The Interrogative Mood: Questions with Heidi Huang

The following questions are taken from Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood.

hIf you could emigrate to any country in the world and support yourself there, which country would it be?

Germany – for the good beer and the way German children are taught.

Is there a particular odour or situation guaranteed to nauseate you?

People squabbling in high-pitched cacophony. I cannot stand nonsenses or/and noises.

Do you recall the last conversation you had with your parents?

Yes. We do that over the phone several times a week – with mom I have conversations, with dad I make a monologue.

Was there ever enough time?

There is always enough time for daydreaming and too little time to realize my dreams. It is like having my head in the clouds (“avoir la tête dans les nuages” like the French saying goes) and walking with my feet on the ground. Between my dreams and reality, I always manage to find a few minutes for a cup of tea.

What are the top three things in your life you wish you had not done, or done differently from the way you did them?

I used to think that I had a lot regrets, but as I struggle to list the top three things I realize that I am actually living my life without any big regret. So thank you very much for asking me this question!

Can you list the things you are afraid of, or is it easier to list the things you are not afraid of, or are you afraid of nothing, or are you essentially afraid of everything?

1. Snakes are really creepy. My mom and I were so close to the venomous fangs of a many-banded krait in the country house where we lived three decades ago. That’s why I am never a Harry Porter fan.

2. Calculus – the mere sound of it makes me shudder. (Did I tell you that I was enrolled as an economics major in college and switched my major to English Language and Literature?)

Would you say your man is Dickens or Trollope?

My answer to this question actually reveals my ignorance – what are the differences between Dickens and Trollope? My take on this question focuses on the doubtful phrase “my man” – it implies that I am in possession of a unique male human being who might be my father, brother, husband, or son… My father and my husband are both chemical engineers who don’t like long sentences with more than three adjectives. I don’t have any brothers. Luckily, I do see some literary talents in my five-year old son Charles who prefers Wordsworth to Du Fu just by the sound of the poems. So I think that my little man might be Goethe who believes in weltliteratur.

What do you think was the gentlest, sanest civilization in history?

Honestly, I think that a civilization becomes boring and declining when it is regarded as “the gentlest and sanest in history”. In that sense, any conveniently dead civilization could be the answer to this question.

Would you think that your vocabulary shrinks, expands, or holds constant over time?

My love vocabulary shrinks, my intellectual vocabulary expands, and my spiritual vocabulary holds constant.

What’s it like when you first wake up?

“It’s just another (extra)ordinary day.”

Do you want something said of you, or nothing said of you, when you go?

“She lived, loved, and created a life she loved.”

What are three basic things you need to be content in life?

1. I am a good enough mother, wife, daughter, teacher and scholar.
2. Of course I can always be better but better is the enemy of the good.
3. Being good enough makes me happy and content in life.

If you could be instantly fluent in a language you do not now speak, what language would it be?

German – so that I can read Gadamer in his own language, and emigrate to Germany. (See the first question.)

At what age would you say your character was set – that is, when do you think you were you?

I am still creating myself and I hope that this creation never ends till the end of my life.

Do you know what the actual song of a nightingale sounds like?

No, but I have already enjoyed the songs of nightingales in Andersen and Wilde. So no regrets.

Whose death, recent or not, do you most lament?

The late Russian cellist Mstislav Leopoldovitch Rostropovich – because he played the cello suites of Bach in such an elegant and unpretentious way that any interpretation after him seems dull or overdone to me. (Luckily, I discovered Jian Wang recently.)

Would you like to send a love letter to anyone?

Mstislav Leopoldovitch Rostropovich – but does it mean that I have to learn Russian? Love is short, languages are long, alas.

What for you are the characteristics that make a person extremely likable?

Quick wit, self-mockery, and silence at the right moment.

Are boys meaner than girls, or vice versa?

To the girls whose hearts are broken by my sons, I would say that boys are meaner than girls. And I wish that I never have to tell my Charles and Isaac that girls are meaner than boys.

Is there anything you’d like to ask me?

Do you think it is possible to write a rejection poem that could successfully be used to turn down suitors?

Tammy Ho: Yes, I think so. In my view, poetry does make things happen. It can be a kind of speech act, given the right circumstances. Although I haven’t written any ‘rejection poems’ (and I hope I never will have the need to write one), I have read some rather good imaginative rejection poems, such as A.D. Hope’s “His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell”, a cross-century response to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”.


HHeidi Huang is Lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature. She got her MA and PhD in Transcultural Studies in Lyon where she met her husband from Hong Kong. She is trying really hard to live a well-balanced life as a woman of faith, a supportive wife, a dolphin mom, a cheerful giver, an innovative scholar, and an inspiring teacher. [Click here to read all entries by Heidi.] [The “Interrogative” series]

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