Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Sisyphus’

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.

The well gone dry!

In Creativity, Philosophy, Thinkers, Writing on February 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Since “retiring” my little blog-workshop two months ago, it appears that my creative life has gone down the drink, has indeed retired too. I’m not sure what is going on, but in an effort to focus my energies–stopping the blog, stopping the essays, curtailing the reviews, concentrating on my “book project”–I’ve lost them–my energies–altogether. To quote William James:

Sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.

I can’t speak to destiny, but by uprooting my habit(s) I’ve killed off what precious little fruit they bore. I have sown nothing. Garnered nothing in return.

I believe that the pattern of our life, the very structure of day to day living, affords us a(nother) way of infusing existence with meaning and purpose. Meaning is that which works, said the pragmatists.*  I disrupted the pattern, killed off the habit. Nothing working–meaning, kaput. I upset the applecart and am hereby announcing my effort to right it. “God keep me from ever completing anything,” wrote Melville in Moby Dick. Goodness, but I know how he feels.


* Was Sisyphus happy, Camus wondered, because he knew the secret to happiness to be meaningful work?

“A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” ~Albert Schweitzer

In Family, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers on April 24, 2010 at 9:56 pm

There is an extended scene towards the end of  25th Hour, the 2002 Spike Lee movie that captures my imagination. The Ed Norton character is reporting to prison in upstate New York, being driven there by his father, played by Brian Cox. In the scene, his father says, “Just say the word, say the word and we will take the GW Bridge and head west and start a new life.” The father describes this life the Ed Norton character is to carve out for himself, a life in which he will start completely fresh, grow old and never ever again come home. This notion has dogged me for some time. That is to say, long before watching this movie, the idea of starting over, taking a different approach, a reincarnation of sorts, has needled me. I’ve posted some notes on this previously and promise not to be redundant (I hope).

Schweitzer, photographed by the great Eugene Smith.

I don’t know exactly when, but the life of Albert Schweitzer came to my attention at a very early age. The Schweitzer pithy details are as follows: He had three distinct lives. One, Schweitzer was a world-class scholar of Biblical texts. His book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a text still in print, set the standard for scholarship on the topic. His second life was that of a musician. In this incarnation, Schweitzer became an internationally recognized interpreter of Bach’s organ music. He traveled and performed throughout Europe, recording performances and writing books of Bach scholarship. Lastly, the third life, is the Eugene Smith image of the Doctor Schweitzer we recognize, (he had two Ph.Ds and an M.D.) the pith-helmeted doctor of the Congo, hellbent on building hospitals and curing malaria. I find Schweitzer and his life(s) hugely compelling.

How is it that some get so many chances? And how does one get more? Is it as simple as driving across the GW Bridge and heading west? Two years ago my son, Tim, grew weary of the congested helter-skelter life in the Mid-Atlantic. He loaded his truck with his belongings, his dog and headed west in the great American tradition. He didn’t know it was the great American tradition, but of course it is. Out out he drove and filling his gas tank in Colorado he looked up at the mountains, turned and looked down Main street to the end, turned again and looked up Main street to the other end and thought, This is it. He stayed and started over.

It is said the only way of attaining immortality in this life is to be present, to exist precisely in a moment, and in doing so, experience the cessation of time. I find this idea somehow akin to the notion of driving west with your father at the wheel, escaping prison and starting over. Or, loading up your truck and going out, away, with your dog and becoming someone else. But not entirely. Like the sunrise, immortality appears ripe in the promise of the new. But too the sun rises to overhead, then sets.

Regardless, the nature of things, I think, is such that we can do a lot with what we are dealt. We likely won’t end up in the Congo. We may not find ourselves in Colorado. But, closer to home, we start over all the time. On the cellular level we do it. The cells of the body replace themselves. It is self-defense. Depending on the cell type, pancreas, liver, brain, cells come, they go, faster, slower. They regenerate. Old ones expire, new ones are created. In summary, about every seven years (a reverse dog year) we are new–physically, that is.The ancient texts intoned that everything is and isn’t simultaneously. Not to reach too far afield, the point being, physically we are always freshening ourselves up, even as we grow old. Can we not manifest that on a larger scale?–(re)fresh, cure malaria?, even as the sun passes overhead and settles on the horizon. It is, of course, not so easy as all that. That’s talk and talk is, as the adage goes, not very expensive. When it comes down to it, it’s not really so much about the change-up. It is more about the desire, the stretching, I think.

I see the heavy hand of the existentialists in all this, the idea that the person is nothing but what he or she makes of existence–the notion that existence comes first (not I think, there I am, but I am therefore I think). Regardless of how one comes down philosophically, there is that other great American tradition, the one of rolling your sleeves up and making something of yourself. Perhaps it is no more complicated than the constant effort of not letting the rock roll back over you.


I re-read all this and think of Montaigne. But “what do I know?” he said.