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass

Good morning, Beautiful People. Aren’t Saturdays luxurious when one is allowed to sleep in, recharge the weary batteries weakened by the week, make coffee and enjoy the silence and space? I wanted to take this moment and post a watercolor I finally completed, a small one (9 x 12″ unframed) of a restored 1921 Shell station in New Cambria, Missouri.  A dear friend from high school had alerted me to its existence, and with difficulty I was able to gain access and take a number of reference photos.  The image has been emblazoned in my mind’s eye for about a month, and I’m glad finally to bring this small composition to its conclusion.

I have posted Whitman’s quote because for months I’ve been hearing a myriad of unnecessary, unpleasant remarks being tossed about on the air waves and social media as this current election runs its bloody course. I love Whitman’s assessment of this country and its beauty in that a number of disparate peoples have been knitted together in a pattern of cities, counties and states to create a United States. I am stirred by that metaphor.

But I am more deeply stirred when I encounter that word “poem” derived from the Greek poiēma and better translated “work of art.” The letter to the Ephesians in 2:10 states “for we are his workmanship” (King James Version), the translation of poiēma. Some translations prefer “handiwork.” I like the idea of you being a poem, a work of art, something splendid that has been created and given as a Gift to this world.

So, whatever happens to you on this day, I urge you to pause and reflect on the magnificent poem that is you.  Unique.  There is no one else like you in this culture, and you are placed here where you can color and enrich those who surround you.  Above all, be a Gift to yourself.  Love yourself.  Take great joy in that you are what you are.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to encounter.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Good Morning, America

August 12, 2016

loco (2)

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, . . . 

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to no one else.

Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing”

Good morning again, blogging and facebook friends. I unplugged from your company a couple of weeks ago, needing some time away to sort out some unsortable issues. After a week, I experienced little success in sorting, and then didn’t really know how to return to you, and still don’t, actually. Wayne White, a loving friend from high school days (http://www.doubledacres.com/), used to open his daily facebook with the warmest greetings to us all, and I still feel the warmth from reading his posts. So, here is my hope this morning to leave words of good cheer for anyone needing such. Wayne always encouraged us to spread the love, so I shall try.

A number of watercolors have been completed since I last posted, including the one above. This is a larger work by my scale (16 x 20″ unframed), and recalls a good moment from last spring while I was judging and workshopping at a plein air event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, one of my favorite American towns for painting.

This summer has provided the luxury of grazing amidst many lush literary pastures.  A host of luminaries have shined a light before and within me throughout this sojourn, and I love them all for sharing their literary gift. During a joyful re-reading of William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry, I revisited this passage:

Depth roots us in the world, gives life substance and wholeness. It enriches our work, our relationships, everything we do. It’s the essential ingredient of a good life and one of the qualities we admire most in others. Great artists, thinkers, and leaders all have an unusual capacity to be ‘grasped’ by some idea or mission, an inner engagement that drives them to pursue a vision, undaunted by obstacles. Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr.—we call them ‘brilliant,’ as if it were pure intelligence that made them who they were. But what unites them is what they did with their intelligence, the depth they reached in their thinking and brought to bear in their work.

Balancing social encounters with a quiet contemplative life has made this entire summer truly unforgettable, with a host of splendorous emotions accompanied by a commensurate number of stumbles, bumps and bruises. That happens, and we should welcome it. After all, we know the sentiments of Henry David Thoreau as we continue to pursue the phantom of fulfilment throughout this Odyssey:

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

We know of that which Thoreau speaks. Each of us still tracks that phantom whose memory continues to haunt. And as Whitman observed, each of us sings our own carol.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Into the Sanctuary

August 3, 2016

shadows

It all depends on the capacity of the soul to be grasped, to have its life-currents absorbed by what is given.

William James

On this day, the morning of August 3, 2016, I am retreating from the world, at least for a day, perhaps longer. For weeks, I have been immersed in people—family, friends, new acquaintances—and while soaking in the glow of their conversations, I unknowingly cut the moorings that secured me to the sanctuary that feeds my inner life. I have done this before, and there has always been a price to pay. I paid a heavy one this time. In response, with school and its daily crowd arriving in less than two weeks, I again retreat to my true shelter, my interior. I plan to begin a series of blind blogs, drafting my daily thoughts as before with the intention of launching them on the blog at a later time. For now, the blog and facebook will have to be laid aside.  It is time to find myself before I merge onto the school freeway. There is so much to sort out.

I have drawn strength daily from my dear readers’ kind comments, and I will miss that contact. I plan to return.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


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