Archive for December, 2018

Drifting Boundary-less toward the New Year

December 31, 2018

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The generals and the captains of industry were quite right. There was nothing to be made of us intellectuals. We were a superfluous, irresponsible lot of talented chatterboxes for whom reality had no meaning.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Christmas and the New Year holiday have presented me with a boundary-less existence. in space as well as time. The college semester ended long ago, and spring offers for the first time in my life a complete online set of courses. So I find myself drifting in unfamiliar waters with no horizon. My courses will have to be ready by January 15, but there is no location for me to report for duty. Hence, I am living a life with few markers, and I appreciate the feel of that.

This morning, as I woke to New Year’s Eve, I realized that I have business and personal affairs needing my attention in the coming months, but nothing on the immediate horizon that needs to be addressed. For twenty-eight years, there were school semester dates that gave definition to my daily routine, but finally they are completely erased.

As I resumed my daily reading of Steppenwolf, I came across the passage opening this blog and mused on it awhile, appreciating the radicalness of the perspective. I have for the most part fit in that description, living out a life that captitalism generally regards as contributing little-to-nothing. While toiling through graduate school, I served terms in the pastoral ministry as well as welding, landscaping, sales, law enforcement and delivery services. I even worked as a carpenter’s helper. All the while, as I performed these duties, my imagination surged beneath the surface, exploring philosophical, theological, artistic and literary ideas. I realized that my real center was this Life of the Mind. And for years, I grieved at the thought that no one would ever pay me to support that kind of a life. In 1988, I signed a contract to teach school, hoping to find a culture that would pay me a living wage to read, think and attempt to pass on what I learned to younger minds. For twenty-eight years in high school, and at the same time, thirty-two years in university classrooms (mostly at night) I received pay to do what I loved most.

Retirement allowed me to leave the high school regimentation of Monday-Friday tasks, but the university has continued to offer me contracts to continue with them. But now, for the first time, I will work exclusively online. And thoughts of the possibilities this morning fill me with an air of optimism. I haven’t yet cluttered my blog with what I have scribbled in my journal in past days, because a plan has yet to coalesce; making art, reading, thinking and writing still compete for center stage in my life, and I still am thinking out ways to do them all, not allowing any single element to atrophy. Hence, as I look to this New Year, my heart surges with optimism and good will, and I hope to discover good things to share with those around me.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remin myelf I am not alone.

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Leaning Forward

December 30, 2018

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What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (The Jerusalem Bible)

Still overflowing with the peace and good will of the Christmas spirit, I am glad to be resting after many, many road miles spent visiting with family and friends. Christmas came upon me quickly this season, and now the new year is drawing near and I have yet to adjust to that new set of feelings and aspirations.

Years ago, as 1973 was about to emerge, I found myself in a Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study, listening to a pastor expounding the Book of Eccleasiastes. I had not been familiar with the contents of that text until that evening as I sat and listened. It proved to be a pivotal point. From that year till now, I have always included a fresh reading of Ecclesiasates with each new year approaching.

The aged author of that Book had found life unsatisfying, concluding that all was “vanity” (empty, meaningless), and that there was nothing new to be found as one grew older. Throughout my years, I have often found myself dissatisfied with how my life was going, but I can never recall reaching the depths of despair felt in this Book. One thing that has remained constant with me is this romantic notion that new experiences can be discovered; life for me remains an odyssey, filled with surprises.

New Year resolutions have always been a special part of my pilgrimage, and as I have spent recent days working and re-working a list of goals, I considered what I wish to accomplish in this blog. I confess that I spend too much time reading current news and listening to news reports and commentary. My summation of this content is that it is almost exclusively negative as well as badly written and spoken. As a retired educator, having devoted decades to persuading students to read quality texts, why do I constantly fall into the ditch of reading yellow journalism and listening to angry commentary? One of my main goals for 2019 is to trim back drastically that daily diet of literary and verbal trash and replenish my soul with quality thoughts and expressions. I came across the following while reading Steppenwolf this morning:

There is no sense in thinking or saying or writing anything of human import, to bother one’s head with thoughts of goodness–for two or three men who do that, there are thousands of papers, periodicals, speeches, meetings in public and in private, that make the opposite their daily endeavor and succeed in it too.

I agree that for every two or three blogging commentators there are myriads of professional journalists who successfully drown out a few quality words with an avalanche of venomous proclamations. But I refuse to conclude with the Steppenwolf that “there is no sense in thinking or saying or writing anything of human import” and I also refuse the Preacher’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes that life is vanity and there is no new thing under the sun.

In many, many ways, 2018 sucked in the political sphere, but my personal odyssey turned up many exciting sites and adventures. The time is near when I will be able to say Good-bye to 2018 and lean forward into 2019, echoing the sentiments of Jack Kerouac in his masterwork On the Road:

It’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you an adventure-filled 2019. I also pledge to write positive thoughts with hopes of enriching the lives of readers.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Holiday Gratitude

December 28, 2018

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Euclid Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri

After a long night drive, I finally made it back to Texas, to find 28-degree temperatures waiting for me and a chance of snow in the morning. I have yet to see snow this season, so I am delighted at the prospects.  Above is a photo I took of one of my favorite St. Louis spots, a couple of blocks from where William S. Burroughs lived as a young boy.  This corner houses Left Bank Books, one of three magnificent book stores I always try and visit when I am up there.

Feeling weary still from last night’s travels, I spent most of this day napping and now feel that I have enough starch in me to read at leisure. At the time of this writing it is getting dark outside, and contrary to most of my friends’ sentiments, I myself love the long winter nights, especially if a fireplace is included in the picture.

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After weeks of being on the go, I am fortunate now to have some quiet, sedentary time, and am enjoying immensely a book I read back in the late 1980’s and now have opened for a second time. My recent reading of Kaag’s Hiking with Nietzsche prompted this return. The book is Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.  I read it before I entered the teaching profession, and enjoyed the author’s analysis of human nature with all its inner conflicts. During my teaching tenure, I enjoyed introducing students to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and the way he expounded human nature as a bifurcation between Apollo and Dionysus (order and chaos). Hesse’s book portrays a character coming to grips with his own nature struggling between the human and the wolf. However, he avoids the simple dualism and discusses the dilemma of human nature as one layered with many different forces that try to find some kind of harmony. In my later years, I’m finding this complexity much more engaging as I read. Perhaps I’ll have more to share later . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Post-Holiday Greetings from St. Louis

December 27, 2018

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Left Bank Books with Bronze of William S. Burroughs

I wanted to wish all my blog readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The holiday season came up on me fast this year as there was so much to do up till the last minute. I managed to squeeze in a visit with my parents and siblings in St. Louis and all of it was joyful. Included among our favorite activities were visits to the local book stores and a cruise of the neighborhoods to look at the lights and decorations. I could not resist a couple of photos of one of the neighborhood contributions that manages to grow a few more characters each Christmas.

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Over-Abundance of High Ridge Christmas Yard Art

We missed the White Christmas we knew from last year, so I decided to post a couple of photos and watercolors that I made last year while in St. Louis.  I’m happy that both paintings sold, so now I’m making plans to replace them with new snowscapes.

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Last Year’s St. Louis White Christmas

SNOWY CEDARS

St. Louis Christmas 2017

Christmas along the River

St. Louis Christmas 2017

A Pair of St. Louis Christmas Paintinngs from Last Year

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.

The Next Turn of the Wheel

December 20, 2018

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New Work on a Commission

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual, such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Finally, I am painting again! Nearly a month has passed since I’ve worked seriously in watercolor, as the college schedule heated up before dismissing for Christmas, and then a surgical procedure rendered me dormant for over a week.

I am writing now from the Gallery at Redlands, and listening to my roommates “Kevin and Marc in the Morning” on Smooth Rock 93.5 FM, less than twenty feet to my right. Last night the radio station hosted the Blue Santa Toy Drive with the Palestine Police Department in the driver’s seat. The evening was filled with acoustic musical performances, all of them first-rate. The lobby and gallery were filled with people all night and the unwrapped toy donations filled the space beneath the lobby tree, and then the histoiric elevator car was filled to capacity. I worked on the painting above as people moved in and out of the gallery, and our open door allowed the live music to flow in.

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Our Gallery Window, Tricked out for Christmas

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Heather Little performing in the Lobby

As warm music and conversation filled the Redlands Hotel last night, I felt the lovely spirit of Christmas joy.  Among the many highlights of my night was meeting Heather Little, a singer/songwriter from the area whose presence helped light up the night. Before she went on, she introduced herself to me in the gallery, admired my work, and visited with me awhile, answering all my questions about song writing. Her original tunes created a hush among the formerly loquacious gathering, and I am proud to insert her website below for your listening pleasure. If you are in the Dallas area, I highly recommend you checking out her venues.

http://www.heatherlittlemusic.com/

After the evening wound down, I retired to my suite upstairs and resumed reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, a novel I read with great fulfilment around 1987, and decided to re-read after a number of references popped up about the work and its background in my recent reading of John Kaag’s Hiking with Nietzsche. Last night the following words found their mark in my soul:

And these men, for whom life has no repose, live at times in their rare moments of happiness with such strength and indescribable beauty, the spray of their moment’s happiness is flung so high and dazzlingly over the wide sea of suffering, that the light of it, spreading its radiance, touches others too with its enchantment. Thus, like a precious, fleeting foam over the sea of suffering arise all those works of art, in which a single individual lifts himself for an hour so high above his personal destiny that his happiness shines like a star and appears to all who see it as something eternal and as a happiness of their own. 

While reading these words, I reflected over the lovely night I had enjoyed downstairs in the gallery and lobby. As the night filled with patrons and acoustic musicians, I watched from my drafting table as a world slowly emerged from my brush. Out of the white abyss, a house and trees slowly took form with layers of color combinations I had not previously used. This is the part of making art that moves me in ways I cannot describe. As I have told my friends, I love the Genesis creation narrative, of God creating a world out of chaos. Every time I gaze into a white rectangular space with brush in hand I feel a shiver as I ponder the possibilities that could emerge from that space. Watching something take shape from the tip of my brush still moves me. The Genesis narrative says God created people in his own image. I have long maintained that that “image” is the creative instinct that is inborn with all of us. Why do we create? Because we were created with that drive.

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.

Excavating for an Original Idea

December 19, 2018

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Layers of Ideas Covering my Desktop

I admit that I often set up compositions to photograph for the blog, hoping they will catch attention. But I testify that the photo above is very real, and I wasn’t aware of what my desktop had become till I re-entered the room with a fresh cup of coffee. I love these moments when my reading drives me down frequent diverging paths, and I keep opening books from my library to chase down parallel references. That was what filled this particular morning.

In our digital age, we hurtle through life at unheard-of speeds, chasing every stimulus that presents itself. If order is to be restored, then time for soaking ideas is required. I have some of that now, having undergone a surgical procedure over a week ago to remove a squamous cell from the crown of my head. Now that the sticthes have finally been removed and I am no longer taking meds for pain, I feel more clear-headed to read and think over these recent ideas.

The history of literature . . . is a sum of very few ideas, and of very few original tales,–all the rest being variation of these.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

This statement from Emerson has remained with me since my earliest years of teaching. I entered the classroom in 1985, fervent in my belief that if I was diligent in my scholarship I would one day arrive at an original, publishable idea. My fervor often reached a fever pitch, similar to that seen In the film “A Beautiful Mind,” where the youthful John Nash, as a student at Princeton, searched in earnest for his original idea. Eventually he came up with governing dynamics. As for me, I have followed more the Emerson track, over the years combining ideas from various sources much like a child putting together Tinker Toys.

As the years grew into decades, I came to the realization that I was not creating original ideas, but rather weaving disparate threads from philosophy, theology, art and litetature into tapestries. I took pride that I was synthesizing, while at the same time chafing that I was not coming up with anything original. And as the years continued, I began to worry that I was only scratching the surface of thought.

Paul Tillich remained one of my patron saints as I explored the world of ideas, and I was taken by words he uttered on May 6, 1963 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, delivering the keynote address for Time magazine’s fortieth anniversary observance. His distinguished audience included Adlai Stevenson and Douglas MacArthur. As I read this address, I felt the impact as I acknowledged, with his words, that I remain the product of a “one-dimensional culture.” Tillich regarded America as a free society, but one “without depth.” The culture he described that day in 1963 has not changed from the current one in that it moves fast, with an obsession “to produce in order to produce still more.”

I now quote from Tillich’s biography authored by Wilhelm Pauck:

Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to “enter creation and unite with its power,” in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension. In a direct reference to his own role as a Socratic gadfly, he pointed out that the creative critics of contemporary society no longer needed to fear martyrdom, but were instead forced to “fight against being absorbed by the culture as another cultural good.”

As I read these words, I envisioned today’s thinker as one who water-skis over a vast ocean, skating rapidly over the surface while paying no regard to the immeasurable depths beneath. As a student of history, I see myself that way, as one who has focused on timelines and extensions, putting in little time for excavating the layers of strata beneath the surface of thought.

I am re-posting this remarkablly incisive quote from Emerson, who also saw the American thinker as one who stayed on the surface of ideas without bothering to tunnel beneath:

The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men’s thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes the crust, behold gimlet, plumb-line, and philosopher take a lateral direction in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made,–not an inch has he pierced,–you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, ‘I will give you the key to nature,’ and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person: and yet–and yet–we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man without a pulse-beat of expectation. And this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter is the sure prediction of his advent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Method of Nature”

Thoreau made use of this same metaphor in his masterwork, Walden:

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. 

Tillich, Emerson and Thoreau have inspired me to devote more time to drilling to the core of things. After so many decades of gathering fragments, I’m wondering now what kind of skill set is required to think with depth rather than breadth. I’m happy that the holiday season has finally arrived, the fall semester has ended, grades have been posted, and I can now relax into a season of meditation.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Climbing Slowly Back into the Saddle

December 15, 2018

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Good evening, blog-reading friends,

I am happy to report that I’ve been healing slowly and steadily since Monday’s surgery, and the stitches will be coming out in a few days. Finally, I am crawling out from under the groggy effects of pain meds and am happily reading again, though I’m still getting sleepy more frequently throughout the day. I have been careful not to push it, and have learned to enjoy long hours of leisure down time.

Today, I finally felt strong enough to resume my grading of final exams for my college courses. I had three classes to complete. Just a few minutes ago, I posted all grades, so now my semester has officially closed and I have a month off before the spring term commences.

I have laid out my plans for what to pursue when I return to the studio, and have a strong compulsion to pursue two separate series of paintings. I look forward to unveiling them to you once I get them underway.

In the meantime, thank you for your thoughtful notes and well-wishes. I’m happy to feel strength and interest returning. I wish all of you the happiest of holidays as this season draws closer.

Recovery

December 12, 2018

(Looking through 2017 summer sketchbook/journal)

Just a quick note to my faithful blog readers: I wanted to explain this lengthy hiatus since my last blog post. I had surgery to remove a squamous cell from the crown of my head, and I’m still in recovery. The fortunate news is that they got it all and the trouble is over. But I have a lot of stitches on my head, and I’m continually taking Tylenol for pain and feeling rather fatigued. Before the surgery, I hit upon an idea that excited me greatly, and spent considerable time writing out the idea. But then I went under the knife, and I still don’t feel ready to publish what I wrote. As for today, my intention is to read, write, think, and above all, relax.

I will always feel grateful for my readership, and just wanted to leave you this brief note to explain the lapse in blogging.

Until next time then . . .

Thoughts Amidst the Show

December 1, 2018

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My Booth on the Ground Floor (formerly a bowling alley!)

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Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm Street, Dallas

The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men’s thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes the crust, behold gimlet, plumb-line, and philosopher take a lateral direction in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made,–not an inch has he pierced,–you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, ‘I will give you the key to nature,’ and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person: and yet–and yet–we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man without a pulse-beat of expectation. And this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter is the sure prediction of his advent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Method of Nature”

Wow. Just wow! I had a few moments to read this morning before leaving for Dallas for the second day of our 40th annual Randy Brodnax and Friends Christmas Art Show at the Sons of Hermann Hall. Last night was such a special time, as this time of the year in this place always is. I feel that throughout this day, I’ll be thinking on these remarkable words of Emerson that have truly rocked my thought-world this morning.

Wish I had time to write more, but I have to dash. 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.