PW: When and why did you begin writing To Reach the Clouds?
PP: Right after the [high-wire] walk [between the two World Trade Center towers], I began gathering documents, fearful that the six-year-long adventure might dissolve into blurredmemory. Within a year, I had reconstructed the backbone of the story in text and illustrations. The following years, I wrote draft portions of the adventure. But in early 2001, when toying with the idea of a screenplay, I decided to rewrite—in the form of short chapters in the present tense—the enormous "memo" I had painstakingly assembled. Why? Prior to the destruction of the towers, it may have been to preserve my story. Afterwards, it became to inspire by offering an indelible image of "our" twin towers in their human interaction, romantic personality and full glory, as no one besides me could have known them—and as no one ever will.
PW: How did you manage to reconstruct the planning process in such precise detail?
PP: An archivist at heart, I kept all the scribbling, sketches, letters and objects relating to the entire adventure. I carefully studied all the photographs and went back to visit all the scenes of the crime and interviewed all the "players." I then created an immense (four feet by eight feet) text/storyboard, which I consulted constantly while writing.
PW: Where were you on September 11? And where were you with the book at that point?
PP: On the morning of September 11, I was in the Catskills confiding to a tape-recorder the description of "WTC," the feature film I imagine about my walk—using the manuscript as the story's template. Then I paused, reflected and resumed the writing at a rate of 12 hours a day—To Reach the Clouds was born by February of 2002.
PW: Have the meanings of the walk changed for you since the towers fell?
PP: It is painful to reflect on the way I think of the walk now that my towers—our towers—have disappeared! Even when they were standing, I had to make an effort of imagination to bring the crossings back to memory. So when they came down, I felt something had been torn from my flesh, perhaps similar to the loss of a child. Today, it is difficult to accept the towers' absence. I taste disbelief: Did I really walk there? Was it just a dream?
PW: Can street juggling and funambulism, whose practitioners are often harassed by authorities, carry messages of political freedom?
PP: Although street juggling and wire walking, the way I practice them, carry messages of political freedom, I never singled them out as such from the long list of performing arts, nor in my life did I ever pronounce the word politics. I view high-wire walking as the most compelling metaphor for life. I am aware of its inspirational power, yet I rebel when narrow-minded, timid bureaucrats speak of it as a death-defying trade or feel threatened by the epiphany it provokes in the pure at heart. To street juggle, to walk in the clouds, is to sing the celebration of life.
PW: What major projects have you been undertaking recently, as part of your work at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and otherwise?
PP: My first high-wire walk after September 11 was a benefit for the newly formed New York Arts Recovery Fund. It was a passionate show of support by New York artists in an evening of performance at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I then made a high-wire "apparition" at the Javits Convention Center at the BEA to announce the birth of To Reach the Clouds. My next midair event, which is in the early planning stages, is a walk of rebirth, which I am offering to help raise awareness and inspire support for the cathedral's numerous new undertakings. Also, since the Cathedral Shop was destroyed by fire, we need to rebuild!
PW: So you have remained a New Yorker since your first New York walk?
PP: Besides my hideaway in the Catskills and my world travels, I remain a full-time New Yorker, artist-in-residence of "my" wondrous cathedral!