Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Go On, Make Promises"

While talking with a bunch of us after class a few weeks ago, my TJ teacher said he doesn't make promises.  I wondered what kind of man doesn't make promises.  He didn't seem like that kind of man, or what did he mean?  He was telling a story about K in another class who would get mad if he didn't show up to class or was late.  The students over there still met during the breaks between sessions.  He usually gives extra free classes between sessions.  "Sometimes I'm late.  That's the way I am.  If I get there, I get there."

I puzzled over the promises a little over the next few days.  "Draft... it means I'm not committed yet."  "If you pay for the whole year, it's like you make that commitment...."  He's committed to his sifu and his lineage.  He's been teaching TJ for, I'm not sure, almost fifteen years, as about a half-time job on top of a full-time job.  He eats the same breakfast every day....

So I think I figured it out.  He doesn't make promises but he makes commitments.  What's the difference?  I thought it out.  Promises are just words.  Commitments are what you actually do.  Promises are words about the future.  Commitments are what you do now, and in the future, I guess.

If you make a commitment, a promise isn't necessary.  A promise might have been implied, or is it?  But a promise by itself is worthless.

I Google everything.  Some people think the same: Promises or Commitment - Is There a Difference?

He was talking about how K scheduled a private lesson before class but since he was late, she asked to "bum [him] for five minutes."  "I'm not going to teach private lesson during my public class... I just looked at her and walked away... She got an attitude... I don't like people telling me what to do."  Hm... I had just asked him if he could teach the sword form with more detail and kind of felt like I was stepping on a line by asking him to do something instead of just talking about teaching and learning styles.  "But every time, the next week when she sees me, she's just like, 'Hey T!'"

Out in the parking lot, he said, "I always pay attention when you ask questions, right?"  "Yeah."  He had consistently been paying extra special attention to me.  "If I ever brush you off, then you have to wonder, what did M do?"

In the ensuing conversation, I said a bit too much, although he seems to take it if the person is honest.  The following Saturday, he did teach the class with more detail, but at the end when he asked if anyone had questions and I started to ask, he turned around.  Tiger started laughing.  I looked at the teacher's back.  He might have paused for half a second but then started doing the section of the form that I had motioned about, but I didn't get to ask my question.  My expression was a mixture of slight exasperation, slight amusement, a little compassion, and disturbed.

The next Saturday, I again felt like I was being cut off when trying to ask a question.  The first time, I might wait to see if it happens again.  The second time, I get more disturbed.  I'm not like K but I'm also not very assertive.  This time I made myself learn to be more assertive.  I actually remembered reading an article, and thank Google, [research meeting boss yell mentor] brought it up as the first result, so I read it again.

Four Lessons from the Best Bosses I Ever Had

"My first boss at Bell Labs had a habit of yelling. While he was an equal-opportunity yeller, when he shouted at me in my first department meeting, I got up, told him when he wanted to talk, not yell, I'd be in my office and walked out. I was 20 years old, just out of undergrad, and sitting among a group of aghast Ph.D.'s . Perhaps this was not the best initial career move. But about 30 minutes later, he walked into my office and apologized. He never yelled at me again (though he did keep yelling at the rest of the team), and became one of three manager-mentors that shaped my career at Bell Labs and AT&T — and taught me to manage others and myself."

I waited until after the holidays to bring it up and did it over e-mail.  We do correspond a bit over e-mail.  Being assertive is not natural to me so I was not quite as smooth as the above career woman.  His first response was a bit teasing or making fun.  I replied briefly but firmly? a second time and then his response changed.  I already kind of knew from M telling me about her exchanges with him that he was kind of like that.  Sometimes the initial response is kind of reactive but then maybe he thinks about it for a day and gets it.

He didn't actually address the issue or apologize but we ended up talking about other stuff over e-mail.  However, I think he is not going to do it again.  He suggested I make a commitment to take the community college class and thought it was better to reenforce the material if I took both classes.  I had been saying that I didn't have enough energy to practice if I took two classes so was thinking about cutting one.  I think he likes to tease me during class and make me laugh.

I wondered if I would have expected an apology.  Then I remembered that I don't say sorry myself.  I just stop doing the thing that people tell me about, if I think they're right.  Most of the time I hear about people saying sorry, they just keep doing what they supposedly apologized for.  If you were really sorry, you wouldn't have done it in the first place, but the next best thing is to not do it again.  That is a real sorry, not just a meaningless utterance.

Exemplified by my former BP friend... "I'm sorry I hurt you" and purposefully abandoned you while you were seriously ill (so that she could attempt to inflict the borderline core wound of abandonment on me).  Uh... no you're not.  Meanwhile the e-mail was a veritable checklist of psychological manipulation techniques.

The next Saturday class, I was late as usual so was eating my breakfast loaf while watching the others do the SR exercises.  T came around to the picnic table and said he wanted me to lead the SR exercises next week.  He didn't tease me about eating my breakfast as usual.  Later he told the class that he was going to have me lead the SR exercises the next week.  "She did it one time... and didn't miss a single one."  I don't know how to describe his tone of voice, but Tiger was looking at him intently.

So I think it worked, my bumpy attempt at being assertive.

The blog post should probably end here but I already titled the post.

"Go on, make promises
you can't keep
you can't keep..."

I wish I could post a video of Vienna Teng and Paul Freeman performing this song they wrote together but since it's an unrecorded song, nobody is allowed to post video of the live performance on YouTube.   The sound is still so vivid in my mind.  If I recall, the lyrics were originally about something totally different, but in the final incarnation, the lyrics and subject just seem to match the music perfectly.  This was at her holiday concert two years ago at the Great American Music Hall and we had the most awesome seats at tables right in front of the stage, not too close to have to crane the neck but close enough that it felt like they were looking at and singing right to me.  That was the first time I had gone out socially for something "frivolous" instead of necessity in four years.  I had missed all of Vienna's concerts during those years while her music had developed greatly.

This year, the last week of December, I ended up going to Berkeley three times to hear her perform, including one unofficial impromptu concert for a small audience.  I drove twice, the farthest I've driven yet.  It might not have been such a great idea but I guess I decided it was safer than taking BART at night by myself.  A recent virally shared post on FaceBook written by a friend of a friend of a friend who got attacked in the Mission makes me think that no, I'm not paranoid.  She was able to escape, according to her, partly because she is very strong from being a rock climber.  More inspiration to go build some muscle....  Downtown Berkeley was deserted on a weeknight at 1am.  Even though I only parked one block away, I was glad to see a police car sitting right on the corner so I felt safe walking to my car.

Instead, here is a video of Vienna singing Amazing Grace during her "recording session".  Okay, some person, the videographer here, brought their dog with bells... seriously, we really didn't want to hear a dog jangling his bells in the middle of Vienna's heavenly pure voice singing Amazing Grace or any other song for that matter.  The video really doesn't capture her voice.  It was worth driving to Berkeley just to hear her sing Amazing Grace.