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 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.