She Got Me to Think Out Loud

Judith and I spoke on the telephone perhaps nine or ten times. I wish I had recordings of those lengthy conversations.

Though I never met Judith Moore, she was one of the most significant people who's ever entered my life. She believed in and nurtured my writing abilities even before I really did. She liked my poetry, and she brought me into the world of journalism and made me feel I belonged here.

Judith and I spoke on the telephone perhaps nine or ten times. I wish I had recordings of those lengthy conversations — they were funny and full of wit, relaxed and meandering. We'd talk about journalism ideas, and poetry-world issues, and things going on in our lives, and books we'd read and movies we'd seen, and it would always be Judith getting me to think out loud and then making me feel smart. She was incredibly well spoken and had a kind voice, a little-old-lady-type voice, which made her astonishing range of knowledge seem even more astonishing (since you didn't expect such range to come from someone whose voice was so small and fragile sounding), and it made her often risqué sense of humor seem even funnier.

I remember the first time we spoke, when she called me out of the blue and hired me to write for the Reader. We'd been chatting for over half an hour when she suddenly said, "I'm always trying to think of ways to make the Reader more popular. I wish we could put the headline 'Hot Slut' on the cover. 'Hot Slut' would be a popular issue." It made me more comfortable talking to this person I didn't know, this person who was about to become my boss. She'd won a Guggenheim and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, she was smarter than anyone I'd talked with in years, and she sounded like my grandmother, but she could also deliver a bawdy tidbit like "Hot Slut."

Over the three years that I knew her, Judith sent me 197 e-mails. Most of them were as short as our phone conversations were long. When I finished my first piece for the Reader, she wrote: "I like this, Mr. Geoff. You are so good. Thank you."

When I was going through a divorce, she sent this little note: "I think of you. Sometimes a person feels he will just fall off the edge of the world; you won't. J."

When my first book of poetry was accepted for publication: "Congratulations, sweetheart, J."

Or sometimes she'd send sweet nothings: "I think of you every day. J."

The last e-mail I got from her, two weeks before she died, contained this ominous message, referring to Reader editor Jim Holman: "From now on address all correspondence to Mr. Holman. J."

But I never even knew that she was sick, or at least I didn't hear it from her. My coworkers at the Reader told me that the subjects of death and sickness bored Judith and she didn't want to talk about her condition. But they did warn me that her condition was becoming very grave. In the end, it seemed fitting: Judith Moore had talked me through so much, but she didn't need to be talked through anything herself.

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