Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Things
A few months ago I was at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, perusing their selection, trying to remember what it was that I went in there for, overwhelmed by their extensive selection and fuzzy green carpet, when I had the panicked feeling of writing an introduction for Cheryl Strayed, quickly reminding me to buy Tiny Beautiful Things. I had read Wild last summer and was in awe of Strayed’s brutal honesty that carried me page by page, much like her essays I had read in classes, but had yet to read the collection of “Dear Sugar” advice columns that appeared on TheRumpus.net, where Cheryl offered anonymous advice on love and life.
I plucked Tiny Beautiful Things from the row of books, sat on the floor directly in front of the bookshelf, and flipped to the first column. What I came across was advice seemingly directed at me—just me—when in reality that wasn’t true, it was for a man whose twenty-year marriage had fallen apart. He was in a new relationship, in which he was withholding the word “love” from the new woman in his life. By the time I finished reading the column, I had tears spilling out, my nose was running, and I fumbled for a tissue from my purse to get rid of the evidence, before the one I loved roamed back toward the corner I had staked—before he could see me crying over a book in the middle of a busy bookstore. Too late, he saw.
I continued to skim its pages to find the most debilitating and freeing phrase I have read, quite possibly ever: it said—Cheryl said—“Be brave enough to break your own heart.” I’ve thought of this phrase every day since, have implemented it into my life, and breathe it in and out every time something I’m afraid of doing is about to happen, much like writing an introduction for a champion writer in my field. Cheryl herself upheld that bravery when she decided to hike hundreds of miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, and then tell us all—in every gritty detail—about what she endured and lost in Wild.
I also had the urge to take Tiny Beautiful Things and wave it above my head, run through Tattered Cover Bookstore, yelling her words at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear, for everyone else to embrace, for everyone else to breathe in when they’re faced with a risk—any risk. I didn’t do that, but pretend I did, and pretend I’m shouting these words at you now:
“Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
Wild was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List and has been translated into over thirty languages. Cheryl has also received significant recognition for her novel, Torch, along with her essays that have appeared in The Best American Essays (twice), the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, The Sun, Tin House, and elsewhere. She also received a Pushcart Prize for her essay “Munro Country,” which originally appeared in the Missouri Review. I’m sure I don’t need to proclaim that Wild was also made into movie last year, starring Reese Witherspoon, but it’s worth mentioning. No big deal or anything.
I am so honored to have the opportunity to introduce the woman with invaluable advice, instilling bravery with truthful words, Cheryl Strayed.
Cheryl Strayed will be reading at the Hilton Hotel Ballroom in Fort Collins, Colorado at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday April 2. The event is free and open to the public.
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