Archive for the ‘Mother Road’ Category

Sunday Morning with Randy in the Motel

July 5, 2020
Ozark Court Motel. Stanton, Missouri

Sunday morning rays of sunshine lanced through the slits in the closed blinds of Room 6 at the Ozark Court Motel. Randy lay with his eyes closed. It took a few moments before he realized where he was and what day it was. Hitchhiking had not fared well the day before. Driving rains soaked him to the skin and no one was pulling over on Route 66 to offer him a ride. Why would they? No doubt he carried all the charm of a drowned city sewer rat as he trudged along the muddy shoulder, his knapsack beginning to let in water as well. But this morning he was OK. A soothing shower the night before and a Jack Daniels nightcap ushered in a quality night’s sleep. But now it was Sunday. What to do?

His Greek Testament lay on the bedside table; he had removed it the night before, intending for it to be the first thing his eyes would see the morning after. Now he sat up in bed, stretched his limbs and reached for the small volume he thought he was going to discard once he dropped out of seminary. He couldn’t. Though he no longer congregated, he still woke on Sunday mornings feeling the need to reach for a text that had been his companion for two-and-a-half years, only now he no longer felt shackled by deadlines of term papers and Sunday morning sermon manuscripts. He could read what he chose.

But what to read? The Gospels crossed his mind. Always a good choice. But what did he want this morning from the Gospels? Did he want to see or hear? Seeing would include mental images of Jesus walking either along a shore or down a dusty Palestinian street. Would he be solitary, seated in the wilderness, or thronged by a clinging crowd? Maybe Randy wanted to hear. But what? The voice of Jesus resonating in a synagogue, or speaking softly inside a living quarters? Would he be strolling country lanes with disciples listening, or seated on a boulder discoursing? Or would he be sitting in a boat, his voice going out over the waves while disciples pulled at the oars?

Why was Randy reaching for the New Testament? Because it was Sunday? He wasn’t congregating. He wasn’t called upon to address any hearers. What did he want this morning?

Outside the motel, traffic was heard rolling along Route 66 along the bottom of the bluff. Randy was aware that he was seated in bed, alone, in the heartland of America. Today is Sunday, the Fourth of July, 1976. The country had been surging with anticipation for months as she edged closer and closer to this day—the nation’s bicentennial. No doubt Randy’s former seminary friends—preacher friends—had been whipping themselves into a frenzy over what to preach on this Special Sunday. Randy was glad not to be under that kind of pressure. What exactly would he say today, standing before a congregation?

Opening his Greek Testament, he let his mind drift down pleasant corridors of memory. To this day he was grateful that he had learned Koinē Greek. The first semester was strictly recitation, vocabulary and functional grammar; the class never saw a New Testament. The objective was functional literacy. As children learn to speak their language before learning to read and understand the technical architecture of grammar, so Professor Corley wished for his students to recognize and read Greek early and dissect the grammar later. And so, Randy studied his lessons and performed the daily recitations for a semester.

On the first day of the second semester, the Professor walked to the blackboard, picked up the chalk and scrawled the following:

Sitting at his desk in the third row, Randy leaned forward earnestly and read the words instantly: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The Professor turned to the class and solemnly declared: “You are now reading the New Testament. In Greek.” Sitting up in bed, Randy felt waves of warmth surging through his being as he recalled that historic morning. It was as though scales had fallen from his eyes and enlightenment had dawned. His life had been marked by so few quality moments. Opening his New Testament to Mark 1:15, he read the words afresh.

The time is fulfilled. On that historic day, Randy felt that he had fulfilled his apprenticeship to elementary Greek vocabulary and grammar. He read a Greek New Testament passage with no assistance from a teacher or book. It was a new day. A new world dawned and beckoned. He had no idea then that a ministerial life, just underway, would collapse and burn in less than two years.

Now it is Sunday, July 4, 1976. The nation celebrates its 200th birthday. Randy wondered what exactly he was celebrating, if anything. What was life offering now? Was he about to pass through another portal? Again, why was he reading the New Testament? Because it is Sunday? Because it is the Fourth of July? Because the country is now two hundred years old? What was in the air for Randy? He wanted to know.

Was he reading from the life of Jesus because he needed a mentor? Someone to guide him? Thinking back over his life, Randy realized that he had always sought direction from a strong leader. His father, his pastor, his professors, and a few years ago he had that conference with Reverend Elton in Dallas. Did Randy need a mentor now? Or was it time to think for himself? Maybe his apprenticeship to life was ended and it was time to stand up, to strike forth and find new ground under his own direction. The time is fulfilled.

Rising from bed, Randy stretched and strolled across the small room to the writing table in the corner where he had placed his journal the night before. Opening it to the pages he wrote the day he quit the seminary, he found a passage he had copied from James Smart’s The Divided Mind of Modern Theology.

There are remarkable parallels between the European mood of the twenties and the English and American mood of the sixties: God seemed to have gone into hiding; religious and theological language out of the past had become wooden and unconvincing; men felt themselves suspended between a world that had died and a new world that was waiting to be born; a church indifferent to the plight of the masses was recognized as unworthy of the name Christian; the identification of Christianity with Western civilization, and of divinity with the higher elements in man, had become highly suspect; in various forms the hunger for a new world now was felt, and some understood it as hunger for a living God. In that kind of world Barth and Bultmann became theologians whose one endeavor was to find the word that would unlock the future, the word that would bring wholeness of faith and creative power by being the very truth of the living God.

It is Sunday, Randy thought. Today, churches would perhaps be filled to capacity, no doubt to celebrate a 200th birthday. Yet, Randy sensed that the ministers would still crank out those same tired sermons, their singsong voices rasping like rusty squeeze boxes, sounding out the same two-note refrain of the deadly forces that continually threaten the vitality of our church and nation—abortion and communism.

Randy replayed from memory a line he had memorized from his reading of one of Nietzsche’s early essays:

He who has but two strings on his instrument . . . does not understand those who can play on more strings. It is of the essence of the higher, multi-stringed culture that it is always misinterpreted by the lower culture . . .

Randy’s sojourn of recent years had definitely added more strings to his life’s instrument. No doubt this is why he was not attending church this particular morning, or most mornings for that matter. Virtually everything delivered from pulpits he had heard before, and indeed was beginning to write them out in his own sermons before he quit. He didn’t need to hear them again.

Randy recalled with a smile a quote he had read from his readings in the religions of India, how the Upanishad movement was sprung partly because the general population had grown weary of listening to the traditional chants of the Vedic priests “who sounded like croaking frogs in the swamps.”

America in 1976 was sounding restless. Perhaps a new world was beginning to dawn. The time is fulfilled. Randy wondered if his own odyssey was corresponding with the quest of this American nation in 1976, poised to enter a new age of Enlightenment. Where was Hank? It had been months since that night they sat at the fire, camping in west Texas. It was time to get together and talk some more. No doubt Hank had just as much weighing on his mind as Randy. Later today, Randy would return to Turvey’s Corner, having been away four years. Maybe Hank was already there.

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Thanks for reading my blog.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Transformation by Choice

July 1, 2020
Nearing Completion of Work on a New Commission

Dr. David Harold Fink, the eminent psychiatrist, says that, by changing our mental concepts of ourselves, we can change our lives.

Advertisement from April 1963 Harper’s Bazaar

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”

I must say that today has been one of the most satisfying of days. For some reason waking just around daylight, I felt a desire to go straight into the studio and work on this historic route 66 motel site that has been removed from our landscape but not from my memory. I am grateful to the patron who found my earlier painting of this site on the Internet and contacted me to commission a new one. Memories of these motel ruins I saw in my travels from St. Louis to Fort Worth keep stirring. And I recall the closing lines from the Woody Allen film “Another Woman”–

I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost.

As I painted this morning, my mind continually drifted to the Zeitgeist that swirls around us every day, and has done so for several years now. Wondering if my own temperament was coloring my perception of what I was hearing daily on the news, I had to pause and say emphatically No. The days we live in now cry out for introspection and evaluation since we are forced to spend time apart from the masses. And frankly, I look over my past life, admitting that there were years, indeed decades of rage probably spawned by my own self-doubt. Those days are gone, I hope for good now. I am deeply grateful for this gift of life, and that I am still allowed to share in it, and finally, to be genuinely happy.

But what I hear and read continually when I log on to the news or social media is a cascade of hate, anger and invective–words cascading like raw sewage across many platforms, cable news, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–so much poison and stench.

Taking a break from my painting, I picked up and re-read portions of Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol and found the quote above from Harper’s Bazaar. It was in reference to people crowding into the new photobooths of the 60’s to print strips of pictures of themselves mugging in front of the camera. I laughed, thinking of people today on Instagram, holding up their smartphones and looking intently at them while posing for their glamor shots. The Harper’s Bazaar ad pointed out the potential for improving one’s own life wilfully.

From the Warhol reading I turned my attention to Rilke. The poem of Apollo I learned of for the first time when watching Woody Allen’s “Another Woman”, a severely underrated film that remains one of my favorites. Many themes can be abstracted from viewing the film, but what sticks with me the most is the protagonist wilfully choosing in the end to make hard decisions for the purpose of improving a life that others around her had judged a success.

From that point, I decided to re-visit a passage from my Greek New Testament, Romans 12:2. In that passage, the reader is urged not to be conformed (schematized) by this Zeitgeist, but to be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of the mind. The renewing of the mind. Every day the invitation is there for renewal. Every day an opportunity to begin afresh.

I have now been three years retired from public school teaching, and a semester separated from the university classroom. When asked if I miss it, my immediate answer is No. I’m so thankful that when I sit down to read reflectively that I do not have to shape the material into a lecture or lesson plan. I do not have a schedule or deadline looming before me. I can now read for pleasure, at leisure, and take seriously the words confronting me. I can take time to hear the words, pause with them, roll them around in my mouth, repeate them, revise them, apply them. Every day, an opportunity to receive fresh revelations, novel insights.

I know I am meandering, but this is a blog, not a polished essay. So . . . back to the painting above. I have nearly completed the network of ruins beneath the motel sign and now look forward to refining the foreground whose foundation I laid last night with a series of layered masques and washes followed by plenty of dry brushing. Now the masquing has been stripped away and (my art history colleagues will understand this) I am free to “Jackson Pollock” my way down to the bottom of the composition.

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.

On the Road with Jack Kerouac

July 8, 2014

On the Road Collage

On the Road Collage

“Now, Sal, we’re leaving everything behind us and entering a new and unknown phase of things.  All the years and troubles and kicks–and now this!  so that we can safely think of nothing else and just go on ahead with our faces stuck out like this, you see, and understand the world as, really and genuinely speaking, other Americans haven’t done before us . . .

Dean Moriarty, in On the Road

Before retiring to bed, I felt the itch to create another Route 66 collage, something I haven’t done in over five years.  I’ve missed this genre.  Working through the images compelled me to take out my copy of On the Road and spot read some of it, for the ump-teenth time.  As I write this, I am playing my On the Road DVD on the television, enjoying the jazz music and Beat dialogue.

Thanks for reading.  I think I’ll let this stuff go for the night . . . 

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Springtime Wanderlust

February 24, 2012

One Last Road Trip

It just occurred to me this morning, while driving to school in the pre-dawn, that Spring Break is two weeks away.  It couldn’t be more timely, for me.  That is a week on the school calendar that always whispers “road trip” in my ear.  Fantasies of plein air painting, fly fishing, reading stacks of books, journaling and blogging flood my soul (as well as sleeping in!).

Since I just posted a completed painting of a defunct gas station, I thought it apropos to post this Spring Break painting from 2006.  I had gone with friends to fly fish the White River in northern Arkansas, then traveled to visit a retired principal/friend in Bentonville, and then, in a surprise twist, journeyed into Oklahoma to re-visit a town where a member of my traveling party had grown up as a child.  She said she “wanted to do the Proust thing,” an idea that had to be explained to me, and now remains with me forever.

French novelist Marcel Proust spoke of how certain moments stir our senses to recall primal memories from our early childhood that are profoundly warm and worth recalling.  Yet, any attempt to seize those moments will lead immediately to their dissolution.  They are gifts, and they only remain a moment, often surprising us with what the painter Robert Motherwell called the “shock of recognition” and then vanishing.  But the warmth remains.  I had known this experience throughout my life, and always cherished such gifts, but not until my friend introduced me to Proust did I have a way of describing it.  Incidentally, my friend on that day re-visited her childhood town, and in the end concluded that “Nothing happened.”  Sometimes it is that way.  We cannot make it happen.  We don’t always know Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” sentiments.

This painting is virtually all that is left of Binger, Oklahoma–two buildings at a crossroads.  When we travelled Oklahoma, we were seized by the sight of these buildings and thought they possessed a certain “Edward Hopper” isolation.  So we took a number of photos and I later worked this into a composition.  In fact, I have included this gas station in three of my paintings (the other two can be found on my website: http://recollections54.com).

The 1924 Oldsmobile (what is left of it) is parked behind a restored auto showroom in Hillsboro, Texas, on E. Elm Street.  I thought this abandoned filling station needed an abandoned car for a companion.  Overall, I was happy with the composition, though no one has yet purchased the original watercolor.  I have managed to sell a good number of limited edition giclee prints of it, however, and dozens of greeting cards.

This is the time of year that I am bitten by the Jack Kerouac On the Road sentiment.  Fantasies of Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri and Arkansas flood my being, and I begin looking at the calendar, contemplating the nine days and wondering if I can pull one off this year.  I always look to that time as one of restoration, decompression and retooling (and recovering some sleep!).  Whatever happens, my priority is to create at least one decent watercolor, hopefully en plein air.

Thanks for reading.

Filling Station Desolation, still in progress

February 22, 2012

Robertsville, Missouri Abandoned Filling Station

I admit surprise at how fast this large watercolor is coming together.  I’m used to longer stretches of time for “composting” as I think through what I want to do exactly.  But time to paint is really scarce these days, and when I approach this particular watercolor, I seem to be painting faster.  Today I added the dark trees on the left border and worked on the power line as well as the guidewire attached to the post at the left.  I’m still tinkering with the drybrush weeds along the left as well.  I’m not sure what to do next, so I thought I would go ahead and put this on the blog to let anyone who reads this know that I am still chipping away at this piece, and think I may be finished with it in the next day or so.

I still want to deepen the shadows and heighten the contrast, hopefully to give the composition a nice “Edward Hopper” kind of pop.  I always gravitate to his watercolors because of their delightful use of contrast.

Thanks for reading.

Filling Stations from my Youthful Memories

February 21, 2012

Route 66 of Yesterday

A major grading deadline looms at midnight tonight.  Therefore, I have had little time to give to this latest watercolor today.  I spent some time building up the gravel textures along the shoulder of the highway, and darkening the shadows and enriching the wood textures along the siding of the service station.  That is all I have had time to pursue.  I hope I can return to the garage studio tonight to work further on this piece, but that will depend on the grading process.  So far, it is going quite slowly and painfully, as always.

I take delight in focusing on this setting for a watercolor.   Being a child of the fifties (recollections54.com), I look at a scene like this and recall the sounds of the bell cables the car rolled over as it pulled alongside the gas pumps.  On hot summer days, I recall my surprise seeing station attendants move so quickly and enthusiastically out from behind their oscillating fans to service our car–pump the gas, check the oil under the hood, check the tire pressures, wipe off the windshield and wipers, and take the $5 bill from my father’s hand.  One day when I asked Mom why Dad never asked for $10 worth of gas, she replied: “The tank won’t hold $10 worth.”  Gasoline choices back then were between regular and ethyl.  I recall the horror one day when Mom read the gas price on the front of the pump: 32 cents per gallon!

The memories are not fading quite as rapidly from my mental landscape as this physical structure is from our American landscape.  One thing I enjoy doing with watercolor is keeping these conversations and memories alive.  I miss route 66.  I miss full-service gas stations.  I miss those 1950’s automobiles.

Thanks for reading.

Wide Open Spaces in New Mexico

February 11, 2012

New Mexico Landscape

I’m taking a break from my business-related paperwork to re-post a New Mexico favorite I created last fall during an art festival in Mineola, Texas.  I took a series of photos in New Mexico at the end of a summer road trip about 3-4 years ago.  This is the second composition I painted from this abandoned structure I found along the road while a storm was gathering.  In the earlier painting, I darkened the sky, but chose to lighten up this particular composition.

I was happy with the way the salt textured the roadway as I kept sprinkling new layers and spritzing with a spray bottle.  I was also pleased with the way in which the masquepen left the dead limbs intact in the midst of the darkened cedar behind the building.  The painting came along rather quickly, and I hope to try a third composition from it in the near future.

Thanks for reading.

In Memoriam Route 66 Villa Ridge, Missouri

August 17, 2011

In Memoriam Route 66 Villa Ridge, Missouri

I finished this watercolor about 2:00 a.m. this morning.  It’s a relief to have it finished, knowing it only took five days.  As I look on the finished composition, I still feel the sadness of a civilization that has died.  I’m old enough to recall Highway 66 road trips when I was a child, and I cannot help but listen for the ringing of bell cables every time I see the husk of a service station such as this one, languishing on vacant property adjacent to a county road or service road that was formerly an artery carrying traffic across this nation.

As a teacher, I’ve returned to my campus this week to honor my contract.  The students will appear next Monday.  Whether or not I begin a composition before then, I just don’t know at this point.  I have my first One Man Show beginning on September 10.  A part of me wishes to continue painting up till the day that we open, but another part says I already have enough work ready to hang, and that a hiatus might be the healthy road to take right now.  Maybe I’ll decide by tomorrow!

Thanks again for reading, and helping me see this one through.

Nearing Completion of Route 66 Zephyr Gas Station

August 15, 2011

Villa Ridge, Missouri Zephyr Gas Station along Historic Route 66

The fourth day on this work sees it nearing completion.  I had to re-draw the gas pump to align it parallel with the station.  The distant lamp post was in the wrong place and no proportioned to the rest of the composition, so I am eliminating it.  most of today was spent trying to separate the graveled parking lot from the puddles.  I still have grasses to render, poking up through the puddles as well.  The center of the parking area also needs to be tended.  But I think the end is finally in sight.  If I don’t complete it tonight, then I’m quite sure I can sign off on it before tomorrow is over.  This has been a rewarding experience.  Painting water reflections has been a trial for me, but I’m sure I’ll attempt it again some day.

Thanks for reading.

Defunct Route 66 Gas Station after a Hard Rain

August 14, 2011

Abandoned Route 66 Zephyr Station after the Rain

The painting is slowing down, now that I’m nearing the end of my third day.  Painting water reflections is completely new territory for me, and I spend more time studying the reference photos, applying masquing fluid to the paper and mixing pigments than actual painting.  But I am enjoying the process, and today is the first time I’ve felt “lost” in the painting, in a good sense.  School begins tomorrow for me, but I’ll continue with the painting daily until it’s finished, hopefully before this next week runs its course.   Tonight before retiring to bed, I hope to enrich further the shadows in the water reflections and attempt to render the grasses sticking up out of this enormous parking lot swamp.  For any of you reading this for the first time, the location of this station is Villa Ridge, Missouri, on Route 66 southwest of St. Louis.  Currently the station is at county road AT, about a mile off Interstate 44.   I saw it for the first time in the summer of 2010 and did two plein air watercolor sketches, one of the end of this building, and the other of a rusted-out, foliage-covered billboard advertising Zephyr detergent gasoline.

Thanks for reading.