First, the reminder: My generative CNF workshop over at ApiaryLit starts in less than a week! I’d love to fill the last few seats with community-minded, shitty-draft-generating, enthusiastic writers. Is that you? Summer is a fantastic time to sharpen that writing saw, and I would love to read your work.

I don’t think I’m the best at self-promoting this course, and it’s a shame, because April’s participants gave some great positive feedback. I’ll keep getting better at it, which hopefully doesn’t equate to “getting more annoying about it.” Thank you all for your patience and support, is what I mean to say. (OH, and note: if CNF isn’t your writing drug of choice, we are also running a workshop on fiction of place, prose poems, and magical realism.)

Now, the review.

Once I Was Cool (Curbside Splendor, 2014). This book came so highly recommended by people I know and admire, and they were all so right on, that I’m sad I hadn’t checked it out sooner. 

Megan Stielstra does a lot of live storytelling, which is how many of these essays were first presented to the world–many through Chicago’s 2nd Story series. While I’ve no doubt her performances kick much ass, I love love love reading this work at my own pace. She deftly captures the energy of spoken word and presents it airily on the page in short, punchy doses. 

She writes about seeing bands in the 90s, addiction, motherhood, growing up, friendship, true love and other kinds, loss, pain, and she does so in the voice of your best friend. Stielstra is not perfect, but she’s trying her hardest to be a good person.

The whole damn thing is quotable, but here are a few of my favorite places: 

“Can we [women and girls] find a way to tell our stories, weigh our options, get advice and/or back-up and/or support when and if we need it without being told, every month, what we should or should not do, can or cannot say?”

“This is stupid, I decide. Even for me, and I’ve done some stupid shit; I did acid one time at the opera.” 

“Recently, I heard an accountant say, “If you want to know what you value, look at your checkbook.” Mine reads like this: Mortgage, property tax, assessments, back assessments, emergency assessments, listing fees, attorney fees. I’d like it to read: Darth Vader costume, size 5T, Princess Leia buns. Plastic Light Saber, blue. Plastic Light Saber, red.”

“… and I’m like, Tipper, let’s get real, okay? I did not learn how to masturbate from Cyndi Lauper. I learned to masturbate from a female stagehand in a community player’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“And you scream and you scream ’cause there’s so much inside that needs to get out–anger and longing and no sleep and time moving too fast and sorrow and fear… And by the time the last [train] car passes, it’s all been drained, like you’re sponges squeezed dry. You sit on the ground, exhausted by the energy it takes to let go, and lay backwards in the grass. The sun shines on your faces. The backs of your eyelids glow red.” [The rest of this passage is so great that the images and ideas have stuck with me for days. Get the book for just this essay, if you must: “How to Say the Right Thing”.]

“This healing of the body begins with words.”

So anyway. Highly recommended. Some books impart knowledge, and I love those books. But this book did something else entirely. This book made me feel less nuts for feeling so nuts lately. For wanting so much, and at such high cost to my own comfort. I felt like I was listening to a good friend, and she knew just what to say, even if I didn’t always like hearing the truth of it. This is what I want my writing to do, someday for someone else.

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