RIP Bootsie

Bootsie Szabo
2009-2021

A shadow running
There, up on the garden gate
Quick! Or you’ll miss him!

My mother found Bootsie the Cat dead this afternoon, in the back patio room where he spent many an evening. The power was out and the cold was just too much for him. Years ago, Mom and Dad found him starving in the backyard, this tiny black kitten with white boots. They didn’t mean to have another pet, but Bootsie insisted and became very much a part of the household. My father was especially close to him. Bootsie was a bold, charming fellow with a winning personality and a mind of his own. He ruled the yard during the days (unless it was rainy), usually spending the nights in the patio room, although he gradually worked his way onto the couch, dashing away when Dad would wake up in the middle of the night. He was loved, and will be missed.

(My mother and brother both live in San Antonio, Texas. Power is still out at her house, so Mother is taking shelter with my brother and his family. The power is on at his house, but they are under a boil order for the water. Please keep them and all those suffering in Texas in your prayers. Now I’m going back to Lent with a heavy heart.)

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Some Tanka

令和三年一月二日
In the quiet of
Freshly fallen snow so bright
Tears come to my eyes
My cheeks flushing in the cold
I cannot take back my words

#poetry365 What Is Said

令和三年正月
Snow is best enjoyed
Indoors under heavy quilts
With a pile of cats
Let the winter’s fury fly
So long as it stays outside

#poetry365 Privilege

令和二年十二月三十一日
A certain magic
At the turning of the year
Despite everything
Try to look past the darkness
Surely spring will come again

#poetry365 O-Shogatsu お正月

令和二年十二月三十日
Such desolation
The wind rattles tunelessly
Through empty branches
An emaciated drunk
Lurches weakly out the door

#poetry365 Good Riddance

Shodo 書道 versus Shuji 習字

Here is a link to a recent demonstration from the virtual 2020 Greater Kansas City Japanese Festival. In this video from 2018, Aikido master KINOSHITA Ryoichi-sensei demonstrates writing a kanji character while being restrained by some of his assistants. The character Agatsu 吾勝 means “victory over oneself” and is part of a larger Yojijukugo (four kanji proverb) that states 正勝吾勝 masakatsu agatsu, “True Victory is Victory over Oneself”. He is using sosho (cursive) script in this example.

The point Kinoshita-sensei is trying to convey here is regarding the transfer of energy from the body to the paper. One reason many martial artists chose to study shodo is because while the medium is completely different, the basic tenets can be applied to either art form. It is interesting in that, towards the end, Kinoshita-sensei differentiates between shodo and shuji. Shodo is a practice, shuji is calligraphy. Shodo is the action, shuji the result.

Watch carefully as Kinoshita-sensei brushes his kanji. He makes a point in the beginning about not using muscle, because force will just tear the paper. Note the position of his hand, and how when he brushes, his entire center moves: not just the hand, not just the arm, but his body.

It seems a simple concept, but in practice it can be quite challenging. Shodo not only takes focus, but precision and what I can only describe as “flow”. While it is highly unlikely in real life that burly men will somehow try to prevent you from brushing a character, the idea that Kinoshita-sensei is trying to convey here is that your energy needs to transfer to the writing, through your breath, through your body movement, through the proper alignment of the brush.

The Virtual 2020 Greater Kansas City Japanese Festival has a number of interesting videos regarding Japanese culture. You can find their page here. As the Festival is usually held as a fundraiser, if you enjoy the videos, please consider making a small donation so that they can continue their work in bringing Japanese culture to the Kansas City Area:

Virtual Festival Home

Facebook Vacation

Decided for the sake of my sanity to take a Facebook Vacation. Unfortunately, I did sign up to help judge a calligraphy contest before that, so I am having to check in from time to time to answer questions from the entrants. I did take the app off my phone so I can only check in via my desktop, to keep me from doomscrolling. I wasn’t even going to post about it but because someone was trying to get ahold of me (someone else ended up PMing me), I decided to make a quick public post to let people know.

It’s been weird. I keep reaching for the phone and then remembering that the app is gone. But OTOH, it freed up a lot of time and I’ve been much more productive. Ever since watching that film, The Social Dilemma on Netflix, I decided that I really needed to take control of my internet usage time. I gave it a lot of thought and realized that while Facebook was a convenient means to connect with family and friends, the way the platform works is not really allowing me to see the content I want to see. Instead, I’m bombarded by ads and political content. I’m seeing posts from people I barely know and missing posts from those closest to me. And I know several of the people I “friended” are not reading my posts, especially when they express shock at my father’s demise which was almost a year ago and about which I have posted several times.

So, yeah, I’m going to see how long I can do this. It’s an insidious addiction.

Japanese Bobtail Invasion or What I have Been Doing During the Quarantine

I’ve told a few people about this, but otherwise I have just been making vague hints about #OperationCat. All the work we’ve been doing clearing out our back bedroom (my office) and putting in new flooring and closet doors has been part of #operationcat.

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At long last, on July 4th, my husband and I brought home the newest members of our family, all Japanese Bobtail cats.

The adult cat, a tortoieshell smoke long-haired JBT, is named Smoky Quartz. She’s 8 years old and an award-winning retired show cat, with a really unique coat, absolutely gorgeous.

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The black smoke and white kitten is her son, Shigure. He is odd-eyed, one eye blue and one green, short-haired JBT. He is 13 weeks old. He’s very sweet and likes to cuddle.

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The red tabby kitten is named Momiji. He is from another litter and is 9 weeks old. He’s still quite little and I haven’t figured out his personality just yet. He does like to follow big-bro Shigure around and steal whatever toy he’s playing with.

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They do seem to be getting along now.

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Some of ya’ll might remember Nabiki, my black and white Japanese Bobtail that died a few years ago at age 17. This was Nabiki:

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Since that time, I have dreamed of having another JBT cat. It was happy circumstance that we were able to bring home three. I am very grateful to Linda Donaldson of Kiddlyn Kattery and Athena Christine Diehm of KuramaKatz for helping this dream happen!

We do still have Ryoko and we’ll be working on introducing her to the newcomers. She can be a brat, so it’ll have to be a gradual process. And we still have work to do in kitten-proofing downstairs, so the project continues. We haven’t had a kitten for a long time (12 years!) That was our black cat Tsuki, who died last year at age 11 of cancer. Ryoko was an adult when we took her in. Here’s a picture of her so she doesn’t feel left out:

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#OperationCat and helping my mom sort out Dad’s estate has been taking up most of my time lately and probably will continue to do so for awhile. But the gang is all here now!

SCA At Home

I did actually “SCA” a bit this weekend. My husband was working from home downstairs so I decided to drag my music stand up to the bedroom and practice my recorders (both the soprano and tenor). I was going through a book of dance music (which we don’t play much of in Margaurite’s group because she finds it boring). I found a piece that, while simple, still challenged me on my weak areas: playing in the upper register (particularly high G and above) and runs involving B-flat. So that song gave me a good chance to work on both of those issues without just running scales or something. It was fun and kinda took me away from all the awfulness of the world.

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My favorite hobbies seem to have that in common: usually solitary and involving practice or solving minute problems. Whether I’m trying to brush out a kanji character, master a pen stroke, memorize vocabulary, figure out a song, or refurbish a doll, I get so involved with the process that the world falls away. That right there is my happiness. Can’t do that all the time, though. Life is too demanding.

Shodo Practice Doku Sho Shu Kan 読書週間

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So in this time of quarantine, since the event I wanted to attend today was cancelled, and since I am self-isolating for a while due to recent travel (just got home Tuesday from San Antonio), I figured it was high time to get back to my shodo practice, which I have shamefully neglected in the past few months since my father’s passing. To be honest, I haven’t had much free time.

But the brush has been calling me and today I took a few hours to devote to practice. While I was doing that, I thought I would share a few pictures of some of the equipment I find useful, and how I do my practice. I apologize for no video, but I have neither the technology or expertise in that area to make one.

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So this is a useful thing–a briefcase with basic shodo supplies. You can find them sometimes on Amazon or Ebay. Prices vary widely, so shop around.

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When you open it up, you can see there’s space to store a shitajiki (felt that you lay down under the paper) and some extra paper. There’s also a small bottle of ink.

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Opening the smaller area, you can see a couple of bunshin (paperweights), an ink stick, a chopstick holder that I use to balance the brushes on when not using them, a little bottle that holds excess ink, and a stone suzuri (inkstone). The set actually comes with a plastic one, but I prefer to use stone when grinding ink. The plastic suzuri are perfectly acceptable. Not included in the picture is a hanko (personal seal) as I haven’t carved mine yet, or the red paste used for the seal.

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Here is another example of a shodo travel case. This is an old one, probably from the 1950’s-1960’s. I think it was $10 on Ebay when I got it. They come up from time to time and sometimes they can be a bargain.

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Here it is opened up. This one does have the paste (it’s in that little round black container that is barely visible) and a hanko (not mine, but I can recarve it). The case is too narrow to hold standard paper or shitajiki but is small and easy to carry, plus useful to set up in a small space.

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Here is the hanko, a personal seal. For SCA-purposes, this is smaller than the inkan (seals) seen on most medieval artwork. These smaller seals came into popularity during the Edo period and are still in use today.

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This is what I usually carry my brushes in. It’s a simple bamboo roll, similar to what is used to roll sushi rolls.

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And some brushes. The white-topped brushes are ones I use with “water paper” for practice, although I’ve moved away from that as the water tends to dry too fast when you are brushing more complex kanji. Good tool for beginners, though.

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Here’s a bigger version. It holds more brushes and of different sizes. I don’t encourage keeping the caps on brushes–the brushes with caps are extra ones I have on hand if I need to teach. I think I found this one on Amazon as part of a sumi-e set?

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And here’s today’s practice Yojijukugo (proverb). The kanji say “dokusho shukan” meaning “Reading Week”, which is usually TWO weeks in late autumn October 27th to November 9th. This article here explains a little about the practice. While this is the wrong time of year, I think the COVID-19 quarantine gives us all a chance to catch up on our reading, so that’s why I chose this proverb.

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Here is my usual set up. Horribly modern, but the plastic protects my working table. I keep my example on the left, where I can easily refer to it, paper towards the top (well away from the ink), and ink and brushes to the right. One of the bunshin paperweights is at the top of the paper. I usually use my free hand to hold down the bottom of the paper, as it gives me more flexibility than a second bunshin would.

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Loading the brush with ink. I was eager to just get brushing today, so I didn’t grind my ink this time. I explain about that in a later post.

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The brush is held vertically and not too firm a hold. I try to imagine holding an egg against the brush and that gets my hand in the correct position. However, as I am used to writing with a pen at an angle, I do have to constantly be aware of the brush and make sure I don’t lean it over. The wrist is kept stable–I use my entire arm for brushing. That requires maintaining a good posture, leaning slightly forward.

No picture here of the posture. If you sit seiza (on your knees), the posture comes naturally, but my ancient arthritic knees are not up to the task. I use a chair and sit a bit forward, with my legs tucked under a bit.

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I always start with the character ichi (“One”) and usually do a page or two of that same character. It is not a simple straight line, but a slight curve. It’s also a good way to get into focus.

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Some of my warm-up sheets. I use either phonebook paper or newspaper for warm-ups and honestly, for a lot of the practice. It’s usually free and lets me save the better paper. The absorption rate is very close to that of washi (“rice” mulberry paper), although washi tends to drag the brush a bit more.

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Now I start brushing out the actual kanji I’m working with today. It takes some time to work out proper spacing between the strokes, and between the radicals (subsets) within the kanji. What sucks is if you mess up at one point, it throws the whole character off. My teacher sometimes laughs at my vain attempts to “rescue” a character once I’ve made a mistake.

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Here I am testing the spacing between shu and doku, making sure the kanji are in line with each other and of the same size. I was using the back of a previously-brushed page and that ended up badly for me because the paper was crinkled and the brush would “jump”, making it difficult to make smooth strokes.

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Sho is tricky because you have all these lines, which actually are different sizes and NOT parallel. However, the spacing needs to be consistent between them.

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First attempt at the entire proverb. The right side (you read right, down, left, down) wasn’t bad, but I screwed up Shu (the top left kanji) which threw the bottom left kanji completely out of whack. Le sigh.

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And here is my final attempt for the day. Still not where I want it, although legible. At this point, I’d been brushing for three hours and needed a break! So I’ll pick up with this same proverb tomorrow and see if I can’t make more progress in matching the tehon (example) page.

A Few More Poems

令和二年二月二十日

Thus the wheel turns
Life settles into something
Else the new normal
Pinching pennies like a perv
Fear churns the empty belly

The Way Things Are: Unfunny Kyōka
#poetry365

令和二年二月十六日

Anything at all
And I find myself in tears
Icicles of salt
This winter sun can not melt
No matter how clear the sky

On a cold clear day
#poetry365