I try to keep someone always on duty atop my inner watchtower, and that perpetual watchful eye reported misery trailing in the wake of that advertisement. So I stopped and enquired within. Why?
It was that bit at the top making me feel cast down: "You . . . can learn from the world's best . . ."
Now, of course, that is an exciting opportunity. Margaret Attwood is a celebrated writer indeed, and celebrities are typically difficult to get close to.
The outfit posting news of the workshop is called "Masterclass".
In a sense, they had posted an advertisement saying:And, to be fair, I suppose anyone willing to shell out their cash to go on a writing workshop with Margaret Attwood must have the humility to accept that in any case.
But, what is celebrity anyway? I think of JK Rowling's spectacular success arising from her Harry Potter series. Of those books, I enjoyed Volume 1, Volume 2 a little less, Volume 3 even less, and I got bored and wandered off halfway through Volume 4. There were so many holes in the world view it proposed, and so much of the contract between writer and reader was broken.
By contrast, Susan Cooper's series The Dark Is Rising is, in my opinion, stunning. She is well-known as a writer, of course, and some of her work has been adapted for TV — but she's twice the writer JK Rowling is and half as celebrated.
I have the same reservation with competition programmes. I love The Great British Bake-Off, and Strictly Come Dancing, except for my sadness that the whole purpose of a competition is to create losers. Yes, a competition creates one winner, but to every winner there are as many losers as there were other people in the competition. And that, by definition, in my opinion, makes the competition a failure.
Because nobody wants to be a loser. And some of those who lose, do so undeservedly. Sometimes those who win caught the judge's eye for more complex reasons than talent and ability — judges are only people after all. Like the violin teacher who was one of the judges in the music section of our Methodist District Festival one year. Our Rosie entered, playing her trombone. I think she may have been about thirteen. She didn't win, which was not of itself a problem to us (I mean, who cares?) but what I did object to was the violinist judge kindly explaining to her that the girl who won (a violinist) probably had the edge over her because a violin is a more inherently musical instrument than a trombone. Say what?
I was in a competition once, at the age of eight. It took place within another child's birthday party. We were asked to go in fancy dress. A neighbour's small child (perhaps five years old) had chicken pox, and as a consolation for missing the party, was given the opportunity to judge the fancy dress parade. We all filed past the front window of the afflicted child's house, and she was to pick the best costume. I went as Little Bo Peep. My get-up was okay, but nothing special. But, my mother had somewhat narcissistic tendencies, and to survive in life it was important to understand how to charm her. Learning this skill conferred certain advantages. I learned from an early age how to flatter people, and how to make them feel special. We all filed past the child's house, and as we did so I turned and waved to the little girl and smiled at her. I knew I'd win (and I did) — even though my costume wasn't the best.
Once, I was given the opportunity to be both entrant and judge. It happened in the course of my ordination training. All sorts of psychological game-playing happened there, and on one occasion the person who had come to run the seminar began (this was usual) with an "icebreaker". Our class was instructed to form ourselves into a line — with the most attractive at the top and the least attractive at the end. I mean, what were they even thinking of?
The ordinands began to move, in varying degrees of uncertainty, most congregating about two thirds of the way down the line. Only I and my friend Giles responded to this toxic nonsense with the same idea — we both rushed to the very top of the line and stood there together. I see myself as no great beauty (and his evaluation of himself was probably quietly realistic), but I was not going to be shamed by that kind of crap.
So, although Margaret Attwood leaves me standing when it comes to literary success, and she is both celebrated and revered, I still won't even consider attending her masterclass. I know — I might enjoy it, I might learn loads, it could be really interesting.
It's just that there is this stubborn, irrational voice of hope inside me, insisting that "the world's best" is not a position already determined and taken.
It's not Margaret Attwood I have a problem with — it's the advert.