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Brendan O'Connor: 'The day Margaret Atwood read my palm, and called me a dictator'


Playful Margaret Atwood looked deep into my soul... during a palm reading

Playful Margaret Atwood looked deep into my soul... during a palm reading

Playful Margaret Atwood looked deep into my soul... during a palm reading

I've been a bit rattled since Margaret Atwood read my palm. According to the New Yorker, Margaret, as I feel I can call her now, "picked up the precepts of medieval palmistry decades ago, from an art-historian neighbour whose specialty was Hieronymus Bosch". When I asked her about her interest in palmistry, she smiled wryly and said, "Is that a request?"

Kurt Vonnegut used to tell his students that when they were writing they should be good dates on blind dates, should show strangers good times. Margaret clearly takes this approach to interviewers. As much as she is fiercely intelligent and wildly well read and seems to enjoy a bit of high-brow chat, she likes to play a bit too.

She is at heart an entertainer.

So her take on my hands was this: "This is the hand that you're dealt, your left hand, and this is the hand you've played, your right hand. Think of it as a game of cards. So I can tell you right now that you… hmm OK, you missed being the great dictator.

"You have those inclinations, but you've suppressed them. Lucky for the world."

Say what you think why don't you, Margaret?

I got over that. But then, here was her next bit:

"Your hands are quite different. You have changed the hand that you were dealt by how you have played it. You have increased your inclination to pay attention to hunches and inklings, which isn't so much there in your left hand but it really is there in your right hand. So you're a person who picks up on… I won't call them psychic events, but you are tuned to currents that are not rational."

I've tried to find other palm readings Margaret did to see if she's saying the same ding dong to everyone. I only found a couple. And she does seem to vary it, depending on her audience.

She told the New Yorker interviewer, "Well, the Virgin Mary you're not. But you knew that." So I guess I can count myself lucky she didn't get into my romantic history.

But still. I'm a frustrated dictator? Nearly prefer to be called a male slut.

The being dealt one hand and playing another has been on my mind.

The truth is you could say this to anyone and be reasonably accurate, and Margaret probably does. But still, it makes you think about simple things, like that it's not all about the hand you were dealt.

I also thought that we could all do with being reminded of this now and then. We can feel we are trapped by the hand we are dealt, but in fact it's all about the hand we choose to play.

And also, we must listen to the psychic, irrational currents. Like any good fortune teller, Margaret is just giving old-fashioned common-sense wisdom. And maybe she's right.

Maybe I have managed to go against my nature in some way, and tune into the psychic events. You'd like to think you've grown in some way in half a century.

And then the real kicker. She tells me there's this long line that is my creativity, the poems or paintings or novels.

Now again, you could say that she is on safe ground telling anyone who is roughly in the journalistic game that they might have artistic inclinations.

I think I read of her saying something similar to another journalist. And we were just larking around anyway. It's a party trick, right?

The thing is though - as I remember it, though I had other things on my mind so I might not be 100pc accurate here - when we came off air for a break, and as she was leaving, she grasped my hand, and told me slightly firmly that I needed to do something with the artistic impulses.

I have often wondered if, in a different life, I would have tried to do something creative. I am also fascinated by creative people, and I'm always curious about how creativity happens for them. I badger friends about how they write their books.

I bother musicians about where music comes from, and how they get into the creative zone. Of course, none of them will really tell you, because they guard the process carefully. They are superstitious about it, about putting a name on it, or compromising the mystery of it.

A man's 50s, and mine are coming soon, should be about finding flow. And I don't mean that in a prostate-y way.

Technically, flow is characterised by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.

Flow is something I achieve in work sometimes - those magical moments when you are in the zone, hyper-focused, when you can see three moves ahead, and everything is in slow motion and you're almost acting on instinct, thinking almost unconsciously.

And increasingly, I think the way out of the mid-life crisis is flow.

And that's how you become at one with the world and yourself. And in flow, I suspect, lies the secret to doing something creative. And let's face it - it might not be the worst thing in the world if I got into doing watercolours.

As Margaret rounded off the palm reading by saying: "If only Hitler had been let in to art school, everything could have been different."

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