Archive for the ‘journal’ Category

Recovering the Rhythm

February 14, 2018

daily grind

The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Finally. After weeks and weeks of sickness and lethargy, I know this morning how it is to return to some kind of satisfying “schedule”. For many, it may seem a luxury to stay up late and sleep late, but that has not been my way for the past three decades. Thanks to a public school schedule commencing at 7:35, I could not sleep later than 6 a.m., and that routine seemed to set my circadian rhythms for life. Once I retired, I continued to rise at 6:00 without an alarm, and move through my day at a comfortable pace. The past month-and-a-half of illness found me sleeping at irregular hours throughout the day and often sitting up in a fog half the night.

Last night, I forced myself into bed early, set the clock, and when 6:00 arrived, I rose in the cold winter darkness, and began the day. And, just as it happened over the past three decades, within fifteen minutes of my being upright, ideas began percolating in my mind and I had to open my journal and scribble vigorously, trying to catch as many thoughts as possible, as fast as they flitted across my consciousness. My journals throughout the years have served as maps for organizing wonder.

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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

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 thus draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

While preparing breakfast, the jumbled ideas that had been clashing in my mind the past couple of days, refusing to be forced into a lecture outline, suddenly began to glide, like Canada geese adjusting themselves into formation while passing overhead. Funny how that happens. By the time I finished eating, I knew exactly how I was going to present today’s material, and my college class doesn’t even begin till noon. I have several hours to shred this pathetic patchwork quilt of a lecture I thought I was going to give, and re-stitch it into a better pattern.

The most gratifying element of this feeling I know this morning is this: even if today’s students tend to be lethargic, at least I have been awakened, and I’m deeply appreciative of that. At the same time, I know that there exists that possibility that someone in the classes, or even a group of young minds, will be ready to rise to the occasion. When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.

The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible. And they are. They want awakening. Get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep, out into God’s universe, to a perception of its beauty, and hearing of its call, and your vulgar man, your prosy, selfish sensualist awakes, a god, and is conscious of force to shake the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, April 20, 1834

Time to get to work. Thanks for reading; I just felt the compulsion to sit and push out this blog. I wish all of you the best this day.

I teach in order to continue learning.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

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Taking Notes, on Paper

January 9, 2018

solo show

Take notes, on paper. Five hundred years later, Leonardo’s notebooks are around to astonish and inspire us. Fifty years from now, our own notebooks, if we work up the initiative to start writing them, will be around to astonish and inspire our grandchildren, unlike our tweets and Facebook posts.

Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci

On Monday, I returned to the public library in Hillsboro to put the final touches on my solo watercolor exhibit which will hang till the end of February. Once the task was complete, I sank into a comfortable sofa at the end of the gallery and read for awhile, enjoying the perfect silence and rest. This marked a transition into my next enterprise–the Humanities curriculum for Texas Wesleyan University had just arrived via email, and I had only nine days till the start of the spring term. So . . . I sat in the soft light of the soothing gallery, surrounded by my art, and began reading and sketching out broad ideas in preparation for the new class.

That was yesterday. Today, Tuesday, I spent the entire day in my study, going over all my resources for the seventeenth-through-twentieth centuries of Philosophy, Art, Literature and Music. Once I laid out the scope and sequence of the spring semester and drafted a syllabus, I settled into writing an introduction to the seventeenth century, and then the reading of Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, a treatise I had known about for decades but never actually read as a primary source. And as I read, I scribbled, in my journal, on index cards, on sheets of computer paper, sheets of legal paper and post-it notes. And the more I scribbled, the happier I felt, recalling the thrill of the search in college days and early days of teaching.

Humanities is a course I was privileged to develop for the public high schools way back in 1989, and then later was invited to teach at Texas Wesleyan University. But I haven’t taught the course for nearly ten years, and I am so enthused to return to the discipline. The history of ideas has always fueled my imagination, and now once again, I am granted access to these fine minds of history, with hopes of inciting interest in the young minds of our culture. A part of me is glad that I’m still a week away from the first day of school, as I’m still preparing, but another part of me wishes I could walk into that lecture room in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Pondering the Source in Silence

December 21, 2017

heart

Safely Ensconced in a Hotel Far Away . . .

Existence beyond number

Wells up in my heart. 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies

Good day to all of you friends who read my blog. Since my last post I have been knocked down by a sinus infection and encroaching flu symptoms. Thankfully, the flu never fully materialized, though a good number of my dear friends were stricken by it. Nevertheless, I have spent hours of days and nights sleeping, and, during my waking hours, sitting in a fog. For weeks I have run nonstop from engagement to engagement, as the art business and holidays joined forces in a flurry of activities. Once those were finished, much Christmas shopping remained to be completed, plus the mailing of packages, as well as the tying up of loose ends to facilitate holiday travel and visitation. And then the dreaded fatigue and sinus infection. I’ve lost track of the past several days except for occasional errands. But today I feel good enough to read and pull together a few thoughts that have been percolating during this down time.

I regret repeating myself in posts, but some of you don’t really know my past, so I feel the urge to put this out: as a student in public schools, I was not driven academically, but extremely bored except for my art endeavors. I will forever be thankful that my art abilities landed me a scholarship to the university, and in that acid bath of academics, I finally woke to a world of ideas, and could not consume knowledge fast enough. I pushed through the undergraduate and graduate levels till I graduated with my doctorate and then taught in public schools for 28 years. All of this now seems a blur. At age 63, I have not slowed or cooled in my enthusiasm for learning, but have always had to admit that my academic foundation was not very strong once I entered the university, and I have always felt “behind.” Though in addition to my 28 years of high school teaching I’ve tacked on 31 years of college teaching concurrently, I still don’t feel academically “endowed.” I’m a mule. A plodder. Slow and ponderous. But I love thinking. I love reading for the sake of pushing back the boundaries of experience, and in the making of art, I am always questioning what it is exactly I am trying to express in these pursuits.

And so, during my recent illness, I have returned to reading Martin Heidegger. To those who know, that triggers a belly laugh. Heidegger is extremely difficult to penetrate. But I’ve been fascinated with his ideas for years, and have labored many, many hours, poring over his obdurate texts and extracting what I could of value. His translations and discussions of Presocratic texts I think are the best, and I’m always intrigued by his essays, particularly “The Origin of the Work of Art.”

For a number of days now, I have been wrestling with his essay “What are Poets For?” And early this morning, finally feeling well and sitting in a window seat of my hotel room (pictured above–I love the timer on my camera phone that facilitates selfies!), I came across his response to some of the poetic writings of Rilke:

The inner and invisible domain of the heart is not only more inward than the interior that belongs to calculating representation, and therefore more invisible; it also extends further than does the realm of merely producible objects. Only in the invisible innermost of the heart is man inclined toward what there is for him to love: the forefathers, the dead, the children, those who are to come. All this belongs in the widest orbit, which now proves to be the sphere of the presence of the whole integral draft.

Since the days of my university “awakening”, I knew that I was a slower intellect than my peers, but I also have known since those days that I am more of a romantic than a classicist (I am stereotyping those words, I know). To put it another way, I have more passion than precision. And throughout my years of study, I have sought ways to express what I’ve learned–in the pastoral ministry for a decade, in the classroom for three decades, and in my art for the past couple of decades. Throughout this life, I have tried to find connections between my head and heart, my knowledge and passion, my academics and my art.

And now, in this Heidegger essay, I am embarking on a rich discussion of the “heart” the real center of it all. And I’m happy that my head is clearing up from all the medication and my body is responding better to my commands. Christmas arrives in four days, and believe me, this year it definitely overtook me quickly. I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance to blog again before that special Day, but at least I had this opportunity today to pause and send all of you the best of what I’m thinking and feeling. I’ll be going on the road soon.

Thanks always for reading, and I wish you love throughout this holiday season and beyond . . . .

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

A Life of the Mind

September 14, 2017

Blog Thursday

Morning Meditation over the Journals of Eugene Delacroix

Blog Thursday 2

Working on Watercolors as the Dawn Breaks

There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those that I am tracing here. . . . I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, July 14, 1850

Finally, a genuine “off” day between college lecturing. After the third week of the semester, I finally have my ducks in a row so that on the days I don’t have class I can actually spend my hours doing what I feel is most central to my life–reading, writing in my journal, blogging and making art. Tomorrow’s college lecture is ready so I don’t have to fret over those details.

I rose at 5 a.m., with a sense of joy and anticipation. Following breakfast, I found myself in the watercolor studio picking at a composition I had been working on the night before. I now have three railroad watercolors in progress, and am happily moving to and fro among them. By 6:15, I decided to break from the painting and retreat to my study to continue my reading from Delacroix’s journals. I laughed out loud when I read the passage posted above, because I have felt foolish keeping a handwritten journal religiously since 1985, and still scribbling in it almost daily, then occasionally writing a blog from what I’ve already written in my journal. And here, I find Delacroix admitting the same thing–keeping a notebook, then re-writing, editing what he first wrote as he transfers it into the journal now published. From time to time, I wonder if I should print out all my blog pages, then wonder if that is really necessary, since I’ve already recorded most of this stuff in my handwritten journals.

I have always loved this notion of “the life of the mind” and am gratified this morning to read Delacroix expressing the same sentiment. I’ve always feared that it sounded arrogant to say that I live a life of the mind, perhaps even foolish and impractical. But it’s accurate. Forty years ago this fall, I embarked on the life of the mind when I entered graduate school, thrilled at the daily pursuit of the history of ideas, and over these decades, reading has been my food, and attempting to express my ideas by making art and standing to deliver in classrooms has been my exercise.

On Monday evening, I will stand before the Society of Watercolor Artists in Fort Worth for the purpose of doing a watercolor demonstration. To describe this event as daunting is a gross understatement. I’ve known of the assignment for a number of months, but still, the anxiety of standing and delivering amidst a body of seasoned watercolorists keeps my inner doubts churning. At any rate, I’m preparing daily now to have something (hopefully) worthy to say and demonstrate when that hour arrives. Wish me luck!

Much of what I express on these blog pages is being shaped into the coming presentation. So, again, I thank all of you for your reading and your responses.

Until next time then . . .

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017

Hegel

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.

HegeTeaching-1024x668

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.

 

 

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.

 

Working Sometimes from the Fact

November 17, 2016

20161116_100144

I can’t work completely out of my imagination. I must put my foot in a bit of truth; and then I can fly free.

Andrew Wyeth

It was 85 degrees in north Texas yesterday, November 16.  I have been impatiently waiting for fall weather and winter to follow.  One of the reasons is that I enjoy so much gazing at winter trees with their core anatomy on view.  Leaves, like clothing, conceal the tree’s essence, and I regret that living in the southwest, I see the bare trees for such a short span of the year.

I have posted the Andrew Wyeth quote because I feel those same sentiments.  Beginning last winter, I drew trees in pencil, rendering them as accurately as I could see them.  I know that Wyeth and Edward Hopper said that in later years they could work out of their imagination, no longer requiring the “fact” in front of their eyes for scrutiny.  I am not there yet; if I try and draw or paint something that I am not looking at, then it comes out looking like a cartoon or cheap illustration.

The tree above, I guess, is a hybrid.  I began drawing it from life Tuesday evening, as I awaited my artitistic friends for our weekly gathering at the cafe.  I didn’t get very far before they arrived.  So, I finished the drawing yesterday, using my imagination rather than a reference photo.  I’m satisfied with the result, and am now ready to move on to the next tree.  Unfortunately I spend my workdays indoors in an interior room without windows.  So I’ll have to wait . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Quiet Within

November 9, 2016

Alone with my Books

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it.  There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as fear and desire are not at loggerheads, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other. For what is the good of having silence throughout the neighborhood if one’s emotions are in turmoil? 

Seneca, On Noise

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

It’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

I am nearing the end of a string of delicious hours in the quiet of my study tonight.  My reading has been broad, but probably the best moments were spent in William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  Thanks to one of his chapters, I’ve returned to reading Seneca, and tonight uncovered a lovely article written by Jennifer Bowen Hicks: “Whispered Wills and Words That Bleed: On Transparency of Thought in the Essay” (http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/craft/craft_hicks38.html).

An evening like this was long overdue.  The value of the lessons from Hamlet’s Blackberry, for me, is impossible to exaggerate.  Time is too precious to spend abundantly on the Internet and social media.  As Powers argues, flitting from link to link eliminates real depth from life, from introspection.  Every four years, I manage to get pulled into election chatter, and in the final months devote what is no doubt hundreds of hours to reading articles on the Internet and listening to news outlets.  Then the election comes and goes and I come away feeling I need a serious bath, a cleansing.  On this, the day after, I have stayed away from social media almost entirely–almost.  And now I am retreating to the wilderness to find that sanctuary I have been missing.  I need to recharge some batteries and reset my compass.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.

So, why do you think that is ever going to change?

February 21, 2016

image

Today has been a day for cleaning up many unfinished art projects and sorting out new ideas for the studio. I have begun a new watercolor of an old subject I did years ago (twice) and am excited about its prospects. I am unable to post it because it is so pale with preliminary washes that no reader would be able to discern the subject yet. Soon, I hope!

My dear poet friend Stacy published on her blog this morning and knocked the wind out of me. I am posting the link below.

https://stacycampbell1010.wordpress.com/

Later in the day, over coffee, we discussed this thing about being “blocked.” I know all-too-well the moments when I’m wondering just what to tackle next in my painting, accompanied by the self-doubt that is convinced that my efforts will fall short of my aspirations.  And as I read Stacy’s post repeatedly, one idea rose to the surface–a guitar master once listened as his student complained that he heard the music better than he was able to make it come out of his fingers. The master asked, “And why do you think that is ever going to change?”

That is exactly the point. My thoughts are always better than my expressions, whether they be public discourse, playing guitar, singing, writing, making art, even journaling. My expression never reaches the quality of my idea. My works of art never reach the level of Art. I suppose the sooner we accept that reality, the easier it will be to pick up the pen or brush or musical instrument.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.