Writing and rewriting are a constant search
for what one is saying.
~ John Updike
Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most highly regarded and award-winning writers. Publishing regularly for half a century, she writes novels, poetry, short stories, and literary essays. The author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction, she is best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.
She is also a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada’s writing community. As an entrepreneur, she introduced the Long Pen, a device for signing books (and other documents) from a distance over the Internet.
Some of Margaret Atwood’s poems address aging, such as Five Poems for Grandmothers, Aging Female Poet on Laundry Day, and Aging Female Poet Sits on the Balcony.
This favourite poem addresses the person in black who stands behind her at book or poetry readings to sign for the deaf. This poem is her entry in a book, mostly prose, on Canadian writers talking about reading. Here is an excerpt:
Unable to see her, I speak
in a kind of blindness, not knowing
what dance is being made of me.
Atwood Writing Resources
Reflections on Atwood’s Moral Disorder (2006) – Flora Spencer
Margaret Atwood’s collection of short stories, Moral Disorder (2006), is a loosely connected series of episodes in a woman’s life. They form an elliptical narrative beginning in her old age, with a depiction of the uncertainties and disorder inherent in aging, followed by glimpses back through her life, touching down in childhood, adolescence, an unconventional marriage, a Quixotic rural domestic life and ending with her parents physical and mental decline. The narrator, of course, cannot tell what it is like to experience the end of life, she can only give an observer’s understanding of her parents at the end of their lives. She leaves the readers with the understanding that she must add her own embellishments to the “facts” to make up an ending that she can accept, because she realizes that she simply cannot know. She surrenders to poetic romance — to the art of narrative.
In practising writing, many of us search for understanding of our own condition and find ourselves testing the accuracy and validity of our memories and perceptions — sometimes stumbling on the realization that form and art are part of constructing even a personal narrative and that a little fiction puts breath into the tale.
Aging in Literature — Reminder
I continue throughout this new year of 2013 to seek reader recommendations about Aging in Literature – novels, short stories, memoir, poems.
Civic Engagement for Writers – Organize Book Clubs
Although many people organize their own book clubs, some individuals can benefit from assistance with setting up the group and/or with facilitation. Older adults who enjoy reading and writing can find great satisfaction in facilitating a book club for a group within a local area (e.g., through the library. a retirees’ group, or even a church) or for vulnerable individuals (e.g., longterm care residents, individuals with low literacy or English as a second language, high risk teens). Finally, as noted in the book review below, a book club can be organized for just two people who need something meaningful to discuss as they meet on a regular basis.
Group exercises are valuable to pull the individuals of a writing group together. Here is an idea you might try. Each person begins with a piece of paper to pass along by writing down a question for which they would like answers. The question can be broad and open (e.g., How can we choose joy each day?) or concrete (e.g., How will I manage to converse with my difficult cousin during this weekend’s visit?). Then the paper is folded to hide the question and passed along to the person on the right. Participants each then write a descriptive sentence (using the senses) which could be the answer to a question. They fold over the paper and pass it along to the right again. Again participants write an answer to an unknown question. Finally, the papers are returned to the author of the question.
Members of the group then take turns reading their 4-line ‘poem’: their question followed by the first answer, their question repeated, followed by the second answer.
NEWS – Authors Writing into Old Age
Will Schwalbe Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2012
Imagine that you have a devastating cancer diagnosis in late life and that your adult son accompanies you to chemotherapy sessions – where you discuss the book selected for each such meeting of your two-person book club. What mixed emotions would arise? – fear, sorrow, and determination, yes; but also love, gratitude, pride, intellectual excitement, and anticipation.
Active as a publisher and journalist, Will Schwalbe narrates his story of creating a book club with his mother to guide their discussions during treatment sessions and other visits after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. During the last two years of her life, mother and son shared their lifelong love of books while looking back on her life, planning meaningful events, and dealing with medical and end-of-life issues. READ MORE >> Ryan-SchwalbeBookReview