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Peeks and Piques!
ART TIMES December 2006

carpe diem: “seize the day.” We’ve all been admonished to do so, but when things are rosy and all is going well, we rarely take this common phrase seriously enough to actually act on it. ‘Strike the iron while it’s hot’; ‘make hay while the sun shines’; ‘prendre la balle au bond’­— all so familiar, all so taken for granted! I wish I could relate that I’ve always heeded the warning, always done the right thing. Oh sure, I’ve put it into my writings — my poems, my essays — even thought I’d been cognizant of the warning when I attempted to capture fleeting light in paintings. But, then, every-day things come along, and I fall easily back into taking time for granted. We all do, I know that. Still, we are faced with reminders from time to time — might even diligently try to hew the line for a day or so. I’m reminded of a professor of expository writing I had the pleasure of studying with back in my college days….she was known as a “hard marker” but I found that she had much to offer this budding writer. A “late bloomer”, I was already in my thirties when I took my first course with her, and unlike my younger classmates, welcomed her rigorous instruction. After three courses with her, we became friends and I can still recall her confiding in me that she could not wait until she could retire to “read all the books I’ve put aside for that day”. Well, the day came and she had retired to a teacher’s home in upstate New York. We corresponded and one of the things she had most regretted about the retirement home was that she was the only college professor there, the others mostly retired from grade and high schools. “I have no one to converse with!” she plaintively wrote in one of her letters. To make matters worse, she was shortly thereafter afflicted with an eye disease that prevented her from doing any reading at all. I traveled up to visit her once in awhile, reading to her from her coveted cache of “to read” books neatly arranged on shelves in her tiny sitting room. Alas, my own life was catching up to me, my new job as an English teacher demanding more of my time, and the visits soon ceased. I’d learned that she quietly passed away a few years later and, if she had not learned the lesson of ‘carpe diem’ well, neither had I. I’m sure I could have found more time to spend with her, but then there was always tomorrow, or next month, or when the weather was better. Whatever she was getting out of my visits, I’m convinced that my rewards were much greater, since I also was getting the chance to read those books we always intend to read. Through her, I became acquainted with Herodotus, Thucydides, Cicero, Seneca, Horace, Aurelius, and a great many more. Through her, my early years as a “hard hat” were slowly being mellowed into, if not refined culture, at least into a credible façade of polish and literacy. I still can call up to memory her rebukes when I slipped into sloppy writing — especially when I’m pressed by a deadline that persuades me to sometimes take the easy road. After all, who’s going to notice? Well, thanks to that professor, me for one. So, carpe diem. Paint that picture; write that poem; practice that dance; compose that melody; sing that song; perfect that role…we simply do not know what lies in store for us beyond tomorrow. The body is a frail thing, subject to the “slings and arrows” of life, and we never know when or in what manner incapacitation may visit us to cut short our good intentions. Strike! Strike while the iron is still hot!