Archive for the ‘journaling’ 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.

 

Saturday Morning Musings over Coffee

April 6, 2019

creel redone

“Thinking About the Next Catch”

Watercolor

I think continually of those who were truly great.

Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history

Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,

Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition

Was that their lips, still touched with fire,

Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.

And who hoarded from the Spring branches

The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

 

What is precious, is never to forget

The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs

Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.

Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light

Nor its grave evening demand for love.

Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother

With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.

 

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,

See how these names are fêted by the waving grass

And by the streamers of white cloud

And whispers of wind in the listening sky.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life,

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Sir Stephen Spender, “The Truly Great”

Day-before-yesterday, while poking around in an eclectic bookstore, I happened across a copy of Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.  My curiosity aroused, I pulled up a chair, opened the book, began reading from the Preface, and was immediately charmed. This was published in 1998. How on earth did it fly under my radar for twenty-one years? I have never heard of the author, a motivational speaker featured by a host of corporations at various events. As I continued reading, I found the volume to be similar in its attraction to a TED talk. Hardback. $7.50. Why not?

The book has been a warm companion since its purchase, and with this being a Saturday morning, I decided to remain in bed with a cup of coffee, my laptop, smartphone, journal, sketchbook, and of course, this book. Reading about Leonardo is never a wasted activity for me. I have collected at least a half dozen biographies of him, culminating in my recent reading of Walter Isaacson’s celebrated work.  Wishing that I had brought the Isaacson biography on my current trip, I stopped yesterday at a Barnes & Noble store to pull one from the shelf and take the following notes from the closing pages: twenty life lessons from Leonardo da Vinci:

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.

I began my journals back in the 1980’s and am still at it, scribbling almost daily. But again, reading of Leonardo’s lifestyle, I still fall short of the sketchbook/journal synthesis; I rarely draw in my journals, maintaining separate sketchbooks for that purpose. I still wish to cultivate the habit of cross-sectioning my drawing with my writing; I would love to know the synthesis of the two as Leonardo practiced.

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While musing over Leonardo, journaling, sketching, and the general incubation of ideas, I was suddenly seized with the impulse to indulge in some “psychic automatism” sketching as the surrealists artists practiced and later extolled by Robert Motherwell. After several thumbnail abstract sketches, I then pursued some free writing and found the exercise rewarding. In fact, that is what prompted me to set aside my playthings and see if I could push out another blog.

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By the way, this is Hazel, a new “friend” I’ve met who has a fascination with lighted screens–TV, cell phone, laptop. She’s a Jack Russell Terrier/Corgi mix, and she habitually perches on the sofa at my shoulder to stare intently into whatever I am engaging at the moment. She will remain there as long as I am engaged–sometimes for hours. Now that I have moved to the kitchen table, she has decided to join me in this effort. We have been here for nearly half an hour now, and she is still staring . . .

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assistant editor

Earlier, while still in bed, I received the delightful email notifcation from CC Young Senior Living that I have been awarded first place in the watercolor category for their annual Artists & Writers competition. I posted the winning entry at the top of this blog: “Thinking About the Next Catch”, a watercolor still life I created in my garage man cave a few winters back. I look forward to attending the reception in Dallas on April 27.

This morning has been positively delicious–reading, journaling, sketching, thinking, blogging, and smiling down at Hazel in all her inquisitive glory.

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 (this morning I have Hazel).

 

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.

 

 

Thoughts Before the Fire

January 29, 2019

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. . . my methods of approaching the past have scarcely changed since childhood and adolescence. I assemble what pieces there are, contrast and compare, and try to remain in their presence till I can begin to see and hear and love what living men and women once saw and heard and loved, till from these scraps and fragments living men and women begin to emerge and move and live again . . . 

Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter

A twenty-eight degree winter morning extended the delightful invitation for me to build a large fire and spend the day in my living room. I have no appointments till this evening, and have resolved to remain planted in the presence of this cheerful hearth while enjoying quiet hours in the pages of books and listening to soft music.

After a week-long detour down the path of Lonesome Dove, I am returning now to The Odyssey of Homer. The hero path has intrigued me throughout my life, and now I find myself sketching out rough parallels between the zig zag voyages of Odysseus and the overland quests of McRae and Call. This also provides me the opportunity to explore my own past and present as I respond to the challenge of Julia Cameron’s book It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again and attempt to draft my own memoir.

I hope soon to be able to expound this idea more fully as it continues to mature–studying New Testament Greek long ago, I noticed that in our religious language we use the words “believe” (verb) and “faith” (noun). They are translations of the same Greek word that is used both ways in the New Testament. As a verb, faith is an act, and as a noun, it is a creed, a position. The former is dynamic while the latter is steadfast. Throughout my years of teaching, I have tried to stress both sides of this equation, of one’s religious sentiment as an odyssey on the one hand, and a fortress on the other. One is risk, the other security.  One tends to Dionysus, the other Apollo. In religious history, one is prophetic, the other priestly.

As I muse over these stories I am currently reading, I am absorbed with this notion of the restless spirit (or hero) as embarking on a journey, seeking his/her foundation on which to build a home.  The Odyssey is always in motion, always changing, and the Destiny is believed to be fixed. I am intrigued by this. All of us are pursuing some kind of goal, some fixed point that seems to lie just ahead of us. But the hero always discovers that that goal has been in his/her life since the start. Aristotle wrote it long ago–the end is in the beginning. What we seek is already in us. As Joseph Campbell used to write, we are on an odyssey that takes us to the center of our selves.

Hopefully, more on this later. I’m still working on it . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog, reminding myself I am not alone.

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.

Restful Reminiscences in the Midst of Calendar Frenzy

May 23, 2018

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The Cafe–always a respite for those driven by creative forces

After reading the first chapter of Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe, my heart is “strangely warmed,” to borrow the words of John Wesley when hearing the reading of Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans.  The above picture was taken last week, the day before I left for St. Louis to join my friend Wayne White for a three-day primitive camping/fishing adventure. I’ve chosen not to photograph my current setting, though it is also outside a Starbuck’s in a different city.

My mind is still at a whirl, and sitting at this cafe table to sip coffee and scribble in my journal is about the only way I know how to cope with the turbulence (a good turbulence this is, I wish to add).

I have been on a day-to-day chase through one art appointment after another. A couple of weeks ago, I finished a week of a plein air painting competition in historic Waxahachie, Texas.

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One of three paintings submitted for competition

The same day I turned in my paintings for the plein air competition, I headed back to my home in Arlington forty minutes away to set up for a local Art on the Greene art and music festival.

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Arlington’s Art on the Greene 2018

The day after the three-day festival ended, I drove an hour south to demonstrate in watercolor for the Lake Granbury Artists Association.

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Set Up for the Painting Demonstration

The morning after the Granbury demo, I drove to Texas Wesleyan University to collect the final writing portfolios from my Humanities classes, then spent that day and the next grading all the portfolios as well as the final exams for my online Logic class. I then submitted the grades to the registrar and left the following day for my drive to St. Louis. I don’t recall a more pleasant ten-and-a-half-hour drive across Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. The windshield time was soothing, the sunlight was warm and strong, and all I could think about was how fortunate I was to have the time off to leave the work calendar behind.

Wayne White and I have known each other since second grade, but drifted apart after high school, and found one another again thanks to Facebook. Several times we have connected over the past years to camp, fish, and just sit to enjoy quality conversation. Both of us love John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and spend hours discussing what we read from their legacies. I anticipated a delicious break from the frenetic schedule of appointments I had recently endured.

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Wayne Pouring the Camp Coffee

Our adventure this year took us to the Silver Mines recreation area near Fredericktown, Missouri. Wayne has already posted a delicious blog of our time there. You can read him at https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/ and admire his photography covering our excursion. He is ten times the photographer than I could ever dare to be.  And he is unparalleled as a camp cook, preparing everything in Dutch ovens and skillets, right down to his biscuits-made-from-scratch. And his camp coffee from a percolator always tastes better than what I get out of my modern kitchen appliances.

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We enjoyed three days and two nights that included fishing, hiking, photography, plein air painting and yes, hours of uninterrupted conversation about things that matter to us. We also endured three major thunderstorms, though our tents kept us dry inside. And somehow, Wayne always managed to keep a campfire going through the downpours, and his spirit never turned soggy with the environment. That is one of many things I will always admire about his character. Emerson must have had Wayne’s temperament in mind when he wrote that “nature wears the colors of our spirit.” Constant rainfall ruins most people’s camping experience, but it did not diminish ours, and I have to credit a great deal of that to Wayne’s ebullient attitude when out in nature.

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Day Two: Wayne cooking breakfast while I try to capture the moment

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Plein Air watercolor sketch of breakfast in progress

I would be lying if I said that I fished all day, never got a bite, but it was still a good day. When I don’t succeed in fishing, I am pissed. But I can honestly say that if I paint all day and turn out nothing but lousy paintings, it is still a good day. I enjoy every moment at the plein air easel, or in the studio at the drafting table; I can never say that making art was a lousy experience, even if the product fails consistently. So, all of this to say that I have no judgment on the quality of my camp paintings; I just had a sublime series of thoughts and emotions the entire time I tried to make the paintings.

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The final morning: again, Wayne cooks and I paint

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On the final morning, I attempted a watercolor sketch of the base of a tree on our perimeter. Once Wayne began cooking, I rotated the easel 180 degrees, and attempted to capture his craft at the fire. On both mornings of breakfast preparations and painting, we were in a campsite soaked from the deluge of the night before. Wayne labored over a wet cooking area, managing a fire while I worked hard against the humidity, painting on paper that was constantly dotted with raindrops falling from the leaves overhead. Still, we both managed to laugh at our predicament and our spirits remained high.

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cliff painting gear

Before breaking down our camp, we hiked down a steep hill into the bottom of a gorge to see the dam and the swollen St. Francis River raging by. I set up my easel, and refused to paint the true color of the muddy water below (it looked like raw sewage). Overwhelmed at the sight of the massive cliffs and forests across the gorge, I chose to edit this sketch, painting only about one-third of the vertical dimension of the bluff. I wanted sky, trees, rocks and water in the painting and could not accomplish that without severely diminishing the size of the foliage and rocks to fit them on the page. After my attempt to capture the essence of what was arranged across the gorge from me, I then enjoyed sitting on the cool boulders in the shade, scribbling in my journal, and watching Wayne far below, moving up and down the trails taking photographs of the spectacular views. I encourage you to check out his blog and see his magnificent work.

Both of us brought books to the camp, along with our journals, and enjoyed conversation over those.  I want to share now something I had read from the Journals of the Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix. Wayne and I had plenty to say over this:

(from Sunday, July 14, 1850): Today, Sunday, I may say that I am myself again: and so it’s the first day that I find interest in all the things which surround me. This place is really charming. I went this afternoon, and in a good mood, to take a walk on the other side of the water. There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those I am tracing here. I told myself and I cannot repeat it to myself often enough for my repose and for my happiness (one and the other are but a single thing) that 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. 

Why did I live so much, that famous day? (I am writing this two days afterward). It was because I had a great many ideas which, at this moment, are a hundred leagues away. The secret of not having troubles, for me at least, is to have ideas. Therefore no effort is too great if it gives me the means of bringing them into existence. Good books have that effect, and above all certain ones among those books. The first thing to have is health, to be sure; but even in a sickly condition, such books as those can reopen sources through which imagination can issue forth generously.

I have said it in other blog posts: the life of the mind is what has saved me throughout my existence. When circumstances were dire, my ideas saved me, buoyed me. And yes, my ideas come from reading as well as observation and the efforts to make art. I suppose one of the reasons I blog is that my 130 volumes of journals scribbled over the years, along with the preparations and lectures delivered over the past thirty years of teaching, are still not enough in themselves. I continue to seek other outlets to express what is in me.

Now, I am fifteen hours away from that geographical region, but the sights still fill my mind’s eye, and returning to the reading of this book about the existentialist cafe experience, I recall Hemingway admitting during his early Parisian years of writing that he could not write about Michigan until he was in Paris, and couldn’t write about Paris until he was in Cuba or Key West.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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.

 

 

Flushing the Agenda

January 27, 2018

blind blog

I hate to seem greedy—I have so much

to be thankful for already.

But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.

And go to my place with some coffee and wait.

Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

Raymond Carver, “At Least”

Carver’s poetic words were what my soul needed this Saturday morning. I’m in The Redlands Hotel in Palestine, my favorite home-away-from-home. My only gallery appointment is Sunday afternoon, so I’m in the building, with my phone if anyone needs me, but it’s so luxurious to sit in this lovely apartment space on the second floor and feel all the cares and anxieties of the world roll off my shoulders.

I’m still under the weather (as are most of my friends) with this lousy congestion that just won’t go away and stay gone, even with help from physicians. And outside, it is cool and rainy and dark–a perfect day for indoors, coffee, books, and a smart phone that is my link to whomever needs me.

For my blog readers, I just have this to say–I have a number of blog posts in the hopper that I am still revising before sending them up the flagpole, thank you for being so patient, those of you who look forward to reading and knowing what is going on in my corner of the world. Despite my illness, many things have transpired over this past month, and so many good things are in progress that I really look forward to sharing on this page. All I can say is Soon (I hope).

Thank you 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.

 

Warm Satisfaction

November 29, 2017

txwes

Third-Story Library Carrel, Texas Wesleyan University

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

It took longer than it should have, but I finally reached the time in my life where I found myself happy with where I am. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of three broad ways of interpreting history, and his “monumentalist” approach was the one I adopted long ago–seeking role models for inspiration in the hopes that excellence could be pursued. Throughout my years of teaching, I was the perpetual student myself, reading all I could on the lives of individuals who inspired me in the arts, literature, and public life. Finally, I’ve reached this special place where I feel I can pursue an artful life and do as I choose without permission or apology.

This present state of “semi-retirement” fits me better than any stage I’ve known before. I love teaching at the university three mornings a week, and though I don’t have to, I choose to rise at five on the mornings I teach (four hours before class time) so I can enjoy quiet reading and writing. This is one of those mornings. After all these years, I still love pursuing academic study and writing. Later today, I’ll enter the art studio and see what I can create visually.

I have designated the third floor library at Texas Wesleyan University as “Luther’s Tower”, because since the year 2000 (when I was teaching at night) I chose to cloister myself in one of the private study carrel rooms so I could look out the window across the city of Fort Worth and the south side neighborhoods and enjoy my study time. My memories of the winter holiday season were always the best because of the cold (yet, Texas this year still has 70-degree November days!), the early nightfall, and the feelings of Thanksgiving and Christmas in the atmosphere. In this carrel, I have relished the study of biblical literature, humanities, philosophy and ethics. I cannot describe the joy I know when there is quality time to read, to think, to compose my thoughts, and then write it all out.

I’m happy this time of year because the art festival season becomes more festive, and I’m anticipating with gladness this weekend’s show at The Sons of Herman Hall in Dallas. When I return home after classes this morning, I’ll go straight to the garage and begin making decisions on how to trim my booth with lighting and holiday attire, and how to stock it with my art inventory. For this show, I have a number of new pieces coming out for public viewing and sale, and I always love seeing the new on display.

The university semester will end next week for me, and I’ll enjoy a month off between semesters, and I’m thankful for that as well. I’m grateful for this gift of life and for quality time to pursue things that matter to me.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Most of the Time, Alone is Good

January 19, 2017

store-pic

me.jpg

me 2.jpg

Now there are clouds above—

The moon conceals her light—

The lamp dies down.

It steams. Red light rays dash

About my head—a chill

Blows from the vaulting dome

And seizes me.

I feel you near me, spirit I implored.

Reveal yourself!

Oh, how my heart is gored

By never felt urges,

And my whole body surges—

My heart is yours; yours, too, am I.

You must. You must. Though I should have to die.

 

Goethe, Faust

With a comforting fire in the fireplace, and my homework completed early this cold night, I am finding solace in a new watercolor that is taking me far outside my comfort zone. I have never painted myself in watercolor or oil. Ever. (Disclaimer: OK, my friends point out my fly fishing paintings of myself.  However, those are 3-inch tall figures in hats with the face turned away–hardly portraits, more like toy action figures). But the selfie I took with my phone a couple of months ago in one of my favorite spaces far from home kept drawing me to attempt this. So here goes. (And thank you, Wade and Gail, for letting me know such sublimity in that “sacred space”!).

My reading over this past week has grazed from several pastures: Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Goethe’s Faust and Heidegger’s Being and Time. I don’t know why I did this, but all day long this song has been stuck in my head, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” On impulse awhile ago, I pulled up the YouTube video and watched it, and the music and visual really knocked me down. I’m not calling these feelings despair or depression. But something heavy weighs on me tonight, and I just want to find a way to get it out.

Today in philosophy we wrapped up a three-day unit on the Pre-Socratics. An early fragment from Anaximander states that anything that comes into being by necessity will pass away. Students seemed to grab that message, and one by one, I heard voices expressing how difficult it is to cope with the feeling that something has been lost. I recall Thoreau in Walden expressing the following:

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Quiet evenings like tonight are good for my soul, especially when I need to flush out the debris of bad sentiments. Working in my art studio often cleanses me, and I’m just glad that I had the space for such activities tonight.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to cope.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog when I need assurance that I am not alone.