The good old days

On pre­serv­ing the past, in con­text

The Central Voice - - Front Page - Carolyn R. Par­sons

A few years back I did an eight-week on­line course called The Sci­ence of Hap­pi­ness through the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

The course taught about the ex­ten­sive re­search that has been done, or is in progress, about what sci­ence says truly cre­ates hap­pi­ness in peo­ple.

One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing things I learned was that it has been dis­cov­ered that the brain has a pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism whereby it dulls the me­mory of a neg­a­tive event and height­ens the me­mory of pos­i­tive one, to pre­serve hap­pi­ness.

The the­ory is that this is a de­lib­er­ate pro­tec­tive process that the hu­man brain has de­vel­oped so that peo­ple can move on in life af­ter a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. It shines the past so that of­ten, nos­tal­gia over a time gone by is preva­lent in the sto­ries told.

My con­ver­sa­tion with Gary Collins, whose books are set in this prov­ince’s past, made me con­sider that this might be true for a cul­ture as well.

But first a bit about this highly suc­cess­ful au­thor: How does a log­ger be­come a writer? Collins rec­ol­lects read­ing the la­bels on Car­na­tion Milk cans as a young boy and his own life in the woods pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion. He had an in­ter­est in what he calls, “ro­man­tic ge­og­ra­phy,” giv­ing the ex­am­ple of im­ages of “moon­light down through the trees, shin­ing on a lake.”

Know­ing his knack with words, at one point some­one asked him to write a eu­logy. For many years that was one of his reg­u­lar writ­ing prac­tices. When his daugh­ter sub­mit­ted one of his sto­ries to “The Her­ald”, they pub­lished it and that be­gan a five-year pe­riod where he wrote un­der a pen name for the pub­li­ca­tion.

Then-ed­i­tor Ryan Cleary en­cour­aged him to write a book so he wrote “Cabot Is­land”. It be­came a best seller in five weeks. With his thir­teenth novel, “The Crackie”, just re­leased through Flanker Press Oct. 25, Collins is fi­nally call­ing him­self a writer more than a log­ger.

He is par­tic­u­larly proud of his sto­ries of Indige­nous peo­ple such as Soulis Joe and Mat­tie Mitchell. He is quick to point out what an hon­our it is to be en­trusted with the sto­ries given he isn’t a mem­ber of the Indige­nous com­mu­nity. He also felt the weight of the same re­spon­si­bil­ity with “The Last Beothuk”, a story not about the last pre­sumed Beothuk, Shan­wdithit, but in­stead about Kop, a man who lived per­haps 40 years later.

At times the re­search angers him. He ex­plains how Mat­tie Mitchell brought the first car­tog­ra­phers across the prov­ince.

His­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments of the event give great de­tail about the English­men, the schooners, the mer­chants, dates, days, weather but Mat­tie Mitchell was only ever re­ferred to as “The In­dian.” De­scen­dants’ jour­nals iden­ti­fied him as Mat­tie Mitchell.

Collins is bru­tally hon­est in his con­tem­pla­tion about those times.

“I of­ten won­der,” he asks, “if I had come over here as this ma­cho En­glish­man, would I have been any dif­fer­ent?”

“Tell it like it is. Life is not al­ways pleas­ant,” he ad­vises any­one writ­ing about New­found­land’s his­tory

I agree with him. His­tory is of­ten buffed and shined. It’s quite com­mon to hear of the “good old days,” but they weren’t al­ways good and rarely were they great, par­tic­u­larly for the Indige­nous, the pover­tys­tricken and women. In ac­tu­al­ity, of­ten it was down­right aw­ful.

Given that we’re phys­i­cally wired to re­mem­ber the pos­i­tive, it’s all too tempt­ing to write nice happy, nos­tal­gic ver­sions of days gone by.

Henry Matisse said, “Cre­ativ­ity takes courage.”

Collins’ new book, “The Crackie”, will be re­leased on Oct. 25 by Flanker Press. He will be part of the Lit­er­ary Tour NL at the Fogo Is­land Cen­tral Pub­lic Li­brary on Nov. 3, and a pan­elist at the grand fi­nale event at AC Hunter Li­brary in St. John’s on Nov. 17.

For the full in­ter­view tune in to the Bridges ra­dio pro­gram avail­able on pod­casts on all ma­jor plat­forms and at­dios-show

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