Doug Bruns

My Urge.

In Creativity, The Examined Life, Writers, Writing on March 24, 2012 at 8:00 am

I’m noticing an increased tendency here in the usage of the first person singular. I blame E.B. White for this. He planted the seed years ago with this sentence: “The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.”

Originally, my blogging intention was to make this my “workshop.” That was the word I used when I set out. It was to be a place where I would share a thought or two, write about a book I was reading, or explore an idea I’d encountered. It is all that, but increasingly, it’s becoming a journal of self-reflection.

Writers are supposed to write about what they know. However, the only thing I really know is myself–and that is indeed a tenuous thread. (“I am my subject,” to quote Montaigne (probably lifted from Aristotle).) Accepting the fact that I am at best a one-theme guy, I am resigned to sculpting with the dark lump of clay I’ve been given. I turn again to Mr. White: “I am a man in search of the first person singular.”

A person can be subjected to only so much introspection–what’s sometimes called navel gazing. I forgive you, reader, if on too many occasions I am exhausting your patience with my personal tribulations and confessions. I joke among friends that I am just a simple pilgrim, a man holding a lantern against the darkness of the self. It is a line guaranteed to get an eye roll. But joking aside, I am quite serious.

This came to a clarifying insight last weekend upon reading an essay by the wonderful, Jhumpa Larhiri. It was in the Sunday Times (March 18, 2012), and was called My Life’s Sentences. The essay includes this line, the sentence that put it all right with me: “The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life.”

The “urge to convert experience” runs deep in me, and its expression seems most satisfying when realized in the simplicity of the first person singular. That is my “urge” and how I express it. I share this because I think that, as a species, we universally desire a clarified understanding of the human experience. That is what, I suspect, is behind Larhiri’s urge.

The manner in which this desire is manifested is as different as we each are different from the other. I have a friend who is a brilliant photographer. That is her way. Another friend is a deep and thoughtful reader. Religion is a direction for some, philosophy for others, physiology, poetry, music, dance, entrepreneurship, cooking, travel and so forth.  Too, there is community, family and love. If pressed I’d say that all manner of human activity can be viewed this way, as an effort to better realize the human experience. Some of these activities are beautiful and shared and widely recognized for their truth-giving vision. Others are quiet, contemplative and personal.

I am hopeful, that by way of explanation, my increasingly self-indulgent forays into the world of “I” will be forgiven.

Thanks for reading.


My previously mentioned interview with photographer Thatcher Cook has been published at Obscura. You can read it here. It is, in light of what I say above, an apt commentary on the creative life. While you’re there, you might want to read my thoughts against art. The article is called “The Existence of Art.”  I do my best to put “art” in its place.

  1. Great subject matter! I’ve always enjoyed this quote…

    He who knows others is learned;
    He who knows himself is wise.
    Lao-tzu, Tao te Ching (sixth century B.C.)

    • Sherry ~ Thanks for stopping in and commenting. It was maybe dozen years ago I read the Tao te Ching. It was eye opening and put me a new and refreshing life course. Thanks for the quote.

  2. It is all ultimately about our own human experience. We just have a broader, more complex sense of it the more we explore the world and others. Nice post.

  3. You are brilliant at your one-theme as well; translating your experiences and knowledge in such a way to inspire others. If only everyone’s self-indulgence was so constructive.

  4. Obviously brilliant at your one-theme as well; translating your experiences and knowledge to assist others finding their way along their own path. If only everyone’s self-indulgence was so constructive!

  5. Haha – I like the second re-write better.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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