Posts Tagged ‘Larry McMurtry’

Fragments

February 13, 2019

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One of the ways Benjamin is most interesting is in his resistance to production, his determination, similar to Wittgenstein’s, to remain devoted to thought and reflection for their own sake. His was the guilt of the fragmentist, the man who never finishes the great work which he and his admirers think he is capable of. He is all sparks, yet the sparks rarely produce a steady flame; but the sparks do have a white brilliance that in itself is enough.

Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond

This morning I believe I have learned a soulful lesson. The temperatures had dropped to thirty-seven degrees, and I thought: “Yay, a fire in the fireplace!” I set about doing that quickly, but then, halfway through getting dressed, suddenly realized that I was in a foul, dark, surly mood, and wondered what had happened. That was not hard to figure out–I had turned on the national news. A few minutes of listening to soundbites from a blustering sourpuss had managed to switch me into a similar disposition. Abruptly, I switched to a YouTube search, and finding an interview with author John Updike, tuned in. Listening to his thoughtful, reflective responses to well-put questions shifted me to a better outlook, almost immediately. Now, seated before the fire with freshly-pressed coffee and a stack of books, I am in a serene place. That wasn’t hard to figure out; I now know how I will start tomorrow morning. No national news, find something thoughtful to hear.

Yesterday I finished the engaging book I’ve quoted above. This series of autobiographical essays are among the best material I have read in awhile; I love this life of “reflections at sixty and beyond.” McMurtry addressed the anxieties one often feels when thinking that production has tapered once the senior years advance. I really appreciate his allusion to Wittgenstein and the love of “thought and reflection for their own sake.” As for the comment on the “fragmentist,” I would also add Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was known for working in a studio littered with unfinished drafts of poems, short stories and essays–he just loved the craft of writing, even if he often did not complete projects.

I know all-too-well the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, musing over things I did not complete. But I try to shift gears quickly by reminding myself that I know how to finish big tasks–I did manage to remain at the same job for twenty-eight years, and before that I did manage to complete a Ph.D., dissertation and all. And as for my art, I did manage to complete a number of large-scale murals along with thematic collections of watercolors to bring out for several one-man-shows.  Currently I am musing over my next watercolor, drawing and writing project with enthusiasm. But at my current age, I am trying not to put myself under some artificial, self-imposed deadline. I have paid my dues. The time has come to enjoy life, enjoy retirement, and savor these gifts that life experience graciously grants.

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.

A Larry McMurtry Story Comes to Life

February 6, 2019

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Rainy Morning in the Study

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It is necessary to think one thought and one thought only and think it through to the end.

Martin Heidegger

The daemon knows how it is done.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

With a dim light from the rainy morning filling my study, I am reading Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. He opens this autobiography, recalling his reading of Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller” while sipping a lime Dr. Pepper at the Dairy Queen outside Archer City during the hot summer of 1980. As he looked around the Dairy Queen at the patrons drinking coffee, he noted there was not a storyteller to be found anywhere among the gathering.

I trembled at this written account, because it stirred a memory of my own. Pulling my old journals from the shelf, I discovered that on this very day, three years ago, February 6, 2016, I recorded notes in a pocket journal at 6:15 a.m. in Archer City, just down the road from that Dairy Queen! It was 38 degrees that morning (this morning it is 70). I crossed the dark street from the Spur Hotel and entered Murn’s Cafe to enjoy a hot breakfast during that frigid pre-dawn. Thirty-six years after McMurtry lamented the absence of storytellers at the Dairy Queen just down the road, I realized on this particular morning that I could not concentrate on reading Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Cody because of the stories percolating from three farmers wearing seed caps, enjoying their coffee and breakfast. Their ruminations covered subjects from bulls, heifers and feral hogs to how long it takes to drive from Wichita Falls to Longview. I noted in my journal that their most common word was “sumbitch.” Pulling a notebook from my pocket, I tried to scribble out snatches of their conversation:

When I git sleepy drivin’ I jus’ stop and take a nap or git somethin’ sweet. I come all the way from Bossier City and when I got to Longview I wuz one sleepy sumbitch. Bought four of them jelly donuts and eat ’em. Drove the rest of the way . . . 

I drove all kindsa trucks. Cain’t beat a Shivverlay. Shit, I useta drive that sumbitch all the way from here clear to Looziana three times a week . . .

When I wuz younger and cowboyin’ here, New Mexico and Nevada, I learnt you kin shoot all the sumbitches ya want. Them pigs are tearin’ this place plum up . . .

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Since Monday morning, I have been inspired to create a new series of watercolors and stories spawned by memories I hold sacred. Between McMurtry, Benjamin, Harold Bloom and Martin Heidegger, I have been weaving pages of notes taken from their writings with snatches from my own journals and memoirs, believing these fragments could actually yield a series worth pursuing.

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Heidegger reminds me in his poem “The Thinker as Poet”:

To be old means: to stop in time at

            that place where the unique

            thought of a thought train has

            swung into its joint.

After months of feeling barren of inspiration, I believe finally that something is beginning to bloom.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen

February 3, 2019

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Breakfast at the Dairy Queen in Palestine, Texas

Enjoying my weekend in Palestine and The Redlands Hotel, I was tipped off yesterday by Jean (owner of the hotel) to try out the local Dairy Queen for breakfast. This morning when I arrived and ordered the “country breakfast,” the counter girl asked me how I wanted my eggs. “Over easy?” I hesitatingly offered. And what to drink? “Coffee.” She handed me a real mug! And, a short while later, this was brought to me, on a real plate with real silverware.

I do not take meals at the Dairy Queen, but I still recall that the one outside Archer City, Texas serves breakfast this way, as a real American diner would. When I returned to The Gallery at Redlands, I decided that I need to acquire a copy of Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. I understand that this collection of essays, autobiographical in nature, contain the author’s lament at the demise of story telling in American culture, and ways in which small American towns have been drained of their local charm. Though I live in Arlington, I have found far more of a fascinating world and culture in Palestine, Texas. I am truly blessed, granted time to spend in The Gallery at Redlands and reside in The Redlands Hotel and enjoy the music and camaraderie of Kevin and Marc at Smooth Rock 93.5 FM. As I write this, I am finishing a watercolor commission for a local author (I know of two authors that live in this vicinity), and the community is awash in musicians. Many of us have the same thing in common–growing up in small towns, working and raising families in large cities, then returning to these small towns to enjoy life at a lovelier pace.

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I Should Finish this One Today

After I finish this painting, I intend to read Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Storyteller.” And who knows–I may just pick up a copy of McMurtry’s collection and see what I can glean from the reading.

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. 

New Year Wanderlust

January 23, 2019

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Pausing to Grade Online at a Coffee Bar

Even though he still came to the river every night, it was obvious to [Captain] Call that Lonesome Dove had long since ceased to need guarding. . . . He came to the river because he liked to be alone for an hour, and not always be crowded.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

As the year 2019 turns over its first few pages, I have decided not to be snared in the doldrums that often occur after the Christmas and New Year holidays close. For the first time in my life, my teaching load is completely online, so I have decided not to allow myself to be restricted to a geographical area often determined by class schedules. My recent travels have taken me across the great Southwest, and San Angelo has proved to be a chain of ephiphanies for which I will always remain grateful.

I have recently taken up Homer’s Odyssey to read, because I have never read that great epic in its entirety. I purchased Robert Fagles’s translation, because of the raving critical reviews over the lengthy introduction submitted by Bernard Knox. I believe the introduction runs around sixty pages, and it took quite awhile to read it in its entirety, but it was worth every hour. In addition to this, I have enjoyed a pair of YouTube lectures on The Odyssey, and have also made use of the Greek text I purchased in the Loeb Classical Library series. The ideas leaping out of the text have yielded hours of scribbled notes and journal entries. The Concho River meandering through San Angelo provided a lyrical setting for such a reading.

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Reading the Greek text on the banks of the Concho River

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While exploring downtown San Angelo, I happened across this book store that gave me a number of pleasant surprises. When I found the collection of Larry McMurtry books, including first editions and signed editions (I avoided the temptation of dropping $400 for a first edition of The Last Picture Show), I then noticed the photographs, greeting cards and handwritten letters tacked on the wall by Robert Duvall, an avid reader and friend of the bookstore’s owner. He drops in frequently to buy books by the stack! He even signed one of McMurtryr’s first-edition Lonesome Dove copies with “Gus”, and it sold immediately.

After visiting with the pleasant proprietor for awhile, I purchased a copy of Lonesome Dove (not a first edition or signed copy!) and am now over a hundred pages into it. This is only the second McMurtry book I’ve purchased, having finished The Last Picture Show recently.

With Odysseus on one side, and Gus on the other, I am enjoying my own journey while reading of theirs. We live in a good age, I believe. Technology has enabled me to earn a wage while being on the move. At the same time, I can enjoy days on end, being unplugged from social media yet knowing I can return to it at anytime to post a blog and read texts or emails waiting in the hopper. And right now, sitting in a coffee bar in a town where no one walking by is going to know who I am, I can enjoy reading books and scribbling thoughts into my journal without interruption, and with no appointments on the horizon.

Thanks for reading.

 

No Need for a Cruel Month

February 7, 2016

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APRIL is the cruellest month

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

This opening to T. S. Eliot’s poem has always given me pause, wondering what was so cruel about lilacs blooming and the climate of April in general. To me, February was always the cruellest month. January, like the Roman god Janus, looked in two directions–ahead to new possibilities as well as backward in retrospect. The new year is still exciting as January unfolds. A spring semester offers a new beginning. January has many advantages. By February, often the world has gotten colder and darker (to me, anyway), and the newness of the year has already faded. I just always thought February had natural depressants imbedded, and I have frequently regarded it as the cruellest month.

Escaping to the country this weekend was my answer to a frenetic schedule and general weariness and inertia I felt settling into my bones. Archer City and its remoteness offered respite. One of my early visits to this town was for the re-opening of the Royal Theater (setting for The Last Picture Show).

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At this event, I watched Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” performed by a local theater troupe. Since that night, I have thought of Archer City every time I have read “Our Town”, feeling that it had much to compare with Grover’s Corners.

Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Residents no doubt would say the same of this city, had it not been for a man named Larry McMurtry. His more than fifty novels and Pulitzer Prize have cast a long shadow across the north Texas consciousness. And now, he also possesses the 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded to him last September by the President at the White House. Sarah, the lady with whom I visited yesterday, was priviliged to attend that ceremony as part of the media corps. I am posting the link of local coverage of that momentous event.

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The 29-degree morning that greeted me probably came as a shock to sleeping Archer City, as the forecast called for lows in the upper 30’s. Retiring to bed before 9:30 last night probably meant that the hotel bed was more comfortable on the second night. Waking several times in the darkness, I finally rose at 6:55, refreshed, and smiled at the rosy-fingered dawn on the distant ridge, happy to know that the lovely sight did not have to foretell a tragic day as it did in Homer’s Iliad. Perhaps February will not be a cruel month.

Breakfast will be served a quarter mile down the highway at Lucky’s Cafe, and I haven’t decided yet whether to drive or walk the distance (I walked last evening for dinner, but it was 46 degrees then). For now, I plan to enjoy this Spur Hotel with its coffee, and settle in for some quality reading during this quiet Sunday morning.

Thank you for joining me.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Sketching Archer City

February 6, 2016

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Watching the sunset glow over Archer City fills me with a serene sense of eudaimonia. Since I left the swirling metroplex behind yesterday, I have been unconscious of time, and am surprised that this afternoon has already evaporated. I spent it in the hotel lobby, sketching the facade of one of my favorite antique establishments, and visiting with Sarah, who organizes art activities for this city and surrounding area, works as a journalist for the local newspaper, manages this hotel, and seems to have interests in many other areas as well. I thought I was busy–I wonder how she manages to wear so many hats!

Laying out the composition for this antique store was difficult for me, and I’m going to have to take it back to my studio for some further adjustments. I think it has real potential, and if this piece doesn’t work out, I’ve taken good reference photos and would love to give it another shot, perhaps larger than this 8 x 10″ attempt.

It is serendipitous that I began reading Kerouac’s Visions of Cody right before I journeyed to Archer City. The author’s graphic descriptions of New York City in his day match up perfectly with what I see around the remains of this town. I have always been intrigued with decaying buildings, debris-strewn streets and the wide-open spaces surrounding small Texas towns. Every time I cross any of the streets downtown (which are actually highways 25 and 79) I see The Last Picture Show being replayed, but now I am in the movie. it is enchanting, to say the very least. Right now, as I type this, I hear the occasional pickup truck passing below, and looking out the windows of this corner room  on the third story, I swoon at the deep orange glow that has rested on the horizon for more than thirty minutes now, past the sun’s disappearance. The flashing red lights of the intersection are more intense now, and flooding my room with light, as I have yet to turn on any lights inside. I hurt for anyone who feels loneliness when put in this kind of atmosphere–to me this is sublime solitude, a soothing balm.

Thanks for reading.

Escape Velocity II

February 5, 2016

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My work comprises one vast book like Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed.

Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody

Today, I gave in to yesterday’s wanderlust. I booked my favorite room in the Spur Hotel in Archer City, Texas, Larry McMurtry’s hometown. I packed last night, and loaded early this morning, so as soon as school let out for the weekend, I pulled out of the parking lot, angling north for the two hour-plus drive to this quiet, spacious part of north Texas in Archer County.  Population of this town is 1,848 and that is just about right for me. In the cold winter evenings here, the clouds emit the most marvelous array of blues and lavendars, much like what I experienced in Colorado evenings, looking across the front range of the rockies. I tried to take a picture above, but I’m not a photographer, and there just wasn’t much light left for me to accomplish what I wished.

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Larry McMurtry’s famous bookstore, Booked Up Inc., has been my mecca for shopping for over a decade. Today I found a first edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos and could not resist the sale that was running on books currently. I’m proud now to own it and read it.

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Dinner tonight in the cafe made me feel I had retreated in time to the days of Kerouac rambling the open roads across America. With this being Friday night, and a strong Catholic presence in Archer County, fish was on the menu, and the taste was just as delightful as the aroma that filled the diner.

And now, as I write this, I’m settled into my third-story corner room, overlooking the intersection of highways 25 and 79, with a flashing red light governing the four-way stop. The light flickers patterns across the interior brick walls of my room, and the swish of traffic below will probably lull me to sleep later tonight as I soak up some coveted reading.

I cannot describe the deep-seated satisfaction settling in over me, leaving the city and school behind, the noise, the deadlines, the endless prattle. Now there is no agenda. I have a stack of books on the table beside me, and a large carry-on bag stuffed with watercolor and drawing supplies. My journal is at hand, and I am ready now to settle into a quiet posture of reading, thinking, writing, drawing and painting. This quiet space has been so long overdue for me, and I am thankful to the depths of my being that the gift has finally arrived.

Thanks for reading.