Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Morning Coffee with Dave and the Journal

January 10, 2019

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Science is not enough, nor art;

In this work patience plays a part.

A quiet spirit plods and plods at length;

Nothing but time can give the brew its strength.

Goethe, Faust

Writing my memoir has forced me to spend more time thinking over my past, and currently I am working on the second installment from the Julia Cameron assignment (ages 6-10). That period, of course, comprises my sense of lostness during elementary school. Throughout those years, I never felt that I was on track as far as what was expected from good students. I was a daydreamer, and seemed to absorb very little from classroom instruction. I certainly did not feel that I was one of the “smart ones” and my grades certainly were nothing to admire.

Once I reached the university, I realized I was going to have to grow up and accept responsibility if I was to remain in school. I worked hard. Damned hard. And I felt that I was twelve years behind my colleagues. And forty years behind my professors. When I talked to trusted advisors about my deficiencies and my desire to acquire knowledge, they would smile smugly and simply say “It will come. Be patient.” It did.

Fifteen years later, in my first year of teaching high school, I read for the first time the poetry of Walt Whitman. These stanzas from “Song of the Open Road” went right to the core of things for me:

Here is the test of wisdom.

Wisdom is not finally tested in schools, 

Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not

      having it,

.    .    .

Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,

They may prove well in lecture rooms, yet not prove at all under

           the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing

           currents.

I knew, as a rookie teacher, that I was no longer lacking in knowledge and wisdom when it came to instructing the youth. But what I had never realized before that day reading Whitman was this:  There is no royal road to wisdom.  We live in an age that demands shortcuts, that wants to know the bottom line now, right now. And the reality of life is that there are things, including wisdom, that require time, much time.

When I was a student in public school, the craze was speed-reading. Courses were offered in speed reading. I always thought that I was a slow reader. One day I realized that yes, I am a slow, deliberate reader. I am a plodder, not a quick thinker. Quality ideas, for me, require time.

This has been a good morning for me at the desk. Last night I took from my shelf a pair of journals from the year 2017, and perused them out of curiosity. I read with delight the pages of notes I recorded from my first reading of Goethe’s Faust. I close this blog with yet another of his sterling quotes that paints the picture of my experience when moments in the study are at their height:

When in our narrow den

The friendly lamp glows on the shelf,

Then light pervades our breast again

And fills the heart that knows itself.

Reason again begins \to speak,

Hope blooms again with ancient force,

One longs for life and one would seek

Its rivers and, alas, its source.

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.

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Barnett

August 16, 2018

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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, “The Ides of Art”

Barnett Newman has been an effective vitamin pill along with my morning coffee recently, providing plenty of inspiration for me as I continue work on my painting and ideas. For several decades I have been absorbed with the art and milieu of the Abstract Expressionist painters, also known as The New York School. I have read The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and parts of  Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art. Ian Watson, a former student of mine and now an artist emerging in the gallery milieu, presented me with this copy of Newman’s writings when I attended the opening of his show in Amarillo last month. And I have found his ideas very engaging.

The present painter can  be said to work with chaos not only in the sense that he is handling the chaos of a blank picture plane but also in that he is handling chaos of form.     . . . it can be said that the artist like a true creator is delving into chaos. It is precisely this that makes him an artist, for the Creator in creating the world began with the same material–for the artist tried to wrest truth from the void.

Barnett Newman “The Plasmic Image”

When I read this quote, I had to close the volume and catch my breath. For a number of years I have mused over a theological approach to creation. I have even used it in talking points during workshops I have conducted recently.

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 

    The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And          the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

    And God said,“Let there be light,” and there was light. 

    And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

When reading these opening verses of Genesis, I still tingle at that description of the world without form and void and darkness moving over the face of the abyss. Then God spoke, and as he spoke, the chaotic mass began organizing as he divided light from darkness, day from night, earth from sky, etc. Robert Motherwell said that drawing was a way of organizing space. God did that by dividing, and so also do we, as we look at the white expanse of surface and begin dividing it into a composition.

In verse 26, Genesis records that God made people in his own image. For centuries, thinkers have mused over the Imago Dei, wondering what it means to be made in the image of God. I answer the question with another: what is the very first thing recorded in Genesis about God? He created. And he made people to be like him. What do humans do? They create. Personally, I delight in that mandate. And I love rising to the challenge of confronting chaos and seeking to organize it into something worth seeing.

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to be like God.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

The Promise of the Dawn

April 14, 2017

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Witnessing the Dawn Breaking

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake…by an infinite expectation of the dawn

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The Good Friday school holiday is already a blessing to me. After three weeks of a one-man-show bundled with gathering tax data, filing my tax return, gathering retirement information and filing my papers with the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, I was finally able to leave the city behind yesterday afternoon and sleep last night in my favorite place, that I refer to as Heidegger’s Hut–a restored country store & residence in a remote area of Texas. I crashed at 9:00 last night, totally exhausted, and rose while it was still dark. When the dawn broke, I went out on the porch to sit and listen as the birds sang in worship to Aurora as he lit up the eastern sky.

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By the time it was light enough to record my thoughts in my journal, the upper-fifty degree temperatures proved a little too cool for me since I didn’t think to bring a jacket, so I moved inside the store to my favorite little corner next to the windows. For the past 48 hours, thoughts have been tumbling about in my mind, and now that I have actually filed my retirement papers, an entire new range of emotions are surging through me, and I’m glad I had this space in my calendar to get out of town and enjoy the quiet respite of the country for awhile.

Thanks for reading.

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The Quiet Within

November 9, 2016

Alone with my Books

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it.  There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as fear and desire are not at loggerheads, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other. For what is the good of having silence throughout the neighborhood if one’s emotions are in turmoil? 

Seneca, On Noise

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

It’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

I am nearing the end of a string of delicious hours in the quiet of my study tonight.  My reading has been broad, but probably the best moments were spent in William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  Thanks to one of his chapters, I’ve returned to reading Seneca, and tonight uncovered a lovely article written by Jennifer Bowen Hicks: “Whispered Wills and Words That Bleed: On Transparency of Thought in the Essay” (http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/craft/craft_hicks38.html).

An evening like this was long overdue.  The value of the lessons from Hamlet’s Blackberry, for me, is impossible to exaggerate.  Time is too precious to spend abundantly on the Internet and social media.  As Powers argues, flitting from link to link eliminates real depth from life, from introspection.  Every four years, I manage to get pulled into election chatter, and in the final months devote what is no doubt hundreds of hours to reading articles on the Internet and listening to news outlets.  Then the election comes and goes and I come away feeling I need a serious bath, a cleansing.  On this, the day after, I have stayed away from social media almost entirely–almost.  And now I am retreating to the wilderness to find that sanctuary I have been missing.  I need to recharge some batteries and reset my compass.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

Thanks 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.

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.

Finding Sanctuary Inside a Coffee House

September 4, 2016

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Tree Sketch from inside the Coffee House

That’s what depth comes to, really, taking all the stuff your mind has gathered in its travels back inside, to sort through it and see what it all means.  To make it your own. The only way to cultivate a happy inner life is to spend time there, and that’s impossible when you’re constantly attending to the latest distraction.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Late into Saturday night, Shelley Allison and I rode the new Dallas Streetcar to the Bishop Arts District in South Oak Cliff. Finding a relaxing space inside Espumoso Cafe, I opened Hamlet’s Blackberry and re-read the Marshall McLuhan chapter. I took heart in reading that McLuhan was not a linear thinker, preferring a more “mosaic” approach to presenting his ideas. Thinking back over three decades of classroom activity, I confess that I was never known for systematic and linear thinking myself. It’s probably too late to change that now.

During this holiday weekend, I have enjoyed the slower pace and the broader space to think through some matters worth thinking through. One idea that assesses my past is encapsulated in the quote posted above. While I don’t regard myself as a deep thinker, I nevertheless know that I have taken the contemplative life seriously at least as early as my college years, perhaps even sooner. Throughout my student as well as teacher life, I have found no satisfaction in bell schedules, deadlines and large group discussion formats that hindered rather than enhanced thinking. I have always known myself as an introvert, suited better to quiet spaces and sufficient time to work on ideas that matter. My years as a graduate student provided those spaces and times, and I have missed those kinds of work schedules since I graduated in 1987.

High school schedules separate subject matter by bell schedules, with less than ten minutes to transition from one class to the next, and transition the students must. For thirty years I have deplored that format, though forced to work within it. As a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Rollo May frequently strolled the neighborhood park after lecture classes under the theologian Paul Tillich, so he could think deeply, sorting out the content of those life-changing truths delivered in the lectures. On occasion, I myself have skipped particular convention sessions, because a joint-session orator would rock me with his/her public address, and I knew I had to find a quiet space in a lobby or coffee shop in order think through, sort out, and apply the notes I had scribbled hastily as the address was delivered. That activity was far more sacred to me than going into the next session to pursue a new topic, thus shelving the precious words just delivered.

In my personal life I have always read, indeed devoured books by the stack. This is more easily done during summer recess than during academic semesters. Now that I am entrenched in a new semester, I refuse to stop reading outside of class, and refuse to let my job push out this sacred activity of thinking in quiet spaces. Fortunately, I have one ninety-minute planning period per school day where I can pursue this ativity. And I’m even more thankful for this current gift of a three-day weekend to pursue my passion. During times like this, the smart phone is turned off and put away, and the laptop stays home. Thank you, William Powers, for getting my attention last year, convincing me of the value of unplugging from time to time. Social media can wait.

Thanks for reading.

Ruminations During a Three-Day Holiday Respite

September 4, 2016

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I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

All good poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings . . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

The first key to writing is to write, not to think. . . . You write your first draft with your heart; you rewrite with your head.

Sean Connery, Finding Forrester

I awoke this morning to my blog alerting me that thirteen days have passed since my last post. That was not intentional, though unplugging for a season has its rewards, so argues William Powers in his excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. 

Two weeks of high school are now in the books, and the three-day holiday weekend respite has been delicious so far. From the moment I walked out of the school Friday afternoon, my mind has been seething with memories of the past two weeks of classes–all of them invigorating. In the philosophy and art history classes, I’ve been employing Nietzsche’s model of Apollo vs. Dionysus, which he set forth in his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work he argues that the creative life is a constant struggle between the forces of Apollo (order, structure, reason) and Dionysus (chaos, spontaneity, passion). As an artist I have grown to appreciate that attempt for balance over the years. I have posted quotes above from Nietzsche’s novel as well as Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and the excellent lines from the motion picture Finding Forrester. All creative attempts embody a shaky counterbalance of order and spontaneity, and I for one like to lead out with my passion, then let reason clean it up subsequently.

For the past several days, I have experienced a series of delightful explosions in my philosophy and art history classes as we have explored the thought and creations of the ancient Greeks. I have studied this material throughout most of my life, and believed I had it organized in a logical (boring) way in the form of “lesson plans”. But the students’ questions and my serious responses never follow the lesson plans, and I find that delightful, always. And I’m confident that many of the students do as well.  After all, the questions are theirs. Nevertheless, there remain those students who prefer to have everything laid out in logical order so they can study their material, write their essays properly (boring) and take their tests (boring) and see their scores (which to me are always imperfect indicators of their excellence in thinking). My sentiments are about as subtle as a freight train, yes?

So . . . I am using this three-day holiday to clean up my lesson plans and present a more orderly package next week. Meanwhile I will continue to explore this Apollo/Dionysus balance. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, a very sobering and deeply gratifying experience in thoughtful reading. My favorite character is Ada, a crippled teenager with deep thoughts, who experienced healing later in life.  Her creed was expressed as follows:

Tall and straight I may appear, but I will always be Ada inside. A crooked little person trying to tell the truth. The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to find out.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Altar Building

August 21, 2016

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My Favorite Room on this Planet–a Sacred Space

Emerson knew there was “an innavigable sea of silent waves between us and the things we aim at”.

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

Sunday is a day set aside for worship by many. Personally, I feel that I worship far more frequently than weekly. Nevertheless, throughout this day, I’ve been building an altar in preparation for tomorrow morning when school begins for the 2016-2017 term. I could easily say that the altar preparation began when I left the last day of the Spring term. But it would be even more accurate to say that this altar has been under construction for decades. I don’t know when I first thought I would actually be an educator by professionI signed my first contract in 1985 when the University of North Texas offered me an adjunct post, teaching Introduction to Philosophy. It was then that I knew for certain how I wished to live out the rest of my life.

Tomorrow I meet my sections of Advanced Placement and Regular Art History, three ninety-minute classes total. I’m gratified to see a roster filled with familiar names–students I have already had in Regular Art History, Philosophy or A.V.I.D. When I see their faces, I will experience a homecoming of sorts. And knowing they chose this elective class gratifies me even more deeply. I hear many teachers express that they want to be liked, and of course I know that feeling. But far more satisfying to me is the idea that these students trust me.  They chose to return because they trust me. And I trust them. That is why I feel so much potential for good as we enter this relationship for a second year. Two of these students entered my classroom last week when I was setting things in order. I can’t explain what I felt when I saw them come through that door. I had no idea how much this summer I had missed their enthusiasm and positive contributions to the classroom environment. And now tomorrow, I get to see them again, and begin a new chapter in this odyssey.

Altar building. A teacher invests a great deal of time and effort, assembling material for the day’s learning, enters the room and tries to set the materials afire. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes the match is wet and won’t strike. Sometimes the match ignites, but the material isn’t combustible. Sometimes the match ignites, the materials flame up, but the students are looking at their phones and don’t notice any of it. There is so much that can go wrong, even when one spends hours, days, indeed a lifetime preparing for the Event. But there is so much that can go right. And that thought is what keeps us coming back.

The altar has been prepared, and I’m praying for fire.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Workshop Ponderings

May 2, 2016

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The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That is an adequate summary statement, but the curious reader wants more.  And the following verses provide more:

And the world was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.

There is a quality image: a world of chaos, a Mind that is brooding, moving, and suddenly creation occurs.  As one continues to read the account, the record shows God creating the world by a series of divisions, organizations.  The artist Robert Motherwell said that drawing was the division, the organization of space.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “The American Scholar” testified that the scholar of the first age received into himself the world around, brooded thereon, gave it the new arrangement of his thought, and uttered it again.  It came into him life.  It went from him truth.

In about an hour, I will stand before my second watercolor workshop in the midst of this circuit I’ve been traveling. This will be a plein air watercolor workshop.  And my sincere hope is that the participants experience this parallel that Emerson drew from the opening verses of Genesis. They will stand enveloped in a world swirling with myriads of visual stimuli, holding before them a void, a square white rectangle.  As they ponder this visual world of complexity, their minds will begin to sort, to sift, to edit, and as their brushes move over the surface of the papers, worlds will begin to flow out of their brushes, first the wash, then the divisions, and finally the focused details.  There is little more rewarding than watching a world flow out of the tip of your brush, and realize that you are the one creating this world.

The Bible says that God created humans in his own image.  What is that image of God, that imago Dei?  I believe it is that essential urge to create.  The first word written about God identified him as a creator.  And he created people after his image.  My position is that people, by nature, create.  They have to, because it is in their essential nature to create.

Gotta go.  Workshop begins in one hour and five minutes, and I still have to drive to the location.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.