Sunday, April 18, 2010


Couple days ago, I was converting one-half of a built-in shelf unit into a clothes hanging space for my daughter. She had just moved back home and needed an additional closet. While at my workbench, I accidentally knocked a 1" Irwin wood bit off the edge. It fell and stuck point-first into the floor. That pleased me so much. That bit sticking into the floor.

It was like that scene in the BOURNE IDENTITY, when Matt Damon was leaning against the door jamb and holding a knife behind his back. He didn't want to alarm his girlfriend in the adjoining room that he suspected an assassin was somewhere in the apartment. So before entering that room, he let the knife fall at his side and stick into the floor, out of sight. I love it when that happens.

When I was a Boy Scout, we'd go on camp-outs in the deep cypress swamps near the Ouachita River. All of our spare time was spent throwing knives into dead cypress trees. Or playing "Chicken" when the scoutmaster wasn't looking: standing a yard apart with legs spread, a pair of us would take turns throwing a knife into the ground beside booted see who would lose their nerve and give up the game. Amazingly, no one ever got a knife into their foot.

I preferred knife throwing to firearms or archery. With a rifle, pistol, or revolver, the bullet moves too damn fast. You can't see it. You lose the sense of linkage, that palpable thread connecting you to the bull's-eye. Archery is better, but the arrow is still very swift, a blur. With a knife, you can actually see the blade flashing in its transit from hand to target.

My father showed me the method he was taught for his service in the Pacific during WWII. You stand with arm at your side, while holding the handle. Then in a fluid motion, you flex your knees and bring the knife back like a softball pitcher. And like that pitcher, you sling the knife blade-first in an underhand motion. But us whippersnappers always preferred the Hollywood technique: grip the blade and with a strong overhand delivery, fire the knife handle-first.

Yes...throwing knives. I bought some throwing knives a little later and would spend an hour each late afternoon in the backyard, throwing them at targets nailed to a tree. I wasn't very good at it. But whenever I stuck one firmly into the tree from 20 feet away, all felt right with the world in that moment. Why? Simple accomplishment? I don't think so. Some ancient survival residue stirred up in my young psyche? I don't think so. Looking back now, I believe it was something else.

I think it had to do with something more Zen-like: consciousness becoming unified with a selected aspect of otherness (tree) in terms of a mediating piece of reality (knife). Or maybe it had to do with Kant, with his mental categories striving to reach the essence of the noumenon -- the tumbling, flashing knife was slicing through philosophical space, was a symbolic linkage to radical otherness through holistic time. A plunge into the ineffable.

Or maybe it was just fun!

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