Margaret Atwood

Back in the day, children, when I was a cub reporter on the unhyphenated Victoria Daily Times (a better paper than the Colonist, it must be remembered), columnists were generally expected to churn out an entertaining column almost every day.

Not a few managed the feat by recycling an old one whenever the opportunity arose — something I reckoned then to be a sign of poor craftsmanship, if not evidence of bad character that was only permitted because the authors were usually drinking buddies of the editor in chief.

Nowadays, of course, the few remaining paid newspaper columnists might deign to rest a buffed and manicured finger on a keyboard once or twice a week and won’t drink anything stronger than Perrier with a twist of lime. As for those of us who still write stuff every day for the pure joy of it, and nothing else, we’re evidently merely responding to an atavistic reflex.

Having said that, Fact No. 1, Margaret Atwood, the iconic Canadian author, was on stage at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton last night with Alanis Morissette, the equally iconic Canadian songstress. They dispensed an hour of highly entertaining bon mots to an appreciative audience of 1,700 souls who braved sub-zero weather and this city’s appalling streets to take in the event — something, it must be said, that could only happen in Canada.

Fact No. 2, my readership soars every time I write anything mean about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford or his equally offensive brother Doug.

And, Fact No. 3, I get it now! I understand why those old time columnists kept recycling their work. So allow me to boost my production without much effort and do the same — by reprinting this post, first published on Alberta Diary on July 27, 2011, and read by almost no one at the time.

It got one re-tweet, people! On Nov. 23, 2013, dear readers, we expect you to do better! As for the Ford Brothers, well, people are certainly talking about them now!

Lighten up Doug Ford! Thanks to Margaret Atwood, at least you’ll get a footnote

Lighten up, Doug Ford! It’s good to be given a sound public thrashing by Margaret Atwood. It’s proof that your hitherto meaningless existence has been recognized!

After all, Ms. Atwood is an author of historical stature, the sort of person journalists describe as an icon without even bothering to look up the word. In other words, she’s someone who, unlike you, history will remember as more than a footnote.

So you should treat the talking-to you’ve just received from her as a blessing, a gift from the Gods, proof that you are not merely a gnat, no matter what the rest of us may think.

Let’s pause here for a little background: For Western Canadian readers who may have missed it, Mr. Ford is a Toronto city councillor of a particularly odious neo-Con stripe and also the brother of that unfortunate city’s mayor, Rob Ford.

The Ford Brothers are the sort of people who make the folks who surround Prime Minister Stephen Harper seem like nature’s gentlemen. Alas, somehow they managed to get elected, and now they are busy wreaking havoc in one of Canada’s nicest cities — up to now, anyway.

As the sort of person whose supporters find their lips getting tired when they read, Doug Ford has lately been on a campaign to close public libraries. Ms. Atwood, who can be quite prickly herself, got up an effort to stop him, which by all accounts has been rather successful, with more than a quarter million people sending tweets to support her.

This in turn got Mr. Ford’s back up, and he responded with this stunning tweeted riposte: “Well, good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.” Well, duh! Of course you wouldn’t!

Brother Rob Ford, by the way, has also been in the news, accused of flipping “the bird” and mouthing obscenities at a woman who scolded him for talking on his cellular phone while driving. He blew it off as a misunderstanding, also in a tweet, but let’s stick with Doug Ford and Ms. Atwood and their tweeted and re-tweeted fuddle-duddle battle for the time being.

Getting back to you, Doug: When the bug spray has settled down after the next Toronto municipal election, history will likely not have much to say about you. Ms. Atwood, on the other hand, is someone whom history will remember. But a public slapdown by Ms. Atwood means that at least you might get a mention in a good book or something of the sort that would be kept in a library.

Anyway, as cranky as it makes you feel right now, I can personally attest that the sting will pass away in time. You see, I too have received a good crack across the knuckles, metaphorically speaking, from Ms. Atwood for a mistake less horrifying than wanting to close public libraries, but nevertheless deeply humiliating.

The circumstances were as follows: During Ms. Atwood’s visit to the Calgary Herald picket line some years ago, a matter that oddly enough came up in another context  in this blog just days ago, I took it upon myself to tell her how much I had enjoyed The Robber Bride, which had been published not too long before.

Alas for me, I referred to a memorable character in that novel as Xena (as in the warrior princess), not as Zenia (as I really ought to have remembered).

Ms. Atwood regarded me with an icy stare, corrected me sharply in a voice that may be fairly likened to a hiss, and promptly decamped to discuss matters with a picketer of more literary alertness. Perhaps if she were to tweet about it today, she would say it was all a misunderstanding … but, to her credit, I doubt it.

At that moment, Doug, my mortification was profound! But as time has passed, I have come to see this little vignette as verification of my humble existence.

Indeed, in retrospect, I think I would have forgiven her if she’d knocked out a tooth! I don’t expect you to try reading one of her books, but you really ought to man up and get over it. You’ll be a better man for it!

Remember, Doug, as Oscar Wilde so famously said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” (And if you don’t know who Oscar Wilde is, ask a reference librarian.)

This post also (re)appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...