Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What? Oh. Right. Yeah. Quick! Catch Up!

So, I've started teaching a new ju-jitsu class. It's at Launceston, which is a bit of a trek, and it's for juniors at Launceston Grammar. What can I say? Natalie's angling to get Jake into the school next year. She mentioned what I do. Next thing I know, they're emailing me.

Well, okay. I don't really mind. I get paid, and I like doing this stuff anyhow, and I like working with kids. But that means I'm driving into Launceston four nights out of five most Monday to Friday weeks, and on the fifth night (Wednesday) I teach two and a half hours of ju-jitsu out here.

Of course, it does make the whole cooking thing a challenge. It's not so bad Monday nights, because I'm usually back by six or so. Tuesday nights I prep something before I leave. Wednesday nights is often up to Natalie, though tonight I'm setting up a Malay-style soup. Thursdays I just have to deal with it when I get back, and Fridays (I drive into town to pick up the boys from orchestra; Natalie stays later for Big Person's Orchestra) likewise I have to do a bit of prep beforehand.

Meanwhile, the Mau-Mau has joined the ju-jitsu classes. She just stood up one day and insisted she wanted to go. I was a little wary; she's not so good on 'obedience' and 'paying attention', and I really don't need her in the class if she's going to be difficult.

Turns out the 'difficulties' are all on the other kids. The Mau-Mau apparently loves this shit. She picked up the basic break falls in minutes, and by the end of her first session, she was throwing and wrestling and generally walking over the top of kids with a head or more of size and a year or so of experience on her. She learns as fast as anyone I've yet seen, including her older brother, and she's terrifyingly enthusiastic about it. I've just now organised her very first gi (uniform) and she's bursting with eagerness to turn up in class wearing her very own white belt and all.

Oh, goody.

Meanwhile, it appears I've just about convinced my prof to accept my research proposal for the MA. The first three proposals I put past him were, apparently, a leetle too ambitious. PhD size or better, I'm told. But the latest appears to be properly focused and all that good stuff, so all he wants is a touch of rewriting, and then we can submit it.

Oh, goody goody.

The local high school is doing a performance of "The Three Musketeers" this year. The script is... actually, it's pretty embarrassing, but mostly that's not my problem. Well, with the exception of one scene I've agreed to rewrite for the drama teacher, 'cos she's a friend and a good soul and means the very best for the students. Oh, and I've also agreed to create the fight sequences for them. Which should be especially entertaining. I've done very little formal stage-fight stuff before, but I'm familiar with the principles, and there's plenty of material available to learn from. Plus I can call a few friends for advice if I think I need it. I don't think I'll need it, though.

The spring has finally settled down again. I pumped lots of water to the tank earlier in this year because the little waterhole had gradually filled with leaves and twigs and sticks after something like twenty-odd years of serving the household. So after the tank was nice and full, we engaged a local chap with a digger to come and scoop it all out -- and scoop he did, oh yes. The spring-pond is now deeper than it's ever been, and cleared all around the banks. It took about three weeks for the fine clay to settle, but it's looking really good now. Hopefully there will be a bit of regrowth before the heavier rains of winter, so the clay banks don't run into the pool...

Meanwhile, the new chookshed is making my life goddam miserable. It's one of those stupid little tin aviaries, and unfortunately, the instructions are... moderately unclear in places. Doesn't help that Natalie parked the car on the edge of one of the larger pieces the other day. I can fix that, I reckon. Probably.

Mmf. Car's in service today. Nearly forgot that. They gave me a loaner, which is good, because I've got a lot of crap to do, and I've got to get back down the hill to teach ju-jitsu this afternoon. Hope the service goes well. I dodged about six different wallabies last night on the way home, but one of the fuckers managed to charge headfirst into the right-front corner of the car. Stupid goddam macropod.

Oh. Washing machine is done again. Better go and put a new load on. Yep. Clouding over? Yep. Hmm. This lot better go in the dryer, I guess. The line's mostly full now anyhow.

And last: Anastascia Palazsczukuzk? Oh, holy shitballs, Queensland. If that's the best your Labor party can do, you can expect to be living under Campbell Newman's anus for at least twenty years, I'd guess. And if you want any further details on that opinion, you should ask John Birmingham, or Bob Heather -- or anybody else who had to deal with Anastascia Unspellable in her days as a student politician at Uni of Qld.

Oh, how the chickens return to the roost, eh? You meet a person when you're in your twenties. You make a rational, morally defensible decision not to practice retrospective abortion. Twenty years later, they're gearing up to lead the entire state...  so, did you make a mistake? And if so, do you rectify it? Or do you just piss off to Tasmania, and let the Queensland voters deal with it?

I dunno. Not my problem, is it?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Keeps You Going?

Jake asked me a challenging question this evening. "What do you look forward to?" he said. What he meant, after a bit of question-and-answer clarification, was the old puzzle: why do you bother getting out of bed in the morning? Why do you keep moving through life?

It's a good question. Great question, actually. Because if you haven't got an answer for it, then either you're living like an automaton -- and yes, I know a lot of people do -- or you're in serious trouble. It's certainly a hell of a question to get from your eleven-year-old kid.

We talked. And his viewpoint was easy enough to understand. He sees me cooking on a daily basis. He sees me around the house, doing relatively mundane stuff. And of course, a lot of the things I do which mightn't seem mundane to an outsider, like running a small martial arts school, for instance - well, he's grown up around me. It's routine, isn't it?

I solved this one for myself a long time ago. I don't spend a lot of time 'looking forward to' anything. I have learned the Buddhist lesson: I love the moments of my life. I try to pay attention. And I try to ensure that the choices I make belong to me, and allow me to be myself. (If that doesn't make sense... ah, well. A lot of stuff near the core of Buddhism - particularly Zen - is slippery, and difficult to put in words.)

So what do I do that's worth continuing? Well, hell. 'Most everything. I love writing. Creating characters, stories, wrestling with ideas. Making a story work, and work well - that's a hell of a thing. Cooking. New ingredients. Old favourites. Good wine. Games. Building and maintaining things so that they work well, look nice, and will last. Planting trees, and then picking the fruit from them. Learning new things: languages, skills, philosophical concepts... it's all good.

It's all small stuff, innit? But what is a life if not a collection of small stuff? Yes, there are people who lead Big Lives, and change the world. Can't say as I'd like to trade places with most of them, though. And the ones that I do admire -- well, mostly they got there by sticking to their personal principles, and living their lives as they saw fit. Except, of course, that they happened to be in a time or a place where behaving that way put them at odds with the world at large -- and they also happened to have enough leverage to make a difference.

Small stuff.

Yesterday, one of my young ju-jitsu students worked her way up to a brown-belt level rebreakable board. She's been working on the thing for a few weeks now. After class, she balances it neatly between two chairs, and she goes after it with a hammer fist strike. When she started this routine, she was working at the orange-belt level board. I let her hammer away at it for a week or so before I suggested to her what she might be doing wrong, and how she might do better.

Why? Because it was her project. Personally; something she chose for herself. The student in question is about fourteen. She's not particularly sporty, physical, or superfit. She's always been a little reluctant to commit herself in attack, always a little nervous about the possibility of being hurt in defense. And faced with challenging physical tasks, she hasn't always had the confidence to go after them with everything she's got. All of which is okay, because I figured if she stuck around long enough, we'd work through that stuff. So when she started hammering on the orange/red board, I simply let her - because she needed to know it was her choice, and the first thing she needed to learn was that even if she didn't have the technique to break the thing, she still knew enough to hit it safely, and not be injured.

 A week or so of that, and then I quietly pointed out that she was really only using her arm, and not focusing her weight and the power of her body through the strike. We talked about balance, and breathing, and about bringing the whole of your movement to one point, and the next time she went after that board, it snapped without fuss.

I didn't realise she was going on to the brown board, though. Rebreakable boards are tough plastic slabs, made in two parts, which join in the middle. They're calibrated to snap when appropriate levels of force are applied. You can get them from white through to black, and by the time you're working on the brown board, you're supposedly snapping something like four cm or so of pineboard. I wouldn't know, personally - but I can say this: you have to hit the thing hard, and you have to hit it accurately, and if you don't hit it properly you can seriously hurt your hand.

(Breaking boards isn't really part of ju-jitsu, usually. But I learned years ago that young students absolutely love breaking shit. Okay, fair enough. They learn to focus, they learn to concentrate, and they learn that they can generate useful amounts of striking power - and they really enjoy doing it. Rebreakable boards are, in the long run, a lot cheaper than buying a sawmill...)

Yesterday evening, when the class was over and we were putting the mats away, I heard a yelp of triumph. And when I turned around, my student was holding up the brown board, in two separate pieces. I congratulated her -- and then I told her I hadn't seen it, and she should do it again.

Which she did.

Yes, it's just a slab of plastic. No, it's not an attacker determined to kill. But that's not what it's about, is it? That board is a symbol. It's a thing she couldn't do. It's a thing she couldn't bring herself to do. It's a thing she was afraid of, a thing she thought was outside her physical abilities.

Today, her world is a fraction bigger than it was yesterday. Today, the word 'impossible' is smaller. And once you start that process -- once you get people to recognise that many of the limits on their lives exist only because they haven't been questioned and challenged -- why, that person will never be the same again.

The girl in question is deservedly proud of herself. I know that when she went home a few weeks ago having failed at the red board, her hand was stiff and sore. I also know that she came back, tried harder, and broke through into a space she'd never been before: and I know that for a while, at least, until she forgets and lapses into the more usual way of thinking, she will be wondering what other of her 'limits' she can smash.

I know also that the class I run encouraged her to do this, and gave her the space and the confidence to keep at it, and though I claim no credit whatsoever for her achievement, nevertheless I'm proud of her, and I'm pleased with my role in helping her get this far. And more: I believe in her. There's more to come. She still doesn't know her own strength, both physical and mental, and I think I can keep giving her incentive and encouragement and a bit of guidance for a while yet -- and maybe one day, she'll be one of the people who doesn't lapse back into accepting the imaginary limits which imprison 'most everybody.

That, to me, is a hell of a goal. Helping to free just one person from the mental prison that cages most of humankind... I believe that's a true and worthy task. More than a good enough reason to get up out of bed in the morning, even if I didn't have ten thousand other reasons already.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wish I'd Thought Of That...

...oh, no. Wait. I did.

I've been down this road before, here. I just wish I'd had the sense to patent some of the weird-arse shit I've dreamed up over the years. I also wish my daft mate Doug was still alive; some of my finest moments of weird-arse shit creation came when he and I were getting stoned in one another's company.

Doug was a fuck-up, mind you. Great guy, but a fuck-up. If you've read Birmo's infamous book, you'll know Doug. He's the guy who moved in, and shoved a house worth of furnishings and possessions into his bedroom. He had to actually climb over a wardrobe just to go through the door, and get into bed.

We kept expecting him to put the room in order. Six months after he moved in, he decided he would do that. He moved everything from the bedroom (except his bed) into the lounge room so as to have space to work. Then he got tired.

A couple months later, we shoved it all back into his bedroom again.

Doug is also the guy who was on the wrong end of the open-gas-pipe-closed-windows-and-lit-candle incentive device I created. He kept telling me he needed to get up in the morning and find a job. So every morning on my way to university, I'd wake the fucker up. And every afternoon when I got back, about two or three o'clock, he'd be pulling himself into wakefulness, scratching his sorry arse, and telling me I shoulda woke him up. So, yeah. One morning I did it. Put a lit candle on the floor in his room. Woke him up. Shut the windows. Showed him the candle. Explained that the gas stove was running, and I had everything I wanted to keep in my university bag, and he could fucking well get up, or he could explode in fiery death.

(To this day, I insist I didn't turn on the gas. It was a bluff, goddammit. But it was a long time ago, and there are those who insist that when they turned up later that morning, Doug was running around the place stark naked, opening the windows and fanning the doors to get rid of the smell of gas. Whatever. I should point out that when I came home that afternoon, he actually had a job.)

That's not the point of this entry, though. The point of this entry is this article:


It's in Wikipedia. Wikipedia, for fuck's sake! How fucking mainstream is that?

The original (fuck you, Bill Gates!) mosquito laser was dreamed up late one drowsy, stoned Brisbane summer afternoon in 1985, in a shitty flat in Fairfield. I remember lying on my back on the fucking industrial carpet (no shit; if you can imagine corduroy hessian --that's burlap to you Yanqui types -- then you can imagine the carpet in this place. It was... remarkable. But then, so was the colour scheme.)  staring up at the pale blue ceiling, smacking idly at the hordes of goddam mosquitoes.

Hordes. Motherhumping gigantic, bloodthirsty, whining, screaming fucking hordes of the bastards.

And I remember saying to Doug, in my chemically enhanced state: You know what we need?

He seemed to think it was a big order of pizza, but I told him he was wrong. I told him that what we really, really needed was a little wall-mounted laser unit, with some kind of radarish rangefinder. And in my vision, this device would track mosquitoes in 3d, and it would shoot motherfucking LASERS at them.

I even figured out how to make it safe, which Billy Gates has not, I should point out. I wasn't gonna use blue lasers. Oh, no. I was gonna use three units at once. No single laser would have enough energy to cause harm, but at the focal point -- where the goddam mosquito was -- the three lasers would cross, and the energy would enough to snuff Miss Bloodsucker.

That was my plan. Not Bill Gates. Mine. See?

Fast forward a few years, and I'm trying to explain the Internet to Natalie. She simply didn't have the faintest idea why it was going to be big... so I tried to explain the concept of a networked house. And at that point, I described in detail the "Internet refrigerator" later built by Phillips, or some other minor goddam company.

I won't bother citing the other incidents. There are too many. But the pattern is clear. And so I want to know this: how the fuck do I slap a patent on the idea of reactive camouflage?

Y'see, what you do is this: you put e-paper all over the outside of your armoured vehicle, your ship, or your aeroplane. And then you mount a few cameras to take photos of the ambient surrounds. Next, you hook all those simple, cheap e-paper displays to a cheap-ass Raspberry Pi computer. And voila: whichever side of the thing you're looking at, it projects an image of what's on the other side of it.

No, it won't be invisible... quite. But it's relatively inexpensive, and pretty fucking easy, and I guarantee you that from, say, missile or artillery range away from the thing in question, it's going to be very tricky to spot it...

...Ah well. Doug would have liked it. He loved crazy shit ideas like that.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rants. Deaths. Other Things.

First: my friend and colleague Paul Haines just died.

I didn't know Paul nearly as long, nor as well as I would have liked. But he was an extraordinary man. He wrote horror, and he wrote it very, very fucking well.

Most horror does nothing to me. Stephen King? Heh. It's fantasy. Fairy tale stuff. Fun. Dean Koontz? Oh, please! Lovecraft? An entertaining mummer. Ramsay Campbell? Hell, I read Ramsay Campbell when I can't get to sleep. Makes me snoozy.

Haines' stuff was fucking fearsome.

It was fearsome because, paradoxically, he was a remarkably kind, sensitive man. I like to think of myself as relatively kind, reasonably sensitive. But in me, that degree of empathy makes it next to impossible for me to explore the really ugly flipside of those things. Haines? Oh - he could do it. He could write freaky cannibal serial killer characters, put you in their shoes, make you sympathise with them even while they dismembered and ate other people. He could make you like the most terrifyingly repugnant people, even while as you sat back and freaked out at what those people were doing. He picked up just about every award that you can get in horror in the Southern hemisphere, and if he'd had the chance, he'd have picked up the rest, too. In other words, he understood horror in a way that only a kind, sensitive person can understand it. You have to be able to be scared of it to understand how to scare others with it. Capisce?

Haines understood what horror really is, and how, and why. He was astonishingly good at it, and for that alone, I am infinitely the poorer for his passing. But there are other reasons I will miss him.

Mr Haines died from bowel cancer. He fought it, long and hard, and bought himself a couple of extra years with cutting-edge medical interventions. For most people, the pain and the degradation involved with the kind of drug and radiation regime that Paul endured simply wouldn't be worth the effort. My mother, for example. She knew. She had the colostomy, and she tried the chemo, and when the sheer physical cost of those things began to strike home, she quietly -- and very sensibly and reasonably -- gave up, and simply settled for appropriate palliative care. And I don't blame her for a moment.

But Paul had a daughter, and this year she will be six. He fought for an extra two years, and if you all search your own memories, you'll understand. The difference between being four and being six is enormous. 

Paul's daughter will remember him. They won't be sharp memories, and there won't be a lot of them, but she will remember, and she will treasure the memories that she keeps. And I knew Paul well enough to understand what that simple fact meant to him. For him, all the pain and the ugliness he went through to get those two extra years was worth every second, and if he could have gone through twice as much just to have another few weeks, he would have done so. Paul loved his daughter, his family, in a way that only a man who really understand loss and horror can love, and I can't say just how much I admired that in him.

But it's that struggle which produced one of the moments which for me, defines Paul Haines. He undertook a particularly aggressive form of radiation therapy at one point. It was so strong, so nasty, that for about two weeks the medicos advised him that he should remain at least five metres away from other people. Particularly young people. Young people such as his daughter.

(There is a very Haines kind of horror in the fact that I can imagine how it felt for him to spend two weeks unable to approach his small daughter, knowing that she couldn't possibly understand why Dad couldn't just pick her up and hug her. I understand that. I feel that. It makes my skin crawl. It hurts. That's what Haines' horror writing did to me. Again: I really cannot convey how much I admire that skill, that talent.)

When the two weeks were over, Haines reappeared on his blog, in a photo. There wasn't a lot of text with it, but I remember the photo. I remember it well, and I doubt I will ever forget, because it made me laugh until I cried. In the photo, Paul lay on a bed next to his daughter. The two of them were reading a comic together. The photo was sharp, and it was easy to read the masthead on the comic. It was one of the "Simpsons Comics" stable.

It was a "Radioactive Man" comic.  And that, in one image, is Paul Haines.

Paul... mate, if you're reading this somehow, wherever you are: save me a seat, you bastard. I'll be there soon enough, and then we can sort the fuckers out together...


Yep. Okay. Enough.

There was a hiatus. I'm sorry. I came back from the ROR week, and realised I was absolutely fucked. School holidays are damned hard on me. I spend a lot of time in the school year as a driver, tutor, teacher of martial arts and music; as a father, as a masters degree student, as a student of Iai-do, as the manager of a 50 acre rural property; as a cook, a gardener, a husband, and yes, as a writer and an editor. There's a lot in that list, I know, but during school time I can almost make it work.

During school holidays?

Yeah. Let's not go there. Suffice it to say that for two separate one-week sessions in January I was a sole parent, and I finished off with a week at an intensive manuscript workshop with professionals like Margo Lanagan, Richard Harland, Tansy Roberts and Rowena Cory Daniells. And then I discovered how much work I had to do on my MA, and how far behind I was on emails and stuff. And of course, all this was in and around the Great Fucking Telephone and Internet Failure. In the meantime, there were visitors and friends moving into the state from elsewhere, and way too much else to go into.

I've been desperately trying to catch up. I'm almost there. I think. Maybe. Or maybe not. I'm still desperately sending out files, writing shit, reading, researching, typing, reading, emailing, and all that. Gmail is giving me the shits. I'm pretty fucking unhappy with all the shiny new interface bullshit they've put into place. Somehow, it's lost a dozen or more emails that I thought I'd stored under one particular label. Who knows? Maybe it's lost a fuckload more. I wouldn't know: I've only been searching under that one particular label to this point.

Either way, I don't really care for the new look, the new cross-linking, the new "one size fits all" privacy policy that we MUST read, simply MUST read, every time we open a different one of our Google-related sites.

Google: as politely as possible -- get fucked. I don't fucking WANT to integrate all my emails behind one address. I have one that I use for signing onto various web bullshit sites (including yours, you fuckwads) which acts as a spamtrap. I have another one with one of your various rivals, and I have yours. There is a fucking reason I maintain three, and I don't fucking WANT you pricks to read everything from the other two emails and aggregate them into Gmail.

Let's go farther, shall we? Or not, no. I don't think I'll point out here in public how I've violated your terms of service here and there. I will say this: there's a fucking good reason for doing so, and I firmly believe that my actions are completely reasonable. Turf me if you want, but I don't need your pissant fucking "services" as much as I need my simple privacy in a few places.

And as for all these nifty fucking bells and whistles you've recently added... jeeze, I wish I could get hold of your CEO. Because if I could, there would be no bells nor whistles on my Google sites, but your idiot fucking CEO would jingle when he walked and whistle whenever he farted.

All right. There's more to come, I'm sure, but for the moment this is enough. I'm back.

Now I'm going to go and pour a glass of rum in honour of Paul Haines.

Good night.