Several years ago, I was asked to make a video about a Toronto rehabilitation centre’s unique children’s program called The Spiral Garden.
I spent many days in this “Garden” set in a lovely ravine and staffed by artists of every kind. Storytellers, gardeners, drummers, dramatists, singers, potters, poets, painters and puppeteers helped children learn about caring for themselves and each other in the same way that they cared for and tended to a garden.
The Garden had an elusive magic that I couldn’t ascribe to any one thing in particular. I would watch, listen, and open myself to the place and its inhabitants in an effort to find a way to capture that magic.
On my first day I noticed a vibrant, handsome seven-year old boy who had just arrived from the East Coast. He had lost both his legs at the hips as a result of a freak accident and his rehabilitation would require a six-month residency at the Centre. For the first week of his stay, his parents accompanied him to the Garden and he entered into its experiences with great gusto, despite his limited mobility. Then his parents had to return home. When he arrived in the Garden the next day he was pale, his eyes glazed over as if he couldn’t see or hear. I watched the child’s physical transformation as a particularly gifted artist entered into the boy’s isolation, drew him out and accompanied him into the life of the Garden.
Each day the boy was wheeled into the Garden, pale and ghost-like. Then, as he connected — in conversation and in play — with others who were patient and kind, colour came into in his cheeks, light brightened his eyes. I kept asking myself: what are the ingredients of this transformation?
Shortly after the Garden project I went on a week-long writer’s workshop. Our daily task was to put on paper whatever came into our heads, without censoring or editing. Each day Alice, a quirky, withdrawn seven-year old confined to pediatric isolation nudged her way into the forefront of my writing. I tried other subjects and different voices but without success. By the end of the week I was surprised to discover I’d sown the seeds for several Alice stories.
This is how Getting to Normal came into being.
--from the author's website
Sandra Campbell is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Her first book The Movable Airport was nominated for The City of Toronto Book Awards, (Non-Fiction) 1973. A respected educator, Ms. Campbell’s essays on culture and learning have been published in anthologies and magazines in both Canada and the United States. In 1990 Ms. Campbell began her journey into literary writing. She has spent four years bringing Getting To Normal into the world. Getting To Normal was selected as a semi-finalist for the Chapters/Robertson Davies First Novel (Unpublished) Award. Ms. Campbell lives and teaches “Understanding Learning and Enchantment” — a course for community artists — in Toronto. She is currently working on her second book of non-fiction called A Dué: A Memoir. This personal narrative explores love and loss, music and art and the tricks of memory and perception. A great believer in the power of a story, Ms. Campbell has many to tell.