Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Well. Work on the opera project is proceeding nicely. It's a real pleasure to discover you're working with someone who understands cross-media collaboration. I know words and stories. I don't claim to know staging, visuals, or the composition of music. And so it's been refreshing as hell to find that I don't actually have to worry about all that other stuff. Cool! I'm really enjoying this project.

Other writing works are slowly, begrudgingly beginning to give way. I have to somehow overcome this feeling that there's always some other demand on my time. I mean -- yes, there is always some other demand on my time -- but I have to put the kids, the family, study, cleaning, cooking, shopping, gardening, martial arts, music and everything else to the back of my head and build some dedicated time. I can't keep doing it in stolen snatches, or at the dead-end of the night when I'm too tired to think.

And yet... tomorrow I have to put the car in for a service, and a new windscreen. And Friday I have the daughter all day, and there's orchestra in the afternoon.

Still. Natalie's taking the kids for a weekend in Launceston. I'll get much of Saturday, and maybe even Sunday. I'll put a chain across the driveway or something: discourage visitors. If I get two near-whole days, I can put down ten thousand words. Maybe more.

Part of the problem is that when the air clears and I finally do get to sit down, my brain rebels at the idea of dropping straight into the complex, painstaking work of writing fiction. For example: after two weeks straight of solo parenting/visitors/gastro/extra kids I got a day almost to myself yesterday. And I achieved fuck-all. In fact, at one point I sat on the back deck in the sun for nearly an hour, staring into the distance. Patting the dog. And sitting.

I couldn't bring myself to move. The sun was warm. The view was lovely. The world was green and gold... and nobody, nobody had any demands on me for those few, fleet hours.

I can write two, maybe two-and-a-half thousand words in an hour when things are going well.

Meanwhile: a good night at sword training. I was the only student there, and I had a moment of realisation which will be helpful.

You see, I took up Iaido because I felt the practicality of ju-jitsu had skewed my vision of martial arts into a very particular direction. Not a bad direction necessarily - but viewing everything through a filter of application and practicality does tend to downplay certain aspects of martial training which are potentially valuable and interesting.

The mental shift, though.... that's quite difficult.

It's hard enough to get used to gigantic hakama trousers, and the appalling complicated knots and ties. To remember to fold your gigantic pants properly. And I admit it: I rarely iron my pleats, and on the occasions when I must, I can't remember which pleat is about 'honour', and which one is about 'duty', and which one is 'family', nor what the other two are supposed to be at all. I do remember to tie the little bow on my jacket so it sits horizontally, not vertically. And I'm finally able to make it through the complex opening ritual of sword-in-left-hand to sword-in-right-hand-and-bow, to sword back in left hand, to sword in both hands and bow, and then finally emplacing the sword in the mass of ties and belts and stuff at my hip.

And I'm patient enough to go through the cleaning, powdering, and oiling ritual every time the sword sees any extended use. I even know enough to concentrate completely on the blade while I'm undertaking these most mundane of actions. It helps that the blade is brutally sharp, of course: one doesn't want to slip up while wiping oil onto something that could take your finger off in a heartbeat.

But -- the actual waza, the techniques. The mental approach is -- all wrong, dammit!

I'm used to minimising my physical presence and gravitas. Anyone who knows me well knows that the more uptight a situation gets, the more potential there is for me to be angry, the quieter and more polite I become. And that's my ju-jitsu training, over twenty years now. The more difficult and confrontational a situation, the gentler, quieter and more thoughtful all my actions and bearing become.

Of course, the moment it becomes clear that action has to be taken -- all bets are off. And so it should be. Because negotiating quietly and politely gives one the best chance of being heard - but also maximises the shock and surprise when one explodes into full-blooded conflict.

That's ju-jitsu. Don't signal your intent. Don't project hostility. Stay calm and confident, but offer nothing for the opponent to fasten onto as a casus belli. And thus, when you are forced to go farther, you have many more options available to you.

Yet it's completely different in working with the sword. You're meant to project. To take up space. To extend your personal presence and completely own the space around you, both physically and in that strange mental/emotional space created by human conflict. There's no 'yield to conquer' here. Once the sword is drawn, even if only as a warning (and there are plenty of techniques which start off with a warning, or incorporate a warning to others after you've cut down your primary opponent or opponents) you're switched on, full of contained but absolute... well, if not aggression then an unyielding commitment to complete mastery of the situation.

The two approaches aren't entirely incompatible, no. But... ju-jitsu is about flexibility and adaptability. Iaido - if it becomes Iaijutsu, and is put to use - is about killing the other person or persons, because that's all there is to it.

There's considerable subtlety and complexity to Iaido. But the end result... there's only one. Whereas in ju-jitsu, a successful outcome can mean escape, or simple discouragement of an opponent, or control over an opponent, or disabling -- or any of a spectrum of responses up to and including killing.

It's hard for me to make that mental switch. I'm not used to thinking in the black-and-white terms dictated by the lethal nature of the sword. But - having recognised that now, perhaps I can do better.

Meanwhile: I planted a new lemon tree today. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. I was buying rope at the hardware store, to lash together some CCA-treated pine logs in the trailer, when I saw a lovely, healthy little lemon tree. I have four lemon trees already, in varying states of health and fruit-producing capacity, but we use a lot of lemons. I've put the new one in near the site of the old Blackwood. The kids like eating lemons (because they're weird, okay?) and they like summer lemonade. One more lemon tree isn't a bad thing.

And why the pine logs? Because I'm having another crack at strawberries. I've determined that if I can keep out the birds, the possums, the wallabies, the rabbits, and the majority of the slugs, grasshoppers and field mice, I should do okay. So: three by six metre patch on the slope, boundaried by six CCA posts each sticking up by 2m, with 1m embedded. Wallaby/rabbit fencing all the way around. 30cm of chicken wire as an 'apron' on the ground all the way around to discourage burrowing. Shadecloth and birdwire to 1m vertically all around -- this should stop field mice and the majority of the damned grasshoppers. CCA framework joining and reinforcing the tops of all the posts into a strong, rectangular support frame which will hold up nylon UV-resistant birdnetting, going down all the way to the top of the shadecloth/birdwire. This will keep out possums and birds, while still admitting the necessary bees.

Meanwhile, inside that 3x6 patch, I'll rip up the entire ground surface. Then I'll lay down four strips of well-rotted manure lengthwise, to provide a decent start for the plants. And then I'll used rather a lot of my nice new mulch to completely mulch the entire space. I may even go and get some pine sawdust just to really put the icing on the cake. The sawdust and mulch should keep the slugs at bay, and further discourage the grasshoppers by reducing the greenery inside the patch to an absolute minimum. And if I mulch for a further metre all the way around the outside of the patch, the grasshoppers will have no incentive to approach.

That's the Flinthart Strawberry Plan. This year, I'm serious!