"Writing is like a muscle, honey." Judith always called me honey, and her voice was warm like cinnamon tea. "The more you use the muscle, the stronger you get; the more you can write. Write in the mornings, honey. When you first wake up."
She called me that day because in our e-mail conversations I mentioned that I was stuck on a TV article, about 200 words short.
Her advice worked. My first column took me a week to write. A 400-word opening story followed by 10 capsules of 100 words each: 1200 to 1400 words total. I stopped and started again, edited and revised, and seven days later I was finished.
Now I can write one in four hours.
I write in the mornings. With a mind still frizzy from sleep and slowly popping alive with the help of coffee, I sit and write. Every morning. A short story about a dog and a bird on the sidewalk. An observation of a pregnant teen girl struggling to get aboard a bus. All crap. All of it. Stuff you'd conscript to the bottom drawer if not the bottom of a ravine.
But I talked with the page, and the conversations came easier.
I talked with Judith on the phone, and our conversations came harder. I didn't know she was dying of cancer and the treatments were causing her great grief. She never told me she was sick.
"Would you please let me finish what I was saying," Judith snapped during our last talk.
"Yes. Of course. I apologize, Judith. Go ahead. Wait. Judith?" I interrupted again.
"Yes, honey," cinnamon tea.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, honey. You know...I'm going to be just fine."