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"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."

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