Monday, 19 August 2013

Devouring Books: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

"You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.
You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you've got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all."

I discovered the Dear Sugar columns on the internet not long before Sugar was 'outed' as Cheryl Strayed, presumably mainly so that Strayed could promote her memoir, Wild (which I loved) with a teeny bit of Sugar publicity behind her. It worked for me, anyway, because I couldn't imagine not wanting to read a book written by someone who, quite frankly, gives some of the best, and best written advice I've ever read. 

Seriously- before Sugar, basically the only advice columns I'd ever read were in teen magazines and basically involved telling girls not to feel pressured into having sex if they didn't feel ready, and SO MUCH talk about discharge that you'd think it was the only thing that girls thought about! What Dear Sugar is, really, is advice for grown ups, with complicated, messy lives and problems with their jobs, their friends, their spouses, their lives and every single one feels real, and horrible, and like it could happen to you, meaning that all of Strayed's advice feels like it's coming directly to you. It's the only advice column I've read where I've cried like a baby and felt weirdly renewed and so, in other words, it's not like an advice column at all.

Weirdly, there is a certain way in which I shouldn't really like Strayed's advice giving style at all- a lot of the advice she gives people is based on experiences she has had herself, and which have shaped her life (which makes this also, at least partially, a memoir) which comes a little bit too close to that awful, awful act of when you say 'this bad thing happened to me' someone else then goes 'oh, that happened to me, AND something else so mine is worse.' This is literally my least favourite thing that people do- a kind of one-upmanship of misery, if you will. Somehow, though, and I don't even know how, Strayed always manages to avoid sounding like she thinks your problems are insignificant because hers have been worse, and she genuinely manages to use her own experiences to offer advice, instead of an annoying perspective that your problems can't be that bad because hers have, at one time, been worse. Which would, obviously, suck.

There are also a lot of other ways in which she's awesome- she's not afraid to tell people that they're being kind of, well, stupid (although she says it much more nicely than that), and she's not afraid to tell them things that they don't want to hear- that they already know the answer, that they're going to have to do the painful thing because it's ultimately less painful than the alternative, that healing is never an immediate thing. There are so many different problems and issues covered, and most of them have never happened to me at all, BUT somehow, I could take something from the advice Sugar* offered in almost all of the cases. And I DON'T KNOW HOW THAT CAN BE, but somehow it is and it's sort of amazing.

Here are some of my favourite bits of advice:
"That place of true healing is a fierce place. It's a giant place. It's a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really hard to get there, but you can do it."
"There aren't three options. There is only one. As Rilke says, 'You must change your life.'"
"Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will."
"You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel terrible because someone has gotten something you want, you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else's success has absolutely no bearing on your own."
"Don't lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don't have a career. You have a life."
It occurs to me that all of these titbits mean almost nothing out of context, so go and get some context, guys! And this time, I'm not even telling you to buy this book (although you should, of course) but just go and read some of the Dear Sugar columns, some of which are in the book, and some of which are not, but all of which might contain some advice that you didn't even know you needed to hear.

*Apparently to me, Strayed will always be Sugar...


  1. Gah, I've been wanting to read this FOREVER. I need to!

    1. I just love her writing so so so much. SO much.

  2. "before Sugar, basically the only advice columns I'd ever read were in teen magazines and basically involved telling girls not to feel pressured into having sex if they didn't feel ready, and SO MUCH talk about discharge that you'd think it was the only thing that girls thought about!" OMG this is hilarious and weirdly accurate. Why was discharge such a focus?

    Anyway I kinda want to read this but maybe I want to borrow the book first? I do really like advice columns but I prefer there to be snark involved and her advice looks snark free.

    (Please see Dan Savage & Savage Love for excellent snark-filled sex advice)

    1. I seriously don't even know. I remember even as a teen being like 'wtf? This isn't something I've ever worried about, guys.' It wasn't like it came up every so often, it was EVERY month, in EVERY magazine. So weird.

      I think... It is very snark free because Sugar takes everyone's problems seriously because mostly they are quite serious? But there IS swearing and it's not, like, pandering to the person with the problem ever. I LIKE IT IT'S NICE.