Interview with Judith Ford
1. You write, “I call upon the comfort of the things beyond the edge of vision, beyond my mind’s knowing.” Do you think that being human is to be rooted in both reality and uncertainty at the same time?
Absolutely. Yes. Uncertainty is a close cousin of possibility and also, I think, the source of imagination, creativity, innovation, and art. Reality keeps food on the table and our feet on the ground but uncertainty fuels us in other, deeper ways.
2. How does writing nonfiction nourish your creativity?
I also write poetry and fiction but nonfiction comes more easily. For one thing, I’m 73 and my long life is chock-full of material. An endless source of stories. I particularly enjoy taking a real-life situation and making it come to life with dialogue and scene, making it come alive on the page while keeping everything as close to the truth (my truth) as possible.
3. What is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?
The best advice I ever got was during my last semester earning my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Art when one of my teachers said: "The best advice I can offer you is just write. Sit down and write. Stop listening to teachers and critics and get down to writing, your own words, your own way." I certainly value my teachers at VCFA, the other classes I've taken, and my current writing coach and editor but when it comes right down to it, I rely most heavily on my own voice, which has taken many hours of practice to strengthen.
by Judith Ford
by Judith Ford
Two seven-year-old boys run for the water as soon as the soles of their feet hit the sand, as soon as their sandals hit the sand free of feet. Barefoot then and shouting, voices pitched high, they plunge into water to their waists. I don’t run for the water. I’m more reserved, or maybe it’s that I’m more bound-up, more suppressed. I walk, calling, Don’t go out too far! I pick just the right spot to spread my clean towel and settle myself to read Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius. Yellow sun heats the top of my head. In less than five minutes, I’m uncomfortably hot. Nothing makes sense then but to join the boys where they bounce in the lake like seagulls, riding waves, pushing the outer edges of safety.
“Nic, I call, can you stand there?”
“Sure, Mom,” he shouts from out beyond all possible rescue.
I walk into the water; the air swells with the shouts of happy children. Green algae along the pier smells like sewage. I wade away from it. I glue my eyes to the boys bobbing in the distance, two small heads, four pale arms lifting over the murky gray-blue soup of the lake.
I know my boy and I know that even here, here in the midst of water and sun, the pictures collect in his mind: the geometric patterns of waves rising and falling, moving in and moving out, diagrams of them, names for their shapes and sizes. Last week he imagined a spacecraft complete with detailed wiring and a whole new language for the planet he will travel to in his ship. He isn’t thinking about how he’ll get back to shore or what he will do if he gets a cramp.
While Nic’s mind sees patterns, mathematical congruences, mine swells with patterns of disaster and loss. Last week I imagined several versions of the deaths of the people I love. I could write a whole new language of pain. Even now I picture Nic sliding beneath the waves. His hands reach for help; his lungs ache with water. His geometric mind slides into the hungry lake.
I stare hard to locate the actual Nic as he bobs in water up to his nose. He is fine, of course, puffed up with life, floating on the notion that he is safely held. And he is. He is sleek and beautiful as a young seal. I join him at the buoy, the rope that defines the safe zone, and convince him to swim closer to shore where I can watch him dive through the big waves without imagining his demise.
I’m back on my towel on the hot sand, reading The Shadow of Sirius. After two poems I close my eyes and am filled with the sound of breaking waves, the clean, cool hiss of water against the skin of compressed sand. The air throbs with life. Not just the waves. Bees, gulls, the black crows, and the children. All this flows out over the sleeping bodies on the sand, into the green and gray of the breath of trees, the blue life of chicory, the green of milkweed pods on the hill waiting, breathless, for monarch hatchings.
I open my eyes, blink in the glistening light. The lake water moves now in smooth, rhythmic ripples, like muscles under the skin of a man’s back lifting, like muscles under the skin of Judy’s boa constrictor, whose name was Eve, as she slipped silent around my shoulders, my neck. Don’t worry, said Judy. I just fed her and besides, she prefers rats. A wave slips around my son’s waist, moves under his arms and lifts him lightly off his feet, sets him down, his light and lake’s light mingling; the water glows. Nic’s face shines.
When I was a young child, I would sometimes catch sight of things that grown‑ups couldn’t see. I’d turn my head just so, looking back over my shoulder quickly before the things could hide. I feared some of what I saw in the shadows. I didn’t know their names, so I didn’t know they were there to protect, to soften the edges. To give me cushion. These days, in the pit of night when I am filled with static electricity, humming with wakefulness, I trust the shadows that have accumulated over time in the corners of my bedroom. I call upon the comfort of the things beyond the edge of vision, beyond my mind’s knowing. I use them to erase the dark worries, the fearful dreams.
I call the boys out of the water. They roll in sand until their hair and skin are coated. They laugh.
“Bury me more, Nic,” Peter demands, though he’s covered already clear to his chin.
I imagine single, sharp grains slipping under swimsuits and into warm places where they will chafe and bite. I keep this to myself. I allow them ten more minutes.
We trudge slowly up the winding path to the top of the bluff. The boys stop to look at a butterfly, at a stone that captures light and throws it back. I stop to catch my breath. To pick up the shining stone, slide it into my pocket to take it home, where, later, it will go gray and silent.
Judith Ford’s writing has been published in Caveat Lector, Clackamas Literary Review, Confluence, Connecticut Review, Evening Street Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Jumbelbook, The Laurel Review, The Meadow, New English Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Paragon Journal, The Penmen Review, Pennsylvania English, Quarter After Eight, Rubbertop Review, Southern Humanities Review, Waxing & Waning, Willow Review, and many other journals. Ford coauthored a poetry collection with Martin Jack Rosenblum, Burning Oak, published by Lionhead Press (1986). Ford has received Pushcart Prize nominations for fiction and poetry, won first place in the Willow Review Prose Award (2005), and was awarded “most highly commended” in the Margaret Reid Poetry Contest (2008).