Doug Bruns

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

Sunday Repost: Moleskine Notes, May, 2010

In Creativity, Life, The Examined Life on February 10, 2013 at 6:00 am

Getting on a plane, holding my roller bag as I step in. I notice very attractive flight attendant. I look at her and smile. She smiles back. “You know,”she says, pointing to my bag, “that has wheels on it.” Well, duh, I think. “Yes, I know,” I reply. “I prefer to carry it down the aisle.” “Oh,” she says. “so does my dad.” I literally form the word “ouch” in my mind.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” ~ Gandhi

“It is the only thing we can do, Klaus. I see no alternative. Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.” ~ Etty Hillesum, on her way to her death, at age 29, in Auschwitz.

Dream of Life ~ Documentary on Patti Smith (see it)

Jim Harrison told Peter Phinny: concentrate on the writing. Get that right is all.

The four questions of Kant: ~ What can I know? ~What ought I to do? ~ What may I hope? ~What is man?

My project: sort according to themes? But what are the themes?

Life was a matter of opinion, according to Marcus Aurelius.

“At every moment, step by step, one must confront what one is thinking and saying with what one is doing, with what one is.” ~M. Foucault, 1983

Tuesday, August 29, Avignon, France: Got up around 9. Breakfast until 10:30, reading the International Herald Tribune, sipping coffee, pressed at table. Then we walk the streets, shopping, cafe hopping. Get caught in downpour and make way back to hotel in the afternoon, sprinting from awning to awning. Read then nap as the rain falls. Window is open. Head out at 5pm, golden light. People watch, have dinner after night falls, outside under lamps. Beers. Last night, lights out at 11:30.

My Wicked Good Storm.

In Photography on February 9, 2013 at 8:37 am

I live in Maine. We’re having a wicked good storm today. I thought you might be interested in seeing my “other home” (not to be confused with the “one I live in“), so I break from tradition and share a few images:

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My faithful companion, Lucy–always up for a challenge.

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I think I’m going to get a lot of reading done today.

Captain Douglas

In Family, Memoir on February 9, 2013 at 6:33 am
Shoulder patch of the 99th Infantry Division

Shoulder patch of the 99th Infantry Division

We’re having a hell of a snow storm here in Maine. It made me think of this post I put up several years ago. (It’s a bookend to the post put up a couple of weeks ago, Foxhole Stoicism) :

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December, 1944: My father, and much of the 99th Infantry Division, is trapped behind lines–the Battle of the Bulge.  After sunset, snow knee-deep and falling in the black of the Ardennes Forest, he puts his hand on the shoulder of the solider in front of him, as does the man in front of him, and the man in front of him, and so on. The snake of trapped men silently move through the snow and the woods to the safety of morning light across the river. They do not completely escape detection. As the sun rises, the enemy awakes to discover their trail; rifles secured they follow in pursuit. The line breaks as some of the men are shot. The Germans close in. Dad crosses the river and survives.

My father does not like to talk about it.

I am named after the Captain who led the men out of the darkness, a man who stood at the sharp-end with compass and pen light and confidence. It was the highest honor my father could bestow the man who had saved his life, the gift of naming his son. We are escapees, shuffling through the winter night terrorized. As I have said elsewhere, I am given to metaphor and this is a strong one. As best I know, the human species has no call to origins, to a place of conception. We lack the comfort of a natal stream. There is longing, however. Who does not long for a pen light in the darkness, a leading shoulder or a compass? How can we resist the clearing across the river?

The storm rages and we cannot be ambivalent about being surrounded.

Men in Trunks

In Life, Science on February 8, 2013 at 6:00 am

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I’ve been traveling and missed a few days at the pool. I’m a swimmer. Upon returning, a friend mentioned that he hadn’t seen me and that it was good I was back “fighting the battle.” I asked if he was familiar with the second law of thermodynamics? Mind you, this dialogue is occurring between two men standing naked, but for their Speedos. I described to him the theory of entropy, which states that the universe moves toward chaos and disarray. I explained that if he’d ever had teenagers in the house or was married to a slob he would know what I meant. Test the theory at home. Don’t clean the kitchen for a week and you’ll see what I mean. Teenagers are too often walking examples of entropy. They are, to use a term of physics, isolated systems spontaneously evolving towards the state of maximum entropy.

It seems the battle he was referring to was the battle against entropy, that in fact the universe is aways moving in a direction contrary to our wishes. Eventually everything will fall into a state of entropy, including, yes, ourselves. Physically and mentally we are going to hell and there is nothing to be done but to pull on your Speedo and wage war. Sometimes locker-room talk might surprise you.

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If, for some reason, you want to think more about entropy:

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And if you want to pursue the subject down the rabbit hole, I suggest James Gleick’s Chaos. (You might recall I suggested reading Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman in a previous post.) Chaos is not properly about entropy but a background to64582 the development of chaos theory. The two concepts are intertwined. And for what it’s worth, Gleick is one of our best science writers. Any excuse to read him is rewarding.

Thanks for reading and have a terrific weekend.

d

Thursday Theme day is Postponed.

In Life, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 7, 2013 at 6:00 am

It is Thursday and “theme day” here at “…the house….” I have a topic–the examined life. The post is written, but cracky dry. If it were to have texture I’d propose sandpaper, grade: fine. It’s an important topic, perhaps the most important topic, but I’m not in the mood to get all philosophical and academic today. I trust you understand. If you wish to file a complaint, so be it. You know where the office is. Regardless, Thursday Theme day is officially postponed.

It’s not as if something came along to recast my imagination, to de-rail theme day. I have no excuse, especially with the heavy lifting completed. I’ll lay it on you soon enough, maybe next Thursday, if that day finds me less cantankerous. Simply put, I think being cantankerous is a thing to run with when it hits you, especially if it hits on a day you feel a compulsion to break the rules–which is being coy, really, since the only rules here are the ones I’ve created. Yes, that would be, if not a degree of coyness, then disingenuousness.

And speaking of: Disingenuous–it is word I used to like. (See yesterday’s post for another favored word.) It is a word I tossed accusingly at a person when I was feeling aggressive and lacking in grace, a verbal grenade lobbed over the barricade. I did this once to a young man, branding him as disingenuous, and sadly he didn’t know what the word meant, and, though I did not ridicule him, I made him feel less about himself in a way that brought him close to tears. I look back at this incident and place it solidly in the category of being a jerk, a complete and utter asshole. It brings me no pleasure to think I behaved this way. I was a man competing in the world of business, a combatant, and unfortunately that world occasionally solicited a side of me that I now, upon reflection, find troubling. As I said, it’s a word I used to like.

That is the way of life, isn’t it? Trying on different clothes, going for a new look, you stand in front of the mirror, studying, preening. You turn to the side, trim and expectant, taking high measure of your appearance, only to realize later what the fool you must have looked, what a jerk you were. Yes, Lordy, grant me basic grace.

I’ve given myself free rein here (today is different from any other day how?) and could ramble like this too long but for my temperance with respect to your patience. I’ve already violated my unspoken (unconscious?) rule–yet more rules!–related to transgression and propriety and even the hoped for trust between reader and writer. If this were theater we would consider the forth-wall penetrated. So be it, I stand satisfyingly rambled. A high degree of the cantankerous has been exercised. Too, a bit of examined life revealed. Perhaps we didn’t stray that far from the syllabus, after all.

Thanks for reading–and indulging me. You are most gracious and for that I am grateful.

d

Birth of a Pilgrim

In Adventure, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 6, 2013 at 6:00 am
Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

I am fond of the word pilgrim. For instance, I used it here just yesterday: “Travel, for a pilgrim on the road to the examined life, can be as important as the books you’ll read.” Recently I closed a correspondence with: “I’m not sure if any of what I’ve said is true or even accurate–I’m just a pilgrim.” The first time I recall hearing the word used not in conjunction with Thanksgiving was in the Sydney Pollack movie, Jeremiah Johnson. That was 1972 and I was seventeen years old. It is meaningful that I remember. The movie had a profound impact on me. In it a grizzled old mountain man named Bear Claw Chris Lapp (played perfectly by Will Geer), upon first meeting Johnson (Robert Redford) says, “You’re the same dumb pilgrim that I been hearin’ for twenty days, and smellin’ for three!” And later, toward the end of the movie: “You’ve come far pilgrim.” To which Johnson replies: “Feels like far.” Bear Claw asks, “Where it worth the trouble?” “What trouble?” Johnson replies. (The movie is based on the life of mountain man, John Garrison Johnston–or, as he was better known, Liver-Eating Johnston.*)

I was so captivated by the landscape portrayed in the movie that I sat through the credits to note where it had been filmed. I had to go there, wherever there was. The Unita Mountains of Utah. The following summer I took my first plane trip, leaving home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and landing in Salt Lake City, where I made my way into the mountains. Consequently everything changed for this pilgrim. Everything. A life of curiosity pursued was hatched.

As an aside, the word pilgrim is related to the word peregrine, from the Medieval Latin, peregrinus, meaning wanderer, or migratory. It is the word we attach to our fastest falcon and is, in my imagination, a visage of feathered purpose and ability.

George Santayana said, “The mind of the Renaissance was not a pilgrim mind, but a sedentary city mind, like that of the ancients.”  This captures the spirit and intent of the word for me. The “sedentary city mind,”  it would seem, is a mind that knows it’s place, recognizes the task at hand, and moves toward accomplishment. That is how things get done. The mind of the pilgrim, however, is restless and its profile is one of longing, of motion, perhaps aimless motion, advancing toward a grail of the imagination. To the kid  in the theater in Ft. Wayne, the message was clear: You are not a Renaissance man, you are a pilgrim, and it is time to cast off the fetters of suburbia and its expectation of confinement.

My worldwide perambulations have tapered off, but the mind remains unfettered and still roams widely. There is no rest for the pilgrim. Perhaps, I hope, you understand this?

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* Johnston as scout led a party through Crow sacred territory. (Some accounts say it was Sioux territory.) Consequently, the Crow Nation declared war on him and sent its best warriors to kill him. Despite repeated attempts, year after year, the Crow braves failed in their mission. Johnston killed them all. The legend holds that he would slit open the dead warrior, remove the liver and take a bite out of it, leaving the organ behind, his intimidating calling card. The movie depicts the transgression, depicts the attacks, but fails in complete veracity by leaving out this business of liver snacking. That’s too bad. I would have liked Redford to show a bit more belly fire in his roll. If this sounds too Hollywood, it well may be. The very nature of mountain-man Johnston’s life is such that pinning down the truth is near impossible–a fitting end to a pilgram’s tale.