Fleeing to Canada?

On February 9, 2017, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

This month, William Morrow US is re-releasing my comic novel, Playing House, first published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor. The protagonist, Frannie, is an ex-pat Canadian living in New York who finds herself accidentally pregnant; she ultimately returns to the land of free healthcare, and then to the much curiouser (and more beautiful and funnier) landscape of Cape Breton.
Here’s one of two excerpts I want to toss up:

“The Apple of My Eye”

“When one lives in New York, all other cities are insubstantial by comparison; no matter how fine they are, how lively and inspiring, they invariably become small, plodding, too-eager burgs in the eyes of the young they’ve so carefully tended, who’ve fled them. Where am I, one asks, upon disembarking from an airplane that lifted off at La Guardia. Not New York? Why, then I must be above the treeline! Help, help!
Having lived in Manhattan for nine years, I was, like most New Yorkers, in the habit of darting in and out of other places with anxious swiftness, as if afraid to stay too long and perish from ennui. Thus I leaped into the back of a cab at Pearson International Airport in Toronto and barked at the driver: ‘downtown, northwest corner of College and Yonge.’ Vite, vite. No point going to Mum’s first. All I had with me was a shoulder bag. I’d do this free medical checkup, stay the weekend, and then off. I had promised The Editor I’d be back on Tuesday to tackle the Annie Dillard essay on pond life and the meaning of God.
“Do you come from Toronto?” the cabdriver asked. He was a good-looking man, dark and fine-featured, with relaxed, intelligent eyes. He was wearing a baseball cap and a pair of earmuffs, with a plaid scarf wound around his neck. It wasn’t that cold.
“I suppose I’m from Toronto. I live in New York, now.”
“Aha! New York!” He gave out a deep bark of a laugh. “I lived in New York also. When I first came to North America, I drove a taxi there.” He smiled into his rearview.
“Well, that must have been hellish driving,” I said, returning his smile.
He laughed again. “Listen to me, it was like a bad dream, like the dream you have of being in front of the class room.” He spoke fluent English, but it was oddly inflected, and English vocabulary with a Franco-African rhythm, so that I had to lean forward to catch what he said.
“Where did you come from,” I asked.
“Burundi. The Congo. I was a doctor.”
“How did you wind up in Toronto?”
“Oh, by accident. Some friends asked me to come up with them from New York, in a car. For a holiday. I thought we were going to Montreal. I had never heard of Toronto. Only Montreal. I thought Quebec was the capital of Canada. We crossed at Buffalo, but then I couldn’t get back to America. I didn’t have the right papers. Alors, je suis reste ici. Do you speak French?”
“Un peu,” I offered, noncommittally. I took French for years and years, of course. Je suis, tu es, il est. Ou est le bar? Not much use for it in Manhattan. We gunned it down Highway 427 along the city’s western flank, in a race for our lives with thousands of other cars all hurtling along at 80 mph for no particular reason. The only place more frightening to drive is Texas, in my experience, but that is because Texans are macho, whereas Torontonians are repressed, and just work out their competitive rage on the road.
I stared out the window at the slate-gray expanse of Lake Ontario. Every time I came home, there were more and more glass condo towers steepling upward along its shore, being bought up, my mother said, by wealthy folk from Russia and Hong Kong who were hastily transferring their money from less congenial homelands.
Toronto is a city filed with accidental citizens. They come from everywhere, from Argentina, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, but rarely because they have an explicit vision of the place; they aren’t drawn by mythic images of riches and glamour like the immigrants arriving at the airports and harbours of New York. They are exiled, for the most part, and have thrown darts at a map of the world. Arriving, astonished by the cold, bewildered by hockey and our Nordic reserve, they nonetheless build their cities within our city: Chinatown, Little India, Portugal town. Our city becomes a new city surprised by itself, double-taking at the profusion of culture: Brazilian dance clubs, Indian cricket matches, Polish delis, Chinese newspapers, Ecuadorian snack stands, somber Italian Easter parades.
It’s wonderfully spiced, this city, but there’s no point arguing that in the New York corridors of The Pithy Review. Toronto is Canada. Canada? Bland. Clean. Nice. Boring. Polite. Lots of weather. Weather and hockey players. Not much else up there. “Canada has, what, four million people?” a friend of mine at the New York Times once asked me. “No, it’s over thirty million.” So, what’s the difference? None of them are us. Blandnicecleanboringpolite. Lots of weather. Cold up there, huh?
My loyalties were awkwardly divided. I was besotted with New York. I felt like a courtier at Versailles who periodically toured the provinces to take the air and find myself encircled by the curious: what news of the king? I walked among my countrymen with a cloak of unimpeachable authority, possessing greater enlightenment, effortless superiority, being a Sneetch with a star etched upon my belly.
On the other hand, what’s bred in the bone, as Robertson Davies pointed out. He was a novelist. Canadian.”

 

America: Plus ca Change…but darkening

On December 10, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

I recently unearthed a story I reported for Spy magazine in November 1990 about attending Judges’ School in Buffalo. Under present circumstances, it seems hilariously yet terrifyingly germaine. If you’re wondering why some Americans aren’t bothered by a President with no experience, read on..

“If Ivana Trump can run a hotel and Kirk Douglas can write novels, I thought, why can’t I become a judge?
So I called the New York State Office of Court Administration to ask. Did I need a law degree or typing skills? Just what did I need? To be 21-years-old; that’s it. If I could find myself a nice New York town to live in – Jamestown, say, or Bronxville, or wherever – then all I had to do was get elected to the bench.
Becoming a town judge would mean I could skip law school and bar exams and defending people I didn’t like, because the state constitution doesn’t call for a law degree at the town or village level. Of the 2,400 judges holding court in New York State’s smaller communities, only 20 percent have law degrees. Which is not to say that just anyone can pound a gavel – nearly 90 percent of the current judges have a tenth-grade education or better.
Prudently, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) requires that judges elected without law degrees attend a six-day “Basic Course” in criminal and civil law, forms processing and deportment. The course finishes up with a 50-question true or false exam, for which the passing grade is 70 percent. Then, provided the judges know at least 70 percent of what they are supposed to know (and are over 21), they are empowered to throw you in jail.
There are some limits, of course. Town and village judges can issue orders of protection against belligerent spouses – no problem. But, they cannot impose fines exceeding $2,000 or pass sentences of more than one year. They can issue arrest warrants for, say, rapists, but they can’t sentence them, because all felons get bumped up to a superior court. Also, they have to have a reason. A judge can’t go around threatening to “railroad” people if they “ever set foot” in his court. After expressing this intention to strangers in his local bar, one judge was removed from the bench a few years back, according to Ed Borelli, an official with the OCA.
Many of the subtler rules of judging are simply made up by an OCA advisory committee upon written request from judges who were wondering. For instance, Borelli advises, “You should not be holding your arraignments in driveways or in barns.”
One of the Basic Courses is taught in Buffalo, in the law office of Town Justice Eugene Salisbury. Salisbury is a champion of the no-law-degree-needed faction within New York’s judiciary, which periodically expresses ambivalence about the matter. Salisbury himself has a law degree, but what is most remarkable about him, at least if you’re staring at him for several hours, is what he has done with his hair. Two thick, greased locks have been combed forward from either side of the part and curled into a large O atop his forehead, like the scope on a rifle.
Judge Salisbury is a good teacher because he speaks plainly and distinctly, force-feeding hundreds of years’ worth of precedent down the throats of the men and women – heavy equipment operators, mail couriers, state troopers and refrigerator repairmen – who would be judges. His ten pupils grapple like heroes, yellow highlighting markers in hand, as Salisbury swings them through misdemeanours, felonies, arraignments, defendants’ rights, who gets to set bail (“Not the D.A. – I don’t know how many irate defense attorneys have phoned me up…”) and where to buy an affordable robe.
“Town and village judges are at the base of the entire pyramid of the criminal justice system,” Judge Salisbury tells his class. “All we need is a few bad apples, and we’re all in trouble.”
The numbers go up and down, but on average about 120 judges runinto problems with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct every year. Borelli, who has flown up from New York City for a section on judicial ethics, brings an armload of cautionary tales. Until his appearance, there has been much fretting over to whom, exactly, one could go with a question. “Hmmm, that’s a tough one to call,” Salisbury keeps saying, never coming right out and admitting that law is a system of complex precedents that might, you know, call, maybe, for legal training. It is suggested that the county judge would be okay, until Borelli deflates this notion. “You can’t call ‘em up! They might be hearing your case on appeal!” Eyes shift around the room. Now the thought of having to ask smarty-pants lawyers haunts everyone with the specter of public humiliation.
Another problem, Borelli explains, concerns getting tangled up in public associations that might seem all fine and well if you’re not a judge. The way New York State words it, the judiciary “cannot lend the prestige and influence of the office to advance personal or political causes.” For instance, an Erie County judge was disciplined in 1987 for deciding the Sexiest Bald Man in Buffalo contest and kissing the winner on the head.
Borelli’s example prompts a round of worried questioning from the judges-to-be. “How about calling bingo?” asks a fellow. “Can’t do it,” says Borelli. A timid man from Warsaw County asks about hot-dog cookouts to raise money for the fire department. “Selling hot dogs is okay,” says Borelli, “but not to fundraise.”
“That’s splittin’ hairs,” grumbles the Warsaw judge, who is upset by this snag. “We don’t have that big a fire department.”
Learning to tell the forest from the trees, ethics-wise, causes some consternation in the class, but an even more difficult section is the three-hour tutorial on how to fill out forms. There are so many forms, and they are so dull: traffic tickets, bail sheets, monthly court ledgers, all filled with persnickety fine print. Judges must learn about these in detail because many of them don’t have clerks, and if they are not administratively up to snuff, they could get into trouble. “How in the hell am I going to keep all this straight?” mutters a retired airline pilot who has taken up judging to keep “my head from going rusty.”
“Who here uses docket forms?” asks Cybil Kennedy, a court clerk in Grand Island who has popped in to the conduct the form session. “Well, I use ordinary envelopes,” says a farmer. “Do you index the envelopes separately?” prods Cybil. There’s a moment of confusion. “You have to keep a separate index,” she explains, “and you have to have some sort of file for each case. You can’t just throw them all in a box.”
A former sheriff from Chautauqua County, dressed in a purple turtleneck beneath a pastel-plaid dress shirt, has been on the bench in his town of 25,000 for a few months already, so he provides tips. “What I do – this is my own personal thing,” he says, “is I round fines off, so I don’t have to make change.” Why not be innovative when you’re winging it anyway? “Like they said in the service,” one judge reminds the others, “it ain’t against the rules until you get caught.”
By the end of the course, the judges seem more anxious than confident, more bewildered than eager. Having a smoke in the law-office kitchen before the exam, some complain. “They give you an example of some law, and then there’s always an exception!” says a math teacher. Precedent, schmecedent shrugs the refrigerator repairman. So how will he know how to rule? “Well, because of evidence,” he figures. “You know, who’s got proof.” The math teacher rolls his eyes. Then everyone files into class for the test.

 

Your Labour Day Holiday Menu

On September 1, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

Labour Day Holiday Menu

Canadian Shield + wild blue berries + severe thunder storm watch

Mink + beaver + snapping turtle + zebra mussel cut on heel + swirl of panic about snapping turtle + blood in water/jus

Paddle board + insanely barking schnauzer + water ski

Dock spiders + West Nile Virus + East Coast bat reduction

Ale + artisanal gin + Pisco Sour + badly barbecued everything

Cicada + crickets + CNN Trump infusion

Bonfire + Bailey’s + spontaneous skinny dip + screaming match about religion

Fair trade coffee + forgotten/absent milk + bitter morning silence

Hammock + hungover nap + two pages of latest buzzed novel + nap

20 per cent data overuse surcharge on cell plan

No substitutions

 

Dear American friends,
We, here in Toronto, completely understand the mounting shock you feel about what Donald Trump is able to say without blowback from his grassroots political base. Words like “unfathomable” and “inconceivable” and “holy fucking shit” come to mind.
Trump derides the integrity of a war hero’s family. He mocks the disabled. He lies and contradicts himself with the frequency that other people floss their teeth.
But look. We went through this in North America’s fourth largest city with mayor Rob Ford.
Perhaps you’ll recall that Ford was an out-of-control alcoholic who eventually admitting to smoking Crack, after careering around City Hall on all kinds of cartoonish antics including making a reference to giving his wife oral sex on live TV.
Ford wasn’t a narcissist, so much as he was an overgrown child with addiction problems and poor impulse control, may he rest in peace.
But, like the gardener in Peter Seller’s brilliant movie “Being There,” Ford unwittingly became the blank slate upon which people projected their bitter frustrations and hopes for vengeance. He was a mascot for sinners, as one Jamaican-Canadian told me. How do people participate in a democracy when they’re dispossessed, hounded by the police, repeatedly humiliated? They support someone who resonates with their sense of failure or anger.
The truth we Torontonians learned from our bizarre Rob Ford era is that North American voters have completely reconceived their idea of what’s important in electing a governing figure. It isn’t about merit. It isn’t about resume. It’s about projection of self. This person looks like me, and I want to be seen, witnessed, acknowledged, in elite power structures.
Once that deeply abiding, personal decision is made to invest in a mascot, there is absolutely no dissuading. Arguments are futile.
I know, because I have tried arguing with Trump supporters on Facebook, and they engage in a closed loop system of logical argument that just repeatedly locks out the basic premise of Trump’s radical unfitness to lead. You point out to them that Republican security advisors have just penned an open letter to raise the alarm about Trump having access to national security briefings, given that he’s clearly suffering from a personality disorder, and they counter that Bernie supporters weren’t happy at the DNC.
They have CHECKED OUT on the matter of perspective, because what really matters to them is having a mascot.
They want to be heard, and they will, quite literally if unintentionally, blow up the country for that to happen.

 

Sketches of a book tour to Poland

On April 23, 2016, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

I don’t fly often enough to be used to that thing, now, where everyone books their seat online beforehand. So in my new capacity as the international travel luddite, I highly recommend the pull-out seat beside the back bathroom as opposed to, say, the safety pocket under the pilot’s feet when you set off for Warsaw without online booking.

Woke up on the overnight flight to discover that I’d flat-out stolen the blanket of the stranger beside me. Just sleep-grabbed it. Had it tucked squarely under my chin.

Love Warsaw already. In the tourism mag. in my hotel room, describing a museum, it reads: “Having not even entered the main exhibition space you already know that you’re going to be in for one of those museum experiences the Poles excel at — the massive downer.”

My Polish publisher has launched a Snap Chat campaign featuring my book touring around Warsaw. My book in a cafe. My book on a bench. My book being tucked in with stuffed animals for the night. The cutest and most random publicity for a tome about death that you’ll ever, likely, encounter.

On Polish Catholic Radio today, the interviewer’s first question to me was: “Patricia Pearson, where is Heaven?” And I’m just trying to surmount jet lag with a stance of perky, so I’m game for whatever is thrown at me, and I’m like, “Right. Okay, so, you know, Heaven is like…” And then I realize I’m in a surreal dream where any answer is plausible. Or not. Arguably, Heaven is four feet above the three-dimensional reality of Peru. Or maybe it’s just being on heroin. Or butter tarts. Or it’s a small, gated community on Jupiter. I was just kidding about promoting my book, I’d like to go home now.

Auschwitz. Wow. Just… Let me say this. The graceful, thoughtful Poles, who were many-times killed there before it became a genocide factory, have preserved the place for visitors without pomp or sentiment. There’s no announcing signage on the surrounding roads. You stumble across it, and then you’re transported back to to the 1940s. To a cold, calculated evil that you see laid out in the neat barracks. Here is the wall that people were shot against. Here is the gas chamber. Here are the spectacles rendered useless by murder, and the shoes, and the cooking pots, and the toys, and the hair that the Nazis repurposed for textiles. The whole of it renders you silent.

A couple of months ago, I gave a talk to an undergraduate class about my book on anxiety. Or rather, I appeared via Skype, somewhat muffled and pixilated, and the class peered at the computer screen and asked me questions.

The one I found most baffling was this: “Did you find it hard to research your book without being triggered?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, feeling like the language of discussion had just shifted into, I don’t know, Nuatl.

“How did you read about other people’s anxiety without being triggered?”

Hmm. That’s an extremely unexpected question that arises from what we’d call a generation gap.

“Well,” I ventured, wishing I could pixilate out of the classroom and blame it on tech problems, “for me, reading about other people’s suffering was hugely consoling and enlightening, and that’s really the function of art, isn’t it, to make common cause of human experience…?”

I suddenly wasn’t sure if this undergraduate class had been exposed to art of any kind. What does one avoid, in avoiding being triggered? Guernica? Verdi? Here is how Primo Levi, in his forward to Survival at Auschwitz, would have felt about that:

“I commend these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children,

Or may your house fall apart,

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.”

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/189543/trigger-warnings-on-campus

 

 

How We Tell Our Tales

On October 6, 2015, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

Well, it’s autumn, which doesn’t usually put one in mind of holidays, unless you’re among those mystery folks who keep Christmas Stores in business in small summer resort towns. (Stroll along past the shops displaying size 0 beach sarongs and then, unaccountably: Frosty the Snowman, crèche figurines, alarming reminders of snow. No!)
But lately I’ve been spending more of my time on the privately-commissioned books that my husband and I create for families: www.bellwoodspress.com — which they often wish to gift. It’s a joy to work on these books. For once there’s no marketing calculus, no requirement to ‘target an audience.’ They are simply stories about lives well-lived, about love, about war. It makes me feel like a family bard, lending my voice to collective remembrance.

 

We Are the Hollow Bunnies…

On April 2, 2015, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

When my children were young, Easter — as a secular holiday — still had a kind of organizing principle, which was the exciting Sunday afternoon egg hunt. Even if you didn’t go to Church to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, you could live vicariously through a small child’s excitement about locating hidden sweets.

It was kind of like Halloween, except that instead of the children walking around the neighbourhood demanding hits of sugar, they had to find them in the houseplants and behind the iPod charger, which is actually far more eventful and challenging than at secular Christmas, when all candies are poured into prominently-positioned socks.

So, there was something for them to do – find the eggs – and something for us parents to do, which is shop for and hide them in coaxingly obvious places. What else? Sweet pursuit and consumption is pretty much the deal if you aren’t celebrating God’s revelation through his only begotten son that there is a life eternal.

Certainly, here in North Eastern America, lapsed Christians can’t revert to the pagan, and celebrate spring. Firmly, no. We tend to have brittle, soot-black, cigarette butt-laden series of lumpen, receding snow banks on the streets, here in Canada at Easter time, which act less as a source of festive inspiration than as an existential echo of 21st century despair for humanity. Look at this landscape! What the fuck have we done?

Which feels different, somehow, than a fertility dance.

Still, I didn’t really notice this…absence of festive point until Clara and Geoffrey outgrew the Easter Sunday quest for hidden chocolates wrapped in foil.

“Do you want to do an egg hunt this year?” I asked my 15-year-old son, a bit desperately last week.

“Mom,” he protested laconically, refusing to gaze away from his PS3 FIFA World Cup 2014 soccer match lest some unknown pedophiliac online opponent score a goal, “you just complained that I didn’t go through a rite of passage into manhood when I turned fifteen. Now you’re hoping I’ll run around looking for chocolate?”

“Well,” I said, “what if we staged a dangerous, rite-of-passage egg hunt? I could hide the eggs in hazardous waste. On top of moving trains. Under your bed. There could be an egg at a mortifying venue, such as the ten-square feet that apparently exists as a demarcated and knowable space around your mother in public.”

“Mom. God.”

I gave up, and went back to the kitchen to clean the fridge while listening to a new talking book by Eric Larson about the sinking of the Lusitania. (Woodrow Wilson played a weird amount of golf at the outset of American involvement in WWI, just as an FYI from listening to this book.)

At some point, I thought, well we can make Easter feel significant by slaughtering a baby animal, like a lamb. But, no, we can’t even do that, because everyone except me has become a vegetarian in the family. There isn’t even a foodie angle. We are about to embark upon a five-hour drive to my mother’s house for an Easter weekend that consists of precisely nothing more eventful than a meal featuring tofu crumble, eaten during a freezing rain storm, with everyone feeling stifled and bitter.

If I can think of a reboot on this holiday for northerners who disavow spiritual life, I’ll be sure to let you know.

(And if you want to know how I’ve come to appreciate the metaphor of resurrection, as someone with new and deep respect for the transcendent in our lives, I’ll post about that thought on Easter.)

 

In early February, 1965, the Americans went into North Vietnam while my grandfather, Lester B. Pearson, was babysitting me. (I don’t know why it seems odd, almost comical, that the leader of a nation would be looking after his ten-month-old granddaughter, but that’s how cynical our modern lens on politics has become. Even mine.)
My mother and grandmother had taken my siblings for a skate at a nearby Ottawa rink, and now there were bombs dropping on Hanoi. I try to imagine how this domestic scene plays out in the absence of a Blackberry or an iPhone. Perhaps his distractedness merely took the form of churning thoughts, while I crawled excitedly about on the floor, relishing my newfound movement.
The escalation in Vietnam would later lead to a painful and resounding clash between L.B.P. and L.B.J., culminating in a startling episode at Camp David where Johnson berated my grandfather for urging diplomacy with Hanoi during a speech in Philadelphia.
“Mike,” he growled – or drawled, I suppose, in full Texan twang — “Why did you have to piss on my rug?”
Clashes were also taking place between granddaddy and John Diefenbaker, leader of the opposition, on a more or less continuous basis as they asserted their differing visions. A newspaper cartoon at the time depicted Mike, Dief and the NDP’s Tommy Douglas as toddlers at the beach, bashing one another over the head with plastic pails and shovels over what to put on our flag.
It wasn’t a placid time. But it was energized, fruitfully argumentative, alive with protest and with possibility.
On February 15th, my mother wrote in her diary: “Canada has a new flag! It was a lovely, sunny day and I took all the children down to Parliament Hill to watch the Red Ensign come down and the Maple Leaf go up!” At some point later in the day, my grandfather held me aloft in the window of his East Block office to see the flag begin to flutter.
As a brand-new little Canadian, I entered into a reality forged by a generation of veterans, those who had lived through two global wars and a calamitous depression. They longed for peace and security, but they weren’t fearful. (How could they be, after what they’d been through?)
Instead, they envisioned a society of inclusiveness, raucous debate and mutual care. Martin Luther King was on the march in Alabama; Johnson was waging his war against poverty; Ottawa had introduced medicare, pensions, student loans, and would shortly bring in official bilingualism. This was the context in which L.B.P pushed for a flag to call our own.
He had explained his vision to an assemblage of the Royal Canadian Legion the previous year: Of his comrades in the Great War, he said, there were “men whose names were Cameron, Kimora, English, Gleidenstein, de Chapin, O’Shaughnessy.” But they “didn’t fall in or fall out as Irish Canadians, French Canadians, Dutch Canadians, Japanese Canadians. We wore the same uniform, with the same maple leaf badge, and we were proud to be known as Canadians, to serve as Canadians and to die, if it had to be, as Canadians.”
As then, he felt, so in the mid-sixties amidst Quebec restiveness, all Canadians should feel concertedly included and “unhyphenated, with pride in our nation and its citizenship, pride in the symbols of that citizenship. The flag is one such symbol.”
What Canadians shared in 1965, it seems to me, was a sense of genuine agency. We were, and are, a big-hearted people who have come together from all over the world to make that world, in turn, a better place. But too many of us right now are feeling thwarted, stifled, overlooked, even deemed suspicious, or contemptible. This is the great murmured conversation right now in our land. Our leadership is actively dissuading us from being who we are.
To hold fast to our flag, we must regain our sense that we are all in a position to wave

NB: This piece first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

 

The Stories of Our Lives

On December 12, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

What to give for the holidays? Errgh. There’s an absolutely appalling ad running on television just now, in which Charles Dickens’ iconic character of Scrooge is suddenly accosted by some young fellow from a gadget shop acting nominally as a ‘ghost.’ But all he appears for is to indulge Scrooge’s tech greed. Have you seen it? The tagline is: “I want that.” Yeah, it kind of misses Dickens’ point.
One thing my husband and I have been doing for the last year or two is devising a way for people to honour one another’s stories and memories, rather than accumulate stuff. We founded Bellwoods Press, (www.bellwoodspress.com) to produce privately-commissioned books as gifts.
Last year, for instance, a woman retained me to do a magazine-length profile of her partner, exploring what made the partner so extraordinary at her work as if I were reporting for Vanity Fair. I interviewed a wide array of people behind this woman’s back, wrote the profile, and Ambrose-my-husband designed a gorgeous, leather-bound book.
When she received it, she was so surprised by what her colleagues said that she wept.
It’s an incredible pleasure for me to do these books. I particularly like interviewing elderly people who haven’t had a chance, really, to see the trajectory of their lives through the eyes of a writer, and who sometimes haven’t been questioned with sensitive curiosity in a very long time. In that case, we don’t do it behind their backs as a surprise, but with their full collaboration.
It’s not as quick and flashy as the headphones that Scrooge is positioned as coveting. Families take time to decide if this is something they want to commission. Sometimes, they already have a manuscript (or collection of recipes) and just work exclusively with Ambrose on the design and publishing.
But, I put it out there for your consideration over the coming holidays and new year.

 

What I’m learning

On September 25, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

For five months, now, I have been opening the door to conversation about extraordinary experiences near death, and it is a bit of a gob-smack how many people have offered tales that defy the ‘wishful thinking’ analysis offered up by skeptics. Here, on this website, to me personally through email, or in discussions on radio and around the dinner table, I’ve heard about a world that seems to be wired by love. There’s a current there we haven’t identified yet. Electric.
Nothing in my career as a journalist has even come close to eliciting so many affirmative examples of something I’ve described.
It has become shatteringly obvious that when psychologists dismiss such events as imaginative reconstructions of memory, they haven’t actually taken a serious look at the data. This is particularly true in those cases – I’m choosing to call them crisis impressions – where the extraordinary perception happened before death or danger had been reported in a conventional way.
The psychologists I’ve debated cannot account for why these events are so surprising, disorienting, startling and amazing IN THEMSELVES, not just in relation to a death then occurring.
“The most inexplicable event of my life.”
“It made my sense of reality wobble.”
“I thought I was going mad.”
“I nearly lost control of the car.”
“I followed her out of the house but she disappeared.”
These experiences are as common as daylight, and the simplest explanation is that they point to a capacity for perception in human beings that is heightened by crisis.

This, I think, is the area that I’d like to home in on next. If you happen to be speaking to someone who has this kind of story, please encourage them to contact me at pearsonspost@sympatico.ca

And thank you, so much, for sharing your experiences so far, allowing the door to push further ajar.