Words are just approximations of truths known by our hearts.
That was the message from Bill Porter — aka Red Pine — Friday night to an attentive McCoy Studio Theater audience as the Merwin Conservancy presented its 13th Green Room literary salon at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Behind a bushy white beard, the twinkle in his eyes visible from the back seats, the travel writer and translator of Chinese literature and sacred Buddhist and Taoist texts talked about his adventures seeking out reclusive sages on remote Chinese mountains for his book “The Search for Solitude: China’s Hermit Tradition.”
Todd Van Amburgh introduced Porter to the large audience that included Renee Reilly, Susan Bradford, Joan and Mitch Berman, Molli Fleming, San Albers, Marnie Masuda-Cleveland and Sean Cleveland, Gary Greenberg and the Merwin Conservancy’s Jason Denhart and Sara Tekula.
Porter described himself as someone “who never had a job — I just went from doing one thing I’m interested in to another thing I’m interested in.” The American-born former resident of a Taiwanese Buddhist monastery has won numerous literary awards and sold a quarter-million copies of the Chinese translation of “The Search for Solitude” in China.
In person, his demeanor modestly and playfully embodies the Eastern wisdom he has translated into English. His voice was lilting as he recited — sang, actually — poetry in Chinese, with a glass of whiskey as his muse. Among the works he has translated is Lao Tzu’s “Taoteching,” a game changer in a lot of our lives, whose simple lines haven’t lost their immediacy since they were penned 25 centuries ago:
let there be armor and weapons
but no reason to employ them
let people return to the use of knots
and be satisfied with their food
and pleased with their clothing
and content with their homes
and happy with their customs
Zen realizations often come in the form of riddles, or koans, and Porter shared his humble bemusement at the curious nature of things. He likened the art of translation to dancing with a beautiful woman, being mindful not to step on her toes as you try to get closer to her mysteries.
It was rare and refreshing to encounter a writer so secure and content in the knowledge that whatever words he comes up with, in whatever language, will never be more than a best guess at what lies beneath them.
Speaking of words, Maui County Film Commissioner Tracy Bennett had some nice ones to share about “Kuleana,” the film written and directed by Brian Kohne that was produced and shot locally last summer and now is in the final stages of postproduction.
“After screening the beautiful Maui-made film “Kuleana” for Mayor Alan Arakawa and his wife, Ann, I’d like to send out warm Aloha to the cast & crew for a job well done!” wrote Tracy on the film office’s Facebook page. “I applaud the wonderful work of you all, and bringing a very important story to the screen is vital for our local filmmakers.”
Set on the island in 1959 (the year of statehood) and 1971, it brings to the screen a Maui that’s not here any more, along with Hawaiian values and language that still endure. Brian previewed “Kuleana” for a handful of us last week — Mike Spalding, Jack and Tara Dugan, Paul Janes-Brown, Michael Steifel, Mark Breithaupt and Marcus Griffen — and the moving mystery/drama got thumbs up all around.
Producer Stefan Schaefer co-stars as villainous Victor Coyle with leads Moronai Kanekoa, Kristina Anapau and Sonya Balmores, all of whom have deep roots in the islands as they pursue their careers in Hollywood.
Kainoa Horcajo and Branscombe Richmond are among the local folks registering powerful performances, but the 500 names scrolling in the final credits attest to what a community effort this has been, and what a cinematic milestone it will be when it’s released later this year.
Also on the film front, Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier emails to say that “2307: Winter’s Dream,” the futuristic adventure he co-produced with writer-director Joey Curtis and Robert Beaumont, just keeps picking up more prizes at festivals across the U.S.
It won Best Feature Film and Best Special Effects at the Orlando Film Festival and Best SciFi Movie at the 2017 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. That brings its prize tally to five, and counting. Later this month it’s going to festivals in North Carolina and Boston.
“Ho’omau,” another film he produced that took a prize at last fall’s Hawaii International Film Festival, will screen at the Kauai Film Festival this month. “And it’s coming to Maui soon,” Ken promises.
* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at email@example.com.