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.

 

 

 

 

Heart & Soul

When I was in my late 20s, I had an unexpected experience with a noted cardiologist that touched my heart and soul. Consider playing this video as you read the post, before or after.

I was the Executive Director of a mental health agency in California. One afternoon the President of the Board of Directors asked to meet with me in my office. Although not uncommon to meet with me, she sounded excited rather her usual calm. After a warm greeting, she said that a close friend of hers was the Director of Cardiology at a major Adult Cardiology and Heart Surgery Hospital. I had recently written and received a large grant for the mental health agency, and she wanted me to meet with the Director of Cardiology and discuss my writing a grant to expand their Adult Cardiology and Heart Surgery departments as soon as possible. That same day I called the Director of Cardiology and scheduled an appointment to meet with him the next day as he was very eager to discuss the possibility of a grant.

I expected an administration staff member to initially offer a tour of the hospital and especially the Department of Cardiology. And then I’d sit down with the Director of Cardiology to casually discuss what the medical needs were, and the time frame for the grant. When I arrived at the 900+ bed hospital, the Director of Cardiology was nervously waiting for me in the lobby. He was exuberant in his appreciation of my willing to write a grant.

He ushered me into a large wood-paneled conference room with many men and women physicians and staff sitting around a large rectangle oak table. The Director motioned for me to sit at the head of the table, as he leaned against a large laminated Anatomy of the Heart Anatomical wall chart.

He introduced me as the Executive Director of a mental health agency who was going to use my grant writing expertise to obtain enough money for expanding the Adult Cardiology & Heart Surgery departments.

“Stephen, please give your presentation to the department heads and staff about how you are going to bring us an abundance of money for the hospital to better serve our patients.”

I must admit I was a bit stunned and not quite prepared to provide a formal presentation. I had also dressed rather casually. I didn’t have any appropriate background information on the hospital’s needs to intelligently address acquiring money through a grant. Not to mention, all the pairs of eyes looking at me with glances and stares representing everything from curiosity, hopefulness, and suspicion.

I took a long pause and a deep breath trying to figure what I could share. I briefly described the process of writing a grant and the large grants that I had written and received for the mental health agency. I explained that I would need more specific information about the needs of the hospital and especially the Adult Cardiology and Heart Surgery departments before I could provide them about what would be involved in the grant and the timeframe.

“Does anyone have a question for Mr. Bruno?”

One physician understandably asked if I had any medical experience. I told him that I was in the medical field with the Army in Vietnam for fourteen months and that I had an experience as a combat medic. An administrator asked about the size of grants and how much governmental red tape was involved. Another physician inquired about the time it took to receive the money once a grant was submitted. A staff member asked if the money had to be returned at the end of the fiscal year if grant money remained.  I responded to these and other important questions.

The question and answer process seemed to appease the group who believed I might have the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully write a grant. The Q & A seemed to be a turning point and I began to feel more comfortable. At the end of the meeting, the physicians and staff approached me at the coffee machine sharing that they were appreciative of anything that could be done to make a difference for the Adult Cardiology & Heart Surgery departments. I could feel the compassion and genuine caring that these people had in their excitement for the possibilities of obtaining high tech medical additions and more physicians and staff.

The Director then took me to lunch in the cafeteria and shared a bit about his personal life, his family, how he got involved in cardiology and all that he looked forward to in the future. I grew fond of him and respected and valued his commitment to compassionate service for more than four decades.  His heartfelt caring for all the patients was refreshing. In some ways, he reminded me of Dr. Schweitzer and his commitment to patients.

After lunch, he gave me a thorough tour of the entire hospital while introducing me as a cardiology Savior to each medical staff much to my embarrassment and probably theirs. The Director’s energy, enthusiasm, and excitement for the medical possibilities was contagious. I too began to feel the same way and couldn’t wait to learn more and get started on the grants.

When we came to the Cardiology and Heart Surgery departments, the Director became more reflective and serious. He described some of the situations of cardiac issues he handled with patients.  It was clear that he still felt deep emotions about the people who did not survive their surgery and his elation for those who went on to lead a lengthy fulfilled life after surgery. I’m not sure if it was more my commitment to him or the hospital in general that inspired me to want to write the best grant that I had ever prepared.

Before I left the Cardiology and Heart Surgery department, I hesitantly mentioned to him that I had experienced some symptoms he described with his previous patients, that had me concerned about my own heart and that I never had a thorough cardiology exam.

“Since you are going to write a grant for us the least we can do is to provide you with a thorough cardiac examination without any fee. I will personally perform the tests and examination along with our best technicians.”

He asked me to return in the afternoon the next day to begin the exam and tests. I expressed my gratitude, and I felt reassured by this generous offer.

I returned to my office thinking about the meeting and trying to figure how in my busy schedule as Executive Director I could have the time to write one or more sophisticated medical grants. I sorted out my options for continued mental health services, and time for the grant and the deadlines. I decided that there were ways to do this with mutual benefits.

The next morning, I received a call from the President of my Board of Directors. She sounded rather solemn.

She asked to meet with me at the office, and I told her to come right over before I left to meet the Director of Cardiology at the hospital. When she arrived, her demeanor was congruent with how she sounded.

“The Director of Cardiology that you met with yesterday suffered a cardiac arrest during the night and died.”

While we both stared at each other, I had to take a few minutes to process what she had said and considered the irony of this doctor so committed to helping people with cardiac issues had suddenly died of one. I thought of his family that he had discussed and their loss and the loss to the hospital. I felt the loss of a new valued friend.

I learned a lot from that experience. I remember him as the epitome of what we would like our doctor to be especially with something as serious as cardiology issues. I have thought about him over the years, and I’ve looked for other doctors who exemplified the same attitude for my personal care and care of my loved ones.

I continued my service on behalf of people needing mental health with a renewed vigor and commitment. I remained at the mental health agency for about another three years before leaving the state and moving on to other mental health services. One thing that never left my mind is how tenuous and precious the moments of our lives are, and how you can’t always prepare for sudden dramatic traumas. I previously learned this in my gang days in East Los Angeles and certainly in Vietnam in the medical field.

I sometimes play one of my favorite Oldies,  Heart, and Soul, which reminds me of how much a difference we can make by lightening the load for others, being enthusiastic and hopeful, and sharing joy, like this compassionate doctor who cared so much from his heart and soul.

Seriously?

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Years ago, I finished directing my well attended second national writer’s conference, in Washington. After so much work it was time for me to get back to my writing. I was working on a suspense novel when I heard about an opportunity for citizens to learn police procedures and develop better harmony with the police and the community.

I signed up and attended the initial meeting held at the police department. Our small group of about ten men and women received a cordial welcome and introduction by the police chief, followed by a 45-minute tour of the facility with a uniformed police captain including being fingerprinted. Already I found the knowledge of the police department would benefit my novel. I take meticulous care to present my fiction with a well-researched foundation of fact.

The police chief told us that after the weekly meetings, we would have an evening ride-a-long with a police officer in a squad car. I was especially looking forward to that experience in a police squad car, even though it was not my first time. But, that’s another story I may share in a later post.

Several police officers were invited to teach their specialty which included arrest procedures, submitting evidence for physical analysis, missing persons, fingerprinting, search warrants, gang investigations, internal affairs, fundamental prisoner safety and security, booking procedures, examination of crime scenes, and special issues involving handcuffing.

During the discussion on handcuffing a suspect, the officer stood in the front of the room and looked solemnly at each of us sitting around the large oval oak table.  I knew that he was going to demonstrate the appropriate way to handcuff a person and immediately thought I would be the suspect.

I was not surprised when the officer asked me to stand. He approached me authoritatively and told me to place my arms behind my back. He slapped the handcuffs on me rather firmly and very tight, telling me to remain standing behind my chair while he continued to discuss the procedure and then stating the Miranda Rights.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

The writer in me wondered if this was really a set up to arrest me for actions I may have participated in while a member of a violent East Los Angeles gang in my youth. And yes, that’s a different story for another time.

It was a curious sensation to be standing while handcuffed as the other participants hesitantly glanced my way offering a supportive nod or smile and a few suspicious squinty eyed considerations, as the officer continued to teach. He then dismissed the group, and as they walked to the door, a kindly woman asked if was going to release my handcuffs.

“Eventually,” he said with a serious look my way and a wry smile.

 

 

Nobel Prize in Literature

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2015 © Stephen Bruno

Typewriter Tea Kettle

Since I am completing a novel of humanitarian literature that I began several years ago and because I drink a lot of tea while writing, I decided to order this great working typewriter tea kettle made in the UK. I wrote the text printed on the lid as I believe in world peace and humanitarian literature to help us get there. As for my opportunity to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, you just never know what can happen when you embrace your passion and commitment for a better world.