It was around 2000. A friend told me that ambitious writers were always enriching their grapevine of contacts with the lush manure of workshops, readings, schmoozing in coffee shops, writing fawning reviews and above all, joining a writing class. I'd never taken one.
"It's time to stop picking daisies. You need formal credentials," Friend told me sternly. She recommended someone that we'll call Maxwell. She said he was a good creative writing teacher who could give me gobs of great advice.
As a prerequisite before signing up for Maxwell's course, I gave him a short story that I'd labored over. It was about a very troubled kid who'd been a child soldier in his home country. In America, he's often beaten by a priest in his parochial school. At the end of the story the tormented boy vandalizes a church.
My story had already been published, and well-published. But I hoped to improve it.
Maxwell had a pitying but implacable look when he handed back the story. He looked like a hanging judge about to stretch your neck with a really big haul on the rope, but more in sorrow than in anger. I should have paid attention to his expression. After all, it was right in front of my face. But instead I waited like a goofy puppy, eager to be praised. Maxwell said (and I remember the exact words):
"As a practicing Catholic, I find the portrayal of the priest in your story deeply offensive." He folded his lips tightly together and frowned. This was the full extent of his critique.
To say I was surprised doesn't go far enough. I was astounded. Maybe the English word Gobsmacked is best, because it means both flabbergasted and speechless. I couldn't have been more shocked if he'd suddenly taped peacock feathers to his butt and started dancing the Texas two-step. I said nothing. But what I thought was this: "Writing a good story is hard enough without Pope John Paul and legions of the freakier saints peering over my shoulder."
The friend who'd recommended him threw up her hands: "That isn't like Maxwell at all! He's a real sensible guy normally. I bet that Cathoholic wife of his dictated what he should say."
I'd never heard the word Cathoholic, and was intrigued. Friend explained that it doesn't necessarily mean someone who drinks too much, and Mrs. Maxwell does not. The person doesn't even have to be a Catholic, "although they usually are," Friend claimed. It means an obsessive member of any religion. A Cathoholic is hopped up on arrogance, snakebitten out of her gourd with delicious delusions about her glorious spirituality. She thinks of herself as God's sensational darling, while those in other religions are his stunted stepchildren. Needless to say this has nothing actually to do with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the saints or (God forbid) God. And a true member of this tribe thinks that Jesus was having a wimpy, pinko, Bernie Sanders kind of moment when he suggested things like Help one another, and Love your neighbor as yourself.
Soon after this incident, the international scandal broke about abusive priests being protected by bishops in the Catholic church for decades, if not centuries. I wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell had heard the news. Did it affect their worship schedule at all? Also, did they recollect the events in my story? Probably they did not.
Years passed. Mrs. Maxwell and I live in the same area. I sometimes walk my dogs down her block.To this day, when she sees me she looks surly and, I'm sorry to say, quite unchristian. Sometimes she'll even mutter and sputter to herself, like Donald Duck in a cartoon when he's especially pissed off. This fascinates me. This majestic lady wouldn't tolerate a speck of dust on her white slacks or sparkling car, but she's perfectly comfortable with raging, squawking, farting little Donald scampering around her brain. She even thinks that God wants him there. Her behavior is odd; her motivations are mysterious; but her performance as a whole is devilishly entertaining.