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Finding Catharsis with Megan Stielstra

Megan Stielstra (@meganstielstra) is the author of three collections: Everyone Remain Calm, Once I Was Cool, and The Wrong Way To Save Your Life, winner of the 2017 Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Review of Books. She is a 2020 Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas. An Axe for the Frozen Sea


MEGAN: For the first 6-months of the lockdown, my son and I quarantined at my mother's house in rural Michigan which in some senses was really lovely because her home is in the middle of the woods and on the other side of the woods from her house is the Amtrak going from Ann Arbor to Chicago every single day at 6 o'clock. There were things that I was experiencing myself that I wasn't expressing cause I didn't want to worry my kid. I didn't want to worry my mom. I didn't understand what was happening in the world. I was trying to keep my kids safe. My mom is immune compromised so I was there to help her out as well too. So I was trying to keep her safe. So all these things are happening inside my head and heart and what the hell do I do with it? One of my favorite writers, Lidia Yuknavitch, talks about how our bodies can't possibly carry everything that we've been given to carry, so we have to get it out of our bodies so we can see it. So everyday at 5:50 my kid and I would go outside and we would walk, like down the road from my mom's house and then we would stand by the tracks and we would wait. You feel it first in your feet like you feel the train coming up through your shoes and up through your legs and then you can hear it and then you can see it and as it gets closer and closer it gets louder and louder and you can feel it more throughout your own body and as soon as the front of the train would cross right in-front of us we would start screaming. And for him it's just letting out the energy and for him it's letting out everything that I can't say, and I can't talk about and I can't express how scared I am and I don't know where to put out all of that fear so it's just a release through the body and sometimes we would throw rocks and sometimes we would like break sticks and just like this physical release of everything that we'd been carrying all day and I could feel the brambles in my back unwind and everything...and you try to do this stuff in yoga class or in running but it never works, right? But just kind of that primal screaming my face off for the 2-minutes it took for the train to pass, which sounds like such a short period of time, like 2-minutes but really it is a long time to scream without stopping. Like even if we just sit-here for that's a long time of dead air space and that's a long time to open your mouth and just be truthful.

ZAK: mmmm. What's a good way for each of us to find our own form of release, you think?

MEGAN: Whatever you're doing right now, can you stop and roll your shoulders? Can you remember to breathe? I don't mean that in any yoga, magical, just let yourself breathe, I mean it just straight up, are you actually breathing? I mean that with edge and knives and whiskey but are you actually breathing because I haven't been. It's a thing that I have been forgetting to do. So just even this awareness that we live in a body and how are we getting whatever emotional response we're having to the world out of it. Can you break something? Cause if you don't put it out of ourselves in these possible bonkers but also maybe healthy ways, it's gonna come out of us in ways that aren't healthy. So maybe that means booze or drugs or sex or cruelty or violence. Domestic violence numbers are up right now...just trying to think of what people are doing to care for ourselves.

ZAK: I'm gonna go scream.

MEGAN: Please do. I hope everybody does.

ZAK: Yes. Go scream listeners.

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