Monday, September 5, 2011

A Writer's Death

Feeling a bit melancholy this Labour Day weekend.  The weekend got off to a sad start, when I had drinks with some of the other writers in my writing circle at a pub in the queer village.  Normally, when I see them it's to workshop our writing or clink glasses at a book launch.  But this time, we were having drinks because one of the writers in our group recently died in what appears to have been suicide. 

Wendy was a fascinating woman - warm, funny, anxious, vulnerable, fragile.  I recall her sexy librarian glasses and dimpled smile and insistence that she "wasn't a writer," even though we all insisted her writing was improving greatly; she was well on her way to finding her voice.  But what made Wendy particularly fascinating was that despite her fairly normal exterior, she came from a troubled past, to say the least: she'd been a child sex worker.  And she talked very openly about it.  After escaping an abusive home, she aged out of the foster care system and found herself on the street working as a sex worker (Wendy was always careful to use the word "sex worker," rather than "prostitute" - she'd made a career for herself as an activist working to advocate for sex worker protection and child protection, and was even pursuing her law degree at Osgoode, when she died).

The memoir that she was working on chronicled parts of her painful past, which, however turbulent, she captured with a good shot of humour.  I recall her reading aloud scenes of sex and violence that made my own life feel incredibly tame (one scene involved a hermaphrodite), yet the overriding feeling that came through in her writing, I would say, was a sense of horrible loneliness and searching.  Here was a woman who desperately wanted to be loved - because she'd never felt loved - and that made her susceptible to being exploited by a certain man, who occupied a central part of her memoir.

Yet it seemed to all of us that Wendy was at a really positive place in her life, despite the fact that she'd missed the past few workshops, and maybe been languishing in depression.  I was stunned by the news of her death.

One of the writers draped a bright pink feather boa over the chair at the head of the table, and we toasted to Wendy's life.

Although her memoir will probably never be shared with the world, I'm glad she wrote what she did.  Her words will stay with me.

Photo from: here


Naomi said...

Very sorry to hear about your friend passing away. She was brave to write her memoir based on her challenging life.

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Thank you, Naomi. I wish she'd had a chance to write more of her life story.... It would have been moving to read.


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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.