Doug Bruns

Search for “happiness”

Sunday Repost: Decide to Live

In Books, Philosophy, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Writers on January 20, 2013 at 6:00 am
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The Razor’s Edge

A friend recently loaned me his well-read copy of Somerset Maugham‘s 1944 classic The Razor’s Edge. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to get back to since first reading it in college. (It needs a re-reading if for no other reason than to get the Bill Murray movie out of my head.) Last night I finished Ruth Franklin’s review of Selina Hastings new Maugham biography, “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham,” found in the May 31st issue of The New Yorker. If I were to subscribe to the popular notion that everything happens for a reason, I would think the universe was sending me a message. But I don’t subscribe to that notion, nor do I think the universe is singling me out for inspiration. Rather, I chalk it up to a happy coincidence and the fact that my antenna are tuned to a certain frequency right now.

The book, as I recall, is the tale of one man’s quest for authenticity, and authenticity is a subject I’m spending a good bit of time researching lately. I am trying to trace the idea back to Socrate’s observation that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s a big subject and I will save the conversation for a different forum.  But back to Maugham. Wikipedia summarizes the plot of the book this way: “The Razor’s Edge tells the story of an American fighter pilot (Larry Darrell) traumatized by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of some transcendent meaning in his life…” That pretty well fills the bill. It’s what the antenna are testing for.

This theme was again played out this morning by that sage of common wisdom, Ben Stein, on CBS Sunday

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Morning. If you missed it, here’s a link: “How to Live: Follow Your Heart…” Ben was addressing the graduates in the audience and he ends his essay with this advice: Decide to Live. As with most of Ben’s advice it is spot on. It again brings me around to my subject of authenticity, the examined life, and the Razor’s Edge. Two sentences from Ben’s short essay stand out. He is talking about people who are happy, and this is what he says:  “They decided to do what their hearts told them to do, to do what was in them to do. They took risks and they took chances, and they tried a lot of different things until they got to where they wanted to be.”

I’m not sure how happiness, the examined life, “transcendent meaning” and all that square precisely, if they indeed do. I think they do, and I’m looking into it.

Lastly, a bit of advice, parallel to the theme, from William James. From a letter to his son, James said simply: “Live hard.”

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A NOTE ON HOUSEKEEPING

I’ve added a resource that I hope you’ll find helpful. Check out the “Bookshelf” link just below the header. A click will launch a shelf of books we’ve discussed here at “…the house…” An additional click will launch additional information about the book, author, and so forth.

I’m hoping to add categories–biography, memoir, fiction, etc. But that requires a degree of expertise still under development by your humble host.

Thanks for reading,

d

Moleskine Notes

In Books, Creativity, Life, Literature, Philosophy, Writers, Writing on September 6, 2012 at 6:00 am

My moleskine.

So sorry for yet another repost–but what is a traveler to do? I am left with no recourse: Here is a favorite post from April, 2011.

_______________________

I was approached by a panhandler this morning as I walked across town. He hit me up for a $5 spot. He was sober. Yesterday on Exchange, late in the afternoon, he hit me up for two bucks. He was drunk. To me the economics are simple: It takes five bucks to get drunk, two bucks to stay drunk. (I gave him a dollar.)

From a recent NY Times piece, Julian Schnabel: “Art is [my] religion.”

A note I made from an article in the The Wilson Quarterly: In the beginning of the 21st century social scientists showed that Americans have a third fewer non-family confidantes than two decades earlier. A quarter have no confidantes at all.

Not sure where this idea came from (but think/worry it is original): There are two types of men. Those who want to show you their penis; and those who want to be a genius.*

According to Camus, Sisyphus found happiness in meaningful work. [I made this note in two different places. It strikes a chord. The first, older, entry reads as follows.] Was Sisyphus, according to Camus, happy because he knew the secret to happiness to be meaningful work?

On a similar note, Melville wrote that we should “lower the conceit of attainable felicity.”

Joyce on love: “Love (understood as the desire of good for another)…”

From the diary of Anna Magdelena Bach: “Johann Sebastian said, ‘How simple music is, you just press the right key at the right time.”

Though not properly a note in my moleskine, this is worth sharing. My reader’s copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King arrived yesterday. The first sentence is poetry:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”

______________________

*Lest there be any doubt, I’m the type of guy who wants to be a genius. Here’s hoping the distinction is mutually exclusive.

Blog as metaphor.

In Life, The Examined Life, Writing on May 26, 2012 at 6:00 am

Büyük Menderes River in Turkey (Meander River)

I read recently that a successful blog should have a core theme or topic, and that the postings should not stray far from the topic. Scanning the blogosphere I see the common wisdom in this. You can find and read a blog on any and all manner of themes. Yes, it appears that the successful blog stays on message: cooking, travel, sex, love, health, family, and so forth. It must be refreshing to be so singular. So limited.

Fortunately–or unfortunately–I have taken a different approach. Long before reading Nietzsche, I recognized the stink of the herd and trained myself to move in opposition. I confess to nurturing the contrary, seeking out the different. There is truth in resisting the pull of the common. If my blog is a metaphor for my life, I am a trained generalist, specializing in the nature of the other.

I have identified thirty themes to “…house….” (Located at the bottom of the home page.) They are:

I like that alphabetically dogs follows depression and precedes faith. At any point a reader can click on a theme and will be directed to relative posts. Of course it is a mishmash. I’m not a scholar or academic, given to a trained mind. Rather, I’m a person who embraces the meandering, nurtures a tangent, and exercises walking the crooked line. I realized years ago that I would never be really good at any particular thing. No matter my pursuit, falling short of mastery was to be my fate.

I am grateful that my major interests can be captured in thirty simple categories. A herd cannot navigate thirty options, ensuring that I’m free to make my own way. To this end, Harrison observed that the writer’s gift was one of “excessive consciousness.” Perhaps that is the difference between blogging and writing. But that is a stale semantic.

The generalist does not know what he thinks about a subject until he writes about it. This is the lesson of Montaigne and is the raison d’être for “…house….” I was asked recently about the title of this place, “…the house I live in….” A house is where we keep our junk, as well as our prized possessions. It’s where we sleep and shit and fidget and relax and ponder and love. A house is a place of refuge. It can be private or shared, boisterous or quiet, filled with light, or a place of lurking darkness. Pick a room in the house and you have a speciality, a kitchen, or a bedroom–but the architecture of house is encompassing. That’s why I titled this place as I did. I want to be encompassing.

It seems to have resonated with some. Readership has climbed significantly since the resurrection of the site. I find great comfort in this. One might avoid the herd, yet still appreciate the assurances of company. I salute my fellow generalists and applaud the meandering life.

Thanks for reading.

The whirlwind about my head.

In Creativity, Writing on April 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

What is to be done about the notes and observations, the history and thoughts, collected over the years, indeed, over the decades? It is a swirling whirlwind of muted information, everything I’ve forgotten but wanted to remember, just out of reach, a torment. Montaigne lamented that he read everything then promptly forgot it all. Like Montaigne, my mind is porous. I pour into it, and everything trickles out.

For those practicing the alchemy of turning experience into something–and that exactly is the trick–the content of our notebooks represents an archive of notions and ideas. Therein sleep our gestating projects, our dreams and most important observations. With love and patience and a practice spanning great lengths of time, we capture and compose these records. Yet they sit on the shelf, lonely sheafs, disrespected and forgotten.

The sorting and sifting is impossible. As a photographer who preferred film, I had a system. Sleeves of slides fill my cabinets, sorted by year and country and subject. If you asked me to print my night photo of the Prague Castle taken five years ago, the shot I took at 2:00 in the morning, in February, while standing on the Charles Bridge, worried that my film was going to freeze, I could put my hands on it in three minutes. But ask me where I stashed the note made while reading Moby Dick regarding Melville’s notion of happiness and I am lost. I am compelled to rectify this.

I have a project. A big project. And it represents a full and unconditional embrace of technology. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but the time has come to forsake feelings and get to work.

I began using Evernote a few months ago. I’m not going to explain it, other than to say it is the software by which I intend to take control of this matter. (I’ve linked it, you can check it out if you wish.) From my Mac to my iPhone to my iPad, it will all be there, at my fingertips, sortable and ready for use. And so, with the cracking of a stiff spine, I open the first journal and set to work.

Time traps and a touch of enlightenment.

In Curiosity, Life, The Examined Life on March 14, 2012 at 6:07 am

I recently noted this sentence in my journal: “A prison is a trap for catching time.” I lifted it from a New Yorker article, The Caging of America, by Adam Gopnik. It prompted me to think of other possible “time traps.” Here’s what I came up with, in no specific order:

  • Crossing time zones (cheating, obviously)
  • sleep
  • drugs / alcohol
  • sex
  • unconsciousness
  • day dreaming
  • death (well, duh–again obvious, presumably)
  • ignorance
  • denial
  • worry
  • boredom (can also, like prison, be turned inside out)
  • misery
  • being lost
  • grief
  • insane happiness
  • being in “the zone” *

* I found my zone only once, while rock climbing, a sport about which I used to be obsessive (no surprise there). There was a particular route I was working on but repeatedly failed. It was a sport climb, at the edge of my abilities. A sport climb has carabiners in place along the route, hanging from quick-draws. It’s not as safe as top-roping, but more so, and less technical, than trad climbing, where you place the protective gear, such as cams and wedges, as you go along. In sport climbing the climber gets to a ‘biner, clips in his (or her) rope, then proceeds to the next and so forth. Hanging on the rope is bad form. Falling is worse form, but happens frequently. In sport climbing you “work on” a route. I spent a lot of time on this route and then one Sunday morning I climbed out of the cave, where the route began, and pulled the overhang, made repeated clips and topped out. The completion of the climb found me sweating profusely, my heart pounding, but having no memory of the climb. I simply knew that I had climbed it, “sent it” in climbing parlance, without falling. I had realized an “in the zone” moment. Time had stopped and though action and movement continued, I had no recollection of the experience.

I was at the time studying zen and told my teacher, a Korean zen master, of the experience. He told me I’d had a touch of enlightenment. I remember him pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and smiling.

____________

I also have a list in my journal of things I know nothing (or very little) about:

  • gambling
  • golf
  • wine
  • horses
  • calculus
  • sailing
  • venn diagrams
  • and a great deal more…

I seem to recall making this list while on an airplane, airplanes being where I do a lot of successful thinking–though I would not consider this an example. Nor, for that matter, was I crossing a time zone and thereby trapping time. I was likely staring out the window, vexed over something and feeling inadequate. That is most often the case.

There are a lot of things about which I know nothing, a lot of knowledge gaps I jump over regularly. Occasionally I fall into one and twist my ankle. Why I composed this list is unknown to me–thereby completing the circle of things I find dumbfounding.

Moleskine notes

In Books, Creativity, Happiness, Literature, Philosophy, Writers on April 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I was approached by a panhandler this morning as I walked across town. He hit me up for a $5 spot. He was sober. Yesterday on Exchange, late in the afternoon, he hit me up for two bucks. He was drunk. To me the economics are simple: It takes five bucks to get drunk, two bucks to stay drunk. (I gave him a dollar.)

From a recent NY Times piece, Julian Schnabel: “Art is [my] religion.”

A note I made from an article in the The Wilson Quarterly: In the beginning of the 21st century social scientists showed that Americans have a third fewer non-family confidantes than two decades earlier. A quarter have no confidantes at all.

Not sure where this idea came from (but think/worry it is original): There are two types of men. Those who want to show you their penis; and those who want to be geniuses.*

According to Camus, Sisyphus found happiness in meaningful work. [I made this note in two different places. It strikes a chord. The first, older, entry reads as follows.] Was Sisyphus, according to Camus, happy because he knew the secret to happiness to be meaningful work?

On a similar note, Melville wrote that we should “lower the conceit of attainable felicity.”

Joyce on love: “Love (understood as the desire of good for another)…”

From the diary of Anna Magdelena Bach: “Johann Sebastian said, ‘How simple music is, you just press the right key at the right time.”

Though not properly a note in my moleskine, this is worth sharing. My reader’s copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King arrived yesterday. The first sentence is poetry:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”

______________________

*Lest there be any doubt, I’m the type of guy who wants to be a genius. Here’s hoping the distinction is mutually exclusive.