Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book #1: Searching for Thoreau on a Cold Winter Night

I’d tried to make the best of moving to the boonies by imagining a great escape to nature was in store.

"To walk in a winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of other birds—think of it!"
"I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

Startling epiphanies were just around the corner. Or maybe I’d just been reading too much Walden.

Right. Nature. Through the eyes of a naïve city girl. What had I been thinking?

Now that I had my first semester of teaching under my belt, I knew that was fiction and this was reality.

Reality was having to call in sick and take the bus two-and-a-half hours to Halifax to see my therapist, Harriet, to deal with these emergency days that incapacitated me every so often. Days when I just couldn’t bear to get up in front of the swarm of rosy, all-too-wholesome faces that blankly stared while I lectured on the figure of the madwoman in the Victorian novel and cross-dressing actors on the Shakespearean stage.

Harriet was a pudgy blond woman with sad lines fanning out around her eyes. She looked at me like she really did understand my suffering, but so far I’d been less than dazzled by her insights.

"The students hate me," I said. "They look at me and they don’t see a professor. They expect a professor to look like a grizzled old hag whose life has passed her by."

"Well, thank god you’re not in that camp," Harriet said. "You hardly look older than the students."

Maybe it was true – I was a fake. The eve I defended my dissertation, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t have a clue what was involved in becoming a professor. Who could have foreseen the amount of work involved in writing lectures on the fly to teach a full course load? Although I’d pulled my share of all-nighters as a grad student, those were nothing compared to the string of sleepless nights that left my brain feeling like sawdust behind the lecture podium.

My office clock said 11:55. Once again, I’d fallen asleep at my desk, my face plastered to a sandwich wrapper. The night lights from the football field outside my window streamed in, giving my bookshelf an eerie glow. So much for marking papers.

As I waited for the elevator in the pea green corridor, a bearded man came out of nowhere.

"Howdy," he said, standing too close. My stomach did a back flip.

But he was just the caretaker. Smiling awkwardly and standing a little too close.

I rushed outside and stood on the cement piazza surrounding the Arts Building. Beyond the empty parking lot loomed the low, undulating hills known, for some strange reason, as "the highlands."

I remembered how when I’d landed this job, I’d imagined myself going for long walks in the woods, communing with birds, brushing against ferns, my ears attuned to every rustle and sigh of a blade of grass. Like Thoreau, who'd luxuriated in his sojourn living in a cabin at Walden Pond, my thoughts would become serene: "This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself."

The hills around me weren’t very high, yet they hemmed my soul in. They might as well have been the Andes.

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About Me

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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.