Transcript: Margaret Atwood | May 23, 1989

(Violin music plays)

In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

A male Narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT
IS ONE OF THE WORLD'S
FOREMOST LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING
ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY
ATTRACTS 50 OF THE WORLD'S
BEST AUTHORS TO THE STAGE
TO READ FROM THEIR WORKS
AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS
AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

(Gentle guitar music plays)
A woman in her fifties with short curly red hair wears a colourful neck scarf over a black polo-neck long-sleeved jersey. The covers of her novels appear. The blue cover of “Cat's Eye” features a woman in a flowing black robe holding a crystal ball with the image of a horizontal cat's iris. Atwood's interview appears over her novels. A caption reads “Margaret Atwood, Canada.”

The Narrator says MARGARET ATWOOD HAS
PUBLISHED MORE THAN
20 VOLUMES OF POETRY
AND FICTION DURING
THE PAST 28 YEARS.
SHE'S PROBABLY BEST
KNOWN FOR HER NOVELS,
INCLUDING “SURFACING.”
AND “LIFE BEFORE MAN.”
IN 1986, SHE RECEIVED THE
BOOKER PRIZE NOMINATION
FOR “THE HANDMAID'S TALE,”
A HAUNTING STORY WHICH
IS CURRENTLY IN PRODUCTION
AS A FEATURE FILM.
IN THIS PROGRAM, MARGARET
ATWOOD LAUNCHES HER LATEST
WORK, “CAT'S EYE,” A NOVEL
EXPLORING THE WORLD
OF CHILDHOOD SECRETS,
LOYALTIES, AND BETRAYALS.

Atwood says BUT I'M A NOVELIST;
THIS IS WHAT I DO.
I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE DO
HAVE THIS KIND OF RICHNESS
OF RECOLLECTION WHEN THEY
PUT THEIR MINDS TO IT,
BUT I'M ALSO A
FICTION WRITER,
SO I MAKE THINGS UP.
[chuckling]
IT MAY LOOK LIKE RICHNESS
OF RECOLLECTION,
BUT SOMETIMES IT'S JUST
RICHNESS OF FABRICATION.

(Renaissance music plays)
Atwood is applauded as she reaches the podium.
[applause]

She puts on a large pair of glasses and says
I'M GOING TO READ YOU THE
ENTIRE FIRST CHAPTER,
WHICH IS LUCKILY ONLY
HALF A PAGE LONG.
[laughter]
IT'S THIS BOOK
CALLED “CAT'S EYE.”

Reading from the book, she says
“TIME IS NOT A LINE
BUT A DIMENSION,
LIKE THE DIMENSIONS
OF SPACE.
IF YOU CAN BEND SPACE
YOU CAN BEND TIME ALSO,
AND IF YOU KNEW ENOUGH AND
COULD MOVE FASTER THAN LIGHT
YOU COULD TRAVEL
BACKWARDS IN TIME AND
EXIST IN TWO
PLACES AT ONCE.
IT WAS MY BROTHER STEPHEN
WHO TOLD ME THAT,
WHEN HE WORE HIS RAVELLING
MAROON SWEATER TO STUDY IN
AND SPENT A LOT OF TIME
STANDING ON HIS HEAD
SO THAT THE BLOOD WOULD
RUN DOWN INTO HIS BRAIN
AND NOURISH IT.
I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND
WHAT HE MEANT,
BUT MAYBE HE DIDN'T
EXPLAIN IT VERY WELL.
HE WAS ALREADY MOVING AWAY
FROM THE IMPRECISION OF WORDS.
BUT I BEGAN THEN TO THINK
OF TIME AS HAVING A SHAPE,
SOMETHING YOU COULD SEE,
LIKE A SERIES OF LIQUID
TRANSPARENCIES, ONE
LAID ON TOP OF ANOTHER.
YOU DON'T LOOK BACK ALONG
TIME BUT DOWN THROUGH IT,
LIKE WATER.
SOMETIMES THIS COMES
TO THE SURFACE,
SOMETIMES THAT,
SOMETIMES NOTHING.
NOTHING GOES AWAY.”
MOVING BACK IN TIME TO
APPROXIMATELY 1947,
IN TORONTO, BACK TO ONE OF
THOSE SCHOOLS THAT WERE
A DARK COLOUR OF BRICK
AND HAD A BOYS' DOOR
AND A GIRLS' DOOR.
AND I NEVER REALLY
UNDERSTOOD THAT BECAUSE
YOU LINED UP IN FRONT OF
THE “GIRLS” AND IN FRONT
OF THE “BOYS,” AND THE
BOYS WENT IN AND THE GIRLS
WENT IN, AND THEN
THEY BOTH WENT INTO
THE SAME CLASSROOM.
[laughter]
BUT THAT'S WHAT
WE USED TO DO.
IT'S THIS SMALL BIT, FROM
THE SECTION OF THE BOOK
CALLED “EMPIRE BLOOMERS.”
AND WHEN I READ
THIS IN NOVA SCOTIA,
A YOUNG PERSON WHO
WAS IN THE CROWD SAID
TO HIS MOTHER AFTERWARDS,
MUMMY, WHAT ARE BLOOMERS?
WELL, YOU WILL SEE.
[laughter]
“WHEN THE HAND BELL RINGS WE
LINE UP IN FRONT OF GIRLS',
TWO BY TWO, HOLDING
HANDS: CAROL AND ME,
THEN GRACE AND CORDELIA
BACK BEHIND US BECAUSE
THEY'RE A GRADE AHEAD.
MY BROTHER IS OVER
THERE IN FRONT OF “BOYS.”
DURING RECESS HE
DISAPPEARS INTO THE CINDER
PLAYGROUND, WHERE LAST WEEK HE
HAD HIS LIP KICKED OPEN
DURING A SOCCER GAME
AND HAD TO HAVE STITCHES.
I'VE SEEN THE
STITCHES, UP CLOSE,
BLACK THREAD SURROUNDED
BY SWOLLEN PURPLE.
I ADMIRE THEM.
I KNOW ABOUT THE STATUS
CONFERRED BY WOUNDS.
NOW THAT I'VE CHANGED BACK
FROM PANTS TO SKIRTS,
I HAVE TO REMEMBER
THE MOVES.
YOU CAN'T SIT WITH YOUR
LEGS SPREAD APART,
OR JUMP TOO HIGH OR
HANG UPSIDE-DOWN,
WITHOUT RIDICULE.
I'VE HAD TO RELEARN THE
IMPORTANCE OF UNDERWEAR,
WHICH HAS A LITURGY OF
ITS OWN: “I SEE ENGLAND,
I SEE FRANCE, I CAN
SEE YOUR UNDERPANTS.”
OR ELSE: “ME NO
KNOW, ME NO CARE,
ME NO WEAR NO
UNDERWEAR.”
[laughter]
THIS IS SAID BY BOYS, WHILE
MAKING FACES LIKE MONKEYS.
THERE'S A LOT OF
SPECULATION ABOUT UNDERWEAR,
ESPECIALLY THE UNDERWEAR
OF THE TEACHERS;
BUT ONLY THAT OF THE
FEMALE TEACHERS.
MALE UNDERWEAR IS
OF NO IMPORTANCE.
THERE AREN'T VERY MANY
MALE TEACHERS ANYWAY,
AND THE FEW THAT DO
EXIST ARE ELDERLY;
THERE ARE NO YOUNG MEN,
BECAUSE THE WAR HAS EATEN THEM.
THE TEACHERS ARE MOSTLY
WOMEN OVER A CERTAIN AGE,
WOMEN WHO AREN'T MARRIED.
MARRIED WOMEN
DON'T HAVE JOBS;
WE KNOW THIS FROM
OUR OWN MOTHERS.
THERE'S SOMETHING STRANGE
AND LAUGHABLE ABOUT OLDER,
UNMARRIED WOMEN.
AT RECESS, CORDELIA DOLES
OUT UNDERWEAR: LAVENDER FRILLS
FOR Miss PIGEON, WHO'S
FAT AND SACCHARINE;
PLAID FOR Miss STUART,
LACE-EDGED TO GO WITH HER
HANKIES; RED SATIN LONG
JOHNS FOR Miss HATCHETT,
WHO'S OVER SIXTY AND
WEARS GARNET BROOCHES.
WE DON'T BELIEVE ANY OF
THIS UNDERWEAR ACTUALLY
EXISTS, BUT THINKING
ABOUT IT IS A NASTY JOY.”

(Renaissance music plays)

During the interview, she says BUT I THINK ONE OF THE
REACTIONS I'VE BEEN
GETTING VERY MUCH -
THROUGH LETTERS AND ALSO
THROUGH MEETING PEOPLE AT
READINGS AND BOOK SIGNINGS
AND SO FORTH - IS, FROM
WOMEN, I'VE BEEN GETTING,
I HAD FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT
THAT PART OF MY CHILDHOOD,
AND NOW IT'S
ALL COMING BACK.
AND YES, THIS IS THE
POWER OF POLITICS AMONG
LITTLE GIRLS, THIS
IS WHAT THEY DO,
AND HOW COME NOBODY
HAS REALLY CONSIDERED
THAT VERY IMPORTANT?
BECAUSE THEY HAVEN'T;
PSYCHOLOGISTS AND
PSYCHIATRISTS PAY ATTENTION
TO THE CHILD'S LIFE
UP TO THE
AGE OF ABOUT FIVE,
AND THEN THEY PAY MORE
ATTENTION TO HOW PEOPLE
ADJUST TO ADOLESCENCE AND
MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX.
BUT I THINK FOR
BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS,
THAT PERIOD BETWEEN ABOUT
THE AGE OF NINE AND THE
AGE OF TWELVE TENDS TO BE
CONSIDERED NOT THAT IMPORTANT.
AND PARTICULARLY
WITH LITTLE GIRLS,
BECAUSE WHAT YOU DO
WITH OTHER LITTLE GIRLS
IS NOT SUPPOSED TO
BE THAT IMPORTANT.
WHAT IS SUPPOSED
TO BE IMPORTANT
IS HOW YOU
RELATE TO MEN.

She continues to read from the podium, and says
“MY OWN TEACHER IS Miss LUMLEY.
IT'S SAID THAT EVERY MORNING
BEFORE THE BELL RINGS,
EVEN IN LATE
SPRING WHEN IT'S WARM,
SHE GOES TO THE BACK OF
THE CLASSROOM AND TAKES OFF
HER BLOOMERS, WHICH ARE
RUMOURED TO BE OF HEAVY
NAVY-BLUE WOOL AND
TO SMELL OF MOTHBALLS
AND OF OTHER, LESS
DEFINABLE THINGS.
THIS ISN'T REPEATED AS
SPECULATION OR AS PART
OF THE UNDERWEAR
INVENTION, BUT AS FACT.
SEVERAL GIRLS CLAIM
THEY'VE SEEN Miss LUMLEY
PUTTING HER BLOOMERS ON
AGAIN WHEN THEY'VE HAD
TO STAY IN AFTER SCHOOL,
AND SEVERAL OTHERS SAY
THEY'VE SEEN THEM HANGING
IN THE CLOAKROOM.
THE AURA OF Miss LUMLEY'S
DARK, MYSTERIOUS, REPULSIVE
BLOOMERS CLINGS
AROUND HER AND COLOURS
THE AIR IN WHICH
SHE MOVES.
IT MAKES HER
MORE TERRIFYING;
BUT SHE IS TERRIFYING
IN ANY CASE.
MY TEACHER OF THE YEAR
BEFORE WAS KINDLY BUT
SO UNMEMORABLE THAT CORDELIA
DOESN'T EVEN MENTION
HER IN THE
UNDERWEAR GAME.
SHE HAD A FACE LIKE
A DINNER ROLL AND
BLANCMANGE-COLOURED SKIN,
AND RULED BY WHEEDLING.
Miss LUMLEY
RULES BY FEAR.
SHE'S SHORT, AND
OBLONG IN SHAPE,
SO THAT HER IRON-GRAY
CARDIGAN FALLS STRAIGHT
FROM SHOULDER TO
HIP WITH NO PAUSE
IN BETWEEN FOR A WAIST.
SHE ALWAYS WEARS
THIS CARDIGAN,
AND A SUCCESSION
OF DARK SKIRTS,
WHICH CAN'T POSSIBLY
BE THE SAME ONE.
SHE HAS STEEL-RIMMED
GLASSES,
BEHIND WHICH HER
EYES ARE HARD TO SEE,
AND BLACK SHOES
WITH CUBAN HEELS,
AND A TINY
LIPLESS SMILE.
SHE DOES NOT SEND
CHILDREN TO THE PRINCIPAL
FOR THE STRAP, BUT
DOES IT HERSELF,
IN FRONT OF THE CLASS,
HOLDING THE HAND OUT FLAT,
BRINGING THE BLACK RUBBER
STRAP DOWN IN SHARP QUICK
EFFICIENT STROKES, HER
FACE WHITE AND QUIVERING,
WHILE WE WATCH, WINCING,
OUR EYES FILLING
WITH INVOLUNTARY TEARS.
SOME GIRLS SNIVEL AUDIBLY
WHILE SHE DOES THIS,
EVEN THOUGH SHE ISN'T
DOING IT TO THEM,
BUT THIS ISN'T WISE: Miss
LUMLEY HATES SNIVELLING,
AND IS LIKELY TO SAY,
'I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING
TO CRY ABOUT.'
WE LEARN TO SIT UP
STRAIGHT, EYES FRONT,
FACES BLANK, BOTH
FEET ON THE FLOOR,
LISTENING TO THE WHACK OF
RUBBER ON CRINGING FLESH.
MOSTLY IT'S BOYS
WHO GET THE STRAP.
THEY ARE THOUGHT
TO NEED IT MORE.
ALSO THEY FIDGET,
ESPECIALLY DURING SEWING.
[laughter]
WE ARE SUPPOSED TO SEW POT
HOLDERS FOR OUR MOTHERS.
THE BOYS CANNOT SEEM
TO DO THIS RIGHT;
THEIR STITCHES ARE
LARGE AND CLUMSY,
AND THEY STICK ONE
ANOTHER WITH THE NEEDLES.
[laughter]
Miss LUMLEY
STALKS THE AISLES,
WHACKING THEIR
KNUCKLES WITH A RULER.
THE SCHOOLROOM IS
HIGH-CEILINGED,
YELLOWY-BROWN, WITH
BLACKBOARDS AT THE FRONT
AND ALONG ONE SIDE AND
TALL MANY-PANED WINDOWS
ABOVE THE RADIATORS
ON THE OTHER SIDE.
OVER THE DOOR TO
THE CLOAKROOM,
SO THAT YOU FEEL YOU'RE
BEING WATCHED FROM BEHIND,
THERE'S A LARGE PHOTOGRAPH
OF THE KING AND QUEEN,
THE KING WITH MEDALS, THE
QUEEN IN A WHITE BALLGOWN
AND DIAMOND TIARA.
HIGH WOODEN DESKS
THAT SIT TWO,
WITH SLANTED TOPS AND
HOLES FOR INKWELLS,
ARE ARRANGED IN ROWS.
IT'S LIKE ALL THE OTHER
SCHOOLROOMS AT QUEEN MARY,
BUT IT SEEMS DARKER,
POSSIBLY BECAUSE
THERE'S LESS DECORATION.
OUR OLD TEACHER BROUGHT
PAPER DOILIES TO SCHOOL
IN HER MANY EFFORTS
AT APPEASEMENT,
AND HER WINDOWS WERE
ALWAYS CRAWLING
WITH PAPER VEGETATION.
BUT ALTHOUGH Miss LUMLEY
OBSERVES THE SEASONS
IN THIS WAY TOO, THE PLANTS
WE BRING FORTH UNDER
HER GLITTERING STEEL-RIMMED
EYES ARE SMALLER,
SHRIVELLED-LOOKING, SO
THAT THERE ARE NEVER
ENOUGH OF THEM TO COVER
THE BARE SPACES
OF WALL AND GLASS.
ALSO, IF YOUR FALL FOLIAGE
LEAF OR YOUR PUMPKIN
IS NOT SYMMETRICAL, Miss
LUMLEY WON'T PUT IT UP.
[laughter]
SHE HAS STANDARDS.”
[laughter]

(Renaissance string music plays)

In the interview, she continues I CAN TELL YOU THAT
MY DAUGHTER HAS HAD
AN EXCELLENT TEACHER.
IN GRADE 5
AND GRADE 6,
THEY HAD TO WRITE A
NOVEL EVERY YEAR -
MINIMUM 14 PAGES.
BUT THE NOVELS HAD TO HAVE
CHARACTERS AND PLOT AND
EVENT AND DESCRIPTION
AND ALL THE THINGS
THAT NOVELS HAD.
AND THEY WROTE SOME
PRETTY GOOD NOVELS -
SHORT, BUT GOOD.
AND AT THE SCHOOL
SHE'S GOING TO NOW,
THEY DO HAVE
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION,
SO THEY ARE HAVING
PASSAGES OF THE BIBLE.
THIS WAS SIMPLY STANDARD
WHEN WE WENT TO SCHOOL.
I DON'T THINK THE
CHILDREN REVELLED MUCH
IN THE PROSE PARTICULARLY.
I DON'T THINK CHILDREN OF
THAT AGE ARE CONSCIOUS
OF REVELLING IN THE PROSE;
THEY'RE MUCH MORE LIKELY
TO BE REVELLING IN
THE SEX AND VIOLENCE,
OR WEIRD EVENTS.
BUT ROBERTSON DAVIES AND I
WOULD PROBABLY BOTH PREFER
THE KING JAMES VERSION
BECAUSE IT IS SO GLORIOUS,
BUT CHILDREN OF THAT
AGE ARE NOT CONSCIOUS
OF THOSE THINGS.
I THINK IT'S NECESSARY FOR
THEM TO KNOW BIBLE STORIES
BECAUSE SO MUCH OF
LATER LITERATURE DERIVES
FROM AND IS DEPENDENT
UPON THOSE STORIES.
SO, IF YOU DON'T
KNOW THE STORIES,
YOU WON'T GET
THE REFERENCES.

On the podium, she continues “EVERY MORNING, AFTER
Miss LUMLEY BLOWS
A THIN METALLIC NOTE
ON HER PITCH PIPE,
WE STAND UP TO SING
“GOD SAVE THE KING.”
WE ALSO SING...

She sings “RULE BRITANNIA, BRITANNIA
RULES THE WAVES
BRITONS NEVER, NEVER,
NEVER SHALL BE SLAVES!”

She says BECAUSE WE'RE BRITONS,
WE WILL NEVER BE SLAVES.
BUT WE AREN'T
REAL BRITONS,
BECAUSE WE ARE
ALSO CANADIANS.
THIS ISN'T QUITE AS
GOOD, ALTHOUGH...
[laughter]
IT HAS ITS OWN SONG:

She sings “IN DAYS OF YORE, FROM
BRITAIN'S SHORE
WOLFE, THE DAUNTLESS
HERO, CAME
AND PLANTED FIRM
BRITANNIA'S FLAG
ON CANADA'S FAIR DOMAIN
HERE MAY IT WAVE, OUR
BOAST, OUR PRIDE
AND JOIN
IN LOVE TOGETHER
THE THISTLE, SHAMROCK,
ROSE ENTWINE
THE MAPLE LEAF FOREVER.”
[Enthusiastic applause]

She says Miss LUMLEY'S JAW QUIVERS
IN A FRIGHTENING WAY
WHEN WE SING THIS.
WOLFE'S NAME SOUNDS
LIKE SOMETHING YOU'D
CALL A DOG, (laughter) BUT HE
CONQUERED THE FRENCH.
THIS IS PUZZLING, BECAUSE
I'VE SEEN FRENCH PEOPLE,
THERE ARE LOTS
OF THEM UP NORTH,
SO HE COULDN'T HAVE
CONQUERED ALL OF THEM.
[laughter]
AS FOR MAPLE LEAVES,
THEY'RE THE HARDEST PART
TO DRAW ON OUR RED FLAG.
NOBODY EVER
GETS THEM RIGHT.
Miss LUMLEY BRINGS
NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS
ABOUT THE ROYAL FAMILY
AND STICKS THEM
TO THE SIDE BLACKBOARD.
SOME OF THEM ARE
OLD CLIPPINGS,
AND SHOW PRINCESS ELIZABETH
AND PRINCESS MARGARET ROSE,
IN GIRL GUIDE
UNIFORMS, MAKING RADIO
AND OTHER SPEECHES
DURING THE BLITZ.
THIS IS WHAT WE
SHOULD BE LIKE,
Miss LUMLEY IMPLIES:
STEADFAST, LOYAL,
COURAGEOUS, HEROIC.
THERE ARE OTHER
NEWSPAPER PICTURES TOO,
SHOWING THIN-LOOKING
CHILDREN IN SCRUFFY CLOTHES,
STANDING IN FRONT
OF PILES OF RUBBLE.
THESE ARE TO REMIND US
THAT THERE ARE
MANY STARVING WAR
ORPHANS IN EUROPE,
AND WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT
AND EAT OUR BREAD CRUSTS
AND POTATO SKINS
AND EVERYTHING ELSE
ON OUR PLATES, BECAUSE
WASTE IS A SIN.
ALSO WE SHOULD
NOT COMPLAIN.
WE ARE NOT REALLY
ENTITLED TO COMPLAIN,
BECAUSE WE ARE LUCKY
CHILDREN: ENGLISH CHILDREN
GOT THEIR HOUSES
BOMBED AND WE DID NOT.
WE BRING OUR USED
CLOTHING, FROM HOME,
AND Miss LUMLEY TIES IT UP
INTO BROWN PAPER PACKAGES
AND SENDS IT TO ENGLAND.
THERE ISN'T MUCH
I CAN BRING,
BECAUSE MY MOTHER TEARS
OUR WORN-OUT CLOTHING UP
FOR DUSTERS, BUT I MANAGE
TO SALVAGE A PAIR
OF CORDUROY PANTS, ONCE
MY BROTHER'S, THEN MINE,
NOW TOO SMALL, AND A
VIYELLA SHIRT OF MY FATHER'S
THAT GOT WASHED WRONG BY
MISTAKE AND SHRANK.
IT GIVES ME A STRANGE
FEELING ON MY SKIN
TO THINK OF SOMEONE ELSE,
SOMEONE IN ENGLAND,
WALKING AROUND
IN MY CLOTHES.
MY CLOTHES SEEM
A PART OF ME,
EVEN THE ONES
I'VE OUTGROWN.
ALL THESE
THINGS - THE FLAGS,
THE PITCH-PIPE SONGS,
THE BRITISH EMPIRE
AND THE PRINCESSES,
THE WAR ORPHANS,
EVEN THE STRAPPINGS - ARE
SUPERIMPOSED AGAINST
THE OMINOUS NAVY-BLUE
BACKGROUND
OF Miss LUMLEY'S
INVISIBLE BLOOMERS.
I CAN'T DRAW THE UNION
JACK OR SING
“GOD SAVE THE KING” WITHOUT
THINKING ABOUT THEM.
DO THEY REALLY
EXIST, OR NOT?
WILL I EVER BE
IN THE CLASSROOM
WHEN SHE PUTS THEM ON
OR - UNTHINKABLE -
TAKES THEM OFF?
I'M NOT AFRAID OF
SNAKES OR WORMS BUT
I AM AFRAID OF
THESE BLOOMERS.
I KNOW IT WILL BE THE
WORSE FOR ME IF
I EVER ACTUALLY
CATCH SIGHT OF THEM.
THEY'RE SACROSANCT, AT
THE SAME TIME WHOLLY
AND DEEPLY SHAMEFUL.
WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH THEM
MAY BE WRONG WITH ME ALSO,
BECAUSE ALTHOUGH
Miss LUMLEY IS NOT
WHAT ANYONE THINKS
OF AS A GIRL,
SHE IS ALSO NOT A BOY.
WHEN THE BRASS HAND BELL
CLANGS AND WE LINE UP OUTSIDE
OUR GIRLS' DOOR,
WHATEVER CATEGORY WE ARE IN
ALSO INCLUDES HER.”
[Enthusiastic applause]

(Renaissance string music plays)

In the interview, she continues ALL KINDS OF THINGS CAN
STIMULATE A CHILD'S IMAGINATION.
WE WERE AWFULLY STIMULATED
BY COMIC BOOKS -
PROBABLY OVERSTIMULATED
BY COMIC BOOKS.
BUT THEY WERE VERY
FROWNED UPON BY GROWNUPS,
OF COURSE.
WE DIDN'T HAVE TELEVISION;
WE WERE ALSO QUITE STIMULATED
BY THINGS LIKE “THE GREEN HORNET.”
ON THE RADIO.
AND WE WEREN'T ALLOWED TO
LISTEN TO “INNER SANCTUM,”
BUT I THINK IF
WE HAD BEEN,
WE WOULD HAVE BEEN
VERY STIMULATED BY IT.
I WAS OVERSTIMULATED
BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
IN ABOUT GRADE 6.
SOME GENIUS HAD PUT HIM ON
THE PUBLIC SCHOOL
READING SHELVES -
WRONGLY, IN MY OPINION.
IN THOSE DAYS, BOOKS FOR
CHILDREN WERE ANYTHING
WITHOUT SEX, BUT THIS
WAS VERY GRUESOME STUFF.
IT WAS THE COMPLETE WORKS,
ALL OF THE STORIES
ABOUT BODIES DISSOLVING
AND THINGS LIKE THAT.
SO, YOU JUST NEVER KNOW
WHAT YOUR CHILD
MAY HAPPEN UPON...
THAT IT WILL FIND
STIMULATING.

Back on the podium, she says
MOVING TO THE PRESENT TIME.
EVER SINCE THEY REDID THE
GROUND FLOOR OF SIMPSONS,
I'VE BEEN DYING TO PUT
THAT COSMETIC DEPARTMENT
IN A BOOK.
[Burst of laughter]
THE NARRATOR IS NOW
IN THE PRESENT TIME
AND WALKING ALONG
QUEEN STREET.
“THIS IS WHERE
EATON'S USED TO BE,
HERE ON THIS CORNER,
YELLOW AND FOURSQUARE.
NOW THERE'S A HUGE
BUILDING IN ITS PLACE,
WHAT THEY CALL A
SHOPPING COMPLEX,
AS IF SHOPPING WERE
A PSYCHIC DISEASE.
[laughter]
IT'S GLASSY AND BE-TILED,
GREEN AS AN ICEBERG.
ACROSS THE STREET FROM
IT IS KNOWN TERRITORY:
SIMPSONS DEPARTMENT STORE.
I KNOW IT HAS A
FOOD HALL SOMEWHERE.
IN THE PLATE-GLASS WINDOWS
THERE ARE HEAPS OF BATH TOWELS,
OVERSTUFFED
SOFAS AND CHAIRS,
SHEETS IN MODERN PRINTS.
I WONDER WHERE ALL
THIS CLOTH ENDS UP.
PEOPLE CART IT AWAY, STUFF
IT INTO THEIR HOUSES:
THE NESTING INSTINCT.
A LESS ATTRACTIVE
CONCEPT IF YOU'VE EVER
SEEN A NEST UP CLOSE.
THERE MUST BE A LIMIT TO HOW
MUCH CLOTH YOU CAN CRAM
INTO ANY ONE HOUSE, BUT OF
COURSE IT'S DISPOSABLE.
YOU USED TO BUY
FOR QUALITY,
THINGS THAT WOULD LAST.
YOU KEPT YOUR CLOTHES
UNTIL THEY WERE PART
OF YOU, YOU CHECKED
THE HEMLINES,
THE WAY THE BUTTONS
WERE SEWED ON,
YOU RUBBED THE CLOTH
BETWEEN YOUR FINGER AND THUMB.
THE NEXT WINDOWS CONTAIN
DISGRUNTLED MANNEQUINS,
THEIR PELVISES THRUST OUT,
THEIR SHOULDERS FLUNG
THIS WAY AND THAT,
MAKING THEM LOOK LIKE
HUNCHBACKED AXE
MURDERERS.
[laughter]
I GUESS THIS IS
THE LOOK NOW...
[laughter]
“SURLY AGGRESSION.”
ON THE SIDEWALKS THERE
ARE A LOT OF ANDROGYNES
IN THE FLESH, THE GIRLS IN
THE BLACK LEATHER JACKETS
AND TOUGH BOOTS OF BOYS,
CREWCUTS, DUCKTAILS,
THE BOYS WITH THE SULLEN
POUTY LOOK OF THOSE WOMEN
ON THE FRONT COVERS
OF FASHION MAGAZINES,
THEIR HAIR GELLED
INTO QUILLS.
AT A DISTANCE I CAN'T
TELL THE DIFFERENCE,
THOUGH THEY THEMSELVES
PROBABLY CAN.
THEY MAKE ME
FEEL OUTMODED.
WHAT ARE THEY
AIMING FOR?
IS EACH AN IMITATION
OF THE OTHER?
OR DOES IT ONLY SEEM
THAT WAY TO ME BECAUSE
THEY'RE ALL SO
ALARMINGLY YOUNG?
DESPITE THEIR COOL POSES
THEY WEAR THEIR CRAVINGS
ON THE OUTSIDE, LIKE
THE SUCKERS ON A SQUID.
THEY WANT IT ALL.
BUT I SUPPOSE THAT'S WHAT
CORDELIA AND I LOOKED LIKE
THEN, TO OLDER PEOPLE,
CROSSING THE STREET
RIGHT HERE WITH OUR
COLLARS TURNED UP AND
OUR EYEBROWS PLUCKED
INTO SKEPTICAL ARCHES,
SWAGGERING IN OUR RUBBER
BOOTS AND STRAINING FOR
NONCHALANCE, ON OUR WAY
DOWN TO UNION STATION
WHERE THE TRAINS CAME IN,
TO PUT OUR QUARTERS INTO
THE PHOTO MACHINE, FOUR
SHOTS IN MONOCHROME,
WALLET-SIZED.
CORDELIA WITH A CIGARETTE
IN THE CORNER OF HER MOUTH,
HER EYELIDS HALF CLOSED,
TRYING FOR “SULTRY.”
ULTRA SHARP.
I REVOLVE THROUGH THE
REVOLVING DOORS INTO SIMPSONS,
WHERE I BECOME
LOST IMMEDIATELY.
THEY'VE CHANGED THE
WHOLE THING OVER.
IT USED TO BE SEDATE
WOOD-RIMMED GLASS COUNTERS,
WITH GLOVES
IN STANDARD MODELS,
APPROPRIATE WRISTWATCHES,
ACCENT SCARVES IN FLORAL PRINTS.
SERIOUS-MINDED GOOD TASTE.
NOW IT'S A COSMETIC
FAIRGROUND - SILVER TRIM,
GOLD PILLARS,
MARQUEE LIGHTS,
BRAND NAME LETTERS THE
SIZE OF A HUMAN HEAD.
THE AIR IS SATURATED WITH
THE STINK OF PERFUMES AT WAR.
[laughter]
THERE ARE VIDEO SCREENS ON
WHICH FLAWLESS COMPLEXIONS
TURN, PREEN, SIGH THROUGH THEIR
PARTED LIPS, ARE CARESSED.
ON OTHER SCREENS ARE
CLOSE-UPS OF SKIN PORES,
BEFORE AND AFTER, DETAILS
OF REGIMES FOR EVERYTHING,
YOUR HANDS, YOUR
NECK, YOUR THIGHS.
YOUR ELBOWS, ESPECIALLY
YOUR ELBOWS: AGING BEGINS
AT THE ELBOWS AND
METASTASIZES.
THIS IS RELIGION.
VOODOO AND SPELLS.
I WANT TO BELIEVE
IN IT, THE CREAMS,
THE REJUVENATING LOTIONS,
THE TRANSPARENT UNGUENTS
IN VIALS THAT SLICK ON
LIKE ROLL-TOP GLUE.
'DON'T YOU KNOW WHAT
THAT JUNK IS MADE OF?'
BEN SAID ONCE.
'GROUND-UP COCKSCOMBS.'
BUT THIS DOESN'T
DETER ME,
I'D USE ANYTHING IF
IT WORKED - SLUG JUICE,
TOAD SPIT, EYE OF NEWT...
[laughter]
ANYTHING AT ALL
TO MUMMIFY MYSELF,
STOP THE
DRIP-DRIP OF TIME,
STAY MORE OR LESS
THE WAY I AM.
BUT I OWN ENOUGH OF THIS
SLOP ALREADY TO EMBALM
ALL OF THE GIRLS IN MY HIGH
SCHOOL GRADUATING CLASS...
[laughter]
WHO MUST NEED IT BY
NOW AS MUCH AS I DO.
I STOP ONLY LONG ENOUGH TO
ALLOW MYSELF TO BE SPRAYED
BY A GIRL GIVING AWAY
FREE SQUIRTS OF
SOME VENOMOUS NEW PERFUME.
THE FEMME FATALE
MUST BE BACK,
VERONICA LAKE
SLINKS AGAIN.
THE STUFF SMELLS
LIKE GRAPE KOOL-AID.
[laughter]
I CAN'T IMAGINE IT
SEDUCING ANYTHING
BUT A FRUIT FLY.
[loud laughter and clapping]
'YOU LIKE THIS?'
I SAY TO THE GIRL.
THEY MUST GET LONELY,
STANDING HERE ALL DAY
IN THEIR HIGH HEELS,
SPRAYING STRANGERS.
[laughter]
'IT'S BEEN VERY POPULAR,'
SHE SAYS EVASIVELY.
[laughter]
BRIEFLY I GLIMPSE MYSELF
THROUGH HER EYES: BLOOM
OFF THE ROSE, TEETERING ON
THE BRINK OF MATRONHOOD,
HOPING FOR THE BEST.
I AM “THE MARKET.”

(Renaissance string music plays)

In the interview, Atwood says I CAN SAY THAT - AND I THINK
MOST PEOPLE WOULD AGREE -
THAT LITTLE BOYS
RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER
DIFFERENTLY FROM THE WAY
LITTLE GIRLS RELATE
TO ONE ANOTHER.
THERE'S A LOT MORE OVERT
PHYSICAL PUSHING,
KICKING, SHOVING,
AND FIGHTING.
OR THERE CERTAINLY
USED TO BE.
AND WITH LITTLE
GIRLS, IT'S MUCH MORE
MACHIAVELLIAN AND
COVERT AND SHIFTING.
LITTLE BOYS HAVE VERY
DEFINITE IDEAS ABOUT
WHO ARE THEIR FRIENDS AND
WHO ARE THEIR ENEMIES,
AND WITH LITTLE GIRLS, IT
CAN BE THE SAME PEOPLE.

At the podium, Atwood continues
“IN THE ENDLESS TIME WHEN
CORDELIA HAD SUCH POWER OVER ME,
I PEELED THE SKIN
OFF MY FEET.
I DID IT AT NIGHT, WHEN I
WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SLEEPING.
MY FEET WOULD BE COOL
AND SLIGHTLY DAMP,
SMOOTH, LIKE THE
SKIN OF MUSHROOMS.
I WOULD BEGIN
WITH THE BIG TOES.
I WOULD BEND MY FOOT UP
AND BITE A SMALL OPENING
IN THE THICKEST PART OF
THE SKIN, ON THE BOTTOM,
ALONG THE OUTSIDE EDGE.
THEN, WITH MY FINGERNAILS,
WHICH I NEVER BIT,
BECAUSE “WHY BITE SOMETHING
THAT DIDN'T HURT?,”
I WOULD PULL THE SKIN
OFF IN NARROW STRIPS.
I WOULD DO THE SAME
TO THE OTHER BIG TOE,
THEN TO THE BALL OF EACH
FOOT, THE HEEL OF EACH.
I WOULD GO DOWN AS
FAR AS THE BLOOD.
NOBODY BUT ME EVER
LOOKED AT MY FEET,
SO NOBODY KNEW
I WAS DOING IT.
IN THE MORNINGS I WOULD
PULL MY SOCKS ON,
OVER MY PEELED FEET.
IT WAS PAINFUL TO WALK,
BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE.
THE PAIN GAVE ME SOMETHING
DEFINITE TO THINK ABOUT,
SOMETHING IMMEDIATE.
IT WAS SOMETHING
TO HOLD ONTO.
SOMEONE COMES
UP BEHIND ME,
A SUDDEN VOICE
OUT OF THIN AIR.
SHE STARTLES ME.
'MAY I HELP YOU?'
IT'S A SALESLADY, AN
OLDER WOMAN THIS TIME.
MIDDLE-AGED.
“MY AGE,” I THEN
THINK, DISCOURAGED.
MINE AND CORDELIA'S.
I'M STANDING AMONG
THE PLAID DRESSES,
FINGERING A SLEEVE.
GOD KNOWS HOW LONG
I'VE BEEN DOING IT.
HAVE I BEEN
TALKING OUT LOUD?
MY THROAT FEELS TIGHT
AND MY FEET HURT.
BUT WHATEVER ELSE MAY
BE IN STORE FOR ME,
I DO NOT INTEND TO SLIDE
OFF MY TROLLEY TRACKS
IN THE MIDDLE OF
“SIMPSONS' GIRLSWEAR.”
[laughter]
'THE FOOD HALL,' I SAY.
SHE SMILES GENTLY.
SHE IS TIRED, AND I AM A
DISAPPOINTMENT TO HER,
I DON'T WANT ANY PLAID.
'OH, YOU NEED TO BE RIGHT
DOWNSTAIRS,' SHE SAYS,
'IN THE CELLAR.'
KINDLY, SHE DIRECTS ME.”

She takes off her glasses and closes her book. Then she leaves the podium.
[sustained applause]

(Theme music plays)

The End Credits roll against the title “Authors at Harbourfront” over the marble entrance in the sky.

Narrator, Fred Langan.

Edited by Michel Lebrun.

TV Ontario, Christopher Johnson, Michael Browne, Elizabeth Lowry.

Executive Producer, Michael Vaughan.

Produced for TV Ontario by Tier One Communications Inc. 1988

Watch: Margaret Atwood