Archive for January, 2017

Zu die Hütten (to the Hut!)

January 30, 2017

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My Favorite “Store-Off-the-Grid”, (where I sit in the mornings and enjoy my coffee)

Being back in my home is good tonight. Mozart plays softly in the background. The hot tea is soothing. I love my writing desk and library area. But in my mind’s eye, I’m still at the “store”, my favorite hideaway when I can get out of the city. I probably posted in earlier blogs (I don’t go back and read them much) that I’ve been reading a great deal about Martin Heidegger. I have zero interest in the details of his political leanings, but am intrigued with his philosophy that includes amazing insight into art, poetry and pre-Socratic thought. And I have always been intrigued with stories surrounding the cabin he had built adjacent to the town of Todtnauberg where he frequently withdrew to study and write. He did not enjoy life in the city of Freiburg where he lived and taught in the university. He later turned down the Chair of Philosophy offered to him in Berlin, because it would prevent his frequent withdrawals to his cabin. As for myself, I’m glad to have a home in the suburbs of Arlington, Texas, four minutes from where I teach. But I love so much more these three-and-a-half hour drives out of the city to a remote spot in the country, to a dirt road where no one drives by, to a spot of absolute quiet and solitude. It is in that place that my soul has been restored repeatedly. All my life I have dreamed of such a location.

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Martin Heidegger’s Cabin in the Black Forest

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Reading Thoreau’s Journals inside the “Store”

I want to respond to a passage from Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut, having finished reading the book this weekend:

. . . it is possible to consider the hut and house as talismanic for two positions decisive in Heidegger’s biography, which Albert Borgmann terms “provincialism” and “cosmopolitanism.” These positions are often considered in opposition. Tropes recur by which advocates of each position attempt to dismiss the alternative. Cosmopolitans dismiss the provincial as invidious: introvert, inbred, prone to exclusion, and reliant upon romantic myth. Provincials dismiss the cosmopolitan as deluded: bound up in abstract systems and priorities, entranced by the fickleness of fashion, setting itself and its self-appointed heroes on false pedestals. Although such polarities are inevitably caricatures, and provincial and cosmopolitan positions always remain more nuanced, their identification can be helpful.

I love it when someone writes what I’ve thought about for years, and writes it so well! For twenty-eight years, I have been a citizen of both worlds–teaching in the suburban neighborhoods of a large city and withdrawing as much as possible to remote sanctuaries. Being single, I love the privacy and quiet of my home after a day in the classroom, and when I can leave the city, I look for the quietest places in the country. My life’s work has been in the public schools full time and the universities part time. When I retire at the end of May, I’ll gladly accept the offer of a neighboring university to continue teaching part time, some of it online. I am so thrilled at this new chapter, the idea of  no longer being under contract from 7:15 till 3:15 five days a week.

My public life in the classroom has been mostly scintillating throughout the decades–I have had an overwhelmingly positive and affirming crowd of students (probably 99.8% respectful and inspiring, only the occasional “turd”). Being an educator has allowed me to remain a student for life, which is what I truly craved–I hated the thought of leaving a life of scholarship behind after completing graduate school. How wonderful to be paid to study, to learn and share daily the things that matter to me. I cannot say enough about the richness of teaching in the areas of religion, art, philosophy and literature. Life as a public educator has been very rewarding to me.

At the same time, I must confess that I am drawn to reading books like Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, along with the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Long ago I came to terms with the reality that I like being alone, and crave space for such times. I have always believed that I could do my job better if I had time to withdraw and recharge my batteries. Fortunately for me, life has provided those opportunities and for the most part I have been able to avoid burnout.

At age 62, I am more sensitive to the noisy clatter of school hallways, the public school obsession to call meetings, and the growing paperwork, records and accountability demanded, often by a bureaucracy that continues to create “positions” designed for compiling data and checking boxes on reports. I have never had respect for elected politicians who pass laws governing an educational enterprise that they have never themselves understood or spent time studying. And I have noticed with disdain throughout the years that they continue to pass more laws designed to cripple the work of conscientious educators, and then use the data designed to prove that public education is faltering so they can convince tax payers that schools would be better if they were run by private businesses. I have had the pleasure to work for a district that is far better than any state or federal agency can evaluate with piles of data. And I have been fortunate to work inside of schools with administrators that let the teachers do their jobs. Real education occurs inside the classroom when the teacher is freed up to study his/her area of expertise and design creative ways to share this with students primed to learn. All thinkers know this. To sum up, I am getting out at a good time; most likely I stayed too long . . .

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Leaving the Store . . . Until Next Time

I have not been posting on the blog with much frequency of late. But after this weekend, I still have plenty on my mind, and I’m glad to have this avenue of expression. So thank you again for reading . . .

I make art to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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Walking with a Limp

January 30, 2017

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“But now he’s broody. He doesn’t talk. He goes walking alone in the hills at night. I went out to see him and–he’s been writing poetry–pages of it all over the table.”

“Didn’t you ever write poetry, Will?”

“I did not.”

“I have,” said Dessie. “Pages and pages of it all over the table.”

“I don’t want you to go.”

“Let me decide,” she said softly. “I’ve lost something. I want to try to find it again.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I am back to work after a weekend retreat to the back country. And the John Steinbeck novel is coursing through my veins this morning. I read the final two-hundred pages-plus of East of Eden while cozied up in my favorite store-off-the-grid. The dialogue above made me laugh out loud. Dessie wanted to leave her business and return to the ranch to live with her troubled brother Tom. Her business-minded brother Will was trying to dissuade her by relaying what he thought would be a troubling profile of Tom’s recent lifestyle. The grown-up sons and daughter were trying to cope with the death of their father Samuel whose passion was the glue that had held the family together:

Then Samuel died and the world shattered like a dish.

This sentence lingered in my consciousness all weekend while alone in the store. Painting, reading, writing and thinking sustained my spirits in the best of all possible ways the entire time, but I could not help pondering life and many of the people I know and love who share openly about these wounds that we all sustain. My closest friends know that the results of our recent election, along with its aftermath, have torn my spirit like a dull serrated knife. I find it necessary to disregard over three-fourths of facebook posts because they are talking about it–whether the posts are pro or con, the message is usually one of ugliness and hurt. And life since November has made it challenging to remain buoyant in spite of the culture that now envelops us.

But the pain I read in East of Eden is much more comprehensive, the kind of pain that punctuates lives throughout their duration. During the quiet hours of the weekend, I mused over the events of a lifetime, and how many tragedies the average individual absorbs. The video by R.E.M. returned to my memory: “Everybody Hurts.” Yet through it all, we continue to walk through this life, even if we walk with a limp. And perhaps the connective tissue that binds us as humans is the mutual regard we feel, recognizing that others hurt just as we do, and we all have the capacity to reach out to one another for support and understanding.

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The weekend has been a real gift in that it offered space and quiet for uninterrupted thought and a chance to make some decisions that needed to be made.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to express.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Studio Off the Grid

January 29, 2017

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I have just completed a weekend in the embrace of my Sanctuary, my Studio Off the Grid. Far away from the city, with much thanks to precious friends, I am privileged to take up residence in an old store with living quarters in the back. The residential section is centrally heated, but the front store room relies on a small heater. Temperatures early Saturday hovered in the thirties and it was difficult heating the front of the store where I prefer to set up my easel and paint the interior. So, much of the day was devoted to reading, writing and reflecting in the residential quarters. I had over two hundred pages left to read in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and by the afternoon I had finished it with shudders of deep feelings hitting every mark between sadness and satisfaction.

In addition to Steinbeck, I read much about Martin Heidegger, finishing Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut and resuming my reading of Rüdiger Safranski’s Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil.  I also read from Heidegger’s 1934 radio address “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”.

Once the front of the store was warm enough for painting, I entered my studio sanctuary and resumed work on a watercolor I started a couple of weeks ago, but abandoned because I had trouble rendering the objects surrounding me. I am increasingly dissatisfied with painting from photographs, and though I cannot avoid the practice when painting myself, I found it much more satisfying to look at my actual surroundings in this store instead of copying the objects I see in the photo. My struggle between photographs and live models goes back a few winters, when I made my first stabs at watercoloring still life objects from my garage. The antique doors stored there have given me a very satisfying grounding, first in the actual garage, and more recently dragging them into my living room studio. They are worth the physical effort. The door I painted months ago in this actual store also yielded some great advantages, much more than if I had photographed the door and worked exclusively from the photo in my home residence over three hours away. The same goes with the antique objects I’ve collected over the decades: my paintings of the objects are far superior (to my eye) than objects I’ve photographed and painted. I have trouble explaining why I feel that painting from life offers benefits beyond painting from images. My problem explaining this reminds me of Heidegger’s struggle matching words to his ideas:

On a deep winter’s night when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages around the cabin and veils and covers everything, that is the perfect time for philosophy. Then its questions become simple and essential. Working through each thought can only be tough and rigorous. The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.

So now I try to wrap words around my resisting issue of making art from photographs vs. the real objects before me: I find much more satisfaction from my watercolors and drawings done from three-dimensional subjects rather than two-dimensional photos. Granted, there is much more work and anxiety involved in editing a 360-degree environment and translating the three dimensions onto a measured two-dimensional picture plane, I feel that something special emerges from that struggle. When I work from a photo, I feel that I am doing paint-by-number, merely struggling for a one-to-one correspondence from one square inch to another. When looking at a real world before my eyes with depth, changing colors, light shifts, etc., I feel that I am actually recording a world onto the paper before me. And in viewing the watercolor months and years later, that world still pulsates on the surface, to me.  This never happens with my works of art transferred from photos, even if I feel that the skill levels are sometimes higher. I don’t know that this is making sense to a reader, but it’s the best I can do for now.

Thanks always for taking time to read me.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

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Most of the Time, Alone is Good

January 19, 2017

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Now there are clouds above—

The moon conceals her light—

The lamp dies down.

It steams. Red light rays dash

About my head—a chill

Blows from the vaulting dome

And seizes me.

I feel you near me, spirit I implored.

Reveal yourself!

Oh, how my heart is gored

By never felt urges,

And my whole body surges—

My heart is yours; yours, too, am I.

You must. You must. Though I should have to die.

 

Goethe, Faust

With a comforting fire in the fireplace, and my homework completed early this cold night, I am finding solace in a new watercolor that is taking me far outside my comfort zone. I have never painted myself in watercolor or oil. Ever. (Disclaimer: OK, my friends point out my fly fishing paintings of myself.  However, those are 3-inch tall figures in hats with the face turned away–hardly portraits, more like toy action figures). But the selfie I took with my phone a couple of months ago in one of my favorite spaces far from home kept drawing me to attempt this. So here goes. (And thank you, Wade and Gail, for letting me know such sublimity in that “sacred space”!).

My reading over this past week has grazed from several pastures: Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Goethe’s Faust and Heidegger’s Being and Time. I don’t know why I did this, but all day long this song has been stuck in my head, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” On impulse awhile ago, I pulled up the YouTube video and watched it, and the music and visual really knocked me down. I’m not calling these feelings despair or depression. But something heavy weighs on me tonight, and I just want to find a way to get it out.

Today in philosophy we wrapped up a three-day unit on the Pre-Socratics. An early fragment from Anaximander states that anything that comes into being by necessity will pass away. Students seemed to grab that message, and one by one, I heard voices expressing how difficult it is to cope with the feeling that something has been lost. I recall Thoreau in Walden expressing the following:

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have 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.

Quiet evenings like tonight are good for my soul, especially when I need to flush out the debris of bad sentiments. Working in my art studio often cleanses me, and I’m just glad that I had the space for such activities tonight.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to cope.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog when I need assurance that I am not alone.

 

The Quiet Zone of the Morning

January 16, 2017

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Painting During the Morning Hours

. . . Samuel rode lightning on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Thnks to Steinbeck, I could not retire to bed until about 1:00 this morning. This book is scratching me in mental areas that have not been scratched in years, and I could never sufficiently express my gratitude for such engaging ideas. I must confess that I have always read more like Tom, which explains why I am trying, yet again, to understand the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as recorded in Being and Time.

Though retiring to bed rather late, I did manage to rise at 8:30 without an alarm (For nearly three decades now, I have detested those 6:00 alarms yanking me out of the sack in order to report to a 7:35 class on normal workdays). I showered and broke my fast as rapidly as possible so I could light a fire and resume my reading of Steinbeck over coffee for nearly an hour, as soothing jazz played in the background (I so love music playing as I read and write!).

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Ah, the Warmth and Intimacy of a Fireplace!

After an hour of Steinbeck, I returned to the drafting table and immediately got up to my elbows in the watercolor that I resumed yesterday. Like Tom in reading, I also burrow into the details of painting, pushing constantly at new ways to apply the paint. I spent about an hour scratching with brushes and pencils on the corn and the burlap around it. Last night, late, I worked over the textures of the door above (somehow I managed to paint the masking tape residue in places, and my technique worked!) and am happy with the way the overall painting is beginning to form. I was deeply dissatisfied with this piece when I stopped work on it over a week ago, and have had it displayed across the room from me so I could gaze at it repeatedly, day after day, and try to cope with the shaping of the composition. At this point, I am feeling some satisfaction, and I like that–I do indeed hate to lose a painting. Sometimes I just need time to “compost” as I gaze at the work critically and try to determine where it is failing.

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Another Crack at Heidegger’s Being and Time

And finally, thanks to YouTube, I’m getting some help, listening to excellent lectures on Being and Time. This morning I listened to the first of a series of 28 lectures delivered at University of California Berkeley by Hubert Dreyfus in 2007. Thanks to him, some of Heidegger’s concepts are beginning to become clear to me. Reading Heidegger’s Hut by Adam Sharr warmed me with its ideas about working in a solitary place, away from the workplace. Now, I wish once again to try and understand this thinker’s difficult philosophy.

It’s been a productive morning, and I’m happy that so much of the day and evening remain. 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

January 15, 2017

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Up-to-Date Photo of my Most Recent Watercolor in Progress

At most a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called “stay in the country.” But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported in the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. . . . Solitude has the peculiar and original power of not isolating us but projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence of all things.”

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” Radio Address, 1934

This three-day weekend arrived like that rare thoughtful friend. Some kind of stomach virus kept me out of school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I returned to school, a shell of what I normally am, and I remember very little of that day. Thursday and Friday I was just tired, still not fully recuperated from the illness. The holiday weekend offered promise of a healing balm.

The reading posted above came from a book I just acquired, Heidegger’s Hut by Adam SharrBefore purchasing the volume, I was aware that the philosopher Martin Heidegger spent much time in a cabin in the Black Forest at Todtnauberg in southern Germany. What I did not know was that he wrote from that secluded dwelling for fifty years, and even turned down the offer to occupy the chair of philosophy in Berlin because it would take him too far away from this country sanctuary. In the same year, he broadcasted the quote posted above.

When I read that passage Friday evening, I just closed the book and sighed, staring into the dark night. I had already decided not to travel over the weekend, and stay in my own suburban home so I could have three days for reading, reflection and getting back to a watercolor I had abandoned before becoming ill. The temperatures had dropped enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, so I put on music conducive for studying and spent much of this weekend reading the Heidegger book along with primary source texts I have enjoyed in years past from this unusual mind. I am over halfway through Steinbeck’s East of Eden as well. Finally I returned to the watercolor and have posted the latest developments on it for anyone interested in seeing it. I’m experimenting more with India Ink to darken some of the background and stale breadcrumbs to add more texturing to the wood and burlap surfaces. My intention is to continue working on it tomorrow and posting the progress to this blog.

store-picMy Favorite Country Escape

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Porch Time at the same Country Sanctuary

In one of his rhapsodic passages about thinking and writing in the country, Heidegger wrote: “The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.” That is exactly my sentiment as I try to express how profoundly the reading of this book has enraptured my own soul.  Thoreau had his cabin at Walden. Hölderlin had his Tübingen tower. Goethe had his Gartenhaus in Weimar. And Nietzsche had his convalescent home at Sils Maria in the Austrian Alps. For decades I have craved such a “sacred space” for retreat from the work routine so I could enjoy the quiet and hopefully create something special, mentally or aesthetically. Above I’ve posted two photos of a very special place, several hours from where I live–a place to which dear friends have offered access for just such activity.

In 1985, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I fled Fort Worth and lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas in the home posted below. It was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I preferred to write by the light of oil burning lamps at night and still recall the smoky smells that filled the house during those winter evenings as I worked. I still miss those days, thirty years later. Once the dissertation was completed and I graduated, I reluctantly moved back to the city to find work and have been living in the suburbs ever since. I have since revisited this home, too damaged now for an actual residence. The photos are posted below of how it looked around 2010.

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My Residence in 1985

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Close-up of the Painting in Progress

I look forward to retirement at the end of this semester. Though I’ll continue to live in my suburban home, I’ll seek opportunities to flee to the country for the quiet. I’m grateful that Heidegger left behind his musings on the values of retreat.

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.

Pushing Further into the Portal Experiment

January 3, 2017

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And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Today marked the first day of the spring semester and my second day of reverie in the writings of John Steinbeck. I read before my A. P. Art History classes the opening paragraph of chapter 13 of East of Eden, a passage pointed out to me by my ninth-grade English teacher, Lon Simmons. The students overall expressed approval, and one of them actually engaged me in conversation over the significance of the passage, a little later in the period. I found the first day of classes very satisfying.

Once back home, I began experimenting with the large watercolor I’ve posted above. Several days ago, I created for the first time my first batch of watercolor pigment–cobalt blue, combining the powdered pigment with gum arabic, honey and distilled water. I felt like a mad scientist in the laboratory, laughing at my cavalier venture. I managed to create a warm gray tone for some of my background by blending this newly-mixed cobalt blue with Winsor Violet and New Gamboge. I also applied India ink to some of the lettering on the burlap sack at the base of the composition. So far, I am pleased with the results of these latest experiments. I feel that I am getting bolder with these attempts.

Tonight I had the deeply satisfying pleasure of meeting with five of my artist friends at a cafe to exchange ideas over dinner. We have been gathering for these weekly discussions for over a year now, and I cannot express how rewarding these times are for me emotionally. Without fail, I come away from these meetings with a renewed sense of purpose and joy.

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.

Seeking to Recover the Rhythm

January 1, 2017

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Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches – nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

John Steinbeck, Nobel Laureate acceptance speech

This first day of the New Year has been a quiet one, with dark rainy weather outside, but a cheery fire inside to brighten the spirits of my living room and studio. Throughout the day, I have picked and chipped away at this watercolor, hoping to get back the rhythm that was broken before Christmas arrived. I’m really in the mood to watercolor, but feel that I don’t know how, and spend so much time staring at this composition, wondering just how to get back into it. These words I write are rather clumsy–I’m not fishing for compliments on my painting, and I don’t have a low opinion of my talent. It’s just that I’m feeling out-of-synch, and hating the fact that I return to school tomorrow without having resolved this. The evening is still young, so hopefully I’ll get some of my act together before bedtime. I would really like to come home from school tomorrow with the feeling that I’ve found my mojo again as a watercolorist.

O.K., so much for the whining about the painting process. . . . I’ve posted the Steinbeck quote because I’ve had wonderful You Tube company throughout this day of painting (I’m a sucker for documentaries and have enjoyed them today on F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck while painting).   I was deeply moved by his remarks when the lines above were read from his acceptance speech.  What he attributes to writers and literature I attribute to all those who create, period–writers, artists, musicians–anyone who feel the compulsion to create. That feeling is a remarkable gift to the creator as well as to those who enjoy his/her creations.  Throughout this Christmas and New Year holiday I have drawn so much strength and inspiration from reading the Bible, poetry, biographies, as well as looking at works of art from the hands of those I admire deeply.  Our creative expressions are gifts to us and to one another, and those gifts during this holiday season have made my personal life so much richer.

Thanks for reading. I just wanted to get some of my feelings out today. Now I return to the studio and see if I can get my groove back!

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.