Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘journal keeping’

Friday Notes

In Books, Happiness, Life, Wisdom on April 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Friday notes (entries from aforementioned notebooks and journals):

“Unless a person takes charge of them, both work and free time are likely to be disappointing.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

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Entry dated 10.21.02 ~ Henry David Thoreau started his journal on this date in 1865. It grew to over two million words.

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Yesterday my friend Dingle told me that he woke up and thought: “Life is not necessarily about being happy.” And with that a month-long depression lifted. Which reminded me of a line I’d noted from the novel Prague Arthur Phillips: “John understood that some things mattered and some things did not and that the happy people in this world were those who could easily and rapidly distinguish between the two.” (p.188)

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“The prophet is a fool, the man of spirit is mad.” Hosea 9:7

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From a New York Times Book Review (10.5.2003) of Brenda Wineapple’s biography Nathanal Hawthorne, a Life: [Hawthorne] was constitutionally opposed to enthusiasm…”

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From a notebook entry of Bruce Chatwin: “Do we not gaze coldly at our clutter and say, ‘If these object express my personality, then I hate my personality.'”

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 Zen koan: The Master and the Grandmaster are in a boat going to an island. The master asked, “Is the water going or is the boat going?”

The Grandmaster answered, “The boat is not going and the water is not going.”

“Then what is going?” asked the master.

The Grandmaster held out his hankerchief.

“When did you become like this?” asked the master.

“For a long time,” said the Grandmaster.


Have a nice weekend. And 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.

Like a language disappearing

In Philosophy, The Examined Life, Writing on February 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

I keep a journal. Recently I’ve been using a large Moleskine with thick unlined pages made for sketching and drawing. Ink does not bleed through these pages. Sometimes I sketch in it, but mostly I jot down ideas, quotes and notions. I like the heavy paper. It feels substantial. I mistakenly sometimes think that my ideas are substantial too just by putting them down on such fine paper.

As I sit here at my writing desk I look across my little room and see about two dozen journals on the shelf, in all manner of shape and size, going back many years. Tucked away behind the shelf in storage boxes are yellow pads–the journals of my youth–dozens of them. Back then, thirty years ago and more, I wrote with a pencil and now the oldest pages are hardly discernible. I get a sense of comfort looking at those lost words, marks fading like a language disappearing. I wonder why, after all the words and years of record keeping their disappearance gives me satisfaction? That is obviously at odds with the nature of making a record.

I recently read a short biography of René Descartes. It’s in the book I’m currently reading, Examined Lives by James Miller. Descartes kept a journal at his side at all times. He gave it the name Olympia. He sought a quiet life and often lived like a fugitive, going from place to place, in an effort to escape his fame and pursue his thought-filled solitude. After moving to the Netherlands he wrote in his journal: “I have been able to lead a life as solitary and withdrawn as if I were in the most remote desert.”

I used to be obsessed with leaving evidence of my existence. That was part of what was behind the journals. That obsession, thankfully, no longer haunts me. To the contrary, I am hard at pursuing a course of singular autonomy which seems a lighter and looser obsession. Certainly it does not haunt me. The autonomy I seek feels the antithesis of my previous obsession, a sort of independence of history. But maybe that is just a hopeful imagination at work.

Here is a verse from a poem by Barton Sutter that captures the nuance of what I’m trying to convey. The poem is called TheThousand-foot Ore Boat.

To live until we die–

The job seems just impossible.

The great weight of the past

Pushing us forward, the long future

Thrust out before us, so little room to either side!

The autonomy I suggest is freedom from the weight of the past while avoiding the rush to the future. There is little about modern life that affords this notion of freedom. Perhaps that is the hook of my attention, being a simplistic contrarian. Regardless, one of the (few) benefits of maturation is coming to accept the inconsistencies of (my) life.


Just as a note: the words “singular autonomy,” used above, were pulled from my current notebook. The one with the thick pages. As a rebellious exercise against Cartesian methodology I choose not to give it a name.