Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’

Thoughts about Getting it Right

January 29, 2020

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As January nears its end, I pause during a break this morning to revisit my New Year resolutions drafted about a month ago. I suppose the reason I pursue this annual habit of Resolutions is the hope of “Getting It Right” this year. I like the idea of resolving to improve life every time we close an old chapter and open a new one, even if it does seem artificial to do it January 1.

Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered an historic address at a Harvard commencement titled “The American Scholar.”  That speech remains one of my favorite writings of all times, and I continue to read it more than once a year.  In that day, Emerson addressed an American consciousness that was still trying to define itself. There would be those today who say such days are long behind our nation.  I am not so sure.  In fact, I am less sure today of our collective identity as an American people than I was a few years ago.  But this is what Emerson said as he marked that graduation anniversary as a transitional time for the American Scholar between past and present:

Year by year we come up hither to read one more chapter of his biography.  Let us inquire what light new days and events have thrown on his character and his hopes.

I like the childlike wonder that marks the New England Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century. At ages 30, 40, 50 and beyond, they remained curious and optimistic about life’s possibilities.

Let me take you back to a scene from our American heritage last century: It was a stifling hot afternoon in the offices of Hartford Insurance in Connecticut.  The oscillating fans were perpetually whirring, driving documents and memos all across the desktops, across the floors, into wastebaskets.  The adjustor, sweating inside his collar, was hurrying down the corridor when suddenly the Vice President stepped into his path, and said “Brownie, could you step in here for a moment?”  Surprised, Lynn Brown stepped into the spacious office, and stood hesitantly before the V.P. who merely sat on the corner of his desk, staring fixedly into space, saying nothing.  The adjustor just waited, nervously.

“Brownie, do you have any ideas on what ‘imagination’ means?” asked the V.P.

After an uncomfortable silence, Lynne replied, “Not at all.  I have no ideas on that.”

Silence.

“Well.  Why don’t you give that some thought in the next day or two and we’ll talk further.”

Years later, recalling that day, Lynne Brown told a reporter.  “He never brought it up again, and frankly, I’m glad.”

That Vice President of Hartford Insurance made a good income for his Connecticut family, benefited from his Harvard law degree, and maintained his spacious home and manicured lawn.  He walked two miles to his office every day, and walked home.  And as his mind explored during those walks, he spun the ideas into poems.  That aging Vice President who just wanted to talk to someone about “imagination” was our American poet Wallace Stevens.

Robert Henri, the American artist who founded The Ashcan School, was like an aging prophet as he continued to inspire the seven young newspaper illustrators who gathered in his studio at 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia as the twentieth century dawned. Throughout his prolific life, he not only painted, but wrote, taught classes and gave public speeches. His electrifying book, titled The Art Spirit contains these words:

When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature.  He becomes interesting to other people.  He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding.  Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.  The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and he is interesting to others.

Wallace Stevens and Robert Henri in their later years relayed a message in stark contrast to the one given by our writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible.  I also like that writing and have drawn from it in previous New Years’ meditations.  But the writer of Ecclesiastes has grown quite old and cynical and argues that “there is no new thing under the sun.”  He’s convinced that he’s seen it all.  As he develops his argument about how the world continues to do the same weary routine, he laid out the words “the sun also rises.” Those words were snatched up to become the title of the first novel of a young American writer Ernest Hemingway. But as this young writer fought back depression in his early years in Paris, struggling to find a new voice, he wrote the following, which didn’t get published till years later, after his death:

. . . sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

Emerson’s argument is that yes, the world, and all that is in it, is millions of years old—there is nothing new under the sun.  But we are the ones ripe for new experience, new adventure, primed for a New Year.  There is much left for us to discover, about life and about ourselves.

I like that sentiment.  And it stirs me each New Year.  And I think New Years resolutions are offered with the sentiment of trying out new things, but also that constant, nagging rejoinder to get it right this time.  And it’s that itch of “getting it right” that carries the tinge of guilt and regret.  I mean—why cannot the New Year be embraced solely as a new tack, the next mile of the journey, a different window through which to peer?  Can it not contain suggestions of a different collection of books to peruse?  Promptings to a change of activity?  A change of scenery, what the painter Henri Matisse called “cleansing the eye.” A new hobby?  A different kind of work?  Or, if you please, less work and more rest?

Do you not notice that the notion of “getting it right” has that all-too-familiar ring of “karma”?  I frequently told my high school students that public school was my karma, because when I was a teenager, I hated public school every day of my life, and couldn’t wait to get out.  Then once I finished all my education and joined the work force, where did I end up—high school.  The Karma complex.  High School was my Karma.  I believed I would remain there till I got it right.  In 2017, I dismissed all that as myth and just retired anyway—let someone else get it right.

How easily we drift to the negativity when we fret about “getting it right.”  It doesn’t have to be that way.  I don’t recall Benjamin Franklin being a dour sort of fellow, all the while he was tweaking his daily self-improvement lists.  I don’t recall Thomas Jefferson being embroiled in negativity throughout his mature life, though he chose to spend every night’s final hour or two in bed reading only texts that would elevate his soul and put him to sleep in a sublime state, so as to lay a proper foundation for the following day.  I see those acts as positive and constructive and forward-looking, at any stage of life.

The New Year is for looking forward.  Emerson once wrote: “why should you keep your head over your shoulder?  Why drag about this corpse of your memory?  . . . live ever in a new day.”  As we explore a new calendar year, it is a good thing, I believe, to recap where we’ve been, evaluate the good and the not-so-good, and look forward to anticipation of a new chapter.  And when we resolve to “get it right” this time, I really believe it can be out of a spirit of wishing to improve an already-good life, to make a good thing better.  Life is a gift.  Exploration of the future is an invitation.  We’ve been given an opportunity to grow another measure, to explore new vistas, and to enjoy the journey.  And what better way to start off this new era than to come to peace with what is now behind us.

Roshi Jakusho Kwong,  in his work “As It Is,” in A Man’s Journey to Simple Abundance, reminds us that every time you use a calculator, you have to clear it.  If you don’t, you’ll have all these old numbers superimposed on your present reading.  So also, when the complications of the past are superimposed on the present, one can only imagine all the distortion, confusion, and suffering that arise. We must find ways to hit the reset button as we move into the new era.  We have to clear the mechanism.  We have to make peace with our demons, as Paul Tillich used to urge.  Accept what is past, embrace what lies before us, and realize that success is the quality of our journey, not just the completion of goals.

I still remember the announcement April 12, 2006, when we lost William Sloane Coffin at the age of 81.  He had been a Presbyterian clergyman and former Yale University chaplain.  He was arrested at least three times as a Freedom Rider, was also prosecuted by the U. S. government for aiding and abetting disobedience to the Selective Service Act.  He later would be a minister at the historic Riverside Church in New York City’s Morningside Heights.  I was saddened by his death.  Just two New Years before his passing I had read his last book CredoIn the book, he recorded these words: “Clearly the trick in life is to die young as late as possible.”

I close this blog with my favorite words from his pen, as he offered perspective on life as something not snatched, but rather given, and he echoed beautifully that enigmatic New Testament passage that says “Whoever loses his life shall find it.”  Quoting him now:

There is in other words a difference between having a friend and being a friend, between having success and being successful, between getting an education and becoming learned.  If we use knowledge, music, art, sports, and eminently others—if we use them just to enrich ourselves, then paradoxically we impoverish ourselves, at least at our very core.  For all things then become as clothes: they cover but they do not touch or develop our inner being, and we become as those who believe they can only become visible when something visible covers the surface.

But if we give ourselves to art, music, sports, knowledge, and eminently to others, then we experience that biblical truth that ‘he who loses his life shall find it,’ shall find life being fulfilled, and find that joy is self-fulfillment, self-fulfillment is joy.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you will check out my website www.davidtrippart.com.

I makShultz reducede art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Slowing Down and Savoring the Gift

December 9, 2019

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Precious Monday Morning Silence

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

With overwhelming gratitude, I entered my suite at the Redlands Hotel last night after breaking down the weekend Christmas Show, loading, then driving two hours back to Palestine from Dallas. Deciding not to set an alarm, I slept in this morning, but woke from dreams so distressing that it took nearly an hour of wandering around the suite before I could shake the troubles loose and return to my comfort zone, pictured above.

At that moment, I changed my plans of departing by noon for my home. Instead, I am spending the entire day in the Gallery at Redlands, taking my time with the unloading of the Jeep and restocking the gallery, and making sure I give plenty of time for thanksgiving and reflection over the warm weekend I experienced at the Randy Brodnax and Friends Christmas Show at the Sons of Hermann Hall. This is my third year joining this assembly of twenty-or-so artists,  and their love has been so affirming for me during the holiday season. My pulse has finally slowed down, and I am reading quality material and thinking good thoughts. I’m glad the troubling dreams prompted me to slow down, linger, and enjoy this gift of life.

I posted the Emerson quote above because it reminds me of something I had been taught in earlier years about the thought of Immanuel Kant, the Prussian philosopher who crowned the Age of the Enlightenment. He wrote volumes about the way in which our internal mind organizes external stimuli. As an artist, I will never tire of studying this. While sitting through the weekend show, I continued my reading from Sir Joshua Reynolds, and yesterday came across this same idea of the artist organizing the data received from the world:

My notion of nature comprehends not only the forms which nature produces, but also the nature and internal fabrick and organization, as I may call it, of the human mind and imagination.

These words were delivered December 10, 1776. Tomorrow will mark the 243rd anniversary of their delivery into our intellectual atmosphere. This morning, refreshing these words in my journal, I decided to write a blog to discuss my core values regarding the making of art. As I present this, I want the reader to know that I am not trying to tell others how they should approach art. I love the diversity, the expansive constellation of creative spirits that comprise the artist network, and will never cease loving to hear of their perspectives. So, if you would like to respond to this blog, please let me know about your approach to art. I listen, and learn from others. Tell me how you approach this enterprise.

I shall begin by saying that my chief inspiration for art comes from my reading, listening to YouTube lectures, and observing objects with my eye. Though I gladly teach workshops, I don’t enroll in them to learn the techniques of others. At my age of sixty-five, I have already added a number of tools to my toolbox, and still add new ones as I discover them in my own laboratory, or hear from an artistic friend, or read of some new tool. But I do not focus on the tools of the trade nearly as much as I do the philosophical framework of art in the abstract. Hence, my ideas come from reading broadly, and I delight in the essay, the biography, poetry, history, philosophy, theology–all of these areas add contours and accents to what I am assembling.

At my age, I have also cut back severely on competition. Entering competitions requires money and following rules that sometimes are not my own. I don’t like an organization dictating to me the specifications of framing, or telling me that if I use India Ink (which I have done with two of the last one hundred paintings), that it must be less than a certain percentage of the surface area. I have also grown tired of researching the judge to find out what genre s/he prefers when handing out awards. And finally, I have never once sold a painting hanging in a competition, though I paid out money to enter and frame it.

Which leads to the next item: I am not pursuing “signature status” of any particular watercolor society. I already have a doctorate, and have never included Ph.D. in my signature. So why would I want to put initials following my signature to signify I have “status” with a professional watercolor agency?

Which leads to the next item: At my age, I no longer worry over my resume. I have deactivated my status with Linked In because I am not seeking a job. I am retired. I am no longer thirty years old. I have a very lengthy resume, and was required to update it for the university once a year, but now I am not at a university, and frankly, I never opened and read my resume unless I was required to update and send it somewhere. For me personally, resumes are boring. I never read them. Ever. Because I am not on some hiring board that is required to evaluate someone else’s credentials.

OK. So I have poured out some paragraphs of what I am not. Now, what am I exactly? This is the more difficult part of my confession. To start with, I am still a dreamer. I still have the fascination I had when I was four years old, standing in my yard alone on a breezy day, feeling caressed by the world, feeling observed while I was observing, and wanting in some way to respond to that Presence. That little boy is still in me, and I still tremble before the Presence.

My life is still a narrative, from one moment to the next, on any typical day. A story is always emerging from me, and the people who surround me continually pour stories into my imagination. Words they speak frequently put images in my head for paintings. Paintings are also revealed to me by the landscape, and by objects. My brain is drained from exhaustion when I spend hours in a museum, an antique store, a bookstore, or a lengthy walk through a different neighborhood. Everything I encounter puts out a call to create a drawing or painting.

Throughout my days, I sense a continual internal dialogue with other creative spirits who have long ago departed this planet–Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, N. C. Wyeth, Paul Tillich, Robert Motherwell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau. I continually return to their written and visual works because they created them to communicate with others, and I am honored to be counted among their listeners. And every time I complete something I feel is worthy, I breathe a prayer of thanks to them for their continued encouragement.

Though I have slowed down today, my art and furniture are not going to unload themselves, so I suppose the time has come to begin the task of re-organizing the gallery and tending to business affairs that need to be addressed today. But thank you for taking the time to read me, and please, if you have ideas you wish to share, I would love to read them, and I am certain many of my readers would as well.

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Thanks again for reading.

Shultz reduced

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Building my House

August 22, 2019

Every Spirit builds itself a house; and beyond itself, a world; and beyond its world a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you: Build therefore your own world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is the precinct (templum), that is, the house of Being. The nature of language does not exhaust itself in signifying, nor is it merely something that has the character of sign or cipher. It is because language is the house of Being, that we reach what is by constantly going through this house.

Martin Heidegger, “What are Poets For?”

After enduring 2 1/2 days with no Internet service, AT&T finally got to my home late yesterday and fixed the problem. Throughout the day, while waiting for the technician (promised between noon and 2:00, and finally arriving after 5:00), I spent an entire day at my desk re-reading journals from my past and reveling in the memories. One of the entires prompted me to find my copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon and read it once again for the pure delight the story offers.

These retirement years are given more now to carving out my own world and coloring it as I see fit. Last night, a friend whom I hadn’t seen in nearly three years surprised me with a text and later stopped by. What an experience, catching up on what we had been through (he also is retired from full-time teaching), and how we now are looking for ways to color our new expanding worlds. Both of us love painting, exploring new ideas, and yes we both have signed contracts to continue teaching, but we are no longer tied to the routine we had known for decades on end. Gratefully, we have reached this point in our lives that we can choose to shape our journeys as we wish. And as we talked late into the night, I found myself again confronted with the reality that ideas, shaped by words, create the framework of the world in which we find our identities. The night proved fascinating, as the two of us shared our visions and anticipations of what to expect from a world we find more and more affirming.

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.

Cold Winds Over West Texas

May 9, 2019

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Signal Peak, Guadalupe Mountains

The power depends on the depth of the artist’s insight of that object he contemplates.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

Forty-seven degree temperatures and a stiff wind greeted me as I stepped out this morning. I found a cafe with available Wi-fii and coffee. Pulling up photos I took of Signal Peak (8751 ft.), the highest summit in Texas, as I drove past the Guadalupe range recently, I decided I would later today attempt some sketches of this magnificent site, using my photos as a reference.

I regret resorting to reference photos when I watercolor; I have had this reticence since discovering the dynamic of painting en plein air. For several years now, I have endured a seething compulsion to paint mountains, but alas they are nowhere near my residence. Two or three times a year, I manage to visit mountain ranges, yet standing in their eternal presence, I always feel like a mere bird flitting past their exterior, then quickly returning home. This morning, Emerson’s quote above has my full attention; I believe that an artist needs to spend time in the presence of his/her subject, allowing the subject matter to compost in the consciousness in order to paint it authentically.

Emerson’s magnificent meditation from “The American Scholar” I have read and recited to students for decades. I post it below, now rendering in bold print the same sentiment from his statement in “Art” that I posted at the top:

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in  proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

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My sketchbook journals are replete with pencil studies of trees that are improving because I have paid my dues, sitting in the presence of them, working diligently to render their unique figures and portraits as I gaze upon them. Trees are everywhere I live and work. But mountains–how I wish I could sit in their company with the ease that I find in trees. Perhaps one day I could move to an environment where I could gaze upon them and know more fully what Emerson professes, that depth of artistic expression comes with time and familiarity.

The theologian Paul Tillich, when addressing an audience celebrating an anniversary of Time magazine, mused that the American public of his day was driven by a horizontal force to produce quantities in faster time, and that the results were a shallow product. He observed that it takes time to develop a vertical dimension, one of depth and profundity. I am going to take that to heart, and see if I cannot produce better renderings of mountain ranges in watercolor as I continue to study them. This summer I have made some serious plans to vacation among mountains and canyons. But in the meantime, I will continue to study my plein air sketches and photographs, and continue my practice of painting these subjects.

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.

 

 

 

 

When Journaling was More Magical

February 15, 2019

Emerson’s organized, persistent, purposeful journal keeping is one of the most striking aspects of his early intellectual life. He wrote constantly, he wrote about everything, he covered hundreds of pages. When he had nothing to say, he wrote about having nothing to say. . . . He laughed at much of it when he read it over, inserting comments such as “dead before it reached its subject,” but he kept at it.

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

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Pages from Journals of a More Creative Past

The delicious part of my mornings during these retrement years is usually spent at my desk, reading with pleasure over cups of hot, French-pressed coffee, while cafe music plays from Youtube. In the midst of this morning’s reading, I suddenly detoured to swan-dive into my old journals, using passages from some of them to flesh out the memoir I’ve been drafting for over a month now.

Somewhere around 1985, I began scrawling journal entries on loose paper to place in manila file folders, and by the fall of 1988, when I began teaching full-time, began purchasing notebooks to keep these pages bound. By 1990, Emerson became my hero of journaling, and I became more obsessed with saving my notebooks, though I never indexed my ideas the way he did, and probably never will.

For about the past decade, I have shared with many friends my conviction that, despite the feeling that I am thinking and synthesizing better now than ever before, I still sense a malaise in the quality of my journaling. In former days, I sketched much more on my pages, collaged images, and inserted many more notes from my reading, accompanied with my own critical observations. Those cross-fertilizations are not happening of late, and when I tried to explain to my sister why my journals were growing stale, she raised an eyebrow and replied: “Running out of words?” A good moment!

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My Entire Assembly of Journals

At any rate, I have resolved in 2019 to find ways to freshen my journaling practice. The habit is firmly in place–I scribble daily–but I am getting bored by the lackluster content of my scribbling. And I am bored from looking at pages filled only with words; I need to return to collaging, drawing, and designing. My real hero of the journal is not Emerson as much as Leonardo da Vinci. Throughout my years of teaching philosophy, art history and art studio, I have urged my students to take up his practice of what I call sketchbook/journaling, to devote time to writing out one’s thoughts as well as drawing and designing. I used to do that long ago, but got away from the practice.

I also plan to be more aggressive in my journals in the exploration of my fleeting thoughts and ideas, not just essay topics. I once read that journals were maps for organizing wonder; I feel that much of the wonder and magic have been drained from my own journaling, and I am ready to recapture that.

Quoting again from Richardson’s Emerson biography:

He was now trying to capture not just major conclusions and insights, but the slightest, most evanescent hints and glimmers that rose to the surface of his mind and then as quickly sank from sight: “For the best part . . . of every mind is not that which [a person] knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him.” Emerson’s journals show that for years he fished along the edges of consciousness, eager to note down the smallest fresh suggestion or hint of a suggestion. . . . These were all struggles to forestall and cheat the repressive processes of the mind, to snatch and write down everything that reached the surface of consciousness. Much of Emerson’s journal is not intended as finished work or public utterance, nor even as the record of private conviction. He is concerned to explore–and then to save–impulses, essays, hints, trials, spurts, exaggerations, the most fleeting and evanescent flowers of the mind.

Emerson left behind a collection of over 263 volumes of journals. Long ago, I stopped worrying over my quantity of volumes; I simply hope to recover some quality as I proceed.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal, hoping to recapture the magic.

I blog, always realizing I am not alone.

 

 

Excavating for an Original Idea

December 19, 2018

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Layers of Ideas Covering my Desktop

I admit that I often set up compositions to photograph for the blog, hoping they will catch attention. But I testify that the photo above is very real, and I wasn’t aware of what my desktop had become till I re-entered the room with a fresh cup of coffee. I love these moments when my reading drives me down frequent diverging paths, and I keep opening books from my library to chase down parallel references. That was what filled this particular morning.

In our digital age, we hurtle through life at unheard-of speeds, chasing every stimulus that presents itself. If order is to be restored, then time for soaking ideas is required. I have some of that now, having undergone a surgical procedure over a week ago to remove a squamous cell from the crown of my head. Now that the sticthes have finally been removed and I am no longer taking meds for pain, I feel more clear-headed to read and think over these recent ideas.

The history of literature . . . is a sum of very few ideas, and of very few original tales,–all the rest being variation of these.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

This statement from Emerson has remained with me since my earliest years of teaching. I entered the classroom in 1985, fervent in my belief that if I was diligent in my scholarship I would one day arrive at an original, publishable idea. My fervor often reached a fever pitch, similar to that seen In the film “A Beautiful Mind,” where the youthful John Nash, as a student at Princeton, searched in earnest for his original idea. Eventually he came up with governing dynamics. As for me, I have followed more the Emerson track, over the years combining ideas from various sources much like a child putting together Tinker Toys.

As the years grew into decades, I came to the realization that I was not creating original ideas, but rather weaving disparate threads from philosophy, theology, art and litetature into tapestries. I took pride that I was synthesizing, while at the same time chafing that I was not coming up with anything original. And as the years continued, I began to worry that I was only scratching the surface of thought.

Paul Tillich remained one of my patron saints as I explored the world of ideas, and I was taken by words he uttered on May 6, 1963 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, delivering the keynote address for Time magazine’s fortieth anniversary observance. His distinguished audience included Adlai Stevenson and Douglas MacArthur. As I read this address, I felt the impact as I acknowledged, with his words, that I remain the product of a “one-dimensional culture.” Tillich regarded America as a free society, but one “without depth.” The culture he described that day in 1963 has not changed from the current one in that it moves fast, with an obsession “to produce in order to produce still more.”

I now quote from Tillich’s biography authored by Wilhelm Pauck:

Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to “enter creation and unite with its power,” in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension. In a direct reference to his own role as a Socratic gadfly, he pointed out that the creative critics of contemporary society no longer needed to fear martyrdom, but were instead forced to “fight against being absorbed by the culture as another cultural good.”

As I read these words, I envisioned today’s thinker as one who water-skis over a vast ocean, skating rapidly over the surface while paying no regard to the immeasurable depths beneath. As a student of history, I see myself that way, as one who has focused on timelines and extensions, putting in little time for excavating the layers of strata beneath the surface of thought.

I am re-posting this remarkablly incisive quote from Emerson, who also saw the American thinker as one who stayed on the surface of ideas without bothering to tunnel beneath:

The crystal sphere of thought is as concentrical as the geological structure of the globe. As our soils and rocks lie in strata, concentric strata, so do all men’s thinkings run laterally, never vertically. Here comes by a great inquisitor with auger and plumb-line, and will bore an Artesian well through our conventions and theories, and pierce to the core of things. But as soon as he probes the crust, behold gimlet, plumb-line, and philosopher take a lateral direction in spite of all resistance, as if some strong wind took everything off its feet, and if you come month after month to see what progress our reformer has made,–not an inch has he pierced,–you still find him with new words in the old place, floating about in new parts of the same old vein or crust. The new book says, ‘I will give you the key to nature,’ and we expect to go like a thunderbolt to the centre. But the thunder is a surface phenomenon, makes a skin-deep cut, and so does the sage. The wedge turns out to be a rocket. Thus a man lasts but a very little while, for his monomania becomes insupportably tedious in a few months. It is so with every book and person: and yet–and yet–we do not take up a new book, or meet a new man without a pulse-beat of expectation. And this invincible hope of a more adequate interpreter is the sure prediction of his advent.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Method of Nature”

Thoreau made use of this same metaphor in his masterwork, Walden:

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. 

Tillich, Emerson and Thoreau have inspired me to devote more time to drilling to the core of things. After so many decades of gathering fragments, I’m wondering now what kind of skill set is required to think with depth rather than breadth. I’m happy that the holiday season has finally arrived, the fall semester has ended, grades have been posted, and I can now relax into a season of meditation.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

 

Morning Coffee with Dave and Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 28, 2018

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Reading Emerson’s “Experience” Essay this Morning

Underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam. Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life. By persisting to read or to think, this region gives further sign of itself, as it were in flashes of light, in sudden discoveries of its profound beauty and repose, as if the clouds that covered it parted at intervals, and showed the approaching traveller the inland mountains, with the tranquil eternal meadows spread at their base, whereon flocks graze, and shepherds pipe and dance.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Years ago, while in the pastoral ministry, I set aside time in the mornings, when the mind is freshest, and lingered for as long as my schedule would allow, studying the Bible, pondering its message, hoping to draw insight for the day and for life in general. When I learned the languages in later years, I spent countless hours translating the scriptures and seeking application for daily living. When the pastoral ministry ended, and a teaching career commenced, the practice continued, but the reading was broader. Now, semi-retired, the custom is still with me, and I rejoice that I am not having to write a sermon or a lecture, but can merely scribble notations in my daily journal and seek some guiding thought for the day.

Emerson’s description of such meditation is far more eloquent than I have ever been able to put into words. I share that faith of his, that beneath jumble of life’s details are harmonizing forces that sustain the world. And I love his description of drawing close to that source of wisdom, how the message dawns slowly as though clouds were withdrawing from the source of light. What I love about reading is that shared communion, the reader drawing close to the writer and feeling that warmth of wisdom as well as experiencing a glow of illumination. Emerson has been one of my many guiding forces since I entered the teaching realm in the mid-1980’s.

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Working to Finish this Commission

Today is a special day also because I found some space in my day to pick up the brush and resume work on this piece that I began in the heat of the summer. I’m moving more slowly now as I decide what to do in adding further detail, as well as deciding what to leave alone.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Morning Coffee with Dave & Waldo

August 17, 2018

emerson

A political orator wittily compared our party promises to western roads, which opened stately enough, with planted trees on either side, to tempt the traveller, but soon became narrow and narrower, and ended in a squirrel-track, and ran up a tree. So does culture with us; it ends in head-ache. Unspeakably sad and barren does life look to those, who a few months ago were dazzled with the splendor of the promise of the times.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

In three days, I will commence my second year of teaching in this semi-retired mode, and I cannot overstate the glory of this. Since 1989, Ralph Waldo Emerson has been my patron saint, empowering me to “survive” as a public school teacher by cultivating a life of the mind and making no apology for it. In the three decades of service, I cannot count the number of times we were promised a better teaching environment by voices from the campus, district and state. In retrospect, I count all those promises as empty as those made by politicians running for local, state and national office–empty words uttered either by those who lack the power to deliver, or even worse, those who know they cannot deliver, but utter the public lies anyway. I have been fortunate not to depend on them, but to rely on myself to cultivate an inner life that can continue to sustain, despite the climate of this external culture.

I love Emerson and his legacy for a number of reasons, chief among them the reality that he was a mediocre student who found his voice later in life. I can identify with that. No one would care to look at my public school transcript; I was one of those ‘tweeners easily forgotten–not in the top level of achievers, nor in the bottom level of high maintenance. I just did what was needed to get by and left no footprint when I graduated and headed off to the state university.

One year into my university experience, I woke up intellectually. I credit the environment of the Baptist Student Union and the Jesus Revolution for that. With a support group around me, I found inner strength in studying the Bible, which in turn would lead me to an early experience in the pastoral ministry, followed by ten years of seminary training, earning the M.Div and Ph.D.

Upon leaving the seminary, a major earthquake occurred in my life, which I choose not to describe in detail. All I care to say is that I found myself very much alone in this world, flush with existential despair, with no resources except my own abilities. After drifting from job to job, I decided to put my educational credentials to work and signed a contract to teach public school full time and at the same time found work as an adjunct instructor in a local university. In this new environment, I looked about for a mentor. I could find no living person to match my needs for friendship and understanding. In 1989, I discovered the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and from there began to understand the value of solitude and a life of the mind.

Of course, others would quickly follow: Henry David Thoreau, Paul Tillich, Edward Hopper, James Joyce–the list could go on and on, and I could likely begin blogging my responses to those heroes. But this morning, I choose to write of Emerson, the first one to get my full attention.

In an earlier blog (Coffee with Dave and Barnett), link provided),

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/8594332/posts/17489)

a very good friend and colleague of mine posted a comment that she had just completed an art project inspired by her reading of the Genesis creation account. In response, I would like to re-visit one of my favorite passages from Emerson’s “The American Scholar”–

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went out from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

I cannot think of a more eloquent statement of the divine nature of the creative act. The creative soul stands enveloped in this environment, breathes it in, holds it, ruminates, composts, arranges, and then pushes it back out in some form of expression. That is our highest act, our most sublime endeavor. This morning, I salute all creators as kindred spirits, and feel deeply honored to be counted among you.

Thank you always for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

Carrying the Wilderness Back into the City

August 15, 2018

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Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

John Muir

The watercolor above was begun one late afternoon a couple of months ago while relaxing at the edge of the quaint little town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico. I stopped before getting to the tree on the right, because I was dissatisfied with my way of rendering trees.

On my last Sunday recently in South Fork, Colorado, I went wild with a series of experiments on the evergreens I enjoyed every day outside the cabin where I resided. I am still trying to absorb all the new things I tried. But this afternoon, I decided to apply some of those new experimental techniques to this tree on the right. I’m happy with the result.

All the while I painted, I thought of the John Muir quote above, and a kindred quote I have always loved from Emerson’s Nature:

In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.

Thanks to a long, relaxing vacation, I feel in many ways that I have returned to reason and faith. There is no describing this sentiment.

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.