Starting the New Year with Positive Steps

Wyeth Sketch Finished

On January 2, I managed to complete my first watercolor sketch of the New Year.  I used an Andrew Wyeth study of Helga as my model (choosing to omit Helga from the foreground) and found many fascinating details in the background forest that I wanted to try a hand at imitating.  The Sixth Canon of Xie He (from around the 6th century) focuses on “transmitting and conveying earlier models through copying and transcribing.”  As an art major a long time ago, I fretted over my professor’s demands of doing exactly this.  Now, in my later years, I see its value and hope to pursue it more this year (Ah! another Resolution).

I awoke at 6:00 this morning, hoping to re-establish my daily school routine, which resumes Thursday (my God, sleeping in has been wonderful over the Holidays!).  And I chose to follow one of the resolutions I love from Alyson B. Stanfield’s blog: “RESOLVE to stop fiddle-farting around on the Internet or with the TV remote control and start dedicating myself 100% to my life’s work.”

As I sat in my darkened study this morning, enjoying the quiet and my coffee, the words from Qoheleth in the Book of Ecclesiastes boiled to the surface of my thoughts: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I first read those words from this great book in January 1973, and have been since haunted by that sentiment.  I resolved then, and still have to remind myself, never to settle into that kind of a life philosophy.  Granted life has revealed patterns that seem to sharpen over the passing of the years, but God forbid that I ever reach the point where I believe there is nothing left to discover.

Ecclesiastes is classified as Hebrew wisdom literature, and is confined to the words of those who have lived long lives.  Only with the passing of many years emerges wisdom.  And I realize that I have had to fight harder to avoid that trap of believing that there is nothing new under the sun.  Emerson and Thoreau fought that too–I recall Thoreau writing that he regretted that he wasn’t as wise as he had been as a child.  Both of those thinkers loathed the idea of becoming old, set and predictable in their thinking and their daily manner.

As an antidote to Qoheleth and Ecclesiastes, I turned to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and read his testimony of gratitude for the traits he had managed to nurture under the influence of a number of worthy seniors.  I particularly liked what he said he learned from Rusticus: “to read with minute care and not to be content with a superficial bird’s-eye view.”  That was my Oracle for the day.  I realize that one of the hazards of being a public school teacher for over two decades was the habit of boiling down, distilling and simplifying ideas from scholarly writings in order to make them transmittable in the classroom.  I am not knocking that practice.  What I am knocking is the reality that I have drifted away from scholarly reading, reflection and writing for my own personal growth and intellectual health.  So, this morning I found a sweet communion with Marcus Aurelius, Qoheleth, and Paul Tillich.  After a couple of hours passed in their warmth, I then found the resolve needed to return to the drafting table and finish this sketch begun yesterday.

The only noticeable differences added were the splash of burgundy and salt in the lower left corner to finish out some kind of overall composition.  Aside from that, I added many, many branches and small leaves to the atmospheric background, and enriched the texture of the tree bark further.  I believe I have done all I can with this one, and am now ready for another.

So, let’s close this blog and begin another sketch.  Thanks for reading.

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