I’m hesitant about posting on the topic of life advice, particularly at this time of year when every blogger is publishing their resolutions for the shiny new year. You don’t need my two cents. You can assume (correctly) that I have similar list of predictable intentions. Anyway, this isn’t that kind of advice.
This article, with excerpts from a “Dear Sugar” column by Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) , was one of those thoughtful pieces that I read, read again and then decided that it might be just the kind of soul-soothing guidance that your January self needs.
Here are my favourite bits:
On how to treat your parents…
One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her sceptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.
I recalled a time fifteen years ago, when I was sitting in a café with Mr. Sugar. We’d only been lovers for a month, but we were already in deep, thick in the thrall of the you-tell-me-everything-and-I’ll-tell-you-everything-because-I-love-you-so-madly stage, and on this particular afternoon I was telling him the harrowing tale of how I’d gotten pregnant by a heroin addict the year before and how I’d felt so angry and sad and self-destructive over having an abortion that I’d intentionally sliced a shallow line in my arm with a knife, even though I’d never done that before. When I got to the part about cutting myself, Mr. Sugar stopped me. He said, ‘Don’t get me wrong. I want to hear everything about your life. But I want you to know that you don’t need to tell me this to get me to love you. You don’t have to be broken for me.
On being a (female) writer…
How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of 'I could have been better than this' and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And 'if your Nerve, deny you –,' as Emily Dickinson wrote, 'go above your Nerve.' Writing is hard for every last one of us — straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
On becoming stronger with change…
Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before. It’s the man who opts not to invite his abusive mother to his wedding; the woman who decides to spend her Saturday mornings in a drawing class instead of scrubbing the toilets at home; the writer who won’t allow himself to be devoured by his envy; the parent who takes a deep breath instead of throwing a plate. It’s you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It’s our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be.