Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’

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.




Life Slowing Down

August 26, 2017

redlands now

Nestled in The Gallery at Redlands for the Weekend

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.  . . . Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy.  . . . We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Now, in my semi-retirement days, Emerson is even more a friend and kindred spirit than he’s been in the past twenty-five years for me. When I was younger, I was more of a romantic enthusiast who truly believed in promises delivered by politicians on a national, state and local school district level. For years, I believed in the substance of political stump speeches and beginning of the school year pep rallies. After I stopped believing in the promises, I believed that the speakers themselves believed in their own empty promises. Now I even doubt that, and choose not to listen much any longer. Instead I choose to do what I do, and try to improve over the years in my own performance. Voltaire encouraged us to cultivate our own gardens. Emerson challenges us to learn to skate well on the surfaces of life presented to us.

After a summer on the road, filled with new vistas and fresh encounters, I began to feel a renewed enthusiasm and confidence that had been reduced to dying embers over recent years. I have returned to my home turf to begin a semester at Texas Wesleyan University as an adjunct instructor. I knew the change would be good, but had no idea it would be this good. I have now shifted from a full-time high school schedule with four subjects to teach across six classes, all day Monday through Friday (and an online college course as well), to a university campus where I teach one subject in the classroom for two hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings, plus my one online course. That’s it.

The culture shock cannot be overstated; in nearly thirty years I have not been allowed the luxury of space and quiet and time between classes to think, write, re-think, revise and flow into a classroom environment (smaller classes too!) of older students who show up ready to think and engage in dialogue. Of course, the biggest change has been the university requiring only a syllabus to be submitted by me on the third week of school.  By this time, I would have submitted stacks of documents to my school district to satisfy some bureaucratic monster. And even larger still–at the university, I will submit a progress report at midterm, then grades at semester’s end.  In high school, progress and report card grades are submitted six times by semester’s end. All week long, during this first week at the university I felt that I was forgetting to do something; I couldn’t believe I had 48-hour lapses of quiet between class lectures. And 48 hours is a broad expanse of time to research, write and edit classroom lectures. I feel genuinely spoiled, and my heart is full of warmth and good feelings. I’m sorry I had to wait so long to get to this day.

This  weekend and next will find me at one of my favorite places–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. I’ll keep the gallery open all day today and into the evening (there is fine dining across the hall at the Red Fire Grille with plenty of patrons coming and going).  I will also keep basic Sunday hours (10-5) as well. I have rotated five new paintings into the display and will take the replaced five back home for awhile. The summer has kept me away from here, but I look forward to putting in as many weekends as possible, maintaining some kind of presence here.

train drawing

Initial Stages of a Locomotive Drawing

Palestine is an extraordinary town with a magnificent railroad heritage. I began a project in the spring, involving vintage railroad scenes, and have already completed four watercolors with more in progress as I write. Above is the beginning of a pencil drawing, as I plan to present a showing of drawings and paintings this winter, just in time for Palestine’s Polar Express experience. The Gallery at Redlands hopes to have a sound artistic presence when the holidays arrive.

Thank you for reading. Now that life has slowed considerably for me, I hope I’ll find the energy and enthusiasm to update this blog and let all of you know what is happening in this part of the world.


Tell Me Where the Road Is

Watercolor, 27 x 24″ framed


Here is a watercolor I’ve introduced into the gallery collection that hasn’t been here before.  This fall, many new works will be added and displayed here. Stay tuned . . .


Drawing the Next Circle

July 24, 2017


In the Gallery at Redlands, Palestine, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn, that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Awakened at 5:30 this morning by a heavy rainstorm (love the sound of rain on a tin roof!), I rose refreshed, and by the time I finished showering, making breakfast and loading the Jeep for the 50-minute drive to the gallery, I was surprised to be at the desk by 8:00. My pump is primed, and I am ready to begin the next painting.

Emerson’s meditation on “Circles” has possessed me since 1992 when I was first introduced to it while at Oregon State University. The words resonate with me, because I seldom feel that I’ve been mired in a rut; there is always a new adventure to pursue, a new experience to savor.  When Jack Kerouac wrote that beyond the hills in the distance something wonderful is going to happen, I believe it was Ken Kesey who retorted, “It turns out there are just more hills.” I have met many with Kesey’s sentiment, but I am not one of them. In a short time I’ll be departing for my next road trip, and I’m excited beyond measure. Meanwhile, I have a commission to complete, so I’m getting down to the business of it. It’s a beautiful morning in Palestine, Texas for working on a painting.


Last evening, between soggy rainstorms, I did manage to get in a little fly fishing in a private pond near the store where I reside in the country. I managed to land two largemouth bass and a pair of fat panfish. I returned them all, just enjoying the sport of fishing. I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish an evening. Last week in Louisiana, some of my best evenings were capped by fishing area lakes, and I’m still thinking fondly of those experiences.

Time to get to work . . . thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Recollections 54 Redivivus

September 19, 2016


The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”

On February 7, 2002, over fourteen years ago, I was convinced that I had finally found my artistic voice, and responded by launching my sole proprietorship Recollections 54, creating a market for my watercolors ( My passion has always been to travel  county roads through the sleepy towns of America, my watercolor block riding at my side like a faithful travel dog. Always on the lookout for something to paint, I experienced every day as a new opportunity for discovery of some artifact reminiscent of earlier decades of energy and prosperity. Today, only the shells and husks remain of filling stations, general stores, movie theaters and other public buildings formerly stirring with conversations, stories and glimpses of life. The writer Marcel Proust has pointed out the thrill of beholding an object capable of triggering profound memories from youth, and being filled with a sense of warmth and gratitude.

Holding down two jobs has made painting with any kind of regularity a challenge, and should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I have this fantasy of pursuing my watercolor passion with fewer restrictions. In addition to working full time, I have also taken a number of detours throughout the past fourteen years, traveling roads that involved significant changes in my signature genre–still life painting, plein air painting, Texas coastal themes and fly fishing, to name a few. But lately, I’ve found joy in returning to this Recollections 54 genre, selecting scenes from vanishing America.

I have nearly completed another watercolor of this favorite genre, and posted it above. This relic of a roadside restaurant flooded me with a sense of loss and presence when I stopped and photographed it in New Mexico years ago. Loss, because the business was dead; presence, because the structure resonated with stories as I stood gazing at it from every possible angle, near and afar, taking dozens of photos and trying to imagine what it was like to pull into the gravel parking lot hungry and eager to enter a comfortable zone and be served.

Emerson wrote that detachment was the virtue of a piece of art, that ability to detach the subject from the surroundings that tried to draw away attention. Frequently that is what I do when selecting something to draw or paint. From buildings such as this, I frequently remove windows, air conditioning units, graffiti, dangling cables–anything I regard as taking away from the simple integrity of the subject. The surroundings often present that annoying tree or trash dumpster that is in the way. The fun thing about making art is the ability to make those decisions in framing up a composition. And so this subject also presented its own unique set of possibilities.

I believe the painting is nearly finished. As was the practice of Andrew Wyeth, I’ll put it up in my home somewhere, and glance at it as I enter or leave the room, always evaluating, figuring if there remains something to do before signing off on it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.



May 10, 2016


Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences.  The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

Late last night, while trying to read Ulysses, I came across the above passage and just had to close the book and my eyes for a spell.  I needed some kind of epiphany, coming off a scintillating week of plein air painting activity in Arkansas and re-entering my high school to face a pile of work from my weeklong absence.  It was like plunging into a warm summer pond after leaving a sauna.  I had no idea how a single Monday could suck all the creative aspirations out of me, but I guess that is how the daily job can be.  Today is better, because I’m feeling the inspiration once again that fueled my desires last week.

I have an incredibly busy two weeks facing me before I leave for another round of art festivals and plein air workshop activity.  There is so much preparation that goes into leaving for these activities, and I enjoy most of those details, especially the anticipation of the events.  But at the same time, I have this need to stop, rest, contemplate, and make new art.  I have always believed that quality art comes out of the depths, and for me there is no depth when I am covered up in social encounters.  The book I read last year that has come to mean so much to me, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers, urged to the reader that depth is sacrificed when one’s life is immersed in social media.  I could not agree more.  The art events that have enveloped me the past several weeks (with more to come) have taken me to the heights, but alas, I am not making art, not exploring new frontiers, and feel that a significant part of me is drying up.  I’m glad that I know how to fix this; I just need to find a way to adjust my daily calendar in order to get back to drawing and painting.

I apologize if this has come out as a “whiny” blog (I detest those!). I suppose that what I’m putting  out there right now is more of my private journal musings.  But still, there may be many of you who need to read these kinds of things, so thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

When the Imagination is Flat, Draw Anyway

January 22, 2016


Books are for the scholar’s idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must, — when the sun is hid, and the stars withdraw their shining, — we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

This advice from my beloved New England sage I have taken seriously throughout my adult life. As a schoolteacher, at least one idea begins percolating in my consciousness while getting ready to go to work every morning. That way, if the classroom dynamics are flat, I have something going on in my head worth exploring that makes the day better, anyway.

But this morning, of all rare times, nothing came. And as I moved through my classes, it never did come. Now that I am into my Friday night, with a welcoming weekend stretched out before me, I still have no idea to pursue. Following Emerson’s dictate, I now have a stack of quality books at my elbow. But before opening one of the volumes, I was struck by the thought: “Hey! You haven’t drawn or painted today! Do it.” But I didn’t feel like it. I did it anyway, and the drawing is posted above. Things are already looking up, and I am ready to read and relax into the rest of the night now. If nothing happens tonight, I’m confident that I’ll wake up with an Idea tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Drawing of my Drawing

December 8, 2015


Seated in my classroom after hours, I wanted to draw, but my room has no windows.  So . . . I took out my Sunday drawing of the tree and decided to draw from the drawing.  Unfortunately, the lighting is not good for photography here, but I’m happy with the result of this drawing-of-a-drawing.  At least this will hold me till I can get outdoors again to draw from the real subject.

I will forever be grateful for Youtube!  Listening to Harold Bloom discussing Emerson in an interview gave me great company during this quiet afternoon.

Thanks for reading.

Wishing for a Siphon Hose

October 19, 2015


Human labor, through all its forms, from the sharpening of a stake to the construction of a city or an epic, is one immense illustration of the perfect compensation of the universe. Everywhere and always this law is sublime. The absolute balance of Give and Take, the doctrine that every thing has its price, and if that price is not paid, not that thing but something else is obtained, and that it is impossible to get anything without its price, is not less sublime in the columns of a ledger than in the budgets of states, in the laws of light and darkness, in all the action and reaction of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”

Good evening, dear Friends. I posted the photo above, taken as I was driving wearily home Sunday from Corpus Christi. As I pulled alongside this coffee truck, I wished for a siphon hose so I could snake it out there and suck down some of that coffee in hopes of regenerating my sagging body. I have known the compensation laws expounded by Emerson for decades, and knew that the weekend including a sixteen hour round-trip drive would suck all the vitality out of me, as it in fact did. Today’s school experience was most unpleasant, and I chalk much of that up to my strength being drained by the weekend’s events. In time, I will get the energy back, but there are no shortcuts, and daily school obligations are not going to wait for me.

I already posted some pictures of Saturday’s event at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, where the library is hosting my one-man-show. I now have some others to share. I was bowled over to find two large foam core posters on easels announcing my exhibit. On the prior blog I posted one of them. Here is the other.

Turning my head in the library, I was shocked to see my picture on a flat screen monitor:

Walking about campus that day, everywhere I found a flat screen monitor, there appeared my picture. I also was surprised to see the poster appearing on other easels in other buildings. Then of course, the one below took the cake:

"I can't get no respect!"

“I can’t get no respect!”

Great–right next to the trash cans. Oh well. The show looked terrific and I was filled with pride. Below I’ll post a few more photos from the hung show:

I have always wanted to present my work in journal format, with the ragged edges of the stapled watercolor paper showing. But I was always afraid to ask. I was thrilled when Dinah Bowman of Bowman Design and Framing asked if it would be O.K. to display some of my work this way. I love the rawness of the display.

This will always remain one of my preferred landscape sketches done on location. I wanted to emphasize the cumulonimbus clouds billowing above, with just the strip of lagoon showing beneath and a small part of the foreground shoreline.

This algae study of the mermaid’s wine cup I did back home in my studio. On media day at the island, Captain Jay Tarkington waded out into the lagoon and reached down beneath the waters to pull up this sample and give it to me for future studies. I keep it in a jar next to my drafting table.

I excluded this study of cactuses and firewheels from the show, thinking it not very good. Dinah disagreed and so did Mike. I’m glad they disregarded my wishes and framed it for me to see. Once seen, I said “Definitely Yes, thank you!” I’m frequently surprised at what presentation adds to a piece of art. Thanks, Dinah and Mike!

And finally, I’m so proud of the photograph taken on media day when the film crew arrived on the island. This is the focus of the promotional poster the university’s Communications Department created.

Poster Detail

I am so tired this Monday evening I can hardly hold my eyes open. The weekend travel was exhausting, but I’m still glad I went down to view the show. And I am so delighted at the outpouring of well-wishes that I found on facebook. Thanks all of you!

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Tearing Off and Beginning Again

August 23, 2015

imageTo fend off the crowd, Stoics believed, it was essential to cultivate inner self-sufficiency, and Seneca returns to this notion over and over. Learn to be content within yourself, to trust your own instincts and ideas. Those who achieve this autonomy, he argues, are best able to enjoy and make the most of their outward lives. They thrive in the crowd because they’re not dependent on it. 

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

The photo above was taken early Saturday morning in the back of my darkened classroom, and it became a sacred space for me. Nearly three months of summer solitude and quiet are about to end as I enter the public classroom arena in the morning and write the first page of a new chapter for all of us. I’m choosing the title above because I have torn off and discarded a number of teaching points I have grown to love over the years, replacing them with some new ones.

This latest book I’m reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age has seized my attention and held it like no other in recent years. Not only am I appreciative that the author got my attention of how social media can drive one’s personal agenda, I am glad now to seek a more satisfying lifestyle that balances my quiet solitude with the demands of a social business schedule. The summer has furnished an excellent training ground for the quiet side of my life, and tomorrow I’ll find out just how successful I am at balancing the tumult of daily school with the quiet of my study. I find such attractive sweetness in the lives of Emerson, Thoreau, Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold because I imagine them to have found ways to balance their quiet inwardness with the demands of business. I see them as very positive role models for anyone who wishes to pursue creative exploits.

I did fight for some painting time in the studio this day before school begins. Here is a 20 x 24″ beginning of the same Laguna Madre painting that I completed a couple of days ago. I want to explore the serpentine countour of land in the foreground as I did in that very small watercolor.

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

Sketchbook/Journal Experimenting

This morning, while reading something completely unrelated, my mind drifted to drawing, and I’m glad I closed the book and let the imagination run. This is not something I’ve been taught or read in any art manual–I have always balked at drawing landscapes in pencil, because I could not solve the problem of lightly colored grasses against darker backgrounds. I had solved that issue in watercolor through masquing, but could not think of a way to render light grass blades against darker ones in pencil. Recalling that I could impress shapes into paper with a hard pencil (6H or 8H) and then skate over it with a soft lead pencil, I wondered if I could take a ballpoint pen that had run dry, and use it to press lines of grass into the paper, and then drag a soft pencil over the top of it. The sketchbook/journal page above shows my first attempts. Turning to another sketchbook, I then worked more deliberately and got closer to where I want to go:

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

Combining stylus indentions with soft graphite drawing

To get this effect, I used an empty ballpoint pen for the impressions into the paper, then skated over it with a 6B pencil and rubbed some of it out with a paper blending stump. Finally, I drew in darker grasses, first in 6B, followed by a #2 pencil and then finally a 6H. I’m getting closer to what I want to accomplish.  Too bad I have to break this off and return my attention to tomorrow’s first day of classes.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Thoreau Had His Walden

July 22, 2015
Back to Work on the Large Painting

Back to Work on the Large Painting

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse

I have not made it a secret that I was a bored student throughout my public school days. It wasn’t until college that I woke up intellectually. As a day dreamer, I was drawn to a poster in one of my classrooms, and now cannot recall what grade in school it was–I believe it was high school. This poster featured a color photo of an attractive woman with the patterns of leaves shadowed all over the side of her face, obviously standing beneath a large tree. Her expression was pensive and this quote was on the poster. I wrote it in my school notebook so many times that I internalized it, believing throughout those young years (and ever since) that I was the one described on the poster. I didn’t even read Hermann Hesse until I was past thirty, but am delighted to learn that this quote originated with him.

In my adult years, I have appreciated every story of a creative individual who found sanctuary and explored independent thought: Thoreau at Walden, Emerson on his European odyssey, Descartes in a stove chamber in Ulm, Germany, Kant in his chair every morning, Hawthorne in an upstairs bedroom. I challenge my Philosophy students every semester: Where is your Walden Pond? Where is your Cartesian Stove? Anthony Storr has written that remarkable book Solitude, challenging his readers to take their quiet, alone time seriously.

This summer started well, with my invitation to reside on an island in the Gulf for about a week, followed by a summer vacation (my first one as a teacher in many, many years) with no summer school classes to teach. The days in my studio, my study, my writing corner, have been a healing balm, and I am most fortunate to have been handed this quality time and space for creative exploration. Today I have returned to a large painting of the island where I stayed in June. I’ve been working the clouds all afternoon, staining, soaking, scrubbing and brushing as many textures and neutral shadow colors as possible, trying to make them look like the cumulonimbus formations that took my breath away when I was at the Laguna Madre.

In the Journals of Henry David Thoreau, I have finally reached the days when he took up residence at Walden Pond. The following entry is from his third day, July 6, 1845:

I wish to meet the facts of life–the vital facts, which are the phenomena or actuality the gods meant to show us–face to face, and so I came down here. 

That matches well with my sentiments during that brief span I resided on the Laguna Madre. There was time for reflection, time to gaze at nature face-to-face, time to think over the things in life that really matter. And now, as I bend over this painting, I remember those sensations, that special space, that special time, and truly believe that the experience has brought genuine change and improvement to my life. If nothing else, it has reinforced my conviction that I need a Walden Pond in my life.

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.