Welcoming 2019

January 1, 2019

20170527_1436486034852067296088498.jpg

The passions are a kind of thirst, inexorable and intense, for certain feelings or felt states. To find or invent ‘objects’ (which are, more strictly speaking, relational structures) whose felt quality satisfies the passions,- that for me is the activity of the artist, an activity which does not cease even in sleep. No wonder the artist is constantly placing and displacing, relating and rupturing relations; his task is to find a complex of qualities whose feeling is just right – veering toward the unknown and chaos, yet ordered and related in order to be apprehended.

–Robert Motherwell

What an exhilaration to awake to a 19-degree winter morning on New Year’s Day 2019! With no appointments on the books, I felt a soothing calm as the day presented itself with leisure and books. Reading passages from Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell put me in the frame of mind to explore drawing with renewed vigor. He defined drawing as a method for organizing space on a two-dimensional plane.

The first day of the new year often witnesses a different trajectory in my art. Currently I am working on commissions, and will begin posting them, but I also laid down a New Year resolution that I would draw more. So . . . a few years ago, I drew one winter tree per day for the month of January, then matted each 5 x 7″ drawing, framed a few, and sold a large quantity of them. This year, I’m not thinking about the sale, only the hope to improve with the careful discipline and repetition of drawing. My intention is to spend January with a focus on drawing nature.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Over-the-Road Pondering

May 25, 2020

The pounding of the Greyhound diesel vibrated the interior, nudging Randy toward sleep as he sunk back into the softness of his seat. Once again he was charging across the Texas plains eagerly anticipating his rendezvous with his childhood friend, but this second day of over-the-road travel was beginning to wear him down. Writing in his journal was somewhat difficult with the bounce of the tires on the seams of the pavement, but something urged the drowsy Randy to keep writing . . .

Finally met the Reverend today. He exceeded all my expectations though Hank had really played him up over this past year. When someone insists I make an acquaintance, I am always skeptical. But this man Elton certainly strummed some profound musical chords deep within my psyche. And I’m grateful for today’s encounter.

The conversation was coming back now. Randy was back in the minister’s study, in genuine conversation with Elton Bauerkemper . . .

“How is it you and Hank became friends?”

“That’s an easy question. Hank Shelton, Randy Singleton. Since second grade, our class seating charts were arranged alphabetically. Hank was always in front of me. Lots of years to make mischief together during and after school.”

A smirk lightened the minister’s countenance as he eased back in his chair. He was looking less like a Man of the Cloth now. “Hank came in here about a year ago as I recall. He was on some sort of vision quest. How’s that working out?”

“I really don’t know much. He sure doesn’t want to come home to Turvey’s Corner. And I reached a point where I no longer wanted to stay. I guess I’ll know more in a day or two when I see him again.”

“How about you? Hank wrote me right after our visit and told me he had a friend who was a Lutheran minister he hoped I would one day meet. Though it’s been a year, I’ve pulled that letter from the files and re-read it several times and thought about this possibility. As soon as I saw you step off that city bus down the street with the backpack and walk this way, I knew it was either a homeless chap looking for a church handout or it might be you.”

“Well . . .” Randy was amused at the thought, “Homeless is how I’m feeling right about now. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“But you’re a Lutheran minister?”

“I was. Now I don’t really know what I am. I quit seminary a couple of months ago, went back home and found a room to rent. Worked a meaningless job, and now have cut all of it loose, even a marriage.”

“Seminary. Concordia?”

“Yeah. You too, from what Hank told me.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I guess I just tried too hard to force on a shoe that never fit. I felt lost when I went away to college. The Jesus People embraced me, made me feel like I had an identity and a real family. The ministry came over me before I really knew what was happening. Seminary came next. Then marriage. I was swept away by all the changes. And then Karl Barth happened.”

“Oh my.” The minister paused in silence, hoping he hadn’t ruptured the bond of communication and trust with his involuntary response, followed by this silence. Randy didn’t seem inclined to continue. Elton hoped he hadn’t broken in too soon or inserted a measure of disdain with his remark.

“I’m sorry I broke in. Your mention of Barth set off deep feelings in me. I couldn’t keep silent. Barth has been a real mentor to my inner life for over thirty years now. Do you want to talk about what he did to you?”

Randy just sat in silence, his expression not really downcast, just distant and pensive. Elton let it ride.

Finally, Randy looked up again, the light returning to his eyes as he began to speak. “All my life, others have told me what to do. My parents brought me up. My school told me what to read and think. My church told me how to live right. Once off to college, five hours away, I had no one directing me. But the Jesus People swept in, and they seemed so confident, so ebullient in their life’s direction, and again I let others tell me which way to go. Before I knew it, I was entering the ministry, entering the seminary and even getting married. Looking back now, it seems I just continued doing what everyone expected of me. And it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t complaining. Seminary was hard, but I met every benchmark, passed every test, completed every course. Whatever was handed to me, I handled the responsibility.”

Randy’s expression took on again that haze of bewilderment. “And then in theology class I read Karl Barth. His commentary on Romans.”

“The one that exploded like a bomb in the theologians’ playground,” interjected Elton.

“Yeah. The bomb.” Randy’s shoulders sagged at the memory. “This book didn’t read like anything I had ever read before. The language slashed like a razor. How could someone expound a book of the Bible and not sound like all the others I’d read before? Beneath his words pounded a heart of conviction, of genuine authenticity. And then . . . I read his metaphor of the crater left by a giant explosion and it suddenly happened to me. Everything I had embraced over the years suddenly was blown away as if a bomb had been dropped. And then, nothing remained. Before I realized it, my faith, my marriage, my profession, my identity—all gone. Incinerated. I suddenly felt this enormous crater, this unspeakable void that once was my life. It all sounds so bad, but I just don’t really miss it. I don’t feel that I lost anything of considerable value. I feel I am young enough that I can still start all over again and try to replace it all with something solid and real. Am I making any sense?”

“More than you think. I feel genuine pathos in what you’re saying. You’ve paid a hell of a price to get to where you are now, and contrary to your feelings of being homeless or unemployed or disenfranchised, in reality you are dizzy with a freedom that is priceless. I want you to feel confidence and adventure as you move forward, not defeat or despair. You say you lost your faith, but right now you are acting in faith. And that takes courage, my friend.”

Randy was suddenly heartened by what he was hearing. “I can’t thank you enough for what you just said. I don’t really think I’m falling into atheism. It’s just that my religious stirrings are primal and always have been. But in the church and seminary settings, I’ve felt the language and metaphors were always conventional and shallow. I’m still reading my Greek New Testament. And Barth. But the ecclesiastical language has crumbled away and I guess I’m heading west to the wilderness to see if I can find a more honest and direct way to address my beliefs.”

You’ve been reading Barth’s Romans commentary. I spend most of my time in his Church Dogmatics. I read last night a passage where he pointed out Augustine’s perspective that recollection means inwardness, man’s return from the distractions of the outside world and re-entry into himself to find God there. Listening to you today convinces me that you are on that kind of track. I seem to recall Hank had a fondness for Thoreau. As you probably know, he went to Walden Pond to clean out all that conventional debris that tried to clog his understanding of life. He would never have achieved epiphany had he held down a job in Concord and avoided Walden Pond. And you, my friend, would most likely have never experienced enlightenment traveling your conventional paths.”

Elton rose and walked over to his shelves lined with volumes. Pulling down a new black hardbound book, he turned, walked over to Randy and placed it in his lap. “Here. I want you to have this. The first volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It’s like new. I bought it because I so thoroughly marked up and annotated my tattered copy from seminary days. I thought I wanted a clean copy, but over the years I keep returning to the used copy to find the passages I had marked before. This one is just gathering dust on my shelf, and I’d really like someone Special to have it now. I think it’s cool that someone drawing nearer to the Native American ethos under the open skies takes Barth along with him for dialogue and perhaps rapprochement between the natural world and the scholarly. Keep me posted. I’m really interested to see how you and Hank come out on this Odyssey. Wouldn’t it be something if you found Ithaca after all.”

Randy Seeks Out the Reverend

May 17, 2020
Our Savior Lutheran Church

Life moves on its course in its vast uncertainty and we move with it, even though we do not see the great question-mark that is set against us. Men are lost, even though they know nothing of salvation. Then the barrier remains a barrier and does not become a place of exit. The prisoner remains a prisoner and does not become the watchman.

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans

It was Sunday morning when Randy got off the Greyhound bus in downtown Dallas. He did this for a reason: Hank had written him a two-page letter nearly a year ago, a week after sending the postcard. He was thrilled over the conversation he had had with a Lutheran minister, so thrilled that he wrote the man as soon as he landed in Lubbock, thanking him for what he had said, and telling him he had a friend he hoped would one day get to meet him, a fellow Lutheran minister.

Though Randy had dropped out of the seminary and abandoned the “call” to ministry, he retrieved the letter that he’d saved and recalled that that minister had also attended Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Feeling somewhat lonely as a stranger in a strange land, Randy decided he would get off the bus while in Dallas and look up the minister.

Hank’s letter said the Reverend was at Our Savior Lutheran Church on the corner of West Clarendon & Gilpin. Thankfully, the city bus station was next door to Greyhound, so Randy strolled over to look up the route that would take him to this section of Dallas, a suburb called Oak Cliff.

As the city bus droned along the residential streets, Randy re-read his year-old letter from Hank.

The minister’s name is Elton Bauerkemper and he prefers to be called Elton. I really hope you get to meet him one day. He introduced to me this idea of living “a life of the Mind.” I had never heard that expression before. And what impressed me about him was his broad scope of reading, talking to me about Emerson, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Kerouac and Ginsberg. But I’ll be he’ll talk theology with you, since both of you attended the same Lutheran seminary. Who knows–maybe you had some of the same professors.

The bus came to a stop at the intersection of West Clarendon and Gilpin. It was 12:10. Church was dismissed and he could see a man in a black clerical robe standing on the front steps of the church shaking hands and talking to parishioners as they exited the building.

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Thank you for reading, and I hope you are enjoying this story as it unfolds. If you haven’t read the background for this Dallas Lutheran encounter, the titles of previous blogs are “Church and Introspction in Dallas” (April 8) and “In the Minister’s Study” (April 9).

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Westward on the Greyhound

May 16, 2020

Here is my latest installment of the Hank & Randy saga . . . (two stories precede this on my blog)

8 x 10″ watercolor

You moved out from the city?  I don’t blame you. In a world where they can split a tiny atom and blow up hundreds of thousands of people there’s no telling where it’s all going to lead. Best to find a quiet place and do what you have to do.

From the motion picture Pollock

Oklahoma. Randy gazed tiredly out the window of the moving Greyhound bus as it cleared the small town of Vinita. Squinting across the prairie under a bright sun, he tried to visualize Hank camped beneath the stars there eleven months ago.

He pulled from his pocket the postcard saved from the day he received it.

Randy,

Oklahoma stars are winking at me tonight in Vinita. I found a stretch of wide open prairie to sleep on.

More later,

Hank

Smiling now, Randy decided it was time to read. He still had hours of travel rolling out in front of him. Taking his field pack down from the overhead rack, he drew out his tattered volume of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. This along with his Greek New Testament was all he retained from his seminary years.

The barrier marks the frontier of a new country . . . Looking up from his book, Randy mused over the barriers that had hampered him. Until now. Turvey’s Corner was virtually a town hemmed in by a Medieval wall to keep out cultural invaders. Lutheran piety sheltered him from “the things of this world” his church leaders continually reminded him. College could have been an “opening up” for him, but he simply found the Jesus People wall a substitute for the Medieval one. Once out of college, he withdrew once again into the Lutheran fortress, in fact Luther’s Wartburg castle. Inside those walls, he studied his Greek New Testament, believing he had finally found genuine sanctuary.

And then, he read Karl Barth. In that second year of seminary study, Randy experienced the equivalent of Europe’s eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung, the clearing. The scales fell from his eyes, and he felt he was looking at life squarely for the first time, like Matthew Arnold’s record of the ancient Greek “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”

With that Enlightenment came a heavy price: a young marriage and an established profession. Randy continued reading from Barth: But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself.

Closing the book, Randy leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, recalling all Professor Kirkpatrick had shared in the theology seminar last year. Barth’s commentary, written during the first World War, “fell like a bomb on the playground of the theologians,” wrote Karl Adam. Randy sighed deeply, thinking over the ramifications of the crater left in his life by recent convictions and decisions. As he journeyed westward, he wondered, what would now fill this enormous cavity opened up in his life?

Randy recalled Hank’s final words as he was saying good-bye to Turvey’s Corner nearly a year ago. Continually citing Thoreau’s Walden, Hank shared with Randy on that final day that Thoreu walked away from his parents and friends who continually hounded him with questions such as “When are you going to make something of yourself? With your Harvard degree, why don’t you get a job? When are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility?” Hank’s words before he turned to walk toward the highway leading from town still whispered in Hank’s memory:

Thoreau moved to Walden Pond in order to clear the cobwebs that clogged the ductwork of his daily consciousness. This is the only way epiphany could happen, by entering the Great Silence. I’ll get back to you soon, my Friend.

Closing his book, Randy stretched in his seat and closed his eyes for a nap. He was entering the Great Silence, no longer afraid of the crater.

_____________________________________________

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shed the Burden and Travel Light

May 15, 2020
Leaving Town

During the work it was often as though I were being looked at by something from afar, from Asia Minor or Corinth, something very ancient, early oriental, indefinably sunny, wild, original, that somehow is hidden behind these sentences and is so ready to let itself be drawn forth by ever new generations.

Karl Barth, Letter dated September 27, 1917 to his friend Eduard Thurneysen

“If ya ask me, a fellah should be able to fit everything he owns into one of these. Ten bucks.”

The middle-aged veteran tossed the field pack down from the shelf of the Army/Navy Store. Randy caught it and was surprised that the twisted mass of green canvas and wagging straps wasn’t heavier than it appeared to the eye. The retired soldier climbed down from the ladder and stood there silently at attention as Randy examined the merchandise.

Feeling the cold stare from the pale blue eyes of the warrior, Randy nevertheless sensed the disciplined patience of a man well seasoned, and took his time looking over every compartment, every buckle and stitch of the pack. No one else was in the store, and there was no hurry. Randy needed to be sure he was selecting the right gear for the journey waiting ahead.

“I’ll take it. I need to look at some mess gear as well. And a sleeping bag.”

Hank had phoned collect less than two hours ago. Already Randy Singleton had determined he would leave Turvey’s Corner to join his lifelong friend. Would he be coming back? Maybe, but hopefully not for a long time. The town no longer felt like home as he had moved away to attend college six years ago, and upon graduation, chose to live in St. Louis nearly an hour away. Being married to one not from here, there had been little reason to linger any longer in Turvey’s Corner.

Randy was no longer the young idealist that left the small town in 1966. At college five hours away, he had experienced a profound, existential loneliness. It was not just that he was separated from his parents and homelife; something much more debilitating crippled him–that feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar world seemingly unaware of him and harboring no regard for his achievement or failure.

Then the Jesus People embraced him. This West Coast movement that Midwesterners derided as “freaks” enveloped his small, rural state college campus like a warm quilt during those gray winter months, and Randy for the first time in his life felt accepted and regarded by a large number of peers.

After two months of nightly prayer gatherings, praise meetings featuring live acoustic guitar and enthusiastic singing, Bible study rap sessions, and coffee house leisure, Randy accepted the “call” to serve Christ. Suddenly his college studies paled in interest; he only wanted to pore over the Scriptures. His life had in every sense converted–he was on a radically different couse than he had ever known before.

Graduation came quickly, it seemed. The four years were a blur, and suddenly the Jesus People evaporated, many of them migrating further East, some quitting, most graduating and scattering to the winds to find employment. Suddenly wihout a community, without a support group, Randy was alone and directionless. Again. He held in his hand a college degree with a teacher’s certificate, but felt no inclination to enter a classroom and collect a monthly minimal paycheck. There had to be something more.

Returning to Turvey’s Corner, Randy determined that he did not want to be a teacher come fall. So what else could he do? Sitting up late one night with his boyhood friend Hank, the possibility of seminary study came up. Having been raised Lutheran, he was aware of Concordia Seminary in the St. Louis region an hour away. Why not? More schooling didn’t seem such a bad idea. Better than going to work as a schoolteacher.

Concordia was a campus that seemed to have more regard for Randy’s welfare than the state college he had endured before. Had it not been for the Jesus People, he would not have felt any depth of concern for his well-being. This was different. Support groups abounded. He never felt alone, and in his second semester he met Debbie, a secretary in the Office of Admissions with southeast Missouri roots. Her lifelong dream was to be a minister’s wife. The small-town chemistry between the two seemed solid, and ten months later they were married.

Then came the earthquake. In the third and final year of seminary study, a profound change came over Randy. He didn’t feel comfortable confiding in anyone what was happening, but in June 1972, Randy knew for certain that he would not be entering the ministry. When approached for ordination, he quietly said “No” to his elders. Debbie was shakened to the foundations. For years she had embraced dreams of church life, of social engagements, community organization, and Lutheran practices. She dreamt of children nurtured in a Christian home and a loving pastoral husband. Suddenly, Randy was saying “No.” Why? Everyone asked. Randy wouldn’t answer.

Tomorrow would be September 27. Randy was buying supplies and would board a Greyhound bus in the morning to roll toward the Southwest and renew aquainance with Hank. And maybe he would be able to talk about this.

_______________________________________________

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

It is Now “Hank and Randy”

May 14, 2020
Hank & Randy

“Collect call from Hank Shelton, will you accept?”

“Yes.”

“Randy?”

“Hank! Is that really you?! Where the hell you calling from?”

“Lubbock, Texas. Can you believe it?”

“Jesus! How’d you get so far away?”

“Long story, and this call’s gonna cost you already.”

“Are you alright?”

“Aw yeah. Things are good. I just wanted to hear a friend’s voice. I’m all by myself still. How ‘bout you. Seminary treatin’ you right?”

“I dropped out.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. And Debbie and I are through too.”

“No!”

“Yeah. Lot’s changed since you left.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I think this is gonna be the right thing.”

“Hang in there, buddy.”

“Hey, Hank.”

“Yeah?”

“Call me back in a couple days, promise. After 5:00 when I’m off work.”

“O.K., sure.”

“I wanna come out there where you are.”

“Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, really. I need a change. Bad.”

“You’ll hear from me, promise.”

“Thanks for calling, pal. I’m gonna tie up some loose ends here and get ready to hit the road, so call me. We’re gonna raise some sand!”

After weeks of traveling between Lubbock and Arlington, Texas and working on this house daily, I was struck with a new idea yesterday to continue my Hank saga. Enter Randy Singleton, Hank’s friend since second grade.

In answer to friends who have asked “Who is Hank, really?” my reply is that Hank has been a combination of my life and my friend Wayne White since second grade. Thanks to Facebook, we found each other a few years ago after being separated since high school graduation. Since then we have camped together, fished together, and sat up all night telling stories. Wayne still lives in Missouri, so I don’t see him nearly as often as I wish. But he also keeps a blog (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/) and we stay in close touch.

My stories and paintings hit a snag recently, not only because of this move back and forth between two cities five hours apart, but because I ran out of steam with Hank always being alone and my having to create interior monologues. I knew he needed a companion. So . . . I am now introducing Randy and will attempt to flesh out their separate identities as they prepare to join each other on the road.

The painting posted above is of Wayne and me, camping. I created it a couple of summers ago. I already have plans for the next painting of the pair of characters for the story, but I have yet to start that actual painting. Hopefully, it won’t be long. Since yesterday I have written three brand new stories of this pair, and plan to launch them soon, after some more editing.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Sheltered in a Cloud of Affirming Witnesses

May 9, 2020

Morning Bliss while Sheltered

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 (King James Version)

On this Saturday morning, I feel that I’m sending up a rather wan smoke signal, but I feel compelled to put something out there. Sandi and I moved back into our Arlington home after being at her place in Lubbock for long stretches at a time. We’ve been working on this house for several days now to make it as nice as it was in the days she lived here long ago. There is still much to do, and studio time has been hard to come by. But those times will return.

This morning, before returning to the daily tasks, I had this thought fleeting through my head that I posted above, a quote from the New Testament. I made use of that passage a number of times long ago when I was in the pastoral ministry. In recent decades, it has taken on a modified meaning for me.

The “cloud of witnesses” surrounding the writer refers to the list of faith heroes mentioned in chapter eleven of Hebrews. The writer envisions them as a spectator crowd in the stands cheering on the current participants in a race. I have preferred “journey” as a metaphor for life, but “race” works for some people.

For the past thirty years, I have journeyed in this life through countless struggles, many of them devastating. I’m thankful that those are in the past and not abiding with me in present years. I never tire of saying that retirement has been a real salve for my spirit compared to all those years in the workforce. Nevertheless, throughout my years of teaching, I did in fact fall back on this New Testament passage, thinking on the intellectual and creative heroes in a pantheon that I created in my mind throughout those years.

And as I served daily, especially when things got tough, I imagined those heroes cheering encouragement from the spectator stands, yelling out their approval. If this picture works for you, perhaps you should consider writing out a list of your own pantheon of encouraging heroes. And if you choose to post them on this blog, I for one would be delighted to see them. Here is a portion of mine:

Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Paul Tillich, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Martin Heidegger, Rainer Rilke, Neil Young, Robert Motherwell . . . these are some of those in the stands whose presence I feel when I am alone and musing over some creative task.

Thanks for reading. I should get back to painting soon.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shaking Off Post-Travel Lethargy

May 2, 2020

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

Having arrived back in Lubbock at 2:30 a.m. recently after pulling a loaded trailer through the night, I still find myself shaking off the cobwebs of unusual working and sleeping patterns. We have been moving things from Lubbock to Arlington in stages, and at this age find ourselves lacking the energy we knew ten-to-twenty years ago. Hence another blogging hiatus.

Rising early this morning, I went into the kitchen to engage in my customary ritual of grinding coffee beans in an antique hand-crank grinder. As I cranked the handle, I envisioned that I was turning the flywheel of my imagination in hopes of turning out a meaningful sentence by the time the coffee was French pressed and poured. It didn’t happen. So I pulled a few of my recent books from the bag and commenced reading for inspiration.

In a recent blog, I shared my interest in re-reading a most engaging biography on Thoreau, authored by Robert Richardson Jr. His dedication page honors W. J. Bate “who teaches that ‘in and through the personal rediscovery of the great, we find that we need not be the passive victims of what we deterministically call “circumstances.”. . . But that by linking ourselves . . . with the great we can become freer–freer to be ourselves, to be what we most want and value.'”

Reading the dedication spurred my memory to something I read years ago from the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his Untimely Meditations he advanced a particular discipline of historical study that he labeled “monumentalistic.” This particular method concentrates on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness.

My personal reading preferences shifted to biography right after I finished my doctoral dissertation in 1987. Still uncertain of my career path, and weary of the technical reading I had pursued for over ten years, I suddenly found myself curious about the lives of intellectual heroes who had inspired me through their creations. And as I read the lives of these giants, it suddenly occurred to me that they at one time had been young men no better than I. Emerson wrote it better than I, so here he is . . .

Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.

That particular insight set me free to pursue my own path, chart my own course, carve out my own destiny. The journey has taken many detours throughout the decades, but my most recent endeavor has been to write the story of Hank and pour in as much richness as I can recall from my own personal journeys as well as those shared by my friends. Hopefully I’ll be able to create and illustrate a character who is a mirror to many of our own lives.

Traveling and moving lately has made it difficult to spend quality time in the studio, so reading has been my source of inspiration, as well as much writing. New Hank stories have been composed and soon I plan to put them out on the blog, hopefully with new paintings to match.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

In the Morning Stillness . . .

April 27, 2020
Bust of Democritus

I find it to be the height of wisdom not to endeavor to oversee myself and live a life of prudence and common sense, but to see over and above myself, entertain sublime conjectures, to make myself the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts, live all that can be lived. The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he not do?

Henry David Thoreau, Journal November 23, 1850

Waking before 5:00 this morning turned out not to be a bad thing, after all. When I realized lying in bed that I was not able to return to sleep because the thought processes were moving quickly, I grinned, remembering Carlo Marx in Kerouac’s On the Road: “You can’t stop the machine!” So I rose from my bed, entered my studio of dreams, and after writing out a few random thoughts in my journal, opened to Thoreau’s Journal and found those words posted above.

I have always enjoyed Thoreau’s love of wordplay in his writings. Here, he expresses that he doesn’t want to “oversee” his life, but rather to “see over and above” it and eventually render it “the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts.” I have decided to read for a second time the very engaging biography written by Robert D. Richardson Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. This was one of the texts assigned to me in 1992 when I attended the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar at Oregon State University. I can’t believe that twenty-eight years have passed since lingering over those pages.

My lifestyle has changed profoundly since returning to my home nearly a week ago. My first love in life has been quality time in the studio reading, journaling, making art and cultivating the life of the mind. I frequently did that all day long if no appointments beckoned, and during my two months in west Texas due to the coronavirus precautions, I lived mostly that lifestyle.

Returning to this neglected house that I spent very little time in since 2017, I decided it was time to clean it up (never my strong suit). So . . . for the past six days I have devoted only the morning hours for this meditative life (I am going to devote an entire blog post to that idea later) and then I turn my attention to this dwelling place the rest of the day before retiring to a restful and relaxing evening. What a difference that has made.

Every morning I have tried to balance my attention between reading, writing, journaling, creating at least one small drawing, and then watercoloring. This morning I made another attempt at a brand for my new character Hank. This may turn out to be my next watercolor, I haven’t decided yet.

As I have repeatedly told my friends, I do not draw nearly enough; I just dive stratight into the next watercolor, not even attempting thumbnail sketches or compositional decisions. I am trying to change that. So, for the past six days I have made at least one small drawing during the morning. Here are a few more:

Several months ago, while visiting our favorite barbecue place in Dickens, Texas, I began a watercolor of the sprawling vacant land separating the barbecue joint from the businesses further down the highway.

Because Thoreau in his Journal kept rhapsodizing about the colors of the weeds, I found this watercolor abandoned some time ago and decided to go back to work on the ground cover. Within minutes, I was lost in the heart of this 18 x 24″ picture plane. As I worked, my mind continued to surge, and now I’m going to post what I recorded in my journal as I stopped continually to write out what I was thinking while painting:

I have moved to the window of Eudaimonia Studios. Dawn has broken, a rosy-fingered dawn. A Homeric dawn. Like the women of The Odyssey who weave exquisite patterns daily I am now weaving the dry grasses of Thoreau’s land of wonder.

*Dark Sepia Albrecht Durer watercolor pencil

*Blackwing Matte favored by Steinbeck as he wrote his drafts

*Papermate Mirado Classic from the H-E-B grocery

*Studio Series 4H

*Size 8 Silver Black Velvet Script brush

This is my choir of blended voices singing their Ode to Autumn. I have moved to the window to look out at the neighborhood waking up in the early light. Taking out a selection of pencils, I settled on the Dark Sepia Albrecht Durer watercolor pencil made by Faber Castell. And I began doodling in the massive patches of weeds. Drawing, shading, rendering callibraphic lines, smudging, very subtly weaving in and out among the strands of weeds. Getting lost in tiny focused areas. Thinking of my ninth-grade art teacher Mr. Scucchi. Hearing his voice again as he drones on and on with theory that I understood little of in those days, but somehow remembered his words and now understand and explore their dimensions. Lines, shapes, relationships, paint quality, positive and negative space, tonality. I am exploring these elements of design now that I understand.

Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Andrew Wyeth. Mr. Scucchi continued to urge: “Look at the grasses in Christina’s World. Look at the Jackson Pollock drips and swirls. See all that calligraphy? Look at the Willem de Kooning slashes. See that freedom? Cut loose! Don’t be afraid. Explore. Be an artist without apology.”

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Murmurings in the Pre-Dawn

April 26, 2020
Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Every spirit builds itself a house. And beyond its house a world. And beyond its world a heaven. Know then that the world exists for you. Build therefore your own world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I awoke to my world much earlier than planned this morning–4:45. By 5:30 I realized I was not getting back to sleep. The machine of the mind and imagination was in overdrive, as always seems to happen soon after waking. So I rose, postponed the coffee till later (in case I get sleepy and return to bed), but then things began to happen as I read from Thoreau’s journal, November 16, 1850. What an amazing movement of the mind he experienced on that day. I’m choosing to share the best of it with my readers:

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another name for tameness. It is the untamed, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Iliad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us,–not learned in the schools, not refined and polished by art.

What an insight by a young man of only thirty-three years of age! I am embarrassed to admit that the Iliad did not come to mean anything to me till I was nearly forty, and that was only because I repeatedly read Thoreau’s comments about the epic in the pages of Walden. Because I can read Greek as he did, I was astonished when I purchased the volume from the Loeb Classical Library and began translating. It was only then that I found abiding treasures in those pages.

And Hamlet–it was not until three years ago that I finally read the text with profound enrichment. It was my third time to read the text, but the testimonies of Harold Bloom (I miss him so much!) turned me to the work and I am ever so grateful now for that experience. But wow, Thoreau, at thirty-three. already knew the richness of those “wild” works of literature.

Several paragraphs later, on the same day, after rhapsodizing over the sounds of birds, and musing about setting a compass for life’s journey, Thoreau then wrote something that made me laugh out loud:

Somebody shut the cat’s tail in the door just now, and she made such a caterwaul as has driven two whole worlds out of my thoughts. I saw unspeakable things in the sky and looming in the horizon of my mind, and now they are all reduced to a cat’s tail. Vast films of thought floated through my brain, like clouds pregnant with rain enough to fertilize and restore a world, and now they are all dissipated.

How many times has that happened to me? When I was at my teacher’s desk, reading something profound from a literary muse, and trying to record the floating fragments of related thought in my journal, when suddenly two students shouted, arguing over who was the better contestant on American Idol. Or the summer’s day I sat on my parents’ carport reading a passage from Emerson and suddenly tried to record a transient idea of my own in my journal. And my brother at that moment burst out of the house to tell me something “profound” he had just heard Rush Limbaugh say on the radio. I recall a professor once telling me how he looked out the window of a plane at the mountain ranges below and felt a wave of transcendent gratitude. Then the passenger next to him said, “You know, if we could open that window, I could piss on the world right now.” We could write entire books on just that subject of how an inane act or word dynamited a moment of splendor for us.

And then finally, this:

My Journal should be the record of my love. I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any aspect of the world, what I love to think of. I have no more distinctness or pointedness in my yearnings than an expanding bud, which does indeed point to flower and fruit, to summer and autumn, but is aware of the warm sun and springs influence only. I feel ripe for something, yet do nothing, can’t discover what that thing is. I feel fertile merely. It is seedtime with me. I have lain fallow long enough.

Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, not without reason, notwithstanding that I regard myself as a good deal of a scamp, yet for the most part the spirit of the universe is unnaccountably kind to me, and I enjoy perhaps an unusual share of happiness. Yet I question sometimes if there is not some settlement to come.

This last segment truly made me shudder. A part of me wishes I could have lived in Concord in the nineteenth century and known Thoreau personally. But I am enough of a realist by experience, and know from my reading that Thoreau did not bond easily with others. So, knowing that, I am so unceasingly grateful that he loved us enough to leave behind over four million words of publishable print, obviously believing his ideas were important enough to share with others. My heart sinks with his final word, that he questioned whether or not “some settlement’ would come, since he had received “perhaps an unusual share of happiness.” He would die eleven years later, at age forty-four. I myself have reached the age of sixty-six, and it took nearly fifty years for me to reach the point of loving my life and feeling genuine gratitude for this gift. Why have I been blessed to outlive such a gentle spirit as Henry David Thoreau, who died at an age earlier than I myself was able to find genuine life?

I have journaled since 1985 because I wished to “overhear myself” (Harold Bloom’s words) in times of being alone. I still continue that practice. But in this blog, I occasionally share my ideas gleaned daily with anyone out there who is interested in reading. So I thank you for reading.

Today is my fourth consecutive day of heavy-duty house cleaning and organizing. There remains much to do, and I suppose I have spent enough time at my desk. The light outside has come up, and I believe I am now ready for coffee. And then I shall return my attention to some househould tasks. As Emerson wrote, “Every spirit builds itself a house . . . Build therefore your own world.”

Another attempt to “brand” Hank

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

The Sacred Morning

April 25, 2020


With my own eyes I have seen gifted, richly endowed, and free-spirited natures already ‘read to ruins’ at thirty. . . . To set to early in the morning, at the break of day, in all the fullness and dawn of one’s strength, and to read a book—this I call positively vicious!

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Good morning, friends. As reported in my last blog several days back, I was going on hiatus a short while. I am starting my return and wanted to catch you up. I have some Hank stories in my mind and drafted in my journals but cannot post them just yet.

After a two-month absence, I have finally returned to my home. There is much work that needs to be done on my property, inside and out, and this is my third day working on the house, with many more days to come. In today’s blog I want to share my lifestyle, still a work in progress. The coronavirus has brought little change for me. I prefer to stay in, but in the past often felt compelled to go out and “accomplish something” for my art business. But in all honesty, the contemplative life is what I’ve always craved, and I am grateful that I can do that now without permission or apology. I feel sorry for those who feel listless because they are not fond of books and creative activities.

For as long as I can remember, I have held the mornings to be the sacred hour, or as Thoreau would have it, “the awakening hour.” When I rise from my bed, my mind within minutes is surging with ideas and I use my journal to catch them. I believe someone once wrote that journals are nets for catching wonder, or was it maps for organizing wonder? Either quote works for me.

One of my other mental mentors is the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was actually a classical philologist. He also spoke of the necessity of giving the mornings to search out one’s own ideas rather than immediately turning to a book for second-hand knowledge. He criticized the typical philologist of his day for being unable to think without “a book between his fingers,” for merely reacting to what he has read.

So. I begin every morning over coffee writing in my journal, recording whatever is flowing through my consciousness. The result is sometimes an essay, sometimes a Hank story, sometimes nothing more than scattered thoughts. But writing has become a practice I truly love. And I pursue it daily.

After my imagination has been drained, I then turn to whatever I choose to read. I’ve been called a snob because I do not turn to newspapers, magazines, or search the Internet for stuff to read. I am proud of a personal library of quality books, well over 2,000 now. I will never read all the quality books that have been handed down as gifts from so many divines. But I can try. Today is my third day in a row to read from Thoreau’s journals. I have his complete set of fourteen volumes and intend to read every word before I die. What I found this morning inspired me to resume work on a watercolor started a couple of months ago. I was uncertain how to complete the bottom two-thirds, and have now decided to put in autumn weeds.

That delicate, waving, feathery dry grass which I saw yesterday is to be remembered with the autumn. The dry grasses are not dead for me. A beautiful form has as much life at one season as another.

Thoreau journal, November 11, 1850

Resuming work now on this older unfinished watercolor

After reading and writing for awhile, I then turn my attention to making art, always my passion. I have decided to do a drawing a day, so I usually turn to that task first. Then I take up whatever watercolor I am working on. Part of my household work since returning home has involved moving my studio from the living room to what used to be my bedroom. Taking out the king size bed allowed room for two drafting tables and a utility table. When the space is tidied up, I’ll gladly take a photo and share it with you. It’s wonderful having my writing desk and a portion of my library in the same room as my studio now.

Drawing a Day

And finally, a word from my “whatever it’s worth” department: I read this quote this morning from Thoreau’s journal dated November 1850:

Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.

I laughed out loud, and am somewhat embarrassed to share this: back in my college days I wasted hours every night watching TV. A show I followed religiously was “The Streets of San Francisco.” One episode involved an African American writer who wowed the detectives repeatedly with his wise insights. At the conclusion he made a comment about “a trout in the milk.” After he left, the young Michael Douglas marveled over the old man’s depth of wisdom and expression while the aged Karl Malden just let him talk a bit. Finally, Malden said, “Thoreau.” Douglas said “What?” He answered: “Thoreau wrote that.” Malden then chided his young partner, saying if he ever bothered to read books rather than waste his time on foolish activities he wouldn’t need someone to keep him in line. How funny for this episode to be lodged in my brain thirty years later, all the time wondering if Thoreau really wrote that. Now it turns up in my morning watch!

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.