Amy Tan: Chance & creativity

These two brief oral essays by Amy Tan are charming and well-aimed. The first, about what her closet suggests about her disordered consciousness, is especially funny, and (I think) will be recognizable to you as it was to me: We all keep disordered closets in our minds.
Two Essays | Narrative Magazine

Her remarks on her second topic, "Serendipity"reminded me of unexpected discoveries in my recent work, set in and around Constantinople in 1402 and the world-changing battle at Ankara (Timur, or "Tamerlane," defeated the Ottoman sultan, incidentally saving Constantinople from the Ottoman siege).

At the beginning, I knew I had to bring together the fiercest of Ottoman warriors with the gentlest of Byzantine Christian princesses, who would have to be a daughter of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. But she would have to be nubile in 1402 and Manuel didn't marry until 1392, so she would have to be a bastard and yet treated as a princess. But was this historically plausible? Dubious, I went ahead anyway and created the mystically inclined, quick-witted bastard princess Theodota.

And then in my more-or-less random readings of everything I could find about the period I discovered Zampia, a real bastard daughter, whom Manuel cared for enough to marry her to a nobleman. And then, a Turkish friend surprised me with the information that the name I had invented for my Ottoman warrior, combining the words for "lion" and "hawk" -- Arslanshahin -- was in fact a well-known and fairly common name; she directed me to an Istanbul telephone directory, where I found several.

In these and other instances, my research kept confirming things I had already invented. That's what Amy Tan would call serendipity. I think it really has to do with being open to discovery, and to "listening" to an epoch or setting so we can anticipate the things that will fit.

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