Friday, December 02, 2022

A New Knife

As part of recent vacation, we stopped at a number of smaller "tourist" sites - the sorts of places that have an attraction and a store attached with things to procure.  99% of the time I am immune to such places, perhaps at best buying a postcard or a magnet for The Ravishing Mrs. TB (who collects the things).  But on this trip, something different happened:  My eye was caught by a knife.

I can count on one hand the number of times in my adult life where, walking into a store, an item called out to me with an intensity that was too loud to ignore. This was one of those times.

I am a sword guy.  Knives for me are simply things that I need as tools to perform specific tasks and thus have largely a utilitarian function.  That said, something about the color and work on the hilt stuck with me.

The manufacturer is Ken Richardson - which, as it turns, out is a real person and a real company.  Mind you, his knives are also available in Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, so the chances he personally worked on this one are rather remote.

The blade itself measures about 5" and it has a fine weight to it (one thing I have come to appreciate from Iaijutsu is balance and overall weight).

The best part?  The knife was 40% off the "offer price" of a little over $110.  If I did my calculations from the website correctly, I got a $160-$180 style knife (full price) for about $70.  That is a deal indeed.

Of course (me being me), the first thing I did when I got home was cleaned it. It was not in terrible shape, but benefitted from a bit of Noxin to remove one or two tarnished spots and cleaning it with uchiko powder and choji oil.  

It is not often that I walk away from a purchase feeling like I got both a deal and something I wanted, but for once both occurred.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

December 2022

 And just like that, we lurch into December.

December has come all too fast this year, helped not only by the fact that having a project at work that is consistently driven by "end of the year" dates (so one is always looking to the end of the year) as well as the fact that with an unplanned vacation last week and the expected post vacation catch up, the month suddenly shows up.

And it is already turning out to be busy.

I always think "This December feels busier than most", but I coming to believe that this is more of my memory slipping than anything else.  They are all busy, now - perhaps with the different sorts of things than in previous years, but none the less busy.

I am largely convinced that any memories I have of Christmas being a time to slow down and and appreciate the season were somehow much earlier in my childhood and really just reflected a somewhat flawed view of how the world was actually functioning versus how it was functioning.  With high school and college it became the season of finals, with work it became the season of completing projects for goals and year end reviews.  Add to this our modern penchant of "24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year", and it becomes much less of a season and much more of mad dash to December 25th for a brief rest - before trying to close out everything that was to be done by the end of the year.

I find myself poorer for it.

It is all to easy for me to make or write up a resolve for this year - "I will take it more slowly" or "I will listen to more Christmas music" or something like that, something with good intentions that will go precisely nowhere (even as I write this, vision of e-mails of December yet to come crowd out the sugarplums that should be dancing in my head).  So perhaps this year I will try a slightly different tack and simply spend 5 minutes every day doing something related to the season, if it is just listening to a song (without doing anything else) or reading a short story or even looking at an ornament from the past.

It said that Scrooge ended up keeping Christmas in his heart of every day of the year.  I could at least try to do for a few minutes in the season of Christmas and go from there.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Of Small Towns And Small Cities

 The trip The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I took over the Thanksgiving holiday was somewhat atypical to the usual vacations we have often taken as 1)  It involved no children; and 2) It largely involved small towns and cities and scenery.

To be fair, I far more identify with small towns and small cities than I ever have with larger urban centers as I grew up in a small town.  At some point of course as one become older it becomes a choice of course, especially as many people either by design or chance spend some time in a large urban center.  But urban centers - at least to me - remain largely sterile of desirability.  Certainly you have every convenience under the modern sun, but you also have everything that comes with packing people in densely (or as our friend Hobo says, "Human Feedlots").  So even when I am in our current large urban center, I still prefer the sights and appearances of small towns and cities.

During out trip, the largest urban center we got to was around 50,000.  Most were at least have that in population if not less, some 6 or 8 traffic lights length of street to drive on, others just a slowing of speed before it picked back up and the town was gone in a blur.

There is a certain desolation, an inconsolable sadness to me as we drove through such places.  On the one hand, these are the small towns I remember of my youth, where each place was in some extent a self contained unit, back before the days of malls and mail order and home delivery of everything.  But most of these towns have not made the conversion that some towns have made to essentially being destinations for dwellers of the large urban centers with their cute knick-knacks and classy restaurants (and thus, now dependent on those same large urban centers). As one drives through them, faded signs suggest what used to be there even as the covered windows and doors indicate they are that no longer.  In some cases the town has a theme, which is then propagated throughout the town, sometimes in awkward ways.  In other cases the original stores are gone but other stores have migrated into their place.

Development, where it happens, almost only and ever takes place on the outskirts of town (which, of course, multiplies the economic problem as people no longer go "into town", as all the new and cool things are outside it).  And so the buildings with their call of yesteryear and odd curious shops and eateries which might be fascinating (but one never knows) sit staring outward onto far different streets than when they were built.

It may sound like an overly nostalgic view - and I freely admit that in some ways it is.  I grew up in a small town; I remember the sense of feeling trapped by the limitations of what was there and the thrill that going to a larger city provided at the time.  And yet, now that I have spent more time in a large urban centers than small town and cities, I wonder what, if anything, we have truly gained.

An interesting sub-note to me is in the great social discussion of - call it what you will, "tiny dwellings" or "back to things we used to know" or "being universally unconscious" - the idea of re-energizing and re-invigorating small towns is almost never discussed.  It is not as if there is not real opportunity in some of these places or that in some ways things are a less expense (housing, for example, is a tremendous difference).  It is as if there remains this sort of urban arrogance, that (once again) the only acceptable solution is the one that is "common knowledge" - and that common knowledge only extends to the large urban area limits.

In my happiest of worlds, I would see the great urban areas depopulated and small towns much more prevalent and thriving.  But, as is commonly acknowledged, I tend to see the world a bit in reverse anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Back From Out There (And Little Soaps)

 Apologies for the lateness of responses (and the generic post) - The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself got back from a 5 day vacation.

(In fairness, three of the nights were in an Air BNB.  The last night was in a hotel and yes, I took the soaps.  Waste not, want not.)

I (by and large) tried to stay away from the outer world and partially succeeded.  I tried to relax - and of course, had more thoughts that I will have to sort through.  And of course today (Tuesday) I have to go back to work (Sigh.  Digging out of my e-mail will take at least an hour).

But it was nice just to have a vacation to enjoy - sans children - without any greater agenda than just going.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Doing As Process

 A year ago for Christmas, Nighean Gheal bought me some 3-D printed fantasy figures (rabbits with weapons and their opponent, a skeleton) for painting.

Once upon a time I painted this figures for fun, back in the day when they were all cast of lead and the small flakes that floated around were just additional mineral supplements (before we found out that licking lead paint was bad).  But that was long ago and the figures are long gone.  

As turns out, I have some vacation time now - and approximately a month ago, on a whim I purchased a complete "Figure in a Box with Paint and Brushes and Instructions" - it was an Oni, or Japanese Ogre with a Naginata.  How could I say no to that?

So last week, as part of my "vacation", I started painting after a 35 year hiatus.

I started with rabbits' opponent, the skeleton, because after 35 years I thought I might need to "brush up" as it were, and as skeletons can be a mono color (white), that seemed easy enough.  The plastic paints as well as the lead ever did (although back in the day, we only had model paints, not paints specifically designed for these kinds of things) and using a brush was the same as it ever was.  I painted all but one leg (the one I was holding it with), allowed it to dry a bit, and then painted the other.  Then, I was "done"

Except that I was not.

There were still bits and pieces that needed painting, small cracks that had not been reached in my first pass or two.  I was going to press into them and "finish up" so I could move on and get something of my "relaxing list".  But then, I stopped myself.

This, I suddenly realized, was not an event.  This was an activity.

As I sat looking at the plastic figure that had pulled off its own arm and was using it as a weapon,  I suddenly became aware that I was treating this as I often treat many things:  a project or event that I needed to complete so I could move on to the next thing.   

But in point of fact, this was not meant to be an "event".  This was meant to be an activity. 

This has been a constant struggle in my life, if I think about it.  I am very "project" oriented at least in that sense, that things are there to be completed and the next thing moved on to.  It is what made me very good at education and reading books:  there was a set course, there was a timeline, there was a point of completion.

But an activity is far different.  

An activity is something that, while it may have milestones, is never really complete.  Iaijustsu is very much like this.  Weightlifting is like this.  Even things like gardening and cheese making are like this - yes, there are points where the kata  is complete or the session finished or the vegetables and cheese harvested made, but we are not "done". We move on the the same thing, done in a different way perhaps, or even the same way.  Because the goal is the process itself, not necessarily the outcome.

This, to my mind, suddenly explained a great deal of my own issues.  How I often try to rush through something to finish it (and do it poorly) - because I think I have to get on to the next thing.  Or perhaps why there is always this nagging sense of not doing enough - it is not that I am not doing enough, it is that I am thinking of things in discrete tasks instead of totality of the activity.

I put aside the skeleton that day with the promise I would get back to it later, take another single pass at it, and then (again) put it aside.  Because, as I sat and thought about it, one of the differences between activities and projects is that activities are meant, like journeys, to be savored.  Rushing to get it done more quickly does not make it any more pleasant, it just denies the joy of the activity and having something to look forward to.

Also, it mars the final paint of your figures.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

With Tears And Struggle

 "Amma Syncletica said 'Great endeavors and hard struggles await those who are converted, but afterwards inexpressible joy.  If you want to light a fire, you are troubled at first by smoke, and your eyes water.  But in the end you achieve your aim.  Now it is written "Our God is a consuming fire".  So we must light the divine fire in us with tears and struggle.'"

- Sayings of The Desert Fathers, as quoted in The Roots Of Christian Mysticism (Olivier Clement)

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Longest Johns - Beer Is Good

 Nighean Gheal  and Nighean Dhonn recently introduced me to the vocal group The Longest Johns.  originally from Bristol, England, they perform traditional sea shanties and original music, all done in "the English Tradition". 

For your entertainment and amusement, presented below from the their album "Smoke & Oakum" is there original song "Beer is Great" (with lyrics).  Run time is 1:48.