Precious Like My Eyes

By Yasuko Thanh

My friend Anastasia photographed me floating in my bathtub. Bare It for Books chose another shot for their PEN Canada fundraiser in 2014, but as I lie ringed by words and water the photo reveals a truth about creative life. Someone once found a wild rat snake that had consumed most of its own body. This fits in well with Freud or was it Jung? That which feeds you also kills you. Slowly, at least that’s how I’ve always taken it. The process itself, however, creating the eternal symbol of perfection: the circle, is beautiful. The Theban king, Oedipus, gouged out his eyes with his mother’s broaches to cleanse himself of mortal sin. This isn’t quite the same thing, but close. Saint Triadun of Scotland plucked out her own eyes to give to the prince as a gift when she heard he admired their loveliness. I mention the above only to show the lengths and depths of possession. You can drown in its depths, or float.

To support my writing habit, I used to busk in Gastown. I lived on Vancouver’s downtown eastside where I met scrap-metal collectors with their shopping carts, the guy who sells stolen cheese, men who offered me sips of their Aqua Velva. I busked from noon until whenever I’d earned $15, then went back to my illegal warehouse studio to work on short stories, poems, and unpublished novels that I still have in drawers.

My repertoire consisted of six songs on an endless loop. Once it hit 20 songs, I was not above throwing pennies back or telling the guy who asked me to make change for the parking meter where to stick it.

Today I play in two bands, one rockabilly, one punk, with a drummer named Hacksaw who hits her kit so hard, wood chips fly. If I want to scream, I have a stage. The audience sings along and we release our demons together which reflects Aristotle’s purgation theory of catharsis.

My youngest child doesn’t understand how a crowd chanting, “I was here! I was here! Do I make it fucking clear,” can make everyone feel better, purified, exorcised. So we play baby dolls and charades; we do yoga; I want her childhood to be different from mine.

When I was 15 and homeless I slept in the band shell of a downtown park. I panhandled when I had no money. One day I lost a pack of cigarettes with $80 inside. My daughter says the universe pays you back for the things you’ve lost.

Today, collectibles fill our Bottle Crush house by the sea. I scour garage sales for vintage lamps, coats, clocks and when I see something I like I can’t leave it behind: objects calls to me like lost puppies and I’m compelled to bring them home. Because I think I’m trying to make connections through time, bridge what got lost with what I’m still looking for, in all I create, whether in music, writing, or even conversations with a person at a bus stop.