I love essay collections, especially when they're essay collections written by women. Add in some serious humor, and it's almost guaranteed that I will devour the entire thing in one sitting. And that is exactly what happened when I recently picked up Erin Chack's This Is Really Happening — I laughed, I cried, I cried with laughter and I didn't put it down until I had turned the final page.
In her book, Erin recounts everything from meeting her soulmate at age 14 to being diagnosed with cancer at age 19 to what really goes on behind the scenes at a Buzzfeed, where she is a senior writer. That might not sound all too different from other essay collections, where smart, interesting women talk about their lives in only the wittiest and most hilarious of ways (think We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby and One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul, my two other favorite essay collections of the year). And in many ways, that's true.
But something about This Is Really Happening spoke to me and it's because, out of all the essay collections I've read, Erin's most authentically captured what it is to be a millennial right now; what it felt like to grow up in the 90s, what it means to find your way apart from your family and childhood friends, and to realize that while doing a job you love is exciting, and cool, and incredible... it doesn't have to be the only thing about you.
And while I have gotten so much out of so many of the essay collections and memoirs by women I've read, so many moving and relatable moments, this is really one of the only times I can remember thinking, "I could have written that" or "This sounds like a story my friends would tell over drinks." It was unflinchingly real without being depressing, it was inspiring without being over-the-top aspirational, it was hilarious without feeling so outrageous that it made me second guess whether everything she shared actually happened.
So how many times did I gasp in recognition? How about when Erin recounted her first kiss ("Sean's tongue! In my mouth! Slippery and wet like a slug in the rain.") or her struggles with anxiety ("I felt like someone was holding my nostrils to the surface of a murky pond and I could only breathe when I concentrated very hard. One false move and my lungs would fill with water.”) or the very specific parameters of pre-teen courtship on AIM instant messaging or when she talks about just what it's really like to be an online writer.
And then there is perhaps my favorite essay in the book, Urine Trouble, in which she recounts purposefully peeing her pants in the middle of the computer lab because she didn't want to admit that she didn't know where the bathroom was. I often remember my kindergarten aged self in a similar holier than thou, "I'm definitely too smart for this", kind of way and I don't know what it means that I saw myself in this essay more than most others I've read, but there you go.
But Erin also offers a fresh perspective on things, too. On the sort of resilience I can only imagine it took for her to survive cancer, and to later get through her mother's own cancer diagnosis within the same year. Her attempts at sharing the news with her friends was hilarious, while reading about her experience of shaving her head in response to her chemotherapy treatments brought tears to my eyes. There's her essay on what it's like to have been in a long long-term relationship since she was 14 (something I decidedly know nothing about) and even one detailing what happens when you drunkenly sneak up to the roof of your workplace after hours.
This Is Really Happening is the best combination of sharp insights, from chemotherapy to menstrual cups, to the most outrageous experiences, from peeing in an alleyway in London (OK, maybe there are a few more pee anecdotes than I remembered) to almost getting killed by a bear in Wisconsin. This is the essay collection I didn't even know I was waiting for, but now that I've found it I'll be sure to reread the hell out of it before I start the hunt for the essay collection that will fit so seamlessly into my 30s... here's hoping Erin has penned another one by then.