Friday, May 4, 2007
In Paper Trail, Paré Writes Her Way into Work
by Andrea McKenzie
In Arleen Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, published by NeWest Press, she examines the everyday ritual of people dreaming themselves into and out of working. Nearing the end of her long career, a sentence, in the public service, Paré dissects the surreal and all-too-real aspects of life in the office.
The book is a series of fleeting or consuming observations, memories, thoughts and mental schedules that flow into each other like the days of the week. Paré leads us through her inner files, a briefcase filled with poetry, poetic prose, memoir and fiction. She records the misconceptions about work, both inside and outside of the office, in relation to who we are. There are sections of her book that focus on the social graces of work life and the unwritten code of fitting in, and using appropriate, airy topics for conversations with colleagues.
There are dense pages and white spaces, like work and the life in-between work. Paré looks at work as a commodity for life and how we calculate our happiness. She gives us the plight of a career woman, shifting gears between different roles that include mother, wife, daughter, and civil servant. Interestingly, she brings in another examination of how the roles of women and their existence differ in comparison with her mother’s generation.
She pairs the surreal, seemingly arbitrary working world with the concrete, practicality of life, and the surreal experiences of life with the encroaching reality of work; measuring security and what her work allows her to have in life. She uses a Cinderella complex to draw a parallel in the idea of work, security, and perceptions being impermanent.
In the midst of all this, she has short, unexpected conversations or daydreams with her own personal Kafka, which is developed throughout the book, trying to find answers, a balance or an anchor, and preparing for this transformation of leaving work.
The notion of working as part of our freewill, and subjecting ourselves to the weight, fear, demand and criticism of our work is a crucial part. She writes about trying to write herself out of her office where she feels boxed in, drawing on the story of a man who spends twenty years in a jail cell and was afraid to leave it when the door was finally opened. He wouldn’t leave. There is an invisible chain that links the civil servant to his or her desk, and the security of a full pension dangling in front of them like a gold carrot.
From there, she launches into the lists of survival kit items for everyday, to survive the office wilderness. Her briefcase is both a burden and a necessity. Paré also identifies herself and her work through the personal sacrifices, self-preservation and resourcefulness of her Parents’ working lives. In the same vein, Paré likens work to religion and takes another look at these beliefs and values.
In Paper Trail, Paré writes another story between the musings of her work poems, writing herself into a real fiction.