Posts Tagged ‘Emerson’

Evening Afterglow

August 20, 2019

20190820_2114145113565700499198495.jpg

Getting Ready for the Next Class

No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

The first class of this new semester is in the books, and I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve felt this fulfilled in the educational enterprise. I haven’t been in the classroom for a year (I’ve taught strictly online), and the one classroom course I had last year at this time was in Logic, and I haven’t found a way to insert creativity and spontaneity into that discipline.  Today was Humanities and our material will run from antiquity to the seventeenth century.

I invoked the twin bards of Emerson and Whitman to set the stage for today’s orientation lecture, and was gratified to see the students respond with interest and enthusiasm. The focus of my lecture was the pair of Emerson texts posted above. In the Humanities class, as we explore literature, philosophy, art and music, I will continually challenge the students to speak with conviction ideas they draw from the creative works. I want them to speak courageously from their own perspectives rather than offer “correct” answers from me. Much of today was spent trying to break them from the habit of offering canned answers to challenging questions. The time flew by, and once we departed, I felt that the first revolution of the wheel was a successful one. Now I lean forward to next Thursday’s encounter.

20190820_1209098257461485046077276.jpg

“Monet: The Late Years” at the Kimbell Art Museum

Immediately after class, I treated myself to a visit to the Kimbell, a short drive from the university. This was my fourth or fifth time to visit this exhibit, and the galleries were so packed with people on this day, that I could scarcely maneuver to look at the paintings without bumping into someone. The show hangs until September 15, so I decided I would give it another look on another day. With membership, I don’t have to pay admission.

20190820_1234531862418884865279313.jpg

“Crouching Aphrodite” 50 BC-AD 140, Roman copy of Greek original

The Monet exhibit is on display in the Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell complex. A comfortable stroll to the main Kimbell building allowed me to view the permanent collection with only about 5% of the population I encountered earlier. The leisurely stroll through the galleries I found to be much more relaxing than what I knew at the Monet exhibit.

20190820_2007592563287621190954274.jpg

Quick Sketch Attempts in my Sketchbook/Journal

I appreciated the comfortable furniture arranged throughout the Kimbell. Taking a seat after some quick sketching, I found myself scribbling out a couple more pages of my thoughts concerning the morning’s class and what I was seeing in this magnificent art collection. The museum time was a fitting reward for the university experience, and I remain grateful for that.

20190820_1921435511138809595573070.jpg

“In Progress” Plein Air watercolors from Sedona, Arizona

20190820_2005285474855769930223174.jpg

Working on Them in Groups of Five

This lovely, quiet evening has given me wonderful space to chip away at a large watercolor project begun in Arizona a few weeks ago. I’m also taking frequent breaks to resume reading and taking notes for Thursday’s class. It seems that the transition from summer vacation to fall semester has been a seamless one. What a gift!

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.

Advertisements

Morning Coffee in the Wet Wasteland

October 19, 2018

20181019_1051263344127559397651301.jpg

Waking to yet another cold, wet, dark Texas rainy morning, my first thoughts were recollections of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man being read to me via audiobooks as I drove on yet another long business road trip yesterday. I’ve posted these words before, but they are always worth repeating:

Towards dawn he awoke. O what sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet. Over his limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed. He lay still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint sweet music. His mind was waking slowly to a tremulous morning knowledge, a morning inspiration. A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music. But how faintly it was inbreathed, how passionlessly, as if the seraphim themselves were breathing upon him! His soul was waking slowly, fearing to awake wholly. It was that windless hour of dawn when madness wakes and strange plants open to the light and the moth flies forth silently.

The serenity I felt as I drove for hours yesterday, listening to this book of abundance cannot be overstated. The theme that resounded the most with me yesterday was that notion of living a life alone. This morning, I opened the volume to a couple of texts that jarred me yesterday while driving:

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amidst of a waste of wild air . . . 

–You’re a terrible man, Stevie, said Davin, taking the short pipe from his mouth. Always alone.

Long ago, in the sermon by Paul Tillich, “Loneliness and Solitude”, I found an ace I could play repeatedly throughout my life: loneliness is the injury suffered from being alone, whereas solitude is the healing balm. And since the day I read that sermon, I have unfailingly acknowledged that I, though living and traveling alone, am very seldom lonely, instead feeling solitude. I relish the space, the internal quiet, and even the frequent feeling of disconnectedness.

It does not alarm me, the feeling of being tossed headlong into the midst of an enormous, chaotic, swirling planet that seems to follow no logical plan. Reading existential writers perhaps helped me with this sentiment. But the way I see it, I am surrounded by currents of activity that sometimes include me in the “plan”, but most of the time seem oblivious that I am here. And I don’t find this threatening. Rather, I feel a dizzying freedom to follow my bliss, live the dream.

In chapter one of Melville’s Moby Dick, Ishmael muses that Providence has cast his life as a minor role between two major plays:

“Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States”  “WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.”  “BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.”

As the world population, fixated on the news, chattered away about a presidential election or a bloody conflict, an obscure young fellow named Ishmael boarded a whaling ship and sailed out to sea. His odyssey, important to him, would go unnoticed by the world at large. And alone in that odyssey, he spun his story.

I have always had a fascination with a biblical passage that I’m sure most readers would pass over without a second thought. It is from The Prophet Jeremiah 1:1-5:

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.  It came also in the days of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.  Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

In my studies, I have read commentators writing page after page of text concerning those final words of the LORD knowing Jeremiah before he was conceived. But what has always held my attention is the larger context: Jeremiah arrived on this planet in the matrix of enormous national and political events that would hold the attention of the population of his day. As the nation of Judah swirled in the maelstrom of the news of its day, a Word came to a solitary man in a small town obscured in the shadows of the metropolis of Jerusalem. The Word of the LORD came (“happened” is a better rendering of the Hebrew text). Something HAPPENED while the world at large chased the swirling winds of the national news.

Whether it is Ishmael tossed on the unruly waves of a boundless ocean odyssey or Jeremiah receiving enlightenment in a small town, my heart quickens when I think of solitary people engaged in large ideas even as their surrounding climate is oblivious to what is going on inside them. Yesterday as I drove, I savored the text of Joyce’s Portrait, thinking of this young self-exiled writer recalling his youth in Ireland and laying out those powerful lines of text.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson suffered the loss of his wife at a tender age, and then resigned the ministry, no one accompanied him to the docks when he sailed out of Boston harbor for a two-year European odyssey, seeking some kind of purpose to his existence. A solitary man, he finally found his voice and launched New England Transcendentalism. In later years, as he penned “Self-Reliance”, he gave us this challenge:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.  Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.  Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age . . .

In those words, all of us can find hope. We have been placed on this planet and given a number of years to find our way, to seek something that matters, to pursue our bliss and offer no apology for it. And the great majority of us are destined to obscurity. The world at large is not going to read about us, talk about us, and the footprint we leave behind may not affect a large multitude, But still, we have been given this gift, this opportunity, to explore life and decide what we wish to do. As for myself, I am still enjoying this gift of adventure, and if anything I write and send up as a smoke signal offers good to others, then I am all the more happy.

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 (though being alone is O.K.)

 

The Harmony Beneath the Disarray

August 29, 2017

grapevine train.jpg

Nearing Completion of Another Watercolor 

The ancients, struck with this irreducibleness of the elements of human life to calculation, exalted Chance into a divinity, but that is to stay too long at the spark,–which glitters truly at one point,–but the universe is warm with the latency of the same fire. . . . Underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam.  Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Rising at 5:40 this morning, without an alarm, it didn’t take long before I felt bathed in the warmth of Emerson’s words. As an older man, he soberly assessed “experience” as a replacement for his earlier romantic flourishes as a thinker and writer. I love the quote above as he acknowledges that the spark in later years may lack the white hot dynamic of ideas that struck him in his youth, but the warmth and duration remained. Ideas such as this have helped me in my transitions in life, from a young educator, to one middle aged, and now retired.

More than ever before, I have come to embrace the “musical perfection” underlying the “inharmonious and trivial particulars” of daily life. In my early days of the ministry, I would devote all my energies of a particular day to poring over the biblical writings, believing that they contained the Word of God, and that I would be encountered, confronted by their message. I expected some kind of an oracle. For the past several decades, I have known that oracles would come through a multiplicity of avenues–literature, philosophy, conversation, art, music; I would no longer have to seek an encounter aggressively, but rather let it happen when it happens.

Today has been spectacular, though the bare details of the day sound pedestrian. I have divided my time between reading Emerson, writing a college lecture for tomorrow, listening to documentaries on YouTube on Hemingway and Joyce, finishing up a watercolor begun two days ago, and practicing guitar songs for tonight’s Open Mic. And all day long, a Presence has lingered with me, though I live alone. That Presence has been the underlying harmony of all the disjunctive tasks I have pursued. And I didn’t have to force any kind of encounter; it just happened, as it always does.

open mic

Fun at Dr. Jeckyll’s Open Mic

Thanks for reading.

 

A Quiet Afternoon for Reflection

February 22, 2017

hamlet

Latest 20 x 16″ Watercolor in Progress

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

After hours of house cleaning and domestic chores, I was ecstatic to find a block of a few hours to paint late this afternoon before dashing off to an evening commitment. Because of an impending One-Man-Show, I have had this desire to return to a Blues theme for a new series of paintings. This one is barely off the ground, and already I’m second-guessing the composition. When such happens, I choose longer gaps for merely staring at the painting from across the room, rather than going full steam ahead.

As I drew and painted and stared for long periods from a distance at this piece, I listened with delight to some YouTube book talks given by William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  This book has changed my life profoundly, convincing me that I don’t have to blog daily, and don’t need to live a life chained to my smart phone, anticipating the next alert.

This evening, I will present a brief talk at a monthly gathering that we call “the Salon.” This is a small group of people I adore who love to discuss ideas once a month. Most of the group is retired, having formerly worked in education, industry, politics and journalism. The topics are always approved in advance, and last month I volunteered to lead a discussion over William Powers’s book.  Hoping that none of the salon participants will look at my blog before this evening, I’ve decided to go ahead and post the substance of my presentation.

Thanks for reading . . .

Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age[1]

Shelley listened to an interview on NPR with author William Powers who had just published Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  She purchased two copies, giving one to me.  Henry David Thoreau, in the “Reading” chapter of his book Walden, writes: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”[2]  Over the span of my life, only a few books have marked new eras, and this book is one of them.  At any age, it feels gratifying, to think of turning a corner or opening a new chapter.

Hamlet’s BlackBerry, offers these words: “The simple act of going out for a walk is completely different today from what it was fifteen years ago. Whether you’re walking down a big-city street or in the woods outside a country town, if you’re carrying a mobile device with you, the global crowd comes along”[3]  I found this passage very confrontational to me personally.  It brought my attention to how obsessed I had become to being “connected” digitally, because of a smart phone that was continually beeping, always alerting me to my blog, facebook, emails and text messages—my life was being chewed up chasing all these prompts, and it took this book to point that out to me.

I am not sounding a negative note for our improvement of technology, this digital age. Technology has transformed my teaching in the high school classroom as well as teaching online at the university.  Technology has connected me to the art and business world.  Computers are wonderful as are smart phones.  But there are two elements attending this digital age that run counter to my idea of a quality life—one is the fast pace, and the other is the emphasis on connecting all the time with others.  The fast pace disregards the importance of time to mature ideas; the social connection neglects the importance of solitary space and depth to find oneself.

I am quoting a chapter title from the Powers book: “Digital Busyness is the Enemy of Depth”.  The point he makes is that when we spend our lives surfing the Internet, flitting from site to site, platform to platform, screen to screen, we are not experiencing the depths of life, but merely skimming over the surface of the media.  In 1963, Paul Tillich addressed the fortieth anniversary of Time magazine, pointing out that America “was a free society, to be sure, but one without depth: its ceaseless expansion, whether into outer space or on the production line, had created an almost irresistible temptation on the part of everyone to produce in order to produce still more.  Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to ‘enter creation and unite with its power,’ in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension.”[4]

In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig pleaded for a more contemplative life, and wrote: “What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua—that’s the only name I can think of for it—like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.  The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement.  Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep.  The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks.  In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated.  “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.  I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.  . . .   Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of  its own internal momentum.  Some channel deepening seems called for.”[5]

A major argument proposed by this book is that digital connectedness sacrifices depth.  One does not contemplate the qualities and meaning of life when clicking on links and flitting from headline to headline, text to text, opinion to opinion. It seems that the only motivation for such a lifestyle is to feel connected to humanity.

Well, I don’t believe that being connected to others is the sole quality of life. In Anthony Storr’s book Solitude, the noted psychologist maintains that Sigmund Freud shifted clinical opinion toward the emphasis of social relations as a measure of human quality. Storr argues for the merits of solitude, that an intrinsic outlook does not mean that the individual is lacking in human quality. In today’s world, so much emphasis has been placed on connectedness that many feel they are inadequate or uninteresting if they do not continually post on facebook or Twitter, or find someone to call or text on their smart phones.  Many feel chained to chat rooms and blogs on the Internet, convinced that the more connected they are, the more well-rounded and healthy their lives are. William Powers urges: “However, the external validation provided by incoming messages and the number of times one’s name appears in search results is not as trustworthy or stable as the kind that comes from the inside.”[6] I would also point out a relatively new best-seller by author Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Is the fear of disconnecting a fear of loneliness or is it really the fear of irrelevance?  When I became immersed in my blog activity, I first regarded my daily posting as a matter of discipline, convincing myself that if I held myself to a daily deadline, like a newspaper journalist, that I would improve my disciplinary lifestyle in other areas as well. As time went on, however, I confess that what drove me was not a sense of discipline and self-worth, but rather the fear that I would become irrelevant and eventually forgotten, if I did not keep the blog fires burning by daily shoveling fuel into it via a new post.

The heart of this book argues that our age is not unique with the conflict between social connection and solitude, between speedy technology and plodding contemplation.  The author writes compelling chapters covering Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Henry David Thoreau and Marshall McLuhan. What these great figures share in common is living in an age of technological advance with its temptation for speed, and they used it where it was beneficial, but refused to abandon their contemplative natures.  They consistently maintained that technology and shortcuts would not rule their lives.

In addition to the chapters of Powers’s book, I would suggest some of the New Testament Gospel accounts concerning words and practices of Jesus of Nazareth.  His words from John’s Gospel:  “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Think on those things for a moment: there are forces that try to steal from our lives—all we have is a measure of time, and whatever is taken is never recovered. Jesus said the thief takes, but he has come to offer abundance. Think about that rhythm—losing and gaining. And let me share a few examples from the life of Jesus that illustrate these rhythms.

After a full day of pouring out his life for the crowds in Capernaum, Jesus rose the next morning seeking restoration.  He departed for a solitary place, and there prayed. When his disciples finally caught up with him, they said, “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!”[7]  But of course.  That is why he left; he had already given, and now it was time to recover.

This rhythm of public ministry and private retreat is a thread running throughout the Gospel narratives. Jesus did not hesitate to urge that practice upon those whom he loved. There is a time for pouring out our lives, and there is a time to restore.  When his apostles finished their first preaching tour, they came back to him overflowing with success and enthusiasm.  They had given, and they were enthusiastic, but exhausted.  His words: “Come aside with me to a solitary place where you can rest awhile,” because there was so much coming and going that they could not even stop long enough to eat. [8]

When Jesus went to Bethany to visit in the home of the sisters Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet with the other men, transfixed by his spoken words.  Martha was prattling about the kitchen. “Jesus!” she urged, “Don’t you care that I have no help in here?  Tell my sister to come and help!”  His answer: “Martha.  Martha.  You are distracted over many things.   One thing matters.  Your sister has chosen that one thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”[9]

When the digital age distracts us to follow the myriads of links, meetings and tasks throughout each day, then we should remind ourselves of this: You are distracted, harassed by many things.  One thing matters.  Don’t let them take away from you that one thing.  It is O.K. to disconnect from this connected world from time to time and find yourself in the quiet gaps of solitude.

I believe that this rhythm of social and private has kept me alive and vital over twenty-eight years in a public classroom.  Yes, I have known burnout, but I also have known how to recover.  I have witnessed complex changes in technology and social networking and I have always heard that call for acceleration.  But that is not my life.  I still live for the reflection, the quiet, the delicious moments of solitude.  And I always seek for ways to make time for those things that matter the most.  All we have is a measure of time.  Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he wrote: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

 

               

[1] Presented at the North Arlington Salon, February 22, 2017.

[2] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 153.

[3] William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (New York: Harper, 2010), p. 15

[4] Wilhelm Pauck, Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought  Volume 1: Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976),  p. 274

[5] Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Morrow Quill, 1974), pp. 15-16.

[6] Powers, p. 46.

[7] Mark 1:35

[8] Mark 6:30-32.

[9] Luke 10:38-42.

Philosophy is Next

August 22, 2016

 me

Exhausted but Content, after Day One

No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and thus draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

Emerson delivered these bold words at Dartmouth College, two weeks after infuriating the Harvard Divinity School faculty with his infamous (and still unnamed) “Address” of 1838. Choosing not to grouse over the public rejection he endured, Emerson continued to play ball, pitching these encouraging words to young minds who dared to think independently. Emerson, immortalized by his “Self-Reliance” essay, pointed out how dismissive we are of our own independent ideas.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Tomorrow is the second day of school for me, and the first meeting of my Philosophy class. Every time I open a new semester with this class, I try to challenge the students to find their own voice and dare to speak their own mind. In 1784, when the European Enlightenment was at its peak, Immanuel Kant published his essay, What is Enlightenment (Was ist Aufklärung?). He described the experience as the individual emerging from his/her own tutelage, daring to think independently (Sapere aude). That’s what I wish to challenge my students to do: dare to know. We stand on the stratified centuries of intellectual tradition, yet too often pride ourselves only in mastering and reciting the material rather than believing that we can do it better, that we can push the envelope further than earlier visionaries saw or dared to push.

This day has been very satisfying. I’m hoping that tomorrow is as well.

Thanks for reading.

 

Altar Building

August 21, 2016

altar

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.

 

Ancestral Voices

August 19, 2016

bluff 2

Trying to pierce the mystery with our categories is like trying to bite a wall. Science extends rather than limits the scope of the ineffable, and our radical amazement is enhanced rather than reduced by the advancement of knowledge.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

Good morning, Friends. I awoke with the thoughts of the divine Abraham Heschel surging through me. I guess it is nearly time to start school again. And I am ready, spiritually (intellectually may be another matter). Today is Friday, the last assigned day to have our classrooms ready (although we are allowed access tomorrow, if necessary).

Mornings that begin over a watercolor are better than those that do not. Over coffee, I lingered awhile re-reading this magnificent biography by Robert Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire. While reading and allowing my mind to drift, I thought over the collage of role models who have motivated me over nearly three decades of classroom experience: the erudition of Paul Tillich, eloquence of Emerson, wildness of Thoreau, inventiveness of Shakespeare, alertness of William Carlos Williams, confidence of Walt Whitman, daring of Picasso, and more recently the sensitivity of Annie Dillard. I suppose I’m never sure what exactly David Tripp will be as the semester unfolds, but in these later years, I hope I’m not as conscious of that as I am of the richness of ideas, dreams and explorations offered as we enter that arena of education.

This watercolor I’ve posted is a small sketch, approximately 9 x 12″ unframed. I think it may be done, and will probably decide when I get home from school this afternoon. I’m ready to plunge into a larger work, more like 18 x 24″ taking as my subject another of the Big River bluffs my friend Wayne White photographed and sent to me.  Again, I can relive the kayaking experiences I knew this summer with both Wayne and Mark Nelson, grateful that such gifts are still offered in this life.

Time to leave for school, again. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

They’re Coming, and I’m Ready

August 18, 2016

bluff

The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible. And they are. They want awakening. Get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep, out into God’s universe, to a perception of its beauty, and hearing of its call, and your vulgar man, your prosy, selfish sensualist awakes, a god, and is conscious of force to shake the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, April 20, 1834

Today the anticipated feeling arrived. Today I rose to enter my classroom, free of any further meetings this week, free to retreat to my classroom, my sanctuary, and prepare for the arrival of students Monday morning. I still have tomorrow, and Saturday, if necessary to finish preparations, and my spirits are rising.

Monday is when the magic may begin. Students will enter my world, my sanctuary, my playground, Room 114 of Martin High School. They are invited to enter my arena of ideas, of enthusiasm, of new beginnings. Art, philosophy, literature, the humanities, the core of human creativity–these are the forces beckon all of us to partake in the Event. As Whitman wrote: “the powerful play moves on, and you may contribute a verse.”

I have been told that my students are lucky to have me. I always appreciate that kind word. But it is I who am lucky to have them. They are the ones who keep me alive. They are the ones who challenge me. They are the ones who ask questions I can never anticipate. The curiosity is epidemic, and they are the carriers, not I. So I look forward to a new year, to new beginnings, to a new hope.

After a week of watercolor dormancy, I am happy that I got to pick up the brush again this evening. My friend Wayne White shot a magnificent photograph while kayaking the Big River in Missouri, and was kind enough to send the image to me. I’m working hard to reproduce the wonders and floods of feelings I get every time I look at this image and remember one of the highlights of my summer vacation. Thanks, Wayne.

And thank you for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

A Quiet, Reflective Afternoon

August 17, 2016

baroque cat

Baroque Still Life of Rich Foods and Sleeping Cat

Emerson lived for ideas, but he did so with the reckless, headlong ardor of a lover.

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

Good afternoon from a dark, rain-soaked Texas afternoon. After weeks of triple-digit temperatures, my home territory has been soaked in rain for three days running, and forecasts say it could last a few days more. The darkness of the afternoon provides quite a respite for my weary soul, having just finished my third day of Inservice in preparation for the opening of a pair of campuses. My college began its first day today, and high school will open Monday. Meanwhile, we educators are slogging through hours and hours of daily meetings. Thursday and Friday “promise” to be uninterrupted days spent in our classrooms putting things in order, and of course, the building will be open Saturday if we need still another day to get ready.

Time has not allowed me the luxury to paint at all this week, so instead of my recent watercolor activity I’ve chosen to post a photo I took recently while dining quietly one afternoon at the College Street Pub in Waxahachie. The temperatures that afternoon hovered around 103 degrees, and the floor fans on the porch were doing their best to cool off the patrons. I could not resist pointing my camera phone at the slumbering cat stretched out on one of the cafe tables. I was reminded of a Dutch still life composition of objects assembled to depict the good life as well as the notion of vanitas. 

While reading last night, I came across this line concerning Emerson that I posted above. The Richardson biography I read when it was a brand new publication, then alas, someone stole the volume out of my classroom about ten years ago. Having just purchased a new one, I have to read it once more, and underline once again the passages that resonate with me. I felt genuinely exposed when I read the author’s assessment of Emerson’s passion-driven life of the mind. I know the pain associated with having lived such a life, and am more conscious than ever of others I have hurt in the past as I’ve charged full-bore along such a path. One hates to come into the senior years with a sense of regret, but indeed I look back and regret that there are things I cannot re-do. When I approach my Philosophy class this coming semester, I think I’m going to explore some of these character issues from an existential framework. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that our character is the sum-total of our decisions in life: the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are what we have made ourselves to be, nothing more, nothing less. I wish someone would have talked to me of such matters when I sat at a high school desk. Maybe the teachers did, and I was just too indolent to listen. I don’t know. Now it’s my turn to talk to the next generation, and I’m grateful to have the chance once again this semester to try and get it right.

Looking back over this post, I fear it sounds more pessimistic than I feel right now. I’m tired from the three days of meetings, but not morose, not depressed. With a little rest, I anticipate I’ll regather some energy to face what lies ahead, grateful that I still have a few days . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Musings on the Storm-Free Area and the Chambered Nautilus

July 24, 2014
Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth's Scat Jazz Lounge

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

There is a great virtue in such an isolation.  It permits a fair interval for thought.  That is, what I call thinking, which is mainly scribbling.  It has always been during the act of scribbling that I have gotten most of my satisfactions.

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing.

Howard Cunnell, “Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road

The past few days, because of my understanding that Jack Kerouac was fascinated with Melville’s writing, I turned to a copy of the original scroll of On the Road and have been reading introductory articles on the manuscript, and re-reading portions of the Tom Clark biography of Kerouac.  Many agree that his longing for the American road was a response to his sense of loss due to the breakup of his family life (death of brother and father along with his own early divorce). Thoreau himself intimated that his move to Walden Pond was a search for something lost.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For most of my life, I have been enthralled with the sense of the personal odyssey, and have myself benefited from many American road excursions.  But honestly, at this juncture in my life, I don’t really need the road; I have memories, photos and journals that pull up the past as often as I choose.  But I am pursuing the odyssey of the mind inside my newly reorganized home, and enjoying what feels like limitless space and extensive free time.  I think what I have been seeking recently is what the German scholars of the nineteenth century called a Sturmfreies Gebiet, storm-free area.  This was sought by Descartes, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, Tillich, Kerouac, and a host of our revered luminaries, a storm-free area where one is safe to come to some sort of self-understanding.  William Carlos Williams found great satisfaction scribbling thoughts and poetic fragments on his prescription pads while on the road to make house calls, or pounding the typewriter in his office when patients weren’t lined up and waiting.

While pondering these matters over the past couple of days, I happened across “The Chambered Nautilus,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Though I’ve read this piece several times throughout my life, I never really “got it” until this evening, when it washed over my soul with fresh revelatory power.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Prostestant pulpit, I came under the conviction quite early in life that there is a power in that word, that oracle that comes when the hearer is ready, when the teachable moment has arrived.  When the student is ready, the master will appear.  I guess I was ready this evening.  I had decided to go to a local Starbuck’s with an armload of books and my journal, and sit in the outside cafe with some iced coffee and a sense of anticipation that something could happen.  It did.

“The Chambered Nautilus” is Holmes’s meditation of a mollusk that has died and can no longer expand its chambers.  They now lie open to him, and he gets a sense of its developing natural history by examining the chambers in the house it’s left behind.  As I pored over these words, my soul poured out nine handwritten pages in my journal.  What a rush!  It led me to Emerson’s essay “Circles” and to Whitman’s poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  I felt my entire being stirred from within as I felt the cooling carresses and kisses of the evening winds sweeping across the nearby prairie and across my cafe seating area.  It was truly a delicious night.

Now, back at home, I feel my heart stirred with gratitude at this gift received this evening, and in the spirit of the chambered nautilus, I wish to continue expanding new chambers in my existence as I continually read new things, think new thoughts, and try to figure out this wondrous gift called Life.

Oh yeah, the painting!  Posted above is what I worked on after summer school and before the oracle stirred me at Starbuck’s.  I finally got some texturing accomplished on the right side with the bricks, and tried to scratch in some grooves to show the lines of the bricks.  I then turned my attention to the sign, carefully painting in the red fluorescent tubing within the letters, along with the shadows cast and the brackets securing them.  This of course took a great deal of time, but I am in no hurry with it.

And now, I still have to continue working on material for this new online Logic course I’ll teach this fall at a nearby university.  The things I’m learning in that area are also opening up a new chamber of thought within me, and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m delighted that this mollusk hasn’t yet perished.

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.