Behind the Words: Jessica Kidd

Posted by on Dec 22, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Jessica Kidd

Jessica Kidd’s flash non-fiction piece, “A Half-Formed Moon,” defies its title by being a piece full to bursting—with imagery, with detail, and with what is left unsaid. In her words: “I’m a licensed massage therapist and weekend chef from Lexington, Kentucky. I received my MFA from Spalding University in 2013. In the years since my essay was published, I’ve done a lot of soul searching, drank more water, and found my other half. Actually, he found me, because without my husband I’d be a trash human that never leaves the house.”

DEvon Bohm: I was stunned by how much your piece packs into so few words—I would say it goes further than flash fiction and might truly be “micro fiction.” Can you walk us through how you end up writing a piece like this? Where do you start, what is the drafting process like, and was it your intention when you started out for it to end up whittled down so elegantly? 

Jessica Kidd: It has been so long since the piece was published that I’ve forgotten how it was categorized on the site. This is definitely creative nonfiction, a genre that made up the bulk of my work when I was actively writing. I’m not sure if that makes this piece all the more interesting or not, but it’s coming from a very personal place that follows me to this day. As far as composition, I figure that any story whether true or made up, and no matter the length, ought to have a beginning, middle, and ending. If I can write just enough that leaves the ending hanging for the reader to figure out what happened, to me it packs more a punch. As a hardcore introvert, I’m all about skipping the small talk and getting straight to the heart of a matter. That, combined with writing about a subject that was still fresh and raw for me at the time, helped me decide on a form for the piece. Get in and get out, but leave an impact. 

As a poet myself, I always wonder: why classify this piece as flash rather than a prose poem? What do you think the difference is—the intention of the writer, the focus on rhythmic language, the concept of plot, etc.? 

I can see how this piece could be considered either flash nonfiction or a prose poem. When writing with brevity you’re careful with your choice of words. A simple turn of phrase takes the place of a paragraph. If I categorize my writing as anything specific then it’s to make it searchable for readers, or because the submissions guidelines makes you check off a box. Otherwise, I write in any way that feels natural and does justice to the subject matter. 

Your piece deals with heavy, deeply emotional subject matter. Did this influence your decision to write in first person rather than third? Do you think it’s the closeness of the narrator that allows for the imagery to resonate? Do you hear the narrator’s voice first or create it? 

Being that it’s nonfiction, I automatically chose to write in first person, although I have switched to third person in longer pieces when I’m trying to get inside the head of another person. Looking back with a new perspective, I’m fascinated by the whole creative nonfiction world, especially when we write about deeply personal subject matter and open a part of ourselves to the public. This piece was written during a dark part in my life. I was reading an article recently about the language of depression: how content and style of writing and speaking looks and sounds differently in people with depression and anxiety. The article says that people with depression symptoms use more first-person singular pronouns when communicating, and fewer second or third person pronouns. It takes a lot of effort for me to not begin every sentence with “I.” No wonder some people are judged as being full of themselves. But, as the article states, that tendency to speak in first person can be a sign that a person lacks a sense of connection with others. Mental afflictions aside, any artist goes into a piece of work because they have something to say, and they’re either direct about it or they do so with a clever turn. Even when someone writes fiction and the narrator is speaking in first person, I believe the author is revealing something about themselves to an audience. We’re all trying to reach out from behind the page in our own way, to be heard and to touch the life of someone else even for a brief moment. 

What writers do you think have most heavily influenced your flash fiction writing? Any flash writers you recommend? (Or any genre, really!) What are you reading now? 

The writers who have had the most influence on me and my writing are (surprise) authors of memoir and personal essay: Joan Didion, Mindy Lewis, Mary Karr, to name a few. Unfortunately, I don’t remember specifically who I was reading at the time of writing the essay, or if I even had the energy and heart to do much reading. There was a moment when my tastes changed, and books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton began filling my shelves. In 2016 during a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, I was in the library and found a book of poems by Joyce Rupp. Without overthinking it, I found a poem talks about the benefits and drawbacks of being hidden. The silence leaves space for peace and reflection, but it can also lead to loneliness and a limited world view. It’s like living in a bubble. Writing any flash piece is kind of like writing in a bubble, only there’s a whole universe compacted into a tiny space. At the moment, I’m reading anything related to the mind and body. I picked up Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, which centers around language, emotion, and how humans build connections. Everything finds a way of circling back around, doesn’t it? 

Do you think your real life informs your writing life? Or do you keep them separated? Can one, or should one, influence the other? 

Writing should be influence by anything and everything. In graduate school, I was actually reading more fiction and poetry than what I was supposed to be reading and studying for my chosen genre. Lots of people might be retreating from real life at the moment, but it’s always fun to people-watch for inspiration. Authors like Amy Tan, Lisa See, Yu Hua, and Xiaolu Guo really grabbed me in the years that followed my essay’s publication. Their stories take subjects that are painful, uncomfortable, or enraging, and make them digestible by injecting beauty or even humor and projecting them through a lens that makes the stories easier to look at. In real life, you’ll notice that when something bad happens, there’s usually one person in a group who makes a profound statement or cracks a joke to lighten the mood. Not out of a lack of respect or sensitivity, but because they know not to dwell on something dark for too long without finding meaning in it. Don’t stare too long into the abyss, so to speak. I believe that, even when writing nonfiction, you’re still in the business of making something that people will want to read. Even if the subject matter is awful, it’s gotta be awfully pretty or awfully funny. 

It’s been 6 or so years since this piece appeared in Spry. Where has life (and your writing) taken you since then? Any changes in your work, challenges, or new projects you’d care to share?

Since this piece appeared, I’ve mostly hung up my writing hat and gotten my hands busy in other things. Literally. I went back to school to study massage therapy, and I now run my own business while also working at a spa. I’ve found a different way of connecting with people through the power of touch. But the written word is something I will always love, and hope to return to someday. Maybe I’ll write about massage… 

This has always been my favorite interview question, just for fun: if you had to pick any three literary characters to describe you, who would they be and why? What parts of you do they represent? 

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice – a brooding and misunderstood creature with a heart of gold and the social skills of a potato -Lucy Van Pelt, Charlie Brown comics- can be a little crabby, always ready with useless advice to other people’s problems -Grendel, Grendel- That time that Grendel said, “I shake my two hairy fists at the sky and I let out a howl so unspeakable that the water at my feet turns sudden ice and even I myself am left uneasy.” Me too Grendel. Me too.

Devon BohmDevon Bohm received her BA from Smith College and earned her MFA from Fairfield University. Her first book of poetry, Careful Cartography, was released from Cornerstone Press in November 2021. Follow her on Instagram or TikTok @devonpoem or visit her website.