I first stumbled across author Megan Stielstra at Wordstock in downtown Portland last November. I’d never heard of her before, but I was interested in the topic for that session — an authors’ panel about memoir and writing the intensely personal — and I fell in love with a piece she read aloud about waiting for the results of a pregnancy test when she was around 20. Her words, the way she wrote, how she read — clearly she was a master performer and a deft writer, and I stopped at Powell’s Books on the way home to see if I could find a copy of something she may have written.
I did — The Wrong Way to Save Your Life: Essays — and I LOVED it. I keep going back and rereading parts of it at bedtime, and her collection, along with a couple other memoirs, have inspired me to start trying to write again after an ~9-month hiatus / hangover / recovery period after the memoir boot camp workshop I took in early 2017.
But starting to write again — trying to remember how to do it, what to avoid, how to start … even before finding words or getting myself to actually sit down and write — is damned hard, and I’m trying to get inspiration anyplace I can.
So I ordered her previous collection of essays, Once I Was Cool, and although it’s different from the first collection I read — it’s less focused on a single topic or idea (fear) — I love it too. I’m almost done, but keep stopping to pause and savor certain pieces, to draw out the pleasure of experiencing it.
One thing I love is how Megan writes about her life as a writer — the struggle to find time to do it, the self-doubt around it, the process and craft and teaching classes about it, the tumult when she doesn’t do it — alongside whatever topic the actual essay is about. The messiness of parenthood, of depression, of fear, of life not working out quite the way you expected — they’re all themes that resonate with me, and I’m enjoying immensely. She reminds me a lot of Cheryl Strayed, but in her own unique way. She’s not hobnobbing with Oprah, not slipping off to the Golden Globes or the Oscars or spending months traveling abroad with her family — but, like Cheryl, she has beautiful words and stories, and I love the unexpected ways she tells them. (Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things is still one of my all-time favorite books of the last ~5 years.)
When the moderator for the authors’ panel last fall introduced herself as a total fangirl of Megan’s writing, I didn’t have any context or expectations. But a few months later, I totally do … and I’m one now too….
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