Thoughts Meandering between Nostalgia and the Present

June 21, 2018

white sands

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

Proust, Swann’s Way

Nearly three hundred pages into Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev, I’m completely absorbed by this intense artist’s life of painting. Cezanne certainly personifies the “driven” artist, and I’ve uncovered a host of amazing facts I never knew about the man and his ideas, though I’ve read about him since I was in high school. Last week while visiting the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I thought of Cezanne’s fixation while painting Mont Sainte-Victoire. My feeble attempt to render the sand dunes at sundown with the San Andreas range behind them made me smile. I believe Cezanne attempted his mountain sixty times, and here I was, expecting something grand with my initial attempt.

However, I have been immersed in Cezanne’s theories of mountain painting, and have been reading of Martin Heidegger’s repeated visits to Cezanne’s home town and treks to Mont Sainte-Victoire as well as his writings about the mountain experience, and I have engaged in some serious mountain sketches of my own, beginning with my recent visit to Cloudcroft, New Mexico. In time, I plan to launch these activities and musings onto my blog.

Reading of Cezanne’s break with his lifelong friend Emile Zola was sobering, though. And the timing of this reading was poignant. A few days ago, I chose to unfriend over 150 people who were on my Facebook. I’m not going into the details here, but I’m sure it comes as no surprise to any reader that it was over politics; America is as deeply divided now as I’ve ever known her to be. I made a decision to eliminate scores of daily negative postings on my Facebook timeline, and in the days since, have thoroughly enjoyed a sunnier climate of expressions. I am working now to return to what I prefer writing and posting–art and daily musings.

The Proust quote above crossed my radar this morning while reading of the Cezanne/Zola split and I’m going to try now to put this into words. As Proust pointed out, our past experiences have been stitched together to create the complex individuals we find ourselves to be in the present. And when we find ourselves awash in those memories, we know the gratitude of warm memories as well as the melancholia of knowing those moments remain no longer, except in memory. When I discovered Facebook some years back, I felt genuine gratitude when over a hundred friends from high school and college came onto my page. Many of them I have had the privilege of re-visiting in person and enjoying warm conversation that included plenty of reminiscences. And, in line with Proust, that is how I choose to remember those friends, with grateful stories of things we encountered long ago. Unfortunately, it has to end there. The daily flow on Facebook of belittling discourse and political intolerance is not what improves my life, and I reached the conclusion that it would only be these kinds of postings waiting to greet me every day when I pulled up my page. So, I made my decision and there is no looking back, only forward.

My blog will still go to Facebook, and it won’t be political. And, as I’ve written before, my friend Wayne White https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/ and I only hope that readers will feel good when they read our musings. The world has too much hatred and vitriol already. It doesn’t need to hear that from us.

Thanks always 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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A Shout-Out to a New Writer Friend

June 15, 2018

I awoke abruptly this Friday morning from a deep REM sleep blistering with those frustrating dreams that reveal so much about our unresolved issues. I won’t go into it–I laugh at that common sentiment that says “Don’t tell me about your dream. It’s yours. It interests you, not me.” Without going into the details, I’ll just say that the dream involved me dropping the ball, yet again, on something that should have been done. After I scribbled out pages and pages in my journal, trying to unpack the ideas before they evaporated, my mind suddenly suddenly recalled yet another important detail I have not addressed. So now I try .  .  .

I met Jonnie Martin about a month ago while sitting in my booth at an art festival. She was very engaging in conversation, I learned she was a serious writer (already with novels published) and a passionate one at that. She also had pursued journalism for many years. Now she is neck deep in her first adjunct professor experience at Tarrant County College, and is sweating out the details of getting a writing course on track for this fall’s semester.

Jonnie reached out to me the week after the art festival, asking permission to write a series of articles about me. This certainly gave me pause. I have believed for years that I was “interesting” enough for an article or two, yet every time a newspaper or magazine or radio personality would approach me for my story, I felt paralyzed, and felt that I should articulate that stereotyped police line: “There’s nothing to see here, folks. Move on along.” But with Jonnie it was different. She was thorough, asking for my professional resume, and providing a long list of specific questions. And I really enjoyed answering the questions and providing the document.

Despite all her energy spent on the college course for this fall, she is still trying to set up a feature article for me in a local magazine. Meanwhile, she has posted the following on her blog and I’m extremely proud to read it. And I encourage you to read her blog at: https://jonnietootling.com

I am posting her article below, but please, read her other entries. She is a most engaging writer, satisfying the serious reader on many levels.

And thank you for reading me.

KINDRED ARTIST

Posted on June 10, 2018by jonnietootling

Arlington artist David Tripp describes his quest as one of capturing onto canvas the world he sees in his mind, and that is not unlike the role of a writer.  Akin to David, we too apprehend, interpret, report out our vision in a variety of literary forms.

For David, his current art form is watercolor, which happens to be my favorite medium, and is how David and I first connected at a recent Arlington art festival.  There is a natural feel to watercolors, a gentleness, a transparency as your eye sifts through the layers of paint and water and meaning, and David’s technique is exquisite.

Thumb through the art that he brings to a festival and you will find paintings of old buildings, abandoned service stations, relics of yesteryear.  Since 2017 he has been focusing on the structures that reflect the past of the Texas State Railroad, as well as the historical sites and artifacts of the little town of Palestine, Texas.

I have learned other fascinating things about David, including his formal education in art, his high school and college teaching credentials, his endowments and honors of various types.  Students at Martin High School see his art daily in the murals painted throughout their building.  David’s art is available at various festivals and The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine is now the permanent home for his collection.

All this is of interest as I learn about David and observe him through my writer’s eyes . . . but what enthralls me most is his philosophical approach to the role of artist — capturing onto canvas what he perceives with his artist’s eyes, processes through his artist’s mind.

In one of his blogs he quotes a passage from Goethe:  “The beginning and the end of all literary activity is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me by means of the world that is in me, all things being grasped, related, molded, and reconstructed in personal form and an original manner.”

Clearly this process applies to artists as well as writers.

I shared the quote with our family philosopher, my brother Del McAmis, who was equally fascinated, and responded with his own deconstruction of the phrase. 

“We think there is a one-on-one relationship between the objective world and how we see it, but that is very naïve.  We don’t just ‘see’ things – we mold them and reconstruct them according to our own psychology. . . .  The great writer [and I should add to Del’s note, the great artist] is one who can ‘mold and reconstruct’ his or her experiences into an understanding that enlightens others.”

And so it begins – my quest to learn more about David, his art, his creative ideology, his deep and grounded thoughts about life, at least partially coming from his scholarly education in not only art, but philosophy and religion.

But that is for another exploration, in which I have apparently been joined by brother Del.  Hold on, David Tripp – inquisitive minds want to know more about you. 

— Jonnie Martin

Stuck in a Rut? Never.

June 14, 2018

blog

Watercoloring with a Glad Heart

. . . it is more salutary for thinking to wander into the strange than to establish itself in the obvious.

Martin Heidegger, “Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50)”

For days now, my mind has been driven in various directions, all of them fascinating. After a splendid weekend of viewing mountains and sketching them in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, I decided to devote some serious scrutiny to color theory and composition applied to plein air painting. For any of you watercolorists who haven’t yet checked out the magazine The Art of Watercolour: The Art Magazine for Watercolourists, I cannot say enough for this amazing publication. I haven’t purchased every issue that has come out, but I have perused every single one from the past three years closely, and have really enjoyed the work of David Parfitt in this current edition. His work has made me revisit my paintings of the Texas Laguna Madre from 2015-16, and I am now inspired to try some different techniques on that subject. Today I am experimenting with some color combinations I haven’t tried before, as I resume a watercolor sketch that I began in Cloudcroft last weekend.

I posted the Heidegger quote above because I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning while seated outdoors in the cool morning breeze that I’ve been enjoying recently during my stay here in west Texas. His translation and exposition of this Heraclitus fragment has forced me to push my thinking down different channels than before, and I also find that kind of experience exhilarating. I have never wished to find myself in a rut. Life is too short to waste on boredom. A good friend and mentor has recently said some things to me that has inspired me to re-open a manuscript I began, chronicling my artist-in-residency experience while on the Texas Laguna Madre in 2015. After six chapters totaling over forty pages of text, I stalled on that project. But now I have resumed editing and have begun pushing out new chapters, and am enjoying my revisit of those memories.

The online summer school class for the university is also providing daily stimulation and opening new portals for discovery. We recently wrapped up discussions on John Donne’s “Meditation 17” and a portion of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason.” And if I didn’t find stimulation enough from this new Humanities class barely underway, I was yesterday offered another course for this fall at Texas Wesleyan University, in addition to my two sections of Logic. For the first time, I’ll teach an online course on “Classical Judaism.” I am thrilled to the bone about this one. I have never had opportunity to devote an entire semester to Judaism. I’ve taught courses in the Hebrew Bible before, and have always welcomed the chance to dust off that language and work on some translations and commentary. I’ve also taught World Religions and enjoyed including that unit on Judaism. And I’ve had the opportunity of bringing the contributions of Jewish scholars into courses I’ve taught in Philosophy and Ethics. But I’ve never before been offered this opportunity to focus exclusively on Classical Judaism for a semester. So . . . I have another exciting channel to navigate this summer. Thanks to Amazon, my textbook will arrive by mail on Saturday and I can begin to flesh out this course of study for the fall.

Throughout my life I have been chided (in good humor) about my chronic mental distractedness. All I can say in response is this: I have no sympathy for anyone who complains of boredom. I do not understand how one can fall into boredom. I refuse to allow boredom to enter the mental portals of my life. There is too much to explore, and not enough time.

tree

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.

Mountain Serenity

June 10, 2018

I will have more to say about this later. I find it difficult, publishing a blog on a smartphone, when there is sketchy reception. It has been a beautiful morning for plein-air watercoloring.

Portals and Thresholds of Wonder

June 9, 2018

cloudcroft

Our national parks are blood. They are more than scenery; they are portals and thresholds of wonder, an open door that swings back and forth from our past to our future.

Terry Tempest Williams

Greetings from Cloudcroft, New Mexico, elevation 8,663 feet. Temperature at 6:38 a.m., 54 degrees and lovely. Walking this quaint mountain town last evening was a chilly and exhilarating experience. My plan later this morning is to journey into the surrounding mountain ranges, not visible from where I’m residing. I did step out this morning at first light, though, and do some sketchbook drawings of some of the tree tops against the dawn sky. Eventually, I stretched two 9 x 12″ sheets of watercolor paper and sat down to dash out this quick study of one of the tree tops in the neighborhood.

As I sat and sketched, the words posted above from Terry Tempest Williams soaked in my consciousness. I liked the idea that I read years ago from James Joyce about the artist encountering portals of discovery in his book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. And this is what I anticipate during my brief mountain sojourn–some kind of portal of discovery as I continue to explore watercolor and plein air possibilities. I am so ecstatic to leave the city behind and range about in these wide open spaces.

I brought on my trip a biography on Joseph Mallord William Turner that is providing a wonderful read. I’m amazed that the young boy of fourteen managed to obtain entrance to the Royal Academy and in his very first year exhibited one of his watercolors in the annual juried exhibit. He was the youngest student to be juried into the show since the Academy’s inception. I’m drawing inspiration from his disciplined use of the sketchbook as a tool for his watercolor work, something I have never faithfully practiced, until this morning. I pledged before falling asleep tonight that I would never approach plein air watercoloring without working in a sketchbook at the same time. If all goes to plan, this discipline should yield some results in my work as it progresses.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Pre-Mountain Meditations

June 8, 2018

ghost ranch upright

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch from Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico

I am about to embark on a long road trip that will get me into the mountains by this evening. I have just completed my first week of a summer school online class in the Humanities for Texas Wesleyan University. I love how technology has made this possible–the university is in Fort Worth, and I have been hours away from Fort Worth all week while interacting with fourteen students in the class. The eighteenth-century Enlightenment has been our focus, with readings from Immanuel Kant and Alexander Pope along with art from the Neo-Classical era. I have loved the student response, and always love combing through these primary sources.

I feel the mountains calling out to me, and am deeply moved at the prospect of leaving my familiar surroundings to be enveloped by them. But just as I was preparing to load and leave, I paused on the computer and learned of the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain. I am sad to say that I didn’t know him, and never followed any of his published statements or televised performances. And now I really feel that loss, reading some of the things he said while still alive. I feel inspired to post this one, because my class just spent a week talking about the subject of “enlightenment.”

Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom . . . is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.

Anthony Bourdain

I love this sentiment because I have been conscious since graduate school in the 1980’s that I myself am a traveler on this planet, and this life is an odyssey. There is no roadmap provided, and we have the right to navigate this path as we choose. There are so many rich discoveries around each bend, and yes, many dangers and risks as well. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am saddened that Anthony Bourdain chose to end his travels. I’m not sure we will ever know why, and it remains his business. But I’m saddened that I did not know him while he was alive and creating ideas to share with us.

Thanks for reading. Next time I write I should be in the mountains.

Meditations on a Saturday Morning

June 2, 2018

hegel

Relaxing and reading in an armchair at The Gallery at Redlands

Sleep has been relatively difficult the past two nights, due to my mind refusing to shut down with my first summer school class beginning in forty-eight hours. I have never taught the Humanities online, so what I am accustomed to saying in person before a class now has to be loaded into a computer program for students to access. This involves use of a different set of skills on my part, and I realize that is a good thing. If only I could trust myself and relax into this, instead of this perpetual second-guessing and revisions of my decisions.

I took a break from my class work and resumed reading this delightful book, At the Existentialist Cafe. I am currently reading of the conditions of occupied Paris during World War II and Simone de Beauvoir seeking solace in the library of the Sorbonne, not hearing from Jean-Paul Sartre (who had been captured by the Nazis) and wondering if he was even alive. She was reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and finding a measure of comfort in his theory that history had a way of adjusting as it moved through time.

I looked up from the armchair that I love to use for reading in this gallery, and my paintings arranged on the folding doors in front of me (posted above) provided me a satisfaction that I have trouble putting into words. Sometimes when I take a break from reading, I just like to look up at watercolors I have done from the past and lose myself in their memories. They all take me to places I love to remember, and recall stories that still shape my life.

hegel2

My work area this morning in the Gallery

At the time of this writing, I am back at the gallery desk, and have resumed work on my course. I am taking solace in Hegel’s view that history continues to shift back and forth between extremes, and from time to time finds a middle ground (that doesn’t last for long). I can see that from my study of history, and my observations of the past six-plus decades I have lived.

For the first week of class, I have set up for discussion a very recent New York Times opinion article by Frank Bruni, “Aristotle’s Wrongful Death.” I always want to begin a class such as this by engaging the university students in this perpetual debate of the value of a liberal arts education. With an American culture swirling in stupid these days (I’m still wondering how exactly Kanye West’s bipolar condition makes him a “superman”), I believe it is always appropriate to lead students into elevated reading and discussion.

Following the Bruni opinion piece, we will approach Immanuel Kant’s essay of 1784 “What is Enlightenment?” I find the writing very engaging, especially his provocative statement: “When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment.” I find that just as true today as in 1784. Never before have we managed such growth in technology and achievement, yet we still lack the ability to grow in ethical matters. In spite of intellectual achievement, we still maintain a culture of immaturity and intolerance. I feel at a loss every time I confront this reality.

hegel3

At any rate, I am grateful for the gifts I still enjoy in this life. This is a lovely gallery space and hotel where I feel very much affirmed and at home. Time spent here feels like an escape from the madness.

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.

Summer School, Oh My!

June 1, 2018

humanities

Undefined, the spirit glides over the waters

Michel Serres, “Anaximander: A Founding Name in History”

 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (KJV)

The email came two days ago, and my confirmed response yesterday: Would I be interested in teaching Humanities online at Texas Wesleyan University for the first summer term, beginning Monday? Yes!

And so begins the task . . . All night long I slept restlessly, I believe because my mind was stirred by this new assignment. My morning alarm is automatically set for seven a.m., but at five-thirty I rose and stumbled to my desk to begin. My task is to present major ideas from the Age of the Enlightenment to our Modern Age, using art, literature and philosophy as my primary vehicles. There will only be twenty-three weekdays to the semester, and all of it is online. The only course I’ve taught online is Logic, but this Humanities course I’ve been teaching at Wesleyan since 2004, and before that since 1989 in the public schools. I love this age of history and am wracking my brains to determine the best way I can stuff three centuries of thought into twenty-three days, all of it online.

humanities2

The Gallery at Redlands

After two hours at my morning desk, I packed the Jeep and departed for my two-hour sojourn through the country to Palestine, Texas to work in the gallery that I love. I brought ten new framed paintings with me today, and rearranged the art inside the gallery as well as the display window facing the street. I have been so busy with art festivals the past month that I have lacked the quality time to give the gallery space a makeover. I’m glad to be here again for the weekend.

humanities3

Jean and Mike always provide me with a wonderful space to live when I come to work at the gallery. I am now sitting in one of their beautiful suites on the second floor of the historic Redlands Hotel. My gallery is just below me. I plan to spend the rest of this evening and all day Saturday working on the Humanities course that goes online Monday.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

The Beatific Vision

May 30, 2018

arcadia morning

An Arcadian Morning

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Matthew 5:8

During the quiet hours of the morning, while reading a quality book and writing in my journal, a specific word continued to rise to the surface–blessed. I have not used that word much, but have noticed its increasing use in recent years–cashiers telling me to “have a blessed day,” strangers in parting conversation saying “be blessed,” etc. I have liked hearing that. This morning as the word rolled around in my consciousness, I decided to take my Greek New Testament off the shelf and translate the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. I fastened on verse 8 because of the connection of a pure heart with a beatific vision. Those with pure hearts are blessed because they see God.

I have no desire to restrict the quality of the above text, by wrapping it in some narrow creed. I did that for eleven years as a pastor, but no longer have a political agenda. In my former (intolerant) days, I would have scoffed at Jack Kerouac striving for a “pure heart” and a “beatific vision”, pointing out his alcoholism. I would have trashed Allen Ginsberg’s notion of “treasures in heaven”, pointing out his sexual orientation. Unfortunately, it took years for me to shed these layers of intolerance, but as they fell by the wayside, the power and beauty of language and ideas grew exponentially.

Growing older, I appreciate beauty more than I did when I was younger, and it seems to stand out in bolder relief for me in recent years, because of its stark contrast with the hate and negativity that abounds in our society. I choose to disconnect from the news, from habitual Internet browsing and much of social media because I grew weary of this popular frenzy years ago–it isn’t interesting. It never was. And it doesn’t improve our world. It certainly does not issue from a pure heart. I recall a verse from Proverbs 4:23–“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Light will not emanate from a heart of darkness.

There are paths in my daily routine that intersect with a vitriolic world, but I try my best to transcend that, and feel shamed every time I catch myself stepping into that cesspool. This may be an oversimplified analogy, but my recent reading of the life of Georgia O’Keeffe seems to reveal an artist who continually navigated that unstable path between a contentious Stieglitz Circle and her beloved Ghost Ranch. Once Alfred died, Georgia moved to New Mexico permanently, leaving Manhattan behind, no longer wishing to be embroiled in the art gallery/Wall Street nexus which seemed to bring continual turmoil, uncertainty and angst. She finally settled in her own Arcadia and let New Mexico embrace her spirit. Again, I could be distorting her story, but this is how I see it this morning.

I wish to start every day on the most positive note, and along with my friend and fellow blogger Wayne White (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/), I wish for someone reading my blog to feel good about life and its possibilities, instead of anger and resentment.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

The Oracle Comes in the Morning

May 28, 2018

coffee 2

Coffee, Books and Democritus

coffee

My New Passion–the French Press

. . . there is generally some kind of message, some guidance that appears. It comes more readily if I do not stridently demand it; if I listen to my “deeper” self, sooner or later it will speak to me. The message which forms itself out of the darkness and the vapor–when one does come–often takes me by surprise. This is generally a sign of its authenticity. This third phase owes a good deal to my Protestant-Christian background. It would be surprising if I could cut off my cultural body, nor do I want to.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

How sublime, these moments when I can stop after weeks of art-related engagements and festivities. Before and after my morning walk, I was afforded the pleasure of reading Rollo May from his books Paulus and My Quest for Beauty. With French press coffee to sip and soothing YouTube music filling my room, I read this portion posted above about Rollo May’s morning meditation practices in the office before his appointments began.

Reading about this morning watch resonated with me profoundly, and I haven’t been able to discuss this easily with friends and acquaintances. In my early college years, as I participated in the Baptist Student Union, I was introduced to his notion of Daily Quiet Time, and the practice soothed me in the midst of college studies and then later as I did the work of the pastoral ministry.  Those days are far behind me now, but my second life as a teacher for three decades found me practicing a daily morning watch of some sort. This practice continued to serve as a compass for my classroom navigations.

Long ago, I came to expect some kind of oracle, some kind of message, a Word, as I lingered over books and my own hand-scribbled journals first thing every morning. The Greek notion of word (logos) can be construed as a “gathering together.” An idea would emerge from the gloom most mornings, and I would take that idea seriously, using it as a pole star to lead me through the days ahead. And every time I read from another creative spirit of how s/he listened for this inner voice, I feel that I have gained yet another soul mate in life and feel less lonely, less isolated in this odyssey.

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.