(Guest Blog prepared by Louise Mandell)
Luckily I usually look at the junkmail on my computer because that’s where the invitation was lodged. It wasn’t junk. In handsome white lettering on a solid black background, with an image of the Tshimsian stone Twin Masks at the top, it requested my attendance at the launch of Leslie Hall Pinder’s novel Bring Me One of Everything. The image was appropriate because the novel uses, as its central metaphor, the Twin Mask paradox of being sighted and being blind.
The Sto:lo Judge, Steven Point, now the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, would be there.
In sly and sharp contrast to the honorific promise of the Queen’s representative putting in an appearance, the invitation said that the event would be held at The Waldorf Hotel on East Hastings Street. This once flea-bitten, seedy hotel had been spiffed up in recent years, although I understood it still flaunted its cheesy decor from the 1950s. When I practised criminal law in the ‘70s, this was one of my legal pit-stops, as many of my clients were busted at that hotel.
I wondered if His Honor had ever been there.
When I arrived at 6 p.m. sharp, the low-ceiling room was bedecked with banners, as well as photographs of the author (one taken by Ulli Stelzer, masterful photographer for Reid’s The Black Canoe) and filled with tulips (Sophia, the protagonist’s mother, loved tulips). It was already packed. The Mistress of Ceremonies, Clo Ostrove, careful and passionate, began to orchestrate the event. She mentioned that Leslie had booked the space without knowing that its name, the Hideaway Room, seemed like a pun on Haida-way (in the novel Austin Hart goes to Haida Gwaii to salvage the largest remaining totem poles in the world). Even stranger, she learned that the massive pillars in the room were actually two Tahitian totem poles, covered with bamboo cladding until they could be restored. They date from the same time as the fictional Hart’s visit to remove the Haida poles.
The audience, primed by these stories, was directed by Clo to “All rise for the arrival of His Honor the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia” — which wasn’t really required because we were already standing. Everyone tried to stand taller. Into the centre of the room came Leslie and His Honor, holding hands. Behind them was His Honor’s beloved driver in uniform. Leslie looked around, declared that there should be bagpipes, and proceeded to hold her nose with one hand and chop at her throat with the other, making a sound which was awful enough to be the wind coming from that dreaded Scottish instrument. Thankfully, she ran out of air and His Honor took to the microphone.
What a speaker he is. His words were slow and measured, not so much commanding attention as taking the listener into another place: the realm of the native spirit-house where the elder speaks and things are understood which seem not to be quite of this world. He said, “It’s not every day that the Lieutenant Governor comes to a book launch. In fact you’re downright discouraged from doing so. I left my aide de camp at home.” He talked about their legal work together. “We’d stop trains on their tracks. We thought we could do anything.” And then, “She taught me the honesty you require to be a true warrior.” This man, who once sued Her Majesty and now “stood in her shoes” (as Clo said) was magnificent in his admiration of the author. Who then presented him with a T-shirt having the book design on the front. She said she hoped he’d wear it (along with his “pointy hat”) in the hut he used for carving “out back of that palace the Queen built for you”. She said, “I wrote you a letter; everyone reads your letters before you do, so maybe it’s okay if I read this aloud. ‘There’s a character in the book inspired by you. For the protagonist, Alicia Purcell, he is her guide and protector; he can move between worlds but is fully grounded in his own: intelligent, intuitive and wise. In Greek mythology he is Hermes; in native country he is a shaman. He is my homage to you.’” She added that one of His Honor’s most inspiring qualities was the capacity to forgive, “and what has forged your forgiveness is love”.
At which point the dramatic presentation began, directed by James Fagan Tait (Vancouver) and Leslee Silverman (Winnipeg). The talented Sto:lo actress, Columpa Bobb, performed three sections of the novel; but “performed” isn’t accurate. She became the Weeping Woman Pole (“who is neither weeping, nor woman”) — a shape that is “wooed, wished, wound out of wood”. She was the pole as it was hacked down by Austin Hart’s expedition. With the lines: “We’ve fallen. Felled. We are all felled,” she made it so.
It was a great relief to next have a light, somewhat comical scene between Alicia (performed by Bobb) and her mother Sophia (performed by Pinder). The two were good together, playing “resigned, beloved enemies” (as one audience member said). Then came the final scene (the last chapter of the novel) where Bobb again “became” the pole, but now it was being raised back up “inch by blessed inch” accompanied by the drumbeat/heartbeat played by Bobb’s real mother, the accomplished poet Lee Maracle. The closing lines are:
Let the soul in, to begin again, blessed beginning.
To this place belong, once more.
Whereupon, as promised in the program, music surrounded us and dancing befell us, thanks to the wonderful music from Leslie Harris’s band (Lesismore).
The entire event had an inspirational quality. I heard one young woman say she was going to quit her job and do what she really wanted to do. The evening had that kind of affect: to see such originality, generosity and intimacy shared all around made us want to meet our potential. I certainly hadn’t expected that. It caused me to assess my life, check it out, make sure I was happy enough, creative enough and fulfilled. This sprang, not from jealousy or envy, but because the spirit in the room was large and abundant and it made us want to make our lives bountiful. Quite an evening.
(Photographs by Nick Oja: The Author and His Honor; the actress Columpa Bobb)