Not even 15 minutes after Margaret Atwood joined us live on Instagram to give her thoughts on Canada Post and to be announced as the subject of its new stamp, she was already trending in Canada. She is the first woman to be featured on a stamp in the post office’s history.
The post office released Atwood’s picture on Instagram, writing, “To honour one of Canada’s best and most revered writers, we have created a #mhival ❤️ stamp …designed by @robinsang. (Harbour Publishing press will release Canada Post’s first-ever #mhival on Feb. 14, 2019!)”
This is a masterwork of marketing, creativity and transgression. I cannot recall another Canadian author — or any living person, even — having their image portrayed on a stamp. That the photo is downright genius. It depicts Atwood against an interior of Canada Post’s Ottawa office. She doesn’t appear to be on duty or in a regular office environment. Perhaps she’s behind the counter reading a manual, or perhaps it’s just her channeling a character from her novels. In any case, she looks so annoyed, fidgety and impatient that you won’t blame her if she takes her work home with her.
So much for old-fashioned values.
Of course, I’m talking about the kind that actual Canada Post defenders stand for. Regardless of how many postal employees are losing their jobs and how many others receive pink slips, the policy of sacking employees to save money is supposed to make people like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau feel good. He must be very proud of himself. That the Post Office might bow to the demands of its employees strikes at the heart of the Trudeau legacy.
For its part, Canada Post says it made its decision “in order to recognize the distinguished contribution Margaret Atwood has made in the Canadian literary world, and for the unique and celebratory value the stamp has to its customers.” I don’t know what Trudeau would say about that.
Don’t look to me for advice, though. Margaret Atwood and her husband, curmudgeon novelist Michael Ondaatje, have had some great advice for millennials about how they can best deal with life’s struggles. Speaking from experience, I’ll have one piece of advice for them. “Make it a goal to learn to be your own personal master of your domain, so you can know yourself,” writes Atwood in Indispensable.
I’ll be honest: given all of the fictional heroes Atwood has created for me and my fellow readers, I’m not quite sure what “master of her domain” means, but if there’s a hint in this stamp I’m going to take it. Like another iconic female literary heroine, Atwood has challenged assumptions about what a woman can accomplish, and how we need to treat one another in an increasingly unequal and hypersexualized society.
Readers of Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre will notice a recurring theme: most characters are gender-bending, complex, contradictory and self-taught. Do we love them anyway? No doubt, my question will have many male readers scratching their heads at the bold choice, but if a picture from a library can even be described as a conversation starter, then we have nothing to fear.
Margaret Atwood is known for breaking stereotypes, for fully inhabiting her characters — and moving readers to tears. Her dedication to personal expression in literature has turned her into an icon among her own gender and gender-fluid children. I’m going to work to see to it that my own daughter watches more Margaret Atwood movies than movies by Henry Ford. I think we are all in this together.
See this image of you in at least two quarters this quarter, if possible.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and MaddAddam, and a social justice advocate, wrote Indispensable: Tales from the Outsider, a memoir and collection of essays published by Jonathan Cape (HarperCollins).