Monday, October 23, 2006

Amy Tan was working for her Ph.D in linguistics and also working at a pizza place in Danville where she lived.

Also working at the pizza place were her husband Lou and their roommate Dan.

They had at work scary encounters with gang members.

Dan began to have a feeling he was going to get killed. He moved to Berkeley, and Lou and Amy were going to move to the same building soon.

The first night Dan was in his new place Amy and Lou stayed there. The second night they were at home in Danville. Dan was killed, brutally, by people who had nothing to do with the Danville gangs, who probably specialized in robbing people who had just moved, and who were vicious.

The two guys who did it were caught. Amy Tan testified at their trial. They were found guilty.

Amy Tan also started right after Dan's death to get very pleasant dreams which were messages from Dan. Like he was right there, only calmer than in life. Filled with wisdom. Speaking in nature metaphors which Amy Tan both saw in 3-D and understood.

He was saying from death what he had said in life. She should use her linguistics training to help people who really needed help.

She dropped out of the Ph.D program and interviewed for a job counseling people whose kids were born with brain problems and physical problems that made it hard for them to speak, to be understood, to understand speech, or all of those.


She was both over-qualified and underqualified for this job, since she'd been pointing herself in an academic direction. She told the interviewer the whole story, the murder, the dreams, the work her friend knew, alive and dead, that she should do. She got the job.

She writes that nothing could have been better preparation for her current work, which is being a novelist. She writes about this life changing sequence in her non-fiction book, "The Opposite of Fate."

In working with parents to find what would be possible for their child with language, in working with parents for them to accept and work toward what we be possible, she heard many stories, many samples of the kinds of stories there are out there in the big world beyond campus and theories.

After her beautiful advice dreams from Dan stopped, she had another kind of dream about Dan. In these dreams, he had lived through the crime ("which is what I wanted, right?") but he brain was really hurt. He couldn't function intellectually anything like he'd be able to before. He knew. He hated it.

He stayed in his apartment, drank, and said bitter things. (But of course that's not what happened. He died of the crime.)

Amy Tan's novels are intense, I think when I'm reading them. When I read this non-fiction story, I though about a TV show I saw once about the painter Cezanne.

When Cezanne was alive and painting, people thought he was amazing revolutionary, recording things in a whole new way, mind-boggling. Other painters found that he made more things possible for them, if they could connect with his stuff at all.

In the TV show, they showed a painting Cezanne had done of some hills in France that blew everyone's mind. They faded slowly from the painting to the actual hill in France currently, and they seemed exactly the same.

Cezanne was accurate. People weren't seeing hills really, but seeing some idea of hills and some of what their eyes brought it. He saw both accurately and his way.

In expanded accuracy there is hope.

Amy Tan's books are intense because her life is intense. Her life is intense partly because she notices what's up along as many dimensions as are available, which is several. She doesn't need signed permission from Ph.D. kind of folks to know what she knows. She can play that game and she knows it's something, but not everything.

One of Amy Tan's novels is called "The Hundred Thousand Secret Senses." In Amy Tan's books, there is a lot to know, and many ways to know it.