Tag: Margaret Atwood

Words and Power

Recently Canada Post honoured author, Margaret Atwood, with a  stamp.

In her speech acknowledging the honour, she made many jokes about being “not dead yet,” as most honourees in this category are deceased. She explained that her eyes are closed because she’s thinking, and generally thanked the post office while maintaining a modest (very Canadian) demeanour. Her audience was delighted.

The imprint shows a photograph of Ms Atwood, superimposed on the text, “A word after a word after a word after a word is power.” How appropriate that the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” pays homage to the power of words.

For any who doubt the power of words, history is littered with examples of the grand and the eloquent.

Churchill’s oratory is considered a major weapon in the war against Nazi Germany. His stirring speech promising “blood, sweat and tears” to a citizenry suffering through the Blitz, lifted morale and persuaded a tired, bombed-out citizenry to “carry on.” After Dunkirk, he vowed ” we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,”  and a beaten and demoralized army put itself  together and prepared for D-Day and eventual victory.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” inspired the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

J. F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your nation can do for you” speech fired a generation to enrol in the Peace Corps.

From the Psalms to Justin Beiber, humanity has revealed its soul and its greatest longings through words and music

There is a flip side to the power of words too. Hitler used his mezmerizing oratory to stir up hatred and cause the death of millions and millions of people.

Shakespeare could not have imagined modern communications when he gave these words to Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar.

 The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

This destructive power of words is manifestly evident in  the age of social media, where on-line trolls use the power of words to destroy lives and drive children to suicide.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

In Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck Rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor. 

Although Bunyan and later Teddy Roosevelt were condemning the Man with the Muck Rake, it speaks to the power of words that in the 21st century, over 325 years after Pilgrim’s Progress was published, the term muckraker is still in common usage.

All of the above is a long-winded way of saying congratulations to Margaret Atwood, and to Canada Post for recognizing her genius. It is also a reminder to writers and readers alike that words matter. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” may offer comfort to a crying child, but it is not true. Sticks and stones and tanks and bombs can break bones and bodies, but words change minds. They break hearts or bring joy. They are the manifestation of ideas, the essence of thought. Words are powerful and dangerous and beautiful. Be careful how you use them.

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Canadian Thanksgiving

For those of you who don’t live in Canada, let me explain that we celebrate Thanksgiving — a harvest festival– on the second Monday of October. It’s a great time to give thanks as the garden crops are safely stored, the apple and pear trees and begging to be picked and pumpkins brighten the farmer’s fields with their stunning orange. Not only that, but the trees are turning colour. It is a most beautiful time of the year. Who wouldn’t give thanks.

Traditionally, we celebrate with a big turkey dinner with friends and relatives. We eat too much, enjoy pumpkin pie with whipped cream and then go back and snare a few more bites. I’m writing this post while still feasting on left over turkey. I love turkey sandwiches.

Of course, the whole point of the day is to remind us to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. Here is my list of writerly gratitudes.

  • Great books. This year I’ve found myself lost in a story over and over again. I’m so grateful to those authors who churn out a compelling tale that takes me beyond myself.
  • Writer friends. We’re a strange breed, we writers. We live in our heads most of the time. We’re always wondering “what if . . .?” It’s good to have company in the wilderness.
  • The internet. For all it’s flaws and dangers — and there are many– the internet allows me to look up facts in a few minutes rather than the hours needed to go to a library and find the proper reference book. It also allows me to stay in touch with all those writer friends, from Australia to my own back door.
  • Libraries. My own library has reorganized itself, much to my chagrin, to be a “happening place” with a very meagre supply of actual books. I hope that is an anomaly. I love walking into a well stocked library and browsing the stacks. Who knows what gem will appear?
  • Authors who share. As well as reading many great books from excellent authors, I’ve been able to attend workshops from first rate teachers. I can read blogs daily, weekly, or on occasion from people who understand both the craft and business of books. I can send an e-mail to someone I’ve never met and get a helpful reply. Authors truly are terrific.  As a side note, Margaret Atwood has just won her second Booker Prize for Literature.  She is donating her share to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, one she has previously helped with her late friend and First Nations leader, Chief Harry St. Denis.    
  • All those scribes from every time and place who “wrote it down” so that succeeding generations will know the facts and the stories and the details of everyday life that the historians might leave out.

Happy post Thanksgiving to everyone. May your shelves be filled with lovely books and your mind spin out stories to transform the world.

P.S. Feel free to share your own writerly thanksgivings in the comments section.

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