Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Book #3: Didion's Extreme Vulnerability
The streetcar this morning is almost empty. As it chugs along Spadina through the gritty mist, I’m reading The Year of Magical Thinking. With every lurch, my stomach turns to jello, and all the moments of loss in my own life come back with vivid force, lulled by the rhythm of Didion’s sentences:
“People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, or of someone who wears glasses and is suddenly made to take them off.”
Not that I can claim to have suffered anything comparable to what she endured. Just days after her daughter fell into a coma for mysterious reasons, her husband John Gregory Dunne collapsed and died of a massive coronary. “Life changes in the instant,” she tells us throughout the book, folding us into the embrace of her grief.
But the beauty of Didion’s writing is the way it also triggers all the smaller gradations of personal loss and shock.
The slap of my surgeon’s words when, at age thirteen, I was told that I would need to have four vertebrae fused to prevent my spine from growing curved like a snake.
The death of my vain, beautiful grandmother, whose life only became interesting to me in the last six months of her life.
The feeling of heaviness that overtook my entire body after my first break-up. My father drove to McGill and I slouched down in the backseat of his SUV and the weight of my moondrop earrings pulled at my earlobes. Montreal vanished through the rear window, with all its shabby elegant brownstones, overflowing recycling bins, dépanneur wine.
“Life changes in the instant.” Wise words from a wise woman.
(A footnote on time: whereas my previous two entries explore my state of mind from two years ago, during the time I was still a professor in Nova Scotia, this entry shifts to the present, when I’m back in Toronto, taking the streetcar to work).
Photo from: here
- Leslie Shimotakahara
- 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.