- That Stinking Hot Summer
"But Judith you have said emphatically that you are NOT a feminist writer."
"No I didn't."
"Yes you did."
"No, I did not. I wouldn't say that."
"Well you did."
"I have the article right here."
"Would you like to see it?"
"NO! . . . I didn't really . . . Did I REALLY say that I am not a feminist playwright?"
"Yes, I'm afraid you did."
Thirty years ago, I denied being a feminist playwright.
I am not sure why I denied this. I now vibrate with rage when I hear a successful woman—well, ANY woman or girl—deny that she is a feminist. I can't believe I was that woman. But then again, I still ate meat then. I was intimidated by sales people and anyone in a uniform or too stylishly dressed or obviously rich, I barely knew my left from my right, I was still impressed by a British accent, I was surprised when any official or priest was exposed as corrupt, I didn't understand how electricity works, and I was afraid of flying. I still don't understand how electricity works, but the rest of that long-ago persona has been ripped off, torn to pieces, and burned. I am a new woman. I am the woman I have chosen to be rather than the woman I was constructed to be. I was ridiculously slow to bloom into myself. I'd always been late for everything, I suppose that was part of being late for myself.
Maybe one of the reasons I denied being a feminist playwright is that I did not want to be marginalized or ghettoized. I didn't want people to think that my plays were only about feminist issues, which might keep audiences away. Even though most of the theatre audience is women—middle-aged women—they wouldn't be able to drag along their husbands if the plays were only about women. [End Page 505]
Although I was a different woman then, only half-bloomed, mostly unaware politically, the first play that emerged from me, The Crackwalker (1980), was fully formed, not juvenilia in any sense of the word. It was a kind of miracle, a gift from the theatre gods for which I will always be grateful. I didn't plan to write a play, I just started on a whim. I was all alone and very restless one weekend in Montreal, and in desperation, I dug out my roommate's typewriter and began writing scenes based on a character named Theresa that I had discovered in mask class, a character that was based on a person named Theresa I had met during a summer job as a teacher of life-skills I didn't have myself. She was one of our clients deemed "permanently unemployable"; she was also illiterate, so I tried to teach her to read and write while we walked around the charming city of Kingston, Ontario, occasionally stopping by Zal Yanovsky's new, cool café for some organic raspberry juice and a homemade carrot-poppyseed-blueberry-fig-date cookie. Many a morning I would get a call from Theresa—"I won't be doin' readin' writin' today, Judiss, I not feelin' too good"—and I would be crushed, and spend the day with other less interesting clients. In the evenings, if I was carousing with my friends in a local bar, Theresa would often appear, her face as bright as a child, and she would yell out, "I'm tellin' the social worker, Judiss, I'm telling her you drinkin'!" And strangely, even though I was already in my mid-twenties, I felt caught out, and usually turned bright red.
I just loved Theresa, and clearly she was not finished with me. And neither was the tragedy of that hot summer, when a tiny baby was murdered by his mentally delayed and emotionally deranged father, who was one of our "clients." It was August, about five minutes after nine, and I was enjoying my first takeout coffee of the day, when the phone rang:
"Kingston Community and Social Services, Judith speaking."