Encouraging the Young, by Margaret Atwood

If you have any aspiration to be a successful essayist, or newspaper columnist, or if you think your writing is good enough that the legacy media should be begging you to enrich their pages with your prose, read this excerpt from the master, Margaret Atwood, best known as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx & Crake, who many believe is the best writer alive in the world today. They would get no argument from me. Simply awesome.

Encouraging the Young, by Margaret Atwood
I have decided to encourage the young. Once I wouldn’t have done this, but now I have nothing to lose. The young are not my rivals. Fish are not the rivals of stones.

So I will encourage them open-handedly, I will encourage them en masse. I’ll fling encouragement over them like rice at a wedding. They are the young, a collective noun, like the electorate. I’ll encourage them indiscriminately, whether they deserve it or not. Anyway, I can’t tell them apart.

So I will stand cheering generally, like a blind person at a football game: noise is what is required, waves of it, invigorating yelps to inspire them to greater efforts, and who cares on what side and to what ends?

I don’t mean the very young, those who can still display their midriffs without attracting derision. Boredom’s their armour: to them I’m a voice balloon with nothing in it.

No, it’s the newly conscious young I mean, the ones with ambition and fresh diffidence, those who’ve learned the hard way that reach exceeds grasp nine times out of ten. How disappointed they are! And if and when they succeed for the first time, how anxious it makes them! They develop insomnia, or claustrophobia, or bulemia, or fear of heights. Now they will have to live up to themselves. Bummer.

Here I am, happy to help! I’ll pass round the encouragement, a cookie’s worth for each. There you are, young! What is a big, stupid, clumsy mess like the one you just made — let me rephrase that — what is an understandable human error, but a learning experience? Try again! Follow your dream! You can do it!

What a fine and shining person I am, so much kinder than when I’d just finished being young myself. I was severe then; my standards were exacting. The young — I felt — were allowed to get away with far too much, as I had been. But now I’m generosity itself. Affably I smile and dole.

On second thought, my motives are less pure than they appear. They are murkier. They are lurkier. I catch sight of myself, in that inward eye that is not always the bliss of solitude, and I see that I am dubious. I scuttle from bush to bush, at the edge of the dark woods, peering out. Yoo hoo! Young! Over here! I call, beckoning with my increasingly knobbly forefinger. That’s it. Now here’s a lavish gingerbread house, decorated with your name in lights. Wouldn’t you like to walk into it, claim it as your own, stuff your face on sugary fame? Of course you would!

I won’t fatten them in cages, though. I won’t ply them with poisoned fruit items. I won’t change them into clockwork images or talking shadows. I won’t drain out their life’s blood. They can do all those things for themselves.

This excerpt is from Atwood’s new book The Tent, just published this week, and was printed in yesterday’s Toronto Star. I’m picking up my copy of the book today.

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4 Responses to Encouraging the Young, by Margaret Atwood

  1. sj_buckley@hotmail.com says:

    Hi there Dave – read your blog from time to time and thought you might find this new blof interesting, in particular this storyhttp://nightingalesangatwcc.typepad.com/tajikistan/2006/01/chained_to_pove.htmlKyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the world and a significant chunk of it’s GDP comes from a joint venture with a canadian gold mining consortium – with all the environmental problems that brings. Of course, it means nothing to the couple we met in the interview.All the best,Steven

  2. Kevin says:

    I particularly connected with this post as I think I am one of the “newly conscious young” and am open to encouragement right now. Margaret Atwood’s voice and style also remind me of my grandmother.I have no idea how you create so much terrific content for your blog, but please keep it up. I found you via a link to your “What’s Your Dangerous Idea?” post and then stuck around for at least an hour reading more. I opened the link to your site in a “new tab” earlier today and unfortunately can’t remember which site referred me.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Steven, Kevin: Thanks and welcome. Steve, I gave your extraordinary blog a ‘plug’ today (Jan.14).

  4. The United States has had its civil war. Canada is overdue.

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