Clausewitz’s Magic Beanbag

Posted on April 13, 2015

This is a cross-post from the Military Writers Guild Medium

Let me start by saying, even after this interview, I would like to know more about @clausewitzrocks. First, did she learn her field craft from Phil Walter? How does she translate U.S. civil-military relations theory to the Australian experience? Does she know there is already a seminal work on War and Peace?

She has offered reading and writing rituals that need my experimentation, adaptation, and adoption. I am eagerly awaiting an experiment mind mapping with a refreshing glass of Hendricks gin, sans magic beanbag (adaptation). I have certainly adopted her collaborative project recommendation for the Guild — perhaps the models of reading and writing rituals captured in this series of interviews can find their way into a peer-reviewed journal.

Until that time, on to my interview with Military Writers Guild Associate Member @clausewitzrocks!

[John DeRosa] G’day mate! First, @clausewitzrocks, may I call you that?

[@clausewitzrocks] Certainly!

[JD] Tell us about why you joined the Military Writers Guild.

[@clausewitzrocks] When someone mentioned ‘Guild’, I had no choice but to look into it. You see, my life to date has been punctuated by membership of many different Guilds — I was a member of a guild for D&D in fifth grade, World of Warcraft guilds, and now the Military Writers Guild.

Yes, I am a bit of a nerd — well, maybe more than a bit. But I have found Guilds to be a fantastic way to share your interests with other like-minded enthusiasts (i.e. nerds — I mean that in a good way)! I decided to start writing a blog at the end of my Staff College year, in an attempt to come to my own views about all the things we had learned that year. My understanding is that it was an 18-month Masters program crammed into 10 months. I found that we skimmed over some areas of strategy or military history that I really wanted to sink my teeth into, but didn’t have the time because the pace of the exams and assessments was unrelenting and I had to focus on those as a priority. I also thought that blogging would be a great way to practice writing, and find my own (not too academic) style / voice. I had read The Bridge and followed Doctrine Man for a long time, and really wanted to get involved, but was too scared. My first blog post was about why I thought I’d come out of the shadows of the Internet and start to engage with the blogs / bloggers I had followed and admired [Joining the Rumble]. Staff College was the beginning of my in-depth fascination with strategy and military history. The more I read, the more I realize there is so much out there to learn! It really does take most of a lifetime of dedication to understand this phenomenon called ‘war’.

[JD] What are some of your daily routines?

[@clausewitzrocks] As a staff officer, I am mostly bound to the desk writing briefs, reading policy papers, etc. To ensure that I don’t turn into a desk potato, I make the effort to do some exercise every work day.

And coffee — definitely coffee! We have a café on the first floor of our building. I find that I get more work done down there in the coffee line as I bump into people I need to talk to about work matters. It’s a good excuse to get out of the office anyway. I couldn’t make it through the day without at least three coffees!

[JD] What does the first hour of your day look like? What time do you typically wake up?

[@clausewitzrocks] My phone alarm plays the opening riff of ‘Rockin the Suburbs’ to get me out of bed (I really need a new alarm riff — any suggestions?) at about 0545h! The first hour of the day is spent in the little gym we have set up in a small shed in the back yard. I was a CrossFit devotee (does that count as a Guild?), but now don’t have the time to get out to a box to train. So I’ve got a barbell, some weight plates, gymnastic rings, kettlebells and a treadmill to torture myself with! It’s a good way to shake the mental cobwebs get the blood flowing!

[JD] How does your routine change on the weekend to decompress?

[@clausewitzrocks] Absolutely! Sleep in, coffee and family brunch on some weekends. Sometimes I go out for a long run — particularly if it has been a particularly crazy week — but most weekends are also a rest from exercise. The weekends are very much focused on family time so not much writing or research gets done.

[JD] What are you reading lately?

[@clausewitzrocks] I have a stack of books by the bedside at the moment. A lot of what I’m reading at the moment also revolves around my civil-military thesis — Huntington, Janowitz, and Feaver. Although these books tend to get a bit intense after a while and its good to pick up some Pratchett (RIP!) and have a good laugh and a relaxing read.

[JD] Is there a genre of reading you prefer?

[@clausewitzrocks] I read from a variety of genres. My husband and I are bibliophiles and we buy more bookshelves rather than get rid of books! I have been reading a lot of military history and strategy books lately — have really gotten into the habit after Staff College last year. My husband is also a significant influence and has pointed me towards authors such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Harry Harrison. But I also love dystopian novels and sci-fi — Cory Doctorow, George Orwell, William Gibson, and Ray Bradbury. I find that sci-fi is sometimes a useful basis for exploring what could be — a form of alternative futures analysis — and what that means for our existence, and also what that means for war/conflict and so on.

And I haven’t mentioned the comic books — I have been reading comics since I was in the fifth grade. I started off with the X-Men, Wolverine, and Punisher. Now I read a lot of Indie comics about all kinds of stuff — Tank Girl is one of my faves, and so is anything by Greg Rucka or Brian Wood — he did some fantastic Star Wars comics for Dark Horse recently! I also enjoy sharing the comic book experience with my son — he loves Iron Man and The Avengers. It’s a great break from the research and thesis writing.

I also find that comic books that can help you visualize and understand the fundamentals of broad and complex topics/issues are very useful. I confess that I read the ‘9/11 Report’ comic books rather than the actual report….!

[JD] What does your note taking system look like? How do you gather information for your writing?

[@clausewitzrocks] I have two Moleskine books that I call my ‘Grail Diaries’ (hat tip to Dr. Jones, Sr)! The first one contains my handwritten notes for professional development — from Staff College — and also ideas for topics to write about. The second one is exclusively for my thesis — my ideas for thesis topics. I try to group my ideas thematically. I have found that carrying at least one of these books everywhere I go is great — to capture those little nuggets of inspiration that tend to strike you at an otherwise inopportune moment.

I also use Microsoft OneNote as a means of collating quotes and notes about books I have read. I find it a useful program, particularly because my thoughts are not linear and tend to follow a number of issues. I also mindmap when I plan papers for the same reason! It’s a good way to look at how/where ideas are connected.

[JD] How do you find what to read?

[@clausewitzrocks] For professional reading, the Chiefs of Army and Air Force have great reading lists (sorry Chief of Navy — I haven’t seen yours!). I tended to use these before Staff College. But during the course last year, I wrote down a whole list of ‘recommended readings’ and I’m working my way through some of those.

Browsing local bookstores is a bit of a past time for us. It’s nice to go in and see the latest releases across a number of genres; or finding some classics in a second hand book store (that’s where I got my first copy of ‘On War’!). I also confess that I browse a lot of online stores because books tend to be very expensive in Australia and we buy a lot overseas (sorry Australian domestic book market).

In relation to my other interests, I find that Wired magazine’s home page has some great recommendations on new comics and sci fi books.

A lot of my friends are also nerds and tend to recommend good reading material.

[JD] How do you determine what you are writing about?

[@clausewitzrocks] I know this is not very systematic, but I tend to go towards topics that interest me or topics that irritate the bejesus out of me! I also follow a lot of military blogs now — thanks to the Military Writers Guild — and a lot of the great articles out there inspire me to explore some interesting topics. One that I want to write about is the concept of ‘peace’ and how our obsession with it clouds our judgment about how we plan for and fight wars. My husband also thinks that my blog writing is a way to procrastinate from writing my thesis — he is partially right, but I do find the blog writing and striving to meet the high standards set by other mil writers/bloggers out there is a good way to develop one’s writing skill.

[JD] What’s the drink of choice?

[@clausewitzrocks] Definitely gin and tonic. I am also partial to New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and Tasmanian Pinot Noirs — they are my writing inspiration drinks of choice. In fact, I’m having a gin and tonic as I write this! Hendricks is the best gin sold in Australia. Although the Canadian Gin — Ungava — that we discovered at Singapore’s Changi Airport duty free is outstanding! You’re lucky that you’re close enough to duck over the border and get some!

[JD] What is the book you’re most likely to give as a gift or one you’ve given as a gift the most?

[@clausewitzrocks] Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I gave it to some colleagues and my old boss (a fighter pilot) for Christmas one year. I enjoyed Hadfield’s story about working through adversity and challenges to become a successful astronaut. I also like some of his leadership and personal development lessons (maybe I’ll do a blog post on that issue). Not to mention he is just an awesome dude who sings and plays the guitar!

[JD] Describe your creative space

[@clausewitzrocks] The magic beanbag, usually with a G&T for late night study sessions; or a cup of coffee in the daytime; and my Moleskine!

I’m also partial to sitting in one of my many favorite cafes around Canberra — particularly the one at the National Library — for some thinking and writing time.

[JD] Describe your creative routine (method)

[@clausewitzrocks] I can’t really say that I have one. As I mentioned before, I’m usually visited by ideas at inopportune moments.

I also tend to get distracted a bit — particularly when there are a few topics I want to write about! At that point, I tend to go with the topic that compels me to sit down and write some rough ideas about, followed by some research.

I also tend to do a lot of my writing on weeknights, after my son has gone to bed. Its my G&T and writing time! Peaceful and enjoyable!

[JD] Where was the most adventurous place you have traveled?

[@clausewitzrocks] Definitely Afghanistan! The meetings with the locals over rule of law issues were always an adventure! Thankfully I had a fantastic interpreter who demystified a lot of the ‘adventurousness’ of it all. Eating the local food involved tempting fate –I didn’t want to be rude. But through adventure, you sometimes have the best discoveries and I have to say that Kandahar has the best lamb (that’s what I was told it was!) curry cook ever!

The bulk of Australian forces were based in Tarin Kot and Kandahar. One thing that stood out in my mind was the scenery — the mountains were spectacular (we have nothing like it in Australia). Seeing the landscape from the air made you appreciate the beautiful aspects of the place. It was nice to have the opportunity to appreciate that beauty amongst the chaos and carnage that occurred below.

[JD] What bold steps do you wish the Guild to take?

[@clausewitzrocks] The Guild is definitely on the right track in gathering people who have an interest in writing about strategy, warfare and military operations, etc. I know Ty talked about linking people up with publishers, which is also a fantastic opportunity for us to extend our writing and get published in some respected journals. I agree that this is probably the next evolution for us — to harness the hive mind of the Guild and perhaps create a publication on strategy, the future of war, or other topics that people have an interest in and producing a published product for peer review? I think that would be a good opportunity for us to collaborate and create something together.