Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

Musings over 30 Years of Journaling

August 2, 2019

“What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.

First page of Henry David Thoreau’s journal, dated October 22, 1837 (twenty years of age)

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Preparing for Fall Semester (but first, I want to blog!)

The serene five-hour drive from Dallas/Fort Worth to west Texas early yesterday morning  avoided the triple-digit temperatures and rejuvenated my soul. Stopping at my favorite town of Thurber (population 5), I decided to treat myself to a lovely sunrise and leisurely breakfast at the Smokestack Restaurant. It was a little after seven and they had just opened.

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The Ranch Boss Breakfast Sandwich

While driving from Fort Worth to Thurber, I scanned YouTube on my phone for something interesting, and decided to listen to what people had to say about journaling. Having practiced this for over thirty years, I wanted to know what seasoned creative spirits had to say about this practice of journaling and how it shaped their lives.

I was not prepared for what came up–young people (by my standards, under thirty) who had been journaling for thirty days were posting about how it changed their lives! Post after post encouraged the listeners: journal ten minutes every day for a month and see what happens! Finally pulling over for breakfast, I discontinued the YouTube search and may resume it in the future. I still wish to hear from someone who has journaled longer than thirty days. On this note, I have decided to add my 2¢ worth, confident that thirty years of my practice might offer readers more than a one-month experiment. And if any of you readers and bloggers practice journaling, I would love to hear your perspectives on this. I just don’t meet many people who engage in this.

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My Journals, Still not Organized

I seem to recall that Emerson, by the time of his death, had accumulated 286 volumes of journals, filling an entire bookcase. I never set a goal for myself, and last time I counted, I had around 140 volumes going back to 1985. At any rate, it was 1985 when I began this practice and I haven’t stopped, nor do I anticipate doing so. I began my journals, believing they would feed my classroom performances, helping to shape lectures for the courses I taught.  But they have grown far beyond that; the journal has been a companion for life, going with me everywhere, and my daily lifestyle has included the journal, whether I am working at my desk, sitting in a coffee shop, or taking a trip. Daily, scattered ideas are scribbled in my notebooks as naturally as pausing for a bite to eat.

I choose not to compose a list of “Top Ten Reasons for Keeping a Journal”, but rather will share some of my ideas based on what I have experienced. To begin with, what exactly is the journal, for me? The journal is a map for organizing wonder. I honestly wish I had kept a journal since I was old enough to write, because from the start I have been a dreamy child. As the oldest among my siblings, I was four years old when my brother was born, and Mom was then too busy doing housework and taking care of the baby to entertain me. My recollection of that age is going outside to play. We did not live in a neighborhood, I had no playmates save for my imagination. All I had was the wide open wilderness enveloping me from the moment I stepped out that door, and it was enough. There was a paved road on one side of the house; I was not permitted to go there. On the other three sides were sprawling land as far as the eye could see, no other house in sight. I still remember a particularly chilly morning when the wind whipped through the fringes of my Davy Crockett jacket, making a whispering noise that I believed was a cosmic voice trying to tell me something. I listened, and continue listening to this day.

Bernard Berenson’s recollection of his own childhood in his Sketch for a Self-Portrait is a mirror of my own:

In childhood and boyhood this ecstasy overtook me when I was happy out of doors. Was I five or six? Certainly not seven. It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember–I need not recall–that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.

I knew that experience from age four. As an adult, I read the same sentiments in Emerson’s Nature:

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.

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Site of the Old Homestead

The house we lived in at that time burned down long ago, and nature has reclaimed its property. Last winter I drove to the site and took these two photos. Beyond these trees the open landscape from which I drank as a child might still be there, but I did not get out of the Jeep to trespass and see for myself. Sixty years later, I still listen for that voice daily, and enthusiastically record what I hear.

The journal, for me, is a tool for capturing the inner dialogue that drives me daily. Thoughts evaporate quickly, and recording them in writing makes it possible to return. I frequently pull journals at random from my shelf and peruse what I have written, and am astonished time and again to read thoughts I don’t recall thinking and writing. Many of these ideas remain precious and are worthy of recall.

My journals are replete with quotes from what I read or hear daily (and I am meticulous in using quotation marks and documentation to insure I will not later read someone else’s words as my own–a practice I have kept since my doctoral studies). And, since childhood, I have been unable to read texts without dialoguing with the author from my own experience. Thus, my journals capture these interior conversations carried on daily. Living alone for several years now, I believe firmly that they have kept me healthy. Solitude for me is not a scourge. I still recall words from the film Shadowlands: “We read to know we’re not alone.”

While listening to the YouTube talks, I frequently heard the encouragement to write out whatever is on your mind, even if it is anger and frustration. I disagree sharply with that practice; negativity is the last thing I want to read when opening an old journal. If I wished to ingest anger, all I would need to do is tune in to some cable news network or AM radio talk show. For journals, I want to preserve only the worthy, edifying words (and I hope to God that is what I’m doing on my blog). If I need to unload poison from my consciousness, I resort to what Julia Cameron refers to as The Morning Pages. That practice involves writing three pages as quickly as possible to get all the junk out of the mind, and then throwing them away. The Morning Pages are where I put my negativity, and then it goes to the trash. Journals, for me, are for storing treasure to unearth in the future as needed.

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My Current Journal

For two years now, I have used the journal pictured above, and I absolutely love what it provides. It came from Little Mountain Bindery, and was a retirement gift from Sandi Jones, my all-time soulmate.  As you can see, it is durable. It floated downriver a considerable distance after I capsized a kayak two summers ago. As I chased after it, I witnessed a sight similar to that in the film Dances with Wolves.

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The inside of the binder holds a pair of Moleskine notebooks, and includes a pair of pockets for storing small papers as needed. Every time I fill one of the Moleskine’s, I remove it and replace with a new one. Because I like to go back and read recent entries, I usually do not remove the filled notebook until I am about halfway through the second. When I’m on an extended trip, I always carry an extra pair so I never run out.

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Returning to an Old Practice

Above, I have posted a pair of very old journal entries. I told my sister recently that I was dissatisfied with the quality of my journals of late. Her response was: “Running out of words?” I still laugh at that one. What I tried to explain was that in former days I combined sketching with journaling and still believe that my journals from those days have far more quality than the ones of late. So, I am trying to move more in the direction of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in hope of producing some kind of hybrid “sketchbook/journal” in my daily practice. More on that in another blog.

Returning now to the words of Thoreau’s first journal entry: The question “Do you keep a journal?” was put to him by his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Thoreau replied “No”, Emerson inquired “Why not?” In response. Thoreau began his first journal at twenty. By the time he died twenty-two years later, Thoreau had poured out over four million words of publishable print. I am still inspired by that story.

So, I close by completing the first entry from Thoreau’s journal, following Emerson’s question and his response:

To be alone I find it necessary to escape the present,–I avoid myself. How could I be alone in the Roman emperor’s chamber of mirrors? I seek a garret. The spiders must not be disturbed, nor the floor swept, nor the lumber arranged.

The Germans say, “Es ist alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst.” 

The translation of Thoreau’s closing remark is: “Everything through which you are bettered is true.” In looking back over my life, I believe with all my being that the journal has bettered my life, and the practice of daily recording is true.

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.

 

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Thoughts at the Morning Fireside

February 8, 2019

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Except for the occasional square dance, no one had any entertainment except the exchanging of experience that occurs in storytelling. So it was, no doubt, in rural places throughout the centuries; then, there was no media–now, it seems, there’s no life.

Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A sweet morning indeed, when temperatures outdoors are twenty-five degrees and I have nowhere to go until evening. I don’t get to burn enough fires in fireplaces during Texas winters–some winters never get cold enough for a single fireside experience. So this morning I consider a luxury.

Larry McMurtry has provided plenteous food for thought. His grandparents were pioneers settling Archer County, Texas, and by the time he came along, Archer City was still quite small, there was not yet radio, and the only entertainment he knew after chores was listening to the adults tell stories. I connect with this easily, because this is similar to what I knew growing up. My family had radio, and I listened to programming throughout the day. Television did not come till I was nearly school-age. But I do recall the visits to the grandparents on both sides of my family, at farms in southeast Missouri. Mom and Dad had eleven siblings each (children in that generation were farm hands), and so anytime we visited in the country, all the kinfolk would gather round (most of them had continued to reside in the country, though Mom and Dad moved two-and-a-half hours north to St. Louis). Stories passed around the living room circles, and I still remember the constant chatter and laughter. Sometimes we children got bored and went out to play. But hours were still spent listening to these stories.

I still love a good story, and my closest friends still delight in exchanging them. To this day, I would still choose the company of those who like to share life stories and meaningful memories over the ones who wish to rant over political, current or religious issues. I spend little time tuning in to news on radio or television, because I have been fed up with the anger and resentment for years. I am grateful for the life that has been given me, for every good experience worth remembering, and every good conversation I have encountered.

This evening will be my privilege to take part as an Academic Decathlon judge for the interviews. My task will be to listen to high school students answering questions about their individual life experiences with family and school, along with their dreams and life goals. Each will have a chance to tell his/her story, and I for one will be an enthusiastic listener. And as I hear these stories, I will recall with gladness the best parts of what I was privileged to experience in over three decades of classroom encounters.

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Thoreau

September 26, 2018

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The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

This morning’s reading connected in several ways with the assignment I just released for my online course in Classical Judaism. I am asking my students to read arguments from Samson Raphael Hirsch, Samuel Holdheim and Abraham Geiger, three rabbis who benefited from both traditional Talmudic scholarship and a modern secular university education. Their upbringing taught them to focus with precision on the Hebrew texts from antiquity and then later to pursue a university education and listen to their contemporary world. In their arguments, they sought to translate the heart of Judaism to the current culture in which they found themselves living and responding.

Translating requires a round trip between here and the world of the ancient text. Martin Heidegger, in his translation of Presocratic fragments, once argued that before we do any translating, we must first translate ourselves to what a document says, what it means.  We have to hear with accuracy the language of antiquity before we can return to our own time and nurture that word in today’s world. Many who have read the past have failed to listen and open themselves to the message of the past. And avoiding that message simply means they carry none of it into today’s world.

Thoreau always found difficulty finding hearers or readers when he attempted to translate his favorite book, Homer’s Iliad, the Greek text which he read annually, to his contemporary Concord environment. I find myself struggling as well when I try to talk to someone else about what I’m reading from a culture that is not Texas 2018. That is why I am grateful for dinner and conversation last night with Kevin Harris, one of the DJs for Smoothrock 93.5 moving into this Redlands Hotel. He and Marc Mitchell, both with backgrounds here in small town Palestine, Texas, have absorbed a broad worldview with their broadcast professions, and have a sensibility that goes beyond “radio talk.” They probably don’t realize how much they have helped me revise profoundly my caricature of a broadcaster. Both men yesterday displayed for me an empathy for human experience that I don’t see enough in my everyday world. Over dinner, Kevin and I were able to discuss ideas that matter to us, and that we believe are very relevant to life, even though we live in a world that appears too fast-paced and distracted to focus on fundamental values. How enriching to have a conversation over dinner that ranged over the fields of art, philosophy, religion and contemporary culture. So, to my favorite Redlands Quartet–Jean, Mike, Kevin and Marc–thanks for inviting me into your Palestine world.

The gallery is quiet this Wednesday morning, save for the soft sounds of Smoothrock 93.5 now wafting across this space. I have plenty of college grading to do, so I’m glad to be in a space where I can work.

Thanks for reading. (“And now, this is David Tripp signing off from the Gallery at Redlands, and sending you a wave from Smoothrock 93.5 FM, situated in the historic Redlands Hotel in downtown Palestine, Texas!”)

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I bog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Morning Coffee with Dave & David Henry

September 25, 2018

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Behind the Desk at Gallery at Redlands

To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Before leaving for class this morning, I read chapter three of Walden, titled “Reading,” by David Henry Thoreau–yes, that was actually his name on the birth certificate, David Henry. While a student at Harvard, he decided that Henry David was more euphonious, so he changed his name, to his parents’ chagrin.

I didn’t really develop a love for reading till college, when I took reading the Bible more seriously. In those days, I believed that God would speak to me if I read the Bible with a spirit of expectancy, and so I developed a disciplined plan of daily reading in a meditative state, waiting for God to speak. Years later, I broadened the scope, believing that inspiration can strike from virtually any written source, if the reader expects such an encounter. So I read now more than ever before, and I  am very seldom disappointed. I am not sure if this is a Zen saying, but I have always liked the sound of it: “If you walk in the mist you’ll get wet.” And so, I read, and  expect. This morning, like most mornings, I was not abandoned. I recall Heidegger writing: “We do not come to thoughts; thoughts come to us.” And so, Thoreau’s words were read as seriously by me as they were written by him. And I was visited by a host of ideas that put a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

After class, I decided to load some large paintings and head for The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. I was excited to see what had happened while I was away last weekend, with the radio personnel moving in their gear. I had been sent pictures of the gallery window, and was anxious to see inside the studio. Once I arrived and looked about the gallery, I came to an agreement with the others that the temporary wall I put up to separate the broadcast booth from the actual gallery was not such a great idea–it restricted the view through the gallery, from lobby window to showroom window. So, we took down the wall, opened up the space, and I then set about the task of rearranging paintings and re-configuring the gallery space.

We have added Ian Watson to our gallery circle. Ian was my student back in Lamar High School days. He took a keen interest in the Abstract Expressionist painters, reading biographies of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, as well as the collected essays of Barnett Newman. Over the years, he developed a color field technique and has recently emerged as an artist, with his first solo show in Amarillo last summer, and now he is having work accepted into galleries, ours included. I am looking forward to seeing a feature article on his work coming out next month in Accent West, a magazine published in Amarillo.

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A Pair of Ian Watson’s Acrylic Canvases Behind the Desk

Today I finally got to meet Marc Mitchell of Smooth Rock 93.5 FM. He brought me up to date on what is happening with the station. The first live broadcast should be next week, hopefully October 1. With 50,000 watts, their signal will extend across seventeen counties in east Texas. Anyone outside the broadcast area will still be able to stream the broadcasts on the Internet. The broadcast booth is nearly complete, and the view from their “Window to the World” is fabulous. Our excitement continues to build with their arrival.

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Broadcast Booth Near Completion

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“Window to the World”

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View of the Broadcast  Booth from my Desk

Thanks for reading. 🙂  . . . Until next time, this is David Tripp signing off from The Gallery at Redlands and Smooth Rock 93.5 FM, broadcasting from the historic Redlands Hotel in downtown Palestine, Texas!

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Thoreau

September 22, 2018

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I learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live that life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thirty years ago, I would not say I was suicidal, not even close. But there was that stretch of months when trying to go to sleep at night, that I really didn’t care if I woke to see a new morning. Life then was not good from a number of angles, and I really didn’t have anything to anticipate with gladness as one day stumbled into the next. I had not yet signed a contract to begin work as a full-time public school teacher, and was supporting myself by doing adjunct work at Texas Christian University and full-time work as a campus police dispatcher. I did not own a car in those days. I worked long hours at two jobs, and either walked or took a city bus to where I needed to go.

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Early Sunday Morning, by Edward Hopper

Walking to campus one sunny autumn Sunday morning, I crossed Berry Street, and looking at the row of store fronts that were closed on Sunday, my recollection of this Edward Hopper painting came to mind. I went straight to the campus library, and checked out a book of his paintings, and, as Sunday would be a very slow day with only two campus police officers on duty to patrol the entire university, I was guaranteed eight hours of mostly radio silence. I read the entire book, scribbled out pages of musings in my journal, and the more I looked at Hopper’s solitary paintings, the more I thought of my life at that time. I was conflicted with those emotions that the theologian Paul Tillich identified as “loneliness and solitude”, the cross as well as the glory of being human.

Crossing Berry Street again at the end of my shift, and on my way back home, I mused over how this Fort Worth street on Sunday looked very much like Hopper’s New York street from 1930–shuttered and silent. And the twin sensations of “loss” and “presence” filled my soul to the extent that once I returned to my apartment, I took out my journal and began pouring out the feelings that had surged through my consciousness on this particular day.

It was on that Sunday that I determined I would turn my life around. I had no idea what waited before me in the years ahead, but I bound myself with a promise that I would not allow anything to strip me of my dreams, of my ideas. Two years later, as a high school teacher, when I finally got around to reading Thoreau’s Walden for the first time, I came across the text posted at the top of this blog, and realized that it was time to put some foundations beneath my dreams. I decided to stick with public school teaching, but would also take out my sketchbook, my paints and my brushes, keep filling the journal with daily musings, and seek a quality of life that would transcend the trappings of a daily job. If I would be privileged to live that long, I would retire one day with sufficient benefits to pay my bills, and continue this search for meaning without the albatross of a 40-plus hour work week dragging me down.

Life has never been better for me than it is now. The days are filled with gods, as Emerson once wrote. There is time to read, time to reflect, time to write, and even time to put out a blog of my sentiments. There is time to paint, time to travel, and time to spend with precious friends. And, as teaching has always been my passion, I am afforded the privilege of doing that, but in a reduced capacity. No longer do I have those five day work weeks with hours beginning at 7:35 and extending till 3:30, and then having to take all that work home with me and stay with planning, preparation and grading till bed time so I can repeat the next day. I did it for twenty-eight years, and complained plenty, but I loved the classroom dynamics that made the drudge part tolerable. But now, life is so much fuller and I fully love this daily gift of exploration and possibility.

I am sad that Thoreau only lived to be forty-four. Now, twenty years past that point, I am thankful to have been given those extra years as a bonus, and promise not to take days for granted as I did when I was younger. Building foundations beneath the castles of dreams has turned out to be a rewarding task.

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Friends

September 11, 2018

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Early Morning Solitude

. . . I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Yesterday afternoon, I found a break amidst all my grading and college prep work, and returned to the studio, finishing a commission that I’ve already posted several times, and then began re-working this plein air sketch I began in west Texas a couple of weeks ago. Sitting on the back bumper of my Jeep, I looked across the barren landscape and painted this amazing horizon, then quickly sketched in the railroad embankment below, but never painted the line itself or the gravel banks. Today, I tried to enrich some of the colors and shadows of the trees and horizon, began work on the railroad embankment, and then determined where the 8 x 10″ boundary should lie. Tomorrow I plan to return to the studio after my morning class, and will take a fresh look at this to see if it requires any more attention. It felt lovely to pick up the brush again.

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Return to the Studio

My early morning reading today began in The Gospel of Mark where I had in a previous blog remarked on the Parable of the Sower. In the same chapter is a brief discourse on growth that I was thinking about yesterday while painting that small watercolor. As I painted, I thought about my past, and the number of silent years required to grow in artistic ability, sensitivity, and intellectual matters. When I was college-age, I envied professors of fifty years and older, because they seemed so well “seasoned” in their thinking and in their art work. When talking with them in earnest, they would usually smile and say something like, “Be patient, stay with it, results will come in time.” It took decades for that to sink in. In fact, it wasn’t until my last few years of teaching that I heard myself mouthing those same words of advice to impatient high school and college students. Yes! Deeper, more mature matters require extensive time to compost, to develop, to flower, to bring to harvest. There is no royal road, no short cut to Quality.

The amusing part of this morning’s reading is that it began with one book, the Bible. Within thirty minutes, all these other volumes were sought, opened, read, notated, and now I am attempting to describe this refreshing morning on the blog. The cumulative moments that go from one book to half a dozen books remind me of earlier days, either composing sermons for the pulpit or writing papers during my Ph.D. seminar years. And I love it! I love the pursuit, the process, following the thread, seeing where the idea is going to lead. The reading and thinking themselves are an Odyssey. Recently I was reading about sowing seed, and now the idea comes up again, from The Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29:

. . . as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of itself: first the blade, then the ear, after that the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

The above I have posted from the King James Version. This morning I read the same passage from my Geneva Bible which preceded King James by about fifty years. I enjoy struggling with the English of this era:

Alfo he faid, So is the kingdome of God, as if a man fhulde caft fede in the grounde,

And fhulde flepe, and rife vp night and day, and the fede fhulde fpring and grow vp, he not knowing how,

For the eaerth bringeth forthe frute of her felf, firft the blade, then the eares, after that ful corne in the eares.

And affone as the frute fheweth it felf, anone he putteth in the fickel, becaufe the harueft is come.

After years and years of effort in education and the making of art, I am delighted to bring some of this to harvest. The classes at the college make me feel warm inside, because finally I am pouring out matters of the heart that have taken me most of my life to grow and water and now disperse. And as for the arts, I am so blessed that three galleries have welcomed my work and finally I have enough art festivals and shows annually where I can send out my creations.

Years ago, a gentleman was in my home, and seeing the size of my personal library, he made the observation: “It doesn’t seem fair that you have hoarded all these books and put them inside a private residence. They should be ‘out there’ for others to enjoy.” I thought that was an odd assessment, and still do. I thought my response made sense, that those books were what grew me intellectually, and being a teacher, I was daily going into the classroom and attempting to pour their wealth into the minds of students. I still think of his words, and my response, which seemed to be met with indifference. But, there it is. Throughout the decades I have loved studying, thinking, writing and attempting to put the best of my ideas out there for others to read. And so also with my art–I have created a large inventory of work, but it is in the galleries and festivals, not hoarded inside my home like a private collection. And then, this blog–I write daily because I have to; it is in me. And my hope remains that whatever ideas I share will play a part in making this world better than it was the way I found it. I hope that the footprint I leave is one that can point the way for others.

And so, I close with these words from my beloved muse, Paul Tillich:

The most intimate motions within the depths of our souls are not completely our own. for they belong also to our friends, to mankind, to the universe, and to the Ground of all being, the aim of our life. Nothing can be hidden ultimately. It is always reflected in the mirror in which nothing can be concealed.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Henry

August 15, 2018

I am home now, my imagination overrun with memories of natural beauty that was my real home for most of the summer.

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Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have . . . Hebrews 13:5 (KJV)

That I might never be blind to the beauty of the landscape! To hear music without any vibrating cord!

And so scribbled the thirty-three-year-old Henry David Thoreau in his journal while rhapsodizing over the landscape  engulfing him. Yet, while beholding the richness of the land, he languished over his perceived poverty in his own soul:

Looking through a stately pine grove, I saw the western sun falling in golden streams through its aisles. Its west side, opposite to me, was all lit up with golden light; but what was I to it? Such sights remind me of houses which we never inhabit,–that commonly I am not at home in the world. I see somewhat fairer than I enjoy or possess.

A fair afternoon, a celestial afternoon, cannot occur but we mar our pleasure by reproaching ourselves that we do not make all our days beautiful. The thought of what I am, of my pitiful conduct, deters me from receiving what joy I might from the glorious days that visit me. After the era of youth is passed, the knowledge of ourselves is an alloy that spoils our satisfactions. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1850

Thoreau

I awoke this morning in my own bed, after a forty-five day odyssey across Texas, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. In my sleep, the babbling sounds of the South Fork of the Rio Grande rolling past my cabin deck soothed my dreamscape. Waking up to suburban Arlington, Texas was not the fairest of greetings. I swear I can still smell the pines that I strove to paint early each morning in that fifty-degree Colorado climate. And if I close my eyes, I can still see the chipmunks scurrying about the deck in search of food.

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chipmunk

I am fortunate to be old enough to know better than to lapse into the kind of dissatisfaction Thoreau was facing in his journal. True, Arlington for me comes nowhere near the sublimity of the Colorado Rockies or the New Mexico canyons. But I have been blessed to spend a cool, seasonable summer in those environs, and I believe they have made me a better person to face the tasks that now lie before me. And I am old enough to know that the real wealth is what lies inside my soul, and my genuine happiness stems from my urge to create something from it. I could never possess the landscape, but can only enjoy it as a gift. Thoreau actually knew that as well:

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Emerson believed that the quality of life is carried inside oneself, not in the abundance of possession:

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 

Today marks a new day and a fresh beginning. Thankful for the summer restoration, I find myself able to pursue new work, new endeavors, while I continue to carry the thankful memories within.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

 

 

Recovering the Rhythm

February 14, 2018

daily grind

The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Finally. After weeks and weeks of sickness and lethargy, I know this morning how it is to return to some kind of satisfying “schedule”. For many, it may seem a luxury to stay up late and sleep late, but that has not been my way for the past three decades. Thanks to a public school schedule commencing at 7:35, I could not sleep later than 6 a.m., and that routine seemed to set my circadian rhythms for life. Once I retired, I continued to rise at 6:00 without an alarm, and move through my day at a comfortable pace. The past month-and-a-half of illness found me sleeping at irregular hours throughout the day and often sitting up in a fog half the night.

Last night, I forced myself into bed early, set the clock, and when 6:00 arrived, I rose in the cold winter darkness, and began the day. And, just as it happened over the past three decades, within fifteen minutes of my being upright, ideas began percolating in my mind and I had to open my journal and scribble vigorously, trying to catch as many thoughts as possible, as fast as they flitted across my consciousness. My journals throughout the years have served as maps for organizing wonder.

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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

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.

Emerson, “Literary Ethics”

While preparing breakfast, the jumbled ideas that had been clashing in my mind the past couple of days, refusing to be forced into a lecture outline, suddenly began to glide, like Canada geese adjusting themselves into formation while passing overhead. Funny how that happens. By the time I finished eating, I knew exactly how I was going to present today’s material, and my college class doesn’t even begin till noon. I have several hours to shred this pathetic patchwork quilt of a lecture I thought I was going to give, and re-stitch it into a better pattern.

The most gratifying element of this feeling I know this morning is this: even if today’s students tend to be lethargic, at least I have been awakened, and I’m deeply appreciative of that. At the same time, I know that there exists that possibility that someone in the classes, or even a group of young minds, will be ready to rise to the occasion. When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.

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, April 20, 1834

Time to get to work. Thanks for reading; I just felt the compulsion to sit and push out this blog. I wish all of you the best this day.

I teach in order to continue learning.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

The Silence of the Rock

August 5, 2017

HEIDEGGER

When the early morning light quietly

grows above the mountains . . . .

            The world’s darkening never reaches

                        to the light of Being.

            We are too late for the gods and too

                        early for Being. Being’s poem

                        just begun, is man.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

Every morning my soul floods with enchantment at the sight of Colorado light slowly giving shape to mountains towering above me. I snapped the picture above with my phone while walking outside. South Fork stands at an altitude of 8180 feet, and I don’t know how many additional feet overshadow me every morning as I look up in silence at these massive cliffs. Last year I tried multiple times to paint them; so far this year I only look at them in wonder, feeling something special easing into my essence.

The whispering of the South Fork of the Rio Grande below my cabin contrasts with the brooding silence of the cliffs above me. In all my years of teaching, I never felt that I was able to capture in words the dual perspectives of Heraclitus (everything moves) and Parmenides (there is only stasis). For most of my adult life I have felt these two worldviews flowing through me–change versus permanence. Long before the book was released A River Runs Through It, I have pondered these two views that Plato and many successors struggled to fuse into a harmonious world view. And now, once again in Colorado, I feel more centered in life, experiencing this flowing stream against the eternal rock.

Save for some postings on Facebook, I have shunned Internet traffic, certain that if I pulled up any news pages they would be parsing the latest tweets springing from a small mind. Life is much too large and expansive to waste time over shallow words.

My reading while in the mountains has been sparse, replaced with more time walking outside, fly fishing in the stream and relaxing with precious friends. Last night before a fire, I returned to reading Heidegger and felt moved to scribble several more pages in my journal, which then led to a blog entry. Rising this morning at 5:30, I am now enjoying another fire in the fireplace (49 degrees and wet outside) and feel compelled to explore further the writings of Heidegger. I feel at this point to say that I am fully aware of this thinker’s moral failures, but I choose to use his ideas at their best, not their worst; bad people are still capable of truthful insights.

Martin Heidegger had a cabin built for him in 1922 in the Black Forest while he was engaged in his university career. Though providing his livelihood, he disdained city and university life, and chose to spend as much time as possible in this cabin without electricity. All of his most important published writings were born in this quiet space. I have enjoyed comparing the lifestyles of Heidegger in the Black Forest and Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, each thinker preferring the quiet and nurture of solitude. I myself have been blessed with a store in the wilderness where I am allowed to withdraw as often as possible, and now this quiet space tucked away in the Colorado Rockies. Something precious occurs every time I step away from a life of calendar appointments and withdraw into a quiet place where the clock seems to evaporate.

Thanks always for reading.

 

 

 

Warm Thoughts Following the Retreat to the Wilderness

February 13, 2017

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Pleasurably Wrestling with Heidegger’s Being and Time

There are times when thought elbows her way through the underwood of words to the clear blue beyond.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 12, 1837

After an arduous week of school chores, I lit out of town late Friday afternoon for my three-and-a-half-hour drive into the country to stay in my favorite getaway spot. I truly believe my heart rate changes the moment I drive up to this place, and my breathing comes easier. Words cannot encapsulate what I felt as I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in the quiet of this remote countryside.

I managed finally to finish my reading of Goethe’s Faust, loving every line of text. After that, I turned to Heidegger’s Being and Time, and this book is always a struggle for me, but I believe worth the trouble. I turned to this book because I was smitten with Thoreau’s words that I read from his journal while I was in the midst of this weekend withdrawal. I see Thoreau and Heidegger both as lovers of words, their origins and their possibilities. Hans Georg Gadamer testified that Heidegger could trace the etymological “arteries into the primal rock of language.”  Heidegger said that “language is the house of being.”

Among the many facets of language, one element that intrigues me is the elusiveness of thought when we try to attach words to it.  George Steiner, in his introductory book on Heidegger, wrote: “The letter kills the spirit. The written text is mute in the face of responding challenge.  It does not admit of inward growth and correction.”  In Faust I found the same message this weekend: “The word dies when we seize the pen.”  I always find myself halting when I try to describe the sensations I experience when I’m deeply moved by the printed text.  And so, I labored over Being and Time, enjoying what portions of it I could understand.

Returning to my self-portrait, I managed to finish it Saturday evening, and put it on facebook. The response has been overwhelming, so I guess I did O.K. with this effort. I’m wondering whether or not to enter it into competition as shows are rapidly approaching this spring.  There also seems to be interest in limited edition giclee prints. Perhaps I’ll go that route.  I’m still contemplating.

finished

I’m feeling warm thoughts this evening, because I’ve received word recently of a new gallery opening and the prospects of my having a one-man-show there in the not-too-distant future.  I’ll release details if this opportunity actually materializes, and it appears that it will. I’m extremely happy with the possibilities, and already have a number of new paintings in my head, waiting to be born. I cannot thank my dear friends enough for all the encouragement and inspiration they provide. This weekend could not have been more pleasurable.

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.