Cheryl Strayed has been living in my head. Her voice is soothing and her answers to some of the most common and heartbreaking questions are wise. Listening to Tiny, Beautiful Things, a advice on love and life from Dear Sugar feels like listening to your mom, or your best friend, or your sister.
I didn’t think I was an audio book person. I prefer too see the words on the page and hold the book in my hands. But for the past 5 months I have been running long distances. I had a goal of running 3 half marathons and completed that goal this month with a cold, windy run on Folly Beach. At the first race, as I stood shoulder to shoulder with other runners, I noticed how many of them wore headphones. I used to pride myself on listening to only the sound of my breathing when I ran, the quiet sounds of the birds or the barking dogs. I liked the peacefulness of running with no distractions, until I started running longer than 2 hours. On a recent 15 mile run I decided I was tired of the sound of my own breathing and bored of the thoughts in my own head. So I bought a pair of headphones, an iPhone carrier, downloaded the Audiobooks app, and on my next long run I attached it to my arm and headed out.
The first book I chose was All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a stunning book with breathtaking prose, but not necessarily good for distance running. For my next long run I downloaded Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things and found myself laughing out loud at mile 7, gasping at mile 11, and close to tears at the end. Her voice is soothing and rhythmic when she responds to 3 women who’ve written to her about whether or not they should leave their partners. “Go, go, go,” she says. She calls her letter writers “Sweet Pea” and “Darlin'” The column that made me gasp out loud at mile 11 is title “Write like a motherfucker.” Years ago I bought a tee-shirt with that saying on the front because I loved the power behind those words and I never knew they came from Strayed. The letter writer made me nuts. She was so self-centered and depressed and dramatic and I loved that Strayed called her on it. The writer wants to be a famous writer, she’s frozen by fear and compares herself to other, better writers which keeps her frozen. Strayed writes back and says:
“I hope you’ll think hard about that, honey bun. If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in. The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at 26, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there. It laments that you’ll never be as good as David Foster Wallace—a genius, a master of the craft—while at the same time describing how little you write. You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.”
She tells this tortured writer to get down on her knees and write. “Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
This is only a tiny piece of the powerful, moving, inspiring words inside this book. Read it or listen to it while you run along the greenway. Take Strayed’s voice into your head, you will find yourself in another place, you won’t even notice the 15 miles you’ve just run!