I have an admission I’d like to get out into the open before moving onto Megan Stielstra’s wonderful collection of personal essays, Once I Was Cool. I know the author. I mean, we’re not besties or anything. There was this time, not so long ago, when I decided, on a whim, to take a class taught by Bobby Biedrzycki and Megan Stielstra called Story and Performance—an experience I hold as one of the high points in my pursuit of an MFA degree at Columbia College Chicago. (Bobby makes a very powerful appearance in Once I Was Cool, in the essay “Dragons so Huge.”) For fifteen weeks I got to learn from Megan, while being exposed to fragments of this collection. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. And every so often, as I read this book, these small moments would sweep in and leave me with this sense of familiarity, because I heard a part of the story, like with the first line to the essay “Those Who Were There.” Or like with this striking bit of insight on the nature and importance of story, which I highlighted then promptly wrote down in my journal:
Story—when done right—can help you find yourself in others, share realities that can’t possibly be real, and show a person or people a world that you never before imagined.
Here’s the thing: writing, like anything else in life, is a process. Even this review—the approach of which is a bit unorthodox, but who the hell says a review needs to be orthodox—is part of a process. A presentation of my opinion on Once I Was Cool with the intent to persuade—totally the case with this book—or dissuade—not the case with this book—the reader. But, and this is the important part, I need to first understand why I think Once I Was Cool is so good. Is worth both your money and time. Accomplishing that is not just about pinpointing the things that I liked, or admired. It’s also about the distillation of the work into those themes that resonate the strongest with me. And sometimes that can be tricky. So I’m going to walk you through the process I underwent in order to find those themes. Continue reading