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HC Hsu

© Copyright 2015 bu HC Hsu
 

 

Photo of the Dala Lama.

 

Rain

It finally rained a little yesterday. It's strange, I never seem to see the rain. It becomes something else. I usually see only wet sidewalks, streets, the moistened-over gravel, only a dab of a shade darker than when it is dry, it seems like. A cloudy gray puddle fills up a pothole. The sky is the same color of gray. My sand tinted car is parked outside, in my driveway, ensconced under tiny, sparkling droplets of dew, and when I open the driver's side door and try to get in, my right leg always steps in the grass in the lawn next to the concrete driveway, the cold, rough, wet blades of the sea green St Augustine grass pawing at my calf. Then I know it had rained. From these traces, signs, keepsakes of the storm.

In central Texas, it seems the rain falls only in the middle of the night. My curtains are drawn over my window by the bed, and I would often be woken up during the night by the rain, in fits, one wave after another, splashing against the laminated glass, like the click-clacking of beads on an abacus. Erratic, and abstract. Just sound, no picture. In the morning, I would have forgotten all of this. It's not until I go out of the house, and see the scattered odds and ends the storm left behind all about my house, that I'll fit together these two pieces of phenomena.

I watched Blade Runner for the first time late last night. One of the androids said as he was dying: 'All those moments will be lost, in time, like tears, in the rain.’ Los Angeles in 2019 seems to be eternally drenched in rain. Torrential rain, unrelenting—real window washers, sheets and sheets and sheets. I couldn't help wondering what their budget for water was. As it was raining outside, it was also raining on the television.

Alas, it turns out to be a blistering and humid day today.

What another hateful, sunny day.


My mother

I have a problem whenever I see a movie. I don't know if it's common to others as well, or not. I don't like writing, or reading, any sort of 'review,' be it of a movie, a book, an artwork, or even of a shop or eatery. It's not that there aren't good reviews: they serve a particular purpose. But the majority of reviews today are so subjective, and laden with personal preference and bias, that readers are more likely to get something of a rant, albeit disguised under the more substantial heading of a 'review.' It's not I myself don't have opinions, but I'd rather just leave them at that. Let others make up their own minds.

The problem is, the longer you keep your thoughts to yourself, simply, the more likely you are to forget them, especially if they don't seem particularly useful in your everyday life. Therefore I am almost always stuck with 'I liked it,' 'It was ok,' or 'No, I didn't really care for it' whenever someone asks my opinion of a book or a movie, with no explanation or basis for justification whatsoever—which can, I imagine, give me an appearance of being somewhat capricious and despotic. With a book, at least, the quantity of investment, in terms of time, can help mitigate this. After a 2-hour movie, however, you walk out of the theater into the bright daylight, or turn your television off, and you can simply resume life as it were. After nothing but a dream.

In Mother, directed by Bong Joon-ho, the aging mother, instead of trying to remember the past, tried to forget. Her mentally disabled son was charged with a crime, and she tried everything she could—including, even, murder—in order to exculpate him. In the end, the son was set free. At the same time, the truth about what really happened, about her son, would be forever locked inside her heart. That was the price. She would never be able to forget.

This is the most tragic movie I've seen in some time.

I don't know if I inherited my fondness for movies from my mother, who says she loved to go to movie theaters in Keelung when she was young. She was a fan of Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Sophia Lauren, and the whole Hollywood Golden Age. To this day, whenever we're together watching television and turn to AMC or TCM, she can almost without fail name whatever is playing, as well as everyone who is in it. Who would think a little old Taiwanese lady would have this encyclopedic knowledge of 1940s and 50s Hollywood film history?

My mother, Su Yu-yeh, was born on January 5, 1939, in Keelung, bordering Taipei County to the east. Her family was first-generation immigrants to Taiwan from Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China. Because of the war, she never finished elementary school, and in her teens worked as a seamstress to support herself and her family.

She has two older sisters (my maternal aunts), a younger brother (my uncle), and a younger sister, who was born with deformities (she later became insane, and hanged herself in her early teens). Her mother (my maternal grandmother) had several years earlier also committed suicide, by swallowing molten gold ingots. My maternal grandfather was a tall, gaunt man, and by the time I was able to remember him, was already in his late seventies. My mother doesn’t remember her mother’s name, and says she has really very little memory of her.

My mother and father were introduced through friends, and when they were dating, would often go to movie houses together, going from screen to screen, in the same theater house (back then, because rarely anyone checked, particularly in the day, you could see all the matinées a particular theater was showing that day for around 10 New Taiwan Dollars, or the equivalent of 25 American cents), and spend entire afternoons in the darkness.

My mother always likes to say: 'Your father is more intimidating, but the kids are afraid of me.' Meaning, that, unlike my father, she never forgets. She says smilingly.

My father has always called my mother by 'Li-chuan' (pretty, graceful), instead of 'Yu-yeh,' for some reason, and I'm not sure where the nickname came from, though it certainly seems to ring true. She is 72 now, but people still mistake her for 40-something. She has always been something of a beauty, and conscious of it, too.

There is an old colorized photograph of her in her 20s, that she keeps in a silver frame on one of the nightstands in her bedroom, of an upper profile: against a light sky-blue background, she is wearing a thin-knit forest-green turtleneck sweater, full-bosomed, her head turning slightly toward the camera, with eyes shaped like feathers, smiling, her mouth open like a split almond revealing an inner lining of white teeth, and long, straight black hair falling down past her hips and out of the frame. Her face is the soft, supple, powdery yellow of the palest sapphire, its full roundness set against the sudden vertical precipice of the jet-black hair. Of course she has a few more spots and wrinkles now, and her figure is fuller, but it is still quite easy to recognize her in the photo.

That beautiful young girl, once, in the dark movie theater, watching the screen, and committing the phantasmagoria of exotic names and faces, to her memory.

Something I will never be able to forget.


Love and marriage and sex and sex

At the close of the century, in Milan, Italy, an enfianced young man who had from his grandfather co-inherited the family business, which his father planned on selling to foreigners, struck up an affair with a chef friend, with whom he opened a restaurant in the countryside. The young man's mother, who recently discovered her daughter was gay, too, began an affair with the chef. When the son found out, he confronted her, accidentally fell and hit his head on the edge of the pool at their home, and was killed. After the funeral, the mother confessed to her husband and family, running away to be with the chef, leaving her home behind.

This is the story of the movie I Am Love (Io sono l'amore). I feel this movie is strangely titled. I don't know about others, but from beginning to end, I didn't seem to see 'love.' There were flirtation, infatuation, lots of sex and eroticism, even passion: it all looked like love, and none of it looked like love. Maybe it's because like many males I make the mistake of separating sex and love. I don't think men want sex more than love, as is commonly believed—just the opposite. Men, actually, more than women, need love. Or more precisely, they need to be loved. I don't know any man who is content being seen as a mere sex object. This is the same reason pornography is almost always shot from the male perspective; the flipside of this is the man is never seen. Men would like to treat women as sex objects and may play the role themselves to get what they want, but in return what men really want from women is to be loved, to be valued, absolutely, for who they are, not just what they are, for their uniqueness, that of all the men in the world, their woman has eyes only for them. Among men, this turns into an issue of competition and domination, of power. A lover's glance can make you feel like you are the only one in her world. Every man wants to be the only one in the world, and through women, he wants to achieve this goal. This love, however, rather than romantic love, is more like maternal love.

In the movie maternal love is what is sacrificed. In a very beautiful scene, the chef was preparing food for a family dinner party. The dish he made was the dish the mother had made for her son when he was little; she had told the chef about it during one of their encounters. When the chef sent up the dish he had made in the kitchen, from the basement, up to the dining room, it was like a love letter, a secret love note, that he was passing to the mother (but I suspect if it wasn't to the son as well). I feel this was the closest the movie came to embodying love. I imagine, with every bite, with every morsel, a secret is shared between two people, intelligible to those two people only, and what is created and made by one's hands, the invisible imprints of one's touch, passes the lips of the other, like a secret caress, to be consumed, digested, dissolved, and absorbed completely into the other. This is as concrete a depiction of love as it gets.

And yet, the secret is also a revelation. Through this the son found out the truth about his mother and his friend. Both worlds toppled, and shattered into each other. The bond between mother and son was betrayed, and severed. On the altar of truth, the food became an offering, and love, the sacrifice. What is called 'love' in the movie, is actually more like a force of destruction. In the movie love seems to 'create' nothing but a fundamental disorder in the world. Eileen Chang, in 'Love in a Fallen City,' wrote: 'Perhaps just to vindicate her, a great city fell. Tens of thousands of people dead, tens of thousands of people suffering, followed by an earth-shattering revolution,' meaning just this. The god of love wields a bow and arrow.


Pina Bausch's dance is like this. In traditional ballet the dancers, even when there are just two, seem to face mostly the audience. The dancers bounce into and bounce off of each other in a cycle of graceful, harmonious movements, smiling, even baring their teeth, showing us all of their proud gestures, their joyous glances, like young couples, freshly fallen in love, exhibiting all of their proofs of love for the public, the whole world, to see. Pina Bausch's dancers face each other. It's not beautiful. The movements, the expressions, are full of fear, doubt, pain, sorrow, anxiety, suffering, chaos. For Pina Bausch, this is love. But amidst the fear, doubt, pain, sorrow, anxiety, suffering, and chaos, there is something that remains, something fragile, but something strong, something pure, that perhaps we can see only when everything else has been crushed, has been demolished, has been torn to pieces. Pina Bausch said, 'Your fragility is your strength.' That something that remains is more powerful than beauty. Love is the scythe that clears the brambles so we can see this thing. This thing is ourselves, truth.

Because love is destructive, our ancestors perhaps were wise not to base marriage on love. They understood a marriage based on love couldn't last. Sustainability, too, is a big word today. Love is a wick that burns itself out; to sustain the light you need something else. A lot of people say children ruin love; in fact, 'ruining love' is essential to 'saving' marriage. Children are like glass chimneys. It's not that there is no love, just that it's been reduced to a longer-burning glimmer. For this reason I suspect it was women who invented marriage but men who invented marriage for love.

Maybe I still have a different experience and understanding of love, but I don't feel the mother really loved the chef. I feel the mother was on the run. She was looking for a way to escape, from the pressures of home, from the hierarchies of society, from her role as a mother, to becoming a woman again, and the chef was merely a means. Specifically, a sexual means. Unlike men, who can see sex as 'mere sex,' women see sex primarily as a means, to something else. It's always connected with some other thing or things—home, security, freedom, love. That is why men seek to be loved by women through sex, because it is the quickest way to women's hearts. Once a woman has sex, she is ready to hand over her whole being. The reason there are so many unreturned answering machine messages is the same reason there are so many romantic comedies based on the premise of one-night stands. What women don't understand is, men, like children, need to be loved, more than they need to love. And what men don't understand is, women aren't being needy or clingy, but for them, men are merely a way to their self-fulfillment.

Nevertheless, nowadays, more and more women are behaving like men; conversely, more and more men are getting in touch with their feminine side. Take male homosexuality and more men coming out of the closet today. I think there is a misconception that because gay men are 'men,' they have less qualms about sex for sex's sake, have no problem seeing one another and themselves as 'sex objects' etc etc...Actually, this openness about their own sexuality radiates not from their being male, but from their more finely polished feminine side. Men mind less and less being seen as sexual because they are understanding more and more the power of sex.

If, today, 'love' is being redefined, then perhaps, we need to find a new meaning for 'sex,' too.


The limits of control

I just watched Jim Jarmusch's Limits of Control. An old movie, released in 2009. I seem to have a very selective exposure to movies: I become obsessed with those that, for whatever reason, end up on my radar and will try to watch them before anyone else; the others, well, might as well have never even existed, because I'll have never even heard of them, unless they're Titanic or Avatar—or unless someone I know personally recommends them to me, typically much later (they assume I must have seen these movies already, only to find out a few years later, in casual conversation, I haven't even heard of them). If they're independent films, the chances of them belonging to the second category are doubled. If I don't particularly like the director too, quadruple that. Yet, I still manage to watch a movie almost every week. That comforts me, to know, at least in the movie business, more junk can also mean more treasures.

I never really liked Jim Jarmusch. I watched Stranger Than Paradise so long ago I don't even remember what it was about anymore, and I remember seeing Night on Earth all the time on late-night Bravo when it still played movies, just fragments, having watched it from the beginning, from the middle, and until the end, but never from the beginning until the end; at the time I didn't even know it was Jim Jarmusch (I thought it was five different directors compiling an anthology). I was dragged by a friend to Ghost Dog, and fell asleep in the theater. I don't know how exactly, despite my best attempts, I still managed to see Broken Flowers, which I turned off somewhere halfway. Either I'm still not parochial enough, or maybe it's just harder not to see a movie today actually than it is to see one.

It's hard to describe the plot of The Limits of Control, but it's also hard to spoil it. A hit is planned, and an assassin is directed to the target by a series of coded clues inside red and green matchboxes given to him by people on the way from a French airport to the Spanish countryside. The assassin talks with each person (including at the end the handsome Gael García Bernal from Motorcycle Diaries and Almodóvar's Bad Education)—or rather each person talks to the assassin, who rarely speaks—about nothing in particular, and then the character exchanges a matchbox with him. No one except the assassin (and the audience) knows this is for a hit; the assassin (and the audience) don't know who the target is until the end; and no one knows why the hit was ordered. The assassin simply does his job without questions, and everyone else plays a piece in a bigger, never fully revealed puzzle.

The stoic assassin occasionally does tai chi, drinks espressos, abstains from sex, and doesn't use a gun, or cellphones. That's pretty much the whole story.

I can't honestly say I recommend this movie, which is pretty self-indulgent for a movie called The Limits of Control. Maybe it's poking a little fun at itself, at art and at the business, though there were a number of beautiful and memorable scenes, especially one with a flamenco dancer. It actually reminded me of Michael Jackson, the way each movement, each gesture, appears to be unjointed, and then re-articulated back together, again, so distinct and smooth, sharp yet fluid—like watching a dance through a flipbook. It's as if the resonance of the sound itself became visible, and the music was given a concrete and tangible form through the dancer. You can feel its vitality. The waves and pulses of life, itself.

I do like the ending, however. In the last scene, the assassin changes out of his suit into regular street clothes, and then realizes he still has the last matchbox on him. Passing a trashcan, he hesitates for a moment, and finally decides to throw it away.

Like a tool, a means, a weapon, even—art, once it has served its purpose, should no longer be necessary, beyond life.


To live

I've been watching a lot of television lately.

It really takes a lot of your time. And time flies by especially fast when you are in front of the television. Ten minutes suddenly become a half hour, which all of a sudden turns into an hour—before you know it it's bedtime. Then morning. Television is the time-machine of our day, perhaps a primal version of the time-machine. You can see people and places from ten years ago, 1,000 years into the future, back a couple of millennia, all the way to the beginning of the universe, then return to the present, all in a few seconds, by pressing a button. You can project yourself into the past as you're hastening into the future.

And you don't even have to think about it. Everything is on autopilot. All you have to do is enjoy the moment, live in the present. If you've ever watched someone's expression when they are watching television, you'll see it's very relaxed, gentle, content, almost vulnerable...like that of a child, or an animal of some sort. It's completely ordinary, and at the same time completely enchanted.

I saw, or caught, a segment of a show on the Discovery Channel last night, as I was channel-surfing. I didn't know what I was watching at first. A food cart, was hurtling toward the screen, and there were sounds of people yelling and screaming. Then, a reverse shot, of the cart rolling, away, from where it had supposedly hit. We didn't actually see the moment of impact, or what it'd actually run into. The camera pulled away a little, and showed a few people, leaning on or against the cart. Then the entire frame started shaking; then gradually tilting—lines and shapes becoming skewed, until completely out of focus. Yelling. Screaming lines. And the food cart began to hurtle toward the screen, again.

By then I had realized the setting was an airplane.

The scene was then cut, to a middle-aged woman, sitting at a table, in her living room.

The woman then opened her mouth, and looked like she was about to say something. And paused. No sound, with just her mouth open—and still.

For just a fraction of a second. Almost, imperceptible.

'It was him.'

The voice, didn't seem to come from her. It was a calm, almost factual, voice. A low, quiet, but firm voice. Completely emotionless. As if she were just stating her name. A name born out of pure air. Out of transparent light. Out of empty space.

The show was a documentary movie called The Flight That Fought Back, about the passengers of United Airlines flight 93, who foiled the plan of four Al-Qaeda hijackers to crash the plane into the United States Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001. The FBI released some of the flight black-box recordings to the producers of the film, who used the recordings, which were the real audio recorded during the actual event, to inform and complement the images they had re-created about what happened.

All the sounds were real.

The woman's statement stunned me. I can't imagine: listening to these garbled, fragmented, harrowingly bloodied mess of recordings, again and again, playing them in your head over and over, trying, to piece the little bits, shards and broken, utterly unrecognizable debris, back together, to, in effect, try to, walk backward in time and reconstruct an entire scenery through a kind of endless repetition and ritual...And put it into sequence, each instant along the way, 'imagine' what the next 'logical' or 'necessary' step would be ('it must have happened like this, so then it must have led to that, and then it was like this, so that must...'), based on close to nothing, but with a mad logic, all leading up to, finally, that one, certain, absolute, inevitable—

'It was him.'

Like building a castle out of clouds. That could at any moment break, dissipate, vanish.

Because otherwise, she couldn't go on living.

For some reason, this was saddening to me, more than anything else.


Crying

I woke up this morning, and saw Shrift’s music video for ‘Lost in a Moment.’ For some reason, I began to cry. I don't know why. It's strange, I've been crying a lot lately. Driving, watching TV, washing dishes, folding clothes, waiting for a bus, drinking a glass of water, all of a sudden, quite easily, tears would be streaming down my face. Not sad, just tears trickling out of my eyes and rolling down my face, seemingly for no good reason, for a minute or two, and then it would stop. Like an erratic, stubborn leaky faucet. At times I wonder whether some part of me is broken, like some part is wearing down, certain screws have become unfastened and loose, a rusty hinge, somewhere, rattling softly each time as I breathe, but too soft, too deep, too inside for me to hear, and sense. Then, once in a while, a problem appears, and makes itself very manifest, and very well known. The problem is, once you see the problem, it's usually too late, and the waterworks are already here. You never notice a hole, two holes, five holes, ten holes, fifty holes in a dam, until the fifty-first hole collapses the entire dam, and you and the whole town are drowned under a flood. But then, as quickly as it came, it stops, and dries up. Only I'm left here, wondering what exactly happened, with just a vague feeling of loss.


Man, woman

I watched Rear Window again. In Hitchcock's movies, there seems to be only one type of relationship between a man and a woman possible, one of life and death. It's something very primal, maybe even more primal than love.

There is one scene when 'Jeff' (James Stewart) is watching, through binoculars, a woman in her apartment on the first floor of the building across from his own apartment unit, through her open, large rectangular window. The middle-aged, red-haired woman (whom Jeff and Lisa—Grace Kelly—call 'Miss Lonelyhearts') appears to be talking to someone off screen, or, at least, hidden, from Jeff's view, behind the wall partition of her apartment. Jeff can only see the image; there is no sound. The woman is carrying on, cavorting, laughing, looking off to the left of the screen, and there is a dinner table with two white long-stem candles and a large bottle of wine that she has set up. Then, the woman leans into the air, and closes her eyes, as if she were being kissed, on her cheek, by an invisible man, after which she looks right through the air, in the same direction, and smiles.

By now Jeff (and we) realize she's faking, making-believe a romantic candle-lit dinner at home for two, when, in fact, she's alone. And has always been alone. Putting on a show, just for herself.

She is acting, not knowing she actually has an audience, while he watches, a performance that is never meant for him to see.

Their eyes never meet.

Man. And woman.


Miracle

I had been in Switzerland for two days, five including traveling. My flight was delayed for a whole day in Amsterdam, so I stayed in a hotel there arranged by the airline.

The flight back, the major leg from Amsterdam to Minneapolis (where I then connected to Austin), was actually kind of nice. A lot of people must have re-booked because of the delay, so there were many empty seats on the plane: I had the four seats of an entire one of the middle rows to myself. The flight attendants fed us like we're babies, drinks and snacks every other hour, a meal every three hours, on the hour; never one to turn down 'free' food or drinks, I was stuffed by the end of the trip. And, rather than having to watch the same movies as everyone else, and at the same time as everyone else, I could choose what I wanted to watch from a big list of movies, whenever I wanted to watch them, as well as pause, rewind and fast-forward through them as much as I liked. Why all airlines didn't do it like this from the beginning is beyond me. It makes the time go by much faster—two or three movies, and you're already there.

The first movie I watched was Watchmen. Frankly, I didn't have high expectations beforehand, but after three hours, I was impressed, and found myself liking it very much. In the movie, superheroes are commonplace. They are, more or less, assimilated in the public eye, in ordinary, everyday life. Some wear masks; some don't. Somewhat like celebrities, they do publicity events, photo shoots, have scandals. And like celebrities, their fame has a time frame, an expiration date. Ironically, then they have to learn to live in anonymity. Character-wise, they are far from perfect and noble; just like the people amidst whom they have to live, they often let their fear, shame, greed, anger, and guilt get the best of them. They love and desire, they are obsessed with the past, discontent with the present, uncertain about the future.

The images in the movie are really beautiful, even touching, moving—lush, dark, with a streak of shimmer that lights up the grimy, black, rainy backdrop of a 1985 New York City, here and there, disappearing just as quickly as it appears. The scene on Mars where Silk Spectre learns of the truth about her father, and pounds out of grief on the giant crystalline clockwork ship, that was built by Doctor Manhattan, we see the thinnest crack appearing at the bottom snaking and spreading out upward through the golden fire-colored structure, to its very towering zenith—then it all, completely, in one instant, shatters, and comes toppling down in a resplendent rain of fire, only to be vaporized into a light, fine mist of iridescent blue, by Doctor Manhattan, and, ultimately, dissipating into nothing.

I hate not following anything to its extreme, be it an argument, a feeling or emotion, or the kind of life I choose to live. Good or evil, right or wrong, pleasure or pain, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, genius or idiocy, absolute order or absolute chaos, fame or anonymity, greatness or insignificance—I can live with either just fine. What I can't stand is the something in between. It's not how I want to live, who I want to be. It's what, maybe, sometimes I wish I weren't. Like The Comedian says in the movie, I don't want to 'hide in plain sight.'

Near the end, Doctor Manhattan says to Silk Spectre: 'Miracles. Events with astronomical odds of occurring, like oxygen turning into gold. I've longed to witness such an event, and yet I neglect that in human coupling. Millions upon millions of cells compete to create life, for generation after generation until, finally, your mother loves a man. Edward Blake, The Comedian, a man she has every reason to hate, and out of that contradiction, against unfathomable odds, it's you—only you—that emerged, to distill so specific a form from all that chaos. It's like turning air into gold. A miracle.'

To find the miraculous in the ordinary, in the spectrum of the in-between, I think, is my work in this life.

Just like Doctor Manhattan says, 'The world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away.'

Just like you, at this very moment, are reading what I have written, across time, across space, we are forming a connection, before the beginning, and after the end, we are here, together.

What are the chances of this?

A miracle.


Needs

I saw the Dalai Lama on DVD.

About a month ago, I watched the DVD of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Speaks: Peace and Prosperity. In July 2007, the Dalai Lama gave a talk at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and this is a recording of part of the talk.

Hundreds of monks, male and female, old and young, Tibetan and white, all dressed in kashaya robes, draping themselves in bright maroon and saffron yellow, flanked both sides of the stage. The colors have religious significance, but their use is distinctively and undeniably Tibetan, this broad, and brilliant, contrast and color palette of a nomadic people, gazing at, and slowly, eternally, inching toward the deep red horizon set ablaze by a wild, setting sun.

But for now, at least, they are waiting.

After Richard Gere's introduction, the Dalai Lama walked on stage, barefoot, smiling, so broadly, that his eyes almost disappeared, behind the amber-shaded glasses. Then he sat down in a chair in the middle of the stage, with an interpreter sitting next to him. The chair, which was black, was very low-sitting and had a very large seat; the Dalai Lama lifted his feet onto the seat, and sat cross-legged, simply through the entire lecture. At times, he would rub his feet, or massage his own calves, or often uncross his legs, and recross them again, frequently readjusting himself, as would someone sitting on the couch at home, having a relaxed conversation, with a few friends over a couple of glasses of wine. Just very, very un-'His Holiness the Dalai Lama'-like.

I notice people's legs a lot. It's the next thing after their face—sometimes even before—that my eyes fall to when I see someone. Not just their shapes, but their postures, how, and where, that person chooses, consciously or otherwise, to set or place their legs, that I notice. I can't say I really draw any conclusions about the person based on this, but that's just where my attention seems to go, at least for an initial moment.

I've said the three people whom I would most like to meet in this life are 1) Michael Jackson, 2) the Dalai Lama, and 3) Woody Allen. Finally, one came true three days ago. I went to see Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band on Monday night, and had a great time. Woody Allen, of course, played the clarinet, and sat in the center of the band. He still looked the same, other than his head being a little whiter, and a little balder. When he wasn't playing, he seemed to simply stare at the stage floor behind his thickly-framed black rectangular glasses, with his head lowered, chin resting on his chest, sitting with his legs apart while holding the clarinet, seemingly without any expression, to the point where I began to suspect at the time perhaps he was napping, or, at least, had adapted to shutting certain parts of his brain down while not in use, like fish, horses, or my geckos. When he played, however, he would cross his legs, tightly, one knee on top of the other and exposing his long socks beneath the khaki trouser pant-legs, shaking them wildly together, somewhat to the beat. Then, each time after his solo was over, he would slowly slip, and lackadaisically, uncross them, and sink back into, probably, his dream. Completely indifferent, as if he weren't even here, but a million miles away, and lost in the constellation of his own thoughts, and had nothing to do with any of this. His legs, perhaps, being the only evidence otherwise.

I don't think I really have to talk about MJ's legs. However, I was shocked, in This Is It, by how quiet, nearly taciturn, Michael was, whenever he was off stage.

The two phrases that Michael used most, if not almost exclusively, and that he said in, I think, almost every scene where he wasn't dancing or singing, were simply: 'Please understand,' and: 'It's all for love.' It was as if they had become his sole mantras. At that point, it seemed, his entire vocabulary, his entire lexicon, had been reduced, and consisted, solely, in those words. That was it. For him, that was enough.

The words the Dalai Lama repeated most frequently in his talk, were: 'I don't know.' At one point, when answering a question from the audience, he added at the end of his reply: 'I don't know, maybe I'm not a Buddhist,' and laughed. It's hard to imagine someone like the Pope, sitting cross-legged on the throne, taking his shoes off, scratching his head, rubbing his feet. And saying: 'I don't know, maybe I'm not a Catholic.' To admit, and to say: 'I don't know' requires a tremendous amount of wisdom, confidence, and courage.

Someone once said, we really only need three phrases to communicate as human beings, and those phrases are:


1. Thank you.

2. I'm sorry.

3. I forgive you.


I think Kawabata Yasunari once wrote a story called 'Thank You' where the entire dialogue consisted of a series of ‘Thank you’s.’ In any relationship, even, or perhaps especially, in a romantic relationship, 'I'm sorry' and 'I forgive you' are far more important than 'I love you.' Maybe sometimes we don't need so many words, just like we don't need so much money, so much food, so many things, so many awards and recognitions, so much pleasure, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... Perhaps we will be able to live perfectly well even then.


Perhaps even better.


HC Hsu is the author of the short story collection Love Is Sweeter (Lethe, 2013). Finalist for the Wendell Mayo Award and theSouth Pacific Review and The Austin Chronicle short story prizes, Third Prize Winner of the Memoir essay competition, First Place Winner of A Midsummer Tale Contest, and The Best American Essays Nominee, he has written for Words Without Borders, 
Two Lines, PRISM International, Renditions, Far Enough East, Cha, Pif, Big Bridge, Iodine,
nthposition, 100 Word Story, China Daily News, United Daily News, Liberty Times, Epoch Times, and many others. He has served as translator for the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and his essay collection Middle of the Night (Deerbrook) and translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s biography Steel Gate to Freedom (Rowman & Littlefield) are published in 2015.

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