Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar
By Cheryl Strayed
Vintage Books 2012
Borrowed from a friend
On a somewhat obscure literary website called The Rumpus, there is an advice column known as Dear Sugar. A year into the column, it changed hands to a woman named Cheryl Strayed. But no one knew the identity of this anonymous advice giver. She took her readers by surprise when she imbued her columns with the pain and joy of her own life, offering her own experiences in answer to the letters she had received. Some of them were about writing, as you might expect on a website about books and literature. But most of them were about life, about broken hearts and relationships, about the big questions of life. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of these letters and Cheryl's answers.
It's difficult to really explain a book like this. I would certainly tell you to read it, just as I would tell you to read Strayed's memoir Wild. One should really read her columns (and this book) with tissues close at hand, because this is a writer who knows exactly how to reach down into the deepest part of you and bring up all of the things you tried to bury. She is an incisive writer but, perhaps even more importantly, she is a empathetic and compassionate person.
It sounds silly to read a book full of advice columns. Will you really get anything out of them if you are not, like the writers of these letters, a mother desperately praying that her daughter will survive brain surgery or an elderly gentlemen wondering if he can find love again? The short answer is yes. But showing you is easier than telling you...
"I'll never know, and neither will you of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore."
"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."
"You get no points for the living, I tell my students. It isn't enough to have had an interesting or hilarious or tragic life. Art isn't anecdote. It's the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means."
"I can’t tell you what to do. No one can. But as the mother of two children, I can tell you what most moms will: that mothering is absurdly hard and profoundly sweet. Like the best thing you ever did. Like if you think you want to have a baby, you probably should.
I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don’t give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or go out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask. They take everything. They will bring you the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees.
They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well.”
"I suppose this is what I meant when I wrote what I did, sweet pea, about how it is we cannot possibly know what will manifest in our lives. We live and have experiences and leave people we love and get left by them. People we thought would be with us forever aren’t and people we didn’t know would come into our lives do. Our work here is to keep faith with that, to put it in a box and wait. To trust that someday we will know what it means, so that when the ordinary miraculous is revealed to us we will be there, standing before the baby girl in the pretty dress, grateful for the smallest things.”
In the first pages of this book, Strayed is asked "What kind of advice do you give?" She answers, "The best I can think of." Her best advice is beautiful and honest and hard to take, and we are all the better for it.
|I couldn't help it. Have you seen a better example of a |
tiny, beautiful thing? I think not.