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Acknowledgement from Kristen Witucki: Thanks to Our Books Are Better than We Are, who requested help from her friends to fill her blog with guest columns during May and June while she was unable to attend to it. I volunteered to do so and even chose the book about which I would write but was unable to write the column when she needed it most. Weeks after my broken promise, when she was back in her domain again, I sent her a brief letter begging forgiveness and telling her I was a terrible friend, and yes, being somewhat melodramatic about my own inability to keep a promise I had made. I rarely had disagreements or arguments with my friends, but the ones I remember involved melodrama. She wrote back simply and calmly saying that if I wrote this post two years later, she’d put it up two years later, that no matter when I wrote it or if I wrote it, I was still fundamentally all right. Her generosity of spirit reminded me that even the best of friends and lovers let each other down sometimes, but to go on, we must weigh the transgression, decide whether it is large or small and either forgive or move on. This post is, among other things, a tribute to the fundamental truths of friendship, but I believe that this acknowledgement is also a fundamental truth of the book I’m about to attempt to describe.
Cheryl Strayed had a loyal fan base, who knew her as Cheryl Strayed, and then the cult following of people who knew her as Sugar. I was a member of the latter group. Rebecca Walker, whom I know very, very slightly, posted a link to the “We Are All Savages Inside” column on her Facebook page one day, and I read the column and was transfixed. I had never felt the literary jealousy akin to swallowing battery acid, but Sugar had reminded me that I wasn’t above the feeling, that a very small inkling of it might have stirred within me whether I ever admitted it to myself or not and that I needed to show happiness for people’s success by being happy for them. In short, suddenly, I, as the reader, had become the letter writer and Sugar both, the savage and the saint and the human in between. Then I discovered that this column was a weekly, then biweekly, event, and I was hooked. I subscribed to it in every way that I could, so that I could learn more. I can’t say I’ve never read an advice column before that, but usually advice columns filled me with Schadenfreude, not the necessity to rebuild. Suddenly, advice was constructed of literature, which was constructed of the interconnectedness of the life of the letter writer with the life of Sugar with my life with the life of anyone on the planet, known or unknown.
Sugar came out as Cheryl Strayed on Valentine’s Day. I lived about as far away from the event as an American living in America can possibly live, and I felt a vague jealousy that I couldn’t attend her coming out. At the same time, I was grateful that my appreciation of Sugar would always be at least somewhat solitary, that I wouldn’t physically have to negotiate a crowd or worry about whether I should or should not talk to her. You know, all those giddy teenaged feelings about celebrity authors, which I, at least, haven’t fully gotten over.
I woke up on February 15 and read the Facebook post that morning, “My name is Cheryl Strayed …” Strayed. Had my computer pronounced that correctly? (I’m blind and use a screen reader). Yes, that was her name. I double-checked: S-t-r-a-y-e-d. She was not an author I’d ever read. But strayed, having wandered off the path, having left one existence for another, was something I knew. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a guest post by writer Ella Mei Yon.
I first read about Cheryl Strayed’s exceptional decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone in the Poets & Writers March/April 2012 issue and came away utterly inspired.
Cheryl, at 26 years old, did something I so imagined doing myself –– she created a space where she was seemingly alone in the world and on a singular mission. It was her pilgrimage.
I started her memoir, Wild, a few weeks later initially eager to find out how she came up with the idea, how she executed it and what that journey was actually like, which Strayed tells well. Read the rest of this entry »