Podcast: Leonard Cohen – Thanks For The Dance

Transcription:

Hello, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance.

First, I would like to thank you all of you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in this vast, immense world where life happens. Your support raise me up and keep me going, and for that, I hope that this podcast would do the same for you.

And I guess it’s time to say good bye for now.

I begin the podcast, somewhat, with Leonard Cohen’s poetry collection, “The Flame.” We’ve been through so many other authors, so many other brilliance literary works, so many tears, and so much courage. We pick ourselves up and pull ourselves through. And though life breaks us, we refuse to let it kill us.

We, me and you, we have accomplish something great. Something like Leonard Cohen’s “The Flame.”

And thus, it would be just to end the first season with Leonard Cohen.

Thanks for the dance

It was hell, it was swell

It was fun.

Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance

I started the journey after so many nights listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Thanks for the Dance,” a music album released post-humously by Mr. Cohen’s estate. If you ask me what I had hoped to create by uploading my podcast in that very beginning moment, I would have said, Nothing.

I didn’t hope to change the world in one night, or one little podcast series. I didn’t hope by some sort of miracle, I can end wars and bring peace to the little children and the giant beasts. I didn’t hope to grow it into some sort of being that is loved and sheltered in your heart.

After all, we have learned that the moment we begin to hope is also the moment we begin to despair.

But I charged ahead.

Even now, I don’t know if the podcast is a successful adventure, where I save the princess and hunt down the treasure. I ran through Milan Kundera to learn about the lightness of being. I crossed through Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fairy tales, where all is dying and none is saved. I swam through the vast ocean of Jose Saramago’s “All the Names,” wishing that Senhor Jose had had a happier ending, that the dead and the living can come to some sort of agreement.

And there is just so much more I want to walk through. From Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” to Patrick Modiano’s “In the Cafe of Lost Youth.” From Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” to William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” From Yasunari Kawabata’s “Snow Country” to Natsume Soseki’s “Kokoro.”

But everything needs time. And now is the perfect time to say goodbye. To take a rest from climbing the high mountain. To see how far we, both you and me, have come through. To celebrate the living, the fact that we wake up this morning, and walk through another day.

We are all heroes of our own story.

It’s torn where you’re dancing, it’s torn everywhere
It’s torn on the right and it’s torn on the left
It’s torn in the center which few can accept

It’s torn where there’s beauty, it’s torn where there’s death
It’s torn where there’s mercy but torn somewhat less
It’s torn in the highest from kingdom to crown
The messages fly but the network is down

Leonard Cohen, It’s Torn

Yes, I see your beauty, which is made of these shredded sheets, these patched up wounds, these bruises and tear. And though it’s torn everywhere, you decide to walk on. There are many options – many choices – to make, and how I am glad that you choose to live, to be here with me, to follow the resistance.

How I am glad you are a survivor.

I once see a video about suicidal incident in this one country. I will hide the country’s name for the sake of political trigger. In this video, there was this beautiful boy with a mask on, saying, I have attempted suicide three times and nobody knows. His eyes glistened. The eyelashes fanned out and cascaded a shadow of sadness all over his face. And in that moment, I thought, What are we suffering for?

He is a survivor, and no one celebrate that. And who knows for how long he can continue to be a survivor. To choose life. To wake up in the morning and be glad that he is still alive. That he did not take an overdose. He was not hung on the ceiling. He did not jump down the bridge.

We are all fighting a silence war. And I don’t want to see anyone ends up like that boy, that very beautiful soul who struggled far too much and received so little.

So I started the resistance, with one simple thought: let yourself off the hook.

It’s more than simply shouting a “Don’t die” out there in thin air. Rather, I want to plant seeds. The seeds of little baobab trees. I want to water it, nurture it, and turn it into this powerful, overwhelming being within you.

I have done all of it, and I am willing to do more, so that that sadness, that shadow from the quivering eyelashes of the boy who survived the storm on the darken sea will not fall on your face and destroy your beauty.

Come gather the pieces all scattered and lost
The lie in what’s holy, the light in what’s not
The story’s been written, the letter’s been sealed
You gave me a lily, but now it’s a field

Leonard Cohen, It’s Torn

You are all beautiful souls. You fight against invisible enemies and monsters of your own. You see the lie in what’s holy and the light in what’s not. You charge ahead knowing that you may fall down the abyss, one of these days, but also knowing that you have the strength to climb back up. And you will climb back up; torn and broken to pieces, but you will climb back up.

You, my dearest audience, you gave me a lily to continue. And I hope that one of these days, I can grow that beautiful lily into a field.

So thanks for the dance. Thanks for all the dances that lead us from zero to here. Thanks for surviving and thanks for the fighting. You made the Radio of Resistance a reality, and the resistance won’t stop. I hope you will be ready and be there for Season 2 of the Radio of Resistance. In the meantime, if you want to follow my projects and hear my voice, you can follow my Facebook page, The Bipolar Psyche’s Books, or my Instagram @bipolar_psyche. To support the podcast, which I dearly need, you can become a Patron on my Patreon account, patreon.com/bipolar_psyche. Only on my Patreon can you hear the audio version of my novels and poems on a weekly and monthly basis. You can also send me commissions, which I am much happy to oblige. Your donation will help me sustain the podcast, researching new materials, and make the episode with higher quality devices.

If you don’t want to make a monthly commitment, I would also greatly appreciate your one-time donation through paypal.me/bipolarpsyche. Your donations, even the smallest ones, are the force to keep the resistance going.

So once again, thank you for a great season. Thank you for being the person that you are. Thank you for the support and for always being there.

Thanks for the dance.

I am Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Podcast: Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Of Love and Other Demons

Transcription

Hello, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance, where your mind refuses logic and your imagination takes fly.

Truthfully, I wanted to discuss Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” – Oh, there will be so many things to discuss, so many things to say about Albert Camus and Sisyphus that there’s almost nothing to discuss at all. But I took a turn, a change of phrase, a step down the memory lane, perhaps, and I pulled out Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons” instead.

So, why “Of Love and Other Demons”? I’ve come across other works, whose brilliance and happiness shine brighter than this thin paperback book that I am holding dearly in my hands right now. I’ve finished “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” then moving on to “A Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” and stopping at “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I love them all, and one of these days, once I’m more mature, I will pull out “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to  talk about it, as well as my hopeless love for the man who suggested the book to me.

But today, let’s just make do with “Of Love and Other Demons.” The book that made me cried myself to sleep. The book that lulls me in the darkness of those winter sleepless nights. The book that plants in my soul a seed of belief. Of hope. Of love’s weakness and its strength in the most desperate of time.

So let’s talk about “Of Love and Other Demons.”

In the forewords, the author, Mr. Marquez, talks about his inspiration for the novel. About a little girl who died from being bitten by a dog. After being buried, her hair keeps growing until it reaches her tip of her toes. Looking at her golden hair in the crystal casket, Mr. Marquez thinks back about a girl he used to know. He imagines the girl in the crystal casket is the same girl in his memory of his little hometown, where everyone knows everyone.

Thus, the story begins.

I don’t know if the girl in Mr. Marquez’s memory suffers the same misery and hopeless fate as the heroine in “Of Love and Other Demons.” Born as an unloved child, who got rejected by both her Mother and Father; the only love she received was the warm circle of the housekeepers when they gathered around the fiery stoves and sang her to sleep; the only language she ever spoke was the rhyme of the housekeepers’ native songs and lullabies; and the only hope given to her was the love from a man, whose hollow cries and bloody hands still echoed across the centuries.

“This was when she asked him whether it was true that love conquered all, as the songs said. ‘It is true’, he replied, ‘but you would do well not to believe it.”

Of Love and Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

How we wish that love can conquer all. How we hope that in the most pivotal moment of the battle, either against life or alongside it, love will show itself and lull us to a peaceful rest in its bosom. How we think, naively, that simply by believing in love, it will save us from ourselves.

After all, what else can be scarier, bleaker, and more of a monster than ourselves, who, at any moment, always find an opportunity to shred us down to little pieces?

And though it is true – blessed are the souls that believe in it, that love can conquer all, as in all the songs, the rhymes, the fairy tales, and the poems we read since we were still a child – we have stopped believing in it.

We have grown up. We have outgrown the little child inside us. We abandoned him or her by the roadside, and the child was standing there as we walked away – perhaps the child is still standing there by now – with a hope that we will come back one day, pick him or her up. And despite his hopeful look, his sparkling eyes, his wildly beating heart as he listens to every single footstep of other adults walking by, leaving their own inner child behind, he never know that no matter how long and arduous he waits, we can’t turn back.

The child is still waiting. He does not know about our cruelty. He does not know the fights we face. He does not know that by the time we come back to him, somehow, some days, we will never be the one he expects us to be. And yes, love can conquer all – let’s believe in it one last time – but can it lead us back to the abandoned child by the roadside?

The foreshadowing of the quote, brilliantly placed to show not only the bitter regrets of the father and the last bit of grudging love the heroine holds for her father, lets us know the weaker side of love. The side that love rarely shows anyone, not even to the believer. The side that no poems, no stories, no songs can speak of. The unfathomable abyss that we stare at, reach our hands out, and jump down.

It tells us about the priest, whose love and struggle with the inner demons that fight against his one true God can’t save the little girl.

It tells us about the pains and the sufferings the little girl bears before the altar, still hope against hope that this time, love can save her and her lover.

It tells us about the cries of the sea and sky as the priest, with his bare hands and bloody fingers, try to tear down the cement wall, forever on and on, just to see his lover’s face for the final time. And it tells us that:

“What is essential, therefore, is not that you no longer believe, but that God continues to believe in you.”

Of Love and Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Recently I’ve been questioning about the leap of faith. What is it, really? What does God want from us when He wants us to take the leap of faith? And what if we refuse to take the leap of faith? What if, in that desperate moment, when all we are hanging on is just this thin, threadbare strand of hair, we choose to let Him go?

In all of those desperate moments, when faith is a luxury – a privilege, even – will God continue to believe in us, in our ability to stare at the abyss, and instead of jumping down, we choose to leap over it?

Like a poem Mr. Cohen once brilliantly wrote. You should try to believe in God sometimes, and see for yourself if God wants you to believe in Him.

I often wonder, If God continues to believe in the priest and the heroine in “Of Love and Other Demons,” why does He make them suffer a fate that is far worse than the cry we left behind after the finale of Romeo and Juliette? While Romeo can die in Juliette’s arms, the priest is still standing there, on the other side of the wall. With his bare hands, he continues to scratch hopelessly at the cement surface, thinking that his lover is still alive. And he only needs to cross through this cemented wall – he only need to tear this wall down – he can save the girl he love.

Does God believe in him then?

Till this day, I don’t have a certain answer. After all, it is a fictitious story of two fictional characters. I find that Mr. Marquez’s tales always challenge my belief in love and its power, for his novels shows the weaker and darker side of love more often than not. Like in the novella, “A Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” where the heroine keeps writing letters to her lover, who had rejected her and sent her back home on the wedding day because she was no longer a virgin, only to meet him decades later, as he confesses in tears that he loved her and he love her still.

I guess God did believe in her then. Even though as she stands at the altar, no longer a virgin in everyone’s eyes, her love is still the purest thing in God’s eyes. And with tender love, God brings her fated traveller back to her, holding her in his arm, crying over the letters he kept through the years, saying he cannot forget her.

Or perhaps, not only God, but love also believes in her, in him, in both of them. And thus, despite the darker side of it, love still remains as the most beautiful thing in the bleak and horrendous death of the novella.

Then should we believe in them? In God and in love?

I can’t answer that question for you. All I can say is, it depends. But there is one thing I know: we have to believe in something – either it is a higher being, an invisible force of feeling, or simply just the sound of life, of the clattering dishes in the cupboard, the mingling voices in the café, the tears, the laughters – we have to find something to believe in.

Because only then, we can continue to live. Because only then, we can confidently stare at the abyss, let it stare back at us, and still choose to leap over it – to take the leap of faith, in the end.

I remember the story of the Japanese author, Kenji Miyazawa, the short novella “Night on the Galactic Railroad.” I wonder how all the stories for children look different to us when we grow up. How from “The Little Prince” to “Night on the Galactic Railroad,” children can teach us so much about living and loving. How we cry over Campanella, Giovanni, and The Little Prince, because we had abandoned that child inside us on the roadside far too soon.

But back to “Night on the Galactic Railroad.”

To reach the truest happiness, one must make their way through many sorrows.

Night on Galactic Railroad, Miyazawa Kenji.

Looking at the trains passing by, I can’t stop thinking about Campanella and Giovanni. About their loneliness. About their one true God. And though Campanella takes his leap of faith, to end up as a small child in his mother’s gentle embrace again, to finish his journey on the Galactic Railroad, he had reached his truest happiness through many sorrows.

And though Giovanni returns from the journey with an immense loneliness, at least, he lives on. I bet Giovanni will continue to move through many other sorrows besides losing his companion. And I bet Giovanni, as he grows up and moves on, he will never find solace for the void in his heart – the void that Campanella left behind as he got off the train at the sunflower field.

The child has grown. And by growing up, the child has to sacrifice so, so many things. Perhaps that’s the reason why both The Little Prince and Campanella choose to remain a child forever.

There’s no shame in it, just as well as there’s no shame in choosing to live on, to abandone the child inside us, to grow up, and to suffer many sorrows. No one can ever judge between Campanella and Giovanni, who will prevail as the more courageous one, or the righteous one.

I guess what I am trying to say is, There is no shame in choosing, in deciding the path we walk on. As long as you are making a decision, you are already the stronger one. No matter what decision you make, you are always the stronger one.

So go out there, walk straight on. Accept that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. And that’s okay. There is still an immense ocean to cross, a vast road filled with thorns. This won’t be the last time you suffer, but that’s just a side of it. You can choose to look at that side, or like Leonard Cohen and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you can also choose to look at the other side. Listen to the hummingbird, listen to the sound of life clattering about you, listen to the sound of dishes rattling in the cupboard, smell the scent of freshly washed clothes.

You see, that’s the new anti-depression. Believe in it, because all this time, that anti-depression has always believe in you.

Thank you for making it to this point of the podcast. As you might, or might not, have known, I am doing poems and novel reading sessions on my Patreon account, https://patreon.com/bipolar_psyche. Your donation, no matter how small, is urgently needed and will contribute greatly to the maintenance and the continuation of this podcast series. With as much as $3, you can get access to my monthly poems reading session, and with as much as $9, you can get access to my weekly novel reading session and monthly livestream where I talk about my life and work. So please get to my Patreon account and become a Patron today to get access to Patron-only content.

This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Chapter 20: What Else Do You Want?

Sit down. State your name. Tell me your story.

My name is Duc-Anh. Nguyen Duc-Anh. People always call me Nam Xi.

Why the name “Nam Xi”?

Because I often drink alcohol and I was the fifth child in the family. What else do you want to know? I shift my legs. My fingers start dancing on their own. I’m not nervous: After all, I have taken it this far. And I will be brave enough – just barely enough – to bear the consequence. But those boys –

So, Mr. Duc-Anh, right? What do you know about these two men? The investigator pulls out two pictures – headshots of a man and a young boy in his early 20s. I glance at them and quickly avert my gaze.

Sir, I don’t know.

Surely you must know something? Or you simply don’t remember them?

Sir, I don’t know them.

Mr. Duc-Anh, no, uncle Nam Xi; you do realize by not telling the truth, you are causing more harm for both you and them, don’t you?

Sir, as I said, I don’t know them.

Alright. Uncle Nam Xi, I will just leave you here with a pen and a pad. You can write, draw, doodle – anything you want. I will be back quickly with an iced coffee for you. Will that be alright?

Alright.

The investigator stands up and walks towards the door. As he closes the door behind him, he stresses one last time to me:

You are causing more harm to both you and them, remember? All of it just because you are not telling the truth. Uncle Nam Xi, what is it all for?

Then he slams the door shut. I wait for his footsteps to fade away, then I pick up the pen and begin my story.

“You said you were from Binh Thuan?” The tall, muscular man sitting at the head of the boat shout. His strong accent suggested that he, too, came from Central Vietnam. That part where people always carried poverty on their shoulders. That same part where people were wailing and crying and fighting. For what? I don’t know. Perhaps for a slightly better life, or a slightly safer seaside to hang their fishing net. Perhaps somewhere in the wail, the people want something grander than themselves. Something like a country protected from invasion.

“Yes. So what?” I asked curtly. His strong accent reminded me of the burning heat that sunny day when the people were out on the street, being beaten by the police, yet refusing to muffle their cry. Sticks and stones were everywhere, literally. Among the blurry images in my mind, my daughter was standing there, leading the demonstration that had grown violent too soon.

“How’s Binh Thuan? I heard some terrible news there. I’m no different, you know,” he glanced at me quickly. His nose perked up, sensing my temper rising, “I’m from Da Nang.”

“Is there also a protest in Da Nang?”

“I don’t know,” he said, his eyes glistening with the same painful longing that I had, “I wish I can do something better, you know. At least, something better than these ‘I don’t know’,” he snorted, “My little brother says my mind is just like that of a ten-year-old: knows nothing, sees nothing, hears nothing.” He covered his eyes and ears. I went out of the boat’s hatch, watching the vast rivers and the open landscape before me. It’s weird how life carries itself on its staggering legs after the death of a person.

“I also wish I can do something better.”

“Like stopping the protest?”

“Like saving a life.” He sat there, watching my back silently. Then he drank the rice wine on the small table inside the boat as if to get more courage:

“Who?”

“My daughter. And by the way, that rice wine is mine.”

“Uncle, these types of stories always need a little bit of wine.” He poured himself another cup, ignoring my stare.

“Say, vài xị[1]?”

“What are you, Uncle? A weakling? At least, vài chai.” He laughed. This man really did see the boat as his second home. He looked strangely familiar. Where did I see his hideously good-looking face? I can’t remember.

I pulled out the rice wine bottles that I bought from the market. My daughter would say they are not good for my health; I’m already an old man, withering in my blood bath of blind grievance. But that doesn’t matter. Like this strangely familiar man said, these types of stories always needed a little bit of wine.

Uncle Nam Xi?

Yes, Mr. Officer?

Here’s your coffee. And that’s a nice little drawing. Is that your house? By the sea?

Yes.

And is that your wife? Your daughter?

Yes, and yes.

My daughter would be eighteen years old this coming summer. She was quite a beauty. My neighbors always said that it was lucky she looked just like her mother, not me. Because I was an ugly old man. My skin was only a few shades lighter than the charcoal her mother used to light up the stove. My teeth were crooked and yellow from all the smoking and drinking till morning. But I knew one thing about me that was not the slightest bit ugly: the love that I held tightly in my heart for her. There was an old saying, the snakehead died for its children. I was the snakehead.

But how could a snakehead raise a child? Ironically, by fishing other fishes. That was what I did before the fight broke out. I went to the sea, fishing for months then came home to her. Since the day my wife died, that was all I cared about. I guessed at the peak of my threadbare happiness, I didn’t care that much about my country. People said the Chinese were taking our lands. People said the Chinese factory was dumping their toxic waste into our ocean. People said a lot of things. And I told them, Does that concern me? Does that involve me and my little poor happy family by the sea? I had this very simple thought. As long as I could still go fishing, as long as I could still raise my child with this little money, then I didn’t care much.

But turned out it did matter. And it mattered a whole lot. They asked me, “Have you seen where we lived, Nam Xi?” I looked around, and all I could see were dirt and rocks. The sun was burning our crops, and the plentiful supply of rocks we had couldn’t grow rice. They told me, “We have a better chance of eating dirt and rocks than eating rice. Can you eat dirt and rocks, Nam Xi?” I held the fishing net in my hands. Just two days ago, our fishing boats were attacked by the Chinese warships on the open ocean. Our ocean. My Vietnamese mates were drowning under the dark Vietnamese ocean, and the non-Vietnamese attackers were laughing in my ears, “You are lucky to be alive.” I closed my eyes and asked myself, Why should I feel lucky to be alive? As I opened my eyes, I saw the Vietnamese sea being poisoned, the Vietnamese land being stolen meter by meter. The corpses of my fishing mates were floating by the shore; their hollow eyes stared at my stupefied ones.

And in front of the pile of corpses, the officers stared at us amidst the wails and the cries, asking coldly and calmly, “We told you not to fight against the foreign warships. What else do you want?”

Have you seen your comrades died before your eyes, Mr. Officer?

I haven’t. I bet my father did. He was a soldier. He had seen lots and lots of his comrades died.

But you haven’t? I smiled, gulping down the dark, flavorless water that he called “iced coffee.”

Yes, I haven’t, he repeats, and is that important?

It is, I say, wiping my tired eyes, It is the most important thing.

We wanted no foreign warships in our ocean, officers. We wanted no fishermen’s corpses on the seashore, officers. And most important of all, we didn’t want to die, officers.

“And still you sail out to continue fishing, despite knowing that the foreign warships are controlling of the ocean?” The man asked, gulping down more rice wine.

“There’s no other way. If I can’t get them fishes, then where else can I turn to to get some money? And,” I drank the rice wine from the bottle, slowly mistaking the vast rivers ahead for the immense ocean where the corpses of my daughter and my fishing mates lay, “who else will protect our ocean when even the officers refuse to care?”

“Those damn officers. What’s inside their heart? You think the country should be inside their heart, but turns out it doesn’t. Our country has evaporated, I tell you, and the only thing left standing in its place is the monuments. They are not my people. They don’t feel any pain. And if they can’t feel any pain, what use do we have for them, uncle?”

And he was right. The monuments did not protect us. The Party told us to stay away from the ocean. The Party stood there, silently watching the corpses of the Vietnamese fishermen killed and trampled upon by the foreign warships, and did nothing. They saw us dying, and they said, “We hear your trouble. What else do you want?”

“What else do we want, Uncle?” The muscular man said in his drunkenness, “They mean to say, ‘Besides all the brutal beating, all the coward lying, all the empty promising that will never become true, what else do you idiots want?’ They look at you and me, Uncle, on their high horses, and they see nothing but a bunch of marionettes who are willing to go where they lead. Because we have no real power, and the little ounce of courage we have left in our hearts is washed away by their brutality. What else do we really want, Uncle?”

And what else do you want, uncle?

It’s simple, Mr. Officer. We wanted a home. We wanted a family. We wanted a safe sea where we could go fishing to our heart’s content on the shore. We wanted a decent life. A life where a Chinese warship was a Chinese warship, and not a “foreign” ship, and they could not kill us. A life where the officers were not spewing half-truths and dirty make-believes. Perhaps in that life, my daughter would not have to lead a demonstration against the government to protect our land. Perhaps in that life, she could go to a normal school. It didn’t have to be a good school; an average one is good enough. She could wait for me at home. She could cook a warm meal for me. She could do everything that a child her age anywhere in the world would do instead of lying under eight feet of dirt and rocks. But hey, that’s too much to ask for, right?

So what did the criminal tell you? Did he provoke you to fight against the State?

No, as I said, Mr. Officer, I don’t –

Uncle Nam Xi, you and I, we both know what happened. Don’t make this harder for me than it already is, the old investigator takes back the pen and pad, then proceeds to sit down opposite me, ready to write down what I say.

“Uncle, you and I, we all lost the things that were most important to us. Everyone is losing everything in the fight. But why do we have to bear the cruelest pain, Uncle? Why does it have to be us?” He mumbled amidst his snoring.

Yes, why does it have to be us? I sometimes asked myself that question. It popped up in my mind more and more often since the day the corpse of my daughter was returned to me by the police. They caught her leading the demonstration, they said. They suspected she was the one who encouraged everyone to turn it into a violent protest, they said. They left her alone in the interrogation room and she committed suicide, they said. Half-truths and dirty make-believes. Now you tell me, Mr. Officer, what can an eighteen-year-old girl do to turn a demonstration into a violent protest? What hideous thing can make a happy, patriotic young girl commit suicide? And if you did leave her alone, Mr. Officer, why are there bruises on her frail body? This I did not ask. I did not have to ask. Because the truth from her pale, lifeless body stared at me blankly in the face. They killed her. And at the end of it all, they dared to ask me, “We warn you to not gather around, what else do you want?”

Uncle Nam Xi, not all of us is like that.

Yeah, I bet, I laugh in his face, The same way not all tigers eat meat, right? Sometimes they eat vegetables, too.

Uncle Nam Xi, don’t you want peace? The investigator sighs while twirling the pen between his fingers.

Peace? By being silent?

That’s not what I mean, but –

No, Mr. Officer. I don’t want peace, I lift up to look at him, feeling my throat tighten, I only want my daughter back.

“So you know what I want, Uncle? I want him dead. I want him painfully dead. I sneaked out into the night, chased after him, threw him off his motorbike, and fucking killed him. Now that’s what I want, I told him, that’s my equality. My justice. But he can no longer hear me. He stared at me from under that dark bridge as I ran away in the night. I asked him, laughing at his battered face, What else do you want. Uncle, this I know: If no one can save us, we will be our own Saviors. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

That was also what I did, Nha. I nodded to his unintelligible mutter, knowing now why his face was familiar. The runaway murderer. Both of us. I sneaked out in the night, went to the interrogator’s house, asked him, “Did you kill my daughter?” He snorted and sneered,It’s her fault for going against the Party. What else do you want?” But I didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. I struck him down with a machete I always carry with me on the fishing boat since the day the Chinese cruises attacked us. I struck his face, his chest, his legs, the places that he had struck my daughter. Seeing the blood slowly covered the brutal face, I struck once more at his heart. The comrades had no heart, they said. And perhaps it was true. Because inside his chest where his heart should be, I can only see a dark hollow. He had sold his heart to the “foreign” country. And the Vietnamese earth refused to sing him to sleep. I walked out of his house amidst the loud screaming of his wife, feeling peace and calm rush over me. The people opened up a road for me, and the earth beneath me carried my feet with tenderness. Just like that, I walked out of the village and went to live on these vast rivers. I want my daughter back. But the killing cannot bring her back. The bloody face of the interrogator cannot bring her back. The loud screaming and the pain of the interrogator’s wife cannot bring her back. Now you tell me, Mr. Officer, my daughter’s already dead. What else do I want?

Uncle Nam Xi, I’m sure we feel the same way about the unfortunate incident of your daughter, but –

No, I shut him down and drink the last drops of coffee, You don’t feel the same way. Heck, I bet you even have a daughter who was killed by the people you trusted the most. You can rely on your uniform and your power, Mr. Officer, but I cannot. I don’t have anything to lean on, to bounce back, to do anything for this, as you put it, unfortunate event to be less painful.

So you helped Mr. Nha escape?

I look him squarely in the eyes. Then, as if the coffee had done some magic on me, I slowly nod.

Yes, that’s why I helped him escape.

A strange noise startled me. Someone was coming down the riverside. The flashlight was flickering fast on the bank. I looked at the sleeping drunk man beside me. The Vietnamese earth cannot cover for us anymore. But I can do something. If no one can be our Saviors, then I can be his. I stood up, dragged him to the edge of the boat, and hurled him down the river.

Amidst the loud barking of the police dogs, I saw my daughter smile a gentle approval.


[1] T/N: A measurement for Vietnamese liquor.

Podcast: Michael Cunningham – The Hours

Transcription:

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance. First, you might, or might not, have noticed a missing episode during the last week and for that, I am sorry. There is nothing else to say, except that I have taken a step too far down the spiraling staircase and I was struggling to climb up again.

While I was gone, the world continued moving on in its own chaotic and tempestuous dance. Seeing people on the street, killed and being killed, I asked her, Is this all we ever do? She never said anything back but I supposed she put a mental note on that question as a proof of how lower I was falling down the spiral. You see, she said, you see, we start with peaceful protest, but it ain’t working. So we start a proper, organized protest, and that ain’t working either. The anger of voices unheard keeps piling up on top of one after the other. So we start a riot. And if we ain’t being heard again, it will just keep going on and on.

What’s that for? I asked her.

Because we want someone to listen. To change. To escape the constrains that is put on us without our approval. We want to be free.

I also want to be free.

No, she said, what you want is happiness. And those two do not necessarily go hand in hand.

And who will win in the end?

The stronger one.

Do you think that will be the people?

I don’t think either this people will win or that people will. I just want to keep it realistic. And by that, I mean the stronger one will win.

She reminds me of a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his novel, “A Farewell to Arms,” where the narrator said,

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Again, we need to be the stronger one. The world breaks everyone, and if it cannot break you, it will kill you. As it happens, the world is breaking us outside our very windows. People are falling down, but they refuse to be broken by the world. We need to be the stronger ones. We are maimed and broken, but we stand up right at the place where we are wounded, and we shout, You haven’t seen the last of me yet. And we charge ahead. Despite the rain, the storm, the fire, the guns, the bullets, everything and everything, we will charge ahead.

Because if the stronger one will win, we just have to be the stronger one.

So, you might have wonder, What does this rant have to do with Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours”?

It is solely because on one sleepless night, I lay there, fully awake on her bosom, and thinking about Richard Brown, a character in “The Hours,” whose ending left me listless and hanging loosely on the edge of existence for many days after finishing the book.

“The Hours” was a tough book to follow through in one sitting. I had to read  it three times, trying to figure out the correct map to escape the labyrinth of marvelous word phrases, the connections that were intelligently weaved together as if one character is walking straight into the other characters’ life at the end and the beginning of each chapter. The stream of consciousness is the wall standing between me and the full understanding of the work.

But I climbed over the wall, and seeing Richard Brown, I am glad I did. I guess after all, I am so used to being the stronger one to even think about giving up. And what’s the cost, you might wonder? It’s simple, I have carried Richard Brown with me ever since. I kept thinking about the tiny apartment filled with nothing but papers, books, and trashes littering everywhere. Sitting there on the window panes, Richard Brown, now a moving skeleton – the glamor of youth has gone, the little fire of passion had died out, even the dying sparks had lost within those glistening eyes that used to see life filled with its colors and accept all of them – Richard Brown jumped.

I guess in that moment, Richard Brown only wants to be free. Free from himself. Free from the torture the world had put on his shoulders. Free from the weight ties to his ankles to sink him down the river deep. Free from everything. Will that decision ever bring him happiness? We will never know.

What I know after Richard’s ending is that he is not the stronger one. And because after so many battles, so many wounds, the world still cannot break him, so it kills him instead.

I wonder if he ever had a wish – a fervent desire of some sort – to be saved. But to be saved from what? I get the feeling that whatever Richard had done within the many decades of his life, he had done it to get out of himself. Just like Patrick Modiano’s Louki, he finally had enough and he let himself go.  

“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Sanity is an important theme that intertwined the life of all the characters in “The Hours.” Ms. Virginia Woolf, in the quote above from her letter to her husband, Leonard, displays the sanity within the insanity of her mind. She was able to look life in the face, to see it for what it is and still, fall in love with it. Despite knowing that the void within her, the darkness that would eventually drive her to her own dead, can never be fulfilled by whatever beauty life has to offer, Ms. Woolf chose life. Always the love. Always the hours.

“There is a beauty in the world, though it’s harsher than we expect it to be.”

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

The notion that there will always be beauty in the world, though it is harsh, cruel, and cold-hearted, is something that a majority of authors want to say. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez once wrote, “There is always something left to love,” there is always beauty in the world. As Ms. Woolf sinks further down the river and takes within her the final moment of the world above, she finally sees it. The beauty of a breeze. The beauty of a mother and a child passing by, laughing, living, breathing. The beauty of life moving on, either with her or without her. And isn’t she glad that within that moment, she chose life. The beauty of life, of living, of existing and refusing to be killed by the force itself. Her decision to end her life, in spite her telling her husband that she chose life, is irrelevant.

Perhaps one can sink down a river, or jump out a window, and still maintain that child-like passion, that innocence of age, filled to the brim with an undying love for life. Perhaps they find in that undying love for life a sadness called “Despair,” because with that much love, life still cannot fill the void in their heart, the calling from their soul, saying, Take me with you. Perhaps Ms. Woolf’s decision and Richard Brown’s decision are, as Leonard Cohen puts it, their final attempt to try, in their own way, to be free.

I often wonder, What will happen after being free?

Or what burdens, what heavy weights, what walls, what locks and chains Ms. Woolf, Richard Brown, and all others like them, to choose life and end up dying?

What voices, what songs, what rhymes that can convince them that there’s nothing left, that they have one only option, and that option is dead?

Recently I’ve been listening to this song, Bird on Wire, on repeat. It does not help me get back on track, but it fulfilled my desire to be consoled.

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

Bird on Wire, Leonard Cohen

I read “The Hours” about three years ago. Talking about it now is kind of too little, too late. I have almost forgotten most part of it, and I don’t have the physical book with me right now. Despite all that and the cruel passage of time, Richard Brown still remains. I wonder if he gets his wings, finally. I wonder if he, as his body falls down the apartment building, in his consciousness, at last, be happy that he is free.

No hopes. No dream. No futurity in any of his final hours. It’s just him lying there, stopping his stream of consciousness. Only then can he smile. Only then can he achieve the things he desires most of all. He chose life with his own love for despair, and there’s no going back from that.

After all, he had tried in his way to be free.

I also tried to be free. I don’t have any pretty stories to tell, except that now I’m living on my happy pills, and for that, I thank God. I often ask her, How much do you think happiness cost?

Well, at least, for now, it’s about $25.

How do you know?

‘Cause that’s the cost of the pills to pull you out of the bed and walking again.

So do you think it’s cheap? Or do you think it’s too expensive?

Doesn’t matter what I think. I just think how funny it is that happiness has such a price tag to it.

I imagine myself, one of these days, stepping on the cobblestoned road leading to the river, with weights in my pockets, and just flow away. But I know I will never be able to do that.

I also choose life, you see, but I don’t want the hours of the past. I don’t want what I have between me, my mother, my sister, and everyone I love to become just another faded photograph or worse still, a deleted picture on their phones.

I choose life, and I choose to live on. I choose to see my mother happy. I choose to see my sister with her silly jokes. I choose to see a midnight flower blooms in the garden. And yes, life has broken me, trampled upon me, all that stuff.

But I won’t let it kill me. And I hope you also will not, because you don’t know what wounds you will leave behind when you’re gone.

And finally, to end this episode, I will leave you with a bittersweet quote from “The Hours:”

“That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other.”

The Hours, Michael Cunningham

Stay alive. Getting through the hours, the days, the weeks, the months. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. And if you can’t crawl, I will always be here to pull you through. Do whatever it takes just to get through the hour.

Thank you for making it to this point of the podcast. As you might, or might not, have known, I am doing poems and novel reading sessions on my Patreon account, which is link in the description of the podcast. Your donation, no matter how small, is urgently needed and will contribute greatly to the maintenance and the continuation of this podcast series. With as much as $3, you can get access to my monthly poems reading session, and with as much as $9, you can get access to my weekly novel reading session and monthly livestream where I talk about my life and work. So please get to my Patreon account and become a Patron today to get access to Patron-only content.

This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Hush, baby, hush

Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata – First Movement

The date is 28th of April. The weather is nothing but hot and humid. We step on the first stones to cross to the other side of the mountain. The bus left us by the grassy roadside, where the old and rotten wooden board with the wasted words, “S. Village Station,” hang lowly by the bushes. There you go, the bus driver said, Here is as far as I will go.

And thus, back to where we are, the first stones to cross to the other side of the mountain. The weather is nothing but hot and humid.

I wonder if this is the same place S. ended up. I wonder if he had gone down the same unpaved, rocky road. I wonder if I look any more closer, the three of us will find his cold corpse somewhere amidst the growing greens and the buried rocks, staring at us with his empty eyes, his flesh rottens, his bones showing through the decaying skin.

It’s been three months since S. started his investigation into the disappearance of young tourism in the S. village. And he is nowhere to be seen.

Hey man, you hear anything? M. says, tugging on Z.’s sleeve.

What? Ain’t nothing to be heard in the forest?

No, for real man. Listen carefully. There’s something in this forest man. It’s familiar. It’s like – It’s tugging on my mind, I can’t figure it out but it’s familiar. It’s like –

I stand straight up, inhale deeply, and look around. A faint melody rings in my ear. It sure sounds familiar. I close my eyes, trying to dig through the foggy my memory to find out what it is. Weird. I usually can pull out the name of such classical tune. Blindingly stepping in the direction of the melody, my feet seem to glide on air, and when I come to, I really did glide on air.

Man, you okay there? Z. comes up to me, followed by the heavy footsteps of M., who is shouting that there is something gripping firmly onto his feet.

Yeah?

You were walking like you were on air.

Oh?

I sit up and look down. Under my feet is –

Shit, man, they are human corpses. Everywhere. Fucking human corpses, M. shouts, falling on his back.

Ah, now I remember. The melody. It is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The first movement.

Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 17 “Tempest”

The date is 28th of April. The weather is nothing but hot and humid. We come to S. village when the sun is coming down and settling itself under the mountain. There is no one going out to meet us, of course, because there were no appointments made for the three of us to go out here. The shops are all closed, except for some night diners and a few motels. It seem the modern age has left this town alone for quite sometimes. The electricity is scarce and the wireless network is almost nowhere to be found.

Man, this place gives me the creeps, Z. shuffles the bags on his shoulders and whispers under his breath.

Don’t mention it. You will remind me of the pile of corpses out in the forest.

Hey, I say, tugging on M.’s sleeve.

What?

Is it still on?

What is still on?

The human skin. Is it still on the bottom of your shoes?

Man, you sick or what? M. shouts at me and walks in anger to the first motel in sight.

You shouldn’t have said that, Z. walks by me and sighs heavily, The man is traumatized enough by the scene.

Yeah? I know, I say, But I keep on having that vision.

What vision?

That if we keep on looking, closer, we might have found his corpse.

Whose corpse? S.’s?

Yeah.

Don’t be so negative. The man might still be alive. I mean his GPS is still on and stuff.

Yeah.

We walk to where M. is standing, negotiating with the motel’s owner. I keep thinking about what Z. said. During those three months of disappearance, S.’s GPS was always on. That’s how we knew he ended up in this shithole place. But that was it. Only the GPS. No news. Not messages. No mails. We got nothing else from him except the little shiny red dot on the screen telling us where to find him, dead or alive.

So really, Z., how can I not be negative?

Hello, are you the new tourist here?

I look over. By the stone wall, there is a group of three (or four, I don’t know, it is getting dark, and I don’t even know why they are still outside at this hour of the day) students. Among them, the one to speak up is this shy, timid little boy, who must still be under eighteen. The darkness of the night heightens the deep shade of bluish-green of his dark, ravenous hair, and the dimly lit street lamp lights up his pair of quizzical eyes. I don’t think I have ever seen such beauty in a boy his age.

Sir? Are you the new tourist here?

Let’s go, Y. He’s dumb.

Yeah, let’s go.

But he looks strange, the boy called Y. says to his friend, like he’s lost, Y. turns to look at me as if to make sure of what he just said.

Yes, I am a new tourist here, I reply, But I come with my friend, and I am not lost.

He tilts his head to the side, takes a closer look at my dishevel figure as my friends start to come around, and smiles. Not a usual smile where I often see in the city. I guess it’s different in villages.

Man, is there something wrong?

I look at the boy’s smiles and again, blindingly say, Nah.

The boy’s half-moon eyes glisten at my simple statement and coincidentally, both him and my friends say, Are you sure?

Yeah, I say, Pretty sure, though I am not sure who the answer is pointed to: the boy or my friends.

Okay. See you later, Mr. Tourist.

Okay.

M. stares at the shadow of the boy as he walks away with his group of friends, laughing; his eyes squint at the black costume like the color of S.’s coffin that I always see in my dreams.

Be careful with the boy.

Why? He’s just a boy.

Don’t know. He just gives me the creeps.

Like the corpse forest?

Man, don’t bring that up.

Sure.

You don’t understand what we are putting ourselves into, do you?

What do you mean?

Like you are lost.

Since when?

Since S.’s been gone.

Yeah.

Dude, there’s no certain proof that S. died.

Yeah.

Anyways, he sighs heavily, Don’t get involved with that kid. He’s weird. Or better yet, don’t get involved with anyone in this village.

Yeah.

I walk inside the motel. The rooms are all lay out for us with new bedsheets and welcome drink. Tired and worn out after a day of climbing the mountain, I changed my clothes and lie down. Between the darkness of my eyelid and the strangely yellowish light of the street lamps outside the windows, I keep thinking of the boy’s figure as he stood between the shadow and the light. He stood there, tilting his head to the side, his dark eyes glistened, his smile lit up on a forest of corpses. Behind him is the figure of S. on the electric piano inside our tiny apartment. He’s playing something by Beethoven, his favorite composer. Both the boy and S. ask me, Are you sure?

I remember the melody instantly this time. It was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 – “Tempest.”

Yeah, I reply, and ever since S.’s disappearance, I cry on the motel’s cheap pillow like a 3-year-old child again as if I had found his arms amidst the decaying arms of the corpse forest. As if I had found his eyes, still staring sweetly at me, amidst the eyes sockets and the anonymous skulls. As if I had found him, dead, but still him, in my embrace, in our tiny apartment. And he was still there, forever there, playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 – “Tempest.”

(unfinished)

Podcast: Elvis Presley – Are You Lonesome Tonight

Is your heart filled with pain?

Shall I come back again?

Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

Hi, this is Thanh Dinh, and welcome back to another episode of the Radio of Resistance, where we, no matter what happens, believe that there will always be something left to love in this world.

Unfortunately, or really, fortunately, there are no heavy books nor depressive poems to discuss this week. I was just sitting there brainstorming for a perfect episode this week and the song was still on. So there you have it: a not so pretty decision on how I will discuss Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” for today’s podcast episode.

You know, I came across Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight” once, when I was struck by the beauty of the moon and took a step down the abyss too quickly. And though the abyss was beautiful, and though only by lying underneath it, I can truly see how sad and lonely the moon was beneath all her beauty, I swore to myself I would never do it again.

But listen to Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight”? That I still do. Not religiously. But when the song comes on randomly on a moonlit night on my playlist, I let it bring me back to the same abyss.

Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

I had fallen in love once, when I heard Elvis’s“Are You Lonesome Tonight.” And the time I had fallen out of that love, I had cried listening to Elvis’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Till this day, many things had changed. I moved out of the old apartment, so the chairs in the parlor are no longer there. The doorstep had been painted a new shade of white. The lightbulb in front of the doorstep had been broken far too many times and I just refused to change it. The new apartment has a night balcony where I can place a night couple of chairs there. A set of coffee table, perhaps. But I don’t.

I guess all I ever did was just that. Running away from the moonlit abyss. Running away from the empty and bare chairs in the apartment’s parlor. Running away from the familiar shadow under the lightbulb at the doorstep.

And I must say, I have never been quite successful with it.

Honey, you lied when you said you loved me
And I had no cause to doubt you.
But I’d rather go on hearing your lies
Than go on living without you.

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

I remember the time when I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons.” There is so much to talk about it that I believe I must devote a whole episode to discuss that novel. But here, within the frame of this episode, I will just discuss how love could not save anything.

The next part might contain spoiler of the novel, so if you don’t want to hear it, you may fast forward to the part where I return to the moonlit abyss.

So, “Of Love and Other Demons.” How is it relevant here when I used the quotes above from “Are You Lonesome Tonight”?

It is because when I reach the ending of the novel, when the little girl, who believe that the young priest who had confessed his love for her will try his best to save her from the torture of the church, can finally be saved by love. But as with all of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels, and as with all that happens in life, the secret passage leading to the girl’s room was blocked by a wall. The girl was, thus, taken away and killed by the church’s horrendous exorcism, leaving the young priest on the other side of the wall, scratching at the walls, hoping that by sheer will, he can take the wall down.

I always think it’s strange. How we always know that love can never save anything. How, by instinct, we know that the words of love spoken to us are almost all filthy lies. And yet, we all choose to go on believing in it, living on it, building a house with it as our foundation.

Because I’d rather go on hearing your lies, than go on living without you.

Once when I was still a young student, I made an intelligent mistake by taking a Psychology 101 class, which I believe I had mentioned once before in one of the episodes. Pulling an all nighter reading the chapters for the classess, I still remembered the part where they said being single brought about as much happiness as being married.

I have very little knowledge on how they conduct the experiment, nor how they come up with the result. After all, I am far from a perfect Psychology student. You can see it in the way I never take another psychology class during my university years.

But all things aside, if there is one thing I know for certain, from the many lives I see passing by and the many lives staying, is that human is an extremely lonely creature.

So like what they say in a song. I don’t like to sleep alone; it’s sad to think some folks do.

Once, when my mom and my sister had to come back to Vietnam before me, and I had to stay alone in the two-bedroom apartment filled with the memories of human connections, it’s obvious to say that I rarely stay there. I hung around the nearby mall from the opening hour till the closing hour, then I went to the nearby coffee shop, where, at that time, the owner opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And I would stay there, waiting for the warm coffee to turn cold, watching people come and leave, until my eyes tired out. Then I would cross the park and sit on the cold bench, watching the waning moon on the dawning sky.

During that period, I didn’t sleep much. I just let life tires me out, like normal people my age do when they get lonely. Because even if I get sad, even if I get hurt, or even if the empty and bare chairs at my apartment keep reminding me of the jump down the moonlit abyss, there’s no one there to save me. Either from myself, or from the memories that were threatening to pull me down the abyss again.

So I don’t know if being single would really bring about as much happiness as being married. Judging from the marriages I know, which is not that many, I would say it does make some sense.

But the part of me who still lied down at the abyss, looking up at the sad and desolate moon, seeing all her beauty and sadness, still think of a happiness in marriage. A compromise of some sort. Not the kind of compromise where one needs to go on hearing lies because one doesn’t want to go on living without the other. Nor the kind of compromise where one is dying on the exorcist bed while one is scratching forever at the wall, hoping love can save something – anything – from the cruelity of itself and of other demons.

I am talking about a compromise where even if love was lost, I hold onto the agony, watching you leave, and wishing that you can find someone else who can love you as much as I did love you[1].

Or the kind of compromise where you can just leave, because I am a madman in the garden of love and a drunkard on the roadside: a madman doesn’t know sadness and a drunkard can hardly remember anything[2].

Or the kind of compromise where:

Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there
With emptiness all around
And if you won’t come back to me
Then make them bring the curtain down.

Are You Lonesome Tonight, sung by Elvis Presley

And just so you know, I am still under the abyss, waiting. I never tell anyone to bring the curtain down. Not that I believe that the “you” in Elvis’s song will come back: that is far too optimistic, even for someone like me. I am just enjoying the abyss. Or as my therapist puts it, I am afraid that once I bring the curtain down, once I climb back on, I fear that I will have to jump again.

It seems to me you are running away, he says to me, under a thick layer of mask. And since our time is up, I can’t tell him that we are all running away. Be it me or him or anyone else. We are all running away in our own way. We know that we will have to bring the curtain down. We know that we will have to climb up the abyss. But just for a little while, as we are tired out, and while the blue is so blue and the green is so green, while the moon is still sad and desolate on the star-lit sky, let we run away. Let we lie here. Let we take a break from being the strong us, the never broken us, the willful us, the undestroyable us. Let the moon take us in her bosom.

Let us be weak.

Once I read Alice Munro’s “Runaway,” and the most impressive sentence that still remains within with me was how the poet’s widow was sorry for mistaking the female protagonist’s happiness for her freedom. And coincidentally, recently, when I listen to Elain Page’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” there is the line, “I chose freedom.”

And so, it seems freedom and happiness are not so closely co-related as I imagined. So if you are still trapped inside that empty and bare apartment, waiting, longing; if you are still standing on the bare stage and getting ready to tell them to bring the curtain down, do remember, you have the choice.

Like how the father in “Of Love and Other Demons” said, though it might be true that love can save everything, it’s best if you don’t believe in it.

It’s all in your hands. You can choose to go on hearing the lies, and you can also choose to walk away. You can choose freedom as much as you can choose happiness. You can choose to believe in the power of love as much as not to believe in it.

And though it might be true, that humans are the most lonesome creatures on this Earth, we also have a powerful imagination to combat against it. As children, we fight against the night with tales from far, far away countries’ princesses and princes. As adults, we fight against the loneliness with the moonlit sky, a one-person waltz as Chopin is blasting in our apartment, a one-night-only performance of Cher’s song.

It seems to me you are running away, my therapist says.

No, I say to him, you know what else I call it? I call it doing everything to survive.

So bring out the dancers in you. Bring out the singers in you. Bring out everything in you. Because as a human race, we have survive the First World War. We have survive the Second World War. And though there is still a war for equality happening outside our windows at the very moment, there is nothing to say that we won’t survive this, too.

Thank you for making it to this point of the podcast. As you might, or might not, have known, I am doing poems and novel reading sessions on my Patreon account at https://www.patreon.com/bipolar_psyche. Your donation, no matter how small, will contribute greatly to the maintenance and the continuation of this podcast series. With as much as $3, you can get access to my monthly poems reading session, and with as much as $9, you can get access to my weekly novel reading session and monthly livestream where I talk about my life and work. So please get to my Patreon account and become a Patron today to get access to Patron-only content.

To any fighter who has made it to the end of today’s podcast, thank you for your continuation support. This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.


[1] Dù Tình Yêu Đã Mất, sung by Khánh Ly

[2] Mùa Đông Của Anh, sung by Khánh Ly

Since You’ve Been Gone

To M. and the memories we shared.

Since you’ve been gone,

I don’t even know if I’m outside more

or if I’m just staying inside and imagine that I’m still on the outside.

I visited the café at the corner – they’ve just opened;

the menus are all new and the chairs are made of old shaven wood

but all I can think about

is how you would enjoy the wooden decor and the hand-painted walls

and how we would talk on and on about how coconut milk is not

real milk.

Since you’ve been gone,

I don’t know if checking my emails each 5 seconds had, naturally,

grown to be my happiness;

or if I had simply let it become a part of my happiness, grudgingly.

I remember your habit of putting smileys at the end of each sentence,

how you always say I should treat myself better,

how you never care for an honorific at the beginning of the letter,

or how you just end the emails with a simple period

like the story of us.

Since you’ve been gone,

I adopted another cat.

No one in my house like him.

He suffered abuse and now he doesn’t know how to act around human:

Just like me.

I wonder if kindness will fix him up

because it surely didn’t fix me.

I don’t know if I should wait and see the final act of this theatrical story

or if I should just stand up and walk out.

Since you’ve been gone,

there is a lot of things I learn

but I couldn’t learn how to trust me,

or anyone else ever again.

Podcast: Charles Bukowski – You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense

Hi, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance. I am your host, Thanh Dinh, who had overcome the weary of sleepless nights, walked across tideless ocean, and crossed barren, cold, cruel bosom of the deserts to come back to you with another episode.

Because I made a promise to you that the resistance will be back. And it will be stronger than ever. And the me who have been so very tired of broken promises and the impossibility of dreams just have to will myself back to the resistance, no matter what.

So, within the week that I had been gone, the world had been on fire. Not that I had anything to do with it, because I believe I will never have that big of an importance on anything, anyone, or any matter, really.

No. It’s never one person. It’s all of us.

Before I get into Charles Bukowski and Arthur Rimbaud, I would like to have a few words about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. If the content might offend you in any ways, feel free to quit the episode now, or fast forward to the part about Charles Bukowski. But if the content is what you come here for, as with any other episode of the Resistance, feel free to stay.

Sometimes after George Floyd’s death, I came upon a series of art to raise awareness about Black Lives Matter, which contained the last words by African American victims who were killed by police force.

You know, I often thought words alone hardly have any power with it. It’s the back story. It’s the emotion. The history. The lives after the words were said and the lives that were lived before them.

And this series of Black Lives Matter art hits it right there: the highest power of words. The strongest power of meaning. That the people who were shot, the people who were killed, the people who said those last words, once lived a life like us.

They go to the grocery store like us. They sometimes stop at their usual coffee store like us while wondering whether they should order the store’s new drinks like us. They often – maybe far too often – forget to air out the laundry like us. They might not like cleaning their room, after all, cleaning does not always bring joy like how Marie Kondo teaches us.

And suddenly, on a normal night, while our life moves on, their lives end.

They ends with simple words. Like “Don’t shoot.” Or “You shot me.” Or “I don’t have a gun.”

Or “I can’t breathe.”

They are college students. Football players. Passerby. If you force me to point out something – anything – in common between them, dear sir and madam, there’s only one. It’s the color of their skin.

I used to take a Psychology 101 course in college. My professor posits that the minority often faces prejudiction and discrimination because the proportion of the people in their community who commit the crimes to the proportion of their whole community is, in the eyes of the normal community, or the majority community, disproportionally large. And thus, they are far more likely face stigma, stereotype, prejudiction, and discrimination.

Like a black dot on a white paper. If the paper is large enough, you can hardly see the black dot. But if the paper is too thin, too small, the black dot is all you can see.

Seeing the series of the Black Live Matters art, I wonder what the police officers see in the victims’ eyes. Is it the black dot? Is it the white paper? Is it a human, belong to a minority community, which, unfortunately, had been subjected to a history of racism, brutality, injustice, and discrimination?

I was handy with a rifle

My father’s .303

We fought for something final

Not the right to disagree.

Happens to the Heart, Leonard Cohen

We fought many wars. We’ve been to many battles. We’ve seen blood shed and lives being lost. There are two comrades eating food ration by our side this morning, and now there are only us.

And yet, we still maintain the right to disagree.

We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.

Charles Bukowski

I won’t be dancing around who Charles Bukowski was, just like how later on, I won’t dance around who Arthur Rimbaud was. After all, as Mr. Bukowski puts it, those are trivialities, and I dont’ want to be eaten up but them.

Just like how in the world outside, people always let the trivialities eat them up real sweet.

I wonder until when we will realize that, no matter what our skin color is, no matter what sins we commit, no matter what good deeds we ever do, it won’t save us from dying. I wonder if we will be horrified by that thought once we realize it. Or just like me, you will feel a sense of relief. A sense of nothing ever matter anymore. A sense of all is well.

A sense of because we are going to the end, this, too, shall pass.

Right when I realized that thought, I went up and hugged my mother. My mother shall pass. She will pass before me. Her burdern will also end before mine, and for that, I should be glad. She held my hands in hers and asked me what’s wrong with her gentle smile, and though within that moment, nothing was wrong, this was forever ingrained in my heart.

That we are all dying. That one of these days, I will continue to fight this battle alone, without my mother – my strongest comrade and commander. That it is true, as with all battles, there might be two of us this morning, but there will always be only me this evening. And I must go on.

And for God’s sake, can we foresake the right to disagreement?

You know I’m damned! I’m drunk, crazy, livid,

Whatever! But please, go to bed:

Righteous?!

I don’t want anything to do with your torpid thoughts.

The Righteous Man…, Arthur Rimbaud

It’s hard to find any better storytelling in poetry better than Arthur Rimbaud’s. It’s even harder to find any better satire in poetry than Arthur Rimbaud’s. But I will leave it at that, because I believe that in my audience, there has forever and always been an Arthur Rimbaud, and I don’t want my Arthur Rimbaud to blur out yours.

And we will leave it at that to go back to Mr. Rimbaud’s Righteous Man. A person who is damned. Who you can called a drunkard, crazy, livid, or whatever. But never Righteous. A person who demands to be free of your torpid thoughts and standards. He demands to be living, to not be framed by words, to not be treated as a dead definition. To be free.

And I wonder how many of us had, once in our lives, thought like that. I don’t want to be righteous. Call me anything you like. Use your torpid thoughts and dead definitions against me, I don’t mind. I have grown to weary of choosing side, and I don’t know if your side is a better bargain because staying this long in the battle, we both know there’s no wrong or right. So I will stay here. I will fight for something final. And stop calling me righteous, I don’t want to be a hero.

[…] the courage it took to get out of bed each

morning

to face the same things

over and over

was enormous.

the freeway life, Charles Bukowski

This is coming from the author who declared that life in America is a curious thing. I guess life everywhere, as it happens, is a curious thing. The lines above are the ending lines after the description of the incident where Mr. Bukowski had to deal with his car keep on being broken on the freeway. The courage to get out of bed each morning, of course, relates less to his car than to living the freeway life.

The life of knowing your gasoline tank breaks but have no one to call and the people behind keep pushing you out of their way. The life where all you can depend upon is some service done by some strangers whom you rarely have a chance to get to know better. And after all, why should you know them better? Perhaps after knowing you better, they will stop fixing your car. The life of thinking everything has finally gone back to normal, then God turns around and notices that he had been far too easy on you this time so he decides to pull another 90 on the freeway and break your car again.

Yest, that kind of life. The courage it took to get out of bed each morning to face the same things over and over – to face that kind of life over and over – was enormous.

And curiously enough, we all share that kind of life.

No less beautifully, and with no fear of the grave,

Let him believe in open endings, Dreams

Or endless Promenades through nights of Truth,

And may he call you to his soul and sickly limbs,

O Sister of charity, O mystery, O Death!

Sisters of Charity, Arthur Rimbaud

Where Bukowski treats life as a burden, Rimbaud treats life, and death, as an acceptance of the truth. Yes, we’ve been living. Yes, the result of the living is the dead. Yes, I have no question about that. And when the time calls for me, I will return to the home where I once was, no less beautifully, and with no fear of the grave.

It is fair to say, if you have made it this far into the podcast, that I am Charles Bukowski, and I long to be Arthur Rimbaud. I am living the freeway life, I know that we are all going to die, and to me, life is a curious thing. I muster the enormous courage required of me to wake up in the morning and face the same thing, over and over again.

But while living as Bukowski in disguise, I long for the one of these days, where I can see beauty of flowers in the eyes of the young Arthur Rimbaud. The disgust he showed for the torpid thoughts of humanity. The rebel he held against the ugly dead definition. I yearn to have the same youthful heart that holds passion and desire near and dear. A heart that fear nothing of the death and nothing of the living. A heart that finds within it the strength to believe there is beauty beneath the grotesque surface that life shows to it.

And though to me, Charles Bukowski will always has his reasons, after all, to him, “nothing matters and we know nothing matters and that matters …,” his poems sometimes are too pessimistic. And I think that we will fare better in this business call “Life” if we allow ourselves to enjoy Rimbaud’s flowers and sea-bearer here and there. And if you ask what do I mean with that, it’s easy.

You can find enough poison and strong liquor in Charles Bukowski’s works, and for that, you can only find relief in Arthur Rimbaud’s beautiful verses.

Don’t live the Bukowski life. Live the Rimbaud life. A life where no dead definition and humanity’s torpid thoughts can define you. A life where you are your own rebel.

Whether in Babylon or Bayonne –

Let them ramble, let them range

Over paper like low moans:

Graze the poem: make it strange.

On the subject of flowers: Remark, addressed to the poet, Arthur Rimbaud

I also think it is strange that I should end this episode with a quote from Rimbaud’s critique on another poet’s work. But I don’t want you to focus on the clever word play and the fiery emotion Rimbaud had put in the long remark. I only want to focus on how Rimbaud had ended the poem, and how I want to end my podcast with it. No matter where you are, physically, emotionally, literally, metaphorically, be a rebel. Let your poems ramble, let them range. Graze your poems, make them strange.

And yes, indeed, it takes an enormouse strength to get out of bed each morning to face the same thing over and over again. But there are more to living the freeway life than facing the same thing each and every morning. There are more to living that just existing and breathing.

For example, within this very moment of chaos and unrest, you can leave your freeway life. You can step out of the dark. You can leave your broken car behind and join the mass of people who are fighting for a cause higher that you.

Like Arthur Rimbaud, you can be a rebel. And there is no better time than now to be a rebel.

For all of you who had made it to the end of the episode, thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. If you want to support the podcast, which is dearly in need of support, please become a Patron on my Patreon, which is linked in the podcast description. If there is an author you want to share with me, or if you just want someone to talk, send me an email at the address in the podcast description. For more of my works, which include a poetry collection, short proses, and novels, you can check out my blog at tasteofsmallthings.com.

Once again, thank you for your patience. This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.

Tomorrow

And Even If Love Was Lost, Chapter 1

I am tired of hearing you say it never happens to us.

I am also tired of hearing you say it’s all because of the media.

I have faith in what I see. And what I see tells me that I don’t want my mother, tired and weary with a burden far too heavy for her frail body and her old age, to, one of these day, witness the same incident happens to her children.

No mothers, no matter what choices they made, what mistakes they committed, what sins they fell into, deserve to witness their children going through the same incident.

Yes. Tomorrow will always happen. Tomorrow will always come. And perhaps even before we amend what we have broken, the tomorrow we fear is already here.
And yes. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. We don’t know if that tomorrow is better for us or for them. And anyways, be us or them, we are all on the same side. After all, Death doesn’t judge anyone based on anything.

But at the end of the day, I am here. Not choosing side. Tired of the philosophical question of right and wrong. Crying for what we can’t change, what we can change but chose not to, and what we already changed but made so, so little effort on everything.

I am only here, wishing that the tomorrow that will come, one of these days, that tomorrow will be better for my children, and all children that are asking to be born.

And I am willing to lay my life down to bet on that tomorrow.

Chapter 19: Only You Know

Sit down. State your name. Tell your story.

This will be a little bit personal, Sir.

Yeah, but will it be relevant to the case?

That I don’t know, Sir.

Then tell it anyway.

Are you saying that you have the authority to judge which ones of the evidences are relevant to the case and which ones are not, Sir?

We will see to it.

I was lighting up the rusty yellow bulb in front of Uncle Hai’s wretch of a door. Hai was late. He was always late.

Like the other day. Uncle Hai told him to come home at 7, ‘cause dinner won’t wait for no one. Or yesterday, when he told me he would be home by 5 ‘cause the café was emptier than the word “empty” itself.

Or like today, when I tugged on his wrist, asking him to come home by 7. “I don’t know, ‘cause dinner won’t wait?”

“Nha, Aunt Sau includes dinner in my employment.”

“‘Cause the café is empty anyways?”

“Only when Aunt Sau doesn’t fire the phong long paper.”

“It never works.”

“Who knows. Maybe today it will.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Then how can you be so sure?”

“’Cause – “

“Nha, we’ve been through this before.”

So you have been through this before?

Yeah. Whatever that was, we definitely have been through it many, many times before. Me putting out the questions. He refusing to stay. All of it all of it. So familiar.

And yet you were still putting out the questions?

‘Cause why not, yeah? Ain’t costing me nothing to try.

I let go of his thin wrist and thought about how the pale green veins lingered on my curious mind. The same shade of green of diluted watercolour, mingled with the feathery purple on a peacock’s tail. All of those forgotten beauties, hidden under the thin, cold human skin. A glimpse of the cold rejection from his hand made me forget my most stubborn reasons.

“‘Cause I’ll be waiting?”

 “You can sleep first, Nha.”

 “‘Cause the night is cold?”

“I have a coat.”

“You know damn well I’m running out of reason here.”

“Then try harder.”

“Say, what to do when one runs out of reason?”

Hai laughed. He put on his long-sleeve T-shirt – his so-called “coat.” Then, he fiddled with the buttons, brushed his short hair, and looked at himself in the mirror for the last time. Maybe he was waiting for me to said it. The right reason, dropping at the exact moment he walked one step out the door. I can imagine his light footstep, hanging on the door frame. And I wonder, How strange. How curious it was.

The way the smallest actions in the most ordinary setting can chip away at my heart.

“I don’t know, ‘cause I’ll be lonely?”

And were you lonely?

Why are you asking?

Because I think only lovers would feel that way about each other. But you were quite adamant in your interrogation in saying that you and him are not, as quoting here, “lovers.”

I don’t know. Is “lovers” the only choice?

Well, I don’t guess there is. But for the sake of convenience, we have to make do with one.

Then for the sake of convenience, we are not lovers, sir.

“Is that a statement or a question?”

“A statement?”

Hai didn’t answer. Of course. Even me, the owner of the embarrassing questioning statement, didn’t know how to answer it. But in a perfect world, he would say that I was right. That loneliness was always a good reason for someone to stay. That no one should never leave a criminal to his own solitude. He would say –

“You know that’s not helping. Loneliness is never a good reason for anything.”

Then he walked out the door. Leaving me waiting for him under the rusty yellow bulb in front of Uncle Hai’s wretched door.

Sometimes, it’s devastating to know that the only thing we can do for the one we care is nothing.

I took down the broken guitar I inherited by accident from Teo, my drinking buddy. The melody was never in tune. But like an old marriage, me and the guitar tolerated each other. And like how any old marriage turned out to be, we tolerated each other quite well.

In other words, the strings had stopped broken and my fingers had stop bleeding on the metal.

I strummed the strings to the melody of Hai’s recent obsession. He had these healthy obsessions with the not-so-healthy depressing songs. I had no right to judge. Though thinking back, I secretly despised the dreary melody of all the bad break-ups, the unrequited loves, and the raspy, sweet-nothing whispers that the singers sang to Hai’s ear each night.

Was that jealousy?

Is that jealousy?

Usually we would call that jealousy, yes.

And is jealousy only applicable to lovers?

There are many kinds of jealousy.

Then again, for the sake of convenience, let’s assume that this kind of jealousy, my jealousy, is not the lovers’ one.

Like the one I was strumming on the damned guitar. Ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.

Maybe one of these days, I will learn to love it.

Only you know where the oceans still have desires

Only you know, each and every night, I’m awake

“What are you doing with that broken guitar?”

I looked up at the source of the voice. I thought about how the angels on Heaven would sing to mortal men. For they have sinned. They have sinned from the day they figured out their only purpose in this life was –

“Drowning in this mess.”

“What mess?”

“Nothing. Just a song.”

“A song you can’t play?”

He asked me jokingly, unbuttoning his coat-T-shirt. He meant for me to fight back. And I was meant to be drowned.

“What song is it? Sounds a bit familiar.”

“I don’t know. That thing you played each night on repeat and you forced me to listen.”

“Oh. You have to narrow it down.”

“The one that goes, Ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.”

“Oh, that one. You’ve learned how to play it?”

“Yeah. Hear this.”

I strummed the string again, murmuring, Ta-ta-ta-ta –

“That’s not how to sing it. It’s more like this, One early morning, the sun shines through the leaves, and the wind yearns fervently – “

“Right. Don’t ask me to do the impossible.”

“Come on. Your singing couldn’t be any worse than your guitar skill.”

He signaled for me to continue the tune while he sang the first line of the chorus again. His eyes followed my crude fingers on the broken guitar. There was no tune or melody at all, no matter how hard I strummed the two strings left on it. All I could hear was Hai’s voice, leading the pack of flat, tedious sounds, turning the tuneless ta-ta-ta to the bad break-ups and the unrequited loves that I hated.

I watched his lips dance to the soundless music. My lips formed the same words of the lyrics again and again. In all of the impossibilities I could think of, our eyes met.

“So what’s after that?”

“What?”

“The song. How will it go after that?”

“Oh. Let’s see. Where are we at?”

“The second part. It starts at, Waiting for you – “

“Nah. I don’t remember that part.”

“Well, then what’s in your little brain? What can you remember? And don’t ta-ta me.”

He asked in that naturally provoking tone that I was so used to hearing. Anger didn’t work well with that tone. I threw him against the wall once, and it ended up making him more provocative.

But I knew what can work with it. I knew the things that can hang him on a rope, tighten his throat, and carve a beautiful scar on his thin neck. And I also knew I was not meant to use them.

But I used them anyways.

“I only know two lines from the song.”

“Well, go on. Sing it then.”

“Don’t laugh.”

“Promise.”

“It goes, Only you know –“

Only you know where the oceans still have desires

Only you know, each and every night, I’m awake

I suddenly realize I have lost in a strange place

I knew I was singing. But I wasn’t singing. I dropped the tender pain festering in my heart on the paper walls around Hai’s soul. I wasn’t singing. I spoke the words from the old folklore about the prince’s pining for another prince, who was getting married.

I wasn’t singing. It was but a raspy whisper from the despicable singer, which Hai used as an illusion of a lover’s lullaby on his sleepless nights.

I wasn’t singing. All I did was hurting both of us, because I was too much of a coward, and he was too much of an idiot.

“You should sing it to your lover,” he turned away, “you sing that part beautifully.” His long bang covered his face again, and he can’t see it. He can’t see my desire to break through that curtain of darkness and steal those eyes for myself.

Just like how I can’t clearly see him crying. All I did was imposing a feeling of sadness upon him. Maybe he wasn’t crying then. Maybe he never shedded a tear for all it took.

Maybe the saddest part of all my singing, all my acting, all my fervent yearning was just that – his love for me was not high enough to sink the pain in his soul under 8 feet of water, just for him to shed a tear.

“I don’t have a lover.”

“What do you have then?”

“An unrequited love for someone who loves me.”

“That so? I better get going.”

Hai stood up and hurried out the door, leaving me inside our make-believe world of thatched-roof and red brick walls. And by doing so, he protected me from the demons outside while crushing my soul and my existence at the same time. I talked to his fading shadow heading towards the darker side of the small village:

“I wasn’t singing, Hai. I was confessing a love that could never be.”

Was that relevant to the case, Sir?

I don’t know yet as to whether it is relevant to the case or not, Nha, but there is one thing I am sure of now.

And it is?

That this sounds more like a love story than anything I have ever heard of during my years of duty in this line of work.

I laugh. I can already see Hai protesting to the detective’s words, just as in his nature. But not me. Not this coward me. Not this spineless me. Not this criminal me, who the only wish now is just to see his face passing through the windows.

And I will sing to him, on the last of my day, my dearest, dearest little prostitute,

Only you know –