From the barren populace of The Handmaid’s Tale to the biohazardous wasteland of Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood has imagined a multitude of end times. Her dark, funny new novel The Heart Goes Last (September 29; McClelland & Stewart, $34) takes place in a post-financial-meltdown world where Stan and Charmaine, sick of living in their car, have joined the Positron Project for a cushier lifestyle. But they must live, alternately, as prisoners and guards: one month on, one month off. Our own generation’s underemployment, planetary destruction and Tinder insanity can make it feel like an Atwood-style apocalypse is nigh, so we consulted the literary legend for her sage advice on how to survive—dick pics and all.
Being an artist seems risky these days. How do you know you’re cut out for life as a full-time creator?
You never know. It’s learning by doing. Though the amount of Internet advice offered on this subject is boundless, there is no one-size-fits-all or surefire flight manual. But it would help to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for uncertainty. Also, a wealthy and indulgent relative, an affluent partner or a day job that doesn’t suck all the energy out of your head. And yoga might help—or not.
My attention span sucks. How do I get into more challenging art?
It’s not thanks to Twitter and Netflix; it’s thanks to you. You’re procrastinating and probably managing your anxiety through the consumption of one-bite jelly-bean-coloured head candies. Make a time and space for your art in which you are not connected to the Net. If it takes an alarm clock, use that. If you mean the consumption of more challenging art rather than the production of it, same thing applies. Make time and space for it; then do it.
How does one gracefully respond to a dick pic?
This is not a social situation I have ever had to face. In my day, gents with this troublesome penchant exposed themselves in train stations—there was no graceful way of dealing with that either. If the aesthetically questionable photograph comes from your boss, you’re in trouble. Avoid being alone in an elevator with this person. If it’s from your high school teacher, he has lost touch with reality. Do not do the same. If it’s from a stranger, you have an online stalker, so contact the police. If it’s from your Member of Parliament…let’s not get carried away. If it’s from a peer-group acquaintance to whom you wish no harm, what would Miss Manners advise? She might say there is no graceful response. She might add that no answer is also an answer. He was probably drunk. If it happens again, politely request that he keep it zipped up. If you remove the word “gracefully” from your question, there are, of course, many possible responses. Most of them would be effective—though harsh.
My friend pays more attention to her phone than to me. How do I handle it?
Possibly a caring but worried look, coupled with “Is something wrong in your life? Are you expecting bad news? How can I help?” Conversely, get out your own phone, look up some jokes and laugh loudly while saying “Seen this one?” Then the two of you can talk about what’s on your phones. Maybe you can share those unsolicited dick pics that seem to be circulating.
I don’t want to be a slacktivist. What can I do?
Which apocalypse would you like to prevent? There are several on offer. But if you want politicians to pay attention to your wish to not suffocate for lack of oxygen due to the death of the ocean, and not have your civil rights—hard won by your predecessors over hundreds of years—reduced to the size of a belly button, signal your intention to vote. If a lot of people in your age group do that, you will constitute a demographic that will have to be counted. We still live in what we are pleased to call a democracy. Of course, the way things are going, an intention to vote may soon be mistaken for a symptom of terrorist intentions. Then you’ll be in a dystopia of a different kind and I’ll be locked in a cellar somewhere having an unintended manicure. Read up on totalitarianism; then try to avoid being in one. As for the zombies, purchase a potato gun, which is always effective at short range.