Not Exactly My Finer Moments.

Mallard Duck, 2016 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, I was the Publisher and Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine. Today I was sorting through some of my papers for better organization when I found a copy of the June 1992 issue of the magazine. It was a bit of nostalgia to look through Arizona Literary Review.

While looking at this June issue this morning, I valued high-quality literary, art, and photography that people submitted. When I created the magazine, I imagined that it would eventually reach across the country. I had no idea that people as far away as Paris, France would subscribe and send their submissions, including well-established authors.  As a writer, artist, and photographer It was a pleasure providing opportunities for contributors to be published, some for the first time. Decades later, I happened to meet a neighbor who reminded me that I published his photography in the first issue of the Arizona Literary Review. This visibility started his professional career, and he became a renown photographer.

I read an article in the issue that I wrote in my column, From the Publisher & Editor titled, I Fell in Love with Marie Antoinette, about imagination, creativity, and sometimes not taking ourselves too seriously. I would like to share this with you in my blog post as I believe there is still some relevance.

When we fall in love, I believe that the latent characters who normally reside passively within our psyche suddenly emerge. Our emotions intensify creating illusions of reality. Romantic songs play “just for us,” and the world revolves around our immediate needs and desires. You know the sense when the flowers are brighter, the air is crisper, and the birds sing sweeter.

With creativity, passion is also aroused and inhibited, equally often without satisfactory resolution. The quality of this relationship to creativity determines how we share our passion. Sometimes it is expressed by writing, photography, painting, dance, or music.

There are moments when I can recall a furtive glance by an inquisitive squirrel; the whooshing sound of wind embracing the tall pines; the distinctive aroma of summer blossoms, and cherished memories for a high school sweetheart. The haunting words and melodic rhythm of the 60s song, We got to get out of this place, revive the indelible melancholy and mania for my 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Then these memories vaporize just as suddenly.

My passion is to understand how this lingering tenderness in such sensorial experiences manifests itself in unrestricted drawing, painting, writing, and photography. I feel drawn into and captivated by this intimate involvement with my raw emotions in an undefined desire for creativity.

The arduous process of establishing an authentic relationship with creativity is an intimate, passionate process. Having our work published is a collective external experience. Poetry, fiction, photography, music, dance, and drama caress the heart soul and spirit. As an artist, writer, and photographer I appreciate the creative depth from others who also enjoy these mediums.

Relationships real or imagined are a wealth of resources for story, character, and plot development. Several years ago, I indifferently requested a book on Marie Antoinette through a popular book club. To my astonishment, I identified with her struggles, dreams, losses, adventures, letters, and trauma dramas.

I began writing a historical novel reflecting on the essence of Marie Antoinette.  The positive elements of her life and personality that are less known. Sometime during that year, I fell in love with Marie Antoinette and rediscovered my creative passion soon after I published the Arizona Literary Review. Many years earlier as Editor-Chief of my college newspaper I produced the weekly publications with great enthusiasm, but without as much passion.

I believe that we stimulate our inspiration when we experience the unusual in the familiar. In my thirties, at an airline terminal, I sketched on an imaginary drawing pad the divergence of passengers waiting to board a flight. I observed their mannerisms, conversations, and facial features which I committed to memory for later retrieval in one of my novels.

Startled out of my reverie of character sketching, I heard the last few words of my flight’s departure announcement in the loudspeaker. Reaching for my portable art bin, I remembered that the drawings and art supplies were imaginary.

Feeling chagrined, I hurried past all the passengers to the front of the line along the tarmac towards the America West Airlines aircraft so that I could get the window seat that I preferred. At that time no one had assigned seating. Unlike at many airports today, everyone walked along the tarmac and climbed the mobile stairs to board the aircraft.

Consumed with my recent creative energy and overly stimulated imagination, I climbed the portable stairs leading to the aircraft’s forward cabin ahead of the other passengers. On the aircraft at the top of the stairs, a uniformed Flight Attendant politely greeted me and asked to see my airline ticket. With a curious appraisal of me, she suggested that this was not the correct aircraft that I wanted. Trying to nurture me through my confused gaze, she said that the flight I wanted was on the other side of the aircraft.

With a slight half smile, she pointed to the last of the passengers on my flight who were on the tarmac walking to the other side of the aircraft. I couldn’t help myself I and asked if she was sure that this aircraft was not my flight. Once again, with a measure of infinite patience and smile, she said that she could assure me with absolute confidence that I was not going anywhere on this aircraft.

The Flight Attendant then gently handed me back my ticket and wished me a good flight. In addition to the previous concentration on my character sketching I had a couple of intense things in my life that needed some resolution, and I figured that being a bit distracted is understandable resulting in my attempting to board the wrong aircraft. I casually turned and noticed that the line of passengers was no longer on the tarmac.

I walked carefully down the steps trying to make sense of this unfamiliar experience until I reached the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps an intuition, I turned around and looked up at the top of the stairs. I noticed that the Flight Attendant was still standing by the door, and now with several other uniformed personnel who were all staring down at me.

With a Mona Lisa smile and the slight movement of her eyes looking to the left and down I finally realized why they all were so amused. With the sun gleaming off the aircraft I looked up and saw that the wing was empty where the engine should be. With a gleam in her eye, a nod, and a warm smile, the Flight Attendant placed her hand over her heart as if to say she understood and wished me well.

I was the last passenger to board the correct aircraft and ignoring all the passenger smiles and subdued laughter who had watched me climb up the stairs to an aircraft with no engine; I found an empty aisle seat. Yes, I was embarrassed by this careless attention to familiar detail but found the humor, nonetheless and I still do. I have since embraced the subtle and powerful influence of the familiar on writing, art, photography, and everyday life and the value of being able to laugh at ourselves.

Suspending judgment removes the shackles that inhibit who we truly are. A healthy sense of humor offers insight, humility, and tickles our judgments into a relaxed state in which curiosity offers a resolution.

When the plane landed, I was determined to make up for my faux pas by asking out a Flight Attendant who had been particularly warm and friendly to me during the flight. I was the last one off the aircraft, and as I walked along the hall toward the baggage claim, she met up with me and walked right alongside so close that we occasional brushed against each other.

Normally not too inhibited socially, I knew that before we reached the end of the hall where I needed to turn right, that I must ask her if she would be interested in sharing some time together, perhaps lunch. As we walked along, I looked at her, and she responded with a beautiful smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

I then without any apparent cognitive thinking asked if she knew what time it was. With a squint of her eye, she looked at my watch and told me the time.  We walked further in silence. What are you thinking, Bruno, I thought to myself? Soon we were going to reach the end of the hall, and I needed to turn right toward the baggage claim area, and she probably will go the opposite direction, and I only had a few moments to do better.

You can do this Bruno, I said to myself with confidence. I smiled, and she still smiled warmly back. Then, with a temporary mental fugue condition, I experienced an inexplicable state of altered consciousness and I asked her if she comes here often. I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth any more than she could. She just nodded in unconcealed disbelief and disappointment at just the moment when we reached the end of the hall and without another word she turned to the left, and I walked to the right to the baggage claim area.

Not exactly my finer moments. It does, however, demonstrate how deeply we can be connected in creative ways using our imagination so that we lose perspective of the present.

The next day I decided to visit one of the lakes in the forest to focus primarily on creativity, my love of nature and wildlife and to get grounded. That Sunday afternoon, I was sketching on my outdoor easel the variety of people and families who were fishing, hiking, boating, and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

Five beautiful Mallard Ducks swam across the placid lake purposefully to the shore in front of me.  In unison, they began a powerful song as they marched single file up the steep hill and gathered beside my easel looking at the sketch thoughtfully.

Now, this is what nature is all about I mused. I wanted to capture this moment of communion and remember it. I positioned my charcoal pencil on a new page of the drawing tablet to sketch the largest Mallard Duck who was posing quietly beside me as he watched me sketch him.

I could hear rippling of the water, children laughing, and the flutter of songbirds. With the warmth of the sun and a light breeze, it was a great day to be creative and enjoy nature, and have wildlife come right up to me to share this special time.

The largest Mallard Duck remained standing next to be me looking intently at my sketch of his portrait. I knelt on the ground, faced him, and looked directly into his eyes.  I verbally shared the idea of unconditional compassion, love, and harmony with nature and assured him that I subscribed to these philosophies and that I valued his participation with me. I told him that he and his family are welcome to visit with me any time I’m at the lake.

I mentioned that I was a wildlife photographer and how I loved to capture the essence of wildlife in my photographs. This monologue drew his deep attention and he cocked his head frequently occasionally looking up at me and then back to the sketch. Glancing briefly at his impassive companions who stood several feet away, he then fixed his eyes back on mine.

I accepted this gaze as his sensibility and mutual understanding, and I felt that lightheaded rush of compassion and enlightenment in my connection with one of nature’s own. It was one of those rare moments and insight into the wonders of the universe and the reverence for life.

And then he bit me.

Showdown at High Noon

The Year: The Wild West ’70’s.

The Location: In the middle of an empty, dusty wood deck outside an abode in the valley on the outskirts of a western town.

The Time: Nearing when the clock strikes high noon.

Years ago, I lived in California where I owned a mountain home in a rural area called the Valley of Enchantment. It certainly was enchanting for my Miniature Dachshund companion, Quincy. You may have previously read my blog posts about Quincy and his amazing adventures. By popular request, I am sharing another true tale.

The two-story structure had a wood deck that looked out the back door and wrapped around one side of the house above the basement, leading to stairs that climbed to the street.

One very cold crisp, winter afternoon I observed Quincy beginning his “afternoon constitutional” along the deck on the way to the stairs when he suddenly stopped and gazed up towards the road beyond my view.

I cautiously peeked around the corner behind him and observed a large Mastiff dog riding into view and stopping at the at the top of the stairs surveying the deck and Quincy with an intense stare. He may have been new in town but clearly, this Mastiff was no stranger to showdowns.

Dachshunds were bred to flush out Badgers and can be fearless with other animals. Nonetheless, Quincy was about a quarter of the size of this self-assured Mastiff and he was thoughtfully weighing his options.

They each found their center of gravity and squarely faced each other from a distance like gunslingers of the Old West.  From a decision to call the bluff and with an air of confidence, the Mastiff began to slowly and deliberately descend the first step of the stairs, leading straight to where Quincy firmly held his ground.

Then, both of them stepped forward five paces, their toenails clicking on the wood deck with every step, and locked in focused eye contact. Each of them must be thinking, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

Within a few heart-pounding minutes, the low deep growl of the Mastiff broke the silence. Nevertheless, Quincy stood his ground silently breathing heavily and bound by a personal code of honor to protect the homestead. It was difficult to tell who was standing their ground best for several minutes until the water vapor from the heavy exhaling cleared the cold air and I could once again see this stalemate.

Then, Bruno, (yes, I know, he was my namesake – and, trust me he never complained), my unusually large Great Dane, came from behind me unbeknown to Quincy locking eyes with the Mastiff who stood on the stails smaller by about a head.

Long seconds passed.

When the Mastiff slowly began backing up the stairs, Quincy became bolder and started growling with an occasional bark for good measure as he took small paces forward toward the stairs.

The Mastiff glanced at Quincy like the morsel he could be, but never losing eye contact with Bruno, who was so intimating that he didn’t need to move or to make a sound. I was curious to learn what was going to happen next. You can never predict what is going to happen in a showdown.

Taking advantage of the Mastiff’s sudden distraction, Quincy chased his adversary back up the remainder of the stairs and halfway down the road and out of town just as the clock strikes high noon.

When Quincy strode purposefully back to the deck seeing me standing there alone, his chest was so puffed out that I thought it might burst from pride. He may not have worn a ten-gallon hat or handcrafted boots with spurs but he walked like he was ten feet tall.

He never knew the influential support he received from Bruno. Nevertheless, from that day forward Quincy effectively chased away every big or small animal including a Black Bear cub, large dogs, deer, a family of Racoons, and a Coyote.  To watch the dramatic change in him, you’d think he was backed up by a pack of wolves. All that made the difference was his having belief in himself.