Tag Archives: anger

Prayer for an Unhappy Man

Back in 1999, Winnie Mandela backed out of a Saturday interview by satellite an hour after we were supposed to start.  The executive producer called in a crew on the weekend on my assurance that we had the interview locked down. The overtime costs for him were considerable at a time that the show was struggling for sponsorship, and I thought I was going to lose my job. The stress of that workday made it the worst of my career. But yesterday now runs a very close second.

Friday began with a crew member I’ve never worked with before ignoring explicit, repeated instructions from three different people (myself included) to wait at a specific place and time to be escorted to the interview site by our contact. It was important to the contact, the person facilitating our interviews with ten different authors; that’s all I needed to know to do as I was asked.  She, rather understandably, wanted to know why a person working for me hadn’t complied. Nothing prepared me for the answer I received when I politely asked him.

He unloaded on me with anger and profanity that all amounted to: I knew where I was going; how dare you three tell me what to do. It may be worth noting that the three of us telling him to wait were all women, but I digress. It was an assault that left me in a state of shock, shaking with tears of anger. Since I was alone on an elevator with him as he screamed at me and leaned across a dolly of equipment to get in my face, I thought it best to simply get away from him as soon as possible.

I spent the rest of the day speaking to him only when I needed to and with an unmistakable smile in my voice, but the need to walk on eggshells upset me – particularly in a 10-hour day elongated by the delayed flight of one of the authors and an impending 45-minute drive to a new hotel for our next show. My first impulse was to let the Sijeh in me have her moment with the man, put him in his place, take back my power. After all, I had the staff in the equipment van. I could’ve just brought it out and done a few dozen spins and stabs with it to make a point. But there’s no real way to intimidate the unbalanced, and even if there were, a pissing contest is unseemly for my age and gender. So I simply did the professional job I always do, willed the clock to move faster and said a prayer for an unhappy man.

Up next on this trip that can’t end soon enough is the beauty and eloquence of an award-wining author in the small bookstore he founded. Hopefully that will dull the memory of Friday’s craziness.

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For Free

“I do this for free, you know,” I remember him saying while scolding me. I nodded repeatedly, careful not to show any hint of what I was thinking, namely:

Of course I know you do this for free! So do I! We all teach here, and help keep the place up, and put up with conditions we don’t like – for free! We do it for the love of kung fu, the school, its history and each other. Isn’t that why you do it?

If anyone else had been angrily condescending to me the way Sifu was with that comment, I would have actual said all that I only thought in that moment. I’ve thought of it often over the last few weeks, as I remained on the teaching sidelines while several instructors were absent, due to family illnesses, business trips and vacations. I’ve happily covered for folks in the past. I changed my schedule with the job that actually does pay me when Sifu asked me to switch to help with the early classes. And he thought he needed to remind me that he does this for free.

I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking when he says that, what it really means to him that he runs a kung fu school without being paid.  It doesn’t seem to be said with pride as much as indignation… when it doesn’t need to be said at all.

 


In My Living Room

I’m angry, sad and touched with self-pity.  None of these emotions were invited over, but the only way I know how to kick them out is to acknowledge their presence in my living room and shake hands with each.  It just doesn’t work for me to ignore them.  So here goes.

I keep waiting for the joy to return, now that Sifu has declared a restart to our relationship.  But I’m realizing that the joy I used to feel upon merely walking into the building is conditional.  It was based on love and freedom.  I currently lack both.

I don’t have the warmth and affection from my students anymore, because they’re no longer mine.  Aside from the ones who were promoted at testing last week, I haven’t even seen them.  I miss being around them.  The earnestness and energy of little kids trying not to fall down or look goofy while working hard to perfect a move – to say nothing of their happiness at a job well done – can keep my heart warm for days on end.  For now, that’s gone.

So is freedom.  Not just to practice any form when and where there’s space to do it, but the freedom to just be, without walking on eggshells, without worrying that any gesture or lack thereof will be considered disrespectful.

This too shall pass, I know.  But in the meantime, I’m a bit chafed about what’s been lost, what feels taken.

I’ve been sure to be quiet about this in the guan.  I’ve only let the feelings hang around in the safety of my living room.

So, that’s that.  Handshakes given.  Now, I can send them on their way.


From High to Low

Last night I was called into Sifu’s office, stripped of my teaching post and threatened with expulsion from the school.  So much for being on cloud nine.  The punishable offense was telling Sifu that my feelings were hurt by his response to my tournament win; I thought I would at least get a “good job.”

I am now crystal clear on the following:  he’s had problems with my level of respect for years (I’ve admitted to being a pain in the ass for a host of life reasons when I first started kung fu – see “Let Up Already!” from 12/8/13 and “Everything I Paid For” 12/11/13 – but I thought that was long behind us); and he believes I have a problem with authority.  Additionally, I’m clear that my feelings don’t matter; my expectations of him are irrelevant; and it is totally unacceptable for me to “tell him what he should say.”  Lastly, he owes me nothing more than the classes I’ve contracted to take (and irony of ironies, the family contract is up in two weeks).

I was under the impression that lunches with his wife, babysitting his infant daughter at the school while they’re both in class, and various personal exchanges with the man himself, through black sash training and since, had added a thread or two of friendship to the hierarchical relationship.  I was apparently very mistaken.

Were I permitted to speak, I would say the following:

“Dear, Sifu.

I’m writing to simply explain myself and hopefully have you understand me better, if you care to.

I respect authority a great deal. But I’ve spent my entire life working in collaboration – TV production, making a legal case or defense, publication of news articles, theater production‎ and restaurant work are all collaborative endeavors. So I have never had a boss that I wasn’t permitted to disagree with and make suggestions to. Doing those things with you has therefore never been something personal, designed to question or undermine your authority. That’s always been quite secure to me. We just seem to see interpersonal relationships that involve hierarchy differently. Mine have never been completely dictatorial – not even the one with my ex-Marine father.

I was taught to see questions and explanations – communication in general – as positive things that better most situations. I’d be surprised to find myself in the cultural minority with this trait. But I also get that tradition is important to you, and that tradition means silence.  I will therefore do my best to leave my life and personality at the door.”

But should I have to?  Is that what he should expect?  My tae kwon do sensei, who’s in her late sixties and started teaching martial arts the year before I was born, permitted both conversation and criticism. But she is also not a Chinese American.  So perhaps I’m comparing apples and oranges.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure which end is up.


No Extra Credit

“Where’d you get this?” he asked sternly, trotting over to me just as I started the second set of staff spins in the White Eyebrow form.  The “this” he was referring to was the form itself, the moves that he didn’t know I knew, the self-teaching he was not impressed to find out I’d done.

“From watching other people,” I answered slowly, subconsciously expecting a strike of some sort in my direction, based on the anger clear on his face.

He turned sharply away from me and said, “You know not to rush things.  It makes me less likely to want to work with you on it.  You know that about me,” he added, walking around the bodies spread out on the floor stretching for wushu class.  When he came back to extend the leg of the student on the floor closest to my position, I said:  “You don’t give extra credit, huh?”

“There’s extra credit for what I teach you,” he answered without missing a beat.

He made me wait through most of his wushu class to continue my end of the conversation.  I almost thought he would refuse to hear me before we left.  But I suspect he knew I was at least going to try to say what I needed to say, even if he didn’t want to hear it.  That’s something he knows about me.

“I’m sorry.  You have to know that no disrespect was intended,” I began.  I knew he’d seen me practicing the open of the form months earlier; so I was genuinely caught off guard by his surprise and anger.  I’d never been trying to hide from him that my overachieving gene was fast at work in martial arts as everywhere else.

“I know,” he said, sounding almost pleasant.  “I know that you’re just eager.  And I’ve done that too.  The first day I was a red sash, I walked into class and told my instructor, ‘I know 12 Kicks.’  He was not happy.  And so….”

I appreciated his willingness to make me feel better, to make me less anxious about his anger. The more I thought about it, it was probably no small deal for him to admit that he’d made the same breach of protocol, crossed whatever line it is that exists without explanation.

After a bit more chatter on my part about what I’d been trying to do and why, I finally asked: “Would you rather I have pretended I didn’t know any of it?” I asked, waiting to hear “no” or “of course not.”  What I heard instead was:

“You still don’t know any of it.  That’s what I want you to understand.”

His statement was true but inaccurate.   I nevertheless left it alone.  “Yes, sir,” I answered.  Understood.