Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meeting Margaret Atwood

Those eyes. Those dazzling clear blue eyes; maybe blue; maybe grey. Maybe both.

I can’t stop thinking of Margaret Atwood’s eyes.

When you see a photograph of her, on a book cover or the internet, you notice them right away, because you can’t help it. They’re stunning.

But when you meet her, and she’s sitting down only a couple of feet away, signing a book, it’s her eyes that draw you in. Those eyes, the ones that stared back at you from books since high school, now trained on your own imperfect self, and you think, when you can rustle up a lucid thought, “I am in the presence of Greatness.”

Rarely do you live in the moment, despite Oprah’s constant urgings to do so. But last night I did. Two minutes. Or so. The stage lighting at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville, Ontario, shutting out the hundreds of people lined up behind me, books clutched to their hopeful chests, like schoolgirls, shutting out their distractions, pooling Canada’s greatest writer, Canada’s most iconic author, and me, in a shroud of stillness.

“For Cathy,” she began writing in the book I had just purchased, “In Other Worlds,” her newest book, so new it won’t even be officially released for another week.

I wanted to ask her something.

“With best wishes,” she continued to write.

I leaned forward. She was just finishing “Margaret” when I blurted it out.

“Did you ever doubt your writing?” I asked, because that is what is in my own writer’s heart. “When you were starting out?”

She signed “Atwood,” with a messy flourish, and turned those amazing eyes up to meet mine.

I was struck by her resemblance to one of Canada’s most beloved prime ministers, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, her curly hair, her clear, almond-shaped eyes; but also to my friend Mark’s mother, Mary Champion, a historian, a woman of intelligence. I was struck by the feeling that I knew her, that I had always known her, yet I knew nothing at all. Most of all, I realized that I was meeting a living legend and what I really wanted to know was, what is it like being this legend, this icon, this Atwood person?

Instead, I listened to her answer.

Our gaze locked for a moment. She seemed to choose her answer carefully, or maybe she was just sizing me up. Her voice was measured, throaty, as remarkable as her eyes, actually.

“No,” she said. “In those days I worried mostly about who was going to publish it.” At least I think that’s what she said. And she said more, of course, all kinds of interesting things about the publishing world when she was beginning her writing career. It’s just that, as soon as the words left her lips, as soon as they reached beyond the pool of stage lighting, they were as lost to me as if they had never been said.

And then, oh then, I interrupted her.

I did.

I can’t believe it.

I actually interrupted her, in mid-sentence, to say something inane about the many people who were lined up behind me, and not wanting to take up too much more of her time, but would you mind having a photo taken with me for my blog?

I am such an ass, sometimes.

There was a split second where my ineptness seemed to startle her. Then she asked me to come behind the table and stand beside her. As Dave took two photos, I joked about making me look skinny. She joked back (she is very, very funny), then she asked me what my blog url was, and wrote it down on a yellow sticky note. She wondered if I would let her know when I posted the photo, and my heart did a fast soprano trill, and I told her I followed her on Twitter, and how much I loved her Tweets, how funny she was.

“I’ll tweet you when it’s posted,” I said.

“That would be great,” she replied.

(Me and Margaret Atwood. Talking about Tweeting each other. Un. Bee. Leeeeavable.)

Before I left her side, before I stood up straight and walked off the stage into the chilled evening of the last day of September, before all that, I whispered in her ear, with such grave reverence that it almost brought me to tears, “It was such a great honour meeting you.”

I straightened up and those incredible eyes met mine one last time.

Then the next person came up and I walked away.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Ah that's wonderful Cathy...
    If it's any consolation, she's so stellar, I think she has that effect on us mortals. My twin sister met her once and said she couldn't stop burbling...Lovely pic!

  3. wow!
    don't worry - we all tend to fumble a bit in the presence of greatness.
    you look so composed in the photo, though ;-) As if you do this all the time ;-)

  4. I think you were amazing to even form a question. I tend to not say anything at all, and what a missed opportunity that would be. A wonderful experience for you - and you look great in that photo.

  5. WOW. What a post. What a moment. Thank you for sharing it with those of us too chicken to get that close to her.

  6. One day she will be looking at a book she just read and say to whoever she is with. You know.. I met her once, and it was a real pleasure. Don't doubt you writing Cathy.

  7. Wow, what a wonderful story about a wonderful encounter with one of the most wonderful woman writers. Just. Wow.

    Kudos for you to being able to ask her a question AND get the photo. She is out there on twitterland, too, which is so cool.

    Our pantheons do make us star-struck. I had the same deer-in-the-headlights feeling when I met Joyce Carol Oates. I asked her how she was so prolific and she sad, with a bit of sadness, "all is do is write." This on the signing of her memoir about the death of her husband. So happy for you and oh, a bit green with envy. Some day that will be you on the other side of the table. Peace...

  8. She seems like such a sociable author. It's not the eyes that get me in any photos (I can't really make them out in the image) - that's that wonderful frizzy hair. It's so cute.

  9. Wicked. That's great that you could ask the question AND get the photo. Very cool, Cathy. Hope Ms. Atwood checks in at your blog.

  10. Bravo, Cathy! You should have taken a recorder with you so you'd know what she said. ;) No matter, it was enough that she spoke to you.

  11. I remember seeing Margaret Atwood speaking with Bill Moyers on a series entitled "On Faith and Reason".

    I was struck by the clarity of her thoughts, and her expression of them.

    I've read several of her novels and her volume of shorts, "The Tent". Gorgeous writing - and, again, such clarity to her prose.

    Congratulations, Cathy, on your meeting her.

    Colo(u)r me envious. :-}

  12. I have an award/challenge for you on "youngish" (you can access it through the button on my sidebar on thefeatherednest) if you are feeling up to it.

  13. Lucky you getting to meet and chat with a Canadian icon.

  14. I'm squeeing for you!! Wow, sounds like you were so much more poised that I was in her presence. And I know what you mean about her eyes, so much sparkly wisdom there...hard to explain until she's actually looked at you.

    Glad you got to experience this moment! And I'm soooo jealous you're reading her new book already!!! What is it about???

  15. I know what it's like to be star-struck. I was lucky enough to meet two of my favorite musicians (Derek Bailey and Lyle mays) and couldn't think of anything to say at all. I'll never forget shaking their hands though. Mays laid his hand delicately in mine, didn't squeeze at all, and I was afraid to squeeze too; I had the bizarre thought that I might hurt him.

  16. What an incredibly lucky girl! Don't feel bad - I would've been too nervous to have any sense of decorum ... Just savor the memory :-)

  17. Truly a moment to remember.

    I was so surprised how diminitive she was when I met her in Winnipeg a couple years ago. She was gracious and wonderfully witty. I also got a couple pictures with her but my husband wasn't wearing his glasses and hit the wrong button and deleted them. We didn't realize until we were a couple hours out of the city and by then it was too late and too far. Sigh.

  18. Oh, Cathy!

    How utterly fabulous. I would have been tripping over my words, if I could even untie the knot in my tongue.

    And what a great question. Of course, she never had doubt! But for the rest of us, it's a different story. On some days that whisper of doubt is a roar inside my head. Don't worry, you're not alone.


  19. Hola, quizás os interese saber que tenemos una colección que incluye el relato 'Death by Landscape' de Margaret Atwood en versión original conjuntamente con el relato 'The Progress of Love' de Alice Munro.

    El formato de esta colección es innovador porque permite leer directamente la obra en inglés sin necesidad de usar el diccionario al integrarse un glosario en cada página.

    Tenéis más info de este relato y de la colección Read&Listen en

  20. I wish to meet my favorite writer but he died long time ago. but he passed aways.

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