Monday 21 January 2019

Subtle wit and wisdom in Stef's debut

Memoir: Why Can't Everything, Just Stay The Same, Stefanie Preissner, Hachette €12.74

Stefanie Preissner also penned the RTE hit show 'Can't cope, Won't cope'
Stefanie Preissner also penned the RTE hit show 'Can't cope, Won't cope'
Why Can't Everything Just Stay The Same?

Hilary A White

'I didn't make my first doctor's appointment until I was 21," Stefanie Preissner says. "I know you may say that I was too sheltered and am now incompetent because I'm inexperienced. I probably wouldn't argue with you. I'm not sure there is an exact threshold you cross when all those responsibilities change, but somewhere between 18 and 22, the deeds of my life somehow changed hands from my mother's to mine, and it took me quite some time to get a grip of it."

Roll your eyes all you like but the millennials are taking over, and not only are they coming for your children, they are your children. Very soon, it'll be their world and those dinosaurs amongst us who remember a time before the internet will only be around because they want us to be.

Although she'd probably hate the idea, Stefanie Preissner's whip-smart and hapless confessionals have made her the ideal figurehead for the movement in this country. The Munich-born Mallow native is a curious and rather moreish blend of Teutonic self-actualisation - besides her discipline and moxie, much has been made of her transformative weight loss - and groaning Hibernian inability to negotiate the real world. Two years ago, she held a Wildean mirror up to hangover-riddled twenty-somethings trying to map a route to becoming proper grown-ups in Can't Cope, Won't Cope. She's been invited to join the national conversation ever since in formats such as RTE's The Cutting Edge and more recently, Life magazine.

This debut feels like a perfect way for our relationship with Preissner to go to the next level, and it is indeed about time we started getting to know her that bit better. Why Can't Everything Just Stay The Same? is somewhere between a memoir and a "gospel according to", a platform for both the Preissner brand to infiltrate the Christmas market while giving the nation a more substantial chunk of her world view to chew on.

As the title would suggest, the backbone theme throughout is that Preissner is no fan of wholesale change. Few of us are but it is likely that this collection of essays will be the first time we've really been allowed to laugh at the psychology of this condition.

Pun-ish chapter titles traverse the 29-year-old's vista, encompassing everything from the childhood-crushing reveal of the Santa lie ("Ho-Ho Hoax") to a list of things she actually wants to see changed but that somehow refuse to ("Embrace Change"). The "Instagram generation" self-fixation can be exhausting and is perhaps best digested by dipping in and out, but it is also starkly clear that while Preissner is having a good laugh at how rubbish she sometimes finds herself, she is a gifted entertainer.

We tend to scarper from the mortification of our youths, consigning our all-thumbs grip on the social world to a bin labelled "cringe". Not Preissner. She wades belly-deep into her years as an overweight "Mallowfornian" who drew inspiration from her hard-working single mother and inventive grandmother, but who was inflexible, obsessive and only fully comfortable with routine and familiarity.

Fundamental change - moving up to Dublin after UCC, swapping Santa for sambuca in the Christmas celebration traditions, falling in love - tamper with that feeling of being in control that the author claims so desperately to require (she apparently aspired to be a Garda Commissioner at one point).

Most of it, needless to say, is hilariously well compiled. There are lashings of subtle wit and wisdom, all carried aloft on a fluid conversational style as if you've met Preissner down the local for a midweek pint and she's veering between sharing a gripe and "going off on one". Such a setting would not be fully appropriate, though. We learn about how she eventually gave up on socialising in groups altogether, and discarded that itch young people develop when they're unable to attend a social event (we won't use the dreaded acronym here).

It is in the intimate instability of her own womanhood that Preissner finds the most profound fruits. A closing chapter on feminist issues entitled "Genderalisations" sees much candour and bravery, suggesting an original voice that is unafraid of what others will think. It is bound to rile certain dispositions and all the more important because of it.

What's more, there is inspiration to be gleaned in the zero-to-hero subtext. Preissner argues why she refuses to have labels attached to her successes.

She essays the gear changes in her personal drive through drama school and theatre projects and the 4.30am starts that have become part of her work day.

This spry proclamation mines comedy gold in the millennial condition but also suggests a few more of Preissner's ilk wouldn't go amiss.

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