Archive for August, 2019

Carpe Diem–Sieze the Day!

August 22, 2019

Two Views of the Same Mug–Hot & Cold

Forty-eight hours ago I met my Humanities class at Texas Wesleyan University, and have been waiting with bated breath to get back to them. I must have been overly excited on opening day, because I awoke at 5:10 for a class that wouldn’t meet till 10:50. Well, this morning I awoke at 2:10, but it was a sinus infection this time. Medication has finally gotten it under control, and I feel human again, but I certainly won’t get back to sleep, and class is about two hours away now. Three hours’ sleep. Bummer. But the French-pressed coffee is steaming in my Carpe Diem mug, and I believe I will be ready to seize the day when the time arrives.

I love the table we have set for today–a roundtable discussion of Frank Bruni’s op-ed in the May 26, 2018 New York Times–“Aristotle’s Wrongful Death.” Throughout my teaching career, I have been intrigued by debates over education and how to achieve the highest quality. One thing unchanged after three decades is the struggle between the university and the business lobby. I, of course, side with the traditional university and study of the classics. I will never favor the abolishment of majors or the elimination of courses that tilt toward the humanities just to satisy the latest business trends.

Bruni raises an excellent point that the business landscape changes at warp speed, whereas the university, when putting into play a new program, moves glacially. By the time the university has put together something to satisfy the business community, the latter have already changed their minds at least three more times. Keeping pace with their shifting demands would be impossible for any reputable institution.

All that aside, I favor the university educational profile for the reason stated earlier, namely that their mission is to soak the student minds in the classics, the bedrock of our civilization and structure to our laws and principles. The university offers her services to train the intellect in such a way that students graduate prepared to adapt to any kind of services their prospective employers require. My son and I both achieved an exemplary education, and neither of us was employed in alignment with our majors. But we managed to fulfill our professional roles because we had been educated well. No regrets.

I’m proud to serve on the Texas Wesleyan faculty, and even prouder to be teaching a course titled The Human Experience. Throughout this semester I will bend every effort toward introducing my new family to the greatest minds this planet has witnessed over the millenia. And as we explore their society-shaping ideas we will freely evaluate the strenghts and seek ways to improve on the weaknesses. I anticipate yet another exciting intellectual odyssey, and look forward to seeing the light come into the students’ eyes.

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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Building my House

August 22, 2019

Every Spirit builds itself a house; and beyond itself, a world; and beyond its world a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you: Build therefore your own world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is the precinct (templum), that is, the house of Being. The nature of language does not exhaust itself in signifying, nor is it merely something that has the character of sign or cipher. It is because language is the house of Being, that we reach what is by constantly going through this house.

Martin Heidegger, “What are Poets For?”

After enduring 2 1/2 days with no Internet service, AT&T finally got to my home late yesterday and fixed the problem. Throughout the day, while waiting for the technician (promised between noon and 2:00, and finally arriving after 5:00), I spent an entire day at my desk re-reading journals from my past and reveling in the memories. One of the entires prompted me to find my copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon and read it once again for the pure delight the story offers.

These retirement years are given more now to carving out my own world and coloring it as I see fit. Last night, a friend whom I hadn’t seen in nearly three years surprised me with a text and later stopped by. What an experience, catching up on what we had been through (he also is retired from full-time teaching), and how we now are looking for ways to color our new expanding worlds. Both of us love painting, exploring new ideas, and yes we both have signed contracts to continue teaching, but we are no longer tied to the routine we had known for decades on end. Gratefully, we have reached this point in our lives that we can choose to shape our journeys as we wish. And as we talked late into the night, I found myself again confronted with the reality that ideas, shaped by words, create the framework of the world in which we find our identities. The night proved fascinating, as the two of us shared our visions and anticipations of what to expect from a world we find more and more affirming.

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.

Evening Afterglow

August 20, 2019

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Getting Ready for the Next Class

No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

The first class of this new semester is in the books, and I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve felt this fulfilled in the educational enterprise. I haven’t been in the classroom for a year (I’ve taught strictly online), and the one classroom course I had last year at this time was in Logic, and I haven’t found a way to insert creativity and spontaneity into that discipline.  Today was Humanities and our material will run from antiquity to the seventeenth century.

I invoked the twin bards of Emerson and Whitman to set the stage for today’s orientation lecture, and was gratified to see the students respond with interest and enthusiasm. The focus of my lecture was the pair of Emerson texts posted above. In the Humanities class, as we explore literature, philosophy, art and music, I will continually challenge the students to speak with conviction ideas they draw from the creative works. I want them to speak courageously from their own perspectives rather than offer “correct” answers from me. Much of today was spent trying to break them from the habit of offering canned answers to challenging questions. The time flew by, and once we departed, I felt that the first revolution of the wheel was a successful one. Now I lean forward to next Thursday’s encounter.

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“Monet: The Late Years” at the Kimbell Art Museum

Immediately after class, I treated myself to a visit to the Kimbell, a short drive from the university. This was my fourth or fifth time to visit this exhibit, and the galleries were so packed with people on this day, that I could scarcely maneuver to look at the paintings without bumping into someone. The show hangs until September 15, so I decided I would give it another look on another day. With membership, I don’t have to pay admission.

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“Crouching Aphrodite” 50 BC-AD 140, Roman copy of Greek original

The Monet exhibit is on display in the Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell complex. A comfortable stroll to the main Kimbell building allowed me to view the permanent collection with only about 5% of the population I encountered earlier. The leisurely stroll through the galleries I found to be much more relaxing than what I knew at the Monet exhibit.

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Quick Sketch Attempts in my Sketchbook/Journal

I appreciated the comfortable furniture arranged throughout the Kimbell. Taking a seat after some quick sketching, I found myself scribbling out a couple more pages of my thoughts concerning the morning’s class and what I was seeing in this magnificent art collection. The museum time was a fitting reward for the university experience, and I remain grateful for that.

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“In Progress” Plein Air watercolors from Sedona, Arizona

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Working on Them in Groups of Five

This lovely, quiet evening has given me wonderful space to chip away at a large watercolor project begun in Arizona a few weeks ago. I’m also taking frequent breaks to resume reading and taking notes for Thursday’s class. It seems that the transition from summer vacation to fall semester has been a seamless one. What a gift!

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.

Building the Altar

August 20, 2019

“To think is to confine yourself to a single thought that one day stands still like a star in the world’s sky.”

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Following a rapturous summer odyssey, the day has finally arrived for me to begin my first class in the fall semester 2019. I am always thrilled to teach at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas. It has been a few years since I taught this course in the ancient humanities, and I have missed the experience.

But now, at 6 in the morning, I begin building the altar and preparing the fire, anticipating that good experiences will soon follow. It is always my hope that when the first class assembles, I will find a way once again to strike the anvil, expecting sparks to fly. Nietzsche would indeed label me as an arsonist-my intention is to start fires in the minds of anticipating students.

Thanks for reading.

Mind Drifting Back . . .

August 14, 2019

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . . but must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads”

I arrived at Dave’s Diner about thirty minutes before Dad and I agreed to break our fast here. The Missouri morning is beautiful beyond literary description–amber sunlight standing strong against the cold shadows, and our 75-degree day is not expected to climb above 88. I read this morning that my Texas home will reach 102 today. I’m fortunate to be here.

Opening my reading of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, I meditated over several pages of his discussion of Existentialist thought, finding his words very personal and enlightening. This book has been my vacation companion for nearly two weeks now, and I hope to be blogging about its message in subsequent posts.

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Waiting for Dad at Dave’s Diner, High Ridge, Missouri

But as I read and recorded notes in the journal, my mind kept drifting back to Monday and what I experienced while fishing all day with my friend. I never thought a Missouri river could equal the beauty of a Colorado mountain stream, but I say in all earnestness that Big River on that day rose to the competition.

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Sorry Wayne! I’m not 1/10 the Photographer that You Are!

I attempted several photos with my smart phone but naturally could not approach the quality of Wayne White, my fishing friend who is also a photographer of professional standards. I tried to capture a panorama of what I saw that morning as he crossed the stream to meet up with me.

Currently, I am sitting in a Fenton, Missouri coin laundry, grateful for the technology we enjoy these days–Wi-fii, smart phone, laptop–and I feel moved to record some more of what I knew on Monday. It proved to be one of those rare days when, as a fly fisherman, it seemed I could do no wrong. I still feel that cool, breezy morning wind caressing my face as I gazed downstream at the river’s bend, admiring the golden sunlight sending shafts through the branches of the trees overhead. The whirring of the locusts provided a more suitable white noise than what I know in city life. I spent the day staring at a light green fly line that continually cut the surface of the gliding waters in front of me. Looking down at my wading boots, three feet under water, I could see them as clearly as though gazing into an aquarium. Three or four perch were surrounding me, darting between my feet, perhaps looking for edibles set adrift by the gravel I stirred. The pebbly basement beneath the gliding, reflecting surface of the waters managed to hold fast my imagination to the point that I now puzzle over how to capture that dynamic play of colors and tones in watercolor. Maybe later . . .

As the morning passed and the sun rose higher, I took delight in watching the shadowy forms of largemouth bass prowling the depths of the channels I worked.  Studying the water’s flow and watching the minnows flash in the sunlight as they surged upstream, I searched through my fly box for something to match what I observed. My joy was complete when I managed to fool five of the largemouths with my Clouser minnow fly pattern. But some of the bass were in the 18″ range, and Wayne and I have now decided to return to this location tomorrow at first light to see if we can coax some of those lunkers to take our offerings.

Today is given largely to running necessary errands as I prepare for my imminent return to Texas. Hopefully this afternoon I can take out my watercolors again on Mom and Dad’s carport and continue working on the Sedona series I began weeks ago. I have fifteen plein air watercolors that I began on location, and now am puzzzling over how to complete and sign them. I am intrigued by Wordsworth’s theory of spontaneity followed by judgment, and hope I can make that work in my watercolor as he did in his poetry.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I  journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am  not alone.

 

River Serenity with a Friend

August 13, 2019

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Wayne White Fishing Big River

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”

College classes begin for me next week, and as summer winds down, I exalt in the wonders of this year’s experiences. Memories are still awash with the wonders of the Grand Canyon and the Red Rocks of Sedona. “Standin’ on the Corner of Winslow, Arizona” was also a fun moment as were the trips down memory lane, compliments of historic Route 66 across Arizona and New Mexico.

I am currently taking the opportunity of visiting my parents and siblings in the St. Louis vicinity, and spending some quality fishing time with my friend since second grade, Wayne White. Rising early, we met yesterday before daylight in Desloge, Missouri and drove to Bootleg Access in Washington County. Wayne has been an enthusiast of fishing and kayaking Missouri’s Big River, and his experience over the years has really paid off when we’ve fished together. This time would be no different.

Big River was low and the water was clear as crystal. Looking over the easy flowing stream, I was reminded of my youth spent fishing Indian Creek in southeast Missouri long, long ago. As a fly fisherman, I love working gravel-bottomed streams. Not one time throughout the day was I required to clean weeds or algae off my fly as I fished. By the time we worked Big River at Bootleg and Leadwood accesses, followed by the lake at Bonne Terre city park, we had landed nearly sixty fish. The day couldn’t have been more pleasurable.

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Sunfish Caught on Woolly Bugger

My childhood memories were revived by the sight of many sunfish landed. I don’t see this species in the Texas waters I fish. I’ll never cease to be stunned at the brilliance of these colors. Several other varieties of bluegill, perch and warmouth were landed as well. My usual practice is to use nearly every fly pattern in my box, but I only used two throughout this entire day. A green sparkling woolly bugger landed all the perch, bluegill, warmouth and sunfish, as well as a pair of smallmouth bass.

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Smallmouth Bass Caught on Woolly Bugger

Bootleg Access featured shallow waters for easy wading, and the panfish varieties were abundant in the swift current shallows. Moving on to Leadwood Access, we found deeper holes, longer channels and a different sort of excitement. I stalked a pair of smallmouth bass as I worked one of the channels and watched with delight as I cast my woolly bugger a few feet in front and watched each fish dart up and take it. The five-weight fly rod strained under the strength that these feisty fish exerted as they streaked downstream, forcing me to pull them in against the current.

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Largemouth Bass Caught on Clouser Minnow

The real fun began when I found a long swift shallow run with an undercut bank on one side and fallen trees on the other. The water was sparkling with the flash of the silver sides of hundreds of minnows pointed upstream. I cut off my woolly bugger and tied on a clouser minnow colored like a bass fingerling. Tossing it downstream, I stripped the line, jerking the minnow in quick spirts against the current. The water exploded continually as five largemouth bass inhaled the minnow. The fifth bass taken came by surprise–I had to stoop under an overarching tree as I waded downstream, and chose to drift the minnow in the water beside me as I walked rather than reel it in. When I cleared the stream and lifted the rod to pull up my line, bass #5 was on!

We wrapped up our day with a visit to the city park in Bonne Terre. It was late afternoon and the heat was blazing. Finding a bench beneath a large shade tree, we sat there with rod & reels in hand, laughing at ourselves–a pair of old, tired, crotchety men fishing with live bait. And the fish continued to rise. We bagged an additional ten-to-twenty as we sat enjoying the shade.

We have decided to try our luck a second time, later in the week. Already I am anticipating with gladness this precious time with a friend who loves to fish, loves the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, loves to blog, and loves to laugh. I thoroughly enjoy our conversations when we are out exploring the beauty of our natural world. The river calls out to us, and we must answer.

Thanks for reading.

Musings over 30 Years of Journaling

August 2, 2019

“What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.

First page of Henry David Thoreau’s journal, dated October 22, 1837 (twenty years of age)

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Preparing for Fall Semester (but first, I want to blog!)

The serene five-hour drive from Dallas/Fort Worth to west Texas early yesterday morning  avoided the triple-digit temperatures and rejuvenated my soul. Stopping at my favorite town of Thurber (population 5), I decided to treat myself to a lovely sunrise and leisurely breakfast at the Smokestack Restaurant. It was a little after seven and they had just opened.

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The Ranch Boss Breakfast Sandwich

While driving from Fort Worth to Thurber, I scanned YouTube on my phone for something interesting, and decided to listen to what people had to say about journaling. Having practiced this for over thirty years, I wanted to know what seasoned creative spirits had to say about this practice of journaling and how it shaped their lives.

I was not prepared for what came up–young people (by my standards, under thirty) who had been journaling for thirty days were posting about how it changed their lives! Post after post encouraged the listeners: journal ten minutes every day for a month and see what happens! Finally pulling over for breakfast, I discontinued the YouTube search and may resume it in the future. I still wish to hear from someone who has journaled longer than thirty days. On this note, I have decided to add my 2¢ worth, confident that thirty years of my practice might offer readers more than a one-month experiment. And if any of you readers and bloggers practice journaling, I would love to hear your perspectives on this. I just don’t meet many people who engage in this.

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My Journals, Still not Organized

I seem to recall that Emerson, by the time of his death, had accumulated 286 volumes of journals, filling an entire bookcase. I never set a goal for myself, and last time I counted, I had around 140 volumes going back to 1985. At any rate, it was 1985 when I began this practice and I haven’t stopped, nor do I anticipate doing so. I began my journals, believing they would feed my classroom performances, helping to shape lectures for the courses I taught.  But they have grown far beyond that; the journal has been a companion for life, going with me everywhere, and my daily lifestyle has included the journal, whether I am working at my desk, sitting in a coffee shop, or taking a trip. Daily, scattered ideas are scribbled in my notebooks as naturally as pausing for a bite to eat.

I choose not to compose a list of “Top Ten Reasons for Keeping a Journal”, but rather will share some of my ideas based on what I have experienced. To begin with, what exactly is the journal, for me? The journal is a map for organizing wonder. I honestly wish I had kept a journal since I was old enough to write, because from the start I have been a dreamy child. As the oldest among my siblings, I was four years old when my brother was born, and Mom was then too busy doing housework and taking care of the baby to entertain me. My recollection of that age is going outside to play. We did not live in a neighborhood, I had no playmates save for my imagination. All I had was the wide open wilderness enveloping me from the moment I stepped out that door, and it was enough. There was a paved road on one side of the house; I was not permitted to go there. On the other three sides were sprawling land as far as the eye could see, no other house in sight. I still remember a particularly chilly morning when the wind whipped through the fringes of my Davy Crockett jacket, making a whispering noise that I believed was a cosmic voice trying to tell me something. I listened, and continue listening to this day.

Bernard Berenson’s recollection of his own childhood in his Sketch for a Self-Portrait is a mirror of my own:

In childhood and boyhood this ecstasy overtook me when I was happy out of doors. Was I five or six? Certainly not seven. It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember–I need not recall–that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.

I knew that experience from age four. As an adult, I read the same sentiments in Emerson’s Nature:

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.

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Site of the Old Homestead

The house we lived in at that time burned down long ago, and nature has reclaimed its property. Last winter I drove to the site and took these two photos. Beyond these trees the open landscape from which I drank as a child might still be there, but I did not get out of the Jeep to trespass and see for myself. Sixty years later, I still listen for that voice daily, and enthusiastically record what I hear.

The journal, for me, is a tool for capturing the inner dialogue that drives me daily. Thoughts evaporate quickly, and recording them in writing makes it possible to return. I frequently pull journals at random from my shelf and peruse what I have written, and am astonished time and again to read thoughts I don’t recall thinking and writing. Many of these ideas remain precious and are worthy of recall.

My journals are replete with quotes from what I read or hear daily (and I am meticulous in using quotation marks and documentation to insure I will not later read someone else’s words as my own–a practice I have kept since my doctoral studies). And, since childhood, I have been unable to read texts without dialoguing with the author from my own experience. Thus, my journals capture these interior conversations carried on daily. Living alone for several years now, I believe firmly that they have kept me healthy. Solitude for me is not a scourge. I still recall words from the film Shadowlands: “We read to know we’re not alone.”

While listening to the YouTube talks, I frequently heard the encouragement to write out whatever is on your mind, even if it is anger and frustration. I disagree sharply with that practice; negativity is the last thing I want to read when opening an old journal. If I wished to ingest anger, all I would need to do is tune in to some cable news network or AM radio talk show. For journals, I want to preserve only the worthy, edifying words (and I hope to God that is what I’m doing on my blog). If I need to unload poison from my consciousness, I resort to what Julia Cameron refers to as The Morning Pages. That practice involves writing three pages as quickly as possible to get all the junk out of the mind, and then throwing them away. The Morning Pages are where I put my negativity, and then it goes to the trash. Journals, for me, are for storing treasure to unearth in the future as needed.

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My Current Journal

For two years now, I have used the journal pictured above, and I absolutely love what it provides. It came from Little Mountain Bindery, and was a retirement gift from Sandi Jones, my all-time soulmate.  As you can see, it is durable. It floated downriver a considerable distance after I capsized a kayak two summers ago. As I chased after it, I witnessed a sight similar to that in the film Dances with Wolves.

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The inside of the binder holds a pair of Moleskine notebooks, and includes a pair of pockets for storing small papers as needed. Every time I fill one of the Moleskine’s, I remove it and replace with a new one. Because I like to go back and read recent entries, I usually do not remove the filled notebook until I am about halfway through the second. When I’m on an extended trip, I always carry an extra pair so I never run out.

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Returning to an Old Practice

Above, I have posted a pair of very old journal entries. I told my sister recently that I was dissatisfied with the quality of my journals of late. Her response was: “Running out of words?” I still laugh at that one. What I tried to explain was that in former days I combined sketching with journaling and still believe that my journals from those days have far more quality than the ones of late. So, I am trying to move more in the direction of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in hope of producing some kind of hybrid “sketchbook/journal” in my daily practice. More on that in another blog.

Returning now to the words of Thoreau’s first journal entry: The question “Do you keep a journal?” was put to him by his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Thoreau replied “No”, Emerson inquired “Why not?” In response. Thoreau began his first journal at twenty. By the time he died twenty-two years later, Thoreau had poured out over four million words of publishable print. I am still inspired by that story.

So, I close by completing the first entry from Thoreau’s journal, following Emerson’s question and his response:

To be alone I find it necessary to escape the present,–I avoid myself. How could I be alone in the Roman emperor’s chamber of mirrors? I seek a garret. The spiders must not be disturbed, nor the floor swept, nor the lumber arranged.

The Germans say, “Es ist alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst.” 

The translation of Thoreau’s closing remark is: “Everything through which you are bettered is true.” In looking back over my life, I believe with all my being that the journal has bettered my life, and the practice of daily recording is true.

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.