By Jonah Kondro
I had the chance to hear Margaret Atwood speak at the Red Deer College main stage after the Easter weekend. Atwood is a Canadian author and a literary icon. A few years ago she was speaking in Calgary during the annual Wordfest—but I was more preoccupied with Chuck Palahniuk’s talk than I was attending Atwood’s at that time.
She gave two separate talks at RDC for the Perspectives Speakers Series: one on the creative process during the evening of April 6th and one on the artist’s role in society during the morning of April 7th. The evening speech was for the adults (because you had to pay to get in) and the following morning’s speech was for the kids (students got in at no charge). I attended both talks and claim to be neither an adult nor a kid.
I had spent too much time during the evening of the 6th with a film student in the Far Side and was well on my way to becoming a cartoon character for the evening. My ticket was for a seat in the second last row because I had only bought my ticket the day before.
After Atwood’s evening speech, the audience was given a chance to ask her questions from (one of the two) microphones positioned near the centers of staircases on either side of the audience section. I wanted to get my mitts on a microphone; and instead of stumbling over a whole row of people to get to the isle, I decided to climb over the back of my seat into the empty last row.
The stadium style seat with the seat bottom that automatically flips up when no one is sitting in it acted like a Chinese finger trap on my right boot. I tried to climb cover stealthy, but my right foot slipped between the seat bottom and the seat back. When I attempted to pull my leg free, the engineering of the stadium seat just clamped tighter on my boot. After I struggled like a hound dog caught in a bear trap, I finally made it free from my seat and got to the microphone.
My heart was pumping madly when I asked Atwood “… if she considered herself and/or her work to be immortal?” My question was intended to be philosophical, but Atwood gave me a cut and dry left brained sort of answer, “… no.” Her answer disappointed me for the remainder of the evening; Atwood’s answer was not what I wanted to hear from a self-actualized individual. She did, however, extrapolate greatly before giving the two letter word response. After mulling over her answer and my re-examining my question I feel that Atwood, regardless, is still striving for her own immortality with her participation with the Future Library Project—which she commented on later during the question period.
Margaret Atwood has prepared a book manuscript for the Future Library Project. Essentially the unpublished pages get locked in a box, set to Oslo, Norway, and nobody gets to read the book till after a century has past. The book will be printed in an anthology with the paper harvested from the trees which supposedly got planted, in the Nordmarka forest, at the beginning of Katie Paterson’s public art project in 2014. Allegedly each year over the next hundred years, a new writer will be invited to stash away his or her manuscript for future publication.
The Future Library Project sounds pretty cool. Maybe Rimbey’s own Triana Hohn will have a manuscript for the next century for readers.
After Atwood’s evening speech, I returned to the Far Side only to arrive for her morning talk to the student body feeling like a dried out sponge.
In the wake of a pending provincial election, Atwood enlightened the students at RDC with a new approach to solving social problems—collaboration. Whoa. Essentially, Atwood suggested that instead of assembling a problem-solving-group from the members of one specific faculty, that the group needs to incorporate it members from diverse areas. Get a lawyer; get a English professor; get a mechanic; get SpongeBob; get a school teacher; get a psychologist; get a barista; get a carpenter; get a student; get a senior; get males; get females; get everyone together to solve whatever problem is at hand. Atwood warns that this process takes a little longer to unfold, but the flexibility of thought of the hybrid group would be most excellent.
I feel like I need to read more of Margaret Atwood’s books—she sounds like a smart old bird.