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I had a postcard in the mail this morning from a friend in Canada, a woodblock print artist I have known for a few years. Although I can't claim her as a close friend yet, we do correspond regularly, and I suppose due to our shared occupation, we feel it important to maintain contact and communication with each other. I guess I must have mentioned in a letter to her something of the pleasure I was feeling at spending time with a lady-friend recently, for she responded with a few comments on her own experience, mentioning that she and her husband were just celebrating their 18th anniversary.

Now I suppose among those of you reading this, there are some who have been married far longer than that, and you probably don't see 18 years as being a particularly special accomplishment, but to me it seems quite special indeed. The fact that my former marriage only made it to 13 years before coming apart, is perhaps one reason. I don't regret that divorce in itself, because if two people can no longer live together at peace with each other, then they should of course separate, but the experience did leave me with residual feelings of 'failure' ... But it is a different reason for finding my friends' marriage special that interests me more nowadays, for they are not a 'typical' couple by any means. They are not just husband and wife, they are partners in their work as well. Absolute, total and inseparable partners.

You see, although I said earlier that she is a woodblock printmaker, I should more properly have said they are a woodblock printmaker. She designs and carves the woodblocks, and he uses those blocks to print the finished works. But that bald statement describing a certain division of labour is misleadingly simple. Although I suppose the initial concept for each picture is produced in her mind alone as the artist/creator member of the partnership, all the subsequent steps in producing a modern woodblock print: colour separation, carving, colour overlay design, colour selection and mixing, printing, etc., involve a huge amount of interaction between the two of them. I, working as both carver and printer (in the 'simpler' traditional style), understand better than anybody else just how intensely intertwined their jobs are, and when I first heard about their collaborative relationship, I could barely believe my ears.

But the proof is there, hanging on gallery walls, beautifully executed woodblock prints, any number of them. Somehow, these two people have found a way to work together, smoothing over the inevitable conflicts that must arise during the process of creating each print. I have never visited their workroom, and know nothing of their methods; perhaps the walls are 'covered in blood' from the gigantic battles that take place there daily! Looking at their prints though, bathed in peace and serenity as they are, I rather doubt that this is the case. Do they perhaps instead, have a boss/worker relationship? She as designer dictates everything, and his part is merely to exercise his muscles in such ways as she commands? "Yes dear, yes dear ..." But I doubt this too. The printer's part in the creation of a woodblock print is not simply that of a mindless labourer, but demands a very high level of creative input. No, they seem to have created a formula for living and working together that very few others have been able to find. I certainly wasn't able to ...

Those of you who read this, what do you think of this couple? I am sure there are many of you who are shuddering at the very idea of such a partnership ... together always. Together in the studio all day ... together in the home all evening ... together at night ... But I don't see it that way at all. Perhaps it is being a bit romantic of me, but the idea of sharing both parts of one's life with a close partner like this, seems like an ideal situation. I think it is natural for me to feel this way, because I do not 'go to work', but do all my productive activity here in my own home. There really isn't a clear separation in my life between 'living' and 'working'. Given that kind of framework, it seems quite natural to expect that the person who shares my 'living' could also share the 'working'. I imagine that this is the case with these Canadian friends of mine; they probably live and breath for each other, as they probably live and breath for their printmaking. I used the words 'not a typical couple' to describe them, but I certainly do consider them to be a 'normal' couple. It is just that such a successful living/working partnership as theirs does seem to be quite rare ... I know only one other like it, a couple living here in Japan near me, who run a business out of their home together, and who seem also to be very much 'taken' with each other.

Of course, not everybody could live like this. I can identify I think three essential character attributes for a member of such a partnership. Each must be a sympathetic person (can we say 'empathetic'?); trying always to be aware of what the other person is feeling, of what they need. I think also, that without plenty of tolerance, so that in those situations where it becomes obvious that things are not going to go your way, you can 'let it go' without feeling insecure or upset, any such relationship as this would be doomed. But above and beyond such characteristics as these, which mostly relate to how one treats your partner, surely it is also vitally important that each person have plenty of self-confidence. Enough self-confidence, not to let one's own personality become too submerged by that of the other person, nor lose sight of 'who you are' or 'why you are here'.

So why do I bring this topic up? What application does this have in my life? Am I trying to imply that I am looking for someone to share my woodblock printmaking work? No, that is hardly practical. My work as a traditional carver and printer is so incredibly specialized that there are only a few other people on this entire globe capable of helping me with it, and the likelihood of one of those being a compatible woman is simply non-existent. It's too late for that. (I think that the Canadian couple I have been talking about came to woodblock printmaking as relative beginners together, and 'grew up' in the field side-by-side ...) But although I may be currently a woodblock printmaker, I certainly do not consider myself only a woodblock printmaker. At the moment, for example, sitting here at this word processor, I feel myself to be an essayist (don't laugh please!). In a few years, when my large printmaking project is over, perhaps I will drop that type of work, and start afresh with something else. There are any number of things I am interested in doing, and many of them could involve collaboration with someone else ...

Are you shaking your head sadly? Do you think that I should forget such ideas, and expect an inevitable separation between my work and a partnership with someone, like 'everyone' else? Well, if that's the way it turns out, I guess I'll accept it, but I must admit that I would feel that to be also a kind of failure in a relationship. If two people, people who have those characteristics I listed above, have grown to feel a deep affection for each other, then surely working to create something together would be a natural way for them to extend and deepen such affection. But perhaps I am just dreaming ...

And I suppose now you're curious about my mention of a 'lady-friend' back in the first paragraph. Those of you who have been reading these little pieces of mine regularly, know also that a few essays back I said, "Do you hear me, S-san? This is the first and last time you will ever appear in one of these pieces ... I promise!" Oh, it's going to be so difficult to keep to that promise!