Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Japanese Custom

My short story, "A Japanese Custom," was published in this month's issue of MTLS.  If you feel like it, you can read it here.  It's loosely based on the stories that my grandmother, Kayaco, told me over the years....  Growing up, I always loved how she would reminisce at family gatherings about her girlhood in BC, back in the days before the Japanese-Canadians had lost everything, and her spunk never failed to astonish to me.  I wrote this story two summers ago for U of T's Summer Writing School (Alissa York was an inspiring instructor).  Although I liked the story at the time, rereading it now I feel that in many ways this slice of life doesn't do justice to my grandmother.  Oh well.  I guess my feeling of sweaty-palm-dissatisfaction may push me to write a novel about her....

Photo from: here

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book #37: Breakfast with My Publisher

"In studying old photographs I am struck sometimes by a sense of my being contemporary with my parents - as if I'd known them when they were, let's say, only teenagers.  Is this odd?  I wonder.  I rather suspect others share in their family's experiences and memories without knowing quite how."                                                                  -Joyce Carol Oates, The Paris Review Interviews

This morning I had breakfast with my publisher, Sandra, to discuss the first ten chapters of my book.  Since this chunk of writing contains some deviations from the chapter outline I'd included in my book proposal, I was a tad nervous, and it didn't help that I was jittery from too much coffee.  But as I perched on a bar stool at Canteen, unable to resist another Americano, Sandra told me she was delighted with the new emotional territory I'd broached, and in fact, if I hadn't included the new material, she'd been planning to push me to delve deeper.  As if through some beautiful telepathy, I'd intuited that she wanted more vulnerability and self-disclosure, which was wonderful to hear, because at this point I really am having so much fun reliving and revelling in the most miserable periods of my life - my promiscuous youth, my failed career as an English professor, family secrets, my deformed spine, what have you.  Writing about all that old misery somehow helps redeem it (at least in my mind).

So now I am down to the last three chapters, which I have the next month and a half to write.  No sooner had Sandra and I toasted to saving the best for last than a wave of cold sweat and nerve prickles swept over me.

After we'd wrapped up our meeting, I decided I needed a short break from working on the manuscript to clear my head.  So I ended up reading a book that a friend lent me, The Paris Review Interviews, volume three.  What a marvellous discovery.  I had no idea that these interviews are so revealing and interesting - it's as if these revered writers are sitting down with you and disclosing the most intimate details about their minds and writing habits, over a glass of wine.  I love in particular Joyce Carol Oates' reflections on how old photographs serve as inspiration and transport her, almost magically, into the minds of her ancestors.  What she's saying resonates with how I feel when I look at the old photos of my grandmother, particularly the pre-Internment photos from her adolescence, and I think to myself, Oates said it perfectly: her memories are my memories.

And so I must finish my current book quickly so I can move on to writing something else.  My deepest desire has always been to write an historical novel.

Photo from: here

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book #36: My Wayward Bones

"The hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita - full of the feel of her pre-adolescently incurved back, that ivory-smooth sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock that I had worked up and down as I held her."    -Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Today was a lovely day (and I'm not the sort of person who often considers her day "lovely").  I went to my writers' workshop where I shared a chapter in my memoir that has been troubling me for a while - the chapter deals with a painful deformity of the spine I suffered as a teenager.  The other writers in my workshop were very supportive and encouraging (which came as a great relief, because the chapter is very revealing about my sexual coming-of-age and I was beginning to second guess my decision to include it at all).  This is the joy of belonging to a workshop - a respite from the isolation of writing alone and self-doubts whispering in my head. 

Here is an excerpt from the chapter, where I'm reading Lolita and identifying all too well with the heroine:

I stared at the cover for a long time: a close-up on a pair of pigeon-toed legs, clad in ankle socks and saddle shoes, slightly grubby around the toes. “The only convincing love story of our century,” reads the endorsement by Vanity Fair. I’d heard this line before, and yet I’d never found anything the least bit romantic or erotic about this novel. Fascinating, yes. Sexy, no. For me, it had always been a story about victimization and survival and a wily, foul-mouthed little girl struggling to hold onto some shred of self throughout her sordid predicament.

Humbert Humbert tries to control Lolita’s body – cataloguing all her measurements, policing her diet, relishing in running his hand along the prepubescent slope of her spine. As she gets a bit older, the signs of her body maturing – plumping out, growing curvaceous – are the ultimate turn-off. He desires to freeze her as his perpetual lover-child, his “nymphet,” forever smelling of grass stains and ice cream sundaes.

As I flipped through the pages, rereading my favourite sections, Humbert Humbert’s hands turned into the probing hands of Dr. Foote, as he bent me and molded me, exploring the possibilities of my young body, testing the flexibility of my wayward bones.

I wanted to stop reading, yet I couldn’t stop. The pain (and pleasure) of watching Lolita being violated was too immediate, too fascinating.

Photo from: here



Related Posts with Thumbnails

About Me

My photo
Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.