Reflections by Judith Friedland on her Memoir, There Was a Time for Everything

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In There Was a Time for Everything, UTP author Judith Friedland reflects on her life and the fact that over time she managed to “have it all” – just not all at once. Read her full reflection and Q&A below:

My memoir, There Was a Time for Everything, was released by UTP last month.

The book is divided into three main sections.

The first, “Growing Up,” takes me through my early life. I write about my mother and her death just a month after I had turned 10; about my father, and how he cared for my brother and me and managed our home, and about how the presence of my maternal grandparents and their observance of Jewish traditions seemed to provide a protective layer over my life during this difficult period. I think stories about my childhood and adolescence will be of interest historically, especially to those who, like me, grew up in Toronto in the 1940s and 1950s. The section ends as our family relationships began to change when my brother leaves for medical school, and my father remarries seven years after my mother’s death.

The second section, “Growing Together,”brings my husband into the picture. He was my boss when we taught swimming together at a summer camp in 1957 and we married a year later, with me just 19 and starting university. After he graduated from law, and I graduated from physical and occupational therapy, we lived in Cambridge (England) for the first of several stays for his graduate work or sabbaticals. I describe my first job as an occupational therapist, working in a psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, and how it strengthened my interest in mental health which began while I was a student. Back home a year later, I worked at the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, and my husband became a law professor. By 1964, after another stay in Cambridge, we start a family and I stop working. While happy and fulfilled as I create a home and raise my children, after another sabbatical and another move, I come to see that I am living my husband’s life. It is a good life, rich, loving, and adventurous, but as second-wave feminism gathers strength, I start thinking about what will come next for me, and I prepare for change.

The third section of the book, “Still Growing,” is, like the first, about my own journey. By the mid-70s, I have taken on some new roles: I am still a full-time mother of three and, by now, a dean’s wife, but I am also a part-time paid worker and a graduate student. In 1982, at age 43, much to my surprise, I am invited to teach in the Division of Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto and my life as an academic begins. Feminist issues are now more visible. Gender representation in the professorial ranks is unequal, as are salaries in general, and it is difficult for women’s voices to be heard. However, by the 1990s, as director of my division and then chair of my department, I am revelling in the opportunities for developing my profession and showing how occupational therapy can help expand the medical model. I share with readers the challenging times and the celebratory ones – whether at work or home. In my experience, women’s lives are complex and difficult to disentangle. The book ends with a description of the continuation of my academic work well past my official retirement. And it reflects back on how I feel  I have “had it all” – just not all at once.

Here are some of the questions people typically ask me about the book:

What made you write this memoir?

I’ve always felt that my life – though similar to many other people I grew up with – differed in several ways: my nuclear family, with my mother dying so early; my formal education, which didn’t end until I was almost 50; being Jewish in so many non-Jewish environments; being an occupational therapist, and always having to explain what it was;  staying home with my children for some 13 years before returning to work clinically and then starting an academic career. I thought it was a story worth sharing to show one of the many different paths women’s lives take, paths that so often are not straight, paths about which we rarely read. I started by writing small vignettes and exploring memories. As I wrote,  the reasons for writing the memoir became clear – rather like Joan Didion’s comment “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

How long did it take to write?

From the first vignettes to the final draft, it was about four years. The process with UTP began in January 2021 but with COVID-19, it was a difficult time to be publishing. From reviews and revisions, to copy editing, checking proofs, and creating an index it was two more years until the book appeared – along with its many photos and beautiful cover.

How did you remember everything?

I had a lot of artifacts that helped: a scrapbook from when I was a teenager, daily calendars since the 1960s, letters, my academic publications, and photos. I also had many people who willingly shared information with me. My brother had done an interview with our father when he was 75 which helped, and a cousin had compiled a history about our maternal grandparents. I searched academic and grey literature to dig into issues and back up my thoughts.

Was your husband nervous about what you were writing?

I kept him in the loop, and he read many drafts. He never complained. I think he looks good – given the times were what they were – and he supported my need to profile the trouble many women of my era experienced.

Was it difficult to switch from academic writing to a more literary style?

It was difficult, but freeing. I was able to voice my thoughts without having to write within a set structure for the content as we do in the health sciences where we review the literature to provide a rationale for our study, describe our methods, and present and interpret our findings.

What does the title mean and were there other options?

I had a long list of potential titles, and none seemed quite right. This one came to me during a Yizkor service in my synagogue. That service remembers those who have died and usually includes the reading from Ecclesiastes, 3. Despite its various interpretations, that reading seemed to describe how my life has played out. “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.”


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