Posts Tagged ‘The American Scholar’

Morning Coffee with Dave & Waldo

August 17, 2018


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),

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.




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.