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Margaret Atwood and the Art of Potatomancy

Last night I watched Margaret Atwood speak as part of Denver’s Pen & Podium literary lecture series. I adore Atwood’s work. Her MadAddam novels have inspired some of my best nightmares. While it might seem odd to read books that disrupt sleep, I do it all the time. Some of my favorite books leave me so spooked that the characters live on for months in my sordid dreams. I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment of Atwood’s dark, futuristic series. I mentioned this to Atwood as I stood in line to have a few books signed. Her reply? Oh, so am I! She said it with a delighted chuckle, the same chuckle that punctuated her entire lecture. Margaret Atwood seems to be having a very good time.

Despite the dark tone of her novels, short stories (I refer you to the New Yorker’s Dec. 19, 2011, issue and the chilling “Stone Mattress”), and poetry, Atwood seems remarkably upbeat. “I like a ray of hope,” she said. She spoke with barely concealed joy about the following topics: airplane movies (she recommends Kung Fu Panda), her love of newspaper comics, horoscopes and advice columns, the book of Revelations, vampire novels, and all the ways man has tried to predict the future including, and this is my favorite, potatomancy. That’s right, potatomancy. Curious about your future? Grab a potato (blue is best) and wave a knife around until you feel it is in the right spot; slice the potato open and examine the patterns inside (dip it in some dye if you’d like); interpret in the way that feels natural. And I thought potatoes were just for roasting.

It is not surprising that Atwood is fascinated by future telling. Lately, she’s been writing an awful lot about the (imagined) future. This is not new territory for Atwood. She is the author who brought us The Handmaid’s Tale, after all. Revisit that novel today and see if you aren’t a bit horrified by her prescience. If you don’t feel like rereading the novel, you can always check out the movie or the illustrated novel or try to catch a performance of the stage play or wait for the graphic novel, coming soon.

The primary thrust of Atwood’s speech was that you could, indeed, write about the future. Just know that you probably won’t get it quite right. Atwood seems just fine with that conclusion. Watching her, I got the feeling that she was having too much fun to worry about being right. And yet I can’t point to any instances in which she was wrong. After all, as she said early in her remarks, when you write about the future you don’t have to worry about the fact checkers.

Finally, and this is a complete divergence, Margaret Atwood has very good skin. Seriously. I know it’s a shallow and frivolous thing to mention (or notice), but I am at a point in my life where I do notice such things. She is in her 70s, but her fair, barely lined, dewy complexion, has me wondering if she hasn’t unearthed some sort of fountain of youth. Perhaps she writes so confidently about the future because she has traveled there and stumbled upon some future cosmetic miracle. I imagine that it would be made from the blood of a newborn mixed with a genetically altered hallucinatory plant extract and crossbred in a lab. Perhaps she just uses a very good moisturizer and lots of sunscreen. Perhaps she is blessed with good genes.

Whatever her secret, to good skin and great stories and remarkable imagination, I’m hoping that I might have picked up a smidge just by being in her presence. As a test, I’ll write a bit about the future. I predict that people will be reading Margaret Atwood’s books many generations from now and talking about how she seemed to see what was coming before the rest of us had any idea. Of course, I’m flying without a potato here. I’d feel better if I had just one potato to back me up.


About Tiffany Quay Tyson

Tiffany Quay Tyson is a writer living in Denver, Colorado. She was born and raised in Mississippi. THREE RIVERS, her debut novel, was a Colorado Book Award finalist and a finalist for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction. She is a 2016 Amtrak Resident. She is currently working on her second novel.

9 comments on “Margaret Atwood and the Art of Potatomancy

  1. Terry Everett
    September 11, 2012

    Yes, Tiffany, people will be reading Atwood as long as there are people to read. Tomek and I watched her read in Toronto some years ago; so I am happy to have your eye witness account, confirming that she’s still beautiful. I’m roasting a potato just for you. All best, T

  2. Chris Ransick
    September 11, 2012

    Atwood is brilliant, and so it follows she knows that when you write about the future, you’re not really writing about the future at all. I really do admire that kind of intelligence.

    • lauriesleeper
      September 11, 2012

      During the Q&A after the lecture, Atwood said that she gave herself a rule when writing The Handmaid’s Tale–there is nothing in it that hasn’t happened before at one time or another in the world. She also pointed out that many of the conditions which led to the world of The Handmaid’s Tale are currently present in the United States right now. And she would never say she predicted anything then or was predicting anything now, but she has a very sharp eye about what’s going on with us humans.

  3. andreadupree
    September 11, 2012

    Ah, that was a blast. And you nailed the gist of her delight that accompanies her sometime spooky darkness really well. I wonder if potatomancy works with french fries.

    • lauriesleeper
      September 11, 2012

      Besides having too much fun and being spooky dark, Margaret Atwood is scary smart. The audience at times had a hard time coming up with questions for her in the Q&A–after her lecture, I think some, like me, were just sitting there thinking “Wow.”

  4. lauriesleeper
    September 11, 2012

    Thanks for the wonderful write-up of what was an eye-opening evening for me with Margaret Atwood! Somehow I hadn’t been “into” her books the last few years, but I’m re-energized to read and re-read her work now. Her humor almost masked the dead seriousness of what she was talking about. Really a great event!

  5. Susanna
    September 12, 2012

    Thank you for the write-up! Every time I read Atwood I mean to read more, and maybe this time I will. (Darn that paying job, which so cuts into my reading time.) It’s funny you mention her skin, because when I saw her photo in the paper this weekend, I noticed her gorgeous complexion was much like my late grandmother’s. Grandma’s secret was no sun and slathering on Pond’s every night. I was thinking of picking up a tub this week.

  6. Sheila Wright
    September 25, 2012

    You’re just so good, Tiffany. Missed the talk, but have loved Margaret Atwood ever since I read Surfacing. Images from that book still haunt me. As for her skin, if it’s not been cosmetically carved, I want the secret. As for the potato, the Irish have been getting messages from them forever – well, minus the famine days, of course. Great post.

  7. Sheila Wright
    September 25, 2012

    You’re just so good, Tiffany. Missed the talk, but have loved Margaret Atwood ever since I read Surfacing. Images from that book still haunt me. As for her skin, if it’s not been cosmetically carved, I want the secret. As for the potato, the Irish have been getting messages from them forever – well, minus the famine days, of course. Great post.

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This entry was posted on September 11, 2012 by in Cool Events, Good Books, Writing and tagged , , , , , , .

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