January 16, 2004
My notes start to thin out by Saturday, January 10, but Amy Tan Saturday night was brilliant.
Panel: The Impact Of Culture
Jeanne Houston: Fifty years ago I was told I would never get a job as a journalist since I was both an Asian and a woman. So many talented women writers thus went in to some kind of social work.
In the internment camp at Manzanar in the high desert of eastern California, I was in an environment where the Japanese were in the majority. Strangely, in confinement, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded with people like me and I knew what it felt like not to be "the other".
Elizabeth Nunez: When I first came to Wisconsin, people weren't seeing me the way I saw them. The first thing people saw was the colour of my skin. I'd relate closely to students inside classes, but we had no relationship outside the college. I was never invited to a bar or to their parents' houses. In Trinidad, people would be inviting me home to meet their parents. As I gradually realized what that was all about, I began to feel shame related to skin colour.
Bharati Mukherjee: One role of the writer is to make the exotic familiar and make the familiar exotic.
Discussion: What Stories Must You Tell?
Robert Olin Butler: It is the yearning that drives a character. Fiction is the story of that yearning.
One of the panelists described a word in Spanish or Romanian which in English translated to mean:
"a sadness that you take pleasure in. The awareness of all the losses in life and the decision to cherish all you have including the awareness of loss."
Amy Tan's presentation on Saturday night was amazing. It began though with Miles introducing Amy Tan as someone who helped him learn how to deal with his mother. Miles talked of a time many years ago when he introduced his, now ex-wife to his mother. His mother's response (say in a southern accent): "Why I have nothing against Christians, I just have no use for them."
Amy began by saying how relieved there were no lengthy introductions at this conference because the introducers seem to get everything wrong. At another conference she was introduced as a woman with many experiences including dating an older man who had connections to organized crime. Yes, she says, Franz was older -- he was 22 and I was 16. And he did have a couple of Canadian friends who sold hashish, but they weren't that organized.
She talked about accidentally coming across a Cliff's Notes for the Joy Luck Club while waiting to give a reading in a bookstore. The Notes said she uses the phrase "invisible strength" often to describe the daughter in that book and it refers to the power of women and the power they get from their culture and more academic psychobabble. She said that wasn't on her mind at all. When she talked about "invisible strength" she was just referring to a phrase her mother would always say in Chinese which translates roughly as "Loud farts don't smell; the really smelly ones are deadly silent."
More notes on Amy Tan next time.