Usually I just wear my Wu t-shirt to Tai Chi class or the athletic club. Yesterday was pretty grey in central Oregon, so I decided to brighten it up with my yellow Wu attire.
Good decision. After a pleasant walk along the Metolius river, where this photo was taken, I had a couple of pleasant philosophical discussions stimulated by a "What does that mean?"
When I started my Wu Project some fifteen months ago, I knew that what I needed most of all, and first of all, was a Wu t-shirt. What's a project without a t-shirt?
I'm pretty sure that what I've got on my chest doesn't say Kick me or This dumb shit thinks this means Wu. The Wikipedia entry for "Mu/Wu" now shows the character in cursive script, but the small non-cursive icon looks like my t-shirt. Still, whenever someone Chinese walks by while I'm wearing it I prepare myself for hilarious laughter.
The cursive version is cool. Check out this animation that shows the calligraphy stroke order. Beautiful.
Like Wu. And conversations about Wu. My first was in the charming Camp Sherman store. One of the owners pointed at my chest and said, "Explain."
As if I could. But anyone who wears anything but a plain t-shirt should be willing to answer questions about the message they're broadcasting to the world.
"It's Chinese," I replied. "It means Wu. That's a negative—negation, nothingness. But it doesn't have, well, the negative sense we Westerners put on nothing. It's more like the universal that remains when everything particular is negated."
"Infinity," the owner said. "Exactly," I told her. Though exactly isn't exactly a word that fits with Wu, she seemed to hit the word-nail right on the head.
Anyway, it beat talking about the weather. Conversations like the one we had, even brief ones, are so much more satisfying than the usual "How's it going? … Fine" variety. It'd be nice if everybody had a t-shirt that succinctly expressed their philosophy of life (and they were amenable to talking about it).
My other t-shirt inspired conversation came near the end of the Metolius river trail, where you approach the headwaters and are stopped by a fence on private land.
The family pet and I had been following a woman and her yellow lab. Serena and I were faster walkers than they were. We caught up with them near the turning point. She was in her 70s. Her dog, about the same in dog years. The woman had the look of an elderly flower child.
Flowing smock. Brightly colored hearing aids, not disguised at all but prominently displayed in her ears like jewelry. Our dogs sniffed each other. Then she did the human equivalent.
She asked "What's that?" I started to go through my usual explanation, but she politely cut me off. "Yes, Wu. Like Wu-wei." Once again I said, "Exactly."
It turned out that she was a massage therapist who did Qigong. I told her that I practiced Tai Chi and had some experience with Qigong. I demonstrated the "wu chi" (readiness) posture and showed how "tai chi" makes an appearance as soon as Wu differentiates into one thing or another—yin or yang.
Listening to myself talk, I liked what I heard. Not because I was saying it. Because it made sense, in spite of the speaker's Wu ignorance.
"There's got to be something beyond everything that we can ever know or understand," I said. "Out there on the other side of beyond, that's Wu." She smiled.
She and her husband had just moved to Camp Sherman, a quirky community of 200 or so full-time residents. She'll fit right in. Folks around here resonate with Wu as the Metolius River wordlessly speaks it.
Wu as infinity ... Methinks I must obtain a Wu T-shirt. :)
Posted by: kay | June 05, 2007 at 06:32 AM
I like your wu t-shirt. I am a SAHW (stay at home wife)in Arizona and I love philosophical conversations. I have several t-shirts with some of my philosophies of my life.
2.) good at getting what I want
3.)scientific theory proven...the universe DOES revolve around me
4.) don't wanna, ain't gonna
5.)warning: attitude subject to change without notice
Posted by: Tracy | June 05, 2007 at 08:27 AM
Are there any symbols which try describe nothing? 0?
Any religious/philosophical symbols?
I would prefer wearing a white t-shirt, but apparently, that wouldn't spark many conversations.
Posted by: Ashwin | June 05, 2007 at 08:44 AM
I had a sweatshirt that had "zi you" on the front. I could tell the Chinese speakers because they would smile and nod. The word means "freedom" and shortly after the killings in Tianan Men Square, my parents bought the shirt for me.
One of the characters in zi you shows a field with a sprout. Sometimes, when I was asked what the character meant, I would say, "Grow up." I think the two concepts are inter-dependent.
An interesting etymological line for wu is the appearance of the ideas for "many" and for "burning" as if to say "consumed for forty days and nights."
Posted by: Edward | June 05, 2007 at 03:01 PM
I am Chinese. So delighted to see so many Chinese things in this post. We are starting the first Unitarian Univeralist community in Hong Kong---the Spiritual Seekers Society.
Posted by: liberale | June 09, 2007 at 10:43 AM
Hey Brian, I know this post of yours is 5 years old but I have to say for a man over 50 your in good shape. Your a vegetarian, you debunk the myth that vegetarians are skinny etc, kudos to you. I hope I'll be in the same shape as you when i'm your age.
Posted by: Gaz | September 30, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Gaz, thanks for the "man over 50" comment. I feel younger now. However, with a 64th birthday coming up soon, I've got to face my over 60 reality -- but also, thankfully, I'll also be facing all the presents I've been buying for myself and will give myself.
Yes, I am in good shape for someone my age. My current exercise obsession is longboarding (form of skateboarding). It's my new approach to enlightenment. Regardless if that happens, longboarding with a Big Stick is a great workout. See:
Posted by: Brian Hines | September 30, 2012 at 11:38 AM