The recent Atlantic essay by
"These are the choices you make," says Atwood. "Do what you want. If you don't want to have children, don't have them; if you do want to have them, have them. There's going to be consequences either way." She gives it a moment's thought. "I mean poor old Charlotte Bronte possibly shouldn't have had children because it killed her, but Emily didn't and she died anyway. Sooner or later, I hate to break it to you, you're gonna die, so how do you fill in the space between here and there? It's yours. Seize your space."
Hers is a toughness born of experience. "I'm of that generation that was told by all of the social historians and literary writers, that of course women writers had to dedicate themselves to their art and they couldn't have both. So I thought to hell with that. I didn't see why it had to be either/or." When her daughter was little, Atwood and her then husband lived on a farm and he was very involved. "We hired somebody to help with the sheep, cows, tractor driving and correspondence. But we ourselves split the child care. We had somebody come in a couple of mornings a week. And no, we didn't feel very guilty."
Until that point, Atwood had always fitted in writing around a day job, so she was used to squeezing it into the off hours. "If you have a job in the daytime, you write at night. It's all a question of how much you want to do it. You don't want to do it, then throw it out the window. Make your choice. Stop whining about it and filling up copy in magazines with your guilt. Sorry to sound so pragmatic. How dirty it is under your bed is your business, not anyone else's."
How was this attitude received at the time? "Mean. Hard. Aggressive. Cruel. Yes." She shrugs; tant pis
A woman sitting several tables away interrupts to say: "Can I buy you a glass of champagne,
Can she imagine herself, as Munro did recently, announcing a retirement from writing? Atwood looks suddenly fierce. "Don't believe it. People say that, but what they're really saying is, 'Stop calling me. Don't bother me, I'm retired. Now I can write more!' It's a great temptation. But they never really follow through, because as soon as they say it, they feel free, and as soon as they feel free, they get another idea. What they're really saying is, 'I don't feel obligated.'"
The only real end is the one that is forced on you, in small or in large scale, as the characters in MaddAddam discover. What is the pleasure of anticipating the end of the world? "I think the pleasure is we like to walk it through in advance, with a consciousness that's still human. So you can't actually wipe out the human race and then tell a story about it. There has to be somebody still alive through whom you can hear that story. It's like that conundrum of where will I go after I die. You're still imagining an I."
Get it while you can, says Atwood. Move on to the next thing. Stop faffing about and making excuses. "One story ends, and you ask, 'What about later?' Well, later, the dragon will be released. You'll have the new
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