Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Philosophy is Next

August 22, 2016


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.


Reading is not a Wasted Activity

January 2, 2016


Mother indulgent. Said I have a queer mind and have read too much. Not true. Have read little and understood less.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Decades ago, a relationship ended between a young lady and myself shortly after she announced to me that I read too much, and reading is boring.  I never once looked back with regret on that broken engagement. And I suppose that for as long as I live, I will hear someone express the sentiment that reading is a waste of time and energy.  I could not disagree more vehemently. It has been reasoned to me that I read because I am a teacher.  Not true.  I am a teacher because I read–that was the order in which my life events progressed.  I became a lover of ideas, books were a major source for those ideas, and teaching became a natural forum for me to express what I read.

Why do I read?  For a variety of reasons, all of them defensible.  But fundamentally, reading makes me think. Reading engages all of me. When I linger over lines from Shakespeare or James Joyce, I have to work at understanding, and when the meaning finally rises to the surface of my consciousness, amazing things begin to happen.  The new thought dredges up other coinciding memories from past experiences and ideas from other sources.  And slowly a new skyscraper of truth is erected.   My city of ideas has enlarged and my own being has enlarged. I am a transformed person, with renewed energy to live life and to create new possibilities. The process of reading is like no other–there is a depth of excavation, followed by the laying of a new foundation, followed by the construction of a new structure that is then added to an expanding city of thought–a philosophy still under development.

These events do not happen when I am scanning newspaper headlines, staring at a news broadcast, sitting in a room full of chattering people, or jumping from link to link on the Internet. They do not happen there.  They happen in the soft confines of my reading chair before the fire or in the corner of my study, at my writing desk.  Reading, for me, is always time and energy well-spent.


Late Night Muses Stirring

September 11, 2015

imageIt is a common point from which I start; for there again and again I shall return.


Thursday has been a grinder of a day, rising at 5:00, entering my classroom by 5:55 and responding to the snarling grading deadline. Once classes were over, I continued to feed the beast until about 8:30 at night. Then, there was nothing reasonable to do but go out into the night and feed my soul.

A Bottle of Pellegrino, a Book and my Journal

A Bottle of Pellegrino, a Book, my Journal, and Fountains

How enchanted I feel with this balmy evening, listening to the swish of the fountains, live music pounding a few blocks away, the conversations and laughter of lovers at tables scattered across the plaza, but most of all–the echoes of Socrates from the mountains of Delphi, through the streets of Athens and finally down through the corridors of Fort Worth’s Sundance Square tonight. I feel the power of his ideas now as I pause for the first time throughout this lengthy (boring) day of grading and meeting school deadlines.

I try to distill the legacy of Socrates in a few statements: (1) the unexamined life is not worth living, (2) the answer lies within you, not in the books or the teachers or authority figures, (3) there are valid principles to follow in order to maintain a quality life, (4) leave nothing unexamined. Much of what this sage has left us has been fleshed out in the writings of Aristotle, Descartes and Emerson, and already I look forward to opening their ideas before my students later in the semester.

Teaching is my job, but what I am doing beside the fountain tonight is my life–a life of the mind, a contemplative life. This is the food that sustains my spiritual body and keeps me alive. Hopefully in tomorrow’s philosophy class I can share this moment in a meaningful way, but if not, I still harbor this treasure in my heart.

Thanks for reading.

Time to Reflect, to Compost, to Nurture and Grow

February 22, 2015

The drilling machine for the Aargau lecture (“Biblical Questions, Insights, and Vistas”) is going at full strength and an unbroken pillar of smoke is rising from my pipe to the ceiling as in the best times of my life. Until now the progress has been “at the face” but not yet of any magnitude, and it has yet to be seen whether or not the direction of the tunnel is right.

Karl Barth, letter to Eduard Thurneysen March 17, 1920

I am buried in my study with stacks of grading to do, and now face a possible shut-in situation as winter weather threatens my part of the country. There exists the possibility of my city icing over tonight and school being canceled tomorrow (darn). Taking advantage of the quiet, the dark and the cold, I have found ways to enjoy this Sunday, despite the grading. I opened a volume of my Karl Barth correspondences to his comrade in the early part of the past century, because I always remembered his satisfaction of working all day in his study with a continuous plume of smoke rising from his pipe. I don’t smoke, but I am pleased with the nonstop aroma of coffee that has charmed my study during this frigid, dark day. An added bonus is the conviction that this coffee is managing to keep me alert as I pore over pages and pages of scrawled words from my students.

The Philosophy journals are filling me with satisfaction today, as I note a number of students seizing on something I mentioned in a recent roundtable seminar. I told them that high school schedules are set up with seven-minute passing periods between the classes, with the expectation for students to push aside what they have just learned in one subject in order to focus on a new one. Knowledge and grades are compartmentalized by subject, with no connective tissue between them, despite educational buzz-words like “writing across the curriculum” or “integrated learning.” The schools do not provide for any of this, as far as I can determine. The bell rings and it is time to put away the stuff from one class and pass on to the next. Just exactly when are they expected to integrate all this material, while they’re working their evening jobs or doing their homework?

Last year, I atteded a national AVID conference in Orlando, Florida. It featured two days of packed schedules of sessions, with only a few minutes separating each, much like a typical high school bell schedule. In one of the ballroom sessions, I had the immense privilege of listening to Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of the  University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His words reached to my core, often bringing me to the point of tears. The moment he finished, the facilitator took the microphone and informed us we had five minutes to get to our next session. I knew I would not go. I found the hotel coffee bar, sat at a table, opened my journal, and wrote for ninety minutes, pondering and savoring every thought, every impulse I had experienced during this President’s address, a sacred moment in my life. It was then that I came across this idea I am now publishing–schools do not allow time to compost, to process, to water the seeds of inspiration planted from some subject, some encounter. We are expected to close our notebooks and file into the next session. Rollo May published in his tribute to Paul Tillich his own personal habit of walking in the park after a meaningful lecture:

I had had brilliant professors or colorful ones or ones who cared about communicating knowledge or were profound in their reflection on the human predicament.  But I had never had one who brought all these things together. Three words summarize [Paul Tillich’s] lectures for me: universality, depth, and caring. . . . In my solitary walks in Riverside Park after his class to let the ideas sink in, I was filled with a profound seriousness and joy, not only about the truths I had heard but also about my own life and the decisions I had to make.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

I am now reading Philosophy journal responses with great delight, as high school students share with me their thanks for my providing them that occasional space to “soak” what they are learning, and to integrate it with other subjects, and most importantly their personal life goals and aspirations. I guess sometimes they do hear and feel what we have to say to them.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Opening and Closing of a Door

January 8, 2015
Another Cold Winter Evening in the Garage Studio

Another Cold Winter Evening in the Garage Studio

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment.

Carl Sandburg

If we take Sandburg’s observation seriously, then today’s inaugural philosophy class was poetry. Thirty-one new students crowded into the classroom. As the bell sounded, there was the electric hush of expectancy that one feels on the first day of a new class. I felt the shudder of excitement as we explored the nature of the philosophic task, some modern views of Husserl along with some classic views of Plato. To me, the ninety minutes swept by like ten, and the eye contact with all the students, along with their non-verbal body language, seemed to indicate that they were enjoying the same kind of intellectual feeding frenzy that I myself felt. And then, class ended and they filed out, leaving me in a wake of good feeling, like soothing waves lapping the shore after the speedboat passes.

Of course the flow of a single day can be uneven. My high was followed by some matching lows, but I choose this night to write only of the highs. When Walt Whitman wrote his poetry about the ebb and flow, he acknowledged that the flow is always more engaging. I agree.

This Evening's Work

This Evening’s Work

The garage studio is frigid again, with temperatures outdoors stooping near freezing. For days now, I’ve been trying to solve the shadow problems in this composition. Shadows are something I haven’t given sufficient attention in still life drawing and painting. I purchased an excellent book over the holidays that discusses the finer points of rendering shadows. The longer I stare into this arrangement in my darkened garage, the more fascinated I become with the nuanced haloes deep in the shadow areas. This evening, I’ve reached back, again, into some words recorded by that focused mind of Leonardo da Vinci:

Remember: betwixt light and murk there is something intermediate, dual, belonging equally to the one and the other, a light shade, as it were, or a dark light. Seek it, O artist: in it lies the secret of captivating beauty. . . . Beware of the coarse and the abrupt. Let your shadings melt away, like smoke, like the sounds of distant music!

These intermediate areas between light and dark I’ve been trying to solve between the bucket and the shaded floor. I’m finding a world teeming with activity within those shadows. Again the T. S. Eliot line from “The Hollow Men” comes back to haunt me:

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the shadow.

With graphite, a pocket knife and watercolor, I’ve also been trying to texture the portion of the door frame and hinge to the left of the pail. This has demanded just as much drawing as painting, and I enjoy that kind of activity. I’ve always admired Andrew Wyeth’s drybrush watercolors for their drawing quality, and have always wished to rise to that level in my own pursuits.

It’s been an uneven day overall, but I’m grateful for all the good that has ensued. I cannot thank my students enough for “being there” in the academic arena, and I’m so grateful for a night of exploration in the painting studio. And I thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sundry Reasons to Smile Tonight

November 14, 2014
Friday Night at my Writing Table

Friday Night at my Writing Table

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour.  For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem.  These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought.  One tendency unites them all.  The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.  See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

It is turning out to be an excellent night for putting some thoughts down in my journal, despite the reality that my furnace broke down 24 hours ago, and will not be repaired before tomorrow.  Temperatures dipped to 30 last night, and threaten to do so again tonight.  The house is cold, but things are not so bad–in fact they are quite good.  A small electric space heater is adequate to warm the space that I occupy, and so I am finding ways to live in a smaller space until the cavalry arrives tomorrow.

As I shambled through my crowded chamber earlier this evening, I sensed that I was smiling, and wondered what exactly that was all about.  In my younger years, these physical circumstances would have left me fuming.  So why is tonight so good, after all?  Simply put, the recollections of all the experiences that wove together throughout this day to produce a beautiful existence.  All I have to do is recall them, one by one, and then smile at them collectively.

It was a profound honor this morning to be invited to sit beside a struggling, yet determined A.V.I.D. student wrestling with an assignment for A. P. English over an Emerson essay.  As she read aloud pointed texts from this sage and faced specific questions, I happily asked her questions the way these A.V.I.D. students do when collectively learning in their tutorial circles.  I didn’t have to give her any answers.  One by one, she solved each problem, then moved on to the next, and I just felt joy brimming inside me, watching her countenance brighten and her eyes focus every time she “got it.”  All I could hope is that she would come to love this man’s words as much as I have in my later years.

After that session, my Philosophy class came in for their scheduled exam (which may not have been a natural high), followed by a roundtable discussion on Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” essay.  I shall always remember and cherish what transpired in today’s discussion, watching the sincerity of students willing to explore difficult questions that took them to the edge of their own traditions.  I shall never forget the words of one of the girls expressing that Emerson’s “American Scholar” speech “resonated” with her.  She left me her journal to read which included a poem she composed about a particular experience of driving through the night that brought her to enlightenment.  The vocabulary was charged with Emersonian sentiment, and I felt tears as I read it, and recalled the expressions on her thoughtful countenance every time she responded to the discussions of today.

The bell rang.  It was time to go to lunch.  But one young man remained behind to talk, to give up the early part of his lunch period.  He talked of the values which so deeply stir him at this stage in his life, and then, as he was preparing to leave, told me that this class was undoubtedly the best he has ever had in his educational odyssey.  I believe him, and it stirs me deeply, because I have had this unspeakable honor to join his hands with those outstretched hands of Plato, Augustine, Descartes, Kant and Emerson among others.  And we still have a few weeks left to learn from others before this young man continues the rest of his journey without me.  I am pleased to know that he has been transformed, and grateful that he, the afore-mentioned young ladies, and all the rest of the students passing through, have given color and texture to my life. Who needs a furnace tonight?!

Yes, tonight I have sundry reasons to smile.  Life is complex with these myriads of details and decisions that zigzag our way through each day.  But I am convinced that we are going somewhere.  And the journey has quality.

Thanks for reading, and sharing this night with me.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Ah, the Friday Night Blog . . .

November 22, 2013
Entrance to Edom Festival of the Arts

Entrance to Edom Festival of the Arts

Art is not to be taught in academies.  It is what one looks at, not what one listens to, that makes the artist.  The real schools should be the streets.

Oscar Wilde

I immediately acknowledge the legitimacy of Oscar Wilde’s perspective.  It is too late for me to put his theory into practice, as I earned my Bachelor’s in Art in 1976.  Since that year, I have held down several professions, and did not get back into the visual art world until the last couple of decades.  When asked whether or not I am “self-taught”, I hedge a bit.  I do have a four-year degree in the subject, have studied the masters seriously since that day, still immerse myself in art history, yet my search for a watercolor “style” is indeed my own private quest.  Following Walt Whitman, “you shall listen to all sides and filter them through yourself.”  I don’t want to label myself as “self-taught” as I have formally studied art at the university and received a degree.  Yet, I feel that I have arrived at my “signature” by my own choices.

I apologize at the outset of this blog, inviting any reader to stop at any time s/he feels so inclined.  I haven’t posted in many, many days, and have so much on my mind, that I am deciding in advance to talk about as much of it as I have the energy to do.

The promised cold front has arrived.  Temperatures have dropped to 34 degrees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and we’re covered in rain.  The coffee is hot and inviting, and I am trying to finish this second of a series of three 8 x 10″ watercolor sketches of the Edom, Texas business district.  I will travel there to The Shed Cafe one week from tomorrow, November 30, and spend the day as their resident artist for Art Jam.  I am struggling with this composition, having difficulty unifying the composition.  This could be a painting that I “lose”, but that happens in this enterprise, and I am not as uptight about losing a painting as I was a few years ago.   We’ll see how it shakes loose.  I still have some plans (tricks?) to apply to it.

Changing the subject–several days back, I came home from school, sat down to a late lunch, and turned on the DirecTV to scan movie channels, settling in on “Rain Man.”  I hadn’t watched the movie in well over a decade, and decided to watch what was in progress for as long as lunch lasted.  I was jolted by a shock of recognition as I watched the scene of the two actors in the phone booth, with the autistic Raymond agitating his brother who was trying to conduct business over the phone, reminding him that Judge Wapner was coming on in just a few minutes.  Suddenly he warned: “Uh-Oh, fart.”  I didn’t laugh this time, because I was staring at what stood behind the phone booth and parked car:

Scene from the Motion  Picture "Rain Man"

Scene from the Motion
Picture “Rain Man”

I had been there!  Cogar, Oklahoma!  Friends had taken me across the state years ago, to reminisce over a town where one of them had grown up.  We spotted this abandoned gas station, got out of the car and photographed it from a multitude of angles, thinking it was “Hopperesque” and perfect for one of my watercolor attempts:

Abandoned Gas Station in Cogar, Oklahoma

Abandoned Gas Station in Cogar, Oklahoma, 2006

I have painted this station in watercolor a total of three times since 2006:

"One Last Road Trip"

“One Last Road Trip” 2006

"Oklahoma Reflections (After Proust)"

“Oklahoma Reflections (After Proust)”

What a shock to go online and verify that this scene from “Rain Man” was shot in Cogar, Oklahoma.  And now, I have painted it three times.  The bottom painting sold back in 2007, the other two are still in my possession.  Now I am not sure if I wish to sell them!  I am filled with excitement, just seeing this scene play out in a Hollywood film, knowing that I visited that location unknowingly, several years after the film had been made, found the setting inviting, and painted it three times.

The past week-and-a-half in the classroom has had its rewards, almost daily.  Today one of my model high school students approached me at the door of my philosophy class at the beginning of school, and asked if I could count her absent.  She explained that she had called in her absence that morning because her mother was in the hospital, preparing to give birth.  “But I couldn’t miss today’s Nietzsche lecture!  I’ll go back to the hospital after this class.”  I told her that she modeled a genuine love of learning.  To say the least, I don’t know when I’ve felt better delivering a lecture, with that kind of anticipation expressed in advance.  And then, if that were not enough, I was asked to visit the UIL Ready Writing team over the lunch hour to give them a “crash course” on Western philosophy.  Talking to eager students for the duration of a lunch period about Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre was a genuine feast for me, and the students’ responses made me feel that what I did today mattered.  We never get too much of that in the public education milieu.  Those two experiences today will carry me much, much further, emotionally and spiritually, than documenting emails, phone calls and correspondence to parents or filing documents of lesson plans or meeting minutes for someone sitting in an office somewhere to check off a list.

Since my last blog entry, I have made two visits to the Dallas Museum of Art to study the Edward Hopper Drawing exhibit.  I’m still rocked by what I’ve seen there, his sketches, compositional studies and finished watercolors and oils.  I don’t recall ever seeing a museum exhibit that so studiously curated works of art in their planning stages from plein air sketches to journaled, notated compositional studies to the final framed piece.  Hopper was so studious in his work, and makes me want to do the same.  Perhaps future blog entries will reveal a new side of me, thanks to my heroic Hopper.

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.

Creating Watercolor Christmas Cards in the Man Cave

November 29, 2011

Christmas card workspace

It’s hard to find quality time to paint when school is in session.  Nevertheless, I retreated to my Man Cave (dirty garage!) immediately after school today to resume work on Christmas card #2.  Tonight, with the help of a dear friend, I plan to resume work on my “store” opening soon at  So, during this brief interlude between school and technical support, I find joy in painting once again.

Once this card is finished, I’ll post a tighter image of it and discuss what I’ve discovered in the process of rendering it.  As for now, all I can say is “Hurray for Prismacolor watercolor pencils”!  They are making the task go very quickly and efficiently.   It would be wonderful if I could finish this tonight, but I have my doubts.  Tomorrow my Philosophy class begins work on Nietzsche, and I still have plenty of prep work to do on him tonight after I finish work on Cafe Press.

What I am about to write may appear to have nothing to do with my painting, but I know in my heart that it does.  Yesterday I resumed my interior dialogue with some great minds that I had abandoned months ago.  The demands of my daily schedule, and certain priorities I had established simply pushed them out.  And to them I have now happily returned.

Since the 1980’s I have been absorbed with the history of ideas, and that particular discipline (I hope) has been able to rescue me from becoming too pedantic in the courses I teach.  I must say, with regret, that the abandonment of this fruitful dialogue more recently turned my high school courses into catalog summaries of the essential elements assigned to each discipline.  Since yesterday, I have worked to find my way back to the multidisciplinary path I once knew, and have come to miss.

My reading has been primarily in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and “The Waste Land”.    But thanks to The Teaching Company, I have had the enriching experience of listening to VHS tapes and DVDs on Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition as well as An Introduction to Greek Philosophy.  I have been filled with lectures on the Presocratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle as well as Erasmus, Descartes and Spinoza.  Though I cannot describe how the fellowship of these thinkers has seeped into my painting, I can at least testify that they have soothed my mind and put me in a proper space for painting.  Hours pass by that feel like minutes.  I’m glad to be back once again in the company of these magnificent minds.

Thanks for reading.

A Close Second to a Parisian Sidewalk Cafe

February 24, 2011

Sidewalk Cafe Life at Eureka Springs

Texas temperatures are getting better–80 degrees and sunny today.  My garage has turned into an art studio/man cave for me, with a portable TV/VCR playing an assortment of tapes for my listening pleasure while I paint–lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams to name just a few.  I feel myself entering this composition that I’ve tinkered with for several months now.  I can almost hear the voices around the table discussing poetry, philosophy, theology, books–all the artistic elements that keep us alive and alert.

This setting is in downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where it was my profound privilege to teach a week of plein air watercolor classes for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.  It was my first time, and I have an application pending there now, hoping with all I have that there will be a class again this year.  My two favorite towns so far are Waxahachie, Texas and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for on-site watercoloring.  Both towns boast streets lined with Victorian architecture, flower beds, cute shops around the downtown district, and compositions for painting in any direction one looks.

This particular painting is huge by my standards–30 x 22″–and it involves elements that are outside my comfort zone–people and a myriad of details.  I have avoided genre painting for a number of years, realizing that there are countless artists “out there” who do it so exceedingly well.  But I recently read something from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau that convinced me to go for this: “There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject, as there is room for more light on the brightest day, and more rays will not interfere with the first.”  All I had to do was substitute “painting” for “book,” and I got his point.  My contribution to this genre of painting will in no way diminish what has been done by others, and yes, there is room in this world of art for me to contribute as well.  So . . . with that in mind, I was liberated to go after this composition.

Today was quite a full day–high school classes by day, a trip to the veterinarian this afternoon, and a college class tonight.  But there is still time to engage in the arts, and I so love returning to my studio, even when the day has been filled with “work.”  Thoreau said (I believe in Walden) “To effect the quality of the day is the highest of the arts.”  That I must remember.  Though packed to the rim, today has nevertheless been “artful.”

Thanks for reading.  Talk to you again tomorrow . . .