I confess, I have heroes. Margaret Atwood is one of my all time favourites. Atwood is one of those women who has been concerned in her fiction with the painful psychic warfare between men and women. She writes with power and passion. In The Handmaid’s Tale she bravely exposes woman’s primal fear of being used and helpless. She firmly believes that her vision is not far from reality and I agree with her. “The Handmaid’s Tale does not depend upon hypothetical scenarios, omens, or straws in the wind, but upon documented occurrences and public pronouncements; all matters of record.” There are times when Margaret's writing leaves me breathless and stunned with its profoundness. And I wonder if my own words will ever come close to being as strong as hers.But that's not why she's my hero. Okay, that is part of why she's my hero. But it is her environmental work that makes me in awe of her.
The first time I met Margaret was in 2017. I attended Pelee Island Book House Writers Retreat. Margaret goes bird watching on the island. She loves birds. In fact, she loves birds so much that the famed Canadian author has hosted a fundraiser for the Pelee Island Heritage Centre with help from the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. Springsong, as it’s named, takes place traditionally on Mother’s Day weekend, starting with a race where dozens of participants come to the island and vie to spot the most species.
It was at this fundraiser where I met a waitress who gushed when she saw me, claiming she knew my kids, Ben and Miriam, from a musical they had been in. To my recollection, I'd never seen this woman before. My children had never been in the musical she mentioned, and I had no idea why this woman clinging to my hand was so certain she knew me. And she knew everything about my kids musical and acting abilities.
Being a retired ER/Psychiatric nurse, I'm good at covering up when I don't know someone like this. She spoke for ten minutes, gushing about my kids. I smiled and went along with her and asked her about her child. “Oh you know how Angie is, so full of herself and her singing.” We both laughed.
She finally left and I turned to go to my table. A strong hand with long fingers grasped my wrist. I looked down to find it was Margaret holding me back. “Please tell me you had no idea who that person who nattered on forever really was.”
I could feel the burning of my cheeks from blushing and laughed. “That obvious, huh?”
Margaret's eyes had a mischievous twinkle in them. “Not at all, my dear. That was very well played.” She winked. “I'm so putting you into my next book. Very impressive.”
Later that evening, Margaret gave an impassioned speech about the fragility of nature thanks to man and the decline of the birds around the world. “My relationship with birds goes back to year one because my dad was a biologist so I just grew up with all of this,” Atwood said.
“Birds, especially migratory birds, are like an early warning radar system. When things are going badly wrong with their habitats and environments and their numbers are declining, that’s a wake-up call. . . .
“Anybody interested in conservation is interested in systems. So anybody interested in conservation knows that everything’s connected and if you influence one part of it . . . you may find that all sorts of other things are being affected.”
Margaret knew her stuff. She made sure we all understood the gravity of the situation in the world.
The evening ended with Margaret handing out rubber chickens and telling the audience that anyone with a rubber chicken had to come to the stage. She handed me a chicken. “Oh, you have to be up there with me.”
So, that evening in 2017, there I stood next to Margaret Atwood, squeezing a rubber chicken, and singing “Old MacDonald had a farm.” The Toronto Star took our picture when we both burst into a fit of laughter.
I have met Margaret again since that first time, and she remembered me. She was excited to hear that I wrote and asked how my writing was going. I had four manuscripts under my belt at that time, but not published. However, I had been published in several anthology books.
“What's stopping you from sending those scripts out?”
I shrugged. “They need final drafts and I'm not good at that. And I always find myself trying to write the truth about Jews and Israel, something the world doesn't seem to want to hear. I'm just not confident what I'm saying will be read by anyone.”
Margaret gave me one of those measured intense stares she is famous for. “The only way you get over that is write the truth as you know it. Assume that what you set down on paper will never be read. Not by any other person and not even yourself. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself.”
She was exactly right. I took her words to heart and have now successfully completed several manuscripts: Only the Dead Find Peace, A Drop of Silence, No Guarantee, Our Kibbitzin' Cookbook, Exit Left, Pursued by a Bear. Three have had their final drafts and query letters have been sent out into that frightening publishing world, hoping to find a home. More than a dozen of my short stories have been published in anthology books, and one of my plays was produced off, off, off, off Broadway by a young acting company.
Now, whenever I begin to waver in my writing, and I always do, I remember Margaret's words and carry on, editing, trying to make my words sing like Margaret's do . And that is why Margaret Atwood is one of my all time favourite heroines.
Author, mother, fur parent and conference founder working in the Windsor/Essex region of Southwestern Ontario.