It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” on my morning commute this week. She’s offering an online Master Class I might take. Money’s an issue, and so is time, but I can read her books on the train—when people are not talking loudly or if four year old’s aren’t trying to scream like an avant garde exploration of opera.
I miss the old Saturdays where I would bike to the library, grab a stack of anything that I liked, and spend the afternoon, reading for delicious, uninterrupted hours on my bed. Now I catch it “in gasps,” to borrow a phrase from Margaret.
I have only read one other book of hers. “Oryx and Crake.” Even the crunchy title is tasty. I loved it. Not for the story, per se. It was sad and brutal, a screamed warning that rattled me. But the WRITING was so delectable! The weaving of detail and image to subtly speak of something more.
I met her shortly after that, at a book signing at the university. I didn’t have the words, but I tried to tell her how much I loved her book. She gave me “oh, please” angry eyes, like I was some literary fan-girl that totally missed the point of a dystopian novel. I wondered at that. Wished I could sit down with her over coffee and talk ideas and writing. And here she has a master class. And so I read “Handmaid’s Tale”, where I can.
Her word weaving and imagery is no less delightful.
I have known about this book for years. I didn’t want to read it back in university days, back when I was uncertain where evil came from, and whether or not it was contagious. It is a book about THOSE sorts of things. (You know: sex, drugs, fashion, adultery). I didn’t want to get trapped by it.
We’ll see if I feel any different now.
Now that I am older. Now that I have crashed into various kinds of evil, and am less worried about it. It is a kind of relief to know it is not all up to you. I do what I can with what is in front of me. Maybe that is why I pick up trash on my walks to work from time to time. It is a small thing. But it is a defiance against that which destroys.
Why do people destroy, anyway? Randomly? Specifically?
I walk up the steps at the train station four days out of five. It is day four today. I do this to keep my muscles strong and to tell my body I have not wholly given up on it. The first flight goes pretty well. I feel good. Hemoglobin must be up again. Not surprising in the lull before misery week.
Second flight I start to feel it, not in my legs anymore,—it’s been a few weeks now—but in my lungs. By the time I get to the top of the third flight, I am breathing hard, but not in that scary way that I used to where it felt like I was never going to get enough air. Still on the verge of that. It’s a little frightening.
But I round the corner, thinking about recovery times and how fast the depleted hemoglobin must have to travel around my body to deliver sufficient oxygen.
And then I see this man smoking.
I want to shout at him, how stupid can you be?! What I wouldn’t do for heart and lungs that work right. And here you are, killing yourself, squandering the luxury of breath by smoking. How stupid can you be?
I pick a 7-11 cup and lid out of the shrubbery. I must have gone faster than usual up the stairs, because I am past all the trees I count to measure my recovery time, and round the next corner before I notice that I am not sucking wind anymore.
I pick up a soggy pizza box and look up to see a lit bus poster advertising the old show “Heaven Can Wait” with Michael Landon and that scruffy guy whose name won’t stick in my head. There’s a new TV station in town, apparently. The slogan makes me roll my eyes. “More caring, less swearing.” Right up there with “Safe and fun for the whole family,” slogan of the one Christian radio station.
That kind of pap makes me crazy. There are things in this world that really should make a saint swear—like idiots who destroy perfectly good lungs by smoking.
I remember “Little House on the Prairie.” I had to quit watching. I don’t know where they got their theology in some of those episodes, but they completely missed the ego issues of the main character. Or maybe just the actor. Every show seemed to centre on him. How did the rest of the cast stand it?
How do people of faith offer help in this world without this level of cheese and blindness? Or without becoming an all-out ranting lunatic?
I pick up a curled bit of wet cardboard. There’s something written on it. A name I know well. How weird is that? I turn it over. Coloured graphics list a song name, I think. “Heat, Not Burn.” Huh. More heat, less burn.
I walk past other trash, napkins, cigarette butts, but I can’t pick up any more. My hands are full.
Thank the City for bus stop garbage cans.
I see another bit of litter. I drop off my burden, pick up the scrap and throw it out. Still some five minutes to work, but the path is tree-lined and the grass is lush. Rain dew sparkles on the leaves.
I think about theology. I think about writing. I think about Margaret and if she’d ever tell me why she gave me those long-suffering angry eyes.
Ideas come so thick and fast sometimes, it is like walking in a hailstorm. Other times, it’s crickets.
I’ve tried voice recorders, but thoughts are fleet and half a dozen leave by the time I figure out where the buttons are. And what happens then? Do I ever go back and transcribe? No.
So I have learned to use memory, and catch what I can in my one-sy cup, like that poet who sometimes had to catch her poetry by the tail and write it backwards to get it down. The rest of the ideas go skipping off, white pearls along the black pavement.
I hope the Muses don’t mind pitching again from time to time.
Today’s Quote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? According to poet Muriel Rukeyser, ‘the world would split open.’”