Attach Another Sheet if Necessary

You must account for every month since your 18th birthday. Under “Activity”, print your occupation or job title if you were working. If you were not working, enter what you were doing (for example, unemployed, studying, traveling,etc.) Attach another sheet if necessary.
From How to Apply to Immigrate to Canada

I am sitting in log cabin in a Canadian provincial park, filling out an application for permanent residence as a skilled worker. I have been doing this all day long for four days, and with luck I’ll gather all the materials I need to apply by October. Canada is not the only option—I’d happily move back to the US, or to Ireland or Britain—but I like to nurture as many possibilities as I can. It’s an ENFP thing.

But Canada plays hard-to-get.
I must sit a four-hour French test that has to be booked a month in advance.
I must get police clearances from every country and state I’ve lived in. They all want a processing fee in local currency. The FBI requires a full set of official fingerprints.
I need a notarized employment contract from every job I’ve worked at. And a full, up-to-date letter of reference, stamped with the company seal.
I need full college transcripts and originals of my diplomas. My marriage certificate and separation agreement. My passport. A certificate from a full medical examination by an approved doctor. A bank statement that proves I have more than $9,420 in Canadian dollars. (This will all be worth it if one really can live on $9,420 Canadian pesos a year.)

My sister is in Ottawa, filling out simpler forms that allow her to stay here as an MBA student. We exchange complaining emails.
‘I just got the worst passport photos in the world,’ she writes. ‘My chin is deformed. They could refuse me simply on the basis that i’m too ick.’

I haven’t worked at an office job in a year, and yet here I sit in the woods making a detailed Excel spreadsheet of tasks and dependencies.

  1. Get fingerprinted
  2. Order French audio tapes from Alliance Française.
  3. Find out where I lived in Spain…

I plough through the Canadian National Occupation Classification and try to make my work experience fit the descriptions that qualify as skilled-worker occupations. The accepted list dates from 1992. Few of my job titles existed in 1992.

I track down my employers. In the Age of The Deal, they are shape-shifters, too. JP Morgan merged with Chase and left the lovely old building overlooking the Thames on Victoria Embankment. The Presentation Company became and is now Wheel UK, though astonishingly, my old boss is still there seven years later. Another company moved out west somewhere, part of something called United Online. The startup with a silly name is now kaput. Sturdy little Vindigo is still strong.

I draft letters for each of them, frowning, mouth-breathing. I couch my duties in terms of Skill Level A or B occupations, and I ask old friends or bureaucratic strangers to print them on letterhead, stamp them with a company seal, sign them, and attach a business card. A notarized contract is probably too much to hope for. My own contracts are buried in storage somewhere. I don’t have a phone, so my sister calls JP Morgan London to find out where I should send my request.

And then I get to the fun stuff. The application forms look innocuous: small, neat tables of numbered cells labeled in gnat-sized font. There are two or three lines for answers.

11. Personal history
Give details of what you have been doing during the past 10 years or since age 18, whichever period is longer, starting with the most recent information. Include jobs held, periods of unemployment, periods of study and any other use of time, such as time spent traveling in search of a country of refuge, stays in hospitals, prisons or other places of confinement, and periods spent at home as a homemaker. You must not leave gaps.15. Addresses
List all addresses where you have lived since your 18th birthday. Do not use P.O. box addresses.

What colour are your eyes, they ask. Have you ever been a member of an organization that is or was engaged in an activity that is part of a pattern of criminal activity? Have you ever had any serious disease or physical or mental disorder? What is the total number of years of your formal education? What height are you? Tell me about your mother.

And so I sit here, the archeologist of my own life, unearthing layer after layer from silty memories. They demand nothing less than a stop-motion progression from teenage girl to grown woman.

Oh, Canada. Do you really want to know?

I was a schoolgirl who cheered and cried when Ireland made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
I was an usherette in a London theatre, scolded for eating three tubs of Haagen-Dazs and then falling asleep in the lobby.
I wore a sandwich-board in Copenhagen and lived on breadrolls stolen by my chambermaid roommate.
I felt caged as a Barcelona houseguest.
I was a trainee sophisticate trying to force down bowls of Moroccan soup in East London.
I was a first-year English student who auditioned for my future husband, the big-shot Dramsoc director.
I was an English teacher, pretending to be 25.
I was a flatmate and resident diva to three lovely college boys.
I was the waitress who flubbed orders in that Mexican joint in Boston.
I was a business student, lost in the self-serving flatness of my class.
I was a Londoner, riding my bike to my first big job.
I was a baby banker in a scratchy suit, looking out the window in despair as it dawned on me that I had to come back the next day, and the next day, for the rest of my life.
I was a Web Producer, newly-capitalized, full of gratitude for my reprieve. I tried to learn about this Internet thing faster than the clients who asked me to fax them the web site. I laughed when I was called The Webbitch.
I was a bride. I was a New Yorker. I was a hausfrau waiting for a work permit.
I was given a title I didn’t understand and surrounded by slick Ivy Leaguers.
I was vice-president in a company where we all fit in one room.
I was a proud company wife.
I was in a team that I loved. I watched a bubble stretch then burst, so close I could see the rainbows and the greasy splotch.
I was harried.
I was unfettered, bouncing gently from welcome to welcome across ten countries.

I am a woodsy, dreamy summer hippie who washes in a cold lake. I’d like to stay.

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