Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

Thoughts on a Rainy Sunday Morning

June 16, 2019

palestine beginnings

Early Sunday Morning (still in progress)

The sight of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church tightened the heart of the young divinity student when he turned the corner onto Queen Street. The early Sunday morning stroll had been the first relaxing moment he felt since his return to Turvey’s Corner for a semester break visit. The looming façade brought into his memory a passage he had recently translated from his Greek New Testament:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

During his teenage years, the fellow had “surrendered to the ministry” (the congregation’s description of his decision). Under the close watch of the Divinity School, he pursued with delight the serious exposition of the scriptures, and when he came across this passage, he felt his entire life turning smoothly as if on a hinge. The first eighteen years of his life had been given to pursuit of the arts, because it was discovered that he had a talent for drawing as soon as he was old enough to hold a pencil. But at age eighteen, he departed from the arts and pursued theology, believing that he should live a life of service to others rather than the pursuit of beauty.

When he translated the Ephesians passage, he discovered that the word rendered “workmanship” was poiēma, from which we take our word “poem.” We are God’s poem, he mused. Pursuing the Greek construction, he discovered to his amazement that “poem” is better translated “work of art.” We are God’s work of art. The text urges that we are God’s work of art, and we have been created for the purpose of quality work, and God determined beforehand that we should pursue that work.

The goals of pastoral ministry evaporated like the fresh dew on a summer morning as the young man suddenly determined that his natural, inborn talent lay in making art. During this Sunday morning walk, his mind was flooded with ideas and questions revolving around how he could merge his inborn artistic gift with the recent years of theological scholarship.

Mass would be starting in about ten minutes. He decided he would continue to pursue his own worship as he sauntered around the sleepy town. A rich Sunday morning was dawning.

. . . . .

I have begun work on the next installment of my Turvey’s Corner 63050 series. The actual setting above is a view of The Redlands Hotel (The Gallery at Redlands is on the first floor just inside the entrance shown). Across the street is the historic Sacred Heart Catholic Church that I have already painted four times. I have decided to include this city block in my fictional Turvey’s Corner series, and with it I am introducing a new character. The above story is a first draft that I hope to polish considerably over time.

Thunderstorms are pounding east Texas as I write this, and the Palestine skies are extremely dark and heavy. I stepped out once to run an errand and regretted it as I got soaked to the skin. This is a perfect day for staying inside to paint and read.

I am also very proud to announce that a dear friend and artist/colleague I have known for over twenty years, Cindy Thomas, has decided to make a video documentary of my work. The Turvey’s Corner 63050 series will be included in the presentation, and we will be filming from my home studio, our Gallery at Redlands, and the remote country store location in east Texas where I escape from time to time to work on my art. This will be a long-term project, and we shall keep you posted as it progresses.

Image result for st louis blues

One Happy Cluster of Athletes!

For days I have debated over whether or not to include this in my blog. I try to present myself as artist, thinker, writer, etc., but I feel compelled now to reveal that I am a St. Louis native, and that the St. Louis Blues became a franchise fifty-two years ago, when I was a high school freshman. I watched them enter the Stanley Cup Finals their first three seasons in existence and not win a single game–swept all three times, Then, for forty-nine more seasons they seemed to be a team built for the playoffs but not a championship. They made the playoffs twenty-five consecutive seasons, only to be eliminated in the first or second round. But every year I continued to watch, and believe.

On January 3 this year, midway through the season, the Blues were dead last in the NHL–anchored solidly in thirty-first place. Their coach had been fired and an assistant coach promoted as interim head coach. After January 3, they began to win. They made the playoffs as the third seed in their division. And then they began the four rounds of playoffs, each one a best-of-seven series. Sixteen wins were required to bring a Stanley Cup to their city for the first time in their fifty-two year history.

What I watched this time was the most amazing playoff series in my entire life. From my perspective, the Blues were less skilled than all four opponents they faced–Winnepeg, Dallas, San Jose and Boston. In every matchup, the Blues were slower and possessed fewer quality goal scorers. Some of their losses were the most humiliating lop-sided blow-outs on the scoreboard. Yet they proved resilient, almost never losing two consecutive games. After every loss, they regrouped and returned, eliminating Winnipeg in six games, Dallas in seven, San Jose in six, and ultimately Boston in seven. In every best-of-seven series, the Blues played hard-nosed, blue-collar style hockey, their MVP and leading scorer revealing after it was all over that he was playing with fractured ribs from the very first series.

I have enjoyed every St. Louis Cardinals World Series championship. And I felt something special when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl (but that team, especially its owner, can rot in hell now, as far as I am concerned). What I am feeling this morning with this St. Louis Blues championship I will never be able to describe. Fifty-two years the city languished as the team pushed for that accomplishment. And now they raise the Cup. And though several days have passed since that historic night, I am still vibrating from the memories.

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.

. . . and the Blues are the Stanley Cup Champions!!!!!

 

Advertisements

Rolling Out a New Series

May 30, 2019

20190529_1528398354881238472074786.jpg

Turvey’s Corner 63050 (First in a New Series)

Leaning into the polar winds that snapped through the narrow valley of the sleeping Missouri town, Denzil Tucker emerged from the Terra Lounge bar with his snow shovel. Frigid overnight winds had hardened the drifts across the walkway. As he bent to his task, the piercing cacophonous whistle from the Frisco Railroad F9 diesel signaled its approach to the crossing, half a block from the tavern, and Denzil felt beneath his boots the vibrations of the thundering freight cars as they rolled by.

Turning his head, he looked back up the empty street to regather his thoughts. It was a sixteen-degree December morning in Turvey’s Corner, and his mind was numb to the possibilities of anything memorable happening on this particular day. The Korean Conflict was two years behind him, the 38th parallel over 7,000 miles away. But his first-born son, not yet a year old, was slumbering in a dark bedroom on the second story above, and these thoughts offered him a measure of serenity in the face of the frozen morning. 

*********

My blog has been silent for several weeks, not due to writer’s or painter’s block, but because of days spent in the studio painting and at the desk researching and writing. Since the early 1990’s, I have had this compulsion to paint a series of watercolors illustrating the quintessential American town.  My inspiration has been the literary contributions of Garrison Keillor, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters, William Faulkner and others. In addition to the paintings, I have sought to develop a cast of characters with their own stories, hoping to come up with my own work combining painting and literature. This project has now spanned nearly three decades, with countless paintings done and just as many stories written. Now that I have begun chipping away at my memoir, I have decided to pull together these fragments from years gone by, and contribute new paintings and stories to the growing collection. Back in March, I held my first gallery talk on “Art in Small Town America” and announced to that audience my intentions for this project.

My town is named Turvey’s Corner, and the zip code falls between two Missouri towns that shaped my upbringing–High Ridge 63049 and House Springs 63051. The painting above is taken from a forgotten corner of lower House Springs, where Highway MM intersects with a recently altered old Highway 30. Over the years I have photographed this row of buildings in all seasons of the year and decided this time to focus on one of my winter compositions.

The narrative for this collection of paintings is loosely constructed from my personal life experience, the man shoveling snow above is my father (with a fake name). The Korean conflict is true, and I am the infant sleeping upstairs. The year is 1954. My father was never a tavern owner, but I thought that story would yield more character than his work as a mechanic for St. Louis car dealerships. I’m still fleshing out the details, and deeply enjoying the work as it unfolds.

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.

Thoughts While Surfing the Open Road

March 29, 2019

20190217_125133275591356251532205.jpg

East of Windthorst, Texas

Only for a moment; but it was enough. It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer . . . 

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

20190318_0901307067270385370787608.jpg

8 x 10″ Watercolor Sketch of the Subject

The past week has been a whirlwind of engagements. After finishing my Palestine activities centered around the Dogwood Trails Art & Music Festival, I returned home, then made a quick journey to Dallas to enter a pair of watercolors into a competition, then home to work on a pair of sand dune watercolors for an upcoming exhibit in Corpus Christi. After finishing and framing them, I hit the open road yet again, my ultimate destination being Corpus Christi. But I’m not there yet.

Stopping at a coffee shop to use their Wi-Fi, I graded a round of assignments that just came due from my pair of online college classes (wonderful to be able to do my college work while in transit). Having completed that, I thought that I had this access I would go ahead and send up a smoke signal for my devoted readers. I have posted above a recent watercolor sketch completed of a stretch of Texas country that I encountered when I left Archer City a few weeks ago. When I get a chance to photograph my recently framed sand dune watercolors, I’ll post them as well. Right now they are wrapped and packed in the Jeep.

Waking this morning, I encountered something while reading Max Horkheimer & Theodor W. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments that really took my breath away:

The urge to rescue the past as something living, instead of using it as the material of progress, has been satisfied only in art, in which even history, as a representation of past life, is included.

Having recently delivered a gallery talk on nostalgic themes in “Art in the Small Town”, I believe I have found yet another wonderful text to insert into this conversation. I hope I can fertilize it effectively in the coming days, water it, and see something wonderful emerge as I continually pursue this project. Because of the nostalgic ring, I have resumed my reading and study of Homer’s Odyssey as well as Joyce’s Ulysses. My life has been so consumed lately with travel and appointments that I have trouble finding quiet time to sort out some of these marvelous sentiments I have felt recently. As I peer through the windshield, traveling these Texas highways, I keep encountering ideas about this series I am now pursuing, and I frequently have to pull over and scribble these thoughts into a small notepad. In addition to the Homer and Joyce works, I have packed Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The thrill of these fresh ideas cannot be measured in words, though I try.

Time to get back on the road .  .  .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

When the Muse stirs . . .

March 20, 2019

20190320_0630298100028421928167096.jpg

My Study in the Pre-Dawn Hours

The compensation of growing old was simply this; that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained—at last!—the power which adds the supreme flavor to existence,-the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Rising at 4:40 this morning was not my plan. But when the muse stirs, we have no choice but to respond. Several weeks ago, we decided to launch our first gallery talk in Palestine, Texas, as a part of kicking off the 81st annual Dogwood Trails Art & Music Festival. I have chosen the topic “Art in the Small Town.” I will use the art I have created over the past twenty years, along with selections from American artists who featured the small town genre. American writers will also be woven into the narrative as they spun their novels, short stories and poetry around this nostalgic subject. These ideas have been coursing through my veins the past several weeks, and pages of notes and drafts have been stacking on my desk, stuffing my briefcase and swelling my journal. Finally, this morning in the pre-dawn, the tumblers began to fall into place and I sprang out of bed to power up the laptop and record the sensations as quickly as I could. I am only taking a break from the writing to let my readers know what is going on. For anyone who follows me on Facebook, I launched the event page describing the event a few hours ago. Already I am getting a response, and that is gratifying. For years I have ached to take part in this kind of forum.

My reading from the biography of N. C. Wyeth is stirring my soul like seldom before. The young Wyeth realized in art school that he needed an education to grow his character, not just hone his artistic skills.  In retrospect, I feel that sentiment profoundly. Throughout my younger school days, I was immature, a dreamer, intellectually lazy. I had skills as an artist and worked hard at them. But when I entered the university, I came to rely only on my talent in the art studio, while at the same time growing an intellectual appetite in the general university studies. I failed to put the two together. As I proceeded next through my seminary years, I turned to religion, philosophy and literature. Many years later, after taking a job in the public schools, did I return to my art, and then discovered a depth I never had before. Ideas and deep sentiments had been grafted on to my mechanical skills. I had a feeling for expression and composition.

Since about 1990, I began pursuing this idea of creating a body of work nostalgic in nature. I learned from my seminary Greek studies that “nostalgia” is a Greek word found in the Homeric epics, describing the feelings of Odysseus as he longs to return to his home. My home town of High Ridge, Missouri, along with small towns where I pastored churches in my earlier years, managed to plant images, stories and sentiments that I have longed to express in drawing and watercolor. In 1999, I decided to launch a series called “My Town”, inspired by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. As he created his Grover’s Corners, so I also created Turvey’s Corner, and created this painting:

20190204_0939313454915399355711484.jpg

Along with a phony zip code: 63050 (High Ridge is 63049, and the next town four miles away, House Springs, is 63051), I began creating paintings and writing cycles of short stories to flesh out this fictitious town of my imagination, spawned by my memories. I lanched my show in Hillsboro, Texas at the newly-opened Stairwell Fine Arts Gallery, and the painting above sold at the opening reception. So did two others. A few weeks later, a Florida collector passed through the gallery and purchased the remainder of the portfolio. And then, my story just stopped . . .

About a month ago, while reading Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond, all my feelings from 1999 came tumbling back in on my consciousness. That, along with the writing of my memoir, thanks to Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, convinced me to pick up this old project, dust off the cobwebs, and renew the vision. So . . . I have been working on a new series of paintings and writings, and this Saturday look forward to sharing this vision in the gallery talk.

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.

The Bowery Bum

March 17, 2019

Why, I just shake the buildings out of my sleeves.

Frank Lloyd Wright

20190317_1233558364552528186125456.jpg

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Archer City–$75 in white 11 x 14″ mat

20190317_1250436180998740226127641.jpg

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Missouri snow scene–$60 in white 11 x 14″ mat

20190317_1312363410537535150207311.jpg

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Palo Duro Canyon–$80 in white 11 x 14″ mat

20190317_1321567914308570594142669.jpg

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of Missouri snow scene–$50 in white 11 x 14″ mat

Years ago, at the close of a state convention (the Texas Council of Teachers of English), several of us were sitting in the Dallas convention hotel lobby. I was in my second year of teaching, and felt energized after two days of sessions. As we sat in silence, soaking the afterglow of the event, one of the “more seasoned” teachers remarked: “At the close of these things, I often feel like a Bowery bum with an empty bottle.” We all laughed at the brilliant, poetic analogy, and I then wondered to myself: “Will I one day know that kind of weariness?” What a dumb question, I now realize three decades later.

The past forty-eight hours were the kind that used to energize me, but now I know the sentiments of that seasoned English teacher. For a few weeks, we advertised a beginning watercolor workshop that I would hold in the lobby of our Redlands Hotel. We decided we would limit the session to twenty applicants, but before we knew it, twenty-eight had thrown hats into the ring, so I decided to add a second session immediately following the first. By the time the day arrived, we had nineteen committed to the morning event, and fourteen for the afternoon. Setting up the lobby for the event proved to be exhausting, and I was glad we did that the day before. Nevertheless, the evening before the event, I knocked out a pair of watercolor samples of what we would attempt (and found neither of them satisfactory). Then, at the two workshops, I did a second pair as a live demo, one for each session, and found little satisfaction with both of those. Nevertheless, the participants were enthusiastic beyond description, and today I am still warmed at their remarks and sentiments throughout the day.  I couldn’t have asked for more eager and focused participation, and I can proudly say that the students’ attempts were all better than mine! So I can at least take pride knowing there was quality art created throughout the day.

By the end of the second session, I barely knew my own name, and understood the Bowery bum analogy–I certainly lack the energy I knew in earlier days. Going upstairs to bed (the Redlands Hotel is a beautiful place to reside!), I turned off my phone, vowing to sleep from 9:00 till sometime the following afternoon. But by 8:30 this morning, after waking a dozen times and feeling that it was nearly noon, I decided I had had sufficient rest for the new day. My plan was to do nothing all day but read. That didn’t happen. By the time I had finished my coffee and read about twenty more pages from the N. C. Wyeth biography, the itch returned to go back downstairs and open the gallery.

Once inside the gallery, I matted and sleeved five watercolors that needed presenting–four of them completed over the past couple of weeks (No, I will not mat the four demos I worked on the past couple of days!). The N. C. Wyeth biography, along with the affirming remarks I heard all day yesterday among the workshop participants, inspired me to go to work on a fifth attempt of what we painted in yesterday’s workshop and see if I can turn out a decent painting of the subject. I posted the Frank Lloyd Wright quote above, because when I crank out several paintings at a time I am reminded of how prolific he was as an architect late in life, and hope that I will be able to keep up that kind of production and enthusiasm.

It is Sunday, and I expected to see no one in the gallery today. Sundays are very quiet in downtown Palestine, and the weather is gorgeous today, inviting people to flock to the lake. But surprisingly, in the first 45 minutes, three people have already come in to browse and chat, so I guess I figured that one wrong.

At any rate, it feels great to be painting again, and if I can turn out a decent effort this time, I’ll post it for you to see.

Thanks for reading.

I make art to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Smitten by Archer City, Texas (Larry McMurtry’s home town)

March 13, 2019

20190313_2005083157083549419661739.jpg

Enjoying a Night in the Studio

For over a month I’ve been reading the works of Larry McMurtry with great delight. I began with The Last Picture Show, moved on next to Lonesome Dove and then read Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. That final work really stirred me, as the author laments the loss of story telling in our American culture. I decided to travel to Archer City, a town I have loved for nearly twenty years now.  After enjoying McMurtry’s bookstore (Booked Up Inc.), I strolled around the historic downtown, picking out all the iconic settings for The Last Picture Show and Texasville. Before leaving town, I stood in the street and took a photo of the four-way stop intersection (the only real intersection in town), and finally got around to painting it.

About a month ago, I decided my next watercolor series would involve small town scenes and the stories they engender. On Saturday, March 23 at 1:00, I will deliver my first gallery talk in the lobby of the historic Redlands Hotel in Palestine, Texas. This event will be part of the celebration of Palestine’s 81st annual Dogwood Trails Art & Music Festival that kicks off that same day. I have enjoyed spending the past several weeks putting together the presentation, and am leaning forward toward that event.

20190313_1937297163738809072454824.jpg

Beginning of a Small Watercolor of Archer City, Texas

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.

 

Snowbound!

March 3, 2019

20190303_0914368198667041109931213.jpg

High Ridge, Missouri

For Convers, looking back was the authentic experience; nostalgia made people and places real. . . . According to Wyeth idiom, nostalgia was another word for “home feeling.”

David Michaelis, N. C. Wyeth: A Biography

N. C. Wyeth got it right when he defined the word “nostalgia”. The word is Greek, and occurs repeatedly in Homer’s “Odyssey”. It refers to the desire of Ulysses to return to the home he missed so sorely after all those years away. I experience those feelings frequently, and managed to land in the town of my boyhood just before the snowstorm hit. Having gone two successive Texas winters without a sign of snow, I am delighted always to land somewhere during the winter season to see this kind of landscape. My recent Thanksgiving and Christmas trips to St. Louis occurred between snowstorms, and I saw none of it.

I am re-posting my recent painting of the Catholic church near my gallery in Palestine. Yesterday’s photo was taken in the evening under incandescent light, and I don’t like the dirty yellow cast the lighting creates. I placed the painting out in the snow this morning, and got much purer light on the surface to take this photo:

20190303_1050393776278249987537574.jpg

Palestine, Texas

I would like to say that I am painting en plein air, because I now have two snowscapes in progress, looking out the patio window into the back yard and across my sister’s neighborhood. But I am inside, protected from the 25-degree Missouri temperatures. Nevertheless, though protected from the weather, I am looking at the live landscape instead of a photo enlarged on my laptop. And as I paint, I recall some of the words from Whittier’s “Snow-Bound” poem that I have enjoyed throughout my years. Back home, I own a nineteenth-century volume of Whittier’s verses, including this one. I have to be careful opening that volume, not wishing to break the spine or the brittle pages:

Clasp, Angel of the backword look 
      And folded wings of ashen gray 
      And voice of echoes far away, 
The brazen covers of thy book; 
The weird palimpsest old and vast, 
Wherein thou hid’st the spectral past; 
Where, closely mingling, pale and glow 
The characters of joy and woe; 
The monographs of outlived years, 
Or smile-illumed or dim with tears, 
      Green hills of life that slope to death, 
And haunts of home, whose vistaed trees 
Shade off to mournful cypresses 
      With the white amaranths underneath. 
Even while I look, I can but heed 
      The restless sands’ incessant fall, 
Importunate hours that hours succeed, 
Each clamorous with its own sharp need, 
      And duty keeping pace with all. 
Shut down and clasp with heavy lids; 
I hear again the voice that bids 
The dreamer leave his dream midway 
For larger hopes and graver fears: 
Life greatens in these later years, 
The century’s aloe flowers to-day! 
John Greenleaf Whittier, “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyll”
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to discover.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Thoughts Before the Fire

January 29, 2019

20190129_0918262289449848984295199.jpg

. . . 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.

Morning Coffee with Dave and a New Semester

January 9, 2019

20190108_1325153396688756093722015.jpg

. . . within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself . . .

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

This bright winter early morning finds me preparing for classes. College begins in a week for me and I just about have everything ready to load online. This will be my first semester to teach exclusively online. I’m curious to find out how it feels, not having to report to a classroom schedule.

For years, I laughingly told my students that teaching was my karma. That would make sense. I hated public school and was extremely lazy regarding assignments. I was bored beyond description in classes. But there was a poster hanging on one of the walls of a high school English class that I never forgot, the quote is posted above. A few years back I found out that it was a quote from Siddhartha, so I just now got around to reading it. Last night at bedtime, I came across the quote and felt the same soothing calm I felt in those lazy school days when I drew sustenance from the poster on the wall.

The Julia Cameron book I am reading has me writing my memoir for the first time, and there is a fulfilment I feel, getting the words onto a page. Currently, I can only describe my years from childhood through high school as years of listlessness. I felt lost and clueless. I had no identity, and knew of no skills except as an artist. And I felt that artistic skills would not find me employment as an adult. I’ll likely write more of that in future blogs once I get it written out more clearly.

The bottom line: I did not care about reading and pondering Ideas until entering college. Fifteen years later I graduated with a Ph.D., and after working blue-collar jobs a short time, decided to enter the teaching profession. Now, as a semi-retiree, I choose not to leave the profession totally; I have more to share with students than ever before.

janus-1

Our month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was depicted as two-faced–one looking ahead and the other looking backward. Knowing this changed my attitude about the New Year. Since learning that, I have enjoyed January periods, finding time to write more, evaluating my own past and projecting where I wished to go next. I also find more meaning teaching when the New Year commences than in August when summer is still scorching us in Texas.

hegel3-lecture

This is a famous drawing of G. W. F. Hegel lecturing his students. I have it at my desk, because this semester I will be teaching the second half of Humanities at Texas Wesleyan University, covering philosophy, literature and art from the Age of the Enlightenment to the present age. January, for me, is a great month for rehashing the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment. I will be sharing with the students online an essay from Immanuel Kant: “Was Ist Aufklärung?” (What is Enlightenment)).  My favorite portion of the essay follows:

When we ask, Are we now living in an enlightened age? the answer is, No, but we live in an age of enlightenment. 

In many ways, times have not changed since Kant laid down those words in 1784. In 2019, I personally do not feel that we live in an enlightened age, despite all the technological advances that have provided for us an age of enlightenment. I am preparing to instruct students enriched with smart phones, computer, Internet, email–all the gifts making possible a college-level education without leaving their homes. Yet we still in many ways live in a culture more fitting for donkeys than humans, with little respect for the quality of life and community.

When the curtain goes up next week and I type out my first words to the new students coming in, I will do it with the faith that improvement is still possible with education, and I shall earnestly strive to impart to these new minds life-changing truths gleaned from some of the best creative individuals from our past.

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.

 

Memoirs

January 5, 2019

20190104_1110404616335489001543737.jpg

Night Intruders

The new year has brought a number of new activites into my path, among them a series of exercises from Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I have already enjoyed from years past her recommendations of the Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date. But now, for retirees, she recommends writing a memoir. Over the twelve-week period, the activity prescribes dividing our lives by years into twelve segments, and then fleshing out one per week.

For a long time now, I have wanted to write my memoir, particularly the early years, while Mom and Dad are still living. Since I am the oldest child, there is no one else in my family that could answer questions surrounding the sketchy vignettes of my earliest memories. I phoned Mom a couple of evenings ago to find out all the places we lived during my first six years, since that was a migratory period in our family life. Dad, a few years after his return from Army service in Korea, made the decision to leave southeast Missouri and seek more lucrative employment in St. Louis. I was eighteen months old. Over the next five years, we would live in three different places in St. Louis, then move on to Fention, then two places in High Ridge, then on to House Springs, and finally back to High Ridge to live in the home where they still reside. Eight residences in my first six years.

I am now recording a memory I’ve never been able to shake, and have spoken about only a few times to trusted friends. Mom and Dad don’t even know about this. While living in an apartment on Southwest Avenue, I was young enough that I slept between my parents at night. Later, I would have to sleep alone in a baby bed. I remember waking in the middle of the night between them, and listening to their heavy breathing. As I lay there, caravans of tiny wagon trains loaded with various objects would move silently over my blankets. Reaching out to them, I picked up the objects in the wagons, and in my fingers they always distorted and collapsed into ugly masses. Everything I touched turned to ruin. In all my years as a developing artist, I have thought and re-thought those themes of creation and destruction: creation from out of destruction as well as destruction following creation.

As I fingered these small objects, I would suddenly hear something, and already knowing what I was going to see (because this happened many, many times), I would look up at our bedroom window. Every night, Mom drew the curtains shut before bedtime, but now they were wide open, and behind the darkened glass, blinking eyes peered at me. Every time they blinked, they made a snapping sound. A husky voice called out of the darkness: “What are you doing?” And then, looking to the right, at our closed bedroom door, the voice would call out: “Open the door.” Again and again, the voice questioned and commanded while I cried, wishing my parents would awaken and chase the eyes away. I never understood how Mom and Dad could sleep through that commotion, and why they were unable to awaken and save me from that terror. Finally, as most agree that dreams are accompanied by some kind of non sequitur: a brightly-colored beach ball would come bouncing into the scene from the right and come to rest next to the blinking eyes. And then the scene of terror was over.

It feels good finally to write this. Throughout my years I have thought over the themes of creation, destruction, and opening doors to what lies beyond. I am still searching for some kind of meaning.

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.