Writing and Wing Chun

The tall order

At a craft lecture at Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise Conference, Dennis Lehane asked us, “Anyone have a New Year’s resolution they want to share?” I couldn’t answer the question, because my only resolution has been to work each day, and go to sleep at night, knowing that when I drift out of my body I’ll be able to see my brother again. Has my resolution been “to sleep”? Yes. Now I have another one that I’m not so sure about, and it’s a tall order.

When my brother committed suicide in August, he left behind very few belongings. A car, which I can’t bear to clean because it still smells like him; a plastic bin of clothing I don’t know what to do with; a few small knives that escaped the scrutiny of the cops who’d found him in his apartment in Philadelphia; a wooden dummy he used for training; books, among them The Wing Chun Compendium and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Also, the cracked Apple iPad he’d brought with him when he visited me in May in Florida. He spent a lot of time writing, jotting down notes, and doing his forms. Once the password to the iPad had been correctly guessed, Miles’s writing was found.

It was the three of us– me, April, and Joelle –in Pennsylvania just after I’d flown up to retrieve his things and pick up his ashes. Realizing his writing was there, in that tablet, I was immediately overcome by the drive, the obsession, to do something with it. Miles had been a martial artist for eleven years, officially, though when we were kids, it was obvious that was all he wanted to do. By the time of his death, he’d learned enough in martial arts that he could teach, and he did teach– he had at least two students that I’m aware of. He was humble, always advising students to keep learning, and to never take one person’s advice as the last word. He knew that martial arts is a lifelong learning experience, and that even a teacher learns, every day.

After retrieving his writing, it has taken me months to cobble the articles he wrote into an order that I feel makes sense, to edit, and to re-edit, and to have others edit the manuscript.

Most recently, Isaiah Gathings, author of The Book of Six Tenets: Martial Arts and Life, has been reviewing Miles’s manuscript for fact-checking and inconsistencies. The feedback has led me to the conclusion that I need more. So, I have decided to put off publication briefly while I do something I never thought I would do.

The tall order, the resolution for 2016– or maybe the obsession –is to learn Wing Chun.

I don’t know if I can do this.

I don’t know if I’ll fail. Or if I can even handle trying.

Do I have too much on my plate? Too many responsibilities already? Will I have a pain attack of trigeminal neuralgia during class? (This is always a possibility and a deep-seated fear I live with every day.)

Will I have a nervous breakdown if my grief hits me too hard?

I’m going to give it a shot. I’m not going to pressure myself, but I am going to show up for class, and try. Writing always involves research. Sure, I’ve read about Wing Chun. But I think in order to make this book live up to Miles’s standards, I need to experience it, too.

I imagine myself back in the Flamingo Room at Eckerd College, where Dennis Lehane is asking, “Anybody? New Year’s resolutions?”

I raise my hand.

“Yeah, you in the front row?”

I squeeze the pen I’m holding, clicking the top of it. “I’m going to learn Wing Chun.”

It’s a tall order, but I’m going to try. And that’s all I can do.

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