Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meeting Cheryl Strayed.

I don't know who introduced me to the Dear Sugar advice column on The Rumpus, but I'd like to thank him or her. Very truly, thank you. After reading the columns for some time, I'd become quite smitten with Sugar. She had a gift for finding the hidden emotional needs of the letter-writer. Then she'd sock you in the gut with a powerful, yet empathetic, response that hit close to home for so many people. It's amazing how many times I'd end up in tears after reading one of her columns. She would tell the truth so simply that you'd wonder how you missed it.

These hands belong to a wise woman.
So I waited with delight for her to identify herself, which she did at her "coming out" party on Valentine's Day this year. Although I didn't recognize her name then, I went straight to Google to find out what she'd written, and then directly to my library's website to put everything that I could on hold. I was first in the holds queue to read her new book, which hadn't even been released at that point. I learned that she often wrote about grief and loss due to losing her mother to cancer way too early in her life. 

When I got home the next day and sat down with her published essays and her first novel, Torch, I was completely taken by what I read. Some of the stories sounded familiar, as she had included variations of them in the Sugar column. But somehow, especially in Torch, she put into words the confusion and desperation and grief I've felt since my own mother passed away from cancer last year. I just kept thinking, through my tears, "That's it, exactly."


Anyway, it was strangely uplifting to read such things. As depressing as it may be, when you're in the thick of the messy shit, it helps to know that other people have been there too and that they get it. Cheryl Strayed, she fucking gets it.

So, for months, I had been eagerly looking forward to the LA Times Festival of Books. Not only is it a fun way to spend a weekend (surrounded by books! yippee!), but Ms. Strayed was going to be appearing in a panel discussion and signing books. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to the discussion, but that allowed me to be first in line for the book signing.

I'm in the right line.
She was very gracious and sweet, and when I told her I was a huge Sugar fan, she said it was nice to meet people who knew her from the Sugar columns. I let her know that I appreciated her writing so honestly about her mom, and how those stories personally affected me, having lost my mom too. She kindly offered her condolences and I went on about how Torch was my favorite of her works, and how I'd read Wild and was impressed with her skills at reading a trail guide. By that point, she'd already given me back my book, so there was nothing left for me to do except grin and thank her profusely before walking away.

Wishing you wild beauty on the journey, sweet pea.
As soon as I stepped away, I thought, "Did I really just tell her that the other book she wrote, not the one she's promoting right this second, but the other one, that THAT was my favorite? And what a downer I am. 'Hi, nice to meet you, you were probably having a great day, but hey! My mom died too. Look, we're members of the same shitty club, wink-wink.'" Damn. I'm such a freaking jerk.

The signing queue for Cheryl Strayed. Did I mention, I was first in line?
So, Ms. Strayed, my sincerest apologies. I really loved Wild too and could hardly put it down. I've been telling my family and my book club and my Facebook friends and now my blog readers (of which there are none, but one day!) about you in hopes that someone else will read your work and say, "That's it, exactly." And, even though we are members of the same shitty "I-lost-my-mom-too-young-and-it-sucks" club, well, all I can say about that is that I'm sorry. And thank you for understanding.

UPDATE 4/28/2012: I figured out who introduced me to Dear Sugar on the Rumpus. It was Megan from Not Martha in her post from 2010. I'm glad to be able to send my gratitude to her as well.


  1. Wow. I visited your blog to see if you liked the lamb stew (FFwD) and I found this. How wonderfully moving even in its sadness. I lost my mother a year ago but I was so lucky as she was almost 95. Even then "it will never be okay.". Thanks for introducing me to Sugar. A great gift today. I'm so sad for your loss.

    1. I know that you're right, and that no matter what her age, it's especially difficult for a woman to lose her mother. My mom had just turned 64 when she passed away, and I'll always be heartbroken that I didn't get many more years with her like I'd expected.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I'm truly sorry for your loss as well.