Exploring the art of prose


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Losing Composure by A.D. Carr

  Poioumenon for my son “Can I ask you a personal question?” I asked. “About kids?” It was early 2017. I was in the passenger seat and my friend, G., was driving. She’d been my lit professor back when I…

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Author’s Note

In the hours, days, and weeks after my son was born, I found all I wanted to do was talk about my labor and his birth. I’m not sure how many of my conversation partners actually wanted to hear the story I couldn’t stop telling.

After a while, with fewer and fewer opportunities, I realized I was telling that story for myself. I could feel my memory fading, and telling the story was a way of fighting that. In spite of my desire to hold that moment in the present, I wouldn’t (couldn’t?) write it down. Something about that felt dangerous—like if I wrote it down, I wouldn’t have to tell it anymore, and if I wasn’t telling it, maybe it didn’t happen to me.

Tentatively, during one of hundreds of middle-of-the-night wakeups, I tapped out some of the sentences appearing in the essay’s final section, trying to write the reality I wanted to continue to inhabit. I have carried you and I am carrying you still…. I sat on those sentences for months, not sure what to do with them. I kept starting and trashing different versions of whatever it was I was trying to assay.

Writing is a series of choices; every affirmative choice is a way of leaving all other options behind, forgotten. Meanwhile, (gestures broadly at everything) all of this is going on, and I kept coming up against the same mental block—not just the fear of fixing in place a version of reality, revised and honed, but that—I don’t know if this makes sense—that being able to write might convey the idea that everything is okay when, clearly, everything is not okay.

In the editor’s intro to the 2017 volume of Best American Essays, Leslie Jamison recalls some advice from a mentor: “the problem with an essay can become its subject.” The problem with the essay I was trying and failing to write—something about the pain of parenting, the dizzying experience of feeling both ebullient joy and private, profound grief at every milestone—was that I did not believe that writing it would offer the resolution I sought. I did not know what I was seeking, could not see the path through, did not know if resolution was even possible. How do you think about parenting—or about any creative act—when the world is like this? When the world is so fucked up? I was struck then, as I had been during my entire pregnancy, by the irony it all—an inability to create art while my body was engaged in this most profound work of creativity.

Pregnancy, parenting, living at what feels like the end of the world—these are not clean, containable experiences, but—for me anyway—feel more and more like a kind of unraveling, a resistance to or failure of composure. With the prose, I tried to capture that feeling, holding to a kind of upright, controlled style in the early sections to suit the subject of focus and reveal something about expectations, only to gradually loosen the sentences and structure as the work progresses, opening space for more uncertainty and fog. In the final section—truly the first words I wrote after perhaps a fourteen-month hiatus from writing—I am, I think, grappling with the grief of it all while at the same time resisting the easy descent into despair, striving for an escalation in the prose so as to fix the gaze. Do not look away, I think I am saying to myself.

The essays I admire most are those that complicate how we think about their subjects, rather than those with a soft landing: Eula Biss’s “The Pain Scale,” the late Brian Doyle’s “Joyous Voladoras,” Zadie Smith’s “Joy,” Matthew Salesses’s “To Grieve Is to Carry Another Time.” A writer doesn’t get to choose how their readers receive their work, but I wanted to write something that would leave me feeling similarly undone.


A.D. CARR is a multi-genre writer from the Midwest. Her essays have appeared in Quail Bell MagazineThe Rumpus, and in the inaugural issue of Apple in the Dark. She is associate professor of rhetoric at a small liberal arts college in Iowa.