Memoir Monday: The Brain in Amy Tan’s Memoir

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In her memoir, Where the Past Begins, Amy Tan tells of brain trauma and its affect on her writing and her life.

Fans of Tan’s fiction will love how she reveals some of the dramatic family stories behind “The Joy Luck Club” and Tan’s other best-selling novels, but the biggest revelation here is what Tan calls her “pinball mind” in all its quirks and reveries. “I hit a pinball it goes off in angles, then I hit it again. It is endless,” she writes.

 Tan is fascinated with the human mind. The brain becomes a focus throughout the book, as it has been throughout her life. When she was 6, her parents launched their campaign for her to become a brain surgeon because “the brain was the most important part of the body, and that’s why brain surgeons were the smartest and the most respected.” When she was 15, Tan’s older brother and father died of brain cancer within five months of each other, throwing her family into chaos.

Her brain has encountered its own chaos, as well — Tan had to relearn how to use language after a car accident left her with a brain injury while she was working toward a doctorate in linguistics (in a program that had already come close to killing her love of words); more recently, Tan has faced seizures and visual hallucinations from brain lesions caused by Lyme disease.

These experiences serve to draw her all the more deeply into research about the brain and creativity, the brain and emotion. As much as she loves this research, however, Tan’s primary guide to understanding how her own writing brain works is her intuition.

Excerpt from SFGate

Memoir Monday: BJ Talks About Her Memoir


On the eve of her 98th birthday, BJ talks about what her memoir means to her. She reads it and knows she’s loved. Written with Patricia Benesh using 7 Memories: Partnering to Write a Memoir.



Memoir Monday: In Thinking About Obituaries, A Memoir on Dying

Patricia Wall/ New York Times

From Patricia Benesh, Ed.D: In teaching people how to write obituaries, I’m not really obsessed with dying. Quite the opposite. I’m passionate about finding the beautiful essence of each person and celebrating it. The “Awesome Obituary” is 90% about life and 10% about death. It’s modeled on the New York Times obits.

I’m excited to teach it at the La Mesa Oasis at 1:30 Wednesday (Oct. 11th). In looking for quotes, I came across a review of a wonderful memoir by Cory Taylor, relating how dealing with death, causes one to reflect on life.

From a New York Times Review by Jennifer Senior:

“It’s almost inevitable that dying makes you reflect on your past, which perhaps explains why “Dying” is not merely a meditation on the present, but a journey backward in time…”

Every passing life leaves something beautiful behind. Celebrate it in an “Awesome Obit.”


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