On training the falcon-heart not to bate

We call it bating when the falcon, held by the jesses on the hand or perch, attempts to fly off.  This occurs most frequently in unseeled falcons held on the hand and indoors during the period of their wildness....  As some forms of bating are more serious than others, let us see which is the least harmful; for although we cannot altogether prevent the falcon from flying off the hand, we can train her to choose the least injurious acts....  In all cases of bating the falconer must use every effort to replace the falcon as quickly as possible in her normal position, for the longer she is pendant [on her jesses] the greater is the risk of serious injury....

Inasmuch as a falcon that is securely held on the fist or tied to a perch will not remain quiet under all conditions, especially while still in the wild state, it is good policy to accustom her to that form of bating that will do her least harm, viz., that which takes an upward direction toward the falconer's face.  With this in mind, we shall describe various ways of training a falcon to fly upward over the attendant's head.  To begin with, the attendant in offering the bird food (either as a tiring or otherwise) should remember to hold it high before his face, so that she will bate upward to reach it....

Indoors a recently sighted falcon bates from the fist for many reasons.  She may become frightened, not only by the falconer himself but by objects that she notices about him, as well as by phenomena that she observes for the first time....  If the falconer suspects, from certain signs, that the falcon threatens to bate because of some action of his, or because she sees his face, he must decide the exact cause of the bird's fright and remedy it at once.  This is a fundamental rule in all cases of bating.  In particular, he should keep his face turned away from her as far as possible and speak to her in the familiar tones used while she is being fed.  If this has a quieting effect on the bird, he need not give her either of the emergency rations.  If not, she should be given the tiring, but not allowed to keep it after her alarm has passed.
--Frederick II, The Art of Falconry, trans. and ed. by Casey A. Wood and F. Marjorie Fyfe (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1943), Book 2, Chapter 56-59, pp. 175-79.
For it is as Vincent, the author of mirrors, says, the human heart is like a hunting bird, which when she is held on the hand and hears a sudden noise, tries to fly away but is held back by her jesses.  So when she crosses through a place where there is noise, they hold red lumps of flesh before her eyes and beak, so that she attends to the flesh and not to the noise.  Thus our heart, like an unstable bird in prayer, tries to fly away at the noise of temptation.  But she is held back and recalled by the chains of the fear and love of God.  If these are not enough, it is necessary to put before her the bloody flesh of Christ and other salubrious objects, in contemplation of which the heart is occupied, and does not fly away, nor get distracted.
--Jan Mombaer, Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium, titulus V, alphabetum XVI (Milan: Apud Hieronymum Bordonum & Petrum Martyrem Locarnum socios, 1603), p. 149.  My translation.

It's gone.  Whatever it was that was enabling me to fence these past few months has vanished.  Like mist before the sunrise, it's as if it never was.  My friend Marie, who has beaten me maybe once in the four years since she started fencing again, beat me last night 10-1.  10.  1.  But that's not what hurt the most.  What hurt--what hurt and hurt and hurt--is the feeling of being blinded yet again, hooded like a falcon on its perch.  I can't see what to do, I can't feel the distance, my attacks fall short and my parries are disengaged.  I have no idea--no f*cking idea--how to fence.

I want to quit.  Fly away from this stinking perch on which I've been shitting myself for the past eight years.  Nothing works, nothing makes sense, nothing nothing nothing.  I know what Marie has been doing.  She practices.  She practices long attacks.  She practices flicks.  She practices hitting me on the shoulder.  She practices hitting me on the flank.  She practices and practices and practices and guess what?  She gets better.  I, on the other hand, suck.

What to do with this feeling, this oh-so-familiar uncomfortable feeling?  What. To. Do.  I want to rage, scream, cry, find somebody, something to blame.  It's my coach's fault for trying to change my game, making me practice holding my blade higher, change my line.  It's my friend's fault for insisting that she believes in me, despite the fact that I told her last week I'd lost it, despite the fact that she must have seen it coming, as I have, for months, that she was going to beat me.  It's my marriage counselor's fault for insisting that it is not my husband's job to listen to me rant about how frustrated fencing makes me feel.  It's God's fault for giving me hope these past few months that maybe, just maybe, things were going to get better for good.  I hate God.

Try these uncomfortable feelings: "Of course I lost it, I never really had it in the first place.  Good things never last.  I jinxed myself writing that thing about how, if nothing else, I know I am a fencer.  I'm no more a fencer than I am a writer or a professor.  Sure, I dabble at it, but I never do it seriously.  I never practice.  I never actually risk change.  I just want to be comfortable, not perpetually challenged.  That's why my friend is doing better than I am; she's willing to change.  But I thought I had conquered that feeling, at the very least tamed it.  I'm okay with being me, right?  I've learned so many things this summer about how not to binge, it's just not fair finding myself here, yet again."

Coincidentally (or, perhaps, not), I've spent my writing time this week putting the footnotes on the talk that I gave month before last at our conference on medieval subjectivities.  Let me make it very clear how amazing this is: for the first time in TWO YEARS, I spent my writing time this week preparing something I've written for publication.  Not just preparing for class.  Not just writing a talk that I might give once or twice and then bury in a drawer.  Not just doing my translation.  But writing footnotes in the hope that something I've written might actually be published somewhere other than my blog.  And sent it off to an editor, today.  Mind you, it's not as if I've been idle all this time (heaven forbid!).  Of course, I've been busy remodeling the kitchen, housetraining the dog, decluttering our apartment, and, oh, right, reorganizing my entire head.  But this week, this week is the first time I've felt confident enough to do anything resembling actual scholarship.  And now I can't fence.

I'm sure these two things are related.  God hates me and wants me to have a rotten life.  No, not that.  God wants me to suck at something so that I don't get a big head, think that maybe I'm actually worth something other than being good at school.  No, it's not that either, although that's closer.  God loves me and so He's putting me to the test.  Yeah, right, like God actually cares about me.  Why do I find this so hard to believe?  Because I'm sick of having the "temperament God gave me."  I'm sick of having to fight myself out of this Pit.  Why can't I get better?  Why can't I change?  Ha.  I can't even let myself acknowledge the progress (how I hate that word) that I have made.   See?  Have you noticed how calmly I've been sitting here with this uncomfortable thought, not eating, not bating, just trying to understand what it means?

But I still have the thought: "I can't fence.  I suck.  It was just a fluke that I was able to do so well these past several months.  It was only because I couldn't see properly; now that I have the right eye drops--poof!  I can't see what to do anymore.  And I snapped at my friend."


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