A Year of Favorites: Megan Stielstra


I needed this.

Since the election—no, this whole shitshow of a year—I’ve been cycling between fear and fury. It was good to sit for a second, and breathe, and remember that there’s beauty in the midst of so much mess. What made me laugh. What pushed me to fight. What challenged me to be better; better writer, better teacher, better parent, better partner, better human being on this planet.

Iesha L. Evans standing up to police in riot gear. Black Monday protests against the abortion ban in Poland. House Representative John Lewis sitting on the floor to force a vote on gun control. Khizr Khan at the Democtratic National Convention. The White Helmets in Syria, the Mothers of the Movement, and the letter a young woman read aloud in court to her attacker: “To girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you.”

Here are young people suing the government on climate change. Here are young people organizing to get Chicago’s former State’s Attorney out of office. Here are young people demanding better schools in Detroit. Here are young people speaking out about lead in the water in Flint, defending the water in Standing Rock, fighting for education and immigration rights, fighting for their communities, fighting for their lives.

This year I read Teen Vogue and Rookie every morning. You want profound political and cultural commentary?—listen to young women. I stalked Guernica and Buzzfeed Reader for essays and poetry that crack open the world. I want to learn from the stories that shape our beliefs, the personal behind the political.

This year I learned from Rebecca Traister at NYMag, Jamil Smith at MTV, and Zach Stafford and Lindy West at The Guardian. Work that cut into my heart: Jia Tolentino on privilege, Jared Yates Sexton on masculinity, Blair Braverman on guns, Sarah Smarsh on the media and Kiese Laymon on sexual violence and Esmé Weijun Wang on illness and Jasmine Sanders on how literature helps us heal.

Jesus. We need to heal.

And so: Wangs v the World by Jade Chang. Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder. The Miles Between Me by Toni Nealie. Neon Green by Margaret Wappler. The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward. Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple. The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane. The Telling by Zoe Zolbrod. Searching For John Hughes by Jason Diamond. And World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay (get to your neighborhood comics store. Run. Do not walk).

Books are my love, my breath. Always have been.

But here’s the truth: what saved me this year was not a book.

It was an album.


Also: the Hamilton soundtrack. The Hamilton Mixtape. HEAVN by Jamila Woods. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper—this video for “Angels” is a joy. So is this video, for “Soy Yo” by Bomba Estereo; and this, of Lil Buck dancing at Fondation Louis Vuitton; and this, of Margaret Qualley dancing and shooting lasers out of her fingers and flying through a giant eyeball.

Favorite podcast: Says Who? Favorite website: Colossal, though I’m admittedly biased. Favorite theatre: The Neo-Futurists. Favorite live event: The Paper Machete live news magazine at The Green Mill with weekly culutural commentary both brutal and batshit crazy. The Saturday before the election, a guy jumped onstage and played “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” on the piano. The audience, a hundred of us, drunk, sang along. It was perfect.

Also perfect: the tweet from Hillary Clinton the day after the election. “To all the little girls watching… never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”

[my eight-year-old son just asked what I was doing. He’d like to go sledding and me writing this is getting in the way. I told him I was making a list of things I loved in 2016 and he asked if he could, too. So, if there are small people in your life, he would like to recommend The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian (podcast), the Hamilton soundtrack (album), Jam (online classes), The Hobbit and Superfudge (“it’s a tie!”), the Amulet series (comic books), Legend of Zelda (video game), and The Force Awakens (movie)].

Movie, big screen: Moonlight.

Movie, small screen: 13th.

Computer screen: You’re So Talented, directed by Samantha Bailey (and her next project, Brown Girls by Fatimah Asghar, looks incredible).

This year I fell in love with characters, as opposed to entire movies or shows. Does that happen to you? I kept wanting to fast-forward through all of the other stuff to get back to their storylines: Maeve in Westworld, Eleven in Stranger Things, Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones (spin-off, please), Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, T’Challa in Captain America, Misty Knight in Luke Cage, and zomfg Holtzmann in Ghostbusters.

If 2016 was this moment with Furiosa—


Let 2017 be this moment with Holtzmann—


For that to happen, we need tools (or weapons, depending on your translation). Here are a few that serve me well. Maybe they can be of use to you, too.

*Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit.

*The Ferguson Syllabus.

*Jes Solnik with practical information on bystander intervention.

*Luvvie Ajayi on some things that white people can do to dismantle systems of white supremacy. Ann Friedman, same subject.

*Jacqui Shine on the importance of studying history, both the world’s and our own.

*“No Place For Self Pity, No Room For Fear,” by Toni Morrison, which I read the day after the election with the young writers that I’m lucky enough to work with.

My favorite thing about 2016?—the young writers I work with.

They’re coming.

Look out, future.


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