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i n t e r v i e w

L Y D I A   P A A R

COMP: “Drive” is an extraordinary essay. We’re thrilled and honored to publish it. The essay will appear in your forthcoming book The Entrance Is the Exit: Essays on Escape (University of Georgia Press, 2024). How did “escape” as a recurring subject or throughline emerge?

Lydia Paar: Thanks for your kind words! And for that question, too: it’s such a central (and such an embarrassing) question for me to answer. Here’s that answer: I went AWOL from the army when I was 19, and the essay about that experience was the first one that I wrote and began to think about as part of a larger collection. It clued me in to related curiosities that needed addressing in my life: why have I been so risk-tolerant in so many weird ways? Why am I SO averse to violence, and yet why do I have so many friends that have been victim to it? And also why did I quit so many jobs and flake out on so many partners and school programs when I was young and where/when/why did this impulse arise? It became clear there was a lot to unearth in how all of this fit together.


C: Did writing the book help you escape (or resolve) certain experiences?

LP: Absolutely. It wasn’t until I wrote about going AWOL for a memoir class (led by Melanie Bishop at Prescott College) that I was able to work through some of what that experience meant to my emotional development, and how it joins to other aspects of life. I think anyone can learn a lot through writing generally (it’s one of the main reasons I do it…to try to resolve my confusions). However, I will say that while I’ve been rereading and editing the whole collection of essays this past month, it’s become apparent there are very many little “prisons” (habits, behaviors, ways of thinking) in my world that I have not really escaped and am actually still grappling with. I pretty much hate reading one of the essays, “Osmosis,” because it feels to me like a report of my fairly-recent failings to help other people escape from harmful things in their lives, or even to fully attempt to understand why they may need to. In a way, this reflection ends up being good, because it keeps me accountable…but damn, it sure is uncomfortable! And ugly. And it’s hard not to get stuck in some kind of regret-swamp instead of moving forward with the thinking that still needs doing…


C: “Drive” is stylistically indelible: brief and punchy, in-transit and liminal. How does the essay interact with the rest of your essay collection? Does it have a specific role or function?

LP: “Drive” as a title, and as an ongoing metaphor for restlessness, actually recurs several times in different related essays throughout the book, and I would say those are stylistically similar. They join together the other, longer essays that are very structurally different from each other, which is part of the beauty of the essay form itself: the permission you have to be restless in writing in a way you can’t (or can’t easily) in a longer single narrative. The idea of being constantly “driven,” which conveniently corresponds with the act of driving in several of these essays, does, I think, help to keep that larger theme foregrounded even in moments of stillness that can surface. It underpins the whole. I just hope it makes as much sense to the reader as it does in my mind! We’ll see.

Lydia Paar is an essayist and fiction writer. Her essay, “Erasure,” was of notable mention in the 2022 Best American Essays collection, and was the 2020 winner of North American Review’s Terry Tempest Williams Creative Nonfiction Prize. The New England Review nominated her as a finalist for their 2021 Emerging Writers Award, and works of hers will be or have been showcased in such publications as Huffpost, Literary Hub, The Missouri Review, Essay Daily, Witness, Farmerish, Hayden's Ferry Review, and others. An MFA recipient from Washington University and an MA recipient from Northern Arizona University, Paar is also a former recipient of a Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation Fellowship and of a Millay Arts Residency. She serves as co-editor for the NOMADartx Review and teaches writing at the University of Arizona. Her first full-length essay collection, The Entrance is the Exit: Essays on Escape, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press.

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