Friday, April 30, 2010

Location, location, location - whose head are you in?

We finally have our replacement Permanent Resident cards. Elapsed time since starting to gather the application together: four months, mostly spent with Immigration Canada.

But some of that lag time was in our court. We each had an individual letter (even the children) notifying us that the cards were ready for collection. Office opening hours, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. And you have to come in in person to collect.


Just in case there was a short cut, I made the first exploratory foray last week, nipping out of the office to get downtown to the Immigration office with all our letters and accompanying documentation in my sweaty paws.

There was good news, and bad news. The good news was that I collected my card, and the process was quick and painless. The bad news was that everyone else still needed to turn up in person for theirs. Even the kids. That was the worst part of it. Ali was able to pop in from work the next day for hers, but I was really hoping to be able to collect the children's cards myself, as I had signed the application for them. No dice. And by now we know better than to try to argue with the system.

So this week we notified the school that they would be late, and yesterday I took them in as early as possible, got their cards (hurray!), drove back up the Peninsula to get them to school, then back down again for work. I felt like I'd done half a day's work before I'd even started.

Apart from the inconvenience, we have one serious gripe with the collection process.

The letter we received listed off things that we needed to bring with us. All passports used for the last five years, record of landing (original), photo ID, etc. All perfectly understandable, and all seemed to be the originals of documents we'd photocopied to send with the application forms. So it sounded like a simple matter of verifying the submitted copies as genuine.

Now, I had no trouble with mine, but they asked Ali for a lot more documentation that hadn't been mentioned in the letter. Luckily she had some papers from work that seemed to satisfy them, but we speculated that maybe it was because her passport had expired. Mine is still current, but everyone else's has expired in the last three or four years. So, just in case, I took additional information with me for the kids. Sure enough, the lady behind the counter asked for more proof that they had been living in Canada. Luckily I had recent school reports which did the trick.

So why couldn't they have had the decency to mention that in the letter? We went to a lot of trouble to meet with their diminutive opening hours, and would not have been happy with a wasted journey that could have easily been avoided.

Afterwards, we puzzled over this. The passport bit, not the lack of information. The clerk had leafed through all the passports, presumably looking for whether we'd been out of the country, and if so, whether it was long enough to disqualify us from our PR status. So, we reasoned, why bother with more stringent checks when the passport has expired? How could we have possibly have left the country without a valid passport? Duh!

Later on, completely unrelated to all this, I was thinking about narrative points of view when the answer to this apparent bureaucratic idiocy suddenly became plain.

We had been thinking from our point of view: that of honest citizens who, not having current passports, clearly could not have traveled. But switch to the point of view of the immigration clerk. We are unknowns, and maybe not overly generous with the truth. How does she know we don't have a replacement passport stashed at home with loads of incriminating stamps tracking our travels around the globe, possibly having spent the past three years anywhere but in Canada?

How could I have been so blind? Here I am, writing multi-point-of-view stories where the reveal of information is so crucial, and where I'm constantly thinking about "what would this character make of that situation? What information are they privy to?" Why should that only apply to my characters?

Any writer sooner or later will be exhorted to "write what you know." Now, this is not meant to be taken literally as "write only about things that you know about." It is meant to advise you to draw from your own personal experiences and emotional responses to inform and enrich your writing.

This is a flow of influence from the real world to the fictional. But do you have any personal examples where the flow has been the other way around? Where writing has given you insight into the real world?


  1. The only reversal of fiction to real life I can think of is that writing characters has made me more forgiving of real life people. Instead of judging their actions, even if you can see it all ending in tears, I see them as 'interesting' and even entertaining. Plus even the meanest people you meet can give you inspiration for a new character!
    Enjoyed your post. :-)

  2. Hello Charmaine, and welcome.

    That's an insightful observation. I'm all for bringing more forgiveness and understanding into the world. Maybe we should encourage more people to become writers.


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