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Archive for the ‘suicide’ Category

Esther and Easter: How One Human Being Can Change The World

Posted by E on March 27, 2016

Elisa Purim Easter2016By a conspicuous alignment of calendar dates, 2016 is a year when the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Esther, coincides with Easter Week (and also with Holi in the Hindu faith – the Festival of Love). Only this week, when the stars have aligned Purim and Easter, does it strike me how many parallels there are between these ancient holidays. Not just in the acts of charity toward the less fortunate that both Jews and Christians engage in, but also in the flourishing spirit of hope that surrounds us all.

It was a couple of summers ago, when I was visiting an old friend from university at her place in Cornwall, that I rediscovered the story of Esther. It was the summer I was studying in preparation for my conversion to Judaism, but that week religious texts were the last thing on my mind. I had stopped for an overnight visit at Joseé-Anne’s house on my way to Massachusetts, where I planned to spend the better part of a week in Provincetown and Cape Cod. I hoped to find inspiration for my new book Daughters of the Air, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, along the grassy dunes of Provincetown’s beaches.

We had just finished dinner and were sitting out in her backyard, sharing a bottle of red wine, as twilight painted mauve streaks across the skies. Joseé-Anne was chain-smoking, as she always did when we talked poetry. We gossiped about old schoolmates and professors and chatted about how hard it is to get published these days. I had just told her of my Judaism course when she turned to me and asked abruptly, “Do you know the story of Esther?”

flower of hopeI nodded yes, although at the time it was just a passing familiarity. An orphan raised by her uncle, kind-hearted Mordechai, in many ways Esther was the original Cinderella – chosen above all other maidens as the king’s new bride. Chosen for her beauty and quiet intelligence, Esther not only captured the king’s heart but was able to spark his compassion and thereby save her people from being put to death after an evil plan had been hatched by the king’s close advisor, vizier Haman.

“You need to learn about Esther,” Joseé-Anne repeated. “You need to absorb her spirit into yourself. This was a young girl who had nothing, whose people were persecuted, who was secretly Jewish and in danger. And yet she saved the nation of Israel. She didn’t do this with connections or money; she had nothing but her desire to change the world and save her people. And she did it.”

We fell quiet. Joseé reached over and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Find the courage that Esther had. If she could find it within herself to stand up against a king and be so brave, any of us can do whatever we put our minds to. It’s a matter of faith – being alone in the world and having faith that something greater than yourself is there, watching for you. Even in the darkest moments, when there is no light or hope on the horizon, if you believe as Esther did, you will find the strength.”

sunny_daffodilsBoth Easter and Purim are about hope. About rising out of the ashes of humanity’s frailty and finding kindness and compassion when faced with hatred, which almost always stems from fear of the unknown, of things and people who we perceive are different from us. Whether it was Jesus forgiving his Roman executioners, or Esther who managed to save the Jewish people from their executions, both holidays depict the triumph of a single person’s empathy and fortitude over the hatred of the many.

Purim and Easter both signify a new beginning, as well as the end of winter and the birth of spring. Along with Holi in the Hindu religion, they celebrate love toward all human beings. Together, they are holidays infused with happiness and hope for a new future.

This is a message I need to take to heart more than ever before – I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease back in December and survived a major depression and suicide attempt this January. A symbolic spring – the rebirth of dreams and possibilities – is something I need more than ever before.

If you can find it within yourself to help me on this journey, please send a message of support through Patreon.

Happy Purim  phoenix

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Posted in depression, jewish, judaism, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

My Little Girl – The Wildflower of Alexandria

Posted by E on January 14, 2016

Cu Mama Iablanita bridge 2

When you’re on the brink of death, common lore says that your life flashes before your eyes. But what they don’t tell you is that the same thing happens when someone you love – or at least someone who was a tremendous influence in your life – dies.  Take for example, my mother – who died only a month ago.

Parinti meiMy mother Lucia and I weren’t close – if anything, I was a parent to her: because both my parents were deaf I was paraded around like a hearing aid dog, interpreting anything they needed to know, translating back to them the often stressful or painful things a child shouldn’t be privy to. And yet this happened – I was there when my mother was arrested by Romania’s Securitate police and escorted off a plane because she’d made the mistake of confiding in a childhood best friend, Dida Tufeanu, the fact that she intended to declare political asylum. I was there when my father beat her brutally, when his fists rained upon her even as I tried to wedge myself between them.

On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

When someone you love dies, your entire life flashes before your eyes – every memory you shared between each other. Every kiss, every blow. The lightest, earliest caress glimmers behind your eyelids – like the time my mother read me fairytales. The time she pretended that Mos Gerila (Father Frost) was at the door and he had brought me two new book volumes of fairytales. The moment she put scars on me for the first time.

Lucia was the mother who kissed my forehead every night. The mother who hit me until she drew blood, whose nails clawed at my skin until new scars were left on my hands and arms. The mother who caressed me as I slept and told me I was the smartest little girl in the whole wide world. The mother who let my father hit me and joined in sometimes.

Sibiu 1My mother Lucia confessed that my father hated children and at the age of 55 he didn’t want a new life in his new, Securitate-given apartment. Over and over again, she told me that my father kicked her in the stomach throughout her pregnancy – determined to abort the fetus who was sure to cause him troubles.

Whenever I didn’t do my homework or play the part of the perfect little daughter, my mother told me that she wished she had indeed aborted me – and shared her regret that my father (who she had married only to obtain a Bucharest city permit) hadn’t managed to kick her stomach hard enough to get rid of me.

Elisa Sibiu deaf school

School for the Deaf, Sibiu spring 2015

But when she loved me, my mother touched my cheek and told me that I was her little girl forever – despite the fact that my brown eyes (my father’s eyes) disappointed her. Despite the fact that she had always dreamed of a Shirley Temple doll – blonde and blue eyes – and her happiest time was right after I was born and when my eyes had (almost) looked bluish. But then my baby blue eyes turned brown and her love for me waned, and then she turned into the same little girl nobody wanted.

Nobody ever wanted my mother – as a small child, she was the wildflower of Alexandria in Teleorman county, Romania – a deaf and dumb little girl who was raped around age 12 by brutal villagers – monsters who in turn transformed her into a monster. She grew to love only animals – kittens, puppies, baby goats – but never trusted people, and it showed.

Lucia was a deaf little girl whose own mother didn’t want her. Who was sent away to her uncle’s estate where she spent years living in the barn next to the outhouse, among the sheep and goats she tended because as “deaf-and-dumb” in the old country she wasn’t deemed human enough to sleep inside the house.

My mother lived in barns, next to sheep and goats, for most of her childhood. She slept in haylofts oblivious of the mice and rats that scurried at her feet. Having fallen off a changing table when she was two, her tympanic membrane had shattered and she was rendered deaf. Once she was deaf, she was useless. In 1940s Romania a deaf child was a curse, a useless mouth to feed. So her mother abandoned her on her uncle’s doorstep, and after that she slept inside a barn for years, unworthy of a bed inside their house – a feral child exposed to all elements except a human’s love.

All my mother ever knew was pain and hardship, and that is all she taught me.

Lucia fetita smallAnd then, the rape by village boys. She was barely twelve. The rape that caught the village priest’s attention and got Lucia sent away to a girls’ Boarding School for the Deaf in Sibiu, the heart of Transylvania. There she would learn to read and write despite having lived as a semi-feral child through critical stages of development.

That school would be the happiest time in her life – she made friends for the first time, learned to sign, lip-read and communicate with others. But the best part was when her and her friends raided the kitchen at night, or when they snuck out the window of their dormitory and went to the movies – when they enjoyed the brief freedom their fleeting youth had to offer.

But those early brutalities never took away the sting of her strap, the sharpness of her nails. My mother clawed and tore at my innocence because she herself never had the chance to be innocent.

She hit me because she was never caressed – she abused me because nobody ever taught her the importance of being loved.

My mother hurt me because everybody in the world had wounded her – because when you live with unkindness, you don’t ever learn how valuable we all are, how each of us without exception deserve love. She was deprived of love and learned that the only way to overcome her worthlessness was to wound others – and wound me, she did.

If I could see you one more time, Mama – I would tell you that you weren’t worthless. You didn’t deserve the pain and horror that others in that brutal world inflicted upon you, making horror be the only thing you knew.

I wish my father hadn’t raped you, Mama. I’m sorry that he impregnated you through rape and made this child that neither of you wanted. I’m sorry that he kicked your belly and convinced you that abortion was the only way – only to give birth to me, an inferior little girl who would never match your desperation for a Shirley Temple doll who might actually bring you happiness.

Iablanita bridgeI brought only pain, because that is the only thing you taught me – I still look at the thin white scars across my hands and arms and cry for you, Mama. A little deaf girl unwanted by the world. A little deaf girl sent out to feed the sheep and goats from daybreak to night, just skin and bones, a feral little thing who slept in the barn next to the animals you tended without anybody ever wandering if you were thirsty or hungry. Without ever wondering how you were in those cold hills when there was nothing except you, a little girl, and the brutal winds of Alexandria county, Romania.

I’m sorry that I told the police what you did, Mama. I was only fourteen years old, and I didn’t understand – but within a week I made sure to recant my testimony because I didn’t want you to get arrested. I didn’t want you to suffer more than you already had, more than a human being could ever suffer. You made countless mistakes that changed both of our lives, but in the end you loved me more than you loved anybody else in the world. You loved me as much as you were capable of loving, despite nobody ever having loved you. You did the best with what you had, and that was so very little.

Elisa Biertan tower2I inherited your pain, Mama. It was seeded inside your DNA, inside the epigenetic code your passed into my blood. Your pain shines in my eyes, Mama. Your wounds are my wounds, just as my father’s ancestral pogroms flow through my bloodstream.

In your later years, you were MY little girl – I tried my best to be there for your needs, despite my failures. I brought you food and paid your bills and tried to understand your needs, although I couldn’t. I’m sorry I put you in the hospital – I thought that after you broke your leg, that was the best thing for you. I wanted you to eat and be cared for, and the waiting list for the Deaf nursing home you wanted to go to was oh so long. But now I think I made a mistake. I should have made sure you stayed in your home, I should have figured out a way for you to trust the help that might have been arranged. Even if you wouldn’t open the door for social workers and Meals on Wheels, even if you didn’t trust anybody but me. Maybe you might have lived longer – although we all die. Although after all, nothing matters.

bob rumballThe month after you died, I tried to kill myself. We all die anyway, right? – so what’s the point? I felt that everything I ever did was wrong, and that you died because I forced Mount Sinai Hospital to keep you and look after you until you’d get a bed inside the nursing home of your choice, Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf. But neither of us knew back then that Bob Rumball nursing home had come to accept hearing people, and in some cases placed deaf people lower on their list in favour of hearing applicants. I didn’t know that in the end you would die in hospital while waiting 13 months for a bed at the Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf – after having waited another year before that also – in total, close to 2 years overall on their waiting list. For whatever reasons which I strongly believe involve either mismanagement, corruption, bribery or God knows what, the Bob Rumball nursing home in Barrie, ON kept taking more and more hearing people in instead of a deaf person like you, who most needed their help.

Elisa Sighisoara yellow street

Walking the same streets my mother had walked

I miss you so much, Mama – the wildflower of Alexandria county. The skinny little girl who herded goats barefoot, thirsty and afraid, and nobody ever loved because they all thought you were worthless. I understand now why you didn’t know how to love – because nobody ever loved you. Because you were born and eventually died alone, like a parched little flower, so tender and beautiful but unwanted by the world, in the foothills and plains of Teleorman county.

You were somebody, Mama. Even in this awful, ugly world where the rich are everything and the poor are considered worthless, you were an innocent little soul who deserved more but was never loved and was abused in every way imaginable. I’m sorry this happened to you, my little girl. I’m so sorry that you didn’t understand the meaning of compassion because you never felt it yourself.

Lucia July31And after all that pain, life cheated you by cutting your life short through early onset dementia (Alzheimer’s). Although your last wish was to return home, there was no money. You worked more than twenty years for Canada’s CIBC bank, never missing a single day of work, and they packaged you out without a pension, leaving you to die in poverty. Leaving me an orphan in a cold, indifferent country I was forced to come to as a child – a country that has brought me only pain.

You were only 71 when you died – an unfair, ugly death you fought with all your might. It wasn’t fair! You didn’t want to die – you struggled so hard against the darkness that seeped into your existence – that made you forget how to eat, how to drink. The darkness that made you become weaker by the second, that fought me so hard whenever I tried to feed you, to keep you alive. But through it all, you didn’t want to die. You raged against the dying of the light – you fought to hang on, no matter what.

In my heart you will be both my mother and my little girl forever. On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

I couldn’t even afford to bury you, and I know how scared you were of being cremated. In your later years you regretted so deeply that you couldn’t return to Romania, and I shared your pain. In the end I was just as worthless, just like those who were supposed to protect you – I’m sorry that I failed your wishes, Mama. I’m sorry that in the end I didn’t have the money to abide by your wishes. In the end, I failed your last wish not to be burned.

I think of those little white hands, their skin so translucent and frail. A little nest of bird bones, a tiny sparrow limp inside my grasp. No semblance of the beautiful lady you once were, or the spiteful young mother who clawed my skin to shreds. No more heavy tears, no more regrets. We had made peace with each other, and I could finally see that beautiful light of your soul, the light that had never had a chance to shine.

My little girl, I told you as I kissed your cheeks, your forehead. Goodbye, my little girl. My little one.

I can’t wait to see you once again. I can’t wait until this pain is over – we live in this horrible world where indifference reigns and nobody gives a shit about the fragility of life, the tenderness of vulnerability, the frailty of hope.

You were innocent. You deserved to be loved. You deserved it, but everybody failed you. And then you failed me – because you didn’t know any better. Because nobody ever taught you how to love.

Goodbye, my little girl. Goodbye.

imagini-cu-ghiocei  Stefan Luchian - Pastorita

Posted in abuse, ancestry, deaf, death, indifference, mother, personal, romania, sadness, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

In memory of Nadia, in memory of myself

Posted by E on June 23, 2010

Now that I think about it, it was about two springs ago, around that time of the year when the ice thaws out and winter dissolves into spring, that I was watching the news and a missing person alert flashed over the airwaves. The haunting photos of a beautiful brown-haired girl proclaimed her disappearance from Carleton University in my old alma mater town of Ottawa. Her name was Nadia Kajouji, and this June she would have turned twenty-one years old.

It had been approx. five years since I’d graduated and moved away, first to teach English in South Korea, then to find better opportunities for employment back in the Toronto area. But Ottawa has always been the one Canadian city closest to my heart. Some of my happiest memories involve the long walks I used to take by the leafy Rideau Canal, or writing poetry under the shade of a tree on a hill overlooking Major Hill’s Park and the turbulent waves of the Ottawa river.

Although I had gone to Ottawa u., I was quite familiar with the Carleton campus, particularly with the gymnasium where I used to practice fencing with their varsity team. As I now watched Nadia Kajouji’s parents plead for information about their daughter’s disappearance, my mind replayed my winding walks across the Carleton grounds – from the bus stop where the inter-university shuttle spat me off, past the flock of tall concrete buildings that formed the campus residences, and down the steps that led to that all-too-familiar girls changing room, which always smelled like chalk, cedar bleachers and dusty corners, and resounded with the sound of combination locks clanging hollowly against locker doors.

As soon as the newscasters told of how Nadia had left her radio playing and her wallet on the counter of her dorm room, taking only a pair of skates with her on that terrible evening, I knew what she had done. While I was her age, all those terrible winters ago, I’d also walked across the Macdonald Bridge and looked down into that endless sheet of ice, wishing badly that I wasn’t such a coward.


Throughout my fourth year of school, I fantasized about dying, wrote letters and feverish entries in my journals, packed my things neatly into boxes, and stocked up on pills and online how-to tips. I knew precisely how I was going to do it, and no Ottawa U prof or concerned friend knew how to broach my change in personality.

And yet, so many friends and classmates undoubtedly had noticed my dark eyes, my lack of sleep, my A-average grades slipping down and down and down…..I didn’t care, I was already dead inside. I’d come out of a psychologically-abusive relationship with someone who couldn’t care less about me, who broke every promise made and shattered my heart into a million pieces. And I thought that without this person’s love I was nothing, that I was totally worthless.

Finally, a close friend who was doing her masters in a medical-related field, insisted that I go see an MD. Not a counselor, but someone who could actually prescribe me something. “There’s no difference between what is going on with you,” she said, “and someone suffering from a physical ailment. There’s only stigma. But if you’d fallen and broken your leg, would you not go to a doctor to mend it? You just have a deficiency in serotonin, and a MAO-inhibitor would help you get back up.”

But guess what? Unlike what I’d learned in my psychology classes, awareness doesn’t mean that Poof! everything magically goes away. I knew without a doubt that I was clinically depressed, and it still didn’t stop me from wanting to put my plans into action. Within a month of being on Prozac, I felt amazing. Able to concentrate, to read again, a pleasure I thought I’d lost forever – and with all that newfound energy, I was invincible. I could finally put my energy to use, and complete the plan I’d set in motion months earlier. I emptied all the sleeping pill packages I’d hidden in my bedroom and woke up in the hospital hours later, having been found by my landlady’s daughter. After that attempt, I saw a counselor twice a week and my dosage was increased. It was another couple of months before the self-destructive thoughts receded.

As I now watched the news and learned with the rest of the world that Nadia’s depression had escalated so visibly, yet nobody had taken measures to assist her, I was certain that it was only a matter of time before the Rideau river thawed and her body would be found. Her poor, poor parents, I thought, looking at their photos on the Facebook group that had been created to publicize her disappearance. Having grown up in an abusive home and the foster care system, I’d never had any parents of my own to turn to; to think, Nadia did have a supportive family. And still, this happened to her.

And sure enough, the day when they found Nadia came six weeks later, just as the birds were returning from their southern burrows and new leaf buds were bursting through the trees. As her grieving family was laying her to rest back in the Toronto area, police began to launch an investigation, prompted by information that was seized from her computer records.

As it turned out, not only had nobody stepped in to help Nadia at her most vulnerable time, but someone she had been chatting with online in a support forum had encouraged her to take her own life. This person turned out to be a pudgy, middle-aged man in Minnesota with a perverse fetish for watching attractive young people hang themselves via webcam. He posed as a young girl while talking to Nadia, expressing a similar desire for suicide, and urged Nadia on and on toward her inevitable demise.

It took more than a year of inquiries, along with a Fifth Estate documentary investigation that determined that the pudgy middle-aged man, whose name is William Melchert-Dinkel and who is a registered nurse no less, had had a virtual hand in the suicides of scores of other desperate people all over the world, including a 32-year old British man by the name of Mark Drybrough. Apparently he had used some of the knowledge of his profession to assist suicides via the Internet and posed as various individuals in order to coax people into taking their own lives via suicide pacts. He is also estimated to have personally helped at least five others kill themselves.

At the end of this month we will find out if William Melchert-Dinkel is going to be convicted and serve the maximum thirty-year sentence that he’s facing. But no matter what happens to this sadistic, pathetic excuse for a human being, nothing will bring Nadia or Mark back. As I mourn the loss of a girl I never knew personally, yet shared so much with, I am reminded of the wise words uttered by sixteenth-century English reformer John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God go I.

Any of us – our friends, siblings, children – could suffer from depression. It’s not something to turn the other cheek to. If you suspect that someone you know is chronically affected by this, don’t act polite. Don’t “give them space” and assume that they’re going to be fine. Talk to them. Go along with them to a clinic. Keep them close, in heart, in mind, in spirit – or you might lose them forever.

Posted in death, depression, life, love, media, murder, news, ottawa, suicide, uk | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Expats, Writers, Degenerates and other Rarities

Posted by E on April 18, 2007

with-korean-students.jpgKorea, 2001

Sitting here a full six months after publishing my first book, I can’t help but reflect on my progression into a pool of mental stagnation.

From the euphoric high of finally holding in my hands a complete book and brimming with excitement over the next project – “Now that this is done, look how easy it can be! Let’s do it again! Now!”, to being torn at having to choose between different projects, and finally burning out inside my ideas while barely touching the keyboard. And so lately I have been revisiting much of my time as an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. Life was chaotic, full of stresses and joys that entwined into a symbiotic landscape inside my head, and out of that emerged the most fierce independence I have ever experienced.

I hardly put a pen to paper then, and the temporary act of relinquishing my masochistic need to create, that painful expulsion of memory into creative form, was blissful. I could feel “normal”, no longer propelled to stand apart from others, imbibed with my own secret stories. There was nothing to me but my suitcase and my resume. There was power in this hollowness of spirit. Albeit for a short while in the context of my life, I was free of the compulsion to create anything.

Within that hollowness there were many other life forms, all drawn to the East because, paradoxically for a place where so many natives are fiercely inhibited, it was the land of the unrestrained. I met teachers there who were drunks, expelled from their jobs back in the US and Canada, most who had no certifications whatsoever save for an online degree in TESOL that can be purchased with $400. Korean private language academies were so desperate for teachers they took anyone whose passport photograph conveyed as Caucasian and under 40. A sad but true fact. I was given return flight tickets, a very generous salary, and my own bachelor apartment.

That was the time for people of my generation to escape their student loans, minimal wage jobs and lack of respect – by taking the first offer from an Asian school who afforded you the title of honorable teacher. And yet while there, while seeking solidarity from others, I found myself in a minority of expats – I did not drink, smoke nor use occasional drugs, and well, just about everyone did just about everything. The attraction for male teachers was hooking up with pretty Korean girls. There were lots of them to fit the demand, very skinny and superficial girls who were drawn toward “Meegook” American boyfriends and preferably more than a couple.

And then there were the teachers who had other intentions, who were there simply for the children. I could see it by the void in their eyes and by their sheer inability to converse with other adults; these were people who would never hold a job back home. Eventually they would be fired in Korea, and drift along, from school to school, working without a legal visa, until they simply disappeared.

The appeal for social rejects and pedophiles to just disappear from their home towns, to be handed a flight ticket and a free apartment in a foreign country where children are so much more accessible, can be irresistible to that type of individual. It’s just too easy.

Although I may get some flack for this, I do believe there are more degenerate expat teachers with transparent “degrees” than there are genuine ones.

Asia is a haven for transient backpackers looking for quick cash and young grads who have a hard time finding employment after graduation. Standards for hiring are abysmally low – you only have to look presentable in a photo and speak English with no accent – not that the latter criteria is easily enforceable: I worked for an entire year with a French Canadian guy who could barely be understood by the foreign teachers. But he was nice-looking with blue eyes and was interviewed over the phone by a director with almost no English conversational ability.

During the time I was employed at my school in Seoul, out of seven foreign teachers, four were regular drug abusers who liked to chase their pot down with hard liquor. When Steve and Andy, two New York-based teachers, took their week-long holiday together in Vietnam and Thailand, they returned with a sizeable amount of marijuana and hashish. As they got high in their apartment, they laughed and shared how they managed to pull off such a feat – part of the stash had been smuggled in Steve’s rectum.

Aside from the “good” times, there were many things I disliked about my stint in Korea, but there was nothing I hated more, more than the crowding and shoving on the subways, more than the spitting and the open stares from ugly men, and that was the expats.

But as I sit here reflecting on my year and a half in South Korea, I am reminded of another type I met abroad. There were not many of them around, but the few who did come were wonderful, inspiring individuals who genuinely wanted to make the most of their experience. They loved the children and were warm with all the students, young and old, who entered their classrooms.

me in Koreaat a Korean festival in Inchon

I came across people like that at expat community groups who met in pubs and restaurants across Seoul. There were lots of gay people there too, and one of the groups I’d joined was Seoul Sisters, a network made up of lesbian Korean adoptees who had returned to explore the land of their birth, and Western women who were either teachers like myself or stationed at the US army base.

I met creative people who were artists, writers, photographers and far beyond such definitions, and had transformed their lives and experiences into art. Such individuals humbled me; they had the strength to be themselves entirely, to drop the interchangeable masks that most people hold up in front of their genuine selves.

During the times I was desperate and wanted to do the “midnight run” back home, I would go on the internet and read the personal accounts of others who were in my place. Isolated in Korea, sometimes the only places we could interact was through the internet. Some isolated teachers had their own blogs or contributed to message boards such as Dave’s ESL café, where just about every ESL-teaching expat eventually makes a stopover. Even after returning back to Canada, I continued to read the accounts of likeminded spirits, people who were not deterred, either by site monitors or the pressure of other teachers and bosses, from speaking truthfully about their experiences.

One individual in particular made potentially the biggest contribution to the Korea ESL experience, by keeping up a significant blog and writing a book titled Island of Fantasy that became published through Lulu, the same press I used for my own material. His experiences paralleled my own to such degree that I often felt as though in some way I knew him. Indeed, I could easily have ran into him since we were in Korea at the same time and frequented some of the same places.

Shawn Matthews was a brilliant writer, full of humour and sarcastic wit to satisfy even the most jaded of readers. When I finished reading his book I must admit to feeling somewhat jealous – he had beaten me to the punch line, he’d written the book I intended to write. He was around my age, and there he went, putting out a memoir that took words and experiences right out of my mouth.

Over the last year I thought of his book as I put together the final draft of my own manuscript. Although what I was writing was on an altogether different subject, I derived some inspiration from his adventures, and was very satisfied with myself after I finally published my own book.

So this brings me back to a few months ago, when I was trying hard to tear myself away from the writer’s block that had enclosed my new project. Suddenly, it occurred to me to look back on Shawn’s blog for some satirical inspiration. But as I looked it up on the net, I quickly discovered that it had disappeared. The blog was gone! What had happened to it?

I googled Shawn’s name and to my shock, found out that Shawn had killed himself a month before. This person I had not met but had become synonymous with my own Korean experience, with my own desire to be a successful writer, had taken his life by leaping off the roof of his apartment building in Beijing, China. He had been teaching in China over the last year and apparently over the later months became constantly jeered and harassed over the internet by other teachers who disliked his opinions. They had gone so far as actually call him a pedophile on some chat boards, which could impact his teaching career. This turn of events, coupled with his state of depression over a girlfriend and perhaps other personal matters, made him snap. So on May 23, 2006, this young man could not take it anymore and committed suicide.

My effort to process his death was surreal. It was a tragedy that so much potential be lost, be thrown away like that. And as I found myself crying for someone who had been so alike myself, I was suddenly given the lesson of worth. On a deeper, more significant level, this realization snapped inside my body like an chord, resonating louder, reverberating though my being. I was outside my own self, looking at this other person who was beautiful and talented and did not value his own life enough to preserve its magic. A young man who had everything going for him – his youth, his health, and a brilliant mind. All gone in an instant.
For the first time in my entire life, the message finally sank in. In the past I had come so close to being where Shawn was, to throwing away all the good I had but did not see it right in front of me.

And the other thing I did not see until recently: the very act of not writing, of not fulfilling my potential, as an act of defiance against my spirit. As a lashing out against my own sense of self-worth. For every day I do not create, I tear another page out of the manuscript of my own fulfillment.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s words never had more weight than today – When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.

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