Archive for the ‘cartoon’ Category

The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017


Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I could not resist pushing aside my morning’s work for a moment to hang out another blog entry. While looking for an Emerson reference to illustrate one of my points in this morning’s lecture, I came across this one that I underlined in my book about a week ago and forgot, until this morning’s reminder. What a wonderfully poetic way to describe what I’ve known for decades–that the “power” of ideas is always flitting from one voice to another, and we can never pin it down in one place to stay put for us to dissect. I recall the theologian Karl Barth saying that attempting to describe God was like painting a bird in flight; you can only follow it with your eye.

My semi-retirement rhythms have found a nice pattern, despite the flitting of ideas from branch to branch. I’m teaching a course at the university that I’ve never taught before, yet as I research the themes necessary, I continually uncover thinkers I have studied over the years, and synthesizing my old knowledge with the new discussions keeps me fresh (I hope) and certainly enthusiastic. My pattern has emerged thus: I teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 and 10:00 (same course, twice). Preparing one fifty-minute lecture every forty-eight hours has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do this over the past twenty-eight years. My routine has been to write out the lecture and power-point it the night before. Then, rising at 5 a.m. the morning of, I go over it one more time, always refining, consolidating, rewriting, cutting, adding . . . with coffee steaming in my mug. By the time class arrives, I am ready and enthusiastic. I cannot express the contrast of this newly-found university freshness and joy against the high school treadmill of a four-or-five subject load, Monday-through-Friday delivery, with grading and paperwork and deadlines stacked atop all that. I had no idea how difficult my past was. I know I am older, but feel much, much younger now. The feeling of hope and enthusiasm often borders on euphoria.

I have always enjoyed working at my desk, when I knew that I could put quality time into the work. My routine now often entails extensive reading and note-taking through the daytime hours. As night descends, I draft the lecture on the laptop, then reshape it in a powerpoint presentation. Later, as I sleep through the night, I believe that my mind has its way of composting all the raw materials I have poured into the class lecture. Rising at 5 a.m., knowing that I have another four hours before class time, I re-open the lecture, and as I re-read it, I find all kinds of ways to tighten it up with revisions, and the structure of it firms up. All the while, I find myself smiling inwardly, enjoying the work as it grows in me.

Today we focus on Machiavelli and Hobbes, and I’m using the philosophical framework of the later Hegel to package the discussion. I’m loving this because the final form of my lecture is not copied and pasted from someone else’s textbook, yet the subject I’m covering is congruent with the chapter of assigned reading from the class text.


Cartoon of Hegel lecturing his students

Before my re-writing session this morning, I found this image on the Internet that I have enjoyed over the years, printed it and placed it in front of me as I worked.

The light is finally coming up at my window, reminding me that it is time to finish up my classwork and get to the university. I have a job to do, and I am loving it.

Thanks for reading.



Reaching for the Purple Crayon

March 2, 2015
An Attempt to Color My World

An Attempt to Color My World

The mind fits the world and shapes it as a river fits and shapes its own banks.

Annie Dillard, Living By Fiction

With these words, I drifted off to sleep around 1:00 this morning, knowing I would have only four hours of less-than-quality sleep. Nevertheless, when I rose at 5:00, I had Annie’s words still in my heart, and reached for a children’s book that I did not discover until only a few years ago: Harold and the Purple Crayon. I felt my pulse quicken as I re-read the text of this young lad creating his own environment, and I then determined that this would be an artful day. I would go forth and color my own world. I have a great job, I believe in what I do, and a wonderful perk of teaching is the daily invitation to create quality in life as you pass in and out of the classroom.

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. . . . The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

By 6:00, I was seated in the back of my darkened classroom, delighted with the cold, wet winter pre-dawn, and reminded that two winters ago I sat in this same place at the same hour and read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Stirred by the remembrance of Hemingway’s cold mornings spent in the rooftop Parisian apartment where he worked at perfecting his craft, I went to work on the first draft for this daily blog.

Once the students arrived around 7:30, the work day began, and it was a quality one for me. In A. P. Art History we looked at the Dutch and Flemish Baroque, focusing on Rembrandt and Rubens, then in Regular Art History we resumed our study of Leonardo da Vinci. I continued to draw new ideas concerning these creative spirits, not only from my own studies but also by well-placed queries from my engaging students. Together we worked at coloring this day.

Tonight was Open House. On a forty-degree rainy winter’s night, I knew not to anticipate large crowds. Three parents arrived to chat with me during the first ten minutes of the hour-long session, and that was that. Seated at my podium, I took out my draft of this blog and continued to push it along. Reflecting over a day that held plenty of creative surprises, I mused over all the people I’ve met throughout my life who hate their jobs, their daily routines. As for me, there have been some low moments over my twenty-six-year tenure as a teacher, but I can overwhelmingly testify that it has yielded a life overflowing with reward and daily creative opportunity.

Open House Night

Open House Night

Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, began working on his second novel that would be titled Something Happened. After working on it for ten years, he had yet to finish and publish the novel, and in an interview, all he could say of the work was: “I’m about two hundred pages in, and it’s about this guy–but I don’t know much about him–I know he has a job, but I don’t know what it is, or what he does. He has this family, but I don’t really know who they are or where they live, I don’t even know his name. He just goes to work and he comes home, and that’s about all.” That interview prompted me to purchase Something Happened, and my heart cried as I read the story of this man’s empty life, and how it reminded me of so many with whom I’ve visited throughout the years–successful people who felt empty, people who learned the art of making a living, but still didn’t know how to live.

I am writing this tonight to anyone out there who finds life empty and woefully short on meaning. It doesn’t have to be that way; you have the power within your own mind to create a meaningful, artful life. You have all the resources within your grasp. You have the purple crayon.

You are more than your daily job.

You are more than a member of your nuclear family.

You are more than a resident in your surrounding neighborhood.

You are Harold, and you wield the purple crayon. Go forth and color your world as you see fit. If today was a pale, colorless day, tomorrow does not have to be a repeat performance.

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.