Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Margaret Atwood Museum In Red Hat, New Mexico

I got an email from a man named John Coolbaugh. John found this site through Google, and he was pretty much pissed off at the slant of many of my posts.

"Why do you have to pick on Margaret Atwood?" John asked. "Is it because she has so much talent and success, and you have nothing?"

Yes. The answer is Yes. Margaret Atwood does have a lot of talent; she does have a lot of money. Not many people could've insinuated themselves into Ken Thomson's will quite like she did. No Jews--that's for sure.

But let's take a look at what John has. John runs the world's first and only Margaret Atwood museum. He runs it alone, out in the desert, and he considers himself one of Atwood's biggest fans. John told me this in his email, and I'm just relaying it to you.

I Googled "Coolbaugh 'and' Atwood," and found nothing. So right now I can only go on John's word. But why would anyone lie about a thing like that? If you say you've got a Margaret Atwood museum, chances are you've got at least a shrine. Maybe a few pictures and the shopping cart she uses to haul her empty wine bottles back to the Rosedale LCBO. But you've got something. And if people are coming to visit...well, that's a museum.

So I asked John why he'd decided on Atwood. He said, "I just love her smile."

I asked him what the Atwood museum looks like; what kind of exhibits does it have; how many people visit.

"I get about 40 people a year," he told me. "I have the place in an outbuilding in my backyard. We don't have plumbing out here, so that's where I used to shit. But now it's all different: I've got ten copies of Lady Oracle in there. About the size of the place? I'd say it's twenty feet by twenty. I know: big for a shithouse. But I like to stretch my legs."

John's an American. And you wouldn't think that the world's first Atwood museum would be in New Mexico. You'd think Toronto, Sutton, Sudbury, the Sault, or maybe Hamilton, even. But not Montreal. And sure as hell not south of Oregon. But we're Canadian, and we're insecure, and we can't recognize anything we do as "good." That's why Richler was so famous in New York and Los Angeles. People used to say to each other, "Did you read this Richler? Fuck, it's a good thing the Korean woman who reads to Bellow is blind."

If a guy in the New Mexico desert can build an Atwood museum, then I think Torontonians ought to consider setting aside some space to recognize one of our greatest living writers. But that doesn't mean that Atwood can't have a spot, too. We'll give something on Queen Street; something gritty and real--like Robert Kroetsch's neck.

I make fun of Margaret, but I also respect her as a writer. I can say the things I do because I believe that she is, in fact, a great talent. Surfacing is a great book, and Frank Davey's wrong: I didn't like it better as Heart of Darkness.

But the Atwood museum...You've got to go. Their best-selling souvenir: a big wheel of a twisted-sugar sucker with hair already on it. And how can a good Canadianist ignore that?

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