Archive for August, 2017

The Harmony Beneath the Disarray

August 29, 2017

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Nearing Completion of Another Watercolor 

The ancients, struck with this irreducibleness of the elements of human life to calculation, exalted Chance into a divinity, but that is to stay too long at the spark,–which glitters truly at one point,–but the universe is warm with the latency of the same fire. . . . Underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam.  Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Rising at 5:40 this morning, without an alarm, it didn’t take long before I felt bathed in the warmth of Emerson’s words. As an older man, he soberly assessed “experience” as a replacement for his earlier romantic flourishes as a thinker and writer. I love the quote above as he acknowledges that the spark in later years may lack the white hot dynamic of ideas that struck him in his youth, but the warmth and duration remained. Ideas such as this have helped me in my transitions in life, from a young educator, to one middle aged, and now retired.

More than ever before, I have come to embrace the “musical perfection” underlying the “inharmonious and trivial particulars” of daily life. In my early days of the ministry, I would devote all my energies of a particular day to poring over the biblical writings, believing that they contained the Word of God, and that I would be encountered, confronted by their message. I expected some kind of an oracle. For the past several decades, I have known that oracles would come through a multiplicity of avenues–literature, philosophy, conversation, art, music; I would no longer have to seek an encounter aggressively, but rather let it happen when it happens.

Today has been spectacular, though the bare details of the day sound pedestrian. I have divided my time between reading Emerson, writing a college lecture for tomorrow, listening to documentaries on YouTube on Hemingway and Joyce, finishing up a watercolor begun two days ago, and practicing guitar songs for tonight’s Open Mic. And all day long, a Presence has lingered with me, though I live alone. That Presence has been the underlying harmony of all the disjunctive tasks I have pursued. And I didn’t have to force any kind of encounter; it just happened, as it always does.

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Fun at Dr. Jeckyll’s Open Mic

Thanks for reading.

 

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Quiet Reflections during a Rain-Soaked Sunday Morning

August 27, 2017

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To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.  . . . Since our office is with moments, let us husband them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I’m deeply saddened for residents on the Texas coast who have endured the hell of this weekend’s hurricane. Homes and businesses destroyed and infrastructure horribly fractured–I made many friends in Corpus Christi and Rockport over the past few years, and my heart aches for them and their friends. It takes long stretches of time to repair property and lives. Spending this weekend in Palestine, I have known only continual rain and darkened skies. My home is hours north of the coast, so I know I’ll return this evening only to a wet neighborhood, but not a storm-ravaged one.

I gave myself some quiet space in the gallery this morning to pore over some of Emerson’s writings and see if I could scribble out something meaningful in my journal. The statement above resonated with me because I have believed it for years, and it helped me keep my sanity during all those high school classroom sessions. I appreciate the words this morning, because I have plenty of college work to complete for classes in the morning, a watercolor lesson to give in the gallery this afternoon, and several paintings in progress before me that need to be completed for the coming holidays. I could be overwhelmed at the tasks, but instead pause to appreciate how delicious the moments are here.

I have been a YouTube junkie for over a year now. On my laptop I’m always dialing up something for “company” to listen to while I work. This morning’s companionship is titled “Rainy Jazz.” Every time I look up to see rain pouring outside my window, or hear the blast of a diesel horn in the railroad yards two blocks away, or the swish of a car slushing down the street below my gallery window, I feel something warm inside me. The Historic Inn at Redlands will be quiet inside, today. The Red Fire Grille across the hall will not open. Throughout the morning, I’ll hear the door outside open as parishioners attending mass across the street at Sacred Heart Catholic Church will drift into the hotel to look at historic displays in the windows and take a swing through the gallery. Looking up from time to time from my work, I’m feeling good inside, seeing my work all over these walls. This is without a doubt one of the proudest moments of my life.

Thank you for reading, and remember the ones living on the coast.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Thoughts Concerning Creative Energy

August 26, 2017

train drawing finished

Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? . . . We are like millers on the lower levels of a stream, when the factories above them have exhausted the water. We too fancy that the upper people must have raised their dams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

As I grow older and find creative energy harder to sustain, I take solace in reading testimonies from Emerson and Walt Whitman, who knew all-too-well the difficulty of continuing the push for creative eros.  Emerson’s essay “Circles” has a great metaphor, describing the endeavor as pushing outward in concentric circles one’s creative energy. Each circle goes out a certain distance, then piles up and hardens into a berm. A harder effort is required to push the new wave of energy with enough force to burst that dam, but alas, the new circle also rises into a new berm, further away and higher. As one continues to create, more and more force is required to break through the earlier barricades.

At my age, I find that I’m sleeping longer and having to be more thoughtful of my diet. And I have to be more reasonable about deadlines and how much time is required to do quality work. Drawing and painting today has been a genuine joy, but I feel the weariness, and notice that the work requires more scrutiny than it seemed to before. But I still want to create, to live an artful life. I’m grateful to Texas Wesleyan University, for giving me a creative outlet in classes only three times a week, and to The  Gallery at Redlands for giving me a place to create and display my art. The patrons today have given me profound joy in conversation and encouragement. Palestine is a remarkable town.

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.

 

Life Slowing Down

August 26, 2017

redlands now

Nestled in The Gallery at Redlands for the Weekend

A political orator wittily compared our party promises to western roads, which opened stately enough, with planted trees on either side, to tempt the traveller, but soon became narrow and narrower, and ended in a squirrel-track, and ran up a tree. So does culture with us; it ends in head-ache. Unspeakably sad and barren does life look to those, who a few months ago were dazzled with the splendor of the promise of the times.  . . . Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy.  . . . We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Now, in my semi-retirement days, Emerson is even more a friend and kindred spirit than he’s been in the past twenty-five years for me. When I was younger, I was more of a romantic enthusiast who truly believed in promises delivered by politicians on a national, state and local school district level. For years, I believed in the substance of political stump speeches and beginning of the school year pep rallies. After I stopped believing in the promises, I believed that the speakers themselves believed in their own empty promises. Now I even doubt that, and choose not to listen much any longer. Instead I choose to do what I do, and try to improve over the years in my own performance. Voltaire encouraged us to cultivate our own gardens. Emerson challenges us to learn to skate well on the surfaces of life presented to us.

After a summer on the road, filled with new vistas and fresh encounters, I began to feel a renewed enthusiasm and confidence that had been reduced to dying embers over recent years. I have returned to my home turf to begin a semester at Texas Wesleyan University as an adjunct instructor. I knew the change would be good, but had no idea it would be this good. I have now shifted from a full-time high school schedule with four subjects to teach across six classes, all day Monday through Friday (and an online college course as well), to a university campus where I teach one subject in the classroom for two hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings, plus my one online course. That’s it.

The culture shock cannot be overstated; in nearly thirty years I have not been allowed the luxury of space and quiet and time between classes to think, write, re-think, revise and flow into a classroom environment (smaller classes too!) of older students who show up ready to think and engage in dialogue. Of course, the biggest change has been the university requiring only a syllabus to be submitted by me on the third week of school.  By this time, I would have submitted stacks of documents to my school district to satisfy some bureaucratic monster. And even larger still–at the university, I will submit a progress report at midterm, then grades at semester’s end.  In high school, progress and report card grades are submitted six times by semester’s end. All week long, during this first week at the university I felt that I was forgetting to do something; I couldn’t believe I had 48-hour lapses of quiet between class lectures. And 48 hours is a broad expanse of time to research, write and edit classroom lectures. I feel genuinely spoiled, and my heart is full of warmth and good feelings. I’m sorry I had to wait so long to get to this day.

This  weekend and next will find me at one of my favorite places–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. I’ll keep the gallery open all day today and into the evening (there is fine dining across the hall at the Red Fire Grille with plenty of patrons coming and going).  I will also keep basic Sunday hours (10-5) as well. I have rotated five new paintings into the display and will take the replaced five back home for awhile. The summer has kept me away from here, but I look forward to putting in as many weekends as possible, maintaining some kind of presence here.

train drawing

Initial Stages of a Locomotive Drawing

Palestine is an extraordinary town with a magnificent railroad heritage. I began a project in the spring, involving vintage railroad scenes, and have already completed four watercolors with more in progress as I write. Above is the beginning of a pencil drawing, as I plan to present a showing of drawings and paintings this winter, just in time for Palestine’s Polar Express experience. The Gallery at Redlands hopes to have a sound artistic presence when the holidays arrive.

Thank you for reading. Now that life has slowed considerably for me, I hope I’ll find the energy and enthusiasm to update this blog and let all of you know what is happening in this part of the world.

truck

Tell Me Where the Road Is

Watercolor, 27 x 24″ framed

$700

Here is a watercolor I’ve introduced into the gallery collection that hasn’t been here before.  This fall, many new works will be added and displayed here. Stay tuned . . .

 

Emerging from the Darkness

August 21, 2017

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E1

E3

I had to record this spectacular experience.  Once I saw the first bite taken out of the sun, I was mesmerized and moved my journal to the shade of an umbrella table on the back deck. I sketched the sun going through its diminishing stages, then as it was reduced to just a sliver in the sky, I dashed out into the street to photograph the crescent moon patterns in the shadows of the shade trees. Finally the darkness descended for 2 1/2 minutes, the world cooled down, dogs barked, children in the neighborhood screamed, crickets and katydids chirped, all the street lights clicked on, and I felt myself shudder.

Now the light has emerged, I’m going to catch up on some needed rest, and return to my Texas home. I will report to work Wednesday morning.

Thanks for reading.

Waiting for the Sky to Darken

August 21, 2017

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Reading at dawn on the deck

In proportion to his force, the artist will find in his work an outlet for his proper character.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

Good day, fellow blog readers/friends. It’s been a long stretch since I last posted something on this page. I’m completing the most amazing summer vacation I’ve ever experienced, and still growing accustomed to the retired life. I’m spending my last day in my home town of High Ridge, Missouri, waiting for the solar eclipse. My parents live in the seventy-mile wide “path of totality”, so I’ll be fortunate to view it from the back deck, atop a neighborhood hill, with no trees blocking my view of the sky.

No, I will not be taking or posting photos; I’m not a real photographer, did not purchase proper equipment, but at least secured the right kind of glasses.  The event is still two hours away, so I have decided to try and post a blog with meaning.  My Jeep is packed, and I’ll give traffic a few hours to clear the freeways before driving back to Texas in the real darkness of night.

Texas Wesleyan University opened today with the first day of classes.  The university was kind to me when learning that I would miss my first day, being 660 miles away to view this phenomenon.  On Wednesday I will deliver my inaugural lectures, my second scheduled day of classes.

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draw 2

I am deeply happy to say I believe I found my real self in Colorado this year during my extended stay.  I did not generate the same quantity of art that I did on my previous year’s visit, and I didn’t even fly fish with the same intense frequency.  But still, I found a quality in living that I haven’t known consistently for many, many years. And when I did take time out to sketch or paint, I felt a deeper sense of contentment. Above, I have posted a couple of sketchbook pages of my drawings and journal musings while sitting on the deck of my rented Rainbow Cabin at Riverbend Resort in South Fork, Colorado

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With only a few days left before departing Colorado, I finally took a shot at watercoloring en plein air this massive boulder positioned between my deck and the South Fork of the Rio Grande. I didn’t finish the work, but at least I enjoyed working on it as my Colorado experience drew to its close.

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A beautiful brown trout

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Big Meadow Lake, early in the morning (where I caught the brown trout)

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Rainbow trout caught out of South Fork

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Sam the “camp cat” asleep in my lap

Today is also the first day of school for Martin High School, where I retired from my 28-year teaching career June 3.  Last week the teachers returned for a week of Inservice meetings.  Over the past years, I wondered if I would feel rudderless when this moment arrived.  I don’t.  When I enter the lecture room at Texas Wesleyan University Wednesday, I have only one hope–that I will still have the energy and enthusiasm that I felt ebbing away the last several years of my teaching tenure.  I earnestly hope that I can recover that; the students and university deserve it.  And I want to give it.

I look forward earnestly to my return to the studio, as my art has laid dormant for weeks now, though my mind has surged daily with ideas and my imagination continues to crank out compositional opportunities. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if I still possess that energy.

The summer has been magnificent, I feel rested, and I’m happy beyond words to be retired. I’m looking forward to witnessing my first solar eclipse; I was unaware and lacked curiosity when it last came in 1979. This path has not crossed the St. Louis region since July 7, 1442, and will not pass this way again until 2505. I planned this visit since summer 2016 when I read Annie Dillard’s account of the 1979 eclipse in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk. I was numbed by her account, and determined on that day that I would not miss the next one.

Thanks for reading.

Waiting for the Morning Light . . .

August 11, 2017

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When the early morning light quietly 

grows above the mountains . . . . 

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

I set the alarm for 5 a.m. and rose to a 48-degree morning in South Fork, Colorado. My lovely stay here is drawing near a close, and I am still probing this engaging poem of Heidegger’s written from his days in the Black Forest. Following a long black night’s slumber, I felt kissed by the dawn, and rose gladly to dress, put on coffee to brew, and step outside onto the cabin deck while the darkness was just beginning to withdraw.

The world’s darkening never reaches

to the light of Being.

For the first time, my attention froze on those words. Looking up at the lit sky behind the mountains, I noticed that nature’s shapes below were beginning to emerge and take on color and identity. And I meditated on this–the light gives shape to the forms below; the forms do not reach up to the light.

Reaching for my Greek New Testament, I turned to John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18) and began reading that text that I had learned to translate since my graduate school days decades ago:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness is unable to extinguish it (John 1:5). What a thought–it is the nature of light to invade darkness, push back the darkness. The darkness does not come to the light, nor does it overpower the light. My mind raced in a dozen directions, from the wisdom shed by European thinkers during the 18th-century Enlightenment to some of my own personal, biographical memories. Light overcomes darkness. As I sat on the darkened porch, watching the Colorado landscape take shape beneath the light of the dawn, I decided to set up my plein air easel and get ready to resume the watercolor that I had sketched out the evening before. As my eye trained on the boulder and fir tree below my deck, I delighted in the rose colors appearing on the rock as the sun rose in the east. The fir tree seemed suddenly to dance in the yellow-green glory of the light cast from the sun, and I excitedly reached for my brush.

But alas, the rosy sun suddenly dissolved into a gray overcast, and the rock and tree returned to their neutral tints. I shall patiently wait for the sun to return. I want this watercolor to depict a bright landscape, not an overcast one.

Returning to The Gospel of John and laying it alongside Heidegger’s poem, I continued with delight to draw out parallels between the texts, and by the time I stopped, I had scribbled out 5 1/2 pages in my journal, sketchy thoughts waiting to be fleshed out as the day progresses.

Thank you for reading. This has been a soul-stirring morning in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts in the Pre-Dawn

August 9, 2017

pre dawn

South Fork, Colorado at 5:40 a.m.

When the early morning light quietly

grows above the mountains . . . . 

(Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”)

Rising to the sound of the South Fork of the Rio Grande flowing past my cabin window this morning, I felt the rush of gratitude again for life and beauty. Once the coffee was brewed I sat with my open journal and poured out my heart upon the pages. The pen could not move fast enough.

I love the Heidegger poem, a fragment of which I’ve posted above. I realize he left the ellipsis so he could complete his sentence with four stanzas of completed ideas, but I now wish to complete the thought with my own words.

. . . I acknowledge that the Word is already in play. (Tripp)

Heidegger argued that the Greek term logos, which we translate “word” means “to gather together.” Heidegger believed the Greeks understood the word as a cohesive, gathering force. I’ve been playing with that idea for several months now during these retirement wanderings, and have grown fond of the idea.

My simple thought for the morning is this–upon waking in the pre-dawn and looking out on the beauty of the Colorado morning, I realized that though the hour was early, the Word was already organizing my thoughts, my day, my life.

Hope that doesn’t sound too esoteric. I am filled with good notions this morning.

Thanks for reading. I have a date with rainbow trout . . .

Warm Thoughts in the Cold Dawn

August 8, 2017

COLD COLORADO

It is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, provided that we respect language’s own nature. In the meantime, to be sure, there rages round the earth an unbridled yet clever talking, writing, and broadcasting of spoken words.  Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man. Perhaps it is before all else man’s subversion of this relation of dominance that drives his nature into alienation. That we retain a concern for care in speaking is all to the good, but it is of no help to us as long as language still serves us even then only as a means of expression.”

Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”

This morning, a romantic notion drove me out to the deck of this Colorado cabin to watch the dawn break, read from Heidegger and record in my journal. But once I came across the passage posted above, the 46-degree dawn convinced me to withdraw into the warmth of my kitchen, pour a second cup, shake off the chill and focus on what I believe to be a genuine oracle.

Since the second week in June, I have been mostly on the road, traveling Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and now Colorado. I have never stayed longer than two weeks in any residence. In the Heidegger essay “Building Dwelling Thinking”, he discusses the nature of dwelling, what constitutes an architectural dwelling, how the dwelling shapes the one inside, and more profoundly the nature of language as the “house of being.” Language shapes us rather than vice versa.

During the Summer of ’17, my mind has not stopped questioning, probing the power of language and how it shapes us, the role it plays in carving out our character. In my journal I continually write, “What exactly am I?” “What word organizes my character?” “What kind of a human being am I, precisely”? Continually, I have probed language, seeking to divine the kinds of words necessary to help me understand what this is all about. I absolutely love living the retired life, but now that there is not a job to demand where I am to be and when, I am intrigued at this notion of living life and enjoying this precious Gift.

I took editorial liberties with the quote posted above, choosing to render in bold the sentence that seized my imagination, and striking out the one word I believe no longer describes today’s public discourse. For those of you who know me, I disdain most of the language that shapes today’s popular media, both televised and social. My blog is posted on a number of outlets, including Twitter, but I refuse to send 140-character tweets because one person has given that outlet its current identity, and I choose not to be identified among those participants.

I take language seriously, and I take character seriously. My precious friend Wayne White, also a blogger, shares my sentiment about the blog: we wish that readers would feel positive and whole when they read us, not visceral and angry.

So, as I close, I invite you to consider the following:

Sneering does not require depth of character or skill.

Being angry does not make you special or unique.

Cheap talk, especially insults, does not build a more meaningful life.

What exactly are you? What kind of footprint are you leaving day-by-day, as you travel this life? What do you really wish to be? What words shape you?

Thanks for reading.

 

The Silence of the Rock

August 5, 2017

HEIDEGGER

When the early morning light quietly

grows above the mountains . . . .

            The world’s darkening never reaches

                        to the light of Being.

            We are too late for the gods and too

                        early for Being. Being’s poem

                        just begun, is man.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Every morning my soul floods with enchantment at the sight of Colorado light slowly giving shape to mountains towering above me. I snapped the picture above with my phone while walking outside. South Fork stands at an altitude of 8180 feet, and I don’t know how many additional feet overshadow me every morning as I look up in silence at these massive cliffs. Last year I tried multiple times to paint them; so far this year I only look at them in wonder, feeling something special easing into my essence.

The whispering of the South Fork of the Rio Grande below my cabin contrasts with the brooding silence of the cliffs above me. In all my years of teaching, I never felt that I was able to capture in words the dual perspectives of Heraclitus (everything moves) and Parmenides (there is only stasis). For most of my adult life I have felt these two worldviews flowing through me–change versus permanence. Long before the book was released A River Runs Through It, I have pondered these two views that Plato and many successors struggled to fuse into a harmonious world view. And now, once again in Colorado, I feel more centered in life, experiencing this flowing stream against the eternal rock.

Save for some postings on Facebook, I have shunned Internet traffic, certain that if I pulled up any news pages they would be parsing the latest tweets springing from a small mind. Life is much too large and expansive to waste time over shallow words.

My reading while in the mountains has been sparse, replaced with more time walking outside, fly fishing in the stream and relaxing with precious friends. Last night before a fire, I returned to reading Heidegger and felt moved to scribble several more pages in my journal, which then led to a blog entry. Rising this morning at 5:30, I am now enjoying another fire in the fireplace (49 degrees and wet outside) and feel compelled to explore further the writings of Heidegger. I feel at this point to say that I am fully aware of this thinker’s moral failures, but I choose to use his ideas at their best, not their worst; bad people are still capable of truthful insights.

Martin Heidegger had a cabin built for him in 1922 in the Black Forest while he was engaged in his university career. Though providing his livelihood, he disdained city and university life, and chose to spend as much time as possible in this cabin without electricity. All of his most important published writings were born in this quiet space. I have enjoyed comparing the lifestyles of Heidegger in the Black Forest and Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, each thinker preferring the quiet and nurture of solitude. I myself have been blessed with a store in the wilderness where I am allowed to withdraw as often as possible, and now this quiet space tucked away in the Colorado Rockies. Something precious occurs every time I step away from a life of calendar appointments and withdraw into a quiet place where the clock seems to evaporate.

Thanks always for reading.