She is Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Torch (books I have yet to read, but you better believe I will). But to me, she's Sugar. Of Dear Sugar fame. Dear Sugar is an advice column from The Rumpus, an online lit community. And the book, tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar, is a compilation of Sugar's column. I came across this book in the graduate English section of my University bookstore. I totally poached it (amoung several other amazing looking books for courses I was not taking. How is a nerdy girl supposed to resist the temptation, I ask you? How?! It just isn't possible. I send apologies out into the universe to the poor soul actually taking said class whose copy of the book is in my possession. It's okay to hate me.)
tiny beautiful things is just that. Chalk full of tiny beautiful things. Full of vulnerable people writing Sugar in need of what Sugar does best. Laying it bare. Now, of course, this is part of why I *love* her. She doesn't coddle, she doesn't lecture. She reads between the lines of what people are saying. She connects with them. And she answers in a ridiculously brave, raw way that tell you without question that this is a woman who has been broken (probably several gazillion times) and come back to tell about it. She is a poet with a potty mouth. And she has this ability to break through the surface of a problem and bust that shit up.
Take for example, her advice to Johnny, a man who was starting to have serious feelings for someone for the first time post-divorce, and was shit, shit scared and back peddling madly:
Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted with betrayal, deepened by time, darkened with difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by honour, and "loaded with promises and commitments" that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love. And Johnny, on this front, I think you have some work to do (13)
Or when she tells a whole series of folks who are agonizing about staying in marriages - perfectly good ones - that they are not happy in, the agonizing story of her own first crumbled marriage and follows with this:
All of these reasons are true enough in their specificity, but they all boil down to one thing: I had to leave. Because I wanted to. Just like all of you, even if you aren't ready to do it yet. I know by your letters that you each have your own lists, but all of those words on all of those lists boil down to one that say go. I imagine you'll understand that at some point. That when it comes down to it, you must trust your truest truth, even though there are other truths running alongside it -- such as you love for the partners you want to leave. (172)
Which, naturally, broke the heart of yours truly in about a gazillion pointed and perfect and resolute ways.
She shares herself, and her own stories in a beautifully open way. If I were an advice columnist, I'd hope to be just like her - full of empathy, bravery, the ability to relate, and more than that, to inspire people to move the fuck out of their comfort zones.
When she asks us to "Inhabit the beauty that lives inside your beastly body and strive to see the beauty in all the other beasts," (157) I really want to. When she says to "Be brave enough to break your own heart" (I can't fucking find this page number again. Bad English major. BAD. Totally deserving of a spank) I know it is absolutely necessary. And when she tells a group of convocating English majors: "I hope when people ask what you're going to do with your English and/or Creative Writing degree, you'll say: Continue my bookish examination of of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters" (134), you might understand why I love her. So. Very. Much. And why I think if you read her columns, you will love her too.
Even her acknowledgments at the end of her book make me swoon. Of her hubs and two children, she writes " Thank you, Brian Lindstrom (aka Mr. Sugar) and Bobbi and Carver Lindstrom (aka the baby Sugars), for so much, but mostly for loving me like the truest motherfuckers." Seriously? Seriously? Because apparently I don't yet love her enough and need to love her more. And then...I do.
One of her book reviewers, author Samantha Dunn, responded to the book by saying "Dear Sugar will save your soul. I belong to the Church of Sugar."
You can count me amoung the converted.
Strayed, Cheryl.tiny beautiful things: Advice one love and life from Dear Sugar. NY: Random House, 2012. 353 pgs.