Woodshop Talk: Judith Day
Judith Day is the author of the short story
“If You Lived Here,” and winner of the Inkslinger Award
in fiction for Issue No. 13. Here we chat with her about her process and her art.
This is Woodshop Talk.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: This issue is all about matters of home, including the ever-complicated domestic space. What motivated you to write about home?
JUDITH DAY: Someone told me that the Japanese language has a simple, short word for the feeling you have when you are home. I don’t know the word but I know the feeling, and it is as core to me as any feeling ever could be. I want to die being in that feeling. So I might as well live, there, for practice. And where I live is what I write.
BA: Your story is remarkable for the way it resists intimacy, detaching us from the experiencing of inhabiting a home. Instead we are left only to look at one as an empty vessel, and imagine the possibilities of filling it. Which is more vital—the lived house or the empty house? Which inspires you more?
JD: Both, for sure. As a kid I spent time drawing floor plans of houses. I was a tomboy with no use for girl things, except for the dollhouse in which I over and over rearranged the furniture – sofas in the center of the kitchen, sinks in bedroom corners, beds in the yard. Recurrent dreams place me in certain houses, often mostly empty, where I may be frustrated or delighted depending on whether the dream-wizard within allows me to be in certain sets of rooms. Those rooms are at the ends of the house, or the top, and have great windows and light.
Actual home in childhood was a nightmare, and I am so happy now to inhabit good space with my husband Doug. The lived house is all about the being-together: precious, inexplicable, not in my control. Some people have found the relationship the most compelling thing about this story.
BA: You’ve written in the past about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, which is a particularly grim expression of home. Is there an intersection of womanhood, domesticity and madness? How do you express it in your writing?
JD: Grim is the word indeed. My own mother self-medicated with alcohol and thereby kept herself mostly out of mental institutions, which is where her own mother lived for many years before dying at age fifty-six. So madness runs in this lace-curtain Irish family where the women went crazy trying to be normal.
Restrictions and enforced expectations imprison us all regardless of gender, but for women the prison is deeply tied to a cardboard cut-out domesticity that hides the truth of divine chaos. A friend of a friend was recently convicted of first-degree murder after protecting herself and her son from her abusive husband. I hear that she is finding a spaciousness in prison that she never before experienced.
I’ve spent much life energy learning to live free of others’ expectations. What drives me mad is not being free to be mad. In writing I allow and follow the madness of creativity, which is so much bigger than me.
Judith, pictured with her husband Doug
outside their northern California home.
BA: What makes northern California home for you?
JD: I belong here. A native of St. Louis, I first visited the west coast at age sixteen and knew this was it for me. I felt it, knew it. Geography was not as important as other things until my thirties, but when I finally decided to choose where to be, this is where I came. It’s a value and need: rivers running through hills of giant trees to the endless, open coast in a gorgeous mix of rain, fog, and sunshine. It is wild and mild.
Importantly, it also is a place that invites and nourishes people who are open-minded. I’ve known some of them now for many years, and they make this area home for me.
Not to be cavalier about disaster, but I also get to live on an earthquake fault that is absolutely going to have a big one, sometime soon. What could be more home-like?