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45 - Bulls--t Happens

Photographer beware!

Years ago I was preparing for an exhibit and I was discussing it with my brother.

At that time, he was working at the Library of Congress in the Prints and Photographs Division.

He said that they had a woman that wrote great blurbs for their exhibits.

I said, "I'll send some slides."

Only half in jest, my brother said, "She doesn't have to see your work."

Here's a more illustrious example.

The writer Amy Tan was waiting to speak at a bookstore.

She saw a CliffNotes for her book, The Joy Luck Club, and had a look.

I always had this question when I was in high school or college: Did the writer really mean everything that was said in the CliffsNotes?

In school, you are supposed to analyze symbols, themes, structure to the nth degree.

You, the student, have to weed these things out and you have to ask yourself, did the writer really intend this?

I found the answer when I read my own CliffsNotes.

There I am reading things about all these wonderful intentions I had and all these great symbols I put in my book, and I got to one of them – the phrase "invisible strength."

This is a quality that I gave to a character named Waverly Jong, who is a Chinese chess champion.

Her mother is so proud of her.

She feels her mother is her ally and her adversary, and her mother has given her this invisible strength.

According to Cliff, invisible strength referred to something like the power of foreigners and women under some kind of suppression – and about three or four other things.

I read that and I thought, Wow, really impressive.

You read this and you think, God, she's brilliant.

But I just had to chuckle to myself, because the truth of that phrase invisible strength referred to something my mother often said to me.

It was a Chinese saying, and she would say it in Chinese whenever I was whining or complaining, and it meant roughly, No one wants to hear you make a big stink over nothing, so shut up.

The actual word-for-word translation goes like this:

Loud farts don't smell, the really smelly ones are deadly silent.

So that is what invisible strength was.

Cliff did not get that at all.1

1 Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and The Opposite of Fate, at the Commonwealth Club of California, October 7, 2004, archive/04/04-10tan-speech.html.