Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Lee Masters’

Sunday Sobriety in the Studio Eidolons

August 23, 2020
Looks like Preparation for a Sunday Sermon

Decades have rolled past since I worked on a Sunday sermon. Three years have passed since I composed a classroom lecture. Still, my lifestyle has not abandoned the morning practice of reading and composing thoughts to give some kind of positive direction for the day. These moments in the sanctuary of my Studio Eidolons often carry over to my journal, my blog, and more recently Instagram. Sundays often yield something special and this morning was no exception.

This morning’s journal

I often like to open my morning journal with some collage activity, to mark off the page the way the ancient illuminated manuscripts often opened a new chapter of the text. For this playtime, I keep a padfolio stuffed with collected clips of images and texts to cut, tear and gluestick onto my journal pages. This morning, after pasting in a picture of Karl Barth and Edouard Thurneysen studying together along with a torn page from a damaged fragment of a German volume I acquired years ago and refused to discard, I found in a pile of old stamps given to me an image of Edgar Lee Masters. Going to my library, I retrieved my copy of his Spoon River Anthology and resumed reading where I had bookmarked the portion last read months ago. I found this magnificent poem of Walter Simmons, testifying from his midwestern gravesite:

My parents thought that I would be

As great as Edison or greater:

For as a boy I made balloons

And wondrous kites and toys with clocks

And little engines with tracks to run on

And telephones of cans and thread.

I played the cornet and painted pictures,

Modeled in clay and took the part

Of the villain in the Octoroon.

But then at twenty-one I married

And had to live, and so, to live

I learned the trade of making watches

And kept the jewelry store on the square,

Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,–

Not of business, but of the engine

I studied with calculus to build.

And all Spoon River watched and waited

To see it work, but it never worked.

And a few kind souls believed my genius

Was somehow hampered by the store.

It wasn’t true. The truth was this:

I didn’t have the brains.

Closing the volume, I felt the compulsion to laugh. And cry. How many of us know this story personally? We set out early in life to do something great, to build some kind of monument to mark our contribution of greatness to society. And no matter how hard we strive for that excellence, we grow old and, looking back, feel that we fell far short of what we could have done. And we look for areas to place blame–people or circumstances that restricted us, circumvented our attempts at greatness. And then, one day, hopefully, we reach that point where we acknowledge that we didn’t fall short; we played the best we could with the hand we were dealt. Nothing or nobody stood in our way, the cosmos did not scheme a way to prevent us from doing great things. We merely did the best we could with the tools we had.

Reaching for my Bible, I found the passage that the Spoon River text brought to mind, from Romans 12:3 (King James Version):

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The morning reading and meditation have been rich indeed. Now it’s time to return to the drafting table and resume the painting commissions promised. The temptation abides for me to spend the rest of this day swan diving into rich texts and writing out my thoughts, but I have something that needs to be done, and in closing I post these words from Robert Frost that always come to mind when I find myself in this situation:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

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.