Once in a blue moon, if you’re a lucky reader (is there any other kind?), an author will come along and grab you by the metaphorical shoulders and shake you back to life from a slumber that you didn’t even know you were taking.
I am going to make a reader confession here. The first thing that drew me to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir at the Nashville airport was that hiking boot on the stark white front. I judged that book by its cover. I had also heard through the grapevine that Oprah had resurrected her Book Club recently. I had no idea that it was because of this memoir. I understand now why the queen of book fellowship chose this one.
Cheryl Strayed writes with ferocity. Her honesty may shock and appall you. You’ll have to choose to get over it. Strayed is a novelist– an artist. Her story invites you to experience her narrative in the same way that you might appreciate the work of a favorite band or painter. You will not agree with her choices and her rash bouts of self-destruction after the sudden death of her mother. Still, she allows you to contemplate to her whole story. The toil, tears, and self-loathing lead to a harsh, steep climb towards self-discovery.
The hard part for Strayed is that Wildhas to be honest. It’s a memoir. It’s a phenomenal story of rebirth that requires background. If the first fifty pages of the book were focused on her training regimen to tackle the peaks and valleys of the Pacific Crest Trail, the book would be 95% less interesting. Strayed bravely puts it all out there. She explains her sadness and her failures with pure truth. Sentences will make you cringe. You will be embarrassed for her. You will be disappointed by her thoughts and her choices.
Soon after, you will be proud of her. How could she overcome the challenges that she faced? She fed off of them. They somehow made her stronger rather than landing her in jail or in the mortuary.
Wild takes the reader from death to rebirth and eventual growth. Strayed explains the death of her mother with confounding honesty. She reveals actions and feelings that she certainly does not take pride in. Importantly, she tells the whole story. Because she is so honest, we connect with her. We want success and happiness for her in the end. We want the trail to get easier. We want the backpack that she has lovingly named Monster to see her through to the end- to that bridge in a new city called Portland- where she will make herself a new home, start a family and sit down to write the very words that become this memoir.
Strayed carried heavy baggage emotionally and physically for the duration of her hike. By the end of this brave memoir, the load was still heavy, but she was comfortable carrying it. Most importantly, she takes a journey that delivers her from lost to found.
Wild has recently been released in paperback.
To see other authors whose books and talks might just change you as a person (for the better), check out:
I wish that I had a justifiable reason for the blog hiatus. I don’t. Actually, I do but it’s a lame one. My previous blog platform sold out to Twitter. Last month, they sent everyone a terse eviction notice.
In a nutshell: You have until the end of April to move your blog out or you will disappear into thin air as though you never existed.
…or something to that effect. Here we are now at WordPress, where I have two left feet but am going to write on anyway.
What’s new in this corner, you ask?
Perhaps, most paramount – we had the TALK with our daughter. I’m still by far the one most traumatized from it and it has been several weeks now. I am just now lucid and zen enough to talk about how it went down.
I had envisioned this conversation for a couple of years now. I thought that I still had a couple of more years to solidify a plan for the talk with my daughter. I was wrong. Just as your projected baby due date is ultimately determined by your child- so shall be the estimated time of arrival for the talk. This will most likely not happen on your terms. Don’t shoot the messenger.
I have vague memories of this milestone with my mom. I was ten years old and lived in Nashville. I know that we were at some Bojangle’s chicken restaurant. I know that it was daytime- or else I would’ve run into the night to disappear into hiding. I know that I did NOT initiate the conversation. My mother did. I also know that I told her that I already knew absolutely everything that I NEEDED to know and, therefore, the talk itself would be unnecessary.
I did not know that claiming to already be in possession of this knowledge would result in her asking me to regurgitate everything I knew- step by step- in order to fact check it so that I did not proceed to live the rest of my life with false information about the procreation process. I don’t know what prompted the talk from my mom. I wonder if she was shocked by my knowledge, or relieved by my lack of it. She probably knew that I understood just enough to be dangerous, so it was time to set the record straight”ish” with a cliff notes version of birds and bees.
I understand where she was coming from now. 29 years later.
First of all, I am thrilled that my child feels comfortable enough to ask questions. That is a relief in some ways. We were on the couch. She was sitting between us. She blurted it out in a matter-of-factly as a post-script to some otherwise mundane conversation:
So my dance costume needs alterations on the shoulder straps.
What is sex?
She punctuated the sentence with a look left straight at me. Getting no response, she redirected the gaze the other direction- right at her dad.
Same reception. <Insert chirping crickets>
Then back at me again.
I immediately locked eyes over the top of her head with Matt. I was trying to decipher if we were really going to go there… now? I remember thinking this could be one of those significant moments in which I could scare her out of ever fully trusting a man or straight into all of the wrong ones’ arms. I also remember thinking some wildly inappropriate thought about how Matt and I would never be behind closed doors again together innocently in her eyes …even to shower. Separately.
I squinted. He raised an eyebrow. My eyelid twitched (and didn’t stop for hours).
It was clear. We were going there. Fully.
Rule #1 (the only rule in this series): If your kid goes all preemptive on you and initiates this conversation before you have the chance to do so…ALWAYS, BUT ALWAYS frame your answer as a QUESTION. It is simple. It goes like this. Practice with me now.
Well, honey, what do YOU think IT is?
Kid: What is sex?
Parent: Well, what do you think it is?
Boy, did I drop the ball on that one. I am telling you all of this to save you. Answer the question WITH a question. Do not, I repeat do not, launch into the answer. You need to know what level of comprehension you are working with before you start in with the diagrams on notebook paper, ok? (For the record, I didn’t do any diagrams)
After all, I didn’t want to do what one of my dearest friends had just done during a moment of panic with her twin daughters. That is, blurt out the name JESUS at various octaves as your answer. Then shout It’s JESUS!Jesus makes the babies start in the belly.
Because while that may be true in a larger sense depending on your belief system, my daughter already seemed to grasp that anatomy was involved in the answer. The last thing I wanted her to believe was that her mom had sex with Jesus. What kind of woman would that make me?
You know the degree of nervousness that leads to a blotchy memory? The rest of the conversation went that way for me. For the most part, we seemed to be confirming what she already knew and believed. She did ask for details. The toughest one was “But, how …” She wanted to know exactly how it worked. We answered all of her probing questions honestly if reluctantly. She had age-appropriate questions, which was a relief. If she had asked some pro questions, we would probably be in therapy.
After about twenty minutes and a couple of trips to the laundry room to feign load maintenance (whilst really breathing into a paper bag), I decided that the next logical step would be purchasing an age appropriate book.
This, too, is a critical step. The wrong book and illustrations can really be the catalyst for trauma. Not joking. I wish I were. The one I was given still haunts me. There are more than several to choose from these days. I am sharing the one that I decided upon after hours of scouring cyberspace and bookshelves at Barnes & Noble. The illustrations are considerate. The text is straightforward. The author seemed to read our spousal minds about how much we wanted to reveal during this first go round. It should buy us at least a few years of sustained silent reading.
It covers all the bases. Literally.
Godspeed, you deliverers of birds and bees.
You can thank me later. Or just share my blog with a friend?