I have been thinking a lot, as usual, about writing and life, and writing versus life. Mary Pratt, a famous Newfoundland painter, apparently said that her winter years will be devoted to her painting, though that means she won’t have much time for her grandchildren. Whenever I read about that kind of single-minded focus, I understand why I am 57 with only one book to my name. I could never choose writing over my children – or grandchildren, who, incidentally, do not exist yet. Living breathing persons always come first, to my detriment as a writer. To be a successful artist, you have to be able to shut the door and say, “No.” It’s clear in the wonderful book of letters between Carol Shields and her friend Blanche Howard. Blanche, as well as writing, is involved with local politics and various other activities. Carol Shields is writing.
Today I saw another kind of involvement. I was at the Y, changing near my friend Judy Steed, a well-known journalist and author. Over the top of the lockers came a mother’s harsh voice. “You aren’t listening, as usual. Why aren’t you ready? You are never ready, NEVER. You’re doing it again! Do you hear me? Why aren’t you listening to me?” My gut ached – what a negative voice, I thought. I wonder if I sounded like that as a mother. I’m sure I did, sometimes. And then Judy turned to me and said exactly that. “What a cold judgemental voice.” “So demeaning,” I said.
But when the voice continued its relentless soul-destroying harangue, while I just winced, Judy acted. She went over, saw a very big woman with a very small girl, and said, quietly, “Do you know how judgmental you sound? How demeaning and critical? I’m sorry, I had to tell you.” The woman blustered that Judy had no idea “what’s been going on today!” A few minutes later, she came looking for Judy, and told her again that she had no idea etc. But from then on, she spoke to the child in a soft voice.
Judy Steed, writer and activist, is my hero today.