Doug Bruns

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

Sunday Repost: Woof, Woof. Bark.

In Death, Dogs, Faith, Philosophy, Writing on February 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

I was at a book reading a few evenings ago. Two rows in front of me sat a woman and next to her, on its own seat, perched an ivory-colored terrier. The dog was well-behaved and I was enjoying her (his?) presence when it turned and looked at me through the slats of the ladder-back chair. Her eyes were like brilliant black marbles tucked in a fluff of silk. I stared into them, lost, and was suddenly and unexpectedlly overwhelmed with the thought of those eyes locked on her master, then closing forever on the stainless steel veterinarian’s table. I chased the thought away it was so immediately and consumingly dark and troubling. Why such a thought would occur to me is a mystery. I’m not dark that way; but animals have always held an incomprehensible sway over me.

It is possibly apocryphal but reported that upon finding a horse being abused on the streets of Turin, Nietzsche threw himself,

Nietzsche, Turin, & the horse.

Nietzsche, Turin, & the horse.

sobbing, around the neck of the beast. The event so overwhelmed the fragile philosopher that he never recovered, never spoke another word, and plummeted into a psychosis from which he did not recover. One can profess a will to power but protecting an animal might be the greatest philosophy.

I’ve had dogs all my life. One dog lost to illness years ago prompted a friend’s comment, “That must be like losing a family member.” No, it was not like losing, it was losing a family member. The most violent mourning I’ve ever experienced was at the loss of my Maggie a year and a half ago. As I write this my little Lucy, a terrier mix, is asleep at the office door, putting

Lucy: ragamuffin.

Lucy: ragamuffin.

herself between me and any intruder who might make the mistake of crossing her without my permission.

Any philosophy I might have must include the beasts.

Hubristic medieval philosophers held that animals had no soul because they had no self-consciousness. Perhaps in that fact alone we hold the  evidence of a superior soul-filled being. This seems provable in that animals will not burn witches at the stake nor slaughter whales.

It is maybe that I want to be more like a dog and less like a human being. I find in them evidence of how to live in a moment so completely as to exist in full vibrancy. Too, I recognize love in a dog more readily and without apprehension than I do in people. Surely, that is a teaching. A dog does not make professions of faith, does not pray, does not sin nor seek redemption. Those are human designs extraneous to an animal intent on spirited life. There is joy at a dog park that is not found in a church. That is where I go to pray.

I’m a blogger. (Aggh!)

In Life, The Examined Life, Writing on February 1, 2013 at 6:00 am
Hello, and what do you do?

Hello, and what do you do?

I was at a social event recently and was asked that most annoying of questions: “What do you do?” There are so many tempting answers: “I breath in, I breath out.” “I walk the dog.” –and so on. However, we know it is not a literal question and I resist–barely–this temptation. The real question, as I understand it, is “How do you make a living, how do you make money, pay the bills?” Or, the expansive take on it: “How do you economically justify your existence?” Sorry, I know I am being cynical (I am of the tribe of Diogenes, after all). There are other ways to interpret this question–What do you do?–and they are all equally annoying: “Are you an interesting person?” “Show me why I should talk to you?” and so forth.

My basic good nature always takes over. I don’t respond as a smart-ass, though it’s tempting. In this instance, I said, “I’m a blogger.” I could have easily said, “I’m a Maine guide.” or “I’m retired.” or “I’m a kept man.” But I said, “I’m a blogger.” (I’m on record as disliking the words blog and blogger. (It must appear today that there is much over which I’m annoyed.) But blogging, despite the ugliness of that word, is the description most people best understand.) (I also like the aspect that “I’m a blogger” does not address the core unstated question, How do you economically survive? I enjoy points for evasiveness.) My response prompted the follow-up question, “What do you blog about?”

What I didn’t say is: I blog about ———-. What I did say is: I blog about books, literature, travel, nature, basically anything that enters my pointy little head. I wish I’d been concise and replied that I blog about ———–. That is what this whole damn thing is about–this thing being “…the house…“–though I’ve never come out and stated it so bluntly. (The writer should always seek a degree of obfuscation.)

The books we talk about, the adventures we describe, the philosophy we explore–these are all keys we turn in the lock to release our essential being. At the core of it all is our quest, you know to ——–. That is the territory we explore. But then you must know this, dear reader. Yes, of course you do. Please excuse me for talking down to you. You are brother and sister, companion and friend. You understand, I know. Thank you.

Let us agree, we never ask the other, “What do you do?”

Thanks for reading,


Thursday Theme Day: Diane Arbus

In Creativity, Photography on January 31, 2013 at 6:00 am
Diane Arbus at work.

Diane Arbus at work.

I’m sorry–I have not been precise in my use of language. A theme is not Diane Arbus. A theme is not Hemingway (last Thursday). However, as I noted in my post, Habits of Learning, I best come to a subject through the practitioners who demonstrated a mastery, though Hemingway thought mastery of writing impossible. Last week our theme, though not stated, was the craft of writing, as Hemingway understood it. Today we look briefly at Diane Arbus (1923-1971), the ground-braking photographer. (The name is pronounced DEE-ann, by the way.) I’ll let you determine the core theme.

In 2005 I traveled to New York, to see the exhibit, Diane Arbus Revelations, at the Met. I appreciate her photography a great deal, but it is not the type of photography that changes my view of the world. Robert Frank did that, Arbus did not. Of Arbus, Norman Mailer said, “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.”

Notebook, 1959

Notebook, 1959

However, as a pioneer Arbus was unsurpassed, and such effort inspires me.* What struck me at the exhibit was not the art on the wall, but the vast collection of journals and letters and notes where Arbus so diligently worked out her ideas.

Of her images she has said:

“They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there look at you.”


“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”


“And the revelation was a little like what saints receive on mountains–a further chapter in the history of the mystery…”

and this quote, which I find revealing:

“Once I dreamed I was on a gorgeous ocean liner, all pale, gilded, cupid-encrusted, rococo as a wedding

Mexican Dwarf in His Hotel Room, NYC, 1970

Mexican Dwarf in His Hotel Room, NYC, 1970

cake. There was smoke in the air, people were drinking and gambling. I knew the ship was on fire and we were sinking, slowly. They knew it too, but they were very gay, dancing and singing and kissing, a little delirious. There was no hope. I was terribly elated. I could photograph anything I wanted to.”

In 1963 Arbus applied for a Guggenheim Foundation grant. (She was awarded the grant in 1963 and again in 1966.) Her project title was, American Rites, Manners and Customs, and begins with this paragraph:

“I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it. While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning. I want to gather them, like somebody’s grandmother putting up preserves, because they will have been so beautiful.”

Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC

Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC

There was no one more adept at exploiting the voyeuristic curiosity of human nature. It is a remarkable thing, the ability to tap into an aspect of being, extract it, as it were, and put it on display for all to see. Such ability is truly remarkable–and when it occurs, being an event so rare, history takes notice. For the artist, however, such mining can be a burden of expression. (Diane Arbus committed suicide in 1971.  “I go up and down a lot,” she’d written a friend.)

I suggest, as with any visual artist, that you study the work if you want to learn more. You can find more images here. If, like me, you are drawn to the creative life and want to dig deeper, I suggest Patricia Bosworth’s biography, Dian Arbus.

If you wish to know more of the artist’s life, as well as notes, letters and more images, I heartily

Diane Arbus, Revelations

Diane Arbus, Revelations

recommend purchasing Diane Arbus, Revelations, the publication encapsulating the Met exhibit. It is a coffee-table sized monograph and narrative that is indispensable to the serious student of the creative examined life.

Thanks for reading,



* On inspiration: When you find it attempt to understand it. What inspires you and why? Construct a well of inspiration from which you can drink repeatedly.


In Life on January 30, 2013 at 6:05 am
Michael Dingle in 2009, on his wedding day.

Michael Dingle in2009, on his wedding day.

I haven’t made all too many friends in my years, and very few of them I truly loved. I learned yesterday that Michael died in an accident. He was a friend and I loved him. He was a member of our tribe here at “…the house…” and showed up in at least three posts, most recently just a week ago, My Breakfast with Michael. I honor him with a post I wrote a few years ago.


June 25, 2009

Michael, a close friend, considerably younger than me, pitched a shop-worn cliché recently, declaring, “There must be more to life.” He had arrived at that life transition, where with one foot planted in the autumnal flowering of youth, you find the other foot up and striding to that other place, the parking lot of mature respectability. The older we get, the more assuredly we conclude, ‘Yep, this is it, it’s all she wrote.’ I think Michael was expecting wisdom from me. But I came up short. I kicked the dirt and glanced around, nervously. The young feel the urge of expectancy, the call that a unique life of challenge and discovery awaits them. I remember it well. Later, when that call grows hoarse, then turns to a whisper, you wonder what happened. I didn’t know how to break it to him. He was entering a place in life where the wild genes struggle for attention, as the stable genes manufacture cravings for a sofa and a beer and a Sunday football game on T.V. The stable genes always out-maneuver the wild genes. That is maturity at work. Eventually he will understand.

Everyone does.


Indeed, Michael did come to understand. Shortly after the exchange above, he got married, then, later, became a father. He embraced the “stable gene,” telling me at breakfast last week, “I love my wife, I love my daughter. I love my life.”

We are the Tribe.

In Creativity, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life on January 30, 2013 at 6:00 am
Diogenes and members of the tribe.

Diogenes and members of the tribe.

We are the tribe of Diogenes. Through the village darkness he leads, lamp held high, peering into the blackness of night. We seek not the one to deliver us from darkness, that is not our quest. Rather, we seek companions to walk with us toward the dawn.

We push through the slumbering village herd. We hear their night talk, their groans, smell the stench of the herd. At dawn they will rise and charge off in search of food and water. They eat as the herd, shit as the herd, procreate as the herd. The herd is monolithic in ignorance. The herd is to be avoided. Danger lurks within. An individual becomes lost amongst them, or worse, witless and crushed by the stampede. The herd will always stampede. Press on.

We collect other pilgrams. You make the camp. You build the fire. You collect water. Together we rest. At nightfall we tell stories, and as some of us slumber, others stand watch. The master’s lamp is never extinguished. The journey never ends.


According to Plutarch (ca.45 – 120 C.E.), it was in Cornith that the meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes took place. They exchanged only a few words: while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight in the morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favour he might do for him. To which Diogenes replied, “Yes, stand out of my sunlight.”  Alexander then declared, “If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes.”

"Stand back, Fancy Pants. You're blocking my light."

“Stand back, Fancy Pants. You’re blocking my light.”

Muses Nine Come Calling.

In Creativity, Mythology, The Examined Life on January 29, 2013 at 6:00 am
Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo, to whom the Muses reported.

Apollo released the Muses this morning! What an underserving beast I am to enjoy such grace–the beautiful sprites, dancing on the frozen tundra–Calliope, Clio, Urania, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polymnia, Melpomene, and Terpsichore.

We have an ancient agreement, me and these nine temptresses. “Only questions,” they demanded. “We give you the blessing-curse of questions only.” (Remember Foucault: “There are no answers!”) Eons past I agreed to their terms, hard-bargining tarts that they are.

The nine muses

The nine muses

And so, this morning, they surprised me as they occasionally will, and  accompanied me on my walk–sun rising, frozen snow crunching beneith my boots, crystalline air. It was an exercise in the sacrament. Less whisper, more choral, as befitting the dawn. And the questions–oh, the questions they ask:

  • What will be the tools of your creativity today?
  • When did you last sharpen them?
  • How, today, will you best perceive experience?
  • Can you plumb the depth before nightfall?
  • How, today, do you intend to better become yourself?
  • Do you recognize the face of satisfaction?
  • What mystery will you perform to advance your vision?
  • What can you do to help others in their advance?
  • Last night, did you note the last breath before sleep?
  • How do you seek the source of the question?

Was it the unearthing of things Zen past? Was that the triggering madeleine? More questions–an infinity of questions!