Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros*

In Creativity, Death, Happiness, Life, Music, The Examined Life on February 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

It is late in the evening and I am especially missing my youth. This is probably why I don’t stay up late. Why subject yourself to such a thing? It isn’t so much missing the days of youth as it is creeping closer to the remove of those day altogether, the permanent remove of everything, frankly. What else would explain why, after so many months absent, I write these notes. It is late at night when we need one another most.

I haven’t been here, …the house, for some time and looking at the statistics I see that a couple days ago I had a spike in site visitors. Yes, even with endless months of no participation there is still a struggling readership. A few days past was the one-year mark of my friend Michael Dingle’s death and maybe that explains the spike. I wrote about Michael a few times. Perhaps friends visited to refresh his memory. A year later I still miss him and miss more the magic potential of not growing old that he somehow represented. We would run our ropes and I would belay him, or him me, and we would climb strong as if there were nothing else. Such is the course of climbing–and the course of friendship. Those moments were singular, or at least seem so, presented by that old trickster, memory. But eventually his luck ran out. And, now on a lonely evening, I think on that and wonder at it all.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” wrote Fitzgerald. Despite training and wishful thinking I lose grip on the present and drift away, receding from the present. Agreeing with Sandburg, there are too many of me and they all are incomprehensible tonight, all of them in the past tense seemingly, waving goodbye.

But that is the stuff of navel gazing and that never really gets a person anyplace but thinking of their belly and that is never good. Fat or skinny, belly pondering is a dead-end, I suspect. Instead, tonight I listen to music for joy, Edward Sharpe and the merry band of music makers. I am grinning to this music like an idiot and perhaps that is the key. Good music and a smile on one’s face. It is enough to be satisfied with that. But it is late and I get silly in the late hours. “Come dance with me,” sing the band, “over heartache and rage.” Okay then. Tonight I will dance on, over heartache and rage, to the sunny fields of morning. Thank you for listening. Good night.

__________________________________

*  Yes, I lifted the title. Sort of. For a real writer-thinker, you’d be well served to read Lewis Thomas’s Late Night Thoughts On Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. 141634

Since we’re on the subject: there comes along occasionally a personality that fills my heart with joy and aspiration, such are the emotions when I watch Alexander Michael Tahquitz “Alex” Ebert, lead-man for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I can understand why he is held in almost cult-like status by his fans. Here, listen to the band’s best known tune. Turn up the volume and decide for yourself.

(I’m sorry if you’ve received multiple copies of this post. My tools are rusty and I sent things out before they were ready.)

My Left Hip

In Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on June 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

It’s two and a half weeks since I had a defective hip prosthesis replaced. I have progressed from walker to cane to, again, bi-pedal motion. Pulling myself around behind a walker was revelatory and akin to stepping into a fast-forward time machine. At one point I was visiting my aged father, both of us shuffling behind our aluminium buggies. Yesterday when I saw him (sans walker) he poignantly commented that it must be rewarding to make progress. Sadly, he reflected, progress is behind him.

The bum hip resulted from years of hard-ship athletics: competitive weightlifting, long-distance running, mountain climbing, and so forth. I spent substantial time in my (youthful) life ignoring the ancient call for moderation, shunning what the Buddha called the middle way. It was obsession or nothing, one obsession daisy chained to the next.

Two weeks prone in bed gives one opportunity for reflection.

* * *

“The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less,” writes Anne Dillard. I was greedy. Guilty. Moderation, the middle way–that is the new horizon and I consider it with something less than obsession and more akin to meditation, like a snake shedding its skin.

As I’ve mentioned before, the question is not how to live, but how to think. One precedes the other naturally, but the logic of such a thing too often escapes us and we trudge forward living only.

* * *

Anticipating the surgery, a wise friend asked, “What are you going to do with this opportunity?” What a marvelous question! And I mean marvelous in the sense that I marveled over it: direct and simple and challenging. I could not outline how I might wrestle this question into order, but I embraced it openly and without constriction. It was, and remains, my wide-sky mantra.

The thing is, a question sometimes carries more portent in suspension. The answered question loses potential in resolution. Perhaps that is why the big questions remain, being so big as to constantly provoke and unsettle, never giving the pilgrim respite.

To wit: What are you going to do with this opportunity called life?

“Pay attention…stay eager.”

In Life, The Examined Life on April 17, 2013 at 6:00 am

#1.) I bow before the zen master: “My name is Doug and non-distraction is my practice.” Or so my imagination plays. It seems to me that if one were the master of non-distraction one would be the master of everything. I do not believe in “multi-tasking” and maybe I have said as much previously. But it warrants saying again. Refine your focus, concentrate, do one thing well at a time. “Concentration is the secret of strength,” said Emerson. Be strong.

* * *

#2) My absence (here at the “…house…”) cannot be well explained. Something is afoot, a sea change. I’ve observed this phenomeon before and when it happens, this shift, everything gets exciting and boring simultaneously, if you can image such a thing. I had a (sort of) vision a few days ago–I know, a vision!–and in it a massive mud-caked bubble burst through the earth’s core and exploded. And when this happened I realized the limitless continuity of all things….

This is not my given way of explaining things and appears squishy and unseemly–but I said that something is afoot.

* * *

1 + 2 = Susan Sontag:

“Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

Tipping Forward

In Books, Life, The Examined Life on March 14, 2013 at 6:10 am
Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

I don’t recall how or when I discovered Guy Davenport, but when it happened, it changed everything. From the Paris Review interview with Davenport: 

“His books have never been widely read, by popular standards, but they tend to be deeply read by those lucky enough to find them; he is perhaps as close to being a cult writer as one can come while having been singled out for praise by George Steiner in The New Yorker, yet his work has none of the thinness of the cult writer. For all its strangeness, it seems destined to endure.”

Says Davenport, “I learned early on that what I wanted to know wasn’t what I was being taught.” Geography of the Imagination–the book to start with.

* * *

“Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.” ~ Kierkegaard. We exist like kids on a playground, teetering backward into biography, tipping forward into hope.

* * *

Upon waking yesterday, Carole declared, “I love waking up happy.” –which reminded me of Emerson’s statement: “The days are gods.”

* * *

My father: “The woman came by to get the paperwork from the move. I told her you had it.”

Me: “Dad, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dad: “You mean I didn’t just move?”

“No, Dad. You didn’t just move.”

“Keep an eye on me, son. I’m having hallucinations.”

Dad will be 91 in two weeks. He has had two TIAs in less than two months. Every day I observe the increasing wear and tear, the momentum of age. Difficult stuff, indeed.

* * *

As a hiker and once climber, I appreciate the occasional difficulty in moving forward–the thinning air, the heavy legs, the want of sleep.  In this situation, there is but one way to keep the body in sync with the mind: lean into the problem. When we can’t take another step, we can lean. A person will follow into a lean. Along these lines, I made a Moleskine note once, from a trip to Tibet, a monk’s statement: “He’s no more who he used to be…and he’s not yet what he will become.” Simply, Kierkegaard is right: we exist on a fulcrum. These are things I came to know, but was never taught.

My Freak Flag

In Life, Memoir, Popular Culture on March 11, 2013 at 5:00 am

I haven’t cut my hair in a year and a half. I’ve had a couple of trims, like before my daughter’s wedding, but not a cut as in, “I got a haircut today.”

At fifty-seven this might appear immature and I admit to taking satisfaction in that. I take satisfaction in being a somewhat respectable pillar of the community and looking less respectable each day. It’s a good way to jigger with people’s expectations and that’s, frankly, fun, particularly if you’ve got nothing to lose. I was neat and orderly and filled the general conception of respectability long enough. I subscribe to the great American tradition of re-inventing yourself. Not cutting your hair, though so very superficial, is as easy a reinvention as a guy could hope for.

A few weeks ago I visited the business my wife and I founded twenty years ago and one of the company officers, a guy who’d not seen me in a long time, declared that I was, indeed, letting my freak flag fly. If you’re too young to appreciate the reference, you might want to check out Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

I missed Woodstock and the culture it ushered in by just a few years. The midwest, where I was raised, is slow on the uptake, which is probably not a bad thing, unless you’re a kid in Indiana assuming all the cool kids on the coasts are having a lot more fun than you are. But that seems a general state of adolescence no matter the geography. Regardless, I still long for that state of self-righteousness over a cause that I observed being exercised in the sixties and early seventies. God, what enthusiasm they had! Despite there being amble opportunity for cause–financial malfeasance, government malfeasance, Wall Street malfeasance, fill-in-the-blank malfeasance–despite everywhere you look, there seems little indignation. I am as guilty of lack in this department as the next person–a general malaise of indifference. But you expect that of a 57 year-old–we count on our kids to blaze the path of self-righteousness. That’s a poor excuse, now that I think on it. Maybe it is resignation, not just resignation of the mid-lifers, but abject and complete societal resignation. We have mostly rolled over.

Regardless of the cause, or lack thereof, I’m letting my freak flag fly high. Peace. Love. Hippie Beads forever.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

The Loon Remains

In Life, Writing on March 8, 2013 at 6:00 am

The red-wing black birds are back. They were a’squawking in a naked ash this morning as Lucy and I went on our walk. It is a sign that spring is on schedule, though I am aware that its arrival is still a cruel ways off. As I write this, ten hours later, the temperature has dropped and the sky holds a shade of metallic somewhere between nickel silver and battleship gray. We are due for more snow shortly and that is fine. Still, I remain hopeful, that Persephone is packing her bag.

Santayana said that, “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” I’m not sure what that means, except perhaps one must embrace change, as nothing is permanent. I like change; though releasing the sense of permanence is more difficult to cultivate, though release it I must–as I, most of everything, am subject to this law, disturbingly impermanent as I am.

It has, on the main, been a good winter. A good cozy, book-filled winter, with little ambition about it. That is a good thing, though, understandably, some might not see it that way. A hard-working and successful friend just yesterday shared that I’d been the topic of a brief family conversation. “What does Doug do with his day?” he’d pondered. I’ve come to understand that the day takes care of itself. I don’t have to do anything with it. That is all and it is enough.

imgres

The common loon

The loon remains in the slip of water below my kitchen window. I’ve told the stories of the man who needs to see mountains on the horizon every night, and the hiker who must study the milky way at least once a year. Likewise, I’ve come to depend on the summer call of the loon from my sleeping bag and if there is anything anxious about this desperate time of year, it is tempered by the anticipation of that song. That too will take care of itself soon enough. (Thoreau: “I make my own time. I make my own terms.”)

Everything, it appears, takes care of itself, not in spite of, but because of a cosmic indifference to our personal ambitions. It’s been that sort of winter for this pilgrim (in case you haven’t figured that out just yet).

It’s been a good week and such an assessment is not to be taken for granted. Thanks for visiting me at “…the house…” Have a good weekend.

D