Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

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.


I’m a blogger. (Aggh!)

In Life, The Examined Life, Writing on February 1, 2013 at 6:00 am
Hello, and what do you do?

Hello, and what do you do?

I was at a social event recently and was asked that most annoying of questions: “What do you do?” There are so many tempting answers: “I breath in, I breath out.” “I walk the dog.” –and so on. However, we know it is not a literal question and I resist–barely–this temptation. The real question, as I understand it, is “How do you make a living, how do you make money, pay the bills?” Or, the expansive take on it: “How do you economically justify your existence?” Sorry, I know I am being cynical (I am of the tribe of Diogenes, after all). There are other ways to interpret this question–What do you do?–and they are all equally annoying: “Are you an interesting person?” “Show me why I should talk to you?” and so forth.

My basic good nature always takes over. I don’t respond as a smart-ass, though it’s tempting. In this instance, I said, “I’m a blogger.” I could have easily said, “I’m a Maine guide.” or “I’m retired.” or “I’m a kept man.” But I said, “I’m a blogger.” (I’m on record as disliking the words blog and blogger. (It must appear today that there is much over which I’m annoyed.) But blogging, despite the ugliness of that word, is the description most people best understand.) (I also like the aspect that “I’m a blogger” does not address the core unstated question, How do you economically survive? I enjoy points for evasiveness.) My response prompted the follow-up question, “What do you blog about?”

What I didn’t say is: I blog about ———-. What I did say is: I blog about books, literature, travel, nature, basically anything that enters my pointy little head. I wish I’d been concise and replied that I blog about ———–. That is what this whole damn thing is about–this thing being “…the house…“–though I’ve never come out and stated it so bluntly. (The writer should always seek a degree of obfuscation.)

The books we talk about, the adventures we describe, the philosophy we explore–these are all keys we turn in the lock to release our essential being. At the core of it all is our quest, you know to ——–. That is the territory we explore. But then you must know this, dear reader. Yes, of course you do. Please excuse me for talking down to you. You are brother and sister, companion and friend. You understand, I know. Thank you.

Let us agree, we never ask the other, “What do you do?”

Thanks for reading,


On writing

In Creativity, Reading, Writers, Writing on June 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

Writing, old school.

There are some very popular–and quite good–blogs out there for writers. Dispensing advice to writers is one of those popular themes that help make a blog successful. I mentioned the advantage of this approach recently (see Blog as metaphore), the value of being an expert and sticking close to your expertise.

On writing specifically, I gather from the popularity of these blogs that there are a lot of aspiring writers seeking help and advice. I would probably be well served to better study some of this stuff. But, truth is, I don’t much like reading about writing. I like to read good writing, but don’t have patience to read about the craft of it. I suspect at work is the same distrust I hold toward the MFA degree. There too, I know I would benefit, but am more inclined to go it alone. That should come as no surprise.

A couple of years ago, with time on my hands, I considered taking the MFA. I went to a well-known school and attended a graduate seminar. Within minutes I knew I would not be able to sit the next two years listening to students read their works in progress. It was not a bad experience, and was likely quite beneficial for those participating. I simply would rather be home reading Nabokov or Cheever.

Reading about writing is like reading about sex rather than having sex. It’s okay, I guess, but why bother?

Yet, here I am writing about writing…

I recognize good writing when I see it. And when I see it I long to be a better writer. That is my school of writing.

A writer I greatly respect, Jim Harrison, said to a writer friend not long ago, “Just concentrate on the writing. That’s all that matters.” I admire the elegance of that advice and keep it noted on a card at my desk.

Sometimes, as happened just yesterday, I pick up a book, read a word or two, realize inspiration, put the book down and start writing. This does not happen frequently, but when its does I recognize it and take advantage of it. It’s a cosmic gift. Most of the time, however, I simply sit down and go to work.

About four or five months ago, I upped the ante here at “…house…” and started posting everyday, six days a week. It is a yeoman’s task I set for myself and we will see how it turns out. I decided that since this blog has evolved into my major writing project, I would work at it everyday hard and with discipline. That is how one approaches the important things.

Carole has noted that this discipline carries with it a weight. I occasionally exhibit evidence of this burden. Somedays I worry and fret that I won’t have anything to write about tomorrow. She admonishes me. She reminds me that I’ve grown a nice little audience of readers here at “…the house….” Further, she points out that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. What more could I want? I know all this to be true. Yet, still…

There is value in being worried enough that you won’t be good enough to do the job well enough. And therein lies motivation.

I believe that summarizes my thoughts on writing.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your support.

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.

…damn ellipsis…

In Writing on April 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

A little attention goes a long way, thank you very much.

Last week was a record for visitors to …the house I live in…. (Can anyone tell me how to end a sentence after an ellipsis? Four dots? It looks so unsettled…so unfinished.) Over six hundred folks stopped in. And last month, March, was a record month with over fifteen hundred visitors. By way of comparison, these are increases of over 60 percent in the last couple months. I am humbled. Imagine, fifteen-hundred people queueing up to read these musings. Go figure.

The numbers are modest as measured against big and important blogs. The blog-a-sphere (now there is hyphenated-form compound word for modern times) is full of good blogs. Most of them have a theme. They have a purpose, a raison d’être. The guy sitting at his desk pounding out whatever crosses his purview and practicing the fine art of self-indulgence doesn’t get much of an audience. I know. I’ve been doing this several years. March of last year I had a thousand fewer visitors.

What to make of this? I do not know. I like my ruminations. And I like ruminating. (Okay, with that second usage I had to grab my dictionary–American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition (I have the fifth edition loaded on my iPad, but really, you just can’t beat a four pound book in the hand). Ruminate comes from the latin word for throat. (Another aside, did any one else see the online contest–can’t remember where–to determine what is the best language learn? Latin won.) As I was saying, throat, into which the beast regurgitates cud to chew again…and again.) We were considering my ruminations.

Apparently there are more than few folks given to some form of self-flagellation by which they find satisfaction here. How else to explain it? I appreciate it. Very much. I press my palms together and bow in your direction.


Since I’m on the subject of housekeeping, I wish to apologize to the email subscribers to “house.” Two days ago I composed a post on my iPad. It was an experiment to see how that device measures up in a pinch. I published before finishing up properly. There were still dust bunnies under the bed and I hadn’t emptied the trash. (Lots of typos.) The final edition was cleaned up nice and tidy, but what went out to the subscribers was not up to snuff. Sorry.

To blog or not to blog?

In Photography, Technology, Writers, Writing on March 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

I should clear up something I said in a previous post. I think I was disparaging toward my friends in the blogging community.

I went off on a rant regarding the word blog (and by inference blogging and blogger). I am sensitive to words and how they are used, even to what they look like. The word “impactful,” as an example. I simply cannot accept that word or its usage. I even think it is visually an ugly word. Like, I don’t need to go into details, like do I?

It’s not just the written word. Several spoken phrases in common currency drive me nuts. For instance: “It’s all good,” “reach-out” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Any of one of these will send me running, ears covered. It’s not all good, obviously. And please, call me or write me, but don’t “reach out” to me. You’re not Frankenstein’s monster. Everything happens for a reason? So…is karma the reason behind everything? Or perhaps a fore-ordained plan about which we are witless? (Interestingly, in my experience most of the folks using this phrase also, incongruously, claim they have free will. ) See how easily I can be set off? The word “blog” has the same effect.

Leaving aside my proclivities regarding things under my skin, I must release old discriminations. Blogging, the word and the activity, is here to stay. The question of writing vis-a-vie blogging is an inconsequential battle being waged nowhere but in my head. (If the battles in my head were only understood clearly…but that is another matter.) I confess that I’m an old-school elitist. It’s a mantle I can’t seem to shake. Elitism is haughty and snarky. Who needs that? The older I get, the less attractive is that position. (Maybe it works for a younger man, firm in his opinions, but maturity can wear away such sharp corners–or polish them to a razor edge, depending on the direction in which you choose to focus effort.)

I am certain Montaigne, a personal hero and influence, would have embraced the forum–blogging–and that is good enough for me. This is not just my opinion. Sarah Blackwell, Montaigne’s most recent biographer, commented in the Paris Review that, “Bloggers might be surprised to hear that they are keeping alive a tradition created more than four centuries ago.” Blackwell’s piece, appropriately, was titled “What Bloggers Owe Montaigne.” (I reviewed her Montaigne book, How to Live, last year.)

If I am sounding a little defensive, it is because I am feeling defensive–a little. The blogger-writer question for me is analogous to what has occurred in photography. It once was that only photographers had cameras. Now we all have cameras. That does not make us all photographers. Nor does having a blog necessarily make one a writer. That was my original train of thought. But as so often is the case, the train took the wrong track and ended up at the wrong station.

As I re-read this, I note that I settle no claim here, resolved nothing but to exercise my outcry. Regardless, I believe Montaigne would approve.

Thanks for reading.