I usually feature novelists on this blog, but I was so impressed by an article Lydia Paar wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled, “I Told My Mom I Wanted To Get My Tubes Tied At Age 20. Her Response Changed My Life” that I thought I’d change things up a little. And, coincidentally, Lydia is a graduate of the writing program that I dabbled in during my time in Arizona. Her first full-length essay collection, The Entrance is the Exit: Essays on Escape, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press.
According to your website bio, you teach writing at the University of Arizona. What, in your opinion, should graduates of writing programs be aware of when they put their work out into the world?
Oh, this is such an important question. Firstly, I think it’s important to understand that once you put your work into the world, you don’t really get to take it back. This is something the editor of HuffPost made sure to doublecheck with me explicitly about regarding the very personal recent article, asking: “Are you sure you want to print this?” I think it’s important for all writers, but especially emerging writers, to carefully consider: is a piece of writing fully finished? Is it saying everything you truly mean for it to say, and do you think your message or understanding of your subject will hold up over time? Are you willing to receive feedback from the public about what it says? I know it’s important to seize the “kairotic moment” around some subjects in our work, but we should never be hasty, never feel rushed, never be publishing work we haven’t had ample time to revise and re-contemplate as it approaches entering the wider world.
Secondly: I think reading is crucial, and not only reading within our usual genres and interest areas but reading widely. This is the first thing that slips by the wayside when I get too busy, and I need to be better about it: we can’t properly engage with our culture if we’re disconnected or out of touch with the other voices contributing to it.
So true! As I mentioned, I loved your Huffington Post article about reproductive choice. What inspired you to write this article, and what surprised you most about it?
There was actually a call for stories from a very cool local storytelling group (F*ST: Female Storytellers: https://www.fstorytellers.com/) in Tucson. The title of the call was “Mothers and Others,” and I just felt like it would be good to have some representation there about women who decided to totally “other” (not mother). It’s always bothered me that in some circles, there’s still a very essentialist view of women: that our lives should center around a biological destiny to bear and care for children. I very much have never seen myself in that role, and I wanted to make a little more room for that perspective, especiallly because it was my own mother who helped me decrease the possibility of my own reproduction. In a way, this story is really an homage to my mom, and an appeal for other people to put aside their own complicated feelings about reproduction to support women in their own individual choices, whatever they may be.
I didn’t know what the response would be, but it was bigger than I expected, and I got a lot of personal email from people who affirmed and championed the essay, or who, oddly, almost seemed offended by it.
Either way, the fact that people took time out of their day to find me online and write to me meant the topic mattered in ways that were even, perhaps, more deeply felt than I was anticipating. My favorite was a message from a woman who said that the essay helped her to understand her own daughter’s choice to not have children, and that she would not try to persuade her to have them anymore. Her response made me feel like writing still matters, at a time when so many writing programs I encounter are underfunded and/or undervalued in schools. But writing, and specifically storytelling, still has power to create positive and meaningful change.
And its value should never be underestimated! In what ways, if any, do you find balance with both your teaching and author career?
This is a short answer: I don’t. I don’t really have time to write while I’m teaching, except for little stolen moments here and there between other tasks. I do most of my own work during summer break. My goal is to find an opportunity to reduce my teaching load to do a better job as an instructor, and a better job as an active writer too.
I’m aiming for the same kind of balance in my writing and my librarian work! What are some of your current projects?
My essay collection, The Exit is the Entrance, is being published by the University of Georgia Press and is due out in the fall of 2024. It’s thematized around the notion of “escape,” and most of those essays are a blend of memoir and some social commentary about the difficulty of disengaging with certain kinds of attitudes, behaviors, and traditions.
I have another book started, but it’s still structurally a blob, so for now, it must remain secret.
To find out more about Lydia and her writing, visit https://lydiapaar.com/