Cheryl Strayed on Bravery – Free Ebook

so happy to be here to be interviewing Cheryl it feels really synchronistic that I’m I’m here today I came across Cheryl’s work about a year and a bit ago where I was doing the school run for my Penuel son and one of my friends we live I live in a tiny little village in Sussex and she my friend is all blotchy she came to us it up people right it just be weird a bit oh and my friend she happens to be um radio for was book editor which it’s very nice oh yeah whatever so I took the book and and the next time it makes the school run that was new or blocked so the first time I came across you you made me cry but I just wanted to say big thank you I think the book wild touched a nerve in me about grief and healing that perhaps other books have never reached for me I lost my parents also when I was teenager so for me to be able to read about war grief in such a strong and beautiful way and also showing a way out showing somebody’s actually understood how I was feeling it was it was just absolute credible science really really delighted to be talking to Cheryl today thank you so much and so I just wanted to so started off on the journey I just want you to describe a scene when you decided I am going to go off on a journey of 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail scribe to me the decision that you made and why you made it well I was at this time in my life that I really the only way to accurately describe it is to say I was at this place that I think was the bottom point I had been in deep grief over the death of my mother she’d been dead at this point about three and a half years and I might by this point my marriage hadn’t raveled I was only 26 but I got married really young to somebody who was who I loved who was a good person and but I but I knew that I couldn’t stay with him I didn’t want to stay with him I didn’t want to be married to anyone but that was incredibly heartbreaking for me nonetheless because he was the you know I loved him and he loved me and in my sorrow I did I did what a lot of people do I grieved in ways that I think were noble and the ways that we all hope that will grieve and then I agreed in ways that were self-destructive and and in you know in ways that actually brought more grief and in my case it was really promiscuous sex and then eventually drug use I one of the guys that I became involved with those of you who’ve read Wilde know he introduced me to heroin and I began he’s in heroin and when I used you know it’s really interesting now the the 45 year old me can look back on the the 20-something me and see very clearly that that actually my impulse to use heroin was the same impulse that brought me to hike that trail and that I was really seeking a cure for pain I was trying to heal and when I used heroin it actually the first feeling the first feeling I had was that I was safe now that it that I was I had escaped my sorrow finally there was something that could actually lift this this weight that I was carrying and it was Planet heroin but was it was it that was it numbing for me it was I spent a lot of time just numbing write whatever I could in unhealthy and healthy ways but whatever it was right of course it wasn’t that but what I’ve seen is it felt like that for a moment and of course what what happened on that next moment is that you know my life then really did start falling apart in a pretty serious way because of of drug use and and you know so I was at this place I was I was at the bottom full of regret full of remorse full of you know why am I even here and I found out I was pregnant by the man the heroin addict boyfriend and that was where I just thought okay I cannot do this I cannot live this life this is not me and it wasn’t so much that I felt the need to save myself because I really felt at that time that I was really a worthless person but I knew that I could not my mother had loved me too well for me to destroy myself I couldn’t disrespect my mother that much I I had to honor her and and I think in some ways I thought that self-destruction and deep grief I was honoring my mother because I couldn’t go on without her I couldn’t thrive and and suddenly I had this revelation I guess it’s it’s like that real gay poem where you know that culminates in the you know you must change your life and it was that I must change my life and and and I had to find a way I had scattered I had to find a way to gather and so I decided to like the Pacific Crest Trail okay so there’s a bit of a gap there so eat so you in this this dark dark place and many of those would have chosen at a counselling maybe I know you know how did you how were you inspired to do that why why did you think that was the solution wet well you know those of you who are familiar with my dear sugar column I always tell people to trust the gut to trust the body the body knows and there I was living at the time in Minnesota which is very cold place lots of snow and there had been a blizzard and my truck was buried in snow and I needed to dig it out and I went to this outdoor store called REI to buy a shovel and when I was waiting in line to pay for the shovel I saw a guidebook that was the book just said Pacific Crest Trail Volume one California and I picked it up I’d never heard of the Pacific Crest Trail had any of you heard of the Pacific Crest Trail before even many Americans still haven’t heard it I mean they heard of it through wild and I just turned the back over and read this paragraph about this trail and what happened inside of me was I felt this blossoming and I just thought I this is a magnificent beautiful thing and what if you know maybe I just need to go to that thing attach myself to that thing and I just trusted that feeling even though there were you know problems with that namely that you know I’d never gone backpacking before and stuff like that but I’ve always been a little fuzzy on you know the details of things but um the idea I’m an idea woman you know so that’s what’s so amazing I’m gonna do that for all and off we go and then think oh you know what I can’t be bothered is the kind of Joseph Campbell thing yeah where there’s the invitation and you like it and then there’s a refusal like nah not really yo you know what-what were you why did you continue you know so you had that moment of right this is it a blossoming and then did you have any doubt or did you were you very determined that you were going to do it no I had a lot of doubts and you know all along the way you know preparing for the trip and switch off your mobile preparing I’ve always wanted to just answer the phone on stage from somebody and see what happened but um preparing for the the trip you know many people I would tell them what I was doing and especially you know my friends you know my friends who had witnessed all this you know like sleeping with you know all these people and doing heroin and you know they’re all freaked out by what I’ve been up to and then I’m like okay now I’m gonna go hide this truck and they were all saying that they roll their eyes it’s like yeah well they said what what do you you know maybe are you sure you need to do this and isn’t this dangerous and you know my joke was always like not as dangerous as shooting heroin but um and and it isn’t actually statistically it’s safer to so I highly recommend that over heroin if any of you are but you know and then I the time the biggest out I think was the night before my hike when I you know checked into this motel and looked at all the [ _ ] I had to carry and I thought maybe I didn’t think this all the way through and so that was Tommy about monster that introduces the monster think most of me that made me laugh so much is that you were there at the first was it the first time you’d actually packed your bag at that point yes I I had never packed my backpack until the day I began backpacking and you know you’re really when you’re going on a you know a hundred day or so journey it is a good idea to take the pack out on a trial run and things like that and so I didn’t do that and III for the first time packed my pack and not everything would fit it was an awful lot of stuff it and the pack was really heavy I mean sort of unbelievably so you know like just really wasn’t the half of your body weight at least that I mean what’s interesting right now the the film of wild is being made and they so we’ll get back to monster in a minute but just let me tell you this bit because people always say well how much did your pack way and the only thing that I did not bring on the trail was a scale so I I don’t know how much it weighed but it weighed a whole lot and so right now the film of wild is being made and Reese Witherspoon is playing me and she’s dressed exactly like me in 1995 on the trail they have read I still have my backpack and so they they borrowed it and then they recreated the pack exactly exactly the way I packed it everything and so they have on the set you know a few different packs for different scenes you know in one weighs like 25 pounds and one weighs like forty five pounds in one weighs like sixty five pounds and they and she wears it depending on what she’s doing and so at one point I was like well we I think she should wear the heaviest pack in the scene and so they they had me go like show her how to I put it on and I lifted it and it was like no problem sixty-five pounds and my pack was so my back was definitely at heavier it’s like 80 85 maybe 90 just the water alone on the first day was twenty four pounds just the water everything else was so um it was a lot and I had been out on the trail a few days when the I gave the packing nicknamed monster and I’d referred to it as monster and you know I didn’t know later that I would write a book about it and it would be actually have sort of metaphorical residence too that I’m walking along with the monster you know on my back like we all do um in life yeah yeah well the irony is is you have your book inspired me so much that last summer I decided I was going to take my own trek down the Cornwall coast and like you I packed my bag with my tent I lasted half a day before I put my tent up at the one I said I used to walk and then get the bus back I didn’t take the but there were no buses on the PCT sadly but yeah it was hard wasn’t it it was really really hard and you know but one of the things I really resonated with you made the decision to go and there was a quote in the book it say I could go back in the direction I had come from well I could go forward in that direction I intended to go and it was a decision you made and I think when when you know it’s it’s that decision that you’ve made you’ve lost your mum there’s two ways you can go you can go down self-destruction heroin there are spiral down or you can go on the PCT and you can go and walk along those tell me about that decision that you made it where did you find how did you talked about that blossoming but where did you find that kind of the wisdom or the knowledge that that to keep on walking to take those steps and not get the bus I don’t really know but I know that I know a few things one is that you know that that seemed that the line you quote what’s just happened right before I wrote that line is I’ve just been basically almost mauled by a Texas Longhorn bull and in the final moment as this ball is you know approaching me I’m so afraid that I closed my eyes because I can’t bear to look at this bull and the fate I mean it’s like this I don’t know if any of you have ever seen a Texas Longhorn bull it’s a very very gigantic thing with horns okay and it’s scary and so I close my eyes that I blew the whistle the world’s loudest whistle really loud and I when I open my eyes the bull is not there and so then the question is well which way is the bull and okay whatever way the bull is I don’t want to walk in that direction okay so and that’s and in the book you know now after years of thinking about this moment I understood it I understood it’s metaphorical resonance with I said I essentially all of us everyone in this room like what we always have to do and the deal is is that there’s no escaping the bull you know the bull is in every direction and I think that when we try to escape suffering or try to escape fear or discomfort or truce or any of those things that can be difficult we think okay that’s that’s over there so I’m going to go this way but guess what it’s that way and until you kind of just decide that you can give yourself over to walking in the direction of the bull you’re never going to you’re never going to do what you need to do I think as a human to evolve and so I think that I don’t know if that answers your question really exactly but I guess I started to learn that at some point what I’m hearing you say is that peace around it’s not overcoming fear we never overcome our fear or grief we don’t know convert we just learn to be with it mm-hmm and I think my mistake has been trying to escape grief or trying to escape fear anything rather than being the run away from the bull as fast as I can but then there’s the ball and there he is I know and that’s it before we came out here we talked about you know losing our parents and how you know so much of understanding grief had to do with understanding that we would always have it yeah you know that we were back there getting tears in our eyes talking about our mothers and there it was you know our moms have been dead more than 20 years and there it still is and I think that except you know giving yourself into that and saying this is this isn’t something that’s going to go away there’s something that will always be with me and learning how to live with it is a more healing and powerful experience than than escaping it yeah I mean you talk I think India sugars this idea of reaching you you were a mentor for some young teenage girls this is a brilliant piece and only tiny beautiful things and you say to them reach you have to do more than hold on you have to find a way within yourself to not only escape the [ _ ] but transcend it and I just for me again I was like welling up crying once again to but it’s that that piece around we can’t escape it we can’t wriggle out away we can’t get out the way of grief or the darkness but we have to find a way to transcend it right somehow and I suppose what my question is is how do we do that well what would your advice to us be how do we reach how do we transcend that yes acceptance but it’s always there but then then where do we go yes acceptance that it’s there beside us but then we’re I think so I was going to say acceptance surrender but I think the other thing is and here again so much of the the advice I give is sugar you know is advice of the spirit rather than do this and this and then this it’s rather a sort of bigger more Universal advice which has to do with taking responsibility for your life and so yeah on the trail you know the thing I had to do was just keep moving forward even when it was painful and I think that that was in that physically enacting what I need that we ought what we all need to do over and over again when we have something that’s difficult and so I think transcending and in reaching and in that column you refer to which is called how you get unstuck what I’m saying to these teenage girls these teenage girls have every reason to fail they have every reason to to you know become pregnant at 15 or go to prison or you know whatever it is that that their parents most of them had done they could blame their abusive parents they could blame poverty they could blame any number of social factors but ultimately in that column what I said and what I said to the girls I worked with is you know you have to be the person who changes your life nobody will ever change your life for you you have to be that person and so transcending has to do I think with taking responsibility that word means moving from one realm to another you know and so your life is here and if you want it to be there you’re the one who has to get it there and there are a whole bunch of things you need to do to make that happen it doesn’t have to do with you know sitting around saying over and over again that you want to go there it has to do with walking yourself there one step at a time I think we’re working with those girls was so fascinating to me because we would do this career day and they would we would they would get to write down on a piece of paper what they wanted to be when they grow up and then tape it to their shirts and then we would you know talk to them about that career and it was always they all wanted to be pediatricians or marine biologists pretty much all of them and and but then they hated school and they would never do their homework and they would never do any of those things and so I would say well how are you going to you know you don’t just like grab a bunny out of a hat and then you’re a pediatrician like how are you going to do that and I think that that has to do with that taking responsibility peace that one step at a time peace I think it’s a taking responsibility but then I think it is that what so I think inspiring about the journey and wild it was literally one physical step at a time it’s a very simple message in a way it is so simple okay I can’t do this well you can take a step though you can and then you can take another one even if you have got a monster on your back and I’m trail one of the most I think useful things and powerful things for me was that I was you know I was the person who every consequence I was someone who paid the full price every day I paid the consequences ever every action I had the consequence and sometimes it was a positive one and sometimes a negative one but it was just me and myself and I wasn’t depending on anyone else there was really important for me to go along but I think again the story again why it’s so inspiring is it’s that it’s the story of the orphan who learns to stand on her own two feet and to be strong again and I think no there’s maybe the proverbial orphan yeah in all of us who were learning how to how to you know how to take a step and how to learn that we are strong despite facing all the difficulties that you may face in life right it’s it’s wonderful in terms of you did rattlesnakes you did bad did the scary campers scary I mean did you ever feel I don’t know what I’m going to do now did you know I mean I know from reading the book mm-hmm the answer to that but tell me a little bit about the those moments of intense fear yeah at the right there were a few and I always felt like I wanted to run away shrieking you know and I instead had to sit quietly and figure out my way through it and and I think that that um you know doubt I mean I think sometimes when we think about you know whether it be like people will say oh you’re right so you’re so brave on the page and I’m always like I’m terrified I’m actually terrified writing that stuff and I think that we have you know all all of us in some ways misinterpreted you know how we’re supposed to feel it when it comes to things like fear you know I I wasn’t courageous on the PCT I was often afraid but I think getting used to fear or saying okay I’m afraid of this and I can to keep going this was a big you know I was facing that almost every day and fear of things like um you know I think we think of rattlesnakes is scary right but really the scariest situation I was probably in on my hike was when I ran out of water you know that was a like I was terrified I knew the consequences of that and they were grave you know and so I think that that I was in some ways looking for that too you know when I say when I said that you know decided to use heroin it was like hiking the trail in one way and that is you know I was in some ways needing to test myself against something which is a really ancient human as you know story where you know that the hero’s journey has to do with going into the darkness and facing the demons in the Dragons and and coming back from that experience changed and I was aware that that’s you know I was giving myself my own rite of passage yeah you know our culture’s have kind of missed that I think but do you think it needs to be that scary or can some of us just get the boss thank you you have to take the bus yeah no I that’s what’s have been so cool is it’s not I mean the other thing is to you know many many people have taken far you know greater adventures than mine like I don’t the point of wild is not like look at me I did this incredible thing you know I actually did a very you know I mean many people have have hiked better and further you know braver but the point is look at that this is the journey I went on and I think that people’s everyone’s journey can look a different way you know and I get so many emails from people saying well just like you said oh I took this 50 mile hike in this place or I did this you know people make it their own and it’s really about the journey yeah yeah you talked about being brave on the page and so you’ve written about the trail after you’ve taken the actual journey and you’re brave how how how have you done that you know in terms of literally being brave on the page I mean the thing that’s so attractive about the book that you want to just you can’t leave it it’s because it’s so raw and it’s so devastating almost the way you write and you’ve been so vulnerable on the page so brave on the page but how how could you do that you know having so much time brass or is it because so much time has passed that you were able to do that right you know I think um yeah I didn’t think I was going to write about my hike until I did I began writing the book in 2008 and you know I’m just as a writer I think really or the writers job is to tell the truth it’s it’s it and and not just the truth but the deepest truth the deepest truth that can be possibly uncovered the this the darkest and brightest place that we can go I think that that’s what artists do that’s what they show to us that’s what they reveal to us and so I really feel that that’s my job as a writer whether I’m writing about a fictional character or myself to go to all of those places and you know if you don’t do that you haven’t done your work and I think that that’s connected to the reason that I didn’t feel like writing about my hike until I did that I needed to to come to that place as a writer to learn you know just to apprentice myself to the gaffed for a number of years and also I had to gain some perspective on that person I was at 26 yeah I began writing it when I was like 38 or 39 and I could look back I was in a very different place I could look back at myself it with a you know both this objective lens but in some ways an objective one too and and so that’s you know I waited because I needed to gain that perspective and also my first book is a novel called torch and that was the book that I had to write I couldn’t think about writing anything until I got that out of my system and that book is going to be published in the UK yes here and a few months that one book I haven’t read out of your so I’m looking forward to reading that so when you were writing sort of 21 20 years on now from when you were 18 years on 18 Yin I mean since the hike yeah so happy looking back do you think what did you learn on the hike and have you put those lessons into action 20 years on you you know you look about the way you’re living your life have you are you living breathing those essence now yes I mean that that is the thing about any difficult any any difficult experience or beautiful experience or you know life-altering experiences that you carry it with you yeah you know you carry it with you into your life and you’re forever changed because of it and so there’s no question in my mind that you know everyday I mean there are all these places I mean I think that that I would still be where I am had I not hike the PCT but I had to have some journey like that I had to have some big experience to shake myself back into my real life for the person I needed to be and you think the wilderness what part did the wilderness and I mean your story I mean we we did a whole dossier at psychologies magazine around wilderness it was inspired by your book you know I wrote about you in the Sunday Times inspired by your book I want to thank you it’s so but I do feel like the wilderness is a very you know even though I was getting the but it was still I was on the coast of Cornwall going up and down I know I love the wilderness here there’s a bus yeah right kind of wilderness you need love can I just say but tell me a little bit what what role do you think the wilderness plays in your healing or why do you think it’s healing I think that it’s well just I mean how do you all feel when you go into the wilderness that you just feel kind of healed you know I think that when we put ourselves in the company of the derivative of the divine which I think the wilderness is the magnificent the bigger than us we feel humble and we feel grace filled and we feel restored and serene and all of those things I mean unless you’re flipping out because there’s a rattlesnake at your feet but you know you feel those things and so I knew you know when I grown up in northern Minnesota for my teen years when I was 12 my stepfather who was a carpenter fell from a roof and broke his back and we lived at the time this little town outside of Minneapolis and my stepfather had been working under the table which means you know none he wasn’t like document I mean he wasn’t officially being paid by his boss and so when he fell from the roof and broke his back his boss said I don’t know that man he didn’t work for me and there was it was a terrible difficult year of my stepfather was laid up and you know with a broken back for a year and my mother at the time was working as a secretary for an attorney and the attorney said I’ll bring a suit against your your husband’s boss and you know you guys can get a settlement and my and they won the settlement and my parents got $12,000 and we repor and it was really the the only money that my that they knew they knew that was the only time they would have any bit of money to buy some land and so they did they went to northern Minnesota land was really cheap it still is really cheap and for $12,000 they bought 40 acres of land that nobody had ever lived on wilderness woods cold really cold and we moved onto this land and we lived it in one room tarpaper Shack that my stepfather built my family of five and we built our house nearby and we lived in this house we didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing or running water or anything all through my teen years Wow we would you know heat up we our wood stove was a metal barrel a 55-gallon barrel that my stepfather had used his his blowtorch and made into a wood stove yeah and we lived this way and this kind of back-to-the-land way my mom grew a lot of our food and made our clothes and you know did all of that stuff and um and I think in so many ways so the wilderness was home to me yeah and when my mom died things happened with my stepfather that made it so that that place that home that we built together was not my home anymore was not I was exiled from this place and by my stepfather got involved with another woman pretty quickly after my mom died and she didn’t really want us my siblings and I around and so you know it was lost to me and you know all these years later when I was writing wild is when I understood that that in some ways when I decided to hike the PCT I was turning to her even though it was a foreign home you know it was this other place I knew that it was a place that I could be safe and find myself again yeah and it was a place that was familiar it was that comfort yeah and even though it was a different I mean so I didn’t have that sort of City idea I was I was afraid of the city actually when I went to college in the Twin Cities that’s Minneapolis and st. Paul in Minnesota I was you know terrified of all the city people cuz they did City things like they drove fast you know yeah I mean I read I’m aware of Redax I did a little bit research but this thing around you knew you wanted to be a writer even though you were brought up in a kind of your were think uneducated way but in a way the way your mother brought you up was incredibly creative yes you know it may be that she you know you wouldn’t perhaps have posh drinks that’s right so she would put something in the water and say we put a lot of beer uh-huh you know um darling let’s have some pain she would speak in a British accent because did you because you don’t charge America’s anything British is instantly like more sophisticated uhm but yeah we didn’t there would be times that we didn’t have sugar we and my mother would put food coloring in the water and she would be miss Bettina Vaughn so and so and she would um she would say darling would you like I won’t do my British accent to you guys um but would you like another you know and we would do this fan pretend drinks but that was my mom you know and that was she brought magic into our lives and she would always say and which made me when I was a teenager want to like smother her but she would say we aren’t poor were rich in love and you know she was very looking on the bright side and which you know when you’re 17 you do not appreciate right and but I mean as is the case maybe some of you have found this to be true in your life to that you know you look back on some of those things that your parents said to you or you know annoyed you about or whatever and then you you grow older and you look back and you see that they’ve they’ve actually were right and that they actually had to do the tools for your own survival and I think that that’s really the case and with my mother you know that her optimism eventually became you know the worldview that I had to take on and and also you know she made us feel rich we were rich in love yeah we were and and you know I have friends who were rich in material and and poor in love and I wouldn’t trade places with them for anything I think what was really interesting as well for me was this idea of how she created a an environment where creativity buttoned down and so in perhaps in your environment it was it wasn’t the done thing to be a writer perhaps you would move it be you both went to college together didn’t you at the same time that right yeah we did so how that happened so when I went you know I I always knew I wanted to be a writer from the very first time I could read I just was I mean I I distinctly remember the moment you know it was an epiphany and I I did my family didn’t go to church but I was I spent the night with a friend on a Saturday night and when I woke up on Sunday morning her family attended a Lutheran Church and so I had to go with them and we were put off into the Sunday school and there was this little pamphlet that they handed out to all the kids and it was really a chapbook of watercolors and each watercolor was accompanied by a little poem that was about you know the sort of God’s glory in the natural world like the you know little riffs on butterflies and sunsets and flowers and I remember reading it and thinking I mean just being pierced by the beauty I mean really pierced by the beauty of those words and what words could do which was make a feeling in the picture and I to do that I wanted to be a person in the world who who made Beauty have language six-six and I just thought I have to do this thing and I’d never thought it’d ever like it wasn’t it I didn’t know that I someone like me could actually be a writer I thought I didn’t know what the route was but I knew that college would be part of it but so when I was in high school nobody told me you know what you need to do to go to college and so when I was in my senior year in high school I just started to get brochures from colleges they start to you know send you things and I didn’t know it was a competitive process really that you should apply to more than one or anything and so I just lined up the brochures on my table and I looked at the pictures and the one that looked the least weird you know was the one I applied to and it was the college of st. Thomas which is a private Catholic school private and public means different things here right yeah it means it cost a lot of money private Catholic University in Saint Paul Minnesota and when they accepted me they were trying to woo me to come there because they didn’t realize that you know they were they were the only game in town for me and um they said one of the things if you go your parents can go to college for free and you know they were thinking like somebody’s mom would take like French you know 101 or something but my mother saw this and she said I’ve always wanted to go to college and I said no [ _ ] way because would any of you at the age of 17 have volunteered to bring your mom raise raise your hand raise your hand if you wanted to bring your mom so I was like no way you’re not going to college with me get that idea out of your head and then you know what what happened is of course you know there’s the true thing which is no [ _ ] way and then there’s the true thing which is my mother has given me so much and then the truest thing is that you know that I couldn’t stand in the way of her opportunity and so I said to her you can go to college with me with one rule is that should we ever encounter each other on campus she cannot show any recognition do not address me do not twice just keep on going off and she was like okay that’s fine and she was so respectful that this was this moment in my life where I needed to separate you know she was serially and she was 40 and I just remember thinking I can’t believe somebody so ancient is going to college and and and so we went that first year together and it wasn’t a good fit for me I was paying my own way through and it was just too expensive and it was a conservative school and and you know I was a writer and so I went to my mom and said look I need to I’m going to transfer and she said you know that’s fine I’ll transfer to and so she did and we went to the same we went to the University of Minnesota but thankfully there were more than there’s more than one campus so I went in Minneapolis and she went up in Duluth which was nearer our house about an hour and a half away from our house I mean what occurs to me as you’re talking is I mean you had that lovely time yeah you know use your teenage mother yeah type of relationship but you had a fantastic relationship with mother as you’ve told in wild how do you think that has impacted the way you are a mother today you think you know for me I think I apparent just like my mother which is terrible to go up for you how do you parent your children because you’ve got two children yes I have two kids I feel like did I parent them very much the way my mom parented me my kids have a profoundly different life than I had um as a kid they just you know do you think that’s a good thing I do I do i worry you know I mean I feel like so much of of ever you know so much of Who I am was kind of learned through my hardscrabble childhood yeah I mean I grew up in poverty you know I learned a lot from that um and my kids you know just have a diminutive to parents who have master’s degrees in the arts you know their father is a filmmaker I’m a writer they they you know they just get to have a different kind of life and so I do worry about them just not having to kind of you know work as hard frankly as I had to work yeah but on the other hand I I love that they have some I mean you know the thing that that I think made me cry the hardest since all this stuff has happened with while is um is I bought a piano for my kids and it started they started piano lessons and I just always wanted to have piano lessons my whole life and I never got to and ice now I’m too busy to take piano lessons but I gave them to my kids you know my kids get to be the kids who get piano lessons you know and so that’s a big deal and any of you who grew up you know and we’re able to give your kids what you didn’t get it’s just a powerful experience you know and so yeah that’s that’s an eye but the way I parent them essentially you know is the same way my mother did with love with a great amount of love and openness about that love you know I did not my mother didn’t ever withhold when my mom found out she was dying and she died seven weeks later I distinctly remember us talking about how he was like okay this is our last chance with each other right she’s going to die and the coolest thing was that there was nothing we had to say to each other there was nothing that we had to say to each other because we’d already said it there were no there were no like secrets or things that had gone unsaid or unresolved it was all present already I knew that and my mother did too I feel so lucky about that as you’re talking I get I still get that laughing lump in my throat and let’s not cry anyone crying and but we were talking a little bit about that gives the idea of the raw grief and how it changes I know for me reading the book can you hit every note of that and it’s not very often you get someone who hits that note and it for me it was like she gets it she understands and do you think your grief has changed over the years yeah I do yeah now first for those of you who haven’t read the book it’s also very funny in parts right right have any of you read as some of you have read wild it and there were there were funny parts right funny things okay um but the green sari upset they’re also sad parts but there’s funny friends I always say to people you know sometimes I’ll get an email and they’ll be like I just finished chapter what and I don’t know if I can go on I’m like it gets funny just keep reading it hold on baby um just I let them get to the horse oh no it was no whoa oh God so oh that’s a terrible scene I apologize for the horse I even writing it I was like if I were a reader I would just skip right past this you know but grief you know how is my crib changed it’s absolute you know it it was so enormous and monumental you know in the years right after my mom died and what’s what’s interesting about it is it’s still incredibly powerful I can still you know every day I feel the absence of my mother but it absolutely does become you know more manageable more part of life and and and I have a deeper and more complex understanding of of how I can carry it with me with some some grace and without being ruled by it or destroyed things or destroyed by it yeah and so and so it gets easier even though it’s still there you know and the beauty I mean the beautiful thing about deep grief and those of you who have lost somebody essential to you I know you know what I mean about this is the is what it’s really about is love you know the only reason that you still grieve somebody 23 years after they died is because you actually truly really loved them and isn’t that amazing I mean that’s just amazes me like I really loved my mom yeah yeah absolutely so how is both I know um are you ever worried what your children will say when they read your work how do you feel about them reading it for the first time maybe is 1718 yeah they I think they’re really lucky to have a mom who’s a writer I would love to have access to the interior lives of my parents now I wouldn’t have loved it when I was 17 and I don’t think that my kids it’s not as if you know when they turn 16 I’m going to be like happy birthday kids but out of my book times you get to know mommy better um you know I I will warn them about you know that maybe there will be some things that they don’t want to read like right now they know this story I went I went to their school my kids are seven and nine and last year I went to their school and gave a talk and it I was more nervous for that talk than any talk and um so what was interesting to me is you know obviously there were pieces of the book that I that I couldn’t talk about in specific terms but you know I could talk about more more about the book than maybe you would first think because one of the things I decided when I went in is I wasn’t going to just tell them about the hike I was going to tell them about grief and because there’s there’s always you know we assume the children I don’t know why we assume this the children don’t know about grief but there’s always one person in the room who whose dad died or his mom died or who you know and so I put up I did slideshows the only group for whom I’ve done a slideshow in all of my wild talking and I the first slide was a picture of my mom and I said I explained to them that my mom died and I was so sad that I didn’t know what to do so I went on a long walk and the kids were just absolutely riveted by that portion of my lecture and then I went on and gave the hike you know they talked about the hike and afterwards the kids went back to their classrooms and they were all asked to draw a picture about my talk and at least half of them drew portraits of my mom and it was because that was the part that touched them the most that meant that they connected with them so you know I talked to them about the human element of the book you know that this is why I did this thing and you know there are some sex scenes in the book and there’s some drug stuff and my kids will probably be uncomfortable with it and they’ll wait until they’re old enough that they can handle it and then they’ll handle it you know and that’s the thing about it about your momís you know you you have the mom you have and and we all learn to live with that and the mom they have just happens to be you know somebody who writes excruciatingly ly honest things about myself you know and I’m sure you know they’ll have something to say should I ever really start writing excruciating ly honest things about them which which I will avoid doing but um you know I just think that they’ll be okay and and and frankly fortunate someday you know like when they’re in their 40s they’ll be like yeah my mom wrote a book but you know um before that I understand it’s like my brother read Wilde of course and um he loved the book and we had a deep talk about it and but he did say well when you were you know at that scene when you’re in Ashland and you’re like gonna have sex with that hippie in the tent he’s like I just sort of had to skim that part and I was like thank you you know it’s like I don’t need to read that stuff about my sister oh so um would you do the trail again of course I would would you yes really oh yes though you know I have to say it’s funny cuz so the film is being shot and you know we’re out there I don’t know how many of you have been on a film set but it’s you know it’s it’s grueling it’s really hard work it’s long days and you know most of the movie obviously is outside and you’re in the elements and I’m watching Reese like hike along under this pack I just ask you what is it like seeing where the spa paying yourself can we just have a moment here how incredible that is wait with I know I know it’s so movie star is playing you in what I mean what I know it’s small it’s about real like I don’t even have words for it it’s so straight I mean there’s so many times where I just think okay what the [ _ ] is going on yeah I mean like what’s so weird you know I mean but yeah it’s very large and there’s Riis so yeah it’s strange and so you think you know on the film set and there’s a dump site and we’re outside and you know we’re just pretending okay we’re just pretending that this woman’s out alone in the wilderness and you know and there’s like she’s trying to make the stove work and and what’s so funny I loved this I loved this I was like okay so they’re there um she’s trying to cook dinner and of course all the props guys and stuff are like lighting the stove for her and everything unlike I didn’t have any guys out there and and the thing keeps going out like it keeps over and over and I like and it won’t work and I’m like see I wasn’t such an idiot like even even professionals can’t get it to work and I’m so everyone saw was this is what what it’s like so there’s this whole thing and there’s this movie star and she’s dressed in clothes exactly like what I was wearing and you know and she’s doing this thing and she’ll and there will be some times where she’s in the middle of the scene and suddenly I’ll remember like I’ll have a almost like a body memory of what it was like what it was like to to be standing there but no film crew around like just to be alone in the wilderness and I’ll go back to that place in my mind and it was hard and it was lonely and it was really really profoundly solitary you know like in every direction there was no humans it was just me and I mean sometimes four miles but you know and there was at the first eight days nobody 8 days nobody and I’ll go back to that and so like if I did the trail again if I did it alone again which I don’t know that I would do that you know I want to go with my husband and my kids but if I did it alone again I know for sure that it would be hard I’ve gone on backpacking trips by myself since then and even just like the first few days it’s like okay this is not fun this is uncomfortable need the bus the bus the bus is a good thing the train but just to settle back into that that that’s sole onus is you know it’s difficult and just being with yourself yeah and you know I only manage five days and your own thoughts see that’s the other thing 1995 different world know them now no phones no I mean I didn’t have any electronics with me I didn’t have music I didn’t have any I didn’t have anything they didn’t even I mean the first time I heard about a cell phone was strangely was on the PCT the first time I saw a cell phone and um this guy I call Albert in the book that the Eagle Scout dude who helped me lighten my pack he had this brick of plastic I kid you not with these buttons with numbers on the front and I was like well what what’s that he said this [ _ ] thing I’m gonna get rid of it he didn’t say [ _ ] because he’s a Christian but um and um he said I’m going to get rid of it and he said some company is trying to develop this thing it’s called a cell phone and they found out I was going on this hike and they asked me to carry it from Mexico to Canada and and turn it on every hour or something to see if it would get reception and I was like and he goes and I’ve been walking for you know a month now never got reception so I’m not going to keep carrying I’m just gonna leave it in the hiker free box so somebody has like a cell phone prototype out there right so and I remember us distinctly and this is why I’m not in product development saying that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever and we were like who on this green earth would agree to carry a phone around with them all the time I mean who would do that like isn’t it I mean why would you ever want people to always be able to reach you just thought it was absurd and we were like that’s gonna tank for sure so this is why I’m a writer instead of us yeah so yeah so so we’ve got we’ve had wild it’s been huge success and number one best-selling on New York Times list tiny beautiful things also number one The Times list Oprah’s what hopeful like oh my god oh my mouse master Oprah hello everything so do you want to hear how Oprah it’s a phone story a cell phone story no it’s okay no did you let your sending that and the phone rang and it will open people or did she ring you direct tell me doctor okay I was in a hotel room in Milwaukee I was wild had been out you know a month or so I was doing Wendy well anyway I was weld at this point had already exceeded any time I had for myself it was on the New York Times bestseller list it was just and my I was in Milwaukee Wisconsin and my cell phone rang and Milwaukee’s just maybe a couple hours away from Chicago and it was a Chicago number and I and I thought it was this sales rep who I was gonna meet later that day and so I almost let a good a voicemail now as I God just answered the phone I said hi this is Cheryl and the other voice said hi this is Oprah she ran herself yeah no yeah she rang herself and I said um I did you know I said no it would be I pause well I posit that it is because it was Oprah you know I’d like it was her voice it was and I mean when Oprah calls you you know it and on till either side oh my god like hello what you know what do you want and and she said I just finished wild oh my god you know and then she would and in her Oprah voice you know and we had this long conversation like 20 minutes which I keep I kept interrupting her to scream and swear at her and be like and um and then she says after about 20 minutes she says so I have an idea and nobody knew about this yet just me and her okay she says I have an idea I would like to restart my book club for wild what do you think about that and I said well I think that sounds just fine and she said you know I and she was like she said I’m on your website right now she my website which by the way I just do myself you know and I’m still to this day and she’s like I see you’re gonna be in Los Angeles on Saturday would you like to stay an extra day and come to my house in Santa Barbara and I was like okay and so I find myself you know in a limousine on Sunday morning being whisked to Oprah’s house and I spent the day with her and she’s just so lovely and and we just hung out at her place and which is just a shack you know and I mean Hannah and we shot this show she has a show called super soul Sunday and we you know had this Hulk on camera conversation right yeah kind of like we’re doing here tonight and um and the except we were surrounded by cameras and stuff and and and then oh you saw the supercell Sunday yeah yuichi and um Oprah’s people did my hair that night so yeah so um but it was really fun and then I just hung out with her and got to know her and she’s the warmest lovely I mean we’ve stayed in touch he’s so you know real Oprah’s exactly like she seems on TV you know I mean she says I think she could be where she is without being the real thing yeah well and that’s what was so cool when I talked to her about um books and her book club did she really choose his books that she loves it you know and like any list we’re not gonna all love the same books that you know write you know our friends don’t always love the books we love and Oprah just has a lot of friends you know so she just chooses them from her heart and shares them with the world and yeah that ended up being a great thing you know for me a really nice thing I mean where do you go from here so you if you’ve been on the New York Times I’ve had the output at least with the spoon is playing you in the film and it’s out next year and what next what I think we’re after all that the only place you can go as you leave your husband for George Clooney right my husband’s pretty great yeah don’t tell him that yeah somebody’s tweeting that as we speak right my husband’s not on Twitter so we’re safe um you know where we go really is I just write another book yeah yeah I got a band you know what you’re gonna write next are you you know I just am going I’m gonna just the thing is it’s the only way to write is to just get back to that place that you’ve originally began which is just you alone in a room with a lot of anxiety and fear and doubt but with a vision you know and so I you know I don’t know what’s going to come next and it’s just I’m just gonna write you know and the thing is just that the other thing is I like I doubt that like I just I doubt that I’ll ever write another book that does as well in the marketplace is wild you know an artist has no control over that and when something like wild happens it’s just like lightning struck and you know I didn’t try to make that happen what I tried to do is I tried to write the best book I could write which is what I did with torch and what I did with tiny beautiful things and what I’ve done with everything I’ve ever written and so I’m going to write that next thing and and who knows what the world will think of it and that’s kind of just really not up to me I was interviewing at Elizabeth Gilbert for psychologies this issue actually and she said exactly the same you know in pray love hello it was fantastic brilliant but I had to go back she I mean she did committed then she had to go back to her first love which is right and she’s just got her new novel out now and it’s just about the artist channeling whatever yeah comes and doing what she loves right and then sometimes other people love it and sometimes other people don’t and so you just have to keep the faith with what’s true you know with the basic the essential the element you know and so I plan to do that well whatever you write if George gives me time to whatever you’re right I know I’m going to absolutely love it so I actually wanted to talk about do sugar and just ask your questions cuz that was really what hooked me and especially you write a lot about relationships and I know it’s been really comforting for me but you write so honestly about betrayal and infidelity these things are just really terrible that and I know a lot of you know and also you talk about mr. sugar and then you came out as you know shows dear sugar and I wonder how writing honestly helped or what it did to your relationships and how it did it strengthen them did it you know what I mean because it’s hard for us too for me well I can’t just write you know and that will change my relationships but how did that honesty change your relationships right yeah so one thing is dear sugar I was anonymous meaning that readers didn’t know who sugar was can you all still hear me um but I knew who I was and I also knew that someday my name would be on those columns so everything I wrote as sugar I wrote as Cheryl Strayed and so for example there’s a column called a little Sully in your suite where I write about my husband cheating on me early in our relationship and before I wrote about it you know I got a question that I I knew that the right answer was going to be um you know to tell the truth about my relationship rather than to you know just talk about the the surface level the facade and so I asked my husband I was like look you know I want to write about this experience we had and what do you think about that and and he said oh do you have two and I said well not if you don’t want me to and he said actually you know you do it and he and I you know just really support each other and trust each other and he knew that that I would write I mean first of all he and I you know in our in our relationship you know are at a place like there was nothing that he read that I wrote that was a surprise to him you know that we’re very intimate with each other we worked our way all the way through that that infidelity and back again and as I wrote in the column you know I’m actually really grateful that that that happened when it did in I’m great I mean this sounds so bizarre but it’s true I’m grateful that my husband cheated on me early in our relationship so that we could go to that other place of honesty with each other and figure out like what was the problem and and it brought us to a deeper level and and and you know I think anyone who has you know bit I’ve been with my husband 18 years you know and I’m we’re very happy and we love each other and there has also been some difficulty along the way and that’s true in any relationship and so I wanted to sort of share the truth of that you know I always think it’d be so interesting I don’t know if you guys do this here but in the United States sometimes there will be like a 50th wedding anniversary party and you know that they write it up like in the paper they’ll be like so and so and so and so they’re celebrating 50 years their marriages you know they had four kids and they you know what lived in three cities and they were you know and it says all this stuff what I think would always be so interesting if we had a real one you know she was [ _ ] her boss for three years but then they figured it out and um you know like you know that we really see the like actually what happened and how do you make a 50-year marriage work and it’s not all you know roses and rainbows right and so I wanted his dear sugar to tell that story and so what it’s done I mean it hasn’t it hasn’t done anything to my marriage because like I said my this was not new information to my husband the stuff I wrote it was just a piece of us that I decided to share now one thing about my writing is I’m really you know people say oh you’re so honest and open that’s true and it’s also true that I don’t write everything there are whole huge swaths of my life about which you know nothing and I think the people forget that because there are huge swaths of my life about which you know a lot and so you know I’m very conscious and careful my siblings they come up in wild one of the questions I always get is about my siblings and their they’ve had I mean there are lots of stories about my siblings that I didn’t tell because I wanted to protect their privacy I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or in any way invade their lives you know but so I’m always making that judgment as a writer and I do think on the other hand like I mentioned that my brother read Wilde and you know those of you read the book know that he’s in some of the books most difficult scenes and my brother has had a hard life and and here and he’s he didn’t even graduate from high school he doesn’t he’s not like a bookish you know intellectual person but he read Wilde and he understood it on every know in the most sophisticated way and he and I had the most profound conversation that we’ve had with each other in our lives because of Wilde and because I wrote honestly about what I felt about him and what happened and he said you know I can’t believe it that stuff you wrote Cheryl he said you know I buried so much of that and it just all I came it was it was incredibly healing for him to read the book and for us to talk you know I think there’s some that we’re I think most of us are so afraid of speaking the truth because we think it will hurt people or it will cause conflict and I’m here to tell you that that actually you know so many the opposite has happened in my life so many things are healed and when you bring light in so many things are actually made better it’s it’s not as scary as as you would think I have a daughter who lost her mum at eleven uh-huh and she was doing sort of stuff that you were doing in your twenties when she was fifteen and she struggled with life a lot if there was any advice I could give her what would it be because she’s still struggling at 13 she’s 30 hmm she’s 30 did you say 30 yeah she got to children’s uh-huh yeah you know the it’s so hard um it’s so hard for me to just encapsulate you know one one piece of advice one of the things that I think has been really helpful to me in my own life frankly is books you know my recommendation you know how can you help her as find the books that have been enlightening to you and give them to her well then buy all of my books you know really honestly tiny beautiful things is full of advice the book is advice and it’s advice of the spirit and and it has to do I mean the only way that your daughter will change her life is by changing her life you know you cannot you cannot change it for her and I know how I know how hard that is because I have loved people before who haven’t changed in the ways that I hope they will and and you just can’t you have to do it yourself and and pretty much every sugar column says that in different ways and so I do think that it could be useful to her and also just love her you know love her through it and you know share with her your honest opinions in ways that maybe oh yeah there’s this thing I write about it and in tiny beautiful things these teenage girls I worked with and for me it was a really interesting mind shift we treated these girls with what I call call unconditional positive regard which is different than saying everything they do is okay you know so if one of the girls I was working with was you know sleeping with a 30 year old guy which you know many of them were there like 14 I would say you are doing the wrong thing you know I would I would share my honest opinion but from a place that’s not judgmental but rather holding them an unconditional positive regard and I think that that is the best thing that we can do for the people we love who are clearly harming themselves good luck I’m sorry it’s hard and you should really read my books I’m seizing or at least buy them you don’t have to read them hi Cheryl hello we’re I’m over here oh there we go you’ve sort of come to my question um you’ve mentioned the word honesty so many times tonight living honest in writing honestly but for me the word that really is dominant particularly in tiny beautiful things is compassion and I’ve heard you use the word super love I read it yeah go somewhere and I would just love to hear you speak a little bit about compassion or super love or how you come from that place you know the advice that you’ve given yeah that that word super love some somebody asked me I think I must have said it in response to a question as you know somebody said what’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten and from whom and what’s the worst advice the worst advice my mother’s mother my grandmother gave me and when I was 14 she said I’m going to give you one piece of advice never if you when you get married never in all of your life get fully naked in front of your husband that was bad advice don’t you think really bad advice my poor grandfather but anyway but my mother I remember in this in the early 70s I was very I was born in 1968 so I was pretty young and I remember seen a photograph and I think it’s a famous photograph and if anyone knows what it is please tell me because I’ve looked for this photograph because I remember it so vividly but I want to find it again I don’t know who took it but it’s a picture of there were American on some college campus American protesters they were protesting the Vietnam War and there was this image of these these like National Guard guys holding these guns and this young woman had gone up to the gun and put a flower in the barrel of the gun have you seen that picture and I was a little you know just maybe four or five and I said to my mom I asked her to explain this photo to me what’s what’s happening here and she said that she explained to me that that you know these people were in disagreement about something they were on other sides of an issue and I said well why did they why did the woman put the flower in the gun and she said because she’s trying to zap him back she’s trying to zap him with super love and she said that’s always the best you know way to approach somebody who who doesn’t like you or who disagrees with you just zap them back with super love so they said that you know it creates an opening between you I think that was you know really good advice and I think it has to do with compassion you know that word calm it’s like to be with in passion and I just I think that most of us are really deeply compassionate from the beginning you know anyone who’s had a child unless your child is a sociopath for which I apologize you know but but you know children have that kind of they identify with everything they feel the joy of the world in the pain of the world and you know the coolest thing for me as a mom is to try to explain hate to my kids you know like when I’ve had to explain homophobia or explain the Holocaust or explain and my kids are just like they don’t understand they do not understand it and it’s because it doesn’t make sense to to them and it only makes sense to us because we’ve sort of been worn down right by a lack of compassion and so I think that having compassion is you know reigniting and remembering that that place where we were we where we didn’t understand why you would harm anyone you know and this isn’t to say my kids don’t beat the hell out of each other I mean but you know I’m not saying that there are these idealized creatures but I think that there is that kind of innocent place that that we can kind of really relate to each other with a sense of understanding and kindness you know so that’s a you know I would think you know the the highest value thing I hold in value the most is that kindness you mentioned about your the hike was like create your own rite of passage and you said that our cultures have kind of missed that any ideas how we can credibly get that back particularly as mothers because you talk so touchingly about your mum yeah I actually think it’s really I mean I think we need to bring it back you know we need to bring it back somehow and and you know that and I think it has to do with being connected to nature because you know that the cultures who still do rites of passage or the cultures who used to do rites of passage they’re almost always cultures who lived in a more tribal way and they’re far away that has is more connected to the land in the earth and nature and all that stuff and you know you see this you know that the young and often it is you know like the young boy has to go out for three days or you know and fast and meditate and you know the or or you know kill a elephant or whatever the hell you know and I think that obviously we can’t we can’t all do that in our urban lives and such but in to do something for our children that allows them to you know do all the things like I talked about that I had like that I was you know I made decisions and I suffered the consequences of them if they were the wrong decision or I benefited I got the triumph if they were the right I did it myself it has a deal to do with resilience solitude working for working for you know what you get and and and also I think that the essentials you know one of the things on the PCT is that my main concerns were not they were not emotional you know they were how do I get water what am I going to have for dinner how do I get over this mountain safely you know it was it was it was actually survival which which really can’t be replicated I think in our regular lives for most of us and so you know I’ve really thought about this for my own kids like what I’m what I’m so – look I’m just gonna drive them out I’m just say Happy Trails kids see you in a month but um you know we’ll see but no I mean something like that we’ve got to do and I don’t know what the answer is but I do think that we can do it you know I think that we that that would be a really helpful thing to a lot of our kids to you know to force them to be resilient yeah thanks so much everyone thank you

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