Archive for the ‘On the Road’ Category

Warm Thoughts in the Cold Dawn

August 8, 2017

COLD COLORADO

It is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, provided that we respect language’s own nature. In the meantime, to be sure, there rages round the earth an unbridled yet clever talking, writing, and broadcasting of spoken words.  Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man. Perhaps it is before all else man’s subversion of this relation of dominance that drives his nature into alienation. That we retain a concern for care in speaking is all to the good, but it is of no help to us as long as language still serves us even then only as a means of expression.”

Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”

This morning, a romantic notion drove me out to the deck of this Colorado cabin to watch the dawn break, read from Heidegger and record in my journal. But once I came across the passage posted above, the 46-degree dawn convinced me to withdraw into the warmth of my kitchen, pour a second cup, shake off the chill and focus on what I believe to be a genuine oracle.

Since the second week in June, I have been mostly on the road, traveling Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and now Colorado. I have never stayed longer than two weeks in any residence. In the Heidegger essay “Building Dwelling Thinking”, he discusses the nature of dwelling, what constitutes an architectural dwelling, how the dwelling shapes the one inside, and more profoundly the nature of language as the “house of being.” Language shapes us rather than vice versa.

During the Summer of ’17, my mind has not stopped questioning, probing the power of language and how it shapes us, the role it plays in carving out our character. In my journal I continually write, “What exactly am I?” “What word organizes my character?” “What kind of a human being am I, precisely”? Continually, I have probed language, seeking to divine the kinds of words necessary to help me understand what this is all about. I absolutely love living the retired life, but now that there is not a job to demand where I am to be and when, I am intrigued at this notion of living life and enjoying this precious Gift.

I took editorial liberties with the quote posted above, choosing to render in bold the sentence that seized my imagination, and striking out the one word I believe no longer describes today’s public discourse. For those of you who know me, I disdain most of the language that shapes today’s popular media, both televised and social. My blog is posted on a number of outlets, including Twitter, but I refuse to send 140-character tweets because one person has given that outlet its current identity, and I choose not to be identified among those participants.

I take language seriously, and I take character seriously. My precious friend Wayne White, also a blogger, shares my sentiment about the blog: we wish that readers would feel positive and whole when they read us, not visceral and angry.

So, as I close, I invite you to consider the following:

Sneering does not require depth of character or skill.

Being angry does not make you special or unique.

Cheap talk, especially insults, does not build a more meaningful life.

What exactly are you? What kind of footprint are you leaving day-by-day, as you travel this life? What do you really wish to be? What words shape you?

Thanks for reading.

 

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Zu die Hütten (to the Hut!)

January 30, 2017

grid-2

My Favorite “Store-Off-the-Grid”, (where I sit in the mornings and enjoy my coffee)

Being back in my home is good tonight. Mozart plays softly in the background. The hot tea is soothing. I love my writing desk and library area. But in my mind’s eye, I’m still at the “store”, my favorite hideaway when I can get out of the city. I probably posted in earlier blogs (I don’t go back and read them much) that I’ve been reading a great deal about Martin Heidegger. I have zero interest in the details of his political leanings, but am intrigued with his philosophy that includes amazing insight into art, poetry and pre-Socratic thought. And I have always been intrigued with stories surrounding the cabin he had built adjacent to the town of Todtnauberg where he frequently withdrew to study and write. He did not enjoy life in the city of Freiburg where he lived and taught in the university. He later turned down the Chair of Philosophy offered to him in Berlin, because it would prevent his frequent withdrawals to his cabin. As for myself, I’m glad to have a home in the suburbs of Arlington, Texas, four minutes from where I teach. But I love so much more these three-and-a-half hour drives out of the city to a remote spot in the country, to a dirt road where no one drives by, to a spot of absolute quiet and solitude. It is in that place that my soul has been restored repeatedly. All my life I have dreamed of such a location.

heidegger-house

Martin Heidegger’s Cabin in the Black Forest

thoreau-window

Reading Thoreau’s Journals inside the “Store”

I want to respond to a passage from Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut, having finished reading the book this weekend:

. . . it is possible to consider the hut and house as talismanic for two positions decisive in Heidegger’s biography, which Albert Borgmann terms “provincialism” and “cosmopolitanism.” These positions are often considered in opposition. Tropes recur by which advocates of each position attempt to dismiss the alternative. Cosmopolitans dismiss the provincial as invidious: introvert, inbred, prone to exclusion, and reliant upon romantic myth. Provincials dismiss the cosmopolitan as deluded: bound up in abstract systems and priorities, entranced by the fickleness of fashion, setting itself and its self-appointed heroes on false pedestals. Although such polarities are inevitably caricatures, and provincial and cosmopolitan positions always remain more nuanced, their identification can be helpful.

I love it when someone writes what I’ve thought about for years, and writes it so well! For twenty-eight years, I have been a citizen of both worlds–teaching in the suburban neighborhoods of a large city and withdrawing as much as possible to remote sanctuaries. Being single, I love the privacy and quiet of my home after a day in the classroom, and when I can leave the city, I look for the quietest places in the country. My life’s work has been in the public schools full time and the universities part time. When I retire at the end of May, I’ll gladly accept the offer of a neighboring university to continue teaching part time, some of it online. I am so thrilled at this new chapter, the idea of  no longer being under contract from 7:15 till 3:15 five days a week.

My public life in the classroom has been mostly scintillating throughout the decades–I have had an overwhelmingly positive and affirming crowd of students (probably 99.8% respectful and inspiring, only the occasional “turd”). Being an educator has allowed me to remain a student for life, which is what I truly craved–I hated the thought of leaving a life of scholarship behind after completing graduate school. How wonderful to be paid to study, to learn and share daily the things that matter to me. I cannot say enough about the richness of teaching in the areas of religion, art, philosophy and literature. Life as a public educator has been very rewarding to me.

At the same time, I must confess that I am drawn to reading books like Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, along with the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Long ago I came to terms with the reality that I like being alone, and crave space for such times. I have always believed that I could do my job better if I had time to withdraw and recharge my batteries. Fortunately for me, life has provided those opportunities and for the most part I have been able to avoid burnout.

At age 62, I am more sensitive to the noisy clatter of school hallways, the public school obsession to call meetings, and the growing paperwork, records and accountability demanded, often by a bureaucracy that continues to create “positions” designed for compiling data and checking boxes on reports. I have never had respect for elected politicians who pass laws governing an educational enterprise that they have never themselves understood or spent time studying. And I have noticed with disdain throughout the years that they continue to pass more laws designed to cripple the work of conscientious educators, and then use the data designed to prove that public education is faltering so they can convince tax payers that schools would be better if they were run by private businesses. I have had the pleasure to work for a district that is far better than any state or federal agency can evaluate with piles of data. And I have been fortunate to work inside of schools with administrators that let the teachers do their jobs. Real education occurs inside the classroom when the teacher is freed up to study his/her area of expertise and design creative ways to share this with students primed to learn. All thinkers know this. To sum up, I am getting out at a good time; most likely I stayed too long . . .

gridlock

Leaving the Store . . . Until Next Time

I have not been posting on the blog with much frequency of late. But after this weekend, I still have plenty on my mind, and I’m glad to have this avenue of expression. So thank you again for reading . . .

I make art to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Past Worth Remembering

October 11, 2016

waynes-bluff

Wayne’s Bluff

high-ridge-bluff-2

David’s Bluff

number three (2)

Ron and Dian’s Bluff

And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Preparing for the upcoming Edom Festival of the Arts has put me in a satisfying frame of mind. Sorting through stacks of watercolors has floated abundant memories toward the surface of a resistant consciousness–resistant mostly due to fall semester industry.  Most of these memories have been most welcome–memories spanning the splendid summer of 2016.

Pulling three watercolors of bluffs from the stack, I have chosen to name the first one after a friend of mine known since the second grade.  Wayne and I have recently re-connected, thanks to Facebook, and have spent some quality time on Missouri rivers kayaking and fishing. I miss him during the months I live in Texas, as he still resides near my home town in Missouri.

The second bluff I have given my own name.  The memory of that post-Thanksgiving morning of 2015 when I was driving through the rain still stays with me.  The memory is mostly comforting.  At any rate, I enjoy looking at this composition as the location is only about four miles from where I lived throughout my youth.

The final painting I did en plein air while vacationing with my friends Ron and Dian Darr in South Fork, Colorado.  I worked on three paintings in this genre outside their travel trailer as we ate and visited together.  Every time I look at this painting, I recall how delicious times are when spent in conversation with these two kindred spirits.

When I sit in my booth in Edom this weekend, I’ll be looking at these works, feeling gratitude for the generous hand life has extended to me.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Drifting Thoughts of Tintern Abbey

October 6, 2016
claude

Abandoned Gas Station in Claude, Texas

These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet . . . 

William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798”

In these final days, while inching closer to completing this watercolor, I have found myself spending more time gazing at it than actually painting. In many ways, the closing notes to a complicated composition are the most critical, and this one has certainly given me pause, again and again, throughout the past days.

This morning, Wordsworth’s haunting thoughts revisited me as I lay in bed, slowly waking in the predawn. I could see the image of this painting in my mind’s eye as well, comingling with all the sweet remembrances of passing through this small Texas panhandle town in the heat of past summer excursions to Colorado. And, true to the lines of Wordsworth, this quiet image has remained in my mind as a sanctuary amidst my bustling classrooms throughout the morning of this day. While growing older, recollections such as this wax sweeter, especially when I find myself in the nexus of nagging deadlines and job-related expectations. Memories and painting provide a precious sanctuary.

Thank you for reading.

I paint because I want to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Seeking Aurora

October 4, 2016

claude-unfinished

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

No matter how old I get, the visual effects of a bright sun will always arrest my gaze. The watercolor with which I struggle now focuses on this derelict gas station in Claude, Texas that my eye has engaged for over a decade of travels to and from Colorado. My previous attempts at painting it have been satisfying, but this time I’m struggling to catch the quality of the warm sun glancing off the gas pumps. My first wash of colors appeared too dirty and drab for my satisfaction. I’m wanting to capture that burnished glow of sun glancing off the rusty facades. As the sun waned that afternoon when I photographed them, the pumps seemed to wax. I thought that Apollo was lending his strength to any object with the stillness and strength to reflect it. The complementary clash of blue and orange has always been pleasing to me, and if I can get these pumps to complement the sky colors, then I’ll be more satisfied.

The foliage texture in the trees has pleased me, but again, the flickering fireflies of colored sunlight reflecting off the leaves didn’t happen this time either. I’m pushing myself to let the sun paint this watercolor, and so far I seem to be getting in the way.

claude-changes

Introducing some changes . . .

Once I got home from school, I had some more time to spend on the painting, using prismacolor pencil colors of yellow, scarlet and orange to try and bring some glow to the gas pumps and the tiled roof. I then added the concrete and asphalt of the sidewalk and street in the foreground, along with some fringe grasses.  The foliage was darkened and extended as well, and finally some deepening of the shadows beneath the roof.

Once tomorrow arrives and I can get some natural light back on this painting, I’ll have a clearer idea of how it is looking.

Thanks for reading.

A Weekend Given to the Arts

October 2, 2016

claude-studio

. . . there is something else in painting beside exactitude and precise rendering from the model.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, March 5, 1849

I celebrated this first weekend in over a month when I had no work-related responsibilities to fulfill. The entire weekend was given to reading, journaling, and watercoloring, and now my soul, finally, feels restored. The abandoned gas station from Claude, Texas is coming along slowly and with much feeling, as I spend more time staring at it compositionally than actually painting. Reading the Delacroix journal this morning confirmed me in this practice, that I should spend more time contemplating my work as art instead of the craftsmanship of drawing or painting.

I spent a large part of Sunday painting all around this composition, and I believe the most satisfying discovery was the way the stale bread crumbs responded in the foliage above the roof of the station. As the paint dried around the crumbs, I continued to mist the paper with a small spray bottle given to me by a dear fellow watercolorist/friend. Thank you, Elaine! I feel that finally I’m learning how to cope with the difficulty of tree foliage and texturing.

claude-unfinished

Over a week ago, I began a smaller sketch of Queen Anne’s Lace, intrigued by the warm and cool greens that surround the blossoms, and wondering how actually to shape and render the blossoms themselves.  After alternating several layers of masquing and color washes, I finally peeled away all the masquing this afternoon and tried to go back into the composition and render the blossoms.  So far, it isn’t working the way I wish for it to, but it’s early still.  I’ll keep studying and trying new things.

queen-annes-lace

I wish I could pick up the brush again in the morning, but I have a job to fulfill, so I guess I’ll see if I have any gas left in the tank after finishng my Monday classes.

Thanks for reading.

Feeling the Surge

September 20, 2016

claude-start

Beginning of a Watercolor of an Abandoned Gas Station in Claude, Texas

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

He built like a composer improvising under the spur of a mystic guidance.  He had sudden inspirations.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

What an extraordinary day at my high school! I have volunteered to oversee the Lunch & Learn tutorial service offered by A.V.I.D. students. Today was our first day, and I was ecstatic to find all four of my tutors present and ready to help students who actually showed up the first day to get help in their math classes.

While the students worked on their problems, I was engaged in conversation by one of our senior girls who had encouraged me to read The Poisonwood Bible. I finished that book a couple of weeks ago and still am vibrating from the experience. The student who engaged me has finished the book as well, and her Advanced Placement English class is now discussing it. How enlightening it was, listening to her take on the story and her own extracted ideas from the text.

After the tutoring session, I found that I still had about fifteen minutes of the lunch hour remaining, so I dashed upstairs to see if any of my “lunch bunch” was still assembled. They were, and what was the conversation over as I entered the room? Literature by Joyce, Melville and Hemingway! Wow. If I harbor any regrets from this splendid day, it is that I only got to sit with my colleagues for fifteen minutes to engage in a discussion about reading. How enriching to sit with colleagues over a simple lunch and listen to conversations soaring above the small talk.

When I got home, I felt the surge to begin a new watercolor, so I quickly sketched in a line drawing of an abandoned filling station in Claude, Texas that I have painted before:

route66memories-from-website

As I prepared to lay in the sky, I decided to pull out a limited edition print of mine with a winter sky that pleased me:

cold-desolation

A number of years have gone by since I’ve attempted a wintry sky.  So far, what I’m trying on the new painting is working.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016

abandoned-cafe

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors (www.recollections54.com). My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Memories of an Arkansas Vista

July 7, 2016

arkansas finished (2)

There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.

Thomas Merton (quoted in Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

On this quiet Thursday, I completed my second reading of this magnificent Annie Dillard book, and am closing in on completing this watercolor I began yesterday. I am not happy that my Jeep is suffering difficulties, and was taken to the dealership Saturday, and as of today, they still have not even looked at it.  Six days is too long for anyone to be without their sole possession of transportation. Nevertheless, being housebound, I am completing other tasks, that I hope are not “itsy-bitsy” by Merton statndards.

This truck I photographed while traveling across Arkansas last May on my first of two trips out there to conduct watercolor workshops and judge plein air competitions.  The sight of the sun glinting off the corroded steel of the abandoned vehicle, as well as the liveliness of the surrounding landscape, filled my imagination with such delicious satisfaction, that I turned my Jeep around after traveling an extra mile, and returned to this spot, got out, walked as close as I could to the vehicle, and took several photos with my phone.  Only now, two months later, do I get around to painting the scene.  I was not able to get it out of my mind.

Painting over the past two days has yielded a large quantity of satisfaction for me, as I stared very closely at this composition, crawling around in the weeds and foliage, examining the barbed wire, and scrutinizing every square inch of the faded truck.  The only breaks I took were to read more from Annie Dillard and rest my eyes from the visual details of the painting.

Today I am tired, and still waiting for word on the Jeep.  But I’m happy to have finished a book, and am staring across the room at this watercolor to determine what else needs to be done to it, if anything.

Thanks for reading.

Painting and Remembering

March 20, 2016

Winfield

An artist paints so that he will have something to look at; at times he must write so that he will also have something to read.

Barnett Newman

I laughed out loud this morning when I read some of the wit of Barnett Newman. In response, I spent a good part of this day painting so I could have something to look at, and writing in my journal so I would have something to read.

On a more serious note, it feels great to be painting again, the workshop last week really got my juices flowing, and the bad weather threatening Corpus Christi gave me the space to return home and pick up the brush again. I am currently trying to figure out how to close out these two Missouri scenes, the one above from Winfield, where I photographed a store front back in 2010 or 2009. The one below came from a section of Highway 30 west of High Ridge that I photographed in the rain last Thanksgiving as I was beginning my return to Texas.

High Ridge