Following on from the last self-indulgent piece with me venting my spleen about my father, Susana said the most extraordinary thing in the comments. She put me and the word 'love' in the same sentence. When I read it, my eyebrows went up and I froze in disbelief. But only for a second. Then I tilted my head back and laughed.
Truth be known, I have no idea what love means. You don't need to take my word for it. You need merely search this site for the word 'love'. Whilst I couldn't be fagged doing it myself, I'm prepared to bet that it will only appear in the phrase 'peace, love, and understanding' which I use not so much as a banner to rally around, but rather as a cudgel to beat things with.
The word, in and of itself, as a stand-alone description, I, um... 'dismiss'. Which is to say, I dismiss it from my vocabulary. Honestly, what the hell does it mean?
Never mind love, here I'm far more interested in lies and lying. Actually the word 'lie' is just as fraught as 'love' and I tend to avoid it as well. Let's just say that I ponder the nature of misrepresentation. But regardless, if we were to take every lie ever uttered and analysed them to see which one predominated, I'd bet money that the phrase 'I love you' would win hands down.
And go figure that more than a few women have made it clear to me that, but for the want of me saying it, they'd have slept with me. I'm a strange cove, sure, but women who do this always fall in my estimation.
A while back in Shanghai, there was a woman I fancied. I was directing and she was my producer. She was smart, funny, and sexy. And she told me of her travails with her laowai boyfriend who came to Shanghai every couple of months for business. In between times he lived in Belgium with his wife and kids (Urgh! No one here I hope!). And once or twice a day he would send her an SMS saying some variation of 'I love you'. This made her all gooey. Me, I shook my head. Between words and actions, words are cheap. Hell! He sent these words by SMS, the cheapest means there is.
Me to her - "If I said you were just something to occupy his time when he's here in China and all it cost him was an SMS every day, would I be wrong? Forget his words, what does he do? What is there to say that this guy isn't just some bullshit artist? Men lie you know. Forget his words. What are his actions?"
Anyway, she threw him over. For me, ha ha! Well that was the theory anyway. What with assorted cultural confusions and a plot straight out of a bedroom farce, we didn't sleep with each other. But that was cool, she was going to come to Sydney for Chinese New Year and stay with me. After that I was going to go back to Shanghai and become an in-house director. Sounded good to me. But! - it all went to hell. For reasons that weren't clear she didn't come to Sydney and when I flew back to start up with the directing gig, it was if we were complete strangers.
I had failed apparently. Specifically I had failed to send her an SMS every day telling her that I loved her. God help me! What with her last boyfriend using this precise process to lie his way into her bed, here she was angry with me for not having done the same thing. I shook my head and wondered if she and her Belgian didn't deserve each other. But truth be known, my part in a mad farce aside, I was pleased. If she was that undiscerning, that incapable of distinguishing between words and actions, then she wasn't the chick for me. I never saw her again and packed in the directing caper shortly thereafter. And a good thing too.
The above was but a single 'I love you' anecdote from dozens. And I don't doubt that you'd all have your own. Truthfully, there are more stories of lies and lying with 'I love you' at the centre of them than there are stars wheeling in the sky. For mine, the phrase is so utterly devalued that it's worthless. There's a lot to be said for saying nothing.
Like the Japanese! The Japanese are their own variety of laconic. They are not a gushy people. Whilst the younger generation, deeply steeped in Hollywood, are changing now, the older generation do not prate on with heartfelt drivel. If you want to see a perfect example of what I'm talking about, go see 'Hana-Bi' by Beat Takeshi. He's a legendary director and Hana-Bi is arguably his masterpiece. And sure it's dotted with action and violence, but mostly it's a 'love' story. Everything that takes place in the film is an act of devotion by our hero for his dying wife. Astoundingly almost nothing is said. No speeches, no declarations. Actions are all. And the actions are unambiguous. The truth lays in what is done, not in what is said.
And if anyone does watch this film on my say-so and wonders, "What sort of a crummy 'love story' was that? No one even kissed anyone!", you'll actually be making my point for me. Your dissatisfaction will say far more about you as a Westerner than it will about the Japanese.
And then there's the Maori and the Hawaiian people. Culturally, since they're both Polynesian, their cultures are as close as could be. Curiously they seem not to know very much about each other. In conversations I've had with Maori about Hawaiians, and vice versa, no one seemed to know anything. But whatever, they have many many things in common. As a complete dilettante I'm pretty sure I won't get in trouble for saying that the concept of 'breath as life' is central to their shared culture. In Hawaii, this breath/life is the 'ha' in 'aloha'. (It's also the 'ha' in 'haole', their word for white person. There's a fabulous story in that, but I'll sling it in the comments.)
The Maori likewise acknowledge the importance of breath in their custom of touching noses. This functions for Maori like the handshake does for white people. The handshake is an expression of 'peace' insofar as it's a demonstration that one isn't carrying a weapon. Three cheers for white people. Compare that to the Maori, who touch noses so that they might exchange the breath of life. But here's the crucial thing - the breath is always from the nose, not from the mouth. This is not because the nose is special but because the mouth is considered 'corrupt', or perhaps more correctly 'corrupting'. The stink of food is part of this but that's actually the least of it. Breath from the mouth is spurned because what comes from a person's mouth, words sure enough, cannot be trusted. In words lay falsity.
And then there's that Brazilian chick. This is a looong story, but there I was in her marvellous ramshackle house smack dab in the middle of a picturesqe but down-at-the-heels town two hours from Sao Paolo. She was a Rudolph Steiner devotee and was in the arduous process of setting up a Rudolph Steiner school cum arts-and-craft co-op. And I was going to join her. My head was there. But that too came a cropper. Story of my life. If anyone out there is familiar with the Tora San movies (uber-famous in Japan), that's me. I never get the girl.
Whilst the whole thing was complicated with family and a boyfriend etc. a key moment came in a discussion about 'love'. She looked me in the eye, grasped my hand and told me of the most important thing there is. That being love, sure enough. She even quoted the Beatles to me. And hats off to the Beatles, but between them and my continuum (at the top of this page) with selflessness as the only thing counting, I was, ahem, dismissive. I tried to explain the distinction but got nowhere. It didn't help of course that I didn't speak Portuguese, her English left a lot to be desired, and the Japanese which we both spoke (she being sansei Japanese) was ill-suited to philosophy. But the language didn't matter. She said love and I shook my head. "No, you don't understand," I said. Yeah yeah nobody, just face it - you blew it. Time to do that Tora San thing and smile, wave, and hit the road.
Bloody Hell! Do I have a point or am I just blathering? Both, ha ha! The point is that for me, words are worthless, with 'love' at the top of the list. And yep, I just used a thousand words to say that. The irony runs rampant.
Never mind me as cleverpants wordsmith - a blog, an audience, and a huge pile of words being put in some kind of order. Bully for that. But back at the house of geriatric indulgence, with me and the old man, it's positively Japanese. Every day is like a scene from Hana-Bi.
Perhaps I brought it with me from the temple - "shiraberi wa dame" - chit-chat is bad. And there, there was a lot to talk about. Here at home there is nothing to talk about beyond Fox Sports and doctors. And I haven't much time for either beyond needing to know what channel to change to and when the appointments are.
Here there is no love. Or certainly no declarations of it. The only thing that counts is 'doing'. For me (or perhaps for an ideal me) all my actions should be an embodiment of selflessness. And I ain't in that picture. And nor are such messy things as emotions. Like 'love' etc. If I was to start in on that, the whole thing would fall in a screaming heap. It would turn the picture into one that was about me. And if it was about me, it wouldn't be about me because I'd be gone.
But here's a picture of me. Or me as played by Vincent Cassel in the movie of my life, that is. Nothing in his head. Nothing in his heart. No thoughts, no love, no nothing - just emptiness. Dig it, it's like Camus' Stranger albeit with a happy disposition and no Arab monkey business. And when Cassel wants to know what his motivation is, he'll be told he hasn't one. "Just go through the motions. Attempt to embody selflessness. Don't ask us what that would look like since no one bloody knows. Just do your best." Says our Vincent - "But why am I happy?". Sorry Vince, no answer to that one neither. You just are.
Truth is, living with my father has been a brilliant experience. The only way anyone could cope with the old man's utter self-obsession is to let go of one's own desires. I'll admit that there's a certain 'reactionary' aspect to this. And I know that no one likes that word - to say, 'I am not that' is full of negative connotation, a thing to be avoided. But if one is seeking selflessness it's no such thing. Everything I wish to shed is here precisely depicted in the closest genetic template imaginable. It is what I am leaving behind.
And Susana, apologies for using you as a prop, ha ha. It's not you, it's just my brain turning a word around. And what a word! A word so fraught, so plugged into insecurities and self-worth, replete with uncountable meanings, stories, variations, and use and misuse, I reckon we're better off without it.
Do or don't do. Actions over words. That's where the truth lays.