In honor of long, lingering Sunday morning drivers, for today’s post, I thought I would defer to a TED Talk with Amy Tan on “How we create.”
But first, an anecdote.
When I was a senior in high school, a few friends and I visited UC Berkeley, the campus that would later be my alma mater. It was CAL Day, an annual event geared towards high school students interested in the University. You could tour dorm rooms (even stay over night in some), visit lectures, and see public talks. We happened upon one from Amy Tan.
Having read the Joy Luck Club together in a sophomore English class, my friends and I were excited. Here was a real writer (the first one we’d ever seen in person)! And she was Asian (as were we)! And we were alone in a new city (without the parentals for perhaps the first time)! And we were prone to exclamation points! We sat in the front row, and Amy Tan was everything we wanted her to be and more. Insightful and funny and witty, and perhaps that was the day I knew for sure that I wanted to be a “Writer.” She pulled out some Cliffs Notes for The Joy Luck Club (aka High School Cheat Sheets – an eighth of the length, all the content, but none of the pleasure), and she proceeded to poke fun at the way her work and her life were interpretted by others–her way of exploring the intersection of writer & student & teacher. She also had, propped beside the podium, a small black bag that you’ll see if you watch the TED Talk below. The SAME black bag, though the two talks have roughly ten years between them.
At the end of her presentation, rather than taking questions via raised hands, she passed around index cards and people wrote their questions down. The questions were collected, and she was able to flip through a fairly large stack and choose which to answer and which to avoid (the brilliance of this has only occurred to me now after witnessing many readings and many awkward Q&As). The answer to the first question took up most of the allotted time, and she was only able to answer one more. My friends and I watched in anticipation. I picture the three of us leaning forward in our chairs, our foreheads inches from the stage. And then, she stopped. “This is the one,” she said. The question she read was mine, and it was this: What’s in the bag?
I’d tell you the answer, but it’s better if you see for yourself…
I don’t know what it was about, this TED Talk. It isn’t that she says anything that I didn’t already know, but I’ve always found comfort in watching live readings. I usually leave them and all I want to do is to write for the rest of the night. I felt that way at the end of this talk. I hope it has the same affect on you.