One Who Loves

Yesterday I posted the written instructions I have given my two adult art students for “How to Draw.” Then I got the idea of making videos for art lessons.

If I were a great artist, a successful artist, I guess I’d be living somewhere other than in the back of beyond, but who knows? I’m not a great artist and certainly not a successful artist but a long time ago I realized how absurd a dream that is. Does doing good work lead automatically to success in ANY field? No. And art? Life is hard. Work is hard. Some things in our lives just SHOULDN’T be.

For a long time I didn’t draw and I didn’t paint. Well, I drew in my journals, “The Examined Life”. It wasn’t until 2012 when my stepson and his wife gave me brushes and a canvas that I thought of trying oil painting again. I hadn’t painted in oils since high school when I did a large oil painting and my art teacher told me I had no talent and more or less said he wasn’t going to teach me any more. I’m not sure he ever taught me which might be a salient point but WHATEV’.

It was late fall and rainy in San Diego County when I resolved to give it a shot. I had some oil paints that had belonged to friends. I took a photo of the cattle across the street and decided to try something I’d never done before.

Many Renaissance painters painted from dark to light, from dark, dark, dark brown or black, to light. My brother always said my paintings had no “depth” so I decided to start by painting my little canvas (11 x 14) with black Gesso. It was an incredible experience pulling a painting out of the darkness and I LOVED the painting even though, initially, one of the cows only had three legs (my bad). After that, I went for it. I bought paints and surfaces on which to paint.

I gave the three legged cow a fourth leg in the meantime

I painted small paintings — 5 x 7 — because, in my mind, I was in school. I joined the local art guild and showed my work twice a year. I kept painting. It got me through some awful times, always a source of joy, discovery, distraction. The more I painted, the more I learned about painting, paints and colors.

It meant so much to me because in my “real” (ha ha) life I was teaching EVERYONE. I could go into my shed, paint and the whole stupid idiot expensive difficult outside world disappeared. And then, as it happened, in 2013, I got two paintings in juried shows. The one below was in a juried show put on by the San Diego Art Museum Artists Guild.

The World is Out There

How did it come into being? Well, I’d been asked by my step-daughter-in-law to paint a scene of New York. In that scene the word “Stop” was painted on the street. I went to work and realized that the scene wanted to be a water color, not an oil. I put this panel away and did a water color that worked pretty well. Then I got a flyer from a fellow artist advertising her work in a gallery in Kansas. In that flyer was a photo of this sofa. I have always been amazed by how the old masters painted fabrics and wondered if I could paint velvet so I pulled out that “ruined” panel and painted the sofa. I let the sofa dry and put the panel away, but the whole panel was starting to intrigue me… I painted a lot of things on this panel that I cleared off with solvent before I painted this. I liked this panel a lot because it was interesting and mysterious.

Nothing I painted during this time was 100% successful (to me) but every one of those paintings (and those I do now) was 100% satisfying as an experience. I realized through this that the most important thing about art — for me — is its power to inspire me to keep doing it.

Lots of people stop because they’re not satisfied with their work. For me that’s a reason to keep doing the work. My great hero, Goethe, went to Italy in 1786. He was suffering a broken heart, inner turmoil, a personal crisis. One of the things he was looking for in Italy was inspiration.

In those days without cameras people had to draw their own souvenirs or hire a professional artist to do that for them. Goethe had a lot of talent as a visual artist and was torn about maybe, by writing, he’d gone in the wrong direction. He drew everything along his way as he had whenever he traveled. I have a little book of many of the ink and wash drawings he did on his journeys.

Somewhere on his Italian journey he decided he wasn’t good enough and he hired an artist to travel around with him. It seems that was the end of creating visual art for Goethe. If I could talk to him, I’d ask him about that. Like me, one of Goethe’s reasons for going to Italy was to look at paintings. Maybe he got daunted and, as Hemingway wrote, one should never get daunted. The featured photo is of one of Goethe’s ink wash sketches of a scene in Italy.

In imitation of Goethe, in 2004, in Giardino Giusti in Verona (which Goethe also drew) I drew this. It’s not that easy to keep a good record of what you see by drawing it.

My goal with my “students” is simply to inspire them to try without worrying about failing. Our world is so concerned with perfection and success that failure is undervalued. In the process of learning to paint or draw, there’s a lot of failure, but those failures are more useful than the things we “get right.”

There is a painting (sold long ago) that started out a thing of real beauty. I destroyed it (IMO) by forcing my idea of what it should be onto it. Funny thing, I have no photos of it once it was “finished,” but I have photos of it while it was still in the process of being painted, before I wrecked it. It was important to me to retain THAT moment, not the failed moment. Why? Because this painting taught me that it’s not all up to me. Creating the painting or drawing I WANT sometimes means stepping back and seeing what the painting or drawing itself wants to be. Anyone who tries is 100% sure to fail. The point is it doesn’t matter. Failure is — in art — the best teacher.

Descanso Valley, CA

To help my students, I made a couple of very rough videos yesterday. I’ve put the drawing video at the bottom of this post. It seems to have worked with one of them, so that’s cool. It’s purpose is not to give any technical instruction, just maybe to inspire enthusiasm to try. Inspiration in instruction is often underrated because it cannot be measured or controlled, but I think, in art, it’s important. Not all inspiration leads to great masterpieces, but it always provides the energy to try.

For me, painting is like skiing. I was never — and will never be — a great skier but no one has more fun. The word “amateur” means, “One who loves.” I’m proud to be one.

Organizing “The Examined Life”

Definitely a project I would not have undertaken in normal times, but there’s something about the virus that makes creative work difficult and life itself kind of off-center somehow.

I have been through all 23 of these tomes and it’s been interesting in so many ways. Most interesting was the evolution of my knowledge of the chaparral in San Diego County. I moved to San Diego in 1984. For two years I had no idea there was anything beyond the beaches, the bays, bougainvillea and hibiscus, then my ex saw an article in the Reader that said, “Fall color in San Diego? YES!” and on Thanksgiving 1986 we went to Old Mission Dam where the cottonwoods were golden and, when the leaves were trodden beneath my feet, sent that smell that means, to me, fall. I started taking my puppy — Truffle, then only five months old — up there and began the long journey that has not — thank God — ended yet. I thought that there was no good hiking in San Diego, that I was truly living in exile. How wrong I was!

The journals are full of hikes and what I saw.

They are also filled with perplexity about marriage, love and self. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that I sought professional help with these things. There, in one journal, maybe 2004 or 2005, it’s spelled out. My therapist said, “People who are raised by mothers like yours have a difficult time seeing relationships as anything but absurd.” As she was French, her use of “absurd” was more profound that the words “silly” or “pointless.” Think of Ionesco or Samuel Beckett. I wrote a long (typed) entry about this that showed that, on some level, I understood this but it wasn’t until I tried another romantic relationship that I got the full meaning of her statement.

It’s interesting that it’s our relationship with our mom that determines our ability to form relationships, life partnerships. The fact that I never knew where I stood with her, that she was constantly manipulating and controlling me, that in the court of mom I was always guilty, damaged me in my ability to choose partners and my ability to maintain a relationship. It’s OK, but reading through all those (sometimes tedious) journals showed me my struggle to find love, to understand myself, to figure out what I wanted. That’s not a stupid or embarrassing thing. I think love relationships are a fundamental human need, but I also think that not everyone is conditioned to have one. I saw through all that that my most successful love relationships were those that had little chance for permanence. It was clear I didn’t want permanence. To me it equated to my mom yelling at me for closing my bedroom door.

Do we ever get over that stuff? No. It is part of the adult we grow up to be. We can make some choices about ourselves and where we go, but the deeply engraved stuff like that? It’s always there. Understanding it helps and is, I think, the only way out. Now I see that (embarrassing) aspect of the 23 Journals is me fighting an invisible enemy to find my freedom, freedom that can come only through self-knowledge. I still cut a lot of it out, but…

Along with the search for love and the self-questioning are good stories about teaching. Letters and emails from my family and beloved friends. Notes from students, tickets from Italian trains, Swiss concerts, photos of people I love — all kinds of wonders. There I also recorded my hopeless attempts to get tenure — somewhere, anywhere, for the love of God — then the realization that what I had teaching at San Diego State was really what I wanted. I’ve written about the Cedar Fire, adjusting to life in Descanso, the mountains, the beginning of my osteoarthritis (at 51!!!) and how it had been misdiagnosed… Life is in those books.

One of the journals has an entire photocopied book I borrowed from a friend, poems by Rumi. Other books are filled with Goethe — and my conversations with him. There are drawings of hikes and flowers. Eulogies for my dogs when they died. ❤

On each journal, I have taped a note indicating something about its contents and I’ve labeled those with spines the years between the covers.


When I reached the last book (2006) — which is only half-filled — I wrote an entry that explained, from this distance, what happened, a bit about how things turned out. In 2008 when I threw out the Evil X, I began writing an online journal on Blogger, a private blog. I liked it. Who wouldn’t that types 100 wpm? I was already typing journal entries and gluing them into books. The online journal allowed pictures. That journal was my way of overcoming a very dark time and I did that by, every evening when I got home from school, writing one good memory from earlier years. I got this idea from Dostoyevsky who wrote in one of his books that one good memory from childhood can save a man’s life.

As I was writing that final entry, I checked my email and had to laugh. This quotation was on top of the first email, an advertisement:

“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

-Frank A. Clark

I would add that even the path that’s FILLED with obstacles might not lead anywhere. 😂

Is it Worth Reading?

Here it is, September 11, again. People are posting here and everywhere (I imagine) about remembering the events of this date in 2001.

Why? It certainly did not wake us up and make us better people or more aware of our place as a nation in the WORLD. Following on the fall of the twin towers, we had a president who committed war crimes and can barely even leave the US, he’s so wanted by other nations for the evil he sanctioned during what I can only call his “reign.”

I still don’t think anyone really knows HOW it happened or really WHO did it.

Ultimately, it all seemed to have been pre-visioned by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy (of four books…). It all seems to me like the Krikkit Wars and the US is Krikkit.

Krikkit is am immensely xenophobic planet. The people of Krikkit are just a bunch of really sweet guys who just happen to want to kill everybody.

The first Krikkit attack on the Galaxy had been stunning. Thousands and thousands of huge Krikkit warships had leaped suddenly out of hyperspace and simultaneously attacked thousands and thousands of major worlds, first seizing vital material supplies or building the next wave, and then calmly zapping those worlds out of existence.

The planet of Krikkit was sentenced by the Galactic Court to be encased for perpetuity in an envelope of Slo-Time, inside which life would continue almost infinitely slowly. All light would be deflected around the envelope so that it would remain invisible and impenetrable. Escape from the envelope would be utterly impossible unless it was unlocked from the outside.

That morning I was driving to school and listening to the classical music station that broadcast out of Tijuana. I didn’t even know about the events until I arrived and everyone was going around “Did you hear? My God! Isn’t it horrible?”

Yes, it was.

Class was held as usual but students were so distracted it was difficult to teach. Smart phones didn’t exist, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the US had been attacked.

After class, I went to my job at the school’s writing tutorial center. Everyone was talking about the attack (of course) and debating whether to turn on the TV. We were also waiting for the President of the college to announce that school was closed. Meanwhile, I worked thinking about how all my life the US has prepared for war. I grew up 2 miles from a large bevy of B-52s. “Peace is Our Profession” said the Strategic Air Command signs at every entrance to the base where my dad worked. I mostly just wanted everyone to shut up. The damage was done. Life goes on. I held my peace about that, though. I could already tell that Xenophobia would become the order of the day (week, year, culture). I’d lived in the People’s Republic of China soon after the Great Proletariat Culture Revolution, and I KNEW what could happen if “most” people got the “wrong” idea about a single dissenting individual.

I knew that real freedom was on the way out.

Just at the darkest moment of this dark day, one of my former students came in. He’d been 17 years old when he was in my first class, an intro to literature class. He’d never read poetry or studied literature before. His dad was from Germany. His mom was Mexican. He loved the class and it inspired him to read literature and write poetry. He also learned to love Goethe because of the class and to be interested in learning German and maybe going to visit his grandfather in Germany. So, in he walks, “Hey Martha! Is this any good?” He holds up Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.

And I thought at that moment, “Yeah, the twin towers have been attacked, and the Pentagon, but the world holds to its eternal thread of beauty and here’s Schorsch to remind me of that which really matters.”

Meanwhile almost everyone else was watching the Twin Towers fall again and again and again and again; hypnotic, rage inducing.

The following days I was stunned by the kindness and gentleness of strangers in the grocery store, on the street, everywhere. I loved the silent hills over which the planes had stopped flying. Messages of condolence came in from all over the world expressing sorrow over the act of terrorism and (worse) the loss of innocent lives. The pace of life slowed and then, just as suddenly, there was Christmas music in the stores causing people to salivate heavily and buy things, the planes were back, people were taping a newspaper insert American flag to their front windows and wearing American flag lapel pins and (horribly) “REAL” Americans started attacking our local Chaldean businessmen in fits of stupid, fucking, ignorant fear and rage. A government agency was set up — a new cabinet position — “Homeland Security” and the “Patriot” act was passed making many of our Cold War nightmares come true. White powder in envelopes was feared to be anthrax and on and on and on… A new normal for us Krikkits.

Americans need to get out more both to SEE the world and BE SEEN.

On the big stage, Tony Blair and Dubbya and Chainy cooked up a fake case against Saddam (based largely on a dodgy doctoral dissertation Tony Blair had plagiarized). I stopped class the following March so we could watch, on TV, the first attack on Iraq.

So…I don’t know how to view 9/11. I’m very sorry for all the people who lost loved ones. I also think of all the people all over the world losing loved ones to terrorism here and there. Having lived in a neighborhood which was a haven for refugees (lots of Section 8 housing) I saw waves of disturbed, distressed and disheartened people from all over the world who were not in the US because it was their dream, but because it was their only hope of safety.

In 2004 I went to Italy where, after a young Swiss woman berated me angrily for the war in Iraq, I learned it would be wise of me to let people think I was German. It was an effective disguise, except, of course, in Germany itself.

Reposted from September 11, 2015

Mentor for Life

It wasn’t very long ago that the word “mentor” became a verb. Well, maybe it was always a verb, but I had only heard it as a noun taken from Mentor, the friend Odysseus left in charge of his son’s education while Odysseus was out there becoming the legend of millennia. Mrs. Zinn (my AP English teacher) explained all of that. It was cool to me in high school that Mentor’s name had come to mean a great teacher, a model for young people. Mrs. Zinn herself actually qualified, that pocket-dynamo with a classical education.

When I was teaching, it got to be a “thing” to “mentor” new teachers. I was (obviously) never called upon to do this because I never had tenure and was, therefore, always a “new” teacher, but my colleagues were always talking about their “mentee” with great importance and fussing around.

I’ve had some mentors in my life. First my dad who taught me not to let anyone do my thinking for me. Then, various teachers — Mrs. Zinn, as I’ve mentioned, then Mr. Preston at Colorado Woman’s College who furthered my dad’s tutelage at a moment when I really needed it, and who was there to help me grow through the moment of my dad’s death. In grad school, I was extremely lucky in my thesis adviser, Dr. Robert D. Richardson who saw me for the person I am. A true mentor is, I think, that kind of teacher.

As time passed, and I became more complete (i.e. older) I still needed a mentor. I found Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. If you were to visit my house, you’d see bits of Goethe everywhere. For me, he’s not “the Shakespeare of Germany” (I don’t think he’d like that, I don’t think he’d feel worthy). He’s a friend somewhat further down the road (a lot further, in fact).

I “met” him when I checked Italian Journey out of the library of one of the colleges where I was teaching. What a surprise that book was to me! Here was a man after my own heart. I read everything I could find translated into English.

One of the amazing things I discovered was his correspondence with Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle was someone I met in a Victorian lit class in undergraduate school. I kind of liked him, but at the time I was preoccupied with other things — the usual post-adolescent depressionism stuff, my dad’s illness, my mom’s manic rages and her despair, my brother’s disintegration. And school. Later I learned that my grandfather’s mentor had been Thomas Carlyle. One of my cousins showed me a well thumbed volume with brown pages that had been my grandfather’s constant companion. And here were these two men writing each other. Goethe was Carlyle’s mentor! Their letters are wonderful, human, homely, friendly. Carlyle is largely responsible for Goethe being known in Britain — he translated some of Goethe’s poetry and Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Wandering Year.

Learning that, I felt a connection to a grandfather I never knew.

Carlyle has written of Goethe in the introduction to his translation of Wilhelm Meister’s Wanderjahre:

“…Goethe’s culture as a writer is perhaps less remarkable than his culture as a man. He has learned not in head only, but also in heart; not from Art and Literature, but also by action and passion in the rugged school of experience. If asked what was the grand characteristic of his writings, we should not say Knowledge but Wisdom. A mind that has seen, and suffered, and done, speaks to us of what it has tried and conquered. A gay delineation will give us notice of dark and toilsome experiences, of business done in the great deep of the spirit; a maxim, trivial to the careless eye, will rise with light and solution over long, perplexed periods of our own history. It is thus that heart speaks to heart…”

That’s the essence of it.

 

image_547224744467377

1932 Menu from a German Luxury Liner — the 100th anniversary of Goethe’s death.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/mentor/

Rococo

This is one of the wisest things I’ve ever read. It puts things squarely where they belong, and it is sometimes difficult to remember:

“…whatever we nourish in ourselves grows; that is an eternal law of nature. There is an organ of displeasure, of dissatisfaction in us, as there is one of opposition and doubt. The more food we provide for it and the more we practice it, the mightier it becomes until it turns from an organ into a malignant ulcer and banefully eats up its environment, drains and strangles all the good humors of the body. Then repentance, self-reproach and other absurdities are added to it, we become unjust toward others and ourselves. The joy at ones own success and action as well as that of others is lost. In our desperation we finally look for the reason of all evil outside ourselves instead of finding it in our mental perversion. We should see every person and every event in its real light, one should step beyond oneself to be able to return to oneself all the more free.” Goethe quoted by his friend, Friedrich von Muller.”

I’ve been watching the British art historian’s –Waldemar Januszczak — series’ off and on for a couple of years. The most recent one I’ve looked at is Rococo Before Bedtime. I don’t always agree with him when he starts inflicting his taste in art on the viewing public, but as MY taste in art conflicts with the Rococo, I never learned to appreciate it. I never even put it in its place in time. I’ve seen some of it. I got to spend a day at the Nymphenburg Castle in Munich trying to fathom it and what my new acquaintance was telling me. He was a docent from the Haus du Kunst the formerly Hitlerian government art museum building. He didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak any German, and we relied on something loosely resembling French. The architecture was beautiful, the interior ornamentation? I didn’t get it.

And this grossed me out:

 

prunkwagen-ludwig-II500

Carriage, Nymphenburg Castle

 

It’s pretty impossible to escape personal taste. The baroque and rococo (the baroque becomes the rococo) churches I’ve visited in Europe are still over-the-top to me. The first one I visted was Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. Entering that sanctuary for the first time was scary. I’d NEVER been in a place like that — or even in a Catholic church. EVERYTHING was there in a vast 3D illusion — and some actual 3D legs and arms made of stucco (plaster). I felt the full and intended effect, I guess, of what I have now learned the Catholic church wanted me to feel. My friend and I retreated from that place and took a walk in the woods.

 

Ausschnitt Weihnachtskuppel Einsiedeln

Ceiling, Einsiedeln Abbey

 

It was interesting to learn, however, that the baroque (which led to the Rococo)  was (in Januszczak’s opinion? Or really?) a church sanctioned art movement that was part of the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent had sent out the order? Edict? that Catholic churches should VIVIDLY depict Bible stories on their walls in reaction to the burning of the idols. Einsiedeln is one of the pilgrimage churches and, according to Januszczak, pilgrimages were big during the baroque and rococo. This also made the pilgrimage churches even richer BUT they had to give the pilgrims some bang for their bucks which contributed to their ornateness. I believe that. Churches I’ve visited that were NOT pilgrim churches but were decorated around the same time are still ornate, but not over-the-top, every square inch peopled with saints, angels, madonnas, and various random people in the “audience,” the faces of donors.

I wasn’t even clear on the YEARS that comprise the baroque and rococo, but watching the program I got it. It was much of Goethe’s lifetime. When I realized that I thought of Goethe’s incredible mind that was, literally, everywhere — science, poetry, drama, erotica, government, mining, botany, geology on and on — and realized that the zeitgeist was such that the fecundity and fluidity in the visual arts and music was everywhere, as elaborate and wildly creative as a rococo ceiling.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/agile/

Don’t Beat Up My Friends

Yesterday I read an article from The New York Review of Books, “Super Goethe” by Ferdinand Mount.

More or less it is a review of a recent biography of Goethe by Rudiger Safranski, Goethe: Life as a Work of Art. I made it most of the way through this book until I realized that having read Goethe’s autobiographies (with a grain of salt and a grin) this book was, for me, gratuitous. I didn’t finish it. Goethe wrote a LOT about himself and I felt OK having let him tell his tale. I don’t take issue with Safranski’s book. This review, however?

I have a huge problem with retroactive judgements of historical figures and this review concludes with the intimation that, in another time and another place, Goethe would have been a Nazi.

Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s false. No way to know that because Goethe did not live in another time and another place and just because Weimar is near Buchenwald doesn’t mean Goethe would have been a prison guard, or worse, but Mount concludes his piece with, “I am not the first to note that included among the sights of Weimar in the Michelin Green Guide is Buchenwald.”

I happen to love Goethe, but that doesn’t mean I “know” him. I can’t. But when I look at the past I try to see past the hazy fog of intervening historical events to what had NOT yet happened.

  • In Goethe’s time, there were only the beginnings of what would be the Industrial Revolution. Marx was born when Goethe was 69.
  • When Goethe was a young man and made a journey to Switzerland, the United States of America was three years old and did not yet have a constitution.
  • Voltaire was alive; the Age of Enlightenment was in full force.
  • Goethe lived during the French Revolution. What he saw of it, what he knew of it, would have been FAR different than what we know of it. From Goethe’s perspective it was wanton death on the streets and the destabilization of life for millions of ordinary people.
  • Goethe was the son of a lawyer. Education in his family was extremely important, but it was not the common lot of most people to have the chance to go to school.
  • There was no “Germany.” That geographical blob on the map was a very loose assemblage of small duchies, principalities, etc. Imagine a big hunk of land broken up into hundreds of very vulnerable Liechtensteins and Monacos. When Goethe — or anyone at that time — wrote about “German cultural identity” they were writing about something that didn’t exist.
  • Goethe -SAW war. He was sent to be a correspondent about fighting in the Alsace. His descriptions of this are harrowing. He was never the same person afterward, either. He wrote about refugees from war, too, and problems they had becoming part of the culture to which they had refugeed.
  • Mount has written that Goethe admired Napoleon, a statement that is — miraculously — both true and false. They met. Napoleon could speak of Goethe’s novel, Sorrows of Young Werther but apparently had no directly knowledge of Faust. Goethe admired Napoleon, but only up to a point. Because Goethe was ALIVE at the Napoleonic moment, he would NOT have seen Napoleon the way I do or the author of this article does.
  • Science — as we understand it — was new. The scientific method was being, at that time, defined. Goethe was a contemporary of Newton. Goethe was himself a good scientist and far more influential than most of us are aware.

I will never know who Goethe really was. I like that he wrote very direct erotic poetry. I like that he was irreverent and reverent with life and language, both, at the same time. I appreciate his intellectual curiosity. I like that he believed a person needed to constantly learn, to explore, to nurture curiosity. In the time in which Goethe lived, there was no big push to specialize, and he didn’t. I like that he asked, “What if?” I appreciate his willingness — desire — to learn. I admire his resilient sense of wonder. I know he was misogynistic and thought people who wore glasses were trying to be something they’re not. I don’t know if he would have liked me; I even kind of doubt it. But, that’s OK. I probably wouldn’t have known him if I had been alive during his lifetime. But I’m not. I’m here, now, and I have been able to reap the fruits of his long lifetime of work. I like that he composed poetry such as this:

From fall to fall a thousand streams are flowing
A thousand more are plunging, effervescent,
And high up in the air the spray is glowing,
Out of this thunder rises, iridescent,
Enduring through all change the motley bow,
Now painted clearly, and now evanescent,
Spreading a fragrant, cooling spray below.
The rainbow mirrors human love and strife;
Consider it and you will better know:
In many-hued reflection we have life.

(Faust Part II, Act I, trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Featured image: The Rhinefalls, ink sketch by Goethe

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/inheritance/

Ooh l’amour

Goethe believed it was a gift to be capable of falling blindly, stupidly, passionately, irredeemably in love — like an adolescent — in old age. Of course, when he was in his 80s, he proposed marriage to a 17 year old girl.

He felt pretty stupid when she turned him down. He even had a broken heart along with shattered pride. And then, resilient man that he was, he began to see the funny side.

When I was a youthful wight,
So full of enjoyment and merry,
The painters used to assert, in spite,
That my features were small — yes, very
Yet then full many a beauteous child,
With true affection upon me smiled.

Now as a graybeard I sit here in state,
By street and by lane held in awe, sirs;
And may be seen, like old Frederick the Great,
On pipe-bowls, on cups, and on saucers.
Yet the beauteous maidens, they keep afar;
Oh, vision of youth! Oh, golden star! (“When I Was”)

Plato had a different opinion on this question. He felt he was well out of the whole thing when he was too old to be interested in young men/women any more. He described that period of life as a terrible storm and insanity. I don’t have the quotation any more anywhere, but that’s the jist of it.

Infatuation, love, whatever it is called, pulls a person away from their status quo. Life is set in motion and there is the chance of transformation. THAT is something to be open to at any age. Maybe that’s what Goethe meant?

The last thing I was enamored of was a big white puppy. I don’t regret that a BIT.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/enamored/

Happy Goethe’s Birthday!

“There is nothing more dreadful than active ignorance”
Maxims and Reflections, Goethe

The little book beside me here has a sticker from a real bookstore with the date on which I bought it. September 29, 2003. I bought it at the San Diego State University Bookstore about a month after school would have started.

Ink drawing of Goethe by Johann Wilhelm Tischbein

 

I carried it around in my backpack and read it in odd minutes between student meetings, classes, at lunch. AND my backpack then was a pretty amazing thing. I left it behind in Descanso when I made my final exit from my house..

 

Goethe wrote, “If we go back in history, we are always aware of personalities with whom we could get on and others with whom we should certainly be in conflict.” I met Goethe in the summer of 1998 through his book Italian Journey,  and a friendship immediately ensued, though limited because I could not offer Goethe MY friendship. I have benefited so much from his. So many of his ideas gave language to mine. Others he confirmed and explained.

I’ve written a birthday card to Goethe every year I’ve been on WordPress. This is probably the least inspiring of them, but I feel pressed to get chores finished so my dogs and I can celebrate later with a walk at the slough.

 

A New Way to Read

 

Yesterday was a big day for me in a very small way. For the last months I’ve been clearing out the relics. All that remains of upward of 20 boxes in the garage are three bins of stuff and three boxes of books. I think I could go out there today and dump the bins into the trash can, but I won’t. Still, after loading a friend’s car with boxes of books to take to a bigger city to sell or donate, I don’t want more books in my life. I still have plenty that I could box up and donate or sell, but as they’re in shelves and not bothering anyone, I’m leaving them be.

Then I learned yesterday of a new biography of Goethe, GOETHELife as a Work of Art By Rüdiger Safranski, translated by David Dollenmayer

The NYT doesn’t give the book a glowing review — Anglo-centered wretches that we are — saying:

“Safranski’s book (a best seller in Germany) is aimed squarely at a German readership of Bildungsbürger, educated and tolerant of abstractions and paraphrases. It doesn’t feel the need to locate Goethe for a non-German readership. Safranski is an energetic writer, without much refinement or subtlety. Dozens of obscure names scoot past the reader’s eye with nary a word of introduction or presentation.”

BUT I could not read that review yesterday because the NYT shut me out for not subscribing. I went on Amazon. There was the book in Kindle and as a hardback book of nearly 700 pages. All I could think of was, “Damn, another book,” and that far outweighed (ha ha) my desire to read it. I put it in my “cart” without buying it and went on with my day, but, but, but…

Later I thought, “What if I had a Kindle?” I went back to Amazon and priced Kindles. I didn’t want to spend $80 for the lowest priced eReader then I thought, “Wait. I have an iPad.” It might be nearly 10 years old, and I might not use it very much, but I do have an iPad. And, for the first time made the conscious decision to read that way. I downloaded the book and, so far, I like it a LOT. Exactly what annoyed the NYT reviewer makes me happy. Another reviewer wrote that the book is not great for someone who doesn’t know Goethe’s oeuvre, which sounds slightly obscene, but I am familiar with Goethe’s work as would be many of the German readers of this book (for whom it was actually written), so I’m happy. The author relied on primary sources, letters, Goethe’s own work and I like that, too. Anyway, the author’s unrefined, energetic prose captivated me and the fact that it will not go on some shelf in this house was a relief.

Reading the review this morning I was struck by the fact that this reviewer thinks it’s a bad thing to assume one’s readers are, “…educated and tolerant of abstractions and paraphrases…”

Wow.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/relieved/

Acid Reflux, Goethe and Life’s Labyrinth

Des lebens labyrinthisch irren lauf” “Life’s labyrinthine chaos course” (my translation) is from Goethe’s, Faust, Prologue in the Theater. This is my favorite line in all the literature I’ve read. This line made me fall in love with Goethe. He got it right, if he was describing my life, anyway. 🙂

I was reading about acid reflux yesterday (yeah) and some doctor wrote, “Though they don’t have any serious side-effects and are not, generally, dangerous, anti-acids don’t cure anything and that’s a problem.”

I thought, “How is that a problem if I feel better?” Then I saw how life is a lot like acid-reflux… There’s no cure, but we can feel better. Life-choices are confusing and too many of them are truly serious and irrevocable. We’re only at any given place in life one time. Life only goes in one direction and we reach the Minotaur whether we have Ariadne’s thread or not. Stuff happens all around us — sometimes catastrophic, terrifying stuff. We have a lot of anti-acids, too, sayings and affirmations that are meant to help us through the darker parts of the labyrinth.

Some are even quoted from Goethe, “Nothing matters more than this day.” Well, that might actually be true, OK this one, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,” and this one, Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen” they are anti-acids. It’s good to believe in yourself because it makes life better than doubting yourself. It’s good to dream, too, because then we are momentarily lifted from whatever daily horror we might be in. But the truth is we cannot “make anything happen” even though the idea that we can does make us feel better. I think it’s good to “feel better” even if the doctor quoted above doesn’t think feeling better is enough. Since there is no cure either for life or acid reflux, feeling better is the best we have, all we have.

But in this often quoted Goethe phrase, there IS a cure.

Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.

***

The photo above is the Giardino Giusti in Verona which both Goethe and I visited on separate occasions (ha ha). It has a small labyrinth and many other amazing features of a classical Renaissance garden. Goethe loved it, and cut some bows from the cypress trees to take back to where he was living. The trees represented funerals to the people of the city and he was surprised to be greeted by expressions of condolence.

Here’s another Goetheian post on the question of the labyrinth. 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/maze/