Mark Terry

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yeah, but...

March 24, 2009
I study sanchin-ryu, a form of karate. I'm a first-degree brown belt, so the next level is first-degree black. I'm probably fairly close to it. Or not. I've been at first-degree brown for about 18 months or so, so you'd think eventually I'd be ready, although time itself isn't quite what gets you there.

Sanchin-ryu is also a little different from some forms of martial arts--like, say Tae-Kwon-Do--in that it's not quite as formalized (so far) in its belt promotions. Essentially after purple belt, your sensei (instructor) recommends you for promotion, you're observed by the district master, who gives a thumb's up or thumb's down.

A couple weeks ago I was "observed" by the district master. Then my sensei a bit later gave a couple of us "a little mentoring moment." I have, he says, a "yeah but" attitude, in which he suggests something new or different and I tilt my head, roll my eyes, and he says he just knows I'm thinking, "Yeah, but..."

It's true, unfortunately. He asked me if I agreed and I nodded. "I think too much." Which is true, although generally speaking it serves me well in most other areas of my life.

Plus, I would argue (and this is a major "yeah, but...") that one reason I'm doing that a lot recently is because the style has been tightening up their demands, particularly on those of us going toward shodan, and I'm trying (occasionally desperately) to try and figure out what it is they want in order to move to the next level.

Which is somewhat besides the point. The idea here is I'm expected to have a pretty comprehensive understanding of a certain amount of information and what's being presented to me is primarily a deepening of that information.

Now, when I discussed this with my wife (who also studies, but hasn't for as long, and as a result is a lower rank) she just laughs and says, "Well, you know Master X is a real Buddha-head. Don't be so surprised." Well, yeah, she's right. And some martial arts are far worse than this group in terms of the Buddha-head thing. Even my sensei himself admitted that when he was where I was he asked his sensei (a serious Buddha-head, I've worked out with him a couple times) what he needed to do to go to shodan and his sensei said, "You're the one that has to draw the line." To which my sensei, at least to himself, muttered, "I don't even know what the line looks like."

Here's the thing I've been thinking about. After a certain point, as writers, we've pretty much gotten the basics down. We can string words and sentences together. We use appropriate grammar, no typos, we even tell a pretty good story.

But there's something we need to do to take it past that into publishable. And you know, when I critique someone's work, sometimes you can just tell they're rolling their eyes and saying, "Yeah, but..."

And I think the point is, even though we want to say, "Yeah, but..." we need to listen, really listen, and figure out how those comments or advice fit into what we know, how we can apply it. That doesn't mean that we always do. Despite my "yeah, but..." in sanchin-ryu, I listen to everything and try to figure out what it means to my interpretation of what I know. I don't dispose of anything, although some things I have to shrug and think, "Not likely to use that, but I'll keep it in the back of my mind as an option."

So you tell me. Do you have a "yeah, but..."?

Mark Terry

p.s. Ever since I started shaving my head my kids have started rubbing my head and saying, "Rub the Buddha head for luck."


Blogger spyscribbler said...

Oh, LOL! I used to do that to my friend Bassam in college! :-)

Yeah, I say it all the time. That's why I never take anything I say seriously. Honestly, if I let myself believe half the stuff I say and think, I'd be in trouble, LOL. This decade has been about learning how to be changeable. I am so willing to change my mind these days, I look a little crazy, I'm sure.

7:09 PM  
Blogger B. Nagel said...

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7:41 PM  
Blogger B. Nagel said...

at least it's not "rub the Buddha Belly."
Yeah, I do that quite often. I'll get a critique and my internal response will run along these lines: Well, if (reader) had any kind of education in serious literature/ religious writing, then it would make sense to them. or That's ok if I was trying to tell an ok story, but what it really says. . .
What it all comes down to is whether my writing is for any other purpose beyond the masturbatory. (excuse the image)

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

That thumbs up or down business makes the district manager sound kind of like an editor or literary agent.

I pull a lot of "yeah buts..." Probably because I'm not sure my personal goals and tastes and inclinations match those required for publishing success, and yet I would like to have some publishing success. So I am perpetually confused about whether writing advice is useful to me or not. On one hand I don't care about action in books. But readers do. And I do want readers. That sort of thing. Since no one forces me to write I can certainly draw my own line but, like your sensei, I don't know what it looks like.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

--Probably good advice. I say things I don't believe sometimes, too. This was brought home rather hard to me at Thanksgiving when everyone was dumping on my brother-in-law and I said, "Now, really, he's not that bad a guy. He's--"

And everyone said, "No, you're wrong. He's an asshole." And I thought, okay, you're right. I was just being nice. He IS an asshole. :)

4:31 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

B. Nagel
--always reminds me of that line from "Fame."

"That's not music, that's masturbation!"

4:32 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think it's probably a lot like an editor (better than the Emperor in the Coliseum, I think). The district master is definitely looking for specific things, but I have no idea what he's actually looking for. I have general ideas, but even talking to him sometimes can be tough because he's such a hard read and he's such a buddha head.

That's not always the case, though. I knew the last district manager pretty well and he was much more straightforward, generally.

Hey, just like editors.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

AS a Buddha-head . . . my sense of it is most Westerners are not interested in the process. They want the end result, something to hang their hat on, whether it's a belt or a published book. And while that might matter, in the grand scheme of things (i.e., if you publish a book you can earn a living), we're impatient about discerning the "ah ha" zen moment. We want it taught to us rather than waiting for our essense to figure it out. I think it's less technigue for example and more about patience.

In writing, I can mentor a writer, but in the end, they either get it or they don't. But the thing is, I have often said to writers, "I don't think this is quite there yet" but they want to rush it out the door rather than absorb it and try to organically grow their work. It's a huge "yeah but." And they are often rewarded with rejection.


5:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think so, too. In terms of karate, I often tell myself that there's a continuum from white belt all the way up to--should I live so long, 10th degree (which in my style there's only one, and he's the guy who developed the style). First-degree black belt is just another step on that continuum. And when I'm ready I'll get there, otherwise I am where I am.

Now, I also tend to think that about writing as well. There's no THERE there, although sometimes we think of having our novels published as "there," although then you start thinking about sales and movie deals and bestseller lists.

Years and years ago one of the columnists for Writers Digest (I think it was J. Michael Straczynski, who used to write the script column before he became the guy behind "Babylon Five" and got too busy)... Anyway, he said one of the most valuable things he'd ever learned from a writing instructor was that you were where you are in your career for a reason and it's probably where you belonged at that particular point in time. Going to the next level or the next step would require you to change something--improve it, deepen it, expand it, intensify it... something.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Oh, and Sarah, if you're reading these comments, not your Dad, L's sister's husband.

11:08 AM  

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