Faith

That she was at least 20 years my senior never mattered.

"Execrable."

And...

"You sound like a fluttering dilettante."

There were many more in a similar vein. I have all her editorial comments saved somewhere on the jittery hard drive of my old computer. The two above came toward the very end of things, before communication ceased altogether.

It didn't start this way.

These stories never do.

That things ended so badly makes any description of their beginnings difficult, suspect, open to question. Because things between us did begin well, exceptionally so. After I met Judith in the early 1980s, not long after she began to work for the Reader as a regular freelancer, we spent the next dozen or so years in close communication, either by phone or letter, or by spending long periods of time together at one or another of the apartments she rented in Berkeley. We read the same books and, generally, admired the same authors. We wrote and edited a number of stories together. That she was at least 20 years my senior never mattered. I'd always had older friends. I'd always enjoyed having friends whose counsel I could seek, friends I could admire, friends I could look up to.

That last point needs to be emphasized because few people outside the trade understand what writers do or, more significantly, what writers need in order to do what they do. You of course need a better-than-competent command of the language, a good feel for what it can and can't do, a sense for which rules can be broken or finessed and which are best left unchallenged. All of that of course matters. But Judith was never at ease with, or didn't know or care to know, terms for even the commonest pitfalls -- "dangling modifier," "comma splicing," "ambiguous pronoun reference," etc. Judith's strengths were elsewhere, and were far greater.

What a writer needs in order to write is the faith that he can tell whatever the story is that he wants or needs to tell. This faith is difficult to come by. That you have written in the past, even written well, is no guarantee that you can write now or ever again in the future. The faith that you can write can be summoned only unreliably from within. Most often, if you are lucky, this faith is inspired steadily, in larger and smaller doses, by an editor, or by a close friend who acts as an editor. This inspiration is elusive. It never takes the form of pep talks or literal hand-holding. It's more a matter of general tone, a manner of talking and being with the writer that encourages enthusiasm for writing itself. It's an attitude that tells the writer, "You can write because you love writing." In this, Judith excelled. Perhaps more than anyone I've ever met, she understood the importance of this faith and how to inspire it in another writer. And because her understanding of this faith was remarkable, she also understood perfectly how damaging it could be for a writer, even dangerous, were this inspiration abused or entirely withheld.

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