Adrian Silbernagel
Aug 6, 2018 · 8 min read

Creative Practitioners and Friends of the OS — We are pleased to introduce you to the work and person of Emily Carr: poet, fiction writer, and Troubler of Literary Forms. In this special feature of our Field Notes series — where creative practitioners from all variety of disciplines shine a light behind the curtain of their daily practice — we’re afforded a sneak peak at Carr’s forthcoming book, Name Your Bird Without A Gun: a Tarot novella, as well as a glimpse into the process and circumstances out of which said book emerged. Read on to hear Carr discuss Tarot (as literary form and self-help alternative); intent (in the contexts of authorship and risk assessment); lyric poetry in the experimental tradition; self-transformation through the practice of revision; and more. We’re pairing Carr’s craft essay with excerpts from her process and the finished novella in a series of three installments. [2018 series editor: Adrian Silbernagel]

Pre-Fix: What’s At Stake

This craft essay was composed, decomposed & recomposed during the eight-year period it took me to finish my Tarot romance, Name Your Bird Without A Gun. When I first started writing “Acrobats of the Psychic Misdemeanor,” what I was trying to do was get on the other side of my own intent, to get behind the scenes of my own self, to understand, from the inside out, my own motivations in writing in the way that I do, which involves compounding the method of the lyric with the structure of the book, some complex narrative maneuvering, & obsessive revision.

In the beginning, I talked a lot about fortune-telling & offering readers a series of plausible narratives without anointing any as the definitively real one. I talked about resilience & kinetic energy, about inserting endings within beginnings & beginnings within endings, about layering narrative thread upon narrative thread. I didn’t talk much about suicide, or the personal circumstances that were going on alongside & influencing the composition of the book. Mostly, I avoided myself: both in this craft essay, & in life.

After reading the third iteration of Name Your Bird Without A Gun (so about six years into its composition), a friend asked me what I was listening to when I was writing the rough draft. Use the music as a way of accessing your self, she advised. Music isn’t a particularly helpful way for me to remember myself. She was, however, right: if I was going to write a craft essay about the process of writing this book, I was going to have to include myself. In order for the reader to access the text as I hoped she would, I was going to have to give myself away.

I was going to have to get real about why the available formal models do not have the flexibility & rigor my subject matter requires. Like Carol Maso, I was going to have to explain why the available narrative forms do not approximate life as I am experiencing it. I was going to have to be honest about the choices that have made me, & how, as a consequence, it is so necessary for me to make shapes in which particular silences can find a voice.

acrobats of the psychic misdemeanor: 13 ways of looking at suicide
a craft essay by Emily Carr

Acrobats #1

When you are a suicide there is no one to love you, not even your own self.

Is this normal. There’s no way to tell.

Acrobats #2

Name Your Bird Without A Gun, which you later come to think of as your “Tarot romance,” was conceived from the shame of having the kind of secret people just don’t tell & the moral dilemma of lying about your own self, out of etiquette.

Because you have become the kind of story people just don’t tell.

Acrobats #3

The first time you OD’d you were on your honeymoon in Vancouver, Canada, almost exactly one year after you eloped in the Black Mountain woods where, amongst other things, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley & Robert Duncan once promoted “projective verse.”

You argued with your young, desperate husband over calling the ambulance, you tried to phone your father the family physician & in 3 am confusion your mother answered the phone & you couldn’t, you would die rather than tell her.

Because you are young, you are in love, you are on your honeymoon & Vancouver is erupting with Chinese fireworks, it’s possible to confuse this suicide attempt with romance. To believe that you can turn the shock of becoming the sort of person who into something beautiful. But, as you will discover over the next decade years, the brutal reality is you are capable of taking your own life now, you have passed through that doorway, you have turned the corner. & there is nothing, in fact, beautiful about this new world you have created for yourself.

It is this enormous duende that drives the composition of your first book, & your second. You write about a dream of distance/ in which the husband can be/ both far from/ & near to, a woman not considering herself a special receptacle/ for eggs. You refer to yourself in the second person, then the third. There is, you write, no way of saying yes/ again, no way to disappear get out/ of the way, succumb.

Poem by poem, you are trying to learn not to trust yourself, you are trying to understand what it means to love another human being when you don’t trust even your own self, when you can’t make promises about what you will or won’t do.

Five years after the first time you OD, you meet your Immortal Beloved, you run away from the husband, & you are shocked (still) (again) by what you are capable of, your faithlessness.

That summer, when you are writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House for three hot months & you have nothing to do but procrastinate on finishing your dissertation & no one to answer to other than the housecat Dirt, you start writing Name Your Bird Without A Gun. Because of the Immortal Beloved. (Not for him — the beauty of that!)

At first you think: murder mystery. You think choose your own adventure.

Then you remember the amateur pilot who lived on other side of the cul-de-sac, whose slutty daughter was two years younger than you, who bought a Russian MiG online & disappeared over one of the Great Lakes, the year after you graduated from high school, the day before the amateur air show. They never knew whether to bury him, or how to grieve. Or so the story goes.

You think about Don Schaller & his disappearance & you realize the story you are trying to tell won’t fit into a murder mystery or a choose-your-own-adventure.

Because what you want is to capture the moment of transgression & hold it there, suspended, in all of its horrible potential. Before there can be forgiveness, or even remorse. When you don’t know if you will survive it, whether survive is something to which you can aspire, being capable of such infidelities.

Because there are no alibis.

Acrobats #4

That summer a girlfriend from North Carolina brings you marijuana, Tarot, Elvis magnets, an unpainted potted owl. You get up before dawn, drink strong, black coffee, smoke marijuana out of a glass pipe shaped like a delicate dragon, & talk about your dissertation, which includes your first two desperate books of poetry & a third — which to your own shock six years later you will publish as divorce poetry — along with some earnest assertations about feminism, the forgotten Mississippi poet besmilr brigham & the sexual politics of meat. When you are tired of speculating about the lyric as your work inhabits it, you walk to a dive bar & talk Tarot over blonde beers & strawberries. You like the cards because they might belong to the sacred myths of gypsies or Thoth or Dionysus or Pythagoras or even aliens. Because they are liberated from time, geography & spiritual tradition. Because working with them requires you let go of intent.

& what you need desperately is to let go of intent. Because you have not turned out to be the person you meant to be. Because you’ve turned out, in fact, to be the kind of person you would have judged. Because you are nowhere exactly. Because there is no blueprint, no instruction, no guidebook.

Acrobats #5

In a notebook from that summer, you collect this list:


as problem-solving behavior

a closed world with its own irresistible logic the unanswerable logic of nightmare superstitious, & full of omens

like being in love (Freud) ego is overwhelmed by object an ambitious act

an insidious vocation

an act prepared within the silence of the heart some suicides are born, not made

The effect of this medical revolution has been to make poisons both readily available & relatively safe. The way has thus been opened for

self-poisoning to flourish… Facilities for self-poisoning have been placed within the reach of everyone.

~ Dr. Neil Kessel, “Self Poisoning”

Homer records self-murder without comment, as something natural & usually heroic.

Animal suicide is a manifestation of intelligence.

Poe & Berlioz swallowed near lethal doses of opium during the course of unhappy love affairs, &, instead of dying, were inspired.

~ A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide

Check back August 8th for Acrobats #6–13.

Emily Carr writes murder mysteries that turn into love poems that are sometimes (by her McSweeney’s editors, for example) called divorce poems. After she got an MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, she took a doctorate in ecopoetics at the University of Calgary. These days, she’s the program director of the low-residency MFA in creative writing at Oregon State University-Cascades. Her newest book, Whosoever Has Let a Minotaur Enter Them, Or a Sonnet — , is available from McSweeney’s. It inspired a beer of the same name, now available at the Ale Apothecary. Emily’s first collection of fiction, Name Your Bird Without A Gun: a Tarot novella, is forthcoming from Spork in 2019. Visit Emily online at or on Instagram as ifshedrawsadoor.

The Operating System

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

Adrian Silbernagel

Written by

The Operating System

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

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