Doug Bruns

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

Sunday Repost: A Call From the Fog

In Technology, Thinkers on March 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

A repost from three years ago:

The Sirens--Who Can Resist Them?

The Sirens–Who Can Resist Them?

We’ve had a couple of days of snow. And more falling–with fog. Maggie and I, as always, walked the Eastern Prom this morning, post-holing our way. There came a call of the fog-horn from the bay, the sound rolling in from the South. I thought perhaps it was Bug Light, but I’m given to understand Bug is only an optical warning. Regardless, it was haunting. The water, the fog, snow, and the warning call.

I find it refreshing that technology hundreds of years old–the harbor bell, the fog horn, the light house–is still used in the age of satellite navigation and GPS. I stood in the snow and listened quietly. It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. Famously, Odysseus was curious as to the call of the Sirens. He had his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. He wisely ordered his men to leave him there, no matter how much he begged. And beg he did. But that isn’t the fatalism I’m suggesting. This wasn’t a siren’s death call.

It seemed more a beckoning than a warning. (History is filled with such confusion. Philosophy is doubt, said Montaigne.) But that’s not where I’m heading. Two things. Small things. One: Old technology can still work. Perhaps in the long run we will discover it works best. Secondly, more importantly, stand in the snow, stop and listen. You might be beckoned. Or perhaps warned. Either way, you will miss it with ear buds in.

Santa Fe

In Photography, Travel on March 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

A little closer to home this week, photos (of the artsy-fartsy type) from New Mexico.


Lamp, Santa Fe

BrunsTuesday015 B&W

Prairie Farm


Plastic Jesus, Blue Sky

Door, Taos

Door, Taos

Farm Panorama

Farm Panorama

OCT 2004119

A Nod to Ansel

These were shot with a Leica M8 digital rangefinder with a fixed-focal length 35mm Lux lens. At one point, doing a lot of projects, I owned two M8s. I’ve sold them both. My Leica MP (film) remains in my bag.

Thanks for stopping by.

A Fashion of Discomfort

In Memoir, The Examined Life on March 1, 2013 at 6:00 am

I read in the blogosphere of a writer celebrating five years turning the wheel of his effort. With a few caveats, he comments that he is comfortable toiling in obscurity. I commend him. I am not, honestly, comfortable doing anything in obscurity. I simply harbor too much hunger, which is not necessarily a good thing. I wonder if this blogger truly is so comfortable or rather is attempting to convince himself of a comfort? Obscurity seems such a very cold corner of the universe.

I try to write a few days ahead of a post, always leap-frogging forward. This affords me a bit of space to revise and brush up my prose before hitting the Publish button. That is not the case today. Today I am up against it, having squandered my wiggle room with false starts, bringing me a tad closer to despair.  Maybe if obscurity were less intimidating I would be more comfortable in this situation. But then, upon reflection, I know that being comfortable is too often a trap.

Most of what I have grown to value in my experience was born in some fashion of discomfort. This holds true of the physical certainly, the mountains climbed, trails hiked, horizons pursued. Intellectually, it remains more challenging. There is nothing seemingly so quick to obstruction as the neural pathways. Those synaptic gaps require constant bridge building. If the universe lurches to complexity, as we’ve discussed, then the mind in its quality seems to move contrary-wise, inching a smidgen closer to the simple with each hour, a nudge toward obscurity. This is a rising tide against which we cannot afford a breaking levee. Toil on we must.

I used to play the classical guitar and every evening I would take my instrument and my sheet music and practice–in obscurity, I assumed. My goals were modest. I didn’t wish to play in public, nor aspired to anything but self-satisfaction. There seems a desperate purity to that, I think. Years later I learned that my young children came to count on falling asleep to their father’s music making. There is nothing desperate or obscure about that. Indeed, obscurity might be harder to come by than we imagine.

Most of the time we function under the impression of a self-possessed singularity, blind to the overlaps and connections in which we truly exist. A fellow blogger writes of obscurity; then I pick the theme up and now, here, you read my reflections on the subject; and quite easily we come to understand the reaching nature of each effort and expression and gesture. I might go so far as to suggest that obscurity, in the web of totality, is simply a false concept. This thought charges me with responsibility and a modicum of comfort.

Thanks for reading. You refute the premise of obscurity. Have a terrific weekend.


Winter in Maine…We Go Dark

In Philosophy on February 28, 2013 at 6:00 am

Let’s fish deep today. As deep as 500 words (give or take) will allow.

First, pardon me if I’m about to wax too philosophical. It’s winter in Maine, and we retreat, hibernate, go dark. Come spring things will look up.

The Father of Modern Philosophy, Rene Descarte

The Father of Modern Philosophy, Rene Descartes

Suppose for a moment that you’re out and about on the town, and suddenly a degree of self-doubt washes over you such that you’ve never experienced before. So deep is this doubt, that, indeed, you’re not even certain you exist–you are so very, so profoundly, freaked out. You escape to your room trembling. You have one of those exquisite dark nights of the soul and by morning you have concluded that you only know one thing truly: that you are thinking. And, you assure yourself, if you are thinking, then you must in fact exist. With this knowledge you rest easy and nod off to sleep.

This is the foundation of modern western philosophy. Cogito Ergo Sum, said Descartes. I think, therefore I am.

Now, fast forward a few centuries. You’re extremely cool, sitting at a cafe on St-Germain-des-Prés, the west bank of the Seine, smoking black cigarettes, sipping wine and watching the world go by. You are feeling especially philosophical and it occurs to you: How

Sartre, the Father of Existentialism, as photographed by Cartier Bresson.

Sartre, the Father of Existentialism, as photographed by the great Cartier Bresson.

could you possibly even think if you didn’t first exist? Why, it’s not thinking that comes first, it is existence. I is not, I think therefore I am, but: I am, therefore I think. You have just erected the cornerstone to existentialism. You’ve turned Descartes inside out. You are a genius. But then you know that.

The most fundamental contribution of the existentialists is simple: existence comes first. Everything else follows.

And that, friends, is the briefest account of modern philosophy you will likely ever encounter.


But what can we really know?

There is a philosophical mind game that goes as follows: You are nothing but a brain under glass. There are tubes and wires coming and going from your brain and coursing through these tubes and wires are stimuli, thoughts, and emotions. This input is nothing more than the machinations of an evil scientist. You think you exist because the evil scientist has programmed your brain to believe it so…and so forth. How can you possibly prove this is not the case? If you’re a Cartesian, you’re stuck under the glass. You are thinking. Period. There is no: …therefore, I am. You really can’t prove anything. Robert Nozick put it this way: “How is it possible that we know anything, given the facts the skeptic enumerates, for example, that it is logically possible we are dreaming or floating in a tank with our brain being stimulated to give us exactly our current experiences and even all our past ones?”

I don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps you should read Nozick? Or maybe, you simply shrug your shoulders and just hold out until spring when you can take your canoe down the Dead River to Flagstaff Lake where you watch the sun set behind the Bigalows. That’s what I think I’ll do.


Want to read Sartre’s thoughts on existentialism, but not suffer through his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness? Consider his landmark essay, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” linked here. Or, perhaps you are feeling lighthearted. If that’s the case, then here you go–now for something completely different:

Thanks for reading.


Fish and Chips and Beer

In Death, Life, The Examined Life on February 27, 2013 at 6:00 am


I had fish and chips with a friend a few weeks ago. Fish and chips and beer, that’s what we do. Sadly, he is seriously ill, and I know fish and chips and beer together will end soon. Perhaps it has ceased already and I am yet to acquire that fraught knowledge. Too often things work that way.

He told me the story of a woman who lost her husband to a harbor riptide, a woman who stood helpless and wind-blown and watched as the man was pulled to sea and disappeared. Years later the woman took the linen dress shirts of her dead husband and made handkerchiefs of them and gave them to my friend. I found this a lovely, if dark, image.

My friend asked if I followed him as he told his stories. He likes digression, sharp turns of speech, and grace notes of imagination. Yes, I said, I follow. He rubbed his forehead and said in frustration only three people can follow him. With his illness and pending decline I am intent on following him. When my time comes nothing could be more important than someone might say, He listened.

Corners of My Mind

In Religion, Writers, Writing on February 26, 2013 at 6:00 am

It was supposed to snow last night. I was to wake to half a foot of powder. Instead it rained all night. Mud Season is officially upon us here in Maine. Eliot was close. April might be cruel, but February sucks.

* * *

“A line is a single dot set in motion.” I don’t know who said this, but given to metaphor as I am, I think it is weighted with meaning to be extracted. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to suggest that life, a single dot, can either remain as a period on the page, or can be drawn across it, stretched to the margins. Experience the line, set the dot in motion.

* * *

“I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” That’s John Stuart Mill. I recall reading somewhere that as a young man trained as a classicist, Mill developed the ability to write Greek with his right hand while simultaneously writing Latin with his left–or perhaps other way around. No matter. Fitzgerald said the superior mind is one in which two opposing thoughts can be held at the same time. Mill obviously slam-dunks that observation. I said in a previous post that Peter Matthiessen is on record as expressing his life-long goal to not necessarily simplify his life, but to simplify his self. Mill and Matthiessen, two provocative ways of saying the same thing.

* * *

It is said that all the great religions are born in the desert. Deserts are thirsty places. There is madness in the sands and perhaps madness is a stop on the highway to the divine. I’d add that the mountains too, have a potency. If I were a religious man I’d seek my guru above tree-line. But I am a woodsman and only pagans fill their spirits among the pines and oaks. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” said my guru.

* * *

I recently finished George Saunders’s The Tenth of December. Earlier in the year, the New York Time’s Magazine sported a front cover declaring, “George Saunders just wrote the best book you’ll read this year.”  There is no better PR a writer could wish for. I found Saunders on Facebook and “friended” him. I wrote, “I just finished The Tenth of December. It is like dancing through a field by moonlight only to realize at dawn that the field is mined.” He accepted my friend request and thanked me for the comment, calling it apt. I find it equally refreshing, remarkable, and revelatory that a writer of his stature has a Facebook presence. Have we turned a corner?

Here’s a short clip from Saunders’s recent visit with Charlie Rose:

* * *

Thanks for reading. I don’t say often enough how much I appreciate your support.