Once I Was Cool contrasts past aspirations with the mess and magic of the present. In her younger days, essayist Megan Stielstra saw Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom and fantasized about living on the same block, right in the thick of music and revelry. As an adult, she lives in a turreted condo across the street, with her husband, a child, and an onerous mortgage. It’s just the home her young, cool self imagined. And it isn’t what she expected, either.
With conversational flourishes and on-the-mark descriptions, Stielstra’s essays evoke the richness of her everyday life and the memories that are never far away. She remembers learning how to shoot a gun, a cancer scare, and—in a piece that was anthologized in The Best American Essays 2013—the time she eavesdropped on another new mother using her son’s baby monitor. “I shouldn’t have listened,” she writes. “But it was the first time since my son was born that I didn’t feel alone.” Combining footnotes, electric sentences, and uproariously funny anecdotes (have you ever run into an ex while rolling on ecstasy?), Stielstra shows us that maturity is demanding, but its rewards are a gift.