Please welcome Judith Katz.
It’s easier to make stuff up
A few months ago, I ran into a former student of mine at a reading. It was the first reading I’d been to in a number of years. I’d been avoiding crowds, even small, friendly ones like this, because my immune system was severely compromised. I had been having chemotherapy on and off for five years—first for one form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, then for another, more dangerous one, and besides feeling crappy up until a few weeks before that reading I was incredibly self conscious about being bald.
“How are you?” the student, now a published novelist herself, asked. Her concern was genuine. By this point in my recovery I felt no compunction about answering in a big, hearty voice, “I’m well.”
“You know,” she passed me a confidential, sisterly look, “now that it’s over, I think you should write about it.”
About what? I wondered, but did not ask. My cancer? My recovery? How my hairless face in the mirror looked to me just like the one my father wore in the last months of his life? Instead I looked at the woman and told her very honestly, I don’t do that. Haven’t done that about any of my major life events since I came out publicly in the University of Massachusetts Daily Collegian in 1973 in an article entitled “Hard Ass Dyke Tells All”, and followed that with a quick trip home to confront my not very surprised parents. (“We always thought you’d get married,” my tearful father told me. Until about a year ago, I actually never thought I would. But that’s another story entirely.)
I became a fiction writer because it has always seemed easier to tell the truth—about family dynamics; lesbian life as I understand it; lesbian culture as my community and I have invented it over the decades — if I made stuff up. Ever since the 1970’s when I began to find my writer voice, I wanted to make our lesbian lives mythological. Not science-fiction or fantasy as some of my contemporaries have done/are doing now—but folkloric, in the spirit of Jewish writers before me. I suppose I could have written a novel about a young Jewish woman who is driven to tears daily during her late adolescence by an anxious and off balance mother, a daughter who feels she does not fit in to her family because she is queer or her community because she is Jewish, who sees herself as unattractive, and is actually what might be called unstable. But by writing about this same woman in exaggerated terms—a character who sets her hair on fire and falls out of the holy ark at her straight sister’s wedding, for example–this adds a kind of mythos to the family tale, and makes both the young woman and even her slightly mad mother, heroic each in her own way. And then, to have the young woman’s lesbian sister be one of the main story tellers, to place her in a mythical town based on a real one, only in this one most everyone is Jewish and a lesbian….well, that’s my first novel Running Fiercely Toward a High Thin Sound.
I might someday be able to write about my two bouts of lymphoma—the profound kindness and generosity of my lover, Paula, my dear friends, the sweet and committed nurses who administered my chemotherapy. I might write about how foolish I felt feeling outraged about losing my hair. I might write about the profound pleasure I felt this summer when my chemo brain cleared and I was able to read six amazing novels and for the first time in five years feel hopeful that I might complete another one myself.
But for now, it still seems easier to make stuff up.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Judith Katz is the author of two published novels, Running Fiercely Toward a High Thin Sound and The Escape Artist, both originally published by Nancy K. Bereano at Firebrand Books and recently reissued by Bywater Books.
CONNECT WITH JUDITH KATZ
Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have a fab weekend!
Thank you for sharing this. I would read this story. Your post was very touching.