On Fighting and Writing: Blackwing and Bruce Lee

5 Min read

Bookstore and Bakery rec, Augusta

Blackwing limited edition

Writing tips

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST

On Spotify

on iTunes

I’m back from Georgia. I visited The Book Tavern and the Boll Weevil Cafe and Sweetery. My daughter hosted me and loves the cake. She’s a fan of the red velvet, often getting four servings from the Gulliver-sized portion; I had a slice of Tropical Dream with coconut and pineapple, cream cheese frosting. If you’re in Augusta it’s worth a visit. We went a couple times because they have a menu of southern dishes like grown-up grilled cheese with home-made pimento cheese and applewood bacon, and a pasta creole in spicy Alfredo sauce.

The Book Tavern’s front windows enclose a space with wall shelves, a display which you can step into, a kind of human ad for passersby. The floor is old slatted wood with a rocker and a cardboard cut-out of Where’s Waldo in red and white shirt. When I visit a city, I like to check out the independent booksellers to see what folks are reading. There aren’t many left, Indie stores, because it’s easy to get books online where we can read reviews and order without ever leaving our desk. Plus, more and more folks are listening to books on Audible.

This makes visiting the Indie store feel more like antiquing, like a curiosity shop, getting a sense of the area and the characters who work there, the owner’s taste. First I check the layout and get a feel of the place, breathe in the smell of books, scan the tower of shelves stretching to the ceiling. Every store has a vibe. What do they display in windows, put on tables, the staff-picks shelves, which titles are turned out, which titles do they carry in multiple copies?

Broad Street in Augusta runs parallel to the River Walk by the winding Savannah River and the store has two floors with children’s on the second floor though I never made it there. Cara had given me a collection of postcards, a boxed stack as is popular now, with hundreds of images, each different, and each a photo of a bookstore from around the world. If I could add the Tavern I would include a shot with Cara in the window, her left foot in a medical boot–she came down hard on her opponent who fell on her side of the net during an outdoor volleyball tournament. It was a bad sprain and she would be in the boot for three months. I went to the nonfiction and memoir shelves and skimmed the spines, looking for essays. The seller included used books among the new.

The Book Tavern in Augusta

I picked up a book and a limited edition box of Blackwing Volumes. If you haven’t heard of Blackwing, I encourage you to check out the legendary graphite pencil. They are sold in 12 packs for $30, give or take. You can purchase a three-pack or singles for three to five dollars. This is an accessible luxury. It’s the check-out find, by the register, with stationary and pens, the notepads, book crack, the purchase you hadn’t intended but the prize of the outing.

My box is VOL. 651 for The Bruce Lee Pencil; the number is derived from his first formal school address in Seattle at 651 S. Weller Street. It is striped black and gold to honor the colors of the art of fighting he developed, Jeet Kune Do. We think of him as one of the world’s acclaimed martial artists, but the box bio described him as a philosopher at his core. The box has a black and white photo of Bruce Lee, his initials as a logo. At the base is a legend with finish, ferrule, eraser, imprint, and graphite. Each writing implement is itself a work of art designed to create art work. The weight of the pencil in your hand and its artistic case make the pencil and its use more than mere scratches on paper.

*

Writing with VOL. 651, I channel Bruce Lee, sensing the extra-firmness of the graphite as it etches onto the page. Sifu David explains Lee’s philosophy behind Jeet Kune Do (JKD) and how the fighting stance is based on speed. Foot forward and fist out, one foot slightly bent in the rear. You have to be fast for this kind of fighting but more so, you have to anticipate and read your opponent before he knows what he’s doing. The mind works first, then the chi or energy follows, last is the body. In anticipating and reading the enemy, you must anticipate his mind and chi, and know what he will make his body do even before he does. Chi or energy is breath in fighting. When the fighter begins, he takes a breath.

This triad of Mind-Chi-Body applies to the world. To writing. To write with a pencil is something I do when I mark up books, engaging with the author on the page, making chapter notes, content summaries, reading suggestions. Jotting down ideas on notepads or journals. I use pencil for these. I have pencils in every corner, by every reading chair, at every desk, on my nightstand.

Cara’s friend Marie asked me about writing, how to get started, whether she should do so by hand. Yes, I told her. I do not write by hand as much because I have carpal tunnel syndrome and I’ve gotten used to typing, the ease of the word processor when moving and manipulating text.

Writing should happen as Bruce Lee would fight. First sit down to write and put the pencil to the page, then move the pencil to make out letters and words and sentences. Continue to write–or type as the case may be–while the energy is flowing, forcing the hand to follow. Mind chi body.

I had planned to write about two bookstores and the memoir-essay collection I bought and read. Instead I wrote with mind-chi-body. I have come across proponents of such writing: Gertrude Stein, Ray Bradbury, Montaigne among them.

Bradbury’s triad from his essay Zen in the Art of Writing is summarized as Work-Relax-Don’t Think. It’s similar to Bruce Lee’s: Work/mind — relax/chi — don’t think/body. What started with cakes at the Boll Weevil and a travel passion for books and bakeries has devolved or evolved, which may be the better word, into a reflection on pencils, fighting, and writing.

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FOOTNOTES

*Blackwing Volumes, the link to limited edition boxes and the website. Black and gold also happen to be Army colors and Cyber branch colors. Cara and her friends just graduated from Cyber Officer Basic Course. I have more than a few Blackwing pencils though this is my first limited edition. My daughter first told me about the pencil when she won a coveted original from a music teacher. Replacement erasers are available and I bought Point Guards for the first time, which are used to protect the tip when sharpened.

*Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, link to THL on writing and the creative process. Scroll down to Footnotes for book comments.

*2nd and Charles, Another bookseller, a warehouse-sized store with new and used books, music, video, collectibles. Owned by Books-a-Million. We visited here for a much longer time because of the extensive book genres. The prices were excellent with many of the books used and in excellent condition. Items may also be sold back.

Jul 31, 2022

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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