Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Just Trying to Get By.

In Life, Memoir on August 15, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Growing up an only child in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and going to bed at night and certain that all the really cool kids were still up and doing really cool things, I came to the opinion that most cool people–and I remember thinking, oddly, in this instance of Mick Jagger–that most cool people didn’t even sleep. I thought that the less cool a person was, like, for example, me, the more sleep they needed, and that the ultra cool people probably didn’t have to sleep at all, that somehow or another they’d figured out, because of their innate coolness, how to get past that which was necessary for the rest of us. Such was the nature of my insecurity that even the necessity of sleep was evidence of my removed state.

Now of course I know better and have (over) compensated for the insecurities. Sleep is a pleasure and not a practice in self-loathing. Too, as harsh as it sounds, I’m glad to see Mick Jagger growing old, and certain that he needs sleep like I need sleep, and even the knowledge that he will die someday, as off-putting as it sounds, gives me a sense of belonging to the rest of the species and on the same level as Mick Jagger, a human being just trying to get by. Just saying.

This Moment Will Pass.

In Life, The Examined Life on July 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

I hurt my back about thirty years ago, then re-injured it ten years ago. If flares up on occasion but mostly I am able to manage the problem. Until yesterday. Now I am flat on my bed watching the reflection of the water below my window dapple the ceiling. That is something, at least.

Sometimes when I am sick, or, like in this case, incapacitated, I attempt to absorb all the discomfort and trouble possible so that when I am well again I will have something to reflect on and be all the more grateful. This works well and is a reminder of how fortunate I am to lead an active life, to have good health, to be able to be up and around and physical. Someday that might not be the case. Should that day come, I want the satisfaction of making due with gratitude.

Lucy, knowing something is amiss, is curled up against my leg. She is a good dog. I have my book and the morning paper, my Pandora station, my computer, and the reflection of the water on the ceiling. This moment will pass, but not without my full attention.

 

 

“It is my gift.”

In Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on June 19, 2014 at 12:32 am

I spotted a woman recently who was sporting a beautiful broad smile. She was an older woman, portly, and as she walked she swung her arms wide. I saw her again, a day or so later, same smile, broad and genuine. I could not help myself. “Excuse me,” I called. She was walking rapidly. She did not stop. “Excuse me,” I said again, a bit louder. She turned. “You have a beautiful smile,” I said. She leaned into me. “It is my gift,” she said. Her English was heavily accented–German, I think. She continued: “So many people have so many problems, you know. I can’t do anything to help them. So I give them my smile.” I was speechless and my eyes misted over. All I was capable of, being so taken aback by this, was an understated, Thank you.

It is not every day that wisdom walks by, arms swinging. When it does, be prepared to give thanks.

A Note From Estonia.

In Life, The Examined Life, Travel on June 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

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Tallinn, Estonia. A week ago our bag was stolen in Amsterdam. We were standing outside the city-center train station, foggy after a transatlantic flight, hungry and disoriented. I stood post with our bags. Carole, Tim, and Candace huddled over the map, occasionally glancing up at the street sign. A man approached and asked for directions. That should have been warning enough, as if I had a look of the local about me. I responded that the train station was directly behind me. He nodded and moved on. A second  man appeared. I had not noticed him before. He locked eyes on me. I stared at him briefly, then he too moved on. He did not smile. The men disappeared into the crowd. My senses returned and I looked down to discover that one luggage bag had disappeared as well.

* * *

I wonder, if at night in their lair, thieves harbor misgivings at having troubled their victim? Will they use the shampoo they pinched? Will they sell Carole’s curling iron, or simply toss it aside in their futile search for pearls and diamonds?  Are thieves, by definition of personality, lacking the introspection necessary to feel remorse? I doubt it. More likely, circumstances demand that they ignore such sentiment. Like the rest of us, they have to eat too. Most times I worry that the world is lurching along this path of desensitized behavior, particularly with relation to the physical world, the environment: What can I salvage, rather than how can I contribute? Personally, too often I discover myself looking to see what can be secured, rather than conserved. We are all, to a fashion, practicing thieves.

Such are my misgivings.

Living as long as you should.

In Books, Death, Life, Literature, The Examined Life on May 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm

There was a birder at the park this morning. I spotted him as Lucy and I rounded the path. He was walking a bike. He occasionally stopped and lifted his binoculars and peered into a tree. He was wearing bike shorts and a helmet and was sporting large rubber band-like straps below his kneecaps. “Red tail?” I asked, sauntering past, a bird disappearing over the trees. “Kestrel,” he corrected. I moved on. He lingered. Lucy darted ahead. There is an unmatched quality to a Sunday early morning.

* * *

I returned two books to shelves this week, actually, to be precise, one book to the shelf, one to the library. I have tried to read Angle of Repose Wallace Stenger’s 1971 Pulitzer-winning novel three times. I advanced almost two hundred pages this go ’round (out of 600) but decided to retrace my steps. It lacked a certain deeper context. Or rather, it–this context–escaped me. A book has to appeal on multiple levels. Angle of Repose seemed lacking in dimension. No doubt my problem, not the book’s. The other book, The Second Book of Tao, was poor timing. Some books, like some foods, require the necessary appetite. Bailing on a book no longer troubles me.

The last novel I devoured was the second book in the six book series, My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Like many other readers of this series (3000 pages!), I cannot get enough, but cannot explain exactly why. Zadie Smith says she needs his books “like crack.” James Woods, writing in The New Yorker, says, [Knausgaard] wants us to inhabit the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary…, sometimes banal…and sometimes momentous…but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone. He notices everything—too much, no doubt—but often lingers beautifully.” It feels time to get book three. I have the appetite.

                                   * * *

I cleaned out dad’s room the day after he died. All of his belongings packed into three grocery-store banana boxes and four trash bags. I took the bags of clothes to Good Will. The boxes remain in the back of my truck. Dad never read Thoreau, but he understood living simply. The sage lives as long as he should, not as long as he can, says Montaigne.  Dad, unknowingly, was a great philosopher.

   * * *

I return from my morning walk with Lucy and declare to Carole that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. This is a revelation after years of fruitlessly attempting to cultivate a phantom desire, as if living up to a responsibility. “Do you mean religious bone in your body?” she asked. “No, I know I don’t have that,” I say. She nods and says it’s the same with her. We leave it at that. Know thyself, counseled the Greeks.

Don Bruns

In Death, Family, Life, Memoir on May 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm
Dad

Dad

 

My father, about whom I have written extensively here, died last week. He was 92. He died in his bed peacefully. No machines, no tubes, no wires. I was with him and was able to tell him one last time that I was proud of him and that I loved him. He went out like he lived, without drama, understated, quietly.

I wrote this essay about him 23 years ago. The Baltimore Sun picked it up and published it on Father’s Day. Dad and Mom came to our house for lunch that Sunday and I read the essay to him. He had not seen it and sat quietly as I read. It was my Father’s Day gift to him. I reprint it below as tribute to my father.

_______________________________________________________________

 

My father cannot throw a baseball overhand. He has a bad shoulder. I recollect as a youngster him trying a couple of times, but he threw awkwardly, like a young child. He stood there, looking apologetic and rubbing his shoulder. “It’s been a problem all my life, this shoulder of mine. But I can throw pretty darn fast underhand,” he said. So we played catch a while, he throwing underhand, I on the look out for friends who might see us and tease me.

That was a long time ago. He still throws underhand. I see him with his grandchildren. I am suspicious of the problem of the bad shoulder. He has never otherwise complained of shoulder problems. I think he never learned to throw a ball properly and is too embarrassed to admit it. One is taught to throw a ball. My children are learning now: Plant one foot, elbow high, follow through. It does not come naturally to most mortals.

My father was born in 1922. His was the rugged life of a youngster in Indiana during the Depression. The only picture I ever saw of him as a child was a faded snapshot of him and his two brothers kneeling in a sandbox, all looking typically boyish. He wore a beret, tilted. It must have seemed exotic, a beret, not a cap. They seem to be squinting into the sun and their clothes are ragged.

From  what I know of his youth it did not have much room for ball playing with his dad. Like many of that era his father scraped for odd jobs here and there. He did not much comfort his family, my grandfather, but rather brought home the grief and struggle that was his experience. Once, my father told me, his dad hit him in the face with the back of his hand. It was at the dinner table. I think he told me to convey his own struggle, not only in growing up, but with fathering. Like ball playing, he was never shown properly how it is done.

I sense the struggle in my father not to be like his father. Each generation rejects the former generation in its individual way. He brought to fatherhood his best, a true heart and a deep character.

A man given to working with his hands, Dad was forever building me boxes and cars and toys in his workshop: building new things when properly he had other work to do. One of the first and best memories I have is sitting on the gray concrete slab of his workshop mixing water and sawdust in a cup with a long nail, while he worked away on something or other.

I inherited his engineering ingenuity. That is, I am pretty good at figuring a solution to a problem, but the skills are lacking. I tended to demean them in my youth. It was part of my statement of generational independence. The bookcase he recently built for me, now proudly displayed in my living room, is a monument not only to his ability but to my incredulity. How does one build something like this? When he gave it to me he ran his palm along the edge. I saw his knowledge and intelligence reflected in the grace of his hand over the wood, like a skater across ice. He built three houses in his time, two from the ground up, one essentially alone. How does one build a house? The answer is imponderable to me. He would have taught me his skill if I had let him.

My mother, whenever my father was doing something for me, would fondly advise: “Remember this when you have children.” She was, of course, referring to the devotion with which my father granted his time and skill. I think often of my mother’s statement. I have children of my own, and I am learning to appreciate what was my father’s gift to me: the best he could muster, even if it meant having to pitch underhand, and his time whenever I asked for it. One must be brave to be devoted so heartily to the next generation, and one must be loving and trusting of the future.

                                                                                                Originally Published in the Baltimore Sun, Father’s Dad, June 15, 1991