Megan Stielstra Is A Powerhouse Of Modern Storytelling

Megan Stielstra Is A Powerhouse Of Modern Storytelling

“I shook like crazy and I was terrified, but I didn’t get back down.”
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During the winter of 2015, I met author Megan Stielstra for the first time. She was conducting a master class and giving a reading at my high school, Interlochen Arts — a school I’d just started earlier that year.

I was still scared of everything around me, while also experiencing my first ever real winter, and in walks the woman who would become one of my biggest motivators to write essays of my own one day. While I admit every artist that walked through Interlochen’s front gates found a way to amaze me, few have left me so simultaneously inspired and astonished as Megan did.

I took down furious notes while she was talking, answering questions, and throughout her reading later that night. I left with a pad of poorly written quotes and a lot of chicken scratch, but there was one that felt so important I typed it out and made it my phone background for the next year.

I believe the world can be changed by a story just like mine was changed by a song.

Before Interlochen, before meeting Megan, I don’t think I fully recognized the power art can have in society.

The way it can make you rethink, reimagine, and reevaluate all that is precious in your own life. The way it can make you want to help the world. As a current college student studying psychology and writing I find myself tasked with these questions every day - how can I write a story that’s going to help people?

How can I create a story that will change a life? How can I tell my own truth?



Megan returned to Interlochen the next winter to conduct another class, this time forcing all of us students to really consider our own stories and our own lives. She told us to stand in a line - age 1 at the beginning and continuing linearly up until the age you were at that time. She said to stand at the age you were when everything changed.

Where a switch was flipped, where something bad happened, where something good happened. The age you were during the thing that shaped who you are today.

And then we wrote an essay about it. Ten drafts later, this was the essay that convinced me I had to tell my own stories.

Stielstra is the author of two essay collections, "Once I Was Cool" and "The Wrong Way to Save Your Life," the latter of which was just released earlier this month.

I bought it the day it was released, leaving my day job and immediately heading to the bookstore where I sent the employee on a manhunt for their most recent deliveries where I knew the book would be. Twenty minutes later I walked out with Megan’s second work, another book that undoubtedly shaped the writer I’m trying so hard to become.

She teaches how to be resilient, brave, scared, and strong all at once. She shows me that long distance friendships are possible. In the turbulence of today’s political eruption, she shows me how to react. How to check my own privilege. How to explain what’s happening to a child, how to learn from it and keep pushing forward.

I have countless favorite quotes by Megan, but it would be unfair to you to say them all here. You need to pick up her books and read them yourselves. Feel what she is feeling as these words come out of her and onto the page. My quotations won’t do them justice. Trust me, they’re more than worth your time.

Many times in my nonfiction career I’ve doubted the worth of my own writing. But during that winter in 2015 Megan said something that stuck with me, “Everything comes out of you for a reason. You have to be open to not being so precious with it all.”

So I’m not anymore. I’m writing essays and publishing them everywhere I can. I’m hungry for a collection, a book deal, or even just a new story.

“I shook like crazy and I was terrified, but I didn’t get back down." These are words that I’ve come to live by.

I can’t get back down. Because my stories, all of our stories, are too important for us to keep to ourselves. We have to react.

I know I just said I wouldn’t go on to quote her essays, but I think it’s fitting to end it on this. Megan taught me how to live, how to live hard, and how to feel everything as deeply as possible. Because that’s where the art comes from. That’s how you tell your stories.

These are the final lines of F, one of my favorite essays in her most recent collection.

There’s only me, on the edge of life.

The whole world is spread out before me.

God, what if?


Links to purchase Once I Was Cool and The Wrong Way To Save Your Life

Cover Image Credit: allwrite-already.com

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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