Archive for the ‘journal’ Category

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.

 

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Perusing Old Journals and Creating New Paintings

May 12, 2019

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Mother’s Day Morning in the Gallery at Redlands

The daemon knows how it is done.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (journal entry)

There are large modulations of tone throughout fifty-seven years of musing in the journals, yet Emerson seems perpetually in quest to hear his daemon speak to him.

Harold Bloom, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime

Waking early on Mother’s Day in the Redlands Hotel, my first thoughts surrounded the question over whether or not I would have a second prolific day of painting. Yesterday, I completed four watercolors that had been started en plein air while I was traveling in El Paso and the surrounding areas. Often when I spend an entire day of painting, I feel somewhat emptied and wasted on the following day and resort to reading and journaling. I don’t expect every day to yield fertile thoughts and visions. Our great American poet Wallace Stevens stated it eloquently:

It is not every day that the world arranges itself into a poem.

Wallace Stevens

Harold Bloom, citing examples from Walt Whitman’s experiences while trying to push out the great body of poetry titled under the umbrella Leaves of Grass nailed the phenomena with these words:

No man, no woman, can live in a continuous secular ephiphany.

Throughout my creative years, I have learned the lesson that there are bursts of creative energy, often followed by moments of quiet restoration. Looking back over the decades, I find a measure of satisfaction that a large body of work has been created, and I am more aware of the prolific periods than I am of the fallow ones. I spent some time this morning reading from my old journals, and came across extensive notes I recorded four years ago from reading the published works of the painter Robert Motherwell, and came across this:

An artist has to be a long-distance runner, and the thing I’m most proud of is my most recent work is as fresh as the first.

As the morning hours passed in the quiet Gallery at Redlands, I felt my urge to create beginning to build, thanks to Harold Bloom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wallace Stevens and Robert Motherwell. Suddenly, I knew what I was going to approach next.

As always, the studio was the space of revelation.

Bernard Jacobson, Robert Motherwell: the Making of an American Giant

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Several weeks ago, I was surprised by the colors falling across some vacant undeveloped land adjacent to a new Kroger store built near the neighborhood where I live in Arlington. On this particular late afternoon, with the weather being pleasantly temperate, I chose to drive to the Kroger store and take a seat in the patio area on the southwest corner of the complex. No one else was seated out there, and I anticipated some quality reading and journaling time with coffee. But as I looked up, I was astonished at the quality of colors the late afternoon sun cast down over the field with the dark horizon of trees in back. I took several reference photos, and next time I was at The Gallery at Redlands, I began three 8 x 10″ studies of this composition. I found none of the three satisfying, and abandoned them.

When I traveled to west Texas and New Mexico last week, I brought the three watercolor sketches with me, and took them out once during the trip to take a closer look. I still felt nothing as I looked at them. Yesterday, I spent the day in the Gallery working on the four mountain sketches I had begun during my travels. This morning, I went out to the Jeep and retrieved the three “Kroger” paintings, and after about an hour of reading my old journals along with some new reading from Bloom, Emerson, Stevens and Motherwell, I suddenly had an idea for the three discarded paintings. They are wildly experimental, but I have posted them above and believe I will go ahead and put mats and plastic sleeves on them, and maybe even frame one of them, it’s still too soon for me to decide.

At any rate, I’ve had a great Mother’s Day in the gallery/studio and feel like quality time has been enjoyed.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

A Weekend to Hit the Reset Button

April 14, 2019

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It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

After nearly a week of sweating out business paperwork, I finally escaped to Palestine and the waiting Gallery at Redlands. It was so good to see my art-loving friends again. Looking back now at the restful Friday, Saturday and Sunday that provided a wholesome blend of reading and watercoloring in the gallery, I’ll see if I can put some words on the page describing the delights.

A few weeks ago, I began reading from the Essays of the sixteenth-century thinker Montaigne, the one credited with inventing the genre of essay. I was aware of his literary prowess through my readings of Emerson, but never got around to reading him directly. This recent experience has been quite a revelation, and has inspired me to take my ideas more seriously, and seek a stronger link between my art and philosophical musings.

The two evenings prior to my departure for Palestine were spent seated in a patio area of a recently opened Kroger store a few miles from where I live. This store is planted alongside state highway 287, on an enormous piece of undeveloped property. Noticing the earth-moving equipment on the vacant property west of the store made me realize that this raw land will not be pristine much longer. So I decided to spend two late afternoons on the patio, looking across the vast stretch of land with sketchbook, journal and Montaigne on the table before me. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the most amazing array of colors refleted off the knee-high weeds on the property, and my eye was overwhelmed at the contrast of warm golds and cold greens alternating across the undulating grasses until it stopped at the stand of trees at the far end, almost a silhouette against the sunset sky. What I saw was the quintessential Edward Hopper oil painting of landsapes under low-angle sunlight. I know that such luminosity is possible with oil, but have puzzled frequently over how to get it done in watercolor.

Once I arrived at the gallery, I took out three 8 x 10″  stretched panels of watercolor paper and went to work experimenting on the landscape that remains etched in my mind’s eye. I laid down the initial skies Friday night, then worked on some washes of basic land color on Saturday. Sunday was spent mostly experimenting with dry brush, masquing, misting with a spray bottle, and splattering with a toothbrush. Finally by Sunday afternoon, I felt painter’s fatigue and decided to give my eye a rest until tomorrow. The paintings remain in the gallery downstairs, and I am now cozied up in my favorite Redlands Hotel suite with my copy of Montaigne and an open sketchbook. Here is what I have so far with the three watercolor sketches:

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Tomorrow is a new day, and I hope to find fresh energy to continue work (play) on these three pieces.

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.

Sunday Evening Soundings

April 7, 2019

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Be open to mystery. Not everything needs sharp lines.

Walter Isaacson, Leonardo da Vinci

Although we all started life with a Da Vinci-like insatiable curiosity, most of us learned, once we got to school, that answers were more important than questions. In most cases, schooling does not develop curiosity, delight in ambiguity, and question-asking skill. . . . The authority-pleasing, question-suppressing, rule-following approach to education may have served to provide society with assembly-line workers and bureaucrats, but it does not do much to prepare us for a new Renaissance.

Michael J. Gelb, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day 

Today has been the finest Sunday I can recall for months, perhaps even years. Cool, breezy temperatures throughout the day set the stage for pleasurable reading and journaling outdoors. This new Michael Gelb book I picked up recently has been great company, sending me alternately to my journal and my sketchbook. In fact, this day in retrospect appears to be comprised of one lengthy, continuous sketchbook/journal. For one day at least, I have broken the dividing line between sketchbook and journal, and have found myself throughout most of the day alternating between writing and drawing on the same pages.

Wordsworth’s sentiment about the child being father to the man has lingered with me throughout the day as I continually alIowed myself the leisure of free, unbridled thought, particularly questions. I have already jumped into the thick of the spring art festival season, participating in plenty of events already, and looking ahead to some big ones just around the corner. Questions which have dogged me for years finally were faced honestly today, and I have a genuine feeling of being re-born because I arrived at some solutions I am willing to try.  Artscape 2019 will arrive at the Dallas Arboretum April 27-28. This is a high-end festival that last year filled my innermost being with memories for which I’ll always remain grateful.20180427_1343502567829112073059263.jpg

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(Last Year)–Artscape 2018

https://www.dallasarboretum.org/events-activities/artscap

After years of struggling with the specifics of booth presentation, I have finally found great help in consultation with a dear, close friend, and thanks to further research, have come up with some new ideas. The next few weeks, I’ll be working on this project with renewed enthusiasm. I can hardly wait to present my new booth format. I’ll gladly photograph and post it when the time arrives.

It is Sunday night as I sit and write this. Finally, after nearly two years, I have accepted retirement. I will not be rising at six in the morning to scramble and arrive in time to teach a full slate of crowded high school classes beginning at 7:35. I will not come home tired at the end of tomorrow afternoon with enough grading and prepping to keep me busy till bedtime so I can get up and dash to the high school again for another weary round. I will not go to bed every night with the realization that I did not do everything expected from me, though I never taught less than four subjects per semester. Finally, that albatross has been cut loose from around my neck, and every day is mine to chart and navigate as I choose. I wondered how long it would take for this feeling to set in. Nearly two years. Thank God the sentiment has finally settled in on my contented soul. Maybe that is another reason why Sundays are so good now; they no longer serve as preludes to grinding, mostly thankless work weeks. I rise early on Monday mornings now, but not to dash to school. Mornings have finally become sacred.

Reading all this da Vinci material now reminds me of all the ideas that surged in me during my three decades of teaching–the primacy of curiosity, the value of open questioning, the belief that the journey is just as important as the destination. I believed all that then, and believe it now. But I saw little interest in these matters inside those institutional walls, despite the lip service paid to the themes during those annual inservice rituals. One would think that I now would be saying–“if only I realized these values when I was teaching . . .” But the fact is, I did. And I gave my best to facilitate an environment for such inquiry. And sometimes it worked. I’ll try to dwell on those sacred times when it in fact worked, and be watchful not to dwell on the darker, sterile memories when it didn’t.

The bottom line–today was a special, enlightening, Renaissance-type of Sunday.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to question.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

When Journaling was More Magical

February 15, 2019

Emerson’s organized, persistent, purposeful journal keeping is one of the most striking aspects of his early intellectual life. He wrote constantly, he wrote about everything, he covered hundreds of pages. When he had nothing to say, he wrote about having nothing to say. . . . He laughed at much of it when he read it over, inserting comments such as “dead before it reached its subject,” but he kept at it.

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

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Pages from Journals of a More Creative Past

The delicious part of my mornings during these retrement years is usually spent at my desk, reading with pleasure over cups of hot, French-pressed coffee, while cafe music plays from Youtube. In the midst of this morning’s reading, I suddenly detoured to swan-dive into my old journals, using passages from some of them to flesh out the memoir I’ve been drafting for over a month now.

Somewhere around 1985, I began scrawling journal entries on loose paper to place in manila file folders, and by the fall of 1988, when I began teaching full-time, began purchasing notebooks to keep these pages bound. By 1990, Emerson became my hero of journaling, and I became more obsessed with saving my notebooks, though I never indexed my ideas the way he did, and probably never will.

For about the past decade, I have shared with many friends my conviction that, despite the feeling that I am thinking and synthesizing better now than ever before, I still sense a malaise in the quality of my journaling. In former days, I sketched much more on my pages, collaged images, and inserted many more notes from my reading, accompanied with my own critical observations. Those cross-fertilizations are not happening of late, and when I tried to explain to my sister why my journals were growing stale, she raised an eyebrow and replied: “Running out of words?” A good moment!

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My Entire Assembly of Journals

At any rate, I have resolved in 2019 to find ways to freshen my journaling practice. The habit is firmly in place–I scribble daily–but I am getting bored by the lackluster content of my scribbling. And I am bored from looking at pages filled only with words; I need to return to collaging, drawing, and designing. My real hero of the journal is not Emerson as much as Leonardo da Vinci. Throughout my years of teaching philosophy, art history and art studio, I have urged my students to take up his practice of what I call sketchbook/journaling, to devote time to writing out one’s thoughts as well as drawing and designing. I used to do that long ago, but got away from the practice.

I also plan to be more aggressive in my journals in the exploration of my fleeting thoughts and ideas, not just essay topics. I once read that journals were maps for organizing wonder; I feel that much of the wonder and magic have been drained from my own journaling, and I am ready to recapture that.

Quoting again from Richardson’s Emerson biography:

He was now trying to capture not just major conclusions and insights, but the slightest, most evanescent hints and glimmers that rose to the surface of his mind and then as quickly sank from sight: “For the best part . . . of every mind is not that which [a person] knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him.” Emerson’s journals show that for years he fished along the edges of consciousness, eager to note down the smallest fresh suggestion or hint of a suggestion. . . . These were all struggles to forestall and cheat the repressive processes of the mind, to snatch and write down everything that reached the surface of consciousness. Much of Emerson’s journal is not intended as finished work or public utterance, nor even as the record of private conviction. He is concerned to explore–and then to save–impulses, essays, hints, trials, spurts, exaggerations, the most fleeting and evanescent flowers of the mind.

Emerson left behind a collection of over 263 volumes of journals. Long ago, I stopped worrying over my quantity of volumes; I simply hope to recover some quality as I proceed.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal, hoping to recapture the magic.

I blog, always realizing I am not alone.

 

 

A Larry McMurtry Story Comes to Life

February 6, 2019

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Rainy Morning in the Study

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It is necessary to think one thought and one thought only and think it through to the end.

Martin Heidegger

The daemon knows how it is done.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

With a dim light from the rainy morning filling my study, I am reading Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. He opens this autobiography, recalling his reading of Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller” while sipping a lime Dr. Pepper at the Dairy Queen outside Archer City during the hot summer of 1980. As he looked around the Dairy Queen at the patrons drinking coffee, he noted there was not a storyteller to be found anywhere among the gathering.

I trembled at this written account, because it stirred a memory of my own. Pulling my old journals from the shelf, I discovered that on this very day, three years ago, February 6, 2016, I recorded notes in a pocket journal at 6:15 a.m. in Archer City, just down the road from that Dairy Queen! It was 38 degrees that morning (this morning it is 70). I crossed the dark street from the Spur Hotel and entered Murn’s Cafe to enjoy a hot breakfast during that frigid pre-dawn. Thirty-six years after McMurtry lamented the absence of storytellers at the Dairy Queen just down the road, I realized on this particular morning that I could not concentrate on reading Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody because of the stories percolating from three farmers wearing seed caps, enjoying their coffee and breakfast. Their ruminations covered subjects from bulls, heifers and feral hogs to how long it takes to drive from Wichita Falls to Longview. I noted in my journal that their most common word was “sumbitch.” Pulling a notebook from my pocket, I tried to scribble out snatches of their conversation:

When I git sleepy drivin’ I jus’ stop and take a nap or git somethin’ sweet. I come all the way from Bossier City and when I got to Longview I wuz one sleepy sumbitch. Bought four of them jelly donuts and eat ’em. Drove the rest of the way . . . 

I drove all kindsa trucks. Cain’t beat a Shivverlay. Shit, I useta drive that sumbitch all the way from here clear to Looziana three times a week . . .

When I wuz younger and cowboyin’ here, New Mexico and Nevada, I learnt you kin shoot all the sumbitches ya want. Them pigs are tearin’ this place plum up . . .

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Since Monday morning, I have been inspired to create a new series of watercolors and stories spawned by memories I hold sacred. Between McMurtry, Benjamin, Harold Bloom and Martin Heidegger, I have been weaving pages of notes taken from their writings with snatches from my own journals and memoirs, believing these fragments could actually yield a series worth pursuing.

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Heidegger reminds me in his poem “The Thinker as Poet”:

To be old means: to stop in time at

            that place where the unique

            thought of a thought train has

            swung into its joint.

After months of feeling barren of inspiration, I believe finally that something is beginning to bloom.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Late Night with Walter Benjamin

February 5, 2019

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Back in my Study Sanctuary

The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought–while his hand moved rapidly–what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Staying up late at night is not my habit, but last night I slept poorly, and so was tired all day today. By the time I made the two-hour drive home, I collapsed onto my bed late this afternoon and slumbered deeply for a few hours. An evening exercise walk only managed to stimulate me beyond hope, so here I am, after midnight, wired, and continuing my delicious reading of Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller.” After reading only three pages of it in the gallery this morning, I opened my journal and scribbled out a plethora of pages of ideas, and now I am continuing that this night. Hence, one of my favorite quotes above from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Writing affects me that way, but sometimes I go for weeks without that thrill from writing. Lately I have been quite dry, and wondered when the winds of inspiration would blow again, when would the muse whisper again. Thankfully, this morning’s stroll around downtown Palestine, Texas, along with the reading from Walter Benjamin, brought stirring breezes back to my soul.

What I find stirring in this essay is the way in which Benjamin describes what newspapers in the Germany of his day (1936) did to the general public–the same as what the media in general does to people in our society today–deluges them in data, facts, trivia, with no interpretive weaving. People no longer listen to stories; they swallow facts, events, statistics. No one weaves stories; people merely report the news, changing the subject by the minute. There is no longer any sustained narrative.

I am still absorbing the contents of this engaging essay, but right now, I am stirred deeply by this statement that storytelling “does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.”

This is what has me spinning tonight. As an artist, I constantly struggle against becoming a mere illustrator. I often think that illustration does no more than convince the viewer that the artist is talented. That is not enough for me. Like Van Gogh used to lament, I wish to make art that moves people, touches people, heals people. I want people to be drawn in by what they see. I want them to enter into my pictures (my stories) with their own imagination, their own history, their own feelings, and re-emerge more fulfilled. Yes, I want to convey the “fact” of my subject matter, but above that, I want to put flesh on those bones; I want viewers to see more than the bare facts, the bare skeletal structure of the painting.

I don’t know when I will get to the end of this essay. The more I read from it, the more I end up scribbling in my journal. So many fascinating ideas from this fertile mind of Walter Benjamin. Such fascinating late-night company.

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.

 

Night Life in Palestine

February 2, 2019

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Kevin Harris, Lighting Up the Night

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My Attempt to Sketch & Journal while Kevin Played

After spending most of the day painting in the gallery, I decided to drift over to a popular night spot and listen to Kevin Harris perform his acoustic set. I have enjoyed associating with Kevin since Smooth Rock 93.5 FM moved into the gallery with me last summer. As it turns out, Kevin is the quintessential soloist, and I should not have been surprised. Perhaps with more practice I can grow more comfortable sketching the human figure from life, but I’m not there yet. The night was cool and temperate, and the performance was outdoors. I guess Texas isn’t so bad in February.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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.

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.