Megan Stielstra On 'The Chronology of Water'

Megan Stielstra

Megan Stielstra. Joe Mazza (via author)

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Megan Stielstra is the author of three collections of essays, the most recent being "The Wrong Way To Save Your Life." She tells the story of how she first crossed paths with "The Chronology of Water," Lidia Yuknavitch's award-winning memoir — the anti-memoir that broke new ground for speaking with candor about the joy and the pain of living.

I knew something was wrong. I hadn't been reading.

There are so many metaphors for depression in general and postpartum specifically. Mountains, climbing over. Waves, crashing down. Fog, wandering through.

I wandered through those first years of motherhood, and I wandered through the day-to-day of my job, and I wandered through bookstores picking up books skimming first sentences, putting them down because I couldn't remember how to feel.

And then, one day — I will never forget this — I was at Women and Children First on the North Side of Chicago. The bookseller said, "Megan, look at this" and with almost eerie telepathy — like she saw my insides, the fear and shame I couldn't yet understand, let alone articulate — she handed me a book. It had a gray wraparound cover. I opened it to the first page and read. "If you have ever fucked up in your life, or if the great river of sadness that runs through all of us has ever touched you, then this book is for you."

Snap your fingers. That's how fast I started crying. And this was no single fragile tear cascading delicately down my cheek. This was a full on ugly sob with the dry heaves and the snot and the mascara running everywhere. It was tragic. And surprising. I didn't know those parts of me still worked. I didn't know language could still touch me.

The book was called, "The Chronology of Water" named for its narrative structure and central metaphor of memory, not as linear but as water flowing fragments patterns. Its author, Lidia Yuknavitch, calls it an anti-memoir, beginning with the delivery of her first child.

"The day my daughter was stillborn," she wrote, "After I held the future, pink and rose-lipped, in my shivering arms. Lifeless, tender, covering her face in tears and kisses, after they handed my dead girl to my sister who kissed her, then to my first husband who kissed her, then to my mother who could not bear to hold her, then out of the hospital room door, tiny, lifeless swaddled thing. The nurse gave me tranquilizers and a soap and sponge. She guided me to a special shower. The shower had a chair and the spray came down lightly warm she said: 'That feels good doesn't it, the water.'"

Let's be direct. This book is hard. Loss, abuse, addiction, violence. But also equally, if not more, there is joy and fun and heat. You'll be blushing if not totally turned on by the end of several sections (pages 144, 159, and 235 for those taking notes). It's a book about love. It's a book about living. It's the book that got me living.

I want to talk to you about Lidia the way that she talks about the writer Kathy Acker. Here's Lidia on Kathy:

"I'd read sections and stop and look around expecting to get caught or smacked a red blotchy one. 'You can say this shit and it can be published?'"

In this way, her books saved me.

Here is me on Lidia. I'd read sections and run to the computer and write. I'd stay up all night long. I typed one-handed, two-fingered, holding my kid in the other arm. I wrote about climbing over and crashing down and wandering through.

I wrote my way back to myself.