Morning Coffee with Dave & Thoreau

dave & henry

I learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live that life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thirty years ago, I would not say I was suicidal, not even close. But there was that stretch of months when trying to go to sleep at night, that I really didn’t care if I woke to see a new morning. Life then was not good from a number of angles, and I really didn’t have anything to anticipate with gladness as one day stumbled into the next. I had not yet signed a contract to begin work as a full-time public school teacher, and was supporting myself by doing adjunct work at Texas Christian University and full-time work as a campus police dispatcher. I did not own a car in those days. I worked long hours at two jobs, and either walked or took a city bus to where I needed to go.

early sunday morning 1

Early Sunday Morning, by Edward Hopper

Walking to campus one sunny autumn Sunday morning, I crossed Berry Street, and looking at the row of store fronts that were closed on Sunday, my recollection of this Edward Hopper painting came to mind. I went straight to the campus library, and checked out a book of his paintings, and, as Sunday would be a very slow day with only two campus police officers on duty to patrol the entire university, I was guaranteed eight hours of mostly radio silence. I read the entire book, scribbled out pages of musings in my journal, and the more I looked at Hopper’s solitary paintings, the more I thought of my life at that time. I was conflicted with those emotions that the theologian Paul Tillich identified as “loneliness and solitude”, the cross as well as the glory of being human.

Crossing Berry Street again at the end of my shift, and on my way back home, I mused over how this Fort Worth street on Sunday looked very much like Hopper’s New York street from 1930–shuttered and silent. And the twin sensations of “loss” and “presence” filled my soul to the extent that once I returned to my apartment, I took out my journal and began pouring out the feelings that had surged through my consciousness on this particular day.

It was on that Sunday that I determined I would turn my life around. I had no idea what waited before me in the years ahead, but I bound myself with a promise that I would not allow anything to strip me of my dreams, of my ideas. Two years later, as a high school teacher, when I finally got around to reading Thoreau’s Walden for the first time, I came across the text posted at the top of this blog, and realized that it was time to put some foundations beneath my dreams. I decided to stick with public school teaching, but would also take out my sketchbook, my paints and my brushes, keep filling the journal with daily musings, and seek a quality of life that would transcend the trappings of a daily job. If I would be privileged to live that long, I would retire one day with sufficient benefits to pay my bills, and continue this search for meaning without the albatross of a 40-plus hour work week dragging me down.

Life has never been better for me than it is now. The days are filled with gods, as Emerson once wrote. There is time to read, time to reflect, time to write, and even time to put out a blog of my sentiments. There is time to paint, time to travel, and time to spend with precious friends. And, as teaching has always been my passion, I am afforded the privilege of doing that, but in a reduced capacity. No longer do I have those five day work weeks with hours beginning at 7:35 and extending till 3:30, and then having to take all that work home with me and stay with planning, preparation and grading till bed time so I can repeat the next day. I did it for twenty-eight years, and complained plenty, but I loved the classroom dynamics that made the drudge part tolerable. But now, life is so much fuller and I fully love this daily gift of exploration and possibility.

I am sad that Thoreau only lived to be forty-four. Now, twenty years past that point, I am thankful to have been given those extra years as a bonus, and promise not to take days for granted as I did when I was younger. Building foundations beneath the castles of dreams has turned out to be a rewarding task.

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.

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