Stefanie Preissner might rail against being cast as the official representative for her peer group, but Mallow’s favourite export has a lot to say about modern life, writes Ciara McDonnell.
Refer to Stefanie Preissner as the voice of her generation at your peril. The creator of television series Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope and author of new book Why Can’t Everything Stay The Same, a searingly honest collection of personal essays says that to put her on a pedestal and call her a mouthpiece for Generation Millennial is both lazy and just plain wrong.
“It makes me really angry because the last thing our generation needs, is just one voice,” she tells me. “We are already generalised all over the place and to say that makes it too easy because I am just one voice — not all. I want to say ‘you have an obligation to talk to every person who is my age and ask them their opinion before you make a generalisation about what they think’.”
An only child raised in Mallow, Co Cork, by way of Germany, Preissner has cultivated a voice that is at once authoritative and vulnerable.
The 29-year-old creative has rallied against labelling her entire life, but in writing Why Can’t Everything Stay The Same, came to what for some could be an uncomfortable conclusion. “I grew up thinking I was chronically unique, that nobody understood me, but if we learned anything from Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, and from the book — I’m actually so basic.”
The book is a collection of stories that every Irish person of a certain age can relate to. From afternoons learning the meaning of life while watching Sabrina The Teenage Witch, to the all-encompassing pain of a relationship break-up, Preissner has captured a snapshot of her life, and made it universally accessible.
We chat the morning that I finish reading her book, two weeks before its release date, making me the first non-pal to have read it. “Oh Jesus!” she laughs. “I think you’re the first person in Ireland to finish the book. It went to print and I was like ‘oh God I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life’.”
It is not the biggest mistake, I assure her — the book is glorious. Far from the tic-tac-toe ‘memoir’ of a twenty-something, Why Can’t Everything Just Stay The Same is an anthology of stories interspersed with poetry, written to narrate Preissner’s emotional reactions to pinnacle points in her life. Verse, says Stefanie, has always appealed to her. “I feel like verse stops me from going into the over-sentimental because it has to have a rhythm. I love poetry — it makes me feel calm and I find it really satisfying.”
Despite being a self-confessed lover of rules and order, Preissner has distanced herself from the modern day rulebook by shutting down her Facebook page. “I have never met someone who regrets deleting their Facebook page,” she says.
“I think we can see its effects filtering into the world. We exist in an internet-based bubble and it’s affecting our politics, our industries, our climate — everything. Rather than looking outside to check the weather we are looking at an app to tell us what it’s like.”
This lack of interaction with real life is a major concern for Preissner, though she says that it’s not something that applies to everyone.
“It works for some people don’t get me wrong. I don’t really understand moderation and the concept of enough, so for me, Facebook is dangerous. I think if you are prone to comparison, if you are prone to being hard on yourself, if you’re prone to any sort of low mood, which I think a lot of people are, then Facebook is not the place to be.”
One of the most poignant stories in her book is of being ousted from a group of friends via a WhatsApp group, a visceral example of why Preissner says we have to be vigilant around the issue of young people and social media.
“When a group of my friends excluded me from a WhatsApp group I felt like the world was ending, that I had no friends and that nobody liked me,” she explains.
“Without the greater context of my life in Dublin, my friends, or my job I can totally understand how a young person would feel ostracised.”
The solution, is not easy, says the writer. “We have to accept that social media is there, and kids love it but we have to find a way forward. Teenagers are not rebelling in the same way because their whole life is online. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understand why people are the way they are and it freaks me out that I just can’t relate to that generation. They are only a couple of years younger than me and yet our childhood experiences are completely different. Childhood has changed so quickly and so drastically and it’s really disconcerting to me.“
Despite having a childhood that lots of us can relate to, Preissner’s work ethic is certainly not one that rings true with reports of Generation Millenial.
She starts her day at dawn, in a regimented writing routine that she says, gives her creativity an opportunity to come to her when she wants it to. “I had a mentor once called Geraldine O’Neill who used to say ‘do not ever be a stereotype of what people want arty people to be’. I took that on very seriously and I feel that creativity, while it is something that is hard to understand, is not this kind of ethereal thing that just happens. I turn up every day and so my creativity trusts me.”
A natural introvert, Preissner says that working in this way allows her to be social on her terms. “Writing is a lonely job and I can tend towards that. As an only child it’s part of my childhood, it’s part of who I am. I think that loneliness will always be with me. Working the way I do, I can meet friends for coffee during the day, and I can be part of that 9-5 life for a bit.”
In a year that has sent her star into the stratosphere and made her a recognisable face on the streets of Dublin, her adopted home, Stefanie has become even more conscious of surrounding herself with a core group of friends and family. “I find that part of my new life very difficult,” she admits.
“I am so grateful for what I have - the only reason I have all of these amazing opportunities is because audiences like it and resonate it. “Without the fans of Can’t Cope Won’t Cope or How To Be an Adult or the book, I don’t have a job. But there is the other side of it — the disconcerting feeling of somebody taking a picture of you in IKEA and putting it up on the internet.”
So what does this dynamo want her readers to experience with Why Can’t Everything Stay The Same? True to form, she is resolutely modest.
“I would love if people read the book and if there was one part that connected with them and they wanted to share. I’m not trying to change the world with the book — I just want people to resonate with it.”
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