Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Seeking Margaret Atwood

My first attempt to become a cultured Canadian has been an utter failure. The local newspapers were reporting that Margaret Atwood, the famous Canadian author, would be appearing and reading a part of her new book at the local library. Tickets would be limited and given out on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 9 am on Saturday morning.

I had known, since approximately 2001, that chances were fairly good that Sarah would not be able to secure a visa in the United States and that if we were going to stay together, we’d either be moving to Canada or the United Kingdom. We worked on securing our Canadian residency as a backup plan knowing full well that it would most likely be needed. So, I began my quest to learn as much about Canada as I could. I subscribed to MacLean’s magazine, despite the expensive foreign subscription rate, and read it diligently. I set my homepage on my work and home computers to so I could keep up on the Canadian top stories. And, because I was an English major in college and had never read any Canadian literature, I started buying classic books by Canadian authors. I discovered a list of the so-called 100 Most Influential Books in Canadian History and bought and read several. As any Canadian knows, if you research Canadian Literature, Margaret Atwood’s name will be mentioned very frequently.

In the four years prior to moving to Canada, I also took a year of French at a local college, and Sarah and I visited various cities in Canada as often as we could in order to get a better sense of the country and to determine exactly which locales appealed to us if we should have to move. My goal was to be very informed about Canadian culture, history, geography, and politics before I moved—I didn’t want to contribute to the mostly true image of Americans as being only interested in what happens in the US and oblivious to other countries’ plights, even countries that share a border. And I knew this was the prevailing Canadian perception of Americans because I read about it so much online, in magazines, and in books.

I believe I achived at least a minimum level of familiarity with Canadian culture by the time I moved, but I have also been avidly continuing my research. I record every documentary about Canadian history I can find and I have continued reading the books I purchased. I really wan tto show the Canadians that Canada isn’t just a place I escaped to and am living as a second-best option, but that I have an interest and appreciation for their country.

So, when I saw that Margaret Atwood would be at the library, I thought, “What an opportunity!” Something told me that tickets would be hard to come by, so I decided to get in line at the library well before 9. I figured either there would be no one there, or there would be hundreds of people clamoring for tickets.

I left home about 8:15 and headed to the library. After getting stopped by every red light on the 12 mile journey, I arrived at the library about 8:50. I figured the library wouldn’t open until 9 am, so I guessed I’d have to line up outside the door. Well, so did about three hundred other people! As I walked past the people already in line on my way to the end of the line, I tried not to look at them because I could sense their smug expressions of “Well, I’m glad WE were in line early enough!” I did see, out of the corner of my eye, that some people had even brought lawn chairs, evidence of exactly how early they had lined up.

I fought off the feeling of futility and stood in line with the little old ladies, professor types, and students thinking, “Don’t they know I’m only here to become as Canadian as possible?” believing that if I thought that hard enough, someone might actually read my thoughts and allow me to move ahead in the line. No such luck. After waiting in line for twenty minutes, we realized that the library had run of out of tickets about one-quarter of the way through the line and were now just handing out flyers for an online videoconference.

I went back home empty-handed and dejected. So now, I’m looking out for my next opportunity for the quintessential immersion in Canadian culture. Perhaps I will secure tickets to a Neil Young concert or have lunch with Don Cherry. Once I did see Jim Balsille walking through RIM park and talking on his cell phone, but still, I don’t think that tops a live Margaret Atwood reading.

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