Two people dear to me received bad news this week. The issue for one was professional; for the other, medical.
Bad news produces a predictable response for me. I feel angry and know that emotion will last a while. I feel self-pity and immediately try to will that response away as quickly as possible, because it simply produces more anger. (Self-pity makes me feel weak; the Marine father is responsible for that.)
I do my best to get a prayer out as quickly as I can, even if it’s one of complaint. It serves to remind me that most things are beyond my control and that they always will be.
Depending on the news, I probably shed some tears or at least feel the sting of salt from the ones that don’t fall. Then, I make a call or send a text to Merle, because being loved makes all things bad better.
Finally, I do some kung fu: a volley of triple straight punches into the elevator air, as if the bad news has taken physical form that I can strike. A couple of sidekicks against the wall of the handicapped bathroom stall – gently, so as not to damage a knee or be heard by others. The release is cathartic and just enough to get me to the next class, where I can thoroughly purge it all out and take the next right step to the next best thing.
Neither of my friends do kung fu, but they have their equivalents. We all do, I believe, even if not recognized as such. Whatever returns one to center, provides assurance that all will be right at some point, even if “right” looks different than initially imagined, that’s the best bet for getting to the other side of bad news.
It feels like I’ve been a student of communication forever. The thing I tend to catch pretty easily – probably because it’s a pet peeve as much as it can be a professional liability – is when an answer to a question I’ve asked is nonresponsive. Politicians are great at that: telling an interviewer whatever sound bites they want repeated, rather than actually answering the question that was asked. People who aren’t big fans of direct communication or who simply have their own reasons for avoiding the truth are good at it, too.
I thought of Sifu as good at being nonresponsive, after our communication catastrophe earlier in the year, which effectively ended with a demand for my silence. But after six months of squelching my natural impulse to simply ask for the information I want, an overflowing class of first-timers on Saturday compelled me to offer to teach again at the guan and ask Sifu if he’d allow it. If ever there were a time to call in the teaching cavalry, it would have been with Saturday’s motley crew; so I was surprised and upset not to have been tapped.
When I first read his emailed response, all I could see was this: “I appreciate the offer to help. But it’s not necessary at this time.” You didn’t answer my question! I thought. But I received the email right before having to give my attention to a group of friends for a couple of hours. The time spent not thinking about the nonresponsive nature of his answer was a godsend. For when I reread the exchange later in the evening, I saw more than I had upon initial reading.
He’d also told me that he understood I was willing to help and would keep me in mind in the future. I was still a possible substitute somewhere down the line. I just didn’t know when. He might not know either.
So what’s the big deal, one may ask? The episode made me wonder if I need to reconsider what constitutes nonresponsive. Perhaps questions of mine that I think have a definitive black or white answer actually don’t. Maybe instead of yes or no, the honest answer is I don’t know. Maybe the question itself isn’t as clear as I think it should be to the reader or listener. Maybe, just maybe, I misread or misinterpret the answer simply because it doesn’t contain what I want it to.
Sifu may have just been letting me down easy. I have no way to know. But the questions his answer made me ask myself were a worthwhile lesson for this student of communication.
Kung fu and cupcakes – that’s what I want. I’m finding it harder and harder to get out of bed for the commuter train in the morning, which is why I’m becoming habitually late. My boss is on vacation this week; so the guy with one-third of my experience in the industry is in charge in his absence. I just love it when that’s the case.
Truth be told, I think the ability to bend my hours as sleep, child and kung fu needs dictate is a direct result of the under-experienced one being made second in command. It’s been insinuated that my freedom of movement is the Bossman’s way of making that indignity up to me. But it’s not enough anymore.
I leave Sunday’s class, miniscule though it is, satisfied, happy and wanting to do it all over again the next day. My six-year-old’s mom joined us in class, and she was pretty good. More to the point, her presence made the first grader work harder. I was able to get through half the Chu Chi Chuan form for the first time, having previously been forced to settle for having the students do repetitions of the first three horse stance punch moves. I’ve spent so much time on double straight punches and walking snap kicks (coordination doesn’t come naturally to every recent kindergarten graduate) that the form has taken a bit of a back seat. Additionally, both students have only attended a class a week. (If I were the parent, I’d be getting my money’s worth!)
The benefit of halftime attendance is that they have to sign up for the second session to learn the rest of the form, and they’ve already told me they’re going to do just that. My energies are now turned to drumming up more business, and I’m enjoying that, too. I never thought marketing would give me a charge.
Could I make a living at this, supplemented by cupcake sales (I’ve signed up for the food manager certification to be licensed to cook in a commercial kitchen) and freelance journalism? I believe I could. And with each passing day the happiness attached to doing and teaching kung fu, and hearing the enthusiastic inquiry “Do you sell these somewhere??” from almost every person who’s recently tasted a baked good from my kitchen, has finally come to outweigh the fear of not making the bills.
In 2015, my son starts a new chapter of his life. Barring the unforeseen, I think I might beat him to it!
A good day on the day job! We had a smooth production of an excellent interview on a book that’s making a wave or two inside the beltway. And it’s not every day I meet a former Supreme Court Justice.
After yet another high-strung day in the never-ending week, taking a night off from kung fu, before Saturday training back in the guan, feels like a wise decision. I won’t be permitted back in Friday night class until June, anyway; I might as well use the continued restriction to my body’s advantage and get some rest. After I grocery shop. And pick up dry cleaning. And drive my boy around…. 🙂
Have a safe Friday night, U.S. friends and readers, and an enjoyable Saturday to those on the other side of the pond!
There are several things I’ve known for years that I periodically have to be reminded of…painfully. They are:
- If it’s urgent, it’s probably not spiritual – whatever the “it” may be.
- If it’s urgent and therefore not spiritual, run whatever I want to say or do by a person I trust to tell me the truth before I act.
- If such a person isn’t available, do nothing until one is.
The weather will close the guan today, even if it doesn’t keep me out of work. That gives me extra time to consider this and other forgotten blueprints for mindfulness, a component of my martial arts life that I’ve apparently been missing….
On the commuter train Thursday morning, I fell asleep as I usually do when I’ve only had five or so hours of sleep. I woke with a start fifteen minutes before the train reached my stop, worried that I’d forgotten to ask Merle to bring my sword to training in addition to my staff. I hadn’t practiced sword in almost two weeks; so I was immediately annoyed with myself, because I still wouldn’t be able to. Merle was likely already in the car on the way to pick me up from the train to go straight to kung fu, I thought. And we wouldn’t have enough time for her to turn around and go back for my sword then come get me. We’d be late for class. I concluded that I’d have to practice sword on Saturday, the same day as advanced weapons class for staff. That was going to be intense for my arm.
When my stream of consciousness finally came rolling to a stop, it hit me. I was sitting on the morning train not the evening one. I had almost eight hours to call Merle and ask her to bring my sword.
Sleep deprived, anxious for kung fu and no idea what time of day it was. Good thing Friday was right around the corner. I clearly could use a break, even if I didn’t want one.
I used to fear Friday night class. Truly. Thoroughly. Fear it.
I never knew until I was already there what the night’s regimen was going to consist of; so I had all day long to think about it and worry:
How many rows of wheel hands would we have to do? How many kicking combinations? Would we do ten full forms in singles or doubles? After how many rotations of practicing sections?
How would my knees hold up? My back? How much pain would I find at the end of the two-hour, invitation-only session that a black sash candidate was required to attend? Would I get the dreaded cramp in my calf again, the one from empty stances, the one that awakened me in the middle of the night? No stretch or massage ever relieved it. I just had to wait, powerless, for long, long minutes, until it released me.
I hated Friday night.
For six months of black sash testing, I wondered, as I entered class on the last day of the work week, if I could execute all I was told to that night without needing to cry or stopping to pray. By the end of it all, I could. In the final weeks, I could even smile – before I left the building, not just in the car on the way home.
The joy of Fridays has returned to me. It returned with the presentation of the final sash. And I use that joy to bake cupcakes, watch a movie, and rejuvenate for training of my own making. I use it to do whatever I want to do.
I’m still invited to Friday class and sometimes I go. But not this week and not last. I’m not sure when I’ll go again…and I’m not worried about it.