The Pressure to Be Wise
It’s unsettling to be dubbed a Wisdom Keeper,
says the noted novelist. First you must figure out where you stashed the stuff.
Then comes the job of passing it on By MARGARE T A TWOOD
Earlier this year I participated in an unusual video series called
Wisdom Keepers. It’s planned as a number of short interviews with
older people of accomplishment, from dancers to environmentalists to writers such as me, and is intended as a motivational tool
for an audience of teenagers (now known as “young adults”).
Over the years, we adults have found
ourselves dividing into subgroups: the
young adults; the less-young adults;
the moment of despair when we turn
30 and believe we’ve kissed our youth
farewell; the thirtysomethings, worried about their first mini-wrinkle;
the middle-aged in denial; those who
are what the French call “a certain
age”; and the truly mellow, sagacious,
The last category is the part where
you’re supposed to have acquired
some wisdom. It’s also the part where
you keep wondering when the stuff is
finally going to turn up, because you
don’t feel any wiser than you did at
age 20. If anything, less wise: At 20
you know everything; at 70 you’re not
so sure. And if you don’t know where
you’ve put the wisdom, how can you
be expected to be a keeper of it? That
was my first reaction on being asked to
be a Wisdom Keeper.
I have felt a little wise on occasion.
“Grandmother, how did you get to be
so very old?” my five-year-old grandson asked me.
I lowered my voice as if imparting a
valuable secret. “Through not dying,”
I said. “That’s the trick!”
“Oh,” he said wonderingly.
It’s not such bad advice. Nonetheless, the thought of being featured
in Wisdom Keepers made me panic.
“When you were young, who was
your favorite hero in real life or in history?” the questions began. It would
be poor role-model behavior for me
to say, truthfully, “Long John Silver,
the ruthless and bloodthirsty pirate
in Treasure Island.” I considered Batman, but a man—however virtuous
and musclebound—who’d climb into
a skintight bat costume and then into
a Batmobile in order to do his good
deeds lacked a certain seriousness.
“Sherlock Holmes” would have been
an honest answer—but he was an
A native of Ottawa, Ontario,
Atwood is the author of poetry,
short fiction, and novels,
including The Blind Assassin
(Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Books), which won the Booker
Prize for Fiction in 2000.