Friday, December 25, 2009

Writer's Alcove: Off Camera with Trish Van Pilsum

As you get ready to celebrate Christmas this morning and maybe even shake the snow flurries from your coat, grab a cup of hot chocolate as we learn more about Trish from Off Camera with Trish Van Pilsum. She's a reporter by day but mom is the title that tops them all. She is a person that has managed to find a balance between work and family, which is no easy feat, dear readers.

1. If you had to write a book about me what would it be about?

If I were really going to decide what to include in a book about you I would spend time getting to know you and, of course, do lots of research as any good investigative reporter would. But since we are on a tight deadline I will just come up with an angle based on what I can glean from your blog.

This is the story line:
Our protagonist (that’s you) is on a campaign is preserve the fine art of writing. What’s great about this is that she is defying the direction the rest of her generation is going what with texting an all abbreviated forms of communication. There’s great irony in that our protagonist uses digital technology...the spread her campaign far and wide. She has these really interesting and strong relationships in her life, a twin, a brother, a grandmother. I could see the book taking the shape of a series of letters to the people with whom she has relationships. This time honored form of communication allows the richness of reflection (you get to think about what you’re going to say before you say it) and preservation (you can save the letters forever).

2. Given the chance to write a book about your life what would the title be?

If I wrote a book about my life today I would title it “Standing Comfortably with God.” Not that I am standing in that place now, but that’s what I’m seeking to do. I’m trying to discern what it is that God wants me to be doing. I want God to know my whole heart and be happy with what he sees. Anyway, the phrase, “standing comfortably with God,” comes from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago.


What books do you read for pleasure?

I read novels for pleasure, usually character studies. I’ve been rereading some of the classics. Some of my favorite books include: Tracks by Louise Erdrich, Beloved by Toni Morrison, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, gosh, I know I’m forgetting some.

4. What is one memory that will be forever etched in your mind?

I will never for get the moment I heard my first baby’s heart beat for the first time.
Rapid. Steady. Sure. Alive. A miracle. Such a miracle.
I started to giggle and I couldn't stop.
“Am I tickling you?” the ultra sound tech asked.
“No. It’s just this is so fun. Oh, my god, this is so fun. I have never been so happy. This is the happiest moment of my life. I’m sorry,” I gasped. “I just can’t stop laughing.”

You see, I had always wanted to be a mom. More than I wanted the great stories. More than I wanted the prestigious awards. More than I wanted big scoops. I wanted to be a mom. And in that moment I knew I was.


Do you approach life with a glass half full approach?

I’m working on being more of a glass half full person. I think my job has trained me to be a glass half empty person. That is, as an investigative reporter I’m trained to be skeptical. To see the story behind the story. To have doubts and to be critical. I’m afraid that sometimes that bleeds into my everyday life. And, to be honest, that is a hard way to go through life. It’s hard on the people around you, too. I recently took a fabulous class at the University of Minnesota called, “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.” It was basically a meditation class. I learned how to be present. To focus on the beauty of each moment. This had a huge impact on me. I think I’m doing better letting go a those glass have empty thoughts. I’m amazed at how my entire outlook has changed.

6. Given the chance to be locked in a bakery for a night, what dessert would be your first choice?

Locked in a bakery, I would go immediately for the chocolate. I prefer an old fashioned chocolate cake...the kind with three layers and butter cream the dense flourless kind. Most bakeries don’t carry this kind of cake anymore so, if I HAD to I could settle for, oh, a chocolate ├ęclair or chocolate donut or chocolate cupcake or chocolate croissant or get the idea.


Describe yourself in one sentence.

I am a high energy, hard working, disorganized, relentlessly curious person who loves kids, chocolate, literature, shopping local, pretty wrapping paper and prefers to give rather than receive.


At home, would you rather be in front of the camera or behind it?

At home I would definitely rather be behind the camera. My children and my husband are my life. There are so many beautiful moments I desperately want to capture. If I could shoot it all and store it permanently in my memory banks I would. My children have changed so dramatically. And not just their appearances. Their voices, their gestures, even their attitudes transform right before my eyes. Capturing those nuances isn’t easy. It would take a much more skilled photojournalist than me.


What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job, without a doubt, is that I meet the most incredible people.
People let me into their lives at times of great joy and deep despair. This is a privilege that I do not take lightly. They trust me with their stories. To tell those stories well is, to me, an almost sacred responsibility. The people whose stories I have told have inspired me with their strength and resilience. They have taught me more about grace and forgiveness than I ever would have imagined.

10. Tell us about one of the most memorable stories that you’ve had the privilege to cover?

“Mary Kay Sanders said she wanted to put a face to cancer. What a face it is.” I still remember the final line of a series of stories I did more than 10 years ago about mother of four with breast cancer. She won the Mrs. Minnesota competition not long after first being diagnosed and undergoing treatment. She won the international title after a reoccurrence. Mary Kay was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known because of the spirit that radiated from her. This disease, though is would claim her life, could not conquer that spirit.
It was a privilege to have shared her final months with her. Her story touched many, many lives.

The other most memorable story was called “Room to Live.” The goal of this story was to show the importance of wearing seatbelts. I asked police all over the state to call me every time there was a fatal crash in which the people were ejected from the car because they weren’t wearing their seatbelt. I then climbed into the front seat, which was usually completely intact, to show that if the drivers had stayed safely buckled in the car, they likely would have lived. This story was so dramatic and impactful it’s now being used in driver safety classes all over the world.