Posts Tagged ‘Spoon River Anthology’

Sunday Sobriety in the Studio Eidolons

August 23, 2020
Looks like Preparation for a Sunday Sermon

Decades have rolled past since I worked on a Sunday sermon. Three years have passed since I composed a classroom lecture. Still, my lifestyle has not abandoned the morning practice of reading and composing thoughts to give some kind of positive direction for the day. These moments in the sanctuary of my Studio Eidolons often carry over to my journal, my blog, and more recently Instagram. Sundays often yield something special and this morning was no exception.

This morning’s journal

I often like to open my morning journal with some collage activity, to mark off the page the way the ancient illuminated manuscripts often opened a new chapter of the text. For this playtime, I keep a padfolio stuffed with collected clips of images and texts to cut, tear and gluestick onto my journal pages. This morning, after pasting in a picture of Karl Barth and Edouard Thurneysen studying together along with a torn page from a damaged fragment of a German volume I acquired years ago and refused to discard, I found in a pile of old stamps given to me an image of Edgar Lee Masters. Going to my library, I retrieved my copy of his Spoon River Anthology and resumed reading where I had bookmarked the portion last read months ago. I found this magnificent poem of Walter Simmons, testifying from his midwestern gravesite:

My parents thought that I would be

As great as Edison or greater:

For as a boy I made balloons

And wondrous kites and toys with clocks

And little engines with tracks to run on

And telephones of cans and thread.

I played the cornet and painted pictures,

Modeled in clay and took the part

Of the villain in the Octoroon.

But then at twenty-one I married

And had to live, and so, to live

I learned the trade of making watches

And kept the jewelry store on the square,

Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,–

Not of business, but of the engine

I studied with calculus to build.

And all Spoon River watched and waited

To see it work, but it never worked.

And a few kind souls believed my genius

Was somehow hampered by the store.

It wasn’t true. The truth was this:

I didn’t have the brains.

Closing the volume, I felt the compulsion to laugh. And cry. How many of us know this story personally? We set out early in life to do something great, to build some kind of monument to mark our contribution of greatness to society. And no matter how hard we strive for that excellence, we grow old and, looking back, feel that we fell far short of what we could have done. And we look for areas to place blame–people or circumstances that restricted us, circumvented our attempts at greatness. And then, one day, hopefully, we reach that point where we acknowledge that we didn’t fall short; we played the best we could with the hand we were dealt. Nothing or nobody stood in our way, the cosmos did not scheme a way to prevent us from doing great things. We merely did the best we could with the tools we had.

Reaching for my Bible, I found the passage that the Spoon River text brought to mind, from Romans 12:3 (King James Version):

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The morning reading and meditation have been rich indeed. Now it’s time to return to the drafting table and resume the painting commissions promised. The temptation abides for me to spend the rest of this day swan diving into rich texts and writing out my thoughts, but I have something that needs to be done, and in closing I post these words from Robert Frost that always come to mind when I find myself in this situation:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

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.

Constructing my own Narrative

June 21, 2019

church hotel 2

“Early Sunday Stroll” No. 3 of the Turvey’s Corner 63050 Series

There was no culture, you know, in Spoon River,

And I burned with shame and held my peace.

                                . . . and pray for another

Birth in the world, with all of Spoon River

Rooted out of my soul.

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology

For the past week, I have spent every day chipping away at this watercolor of the view along Palestine’s N. Queen Street that passes between the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Redlands Hotel (the Gallery at Redlands is on the first floor of the historic hotel).  Along with my painting has come a surge of reading and writing.

Earlier this year I purchased Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. This book encourages the recently retired to compose their memoirs. While working on mine, I decided to re-shape the narratives of my memories into fiction stories to accompany the paintings I am working on for my new project Turvey’s Corner 63050. This series is my own autobiography in paintings and reworked fiction narratives. The painting above is the third of this new series.

While working on my stories, and reading for inspiration, I struck gold this week, mostly from Rich Karlgaard’s Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement , Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology and Larry McMurtry, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond. 

Karlgaard wrote that late bloomers are natural storytellers. He added: “In our personal lives, we think in stories, talk in stories, communicate in stories, and dream in stories.”

It’s safe to say that the default mode of human cognition is narrative. We instinctively make reason out of chaos and assign causality to all the random events that make up our lives. Stories help us do that. . . . We impose a narrative structure on otherwise random sequences of events until they cohere in a way that makes sense to us and that we can manage.

Reading these words set off a firestorm of creative eros within me and I found myself pouring out my memories on the pages of my journal and then reshaping them into fiction narratives. Opening the Spoon River Anthology, I  began reading the lengthy Introduction by John E. Hallwas and found with delight the following testimony of the editor who discovered Masters and published his work in his own magazine:

But it was left to Edgar Lee Masters to take all this, or as much of it as suited his purposes, and fuse it and shape it into an artistic creation. . . . He saw and knew his Spoon River so well that when he came to write it out of himself, with his personality added to what he saw and knew, he wrote the life of man everywhere, or at least everywhere in America.

William Marion Reedy, Reedy’s Mirror, November 20, 1914

For the past twenty-four hours, I have found it difficult deciding between painting and reading Spoon River Anthology. So much of the testimony matches up with experiences I have known growing up in my part of the midwest. In the weeks ahead, I hope to continue adding stories and paintings to the blog as I probe this new venture. While working on this, I feel the presence of others looking over my shoulder and affirming my efforts, namely the great writers Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Garrison Keillor. Hazel also watches . . .


Hazel, my favorite Jack Russell Terrier, overseeing the blog

Number 1

No. 1 in the Series


No. 2 in the Series

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.