Posts Tagged ‘solitude’

Warm Thoughts Following the Retreat to the Wilderness

February 13, 2017

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Pleasurably Wrestling with Heidegger’s Being and Time

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

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 12, 1837

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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A Satisfying Return to the Studio Tonight

February 6, 2017

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Die Zeit ist kurz, die Kunst ist lang. (Time is too brief, though art’s forever.)

Goethe, Faust

The soft darkness and stillness of this night welcomed me back to my abandoned studio. There have been too many lengthy lapses in creative activity, thanks to school-related tasks that have driven me far from my element, and I chafe at the realization that the “system”, while crowing about “what’s best for the students” never considers the value of an instructor’s personal enrichment. To me, the development and enrichment of the instructor is by far the best gift to offer students.  Way back in 1995, The National Endowment for the Humanities granted twenty-five of us the last of the Teacher-Scholar Awards (Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” killed the program). The award was a one-year funded sabbatical leave of absence, grounded in the philosophy that teachers are better for their students when they are granted time off for educational advancement, scholarly study or personal enrichment. In twenty-eight years, I am glad that I had that one year to re-tool and re-think what I was trying to do in the classroom. I am aware that many are quick to retort that teachers have summer vacations, but that didn’t begin happening to me until two years ago–I always taught both semesters of summer school, hence no summers off from the classroom. I have been a year-round teacher until recently.

But that’s not why I’m pausing to write this night!  I was fortunate to finish tomorrow’s classroom preparations with enough of an evening before me to re-enter my studio and resume work on two abandoned watercolors. I believe I have finished the still life of the doorknob and Indian corn.  I only needed about an hour to stitch up some details on that large painting that had annoyed me. As for the smaller one of myself in the chair, I’m getting closer to finishing it out as well.  I’m still working on me, as well as the objects surrounding me, and feel that I need one or two more sessions in the studio before I can call this one complete. I am particularly fond of working on the small composition because it was born in the cozy quiet of the store I so love to inhabit when I can get out of the city for a weekend. Every time I peer into this picture, I feel myself back in the store, back in the quiet, back in the cozy embrace of a good life.

I still have not completed my reading of Faust, because I continue to pause, underline, highlight, scribble in my journal, and muse over the power of his words. When I read this line that time is brief and art is forever, my soul feels soothed. Art for me is a sanctuary. One of the portals outside the Saint Louis Art Museum reads: ART STILL HAS TRVTH. TAKE REFVGE THERE. That quote from Matthew Arnold has nourished me throughout the years. My heart vibrates when I think of the kindred spirits I know personally who enrich themselves with creative endeavors–writing, making art, playing a musical instrument, or just reading for pure pleasure and enrichment. When we are allowed quiet evenings to engage in these pursuits, we are wealthy indeed.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Zu die Hütten (to the Hut!)

January 30, 2017

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My Favorite “Store-Off-the-Grid”, (where I sit in the mornings and enjoy my coffee)

Being back in my home is good tonight. Mozart plays softly in the background. The hot tea is soothing. I love my writing desk and library area. But in my mind’s eye, I’m still at the “store”, my favorite hideaway when I can get out of the city. I probably posted in earlier blogs (I don’t go back and read them much) that I’ve been reading a great deal about Martin Heidegger. I have zero interest in the details of his political leanings, but am intrigued with his philosophy that includes amazing insight into art, poetry and pre-Socratic thought. And I have always been intrigued with stories surrounding the cabin he had built adjacent to the town of Todtnauberg where he frequently withdrew to study and write. He did not enjoy life in the city of Freiburg where he lived and taught in the university. He later turned down the Chair of Philosophy offered to him in Berlin, because it would prevent his frequent withdrawals to his cabin. As for myself, I’m glad to have a home in the suburbs of Arlington, Texas, four minutes from where I teach. But I love so much more these three-and-a-half hour drives out of the city to a remote spot in the country, to a dirt road where no one drives by, to a spot of absolute quiet and solitude. It is in that place that my soul has been restored repeatedly. All my life I have dreamed of such a location.

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Martin Heidegger’s Cabin in the Black Forest

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Reading Thoreau’s Journals inside the “Store”

I want to respond to a passage from Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut, having finished reading the book this weekend:

. . . it is possible to consider the hut and house as talismanic for two positions decisive in Heidegger’s biography, which Albert Borgmann terms “provincialism” and “cosmopolitanism.” These positions are often considered in opposition. Tropes recur by which advocates of each position attempt to dismiss the alternative. Cosmopolitans dismiss the provincial as invidious: introvert, inbred, prone to exclusion, and reliant upon romantic myth. Provincials dismiss the cosmopolitan as deluded: bound up in abstract systems and priorities, entranced by the fickleness of fashion, setting itself and its self-appointed heroes on false pedestals. Although such polarities are inevitably caricatures, and provincial and cosmopolitan positions always remain more nuanced, their identification can be helpful.

I love it when someone writes what I’ve thought about for years, and writes it so well! For twenty-eight years, I have been a citizen of both worlds–teaching in the suburban neighborhoods of a large city and withdrawing as much as possible to remote sanctuaries. Being single, I love the privacy and quiet of my home after a day in the classroom, and when I can leave the city, I look for the quietest places in the country. My life’s work has been in the public schools full time and the universities part time. When I retire at the end of May, I’ll gladly accept the offer of a neighboring university to continue teaching part time, some of it online. I am so thrilled at this new chapter, the idea of  no longer being under contract from 7:15 till 3:15 five days a week.

My public life in the classroom has been mostly scintillating throughout the decades–I have had an overwhelmingly positive and affirming crowd of students (probably 99.8% respectful and inspiring, only the occasional “turd”). Being an educator has allowed me to remain a student for life, which is what I truly craved–I hated the thought of leaving a life of scholarship behind after completing graduate school. How wonderful to be paid to study, to learn and share daily the things that matter to me. I cannot say enough about the richness of teaching in the areas of religion, art, philosophy and literature. Life as a public educator has been very rewarding to me.

At the same time, I must confess that I am drawn to reading books like Anthony Storr’s Solitude: A Return to the Self, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, along with the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Long ago I came to terms with the reality that I like being alone, and crave space for such times. I have always believed that I could do my job better if I had time to withdraw and recharge my batteries. Fortunately for me, life has provided those opportunities and for the most part I have been able to avoid burnout.

At age 62, I am more sensitive to the noisy clatter of school hallways, the public school obsession to call meetings, and the growing paperwork, records and accountability demanded, often by a bureaucracy that continues to create “positions” designed for compiling data and checking boxes on reports. I have never had respect for elected politicians who pass laws governing an educational enterprise that they have never themselves understood or spent time studying. And I have noticed with disdain throughout the years that they continue to pass more laws designed to cripple the work of conscientious educators, and then use the data designed to prove that public education is faltering so they can convince tax payers that schools would be better if they were run by private businesses. I have had the pleasure to work for a district that is far better than any state or federal agency can evaluate with piles of data. And I have been fortunate to work inside of schools with administrators that let the teachers do their jobs. Real education occurs inside the classroom when the teacher is freed up to study his/her area of expertise and design creative ways to share this with students primed to learn. All thinkers know this. To sum up, I am getting out at a good time; most likely I stayed too long . . .

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Leaving the Store . . . Until Next Time

I have not been posting on the blog with much frequency of late. But after this weekend, I still have plenty on my mind, and I’m glad to have this avenue of expression. So thank you again for reading . . .

I make art to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Walking with a Limp

January 30, 2017

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“But now he’s broody. He doesn’t talk. He goes walking alone in the hills at night. I went out to see him and–he’s been writing poetry–pages of it all over the table.”

“Didn’t you ever write poetry, Will?”

“I did not.”

“I have,” said Dessie. “Pages and pages of it all over the table.”

“I don’t want you to go.”

“Let me decide,” she said softly. “I’ve lost something. I want to try to find it again.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I am back to work after a weekend retreat to the back country. And the John Steinbeck novel is coursing through my veins this morning. I read the final two-hundred pages-plus of East of Eden while cozied up in my favorite store-off-the-grid. The dialogue above made me laugh out loud. Dessie wanted to leave her business and return to the ranch to live with her troubled brother Tom. Her business-minded brother Will was trying to dissuade her by relaying what he thought would be a troubling profile of Tom’s recent lifestyle. The grown-up sons and daughter were trying to cope with the death of their father Samuel whose passion was the glue that had held the family together:

Then Samuel died and the world shattered like a dish.

This sentence lingered in my consciousness all weekend while alone in the store. Painting, reading, writing and thinking sustained my spirits in the best of all possible ways the entire time, but I could not help pondering life and many of the people I know and love who share openly about these wounds that we all sustain. My closest friends know that the results of our recent election, along with its aftermath, have torn my spirit like a dull serrated knife. I find it necessary to disregard over three-fourths of facebook posts because they are talking about it–whether the posts are pro or con, the message is usually one of ugliness and hurt. And life since November has made it challenging to remain buoyant in spite of the culture that now envelops us.

But the pain I read in East of Eden is much more comprehensive, the kind of pain that punctuates lives throughout their duration. During the quiet hours of the weekend, I mused over the events of a lifetime, and how many tragedies the average individual absorbs. The video by R.E.M. returned to my memory: “Everybody Hurts.” Yet through it all, we continue to walk through this life, even if we walk with a limp. And perhaps the connective tissue that binds us as humans is the mutual regard we feel, recognizing that others hurt just as we do, and we all have the capacity to reach out to one another for support and understanding.

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The weekend has been a real gift in that it offered space and quiet for uninterrupted thought and a chance to make some decisions that needed to be made.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to express.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Studio Off the Grid

January 29, 2017

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I have just completed a weekend in the embrace of my Sanctuary, my Studio Off the Grid. Far away from the city, with much thanks to precious friends, I am privileged to take up residence in an old store with living quarters in the back. The residential section is centrally heated, but the front store room relies on a small heater. Temperatures early Saturday hovered in the thirties and it was difficult heating the front of the store where I prefer to set up my easel and paint the interior. So, much of the day was devoted to reading, writing and reflecting in the residential quarters. I had over two hundred pages left to read in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and by the afternoon I had finished it with shudders of deep feelings hitting every mark between sadness and satisfaction.

In addition to Steinbeck, I read much about Martin Heidegger, finishing Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut and resuming my reading of Rüdiger Safranski’s Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil.  I also read from Heidegger’s 1934 radio address “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”.

Once the front of the store was warm enough for painting, I entered my studio sanctuary and resumed work on a watercolor I started a couple of weeks ago, but abandoned because I had trouble rendering the objects surrounding me. I am increasingly dissatisfied with painting from photographs, and though I cannot avoid the practice when painting myself, I found it much more satisfying to look at my actual surroundings in this store instead of copying the objects I see in the photo. My struggle between photographs and live models goes back a few winters, when I made my first stabs at watercoloring still life objects from my garage. The antique doors stored there have given me a very satisfying grounding, first in the actual garage, and more recently dragging them into my living room studio. They are worth the physical effort. The door I painted months ago in this actual store also yielded some great advantages, much more than if I had photographed the door and worked exclusively from the photo in my home residence over three hours away. The same goes with the antique objects I’ve collected over the decades: my paintings of the objects are far superior (to my eye) than objects I’ve photographed and painted. I have trouble explaining why I feel that painting from life offers benefits beyond painting from images. My problem explaining this reminds me of Heidegger’s struggle matching words to his ideas:

On a deep winter’s night when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages around the cabin and veils and covers everything, that is the perfect time for philosophy. Then its questions become simple and essential. Working through each thought can only be tough and rigorous. The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.

So now I try to wrap words around my resisting issue of making art from photographs vs. the real objects before me: I find much more satisfaction from my watercolors and drawings done from three-dimensional subjects rather than two-dimensional photos. Granted, there is much more work and anxiety involved in editing a 360-degree environment and translating the three dimensions onto a measured two-dimensional picture plane, I feel that something special emerges from that struggle. When I work from a photo, I feel that I am doing paint-by-number, merely struggling for a one-to-one correspondence from one square inch to another. When looking at a real world before my eyes with depth, changing colors, light shifts, etc., I feel that I am actually recording a world onto the paper before me. And in viewing the watercolor months and years later, that world still pulsates on the surface, to me.  This never happens with my works of art transferred from photos, even if I feel that the skill levels are sometimes higher. I don’t know that this is making sense to a reader, but it’s the best I can do for now.

Thanks always for taking time to read me.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

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Into the Sanctuary

January 15, 2017

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Up-to-Date Photo of my Most Recent Watercolor in Progress

At most a city-dweller gets “stimulated” by a so-called “stay in the country.” But my whole work is sustained and guided by the world of these mountains and their people. Lately from time to time my work up there is interrupted by long stretches at conferences, lecture trips, committee meetings and my teaching work down here in Freiburg. But as soon as I go back up there . . . I am simply transported in the work’s own rhythm, and in a fundamental sense I am not in control of its hidden law. People in the city often wonder whether one gets lonely up in the mountains among the peasants for such long and monotonous periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness, it is solitude. . . . Solitude has the peculiar and original power of not isolating us but projecting our whole existence out into the vast nearness of the presence of all things.”

Martin Heidegger, “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” Radio Address, 1934

This three-day weekend arrived like that rare thoughtful friend. Some kind of stomach virus kept me out of school Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I returned to school, a shell of what I normally am, and I remember very little of that day. Thursday and Friday I was just tired, still not fully recuperated from the illness. The holiday weekend offered promise of a healing balm.

The reading posted above came from a book I just acquired, Heidegger’s Hut by Adam SharrBefore purchasing the volume, I was aware that the philosopher Martin Heidegger spent much time in a cabin in the Black Forest at Todtnauberg in southern Germany. What I did not know was that he wrote from that secluded dwelling for fifty years, and even turned down the offer to occupy the chair of philosophy in Berlin because it would take him too far away from this country sanctuary. In the same year, he broadcasted the quote posted above.

When I read that passage Friday evening, I just closed the book and sighed, staring into the dark night. I had already decided not to travel over the weekend, and stay in my own suburban home so I could have three days for reading, reflection and getting back to a watercolor I had abandoned before becoming ill. The temperatures had dropped enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, so I put on music conducive for studying and spent much of this weekend reading the Heidegger book along with primary source texts I have enjoyed in years past from this unusual mind. I am over halfway through Steinbeck’s East of Eden as well. Finally I returned to the watercolor and have posted the latest developments on it for anyone interested in seeing it. I’m experimenting more with India Ink to darken some of the background and stale breadcrumbs to add more texturing to the wood and burlap surfaces. My intention is to continue working on it tomorrow and posting the progress to this blog.

store-picMy Favorite Country Escape

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Porch Time at the same Country Sanctuary

In one of his rhapsodic passages about thinking and writing in the country, Heidegger wrote: “The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.” That is exactly my sentiment as I try to express how profoundly the reading of this book has enraptured my own soul.  Thoreau had his cabin at Walden. Hölderlin had his Tübingen tower. Goethe had his Gartenhaus in Weimar. And Nietzsche had his convalescent home at Sils Maria in the Austrian Alps. For decades I have craved such a “sacred space” for retreat from the work routine so I could enjoy the quiet and hopefully create something special, mentally or aesthetically. Above I’ve posted two photos of a very special place, several hours from where I live–a place to which dear friends have offered access for just such activity.

In 1985, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I fled Fort Worth and lived in rural Whitesboro, Texas in the home posted below. It was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I preferred to write by the light of oil burning lamps at night and still recall the smoky smells that filled the house during those winter evenings as I worked. I still miss those days, thirty years later. Once the dissertation was completed and I graduated, I reluctantly moved back to the city to find work and have been living in the suburbs ever since. I have since revisited this home, too damaged now for an actual residence. The photos are posted below of how it looked around 2010.

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My Residence in 1985

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Close-up of the Painting in Progress

I look forward to retirement at the end of this semester. Though I’ll continue to live in my suburban home, I’ll seek opportunities to flee to the country for the quiet. I’m grateful that Heidegger left behind his musings on the values of retreat.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Afterglow of a Wilderness Retreat

November 13, 2016

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That’s me, in a rocker, in a secluded place three hours from my home

It is Sunday evening, and I have just returned from my country sanctuary.  I spent another precious weekend watercoloring inside a general store where I was privileged to reside as a guest. While working and looking around at the grocery items from decades past, I kept hearing in my mind the following script from the motion picture Pollock starring Ed Harris. The painter had just moved to Springs, Long Island to escape the madness of New York City.  The proprietor of the local grocery had this to say to Pollock the first time he shopped in the store:

You're the fella moved into the old Quinn place.

              Morning.

              You moved out from the city?

              I don't blame you.

              In a world where they can split a tiny atom...

              and blow up hundreds of thousands of people...

              there's no telling where it's all gonna lead.

              Best to find a quiet place...

              do what you have to do.


The morning following our presidential election, I returned to work and was surrounded with teachers and students wanting to discuss the election’s outcome.  This was a conversation I did not wish to engage. I took ill, and in the following days called in sick, and by the weekend decided I needed to retreat to the country.  The healing balm offered by this special place and my special friends has far exceeded my expectations in providing needed rest, quiet, recharged spiritual batteries and recalibrated ideas for my future.  I can return to work tomorrow, grateful for the past few days of peace.

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Reading from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau

After an exhausting three-hour drive, I found myself extremely sleepy early Friday night, so I turned in early.  Waking without an alarm at 6:48, I felt refreshed, rose and made breakfast and coffee, hiked to a neighboring pond to fly fish awhile (caught only one bluegill on a popper, but managed to catch an additional seventeen bass by the time the weekend ran its course), then sat at a bedroom reading desk looking out a pair of French doors across a sun-washed pasture.  Turning to the Journals of Thoreau, I read the following:

I require of any lecturer that he will read me a more or less simple and sincere account of his own life, of what he has done and thought,–not so much what he has read or heard of other men’s lives and actions, but some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land,–and if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me,–describing even his outward circumstances and what adventures he has had, as well as his thoughts and feelings about them.  He who gives us only the results of other men’s lives, though with brilliant temporary success, we may in some measure justly accuse of having defrauded us of our time.  We want him to give us that which was most precious to him,–not his life’s blood but even that for which his life’s blood circulated, what he has got by living.  If anything ever yielded him pure pleasure or instruction, let him communicate it.

I needed to read that.  Having taught for three decades, and in recent years posted to a blog, I have always second-guessed how much quoting of others vs. how much personal stuff I should communicate to anyone willing to listen.  My life has been stirred by what I have read of those who have traveled this life before me.  And daily I seek to record my personal visions.  But when it comes to blending the two, I’m never sure, and I guess I never will be.  At any rate, I appreciated Thoreau’s sentiments, because I’m always fearful of putting out blogs that offer nothing more than navel-gazing.

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Rising from my reading, I returned to the main store counter and looked among the cans, bottles and packages on the shelf, trying to decide what to paint first.  I chose this section, hoping that the bright red Coca-Cola ad would draw immediate attention to the painting, and then hoping that the coffee tin and bottle adjoining would support enough detail to satisfy the curious eye.

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As usual, I spent a good part of the weekend perusing Andrew Wyeth drybrush sketches, and decided to leave this one as a vignette.  It is approximately 9 x 12″ so I’m seriously considering putting it into the Fort Worth CAC 9 x 12 show two days from now.  They allow us to submit up to six unframed original pieces and they price them at $100 each.  This sketch just might be able to find a home there.  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy looking at it, grateful for the memories it exudes.

My friends also have a chuckwagon parked in a nearby barn, and have furnished me the keys the section where it is parked.  For a couple of years, I have wanted to attempt sketches of it and finally worked up the nerve Saturday afternoon to visit the barn.

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Just as inside the store, I found difficulty narrowing down the pletora of ojects to just a few.  After all, I have to return to work on Monday, and I knew I could not paint the entire scene in one day.

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This one I have not finished, but took plenty of reference photos in hopes that I can complete it in my studio at home.

Late Saturday night, I was too wired to sleep, filled with good feelings about all that had happened during the day–fly fishing, painting, reading, journaling, sitting in a rocking chair and staring across beautiful landscape.  So I returned to the front of the store and began a sketch of one of the old doorknobs and locking mechanisms on the main door connecting the store to the residential section of the building.

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Retiring to bed finally around 1 a.m., I thought I may sleep till noon.  But I awoke at 5:40, feeling rested and energized to make something else happen before loading up and making the three-hour trek back home.  After breakfast, coffee and more quality quiet reading time, I returned to the store and worked further on the painting.  It still isn’t finished, but I took a good close-up reference photo of the details and will certainly finish this one.

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The weekend in the wilderness has done everything I wished for, and more.  I think I’ll do O.K. returning to work tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

The Quiet Within

November 9, 2016

Alone with my Books

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it.  There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as fear and desire are not at loggerheads, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other. For what is the good of having silence throughout the neighborhood if one’s emotions are in turmoil? 

Seneca, On Noise

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

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

It’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

I am nearing the end of a string of delicious hours in the quiet of my study tonight.  My reading has been broad, but probably the best moments were spent in William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  Thanks to one of his chapters, I’ve returned to reading Seneca, and tonight uncovered a lovely article written by Jennifer Bowen Hicks: “Whispered Wills and Words That Bleed: On Transparency of Thought in the Essay” (http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/craft/craft_hicks38.html).

An evening like this was long overdue.  The value of the lessons from Hamlet’s Blackberry, for me, is impossible to exaggerate.  Time is too precious to spend abundantly on the Internet and social media.  As Powers argues, flitting from link to link eliminates real depth from life, from introspection.  Every four years, I manage to get pulled into election chatter, and in the final months devote what is no doubt hundreds of hours to reading articles on the Internet and listening to news outlets.  Then the election comes and goes and I come away feeling I need a serious bath, a cleansing.  On this, the day after, I have stayed away from social media almost entirely–almost.  And now I am retreating to the wilderness to find that sanctuary I have been missing.  I need to recharge some batteries and reset my compass.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

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.

A Place Far Away

October 31, 2016

Note:  I’ll never have the artistic eye of photographer Cindy Sherman, but I do know how to take selfies with a 10-second timer on my phone.  I was alone for the weekend, and the silence was beyond description.

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I don’t really have studios. I wander around people’s attics, out in fields, in cellars, anyplace I find that invites me.

Andrew Wyeth

Since my ninth grade year, I have read of Andrew Wyeth’s focused painting adventures as a guest at Kuerner’s farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and at the Olson house in Cushing, Maine.  Throughout my life I have been drawn to his subject matter because it took me back to own primal childhood memories of life on my grandparents’ farms in rural southeast Missouri.  One of my most cherished memories was Marlin’s store, located in rural Jackson, Missouri, next door to McLain’s Chapel and across the road from an abandoned schoolhouse. The Marlin family lived in the rear of the store, and always I have been fascinated with stories associated with business owners living behind their store or filling station.

As these memories lingered with me, I always envied Wyeth for having loving friends who opened their doors to him in that way.  Well, I have recently been on the receiving end of that kind of friendship.  A very dear couple living in rural Texas has invited me onto their property in time past, and this weekend they invited me to spend a weekend living in the back of their restored general store.  I felt tears when I first entered the front doors and saw the kind of environment that always greeted me as a small boy inside Marlin’s.

menns

With deep-seated joy, I resided in the back of this store from Friday night till Sunday afternoon.  The entire time was given to painting what I could see inside and outside the building, along with reading, thinking and journaling.

interior-selfie-3

(Another Selfie)

menns-painting

fog

tree

Both mornings were enveloped in dense fog till around 10:00, and then the sun came out and washed the landscape in beautiful color.  Besides the interior watercolor sketch, I attempted two plein air sketches, the first in the fog and the second in the clear.

I cannot describe the beauty and serenity of the quiet countryside that was my home for the weekend, nor can I express the depths of my gratitude to my friends for extending to me this delightful invitation.  My life has been enriched beyond description.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.