Margaret Atwood and the Matt Damon Syndrome

credit: Sandra Vander Schaaf
It became know as the “Matt Damon Syndrome.” About a year ago a friend attended a BBQ on Bowen Island. It was a small affair consisting of the host family, my friend Peter and the hosts’ guests who happened to be none other than the Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon and his family. In the weeks following the BBQ Peter regaled all within earshot on the wonders of Matt Damon. Pete’s eyes would fix somewhere over his listener’s left shoulder, his voice would take on an airy quality, and this big, normally reserved and quiet man suddenly spouted a fountain of superlatives befitting a besotted teenage girl. It got so bad that his business partner and fellow renovation expert perfected a wonderful impersonation of Peter, “Matt Damon, OOOH, Matt Damon, he’s soooo fabulous, he’s soooo down to earth, he’s sooo…blah, blah, blah…(exaggerated rolling of the eyes)…blah, blah, blah...”

At the risk of falling into the Matt Damon Syndrome, can I share with you, my blog chums, my latest encounter with Margaret Atwood (because, well, she’s sooo fabulous and soooo down to earth and …)?

Yes? Well, if you insist.

Here's the link: Margaret Atwood & Leah Kostamo at the Green Gala

You can watch it now.  I'll wait.  

Tra la la, tum tum, tiddily tum....

The video was filmed at A Rocha’s Green Gala fundraiser about three weeks ago where I had the privilege of participating in an onstage “conversation” with Ms. Atwood. It was truly so very, very fun (which came as a great relief since, no joke, I had been waking every morning for the previous two weeks in a cold sweat, dismayed that I had agreed to interview this literary icon and uber smart woman in front of 300 people – what had I been thinking!? )

Highlights by category, from my vantage point:

Historical: Margaret’s musings on her childhood in Northern Quebec – a childhood spent, during her father’s field work seasons, without indoor plumbing, electricity, roads or schools, and with lots of time outdoors – a childhood that laid the foundation for her lifetime love of the natural world.

Humorous: Margaret’s rendition of The Mole Day Hymn (If you watch nothing else, watch this 2 minute sequence; you’ll find it at 12 minutes). Her adorable singing is preceded by her “outing” of my tone-deafness for the entire world to see. I think Margaret Atwood actually laughed at me. Oh well, she’s sooo great and soooo down to earth… And, truth be told, I am so very Piglet-like in my singing. I console myself with Richard Rohr encouragement to pray for at least one daily humiliation as a means of character formation -- this was mine for May 22, 2014… But I digress.

Profound: Margaret’s reflections on the stories we are writing and living that are environmentally dangerous and those that are environmentally helpful and hopeful. I think she just might have mentioned my book in the latter category. Can’t be sure, maybe I should go watch it again…

Lowlight: Actually, I won’t poison the well. You can decide for yourself what bit I found minorly mortifying (hint: not my tone-deafness, but something voice – my voice – related, which served as my daily humiliation when I watched it for the first time last week. But, hey, whatever, I didn’t trip and fall on the way up to the stage, and I didn’t do the deer-in-the-headlights routine which I was verily afraid I might do, and Margaret was sooo brilliant and sooo funny and sooo very articulate and ….
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The Show is On!


If you are on Olympics overload and are hankering for a little talk show blather to break up all the skating, sliding and sledding, check out Context with Lorna Dueck's God's Gardeners episode.

Margaret Atwood claims the spotlight for most of the show, but then yours truly and my handsome husband Markku join Margaret and Lorna for the last third of the show.

It’s been online for a couple days now and I finally worked up the courage to watch it last night (in bed with my girls and Markku all piled in). 
My verdict: I like it! 

Lorna is warm and “present.” Margaret is articulate, funny and uber intelligent. Markku is very smiley. And I blink a lot and very slowly (odd, that).

Favourite sound bites:

“Loving your neighbour means loving their biosphere.” Margaret Atwood

“Know where your food comes from and where your garbage goes.” Markku Kostamo

“God is not an absentee landlord.” I think I said that (quoting Wendell Berry, though in the heat of the moment I forgot to give him credit. Oops – thanks, Wendell!)

Here’s the link again (in case you missed it the first two times :)): Context with Lorna Dueck's God's Gardeners episode
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Meeting Margaret

I readily admit to the temptation of idol worship. Not idol worship of men so much, unless their wit and intelligence is cushioned by a massive dose of humility. But women – funny, smart, influential women – they set me genuflecting.

But genuflecting is not becoming, especially in public, hinting as it does to the fact that you, the genuflector, are not yourself funny, smart and/or influential. Besides that it breaks the Second Commandment. I know this and yet when I got word that I was scheduled to be on Lorna Dueck’s Context TV show during an episode on Faith and the Environment** and that Markku and I would share the stage with Margaret Atwood – THE Margaret Atwood, author of over 40 books, winner of the Booker prize, sole subject of an entire literary society – I felt my knees start to give.

Fast forward to CBC Studios, Toronto. It is the pre-show book signing. Margaret is sitting at a table before me while I stand, lock-kneed and smiling in what I hope is a sweet, confident, friendly way – the way one might smile at a very beautiful and very intimidating Great Dane.

Margaret is signing her newest book which I’ve just purchased en route – MaddAddam. “For Thea,” she writes, because in my nervousness I’ve mumbled my name. But oh well, I won’t trouble her to correct it. Thea is a nice name. Maybe I can find someone by that name and give her this book as a present.

And then, quickly and sort of on the sly because of the long line of people stretching behind me, I give her my thin little book, Planted. And, clever woman that she is, she notices from the cover that my name is in fact not Thea, but Leah, which rhymes with Thea, but is definitely a different name. And so she turns the Th into a fanciful L and adds an h on the end and I’m grateful.

Then off to make-up where a spry middle-aged woman with something of a wood-nymph about her makes us up (which is a wonder and sets me wondering why I’ve never gone in for this make-up stuff before since she’s erased five years at least from my face….but I digress).

In make-up Margaret is warm and chatty and very funny and even sings a little song to Lorna and the rest of us, and I worry that my knees might give way.

Then it’s into the studio for the show – the same studio, by the way, where Hockey Night in Canada is filmed, a jewel of trivia which, when he hears it, makes Markku gape and look around in awe and expectancy should Don Cherry come marching in through a side door.

Margaret is on first and for most of the show. And she is very funny and very smart and therefore very articulate. And I’m glad I’m sitting down. She talks about her book Year of the Flood and about religion and the environment and the wacky fictional sect she’s created called "God’s Gardeners" – tenders of gardens, keepers of bees and wearers of flowy linen clothes. Hmmmm…

And then Markku and I are on stage – real life God’s Gardeners. Jesus followers and bird lovers. Of the potential eight questions I’ve been told will be asked of me, I get to lob back only two answers. I spent the whole plane ride out to Toronto reading and committing to memory the best of Wendell Berry (yes, I see the irony) so that I might sound half as articulate as Ms. Atwood. But no matter, because when I steal a glance at Margaret – at this accomplished and gracious author – she is positively beaming at us, her smile beatific with rapport and camaraderie. Yes, the author of The Handmaiden’s Tale – whose dystopian visions have set the most callused hearts quivering – smiles on us. We are in this together. We are all God’s Gardeners, held, with the rest of creation, in the hand of Great Love. And from that place of security and hope we are called to act with courage and strong knees.

**The show will air sometime in the new year. Watch this space for channels and times.
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