Week 4: Jiu Jitsu Grasshopper

“It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired.” – Robert Strauss

I don’t know anything about wrestling, but I spend two days a week watching my five-year-old son, Fox, learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with a bunch of other kids between the ages of four and eight. Jiu Jitsu is the wrestling portion of martial arts. The coach asks the kids, “Should you punch and kick?”

They dutifully respond, “Nooooooooo.”

He asks, “Should you put your hands in the other guy’s face?”

They dutifully respond, “Noooooooooooo.”

The Jiu Jitsu grasshoppers face each other, bow, shake hands, and then throw themselves at each other in an attempt to get the other guy on the ground as soon as possible.

Ok, ok. My son is the one hurling himself at the other guy.

It is true that they are supposed to get the other guy on the ground. You want the opponent on his back, so that you can be in mount, which is exactly what it sounds like. Except, you have to simultaneously keep your opponent from doing this to you. Therefore, just hurling yourself at the other person could possibly leave you vulnerable to a counterattack from a more strategic opponent.

Fox doesn’t have time for strategy.

It’s not entirely his fault. He’s not a reckless kid. But it’s a bunch of four to eight-year-olds. Size trumps strategy most of the time, and Fox, at five, lands dead center on the size scale. He can’t spend too much time considering the ending as he first needs to survive. The only plan he can make is to keep going until the gorilla gets tired. In this class, trying to force a specific ending can get you on your back.

I know just how that feels. That’s what happened to me this past week.

I last posted that I was in the middle of my third story. I try to finish stories on Wednesdays to stay true to the calendar and the duration of a week. January 7th, January 14th, January 21st, etc. However, the story I was dutifully in the middle of last week had me on my back more than once. I finally finished it yesterday, so if I am to stay on track, I need to crank out another story in three days.

Why? You ask. What was the problem?

Well, I made the mistake of trying to force an ending. This is not the first time I have made this mistake. In fact, I have a confession to make.

For my MFA thesis, I wrote a collection of short stories called Jiggity Jig. Most of these stories will and should remain bound and closed in that thesis, on my shelf, for the rest of eternity. However, the ending to the title story “Jiggity Jig” is (if I do say so myself) straight kick ass. It’s a really, really, really powerful image. One that, when I wrote it, I had that cherished feeling a writer feels when you know you’ve nailed it.

Here’s my confession: I’ve tried to use that ending again. More than once. It has been a mistake every time.

Hear me out—the ending is so good! I just know it’s going to show up again; it must. But I have never been the type of writer who can first envision an ending and then take a story there. I know those writers exist somewhere, living alongside unicorns and leprechauns, I imagine. Yet don’t get me wrong, I’m quite good at endings. (Remind me to tell you about the time a professor said I’m superb at endings, but I needed a beginning that made him want to continue…ouch.) I can eventually see how a story is developing, find the patterns that are emerging, and then escort the story to where it wants to go. Key words here, “where it wants.” Not what I want. Aye, there’s the rub.

So, yes. Damn it, yes. I tried to put that ending into this story. When will I learn? I don’t know. Today? I’m at least able to admit that I need to cut it out. In an attempt to get to that specific ending, the story derailed twice. I wrote pages toward an ending, then deleted them and started again at the point where a character pulls into a parking lot. Twice. Which means I actually rewrote the ending three times.

Don’t ask. You know very well it does not end with that ending.

This process felt a lot like wrestling. Or Jiu Jitsu. I don’t even know if the story is the gorilla in the metaphor or if I am. Maybe I was the gorilla. I certainly got tired.

Next time, I will take notes from my five-year-old.

When the coach asks me, “Should you plan the ending?”

I will dutifully respond, “Nooooooooooo.”

Then I will face the story. Bow. Shake hands. And throw myself at it with all my heart.

[My son. In white.]

[A message I sent to Hananah during the week.]


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