Trampoline: an interview
Jeffrey Ford (The Yellow Chamber)
Were there any particular writers or stories that influenced the writing of the story that will be appearing in Trampoline? If so, how exactly did they influence the writing of your story?
The writer would be Farrid Ud Din Attar, author of the great Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds and also a book on the quantum phenomenon of Entanglement. I’m not exactly sure how they influenced me, but I know they did.
Is your Trampoline story generally representative of the sort of story you usually write? To elaborate: is this story a departure in style or subject matter (or any other sort of departure, for that matter) for you? If so, what was different or new for you in the writing of this story? Do you think it is a new direction for your writing, or simply an experiment?
Some stories I write because I feel I know the story, some I write to discover them. This was a discover story. Every time you take the boat out it’s a new departure, even if you stick to that part of the bay you know best. With this one, I braved the inlet and made it out into the deep ocean. There, I discovered a floating island.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
My favorite cocktail is the dry martini with olive, but the view from the floor isn’t my favorite, so I’ve switched to VO on the rocks with a little bit of water. The descent is slower and more manageable for one of my advanced age and declining sensibilities.
Which of the seven deadly sins is your favorite these days?
Jeez, it’s hard to pick one. My specialties are hubris and sloth, and I practice them simultaneously. Greed has never been a favorite, but gluttony is a close friend.
What’s your favorite rule of thumb?
Sometimes you have to have the courage to do nothing.
Who’s been eating my porridge?
I have. Refer to my answer previous to the previous.
Where have all the flowers gone?
To Iraq for the graves of the thousands who have succumbed to shock and awe so that we might continue to wonder where all the flowers have gone.
Who cleft the Devil’s foot?
The Almighty foot clefter.
Does she or doesn’t she?
If she doesn’t, she ought to.
Did he ever return?
Yes, and he brought souvenirs.
Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
The horse is blowing the horn and the rider is blowing the horse.
What is sharper than the thorn?
My left big toe nail.
What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Roll your cart over the bones of the dead.
What has it got in its pocketses?
What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
That would be my mother-in-law.
What has it got in its ‘pocalypse?
A cup of coffee and a come hither glance.
How far is it to Babylon?
It was a short bike ride from West Islip when I was a kid. Now, it’s a half step to the side.
Can I get there by candlelight?
A taxi is still quicker.
“Where is last year’s snow?”
Right here, baby.
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
They both eat worms. Neither of them pays the bills.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Knock yourself out.
Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt?
No and no.
Can you call spirits from the vasty deep? Will they come when you do call for them?
Only after a meal of beans and Pineapple Sangria. They’ll come but I’d rather they didn’t, especially in public.
What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?
I stole his road map, kicked his ass, and sent him on his way.
Where is fancy bred?
The fancy bakery.
Where do you hope to haunt when you’re gone (or, I guess, when you come back)?
A five dollar window at Belmont Race Track.
What are your favorite kids’ books? What was your favorite when you were a kid (say, 10)?
I’m a big Curious George freak, but I guess that was younger than 10. Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Doctor Dolittle, Tarzan, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, The Time Machine, Off on a Comet.
What’s the most favorable sort of weather for your creative process?
Overcast. Like Goya, I don’t like the sunlight interfering with my inner light.
Tell me a little about when you left home to live on your own.
Lived in a motel room. Ate a lot of Pilgrim Franks, the bright red color of which would come off on a paper plate, and Showboat Pork & Beans (pale little bags of dust in a brown sauce with a thimble size loogie of fat in every can). Drank 99cent six packs of 16 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon and smoked a lot of Coney Island Green (a dime bag was as big as a bed pillow). Worked grouting bathrooms at the motel. Read the greats, the near greats, and the hopelessly obscure. Wrote stories in black and white composition books with a pencil (tales of snooze inducing brilliance). Lived with this girl with long, blonde hair. We hung out in the graveyard behind the motel, talking cosmic and messing around. One night a ghost came to our room and turned the pages of a big book on the dresser. We climbed the mountain across the highway, drinking from a bottle of Tequilla every few hundred yards. At the top, we found a broken down shack. Inside, in an old book, there was a love note, written in pencil, dated 1932. The salutation was: Love you forever.
If you could have a writer of your choice come live with you, who would it be and what writerly stuff would you want to talk to them about?
Emily Dickinson because I think she would be a quiet house guest. I would ask her what the dashes were all about and what I should do to better tell it slantwise.
When’s the last time you changed your mind about something? I think I mean a radical shift of personal values — regarding art (“Suddenly, I’m not crazy about Billie Holiday, in fact, I’m not even sure I’m spelling her name right”), regarding anything (“Actually, you can go home again”).
I went on a conscious crusade to read books, one a month, I was sure I would not like. I ended up liking many of them, loving some of them, didn’t finish the rest. It taught me that I don’t know what I like all the time, so almost everything is at least worth a look or a listen.
What book or books do you press upon friends?
The Woman in the Dunes – Kobo Abe
The Conquest of New Spain – Bernal Diaz
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts – Amos Tutuola
The Four Wise Men – Michel Tournier
The Mothman Prophecies – John Keel
End Product: The First Taboo – Sabath & Hall
Mickelsson’s Ghosts – John Gardner
Did you ever go to a really low rent amusement park that had trampolines stretched over shallow pits and bounce and bounce and bounce and get really confident and start bouncing from one trampoline to the next but then kind of lose it and bounce in to your cousin Jeff and cause him to fall into a split timber fence and knock out one of his teeth? Did you ever do that?
No, I never did that. Trampolines always scared the shit out of me. I don’t like heights and in gym class in school, before you got on the trampoline, they went through a list of all the ways you could break your neck and wind up a vegetable. I realized at a young age that this was something I was not particularly interested in.
What can we, as a group, do to increase the popularity of multi-stage bicycle racing as a spectator sport in America?
Drive your car crazy like a crackhead and give everyone the finger.
I once had a creative writing teacher tell me that he didn’t understand why authors used science fiction or magical realism to tell a story or impart a theme. Why do you think we do, when good old realism might do the trick?
The pursuit of truth has made beautiful monsters of us.
My story has a semi-wild chimpanzee in it; does yours?
Sort of, in the narrative voice.
Have you found that during the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Quayle-Bush-Cheney era the quality of your writing has gotten a little dodgier?
Not really, but I certainly despise all those mother fuckers.
What is the meaning of life?
What, in your opinion, is the relationship, if any, between the so-called real world and your particular imaginary one?
The older I get, the less the difference is noticeable. I would say I’m somewhat better looking in my imaginary one.
If you could live in a book, which one would it be?
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway (for only a week, though. Then I’d move on to Travels With a Donkey by Stevenson for a week, etc….).
Next — Greer Gilman