Poet, short story writer, novelist, punk rock singer and mother; a series of occupations Yasuko Thanh fills on a day by day basis. Now, with the release of Mistakes to Run With, Yasuko Thanh will add the title of memoirist to the list. On April 3 she will be sharing some of her story at Incite: Forged in Fire hosted at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation center.
In her debut award winning novel, Mysterious fragrances of the Yellow Mountain, Thanh crafted a story revolving around multiple characters who clamoured to be dominant in the fictional novel’s universe. For this new more introspective outing, she has had to change her style to suit the new territory.
Thanh was quick to state that work can develop in a tidier fashion if restricted to one point of view from the outset. Given that the voice had to be her own, she found it more difficult to write Mistakes to Run With.
“If I didn’t like the way a character was developing in the novel, I could change the circumstances surrounding that character by deleting the old and rewriting. That freedom, unfortunately, doesn’t exist when writing a memoir,” she says.
These restrictions led her to a more honest and upfront look at the path that led to her current place. Though the topic of her youth includes some difficult truths, Yasuko is not shy about pointing to the time when she chose to live on the streets.
“I did not want to live in a group home or a foster home, so my own inability at 15 years-old to see viable options for myself is one of the factors. What does someone who is a Ward of the Court at that age yet who wants to live independently do? Back then, I thought I was being reasonable. On a more fundamental level, the desire to belong and to be understood kept me on the street,” she explains.
Choices and repercussions
As a 9th grade dropout self-exiled to the streets of Victoria, Thanh was soon forced to find some way to provide for herself.
“I’d tried selling drugs, panhandling, boosting [shop lifting], and then graduated to prostitution, which, of the four had the lowest overhead and the highest return,” she says.
Young, under-educated and short on survival options, Thanh experienced many of the things that society at large often turns a blind eye towards. In so doing, she came to the uncomfortable realization that many people on the streets arrive there as a by-product of both personal choices and experiences they cannot influence or control.
“It’s one point on a continuum where even if the location is the result of events and feelings, it will produce future negative points including, assault, rape, arrest, stigmatisation, etc… the original pursuit can’t be lost in this; the search for love, a home and acceptance are often the driving factors,” says Thanh.
Because of that original pursuit a certain loyalty can be forged.
“This is one of the realities that makes rehabilitating the street-involved more complicated – when those in the helping professions pressure youth through legal or other channels to “change their evil ways” and “straighten up” they reinforce the “either/or” dialectic that requires throwing the baby, and the life-saving good of family (even a dysfunctional one) out with the bathwater of trauma,” she comments.
A sincere voice from within
With a writing career both inspired and diverse in its fruits, Thanh brings a bevy of tools to the work bench for this endeavour, and though the subject is intimate and weighty the self-described introvert has an unflinchingly honest look towards the creation of this book.
“A memoir, as a more comprehensive look at the past, requires a more comprehensive approach. A different kind of honesty is necessary between me and myself as much as between me and the reader,” says Thanh.
For more information, please visit: www.vpl.bibliocommons.com/events/5c6f1e74c8cde83e00a49f29