How You Get Unstuck: Advice column edition

“Within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue”—Intro by Steve Almond to Tiny Beautiful Things.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of Dear Sugar columns written by Cheryl Strayed, who has to be the most incredible writer I’ve come across since I stumbled upon Ted Dekker as a child.

Tiny Beautiful Things

I read her third book, Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail, when I first moved to Hawassa six months ago. Last week I read her second book, Tiny Beautiful Things, and a few days ago I purchased Torch, her first novel and the only piece of fiction she’s written.

Reasons why I love her advice: it’s humorous, poignant, and always compassionate. Of all the columns collected for the book, three stuck out the most.

Like an Iron Bell The first column is all about when the right time is to say, “I love you.” And she made the obvious point that it should be said as soon as you think you mean it – with the qualification that you have the right to define what it means to you when you say it. The guy who wrote the question in struggled with the heaviness of the word and she compared the word love to the idea that drug addicts stop maturing emotionally at the age they started using: that our limited interpretation about what it means to say “love” is left over from what we thought it meant the fist time we said it or thought it about someone. That even though it’s in the past, a piece of us is still frozen there.

I thought about it and realized she’s right. Love doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone you say it to. She described love as something that “can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and ‘loaded with promises and commitments’ that we may or may not want or keep.” And I really liked that. It’s not like we’re protecting ourselves by not saying it. Those feelings and emotions are there whether or not we’re willing to talk about them. So why not tell someone?

Write Like a Motherfucker – She writes that the words you need to get out by writing them down on paper will come when you’re ready. I love editing, but when I tell people that, I’m always asked, “But do you write?” And part of me always feels ashamed to admit that no, I don’t write my own words, I prefer to help shape others. This has often led me to wonder, should I be writing more? Am I missing out on a different way I should be expressing myself. But I do express myself, I work through my feelings and emotions both here in this blog and in my journal at home. And through conversations with friends in person, over skype, on the phone, in emails, on facebook, in 140-word tweets. I write in the way that I’m able to write at this point in my life. And if I’m supposed to write more later, I will.

We Call This a Clusterfuck – One of her pieces of advice included a “mathematical equation” because she said she never learned how to properly do them in school and now feels free to use them for her own whimsical literary purposes and I could barely breathe I was laughing so hard at the end of it. This is her summary of two letters written to her by two friends…

Friend or Foe: “I solemnly swear that I will never fuck The Foxy Fellow because my friend still has tender and territorial feelings for him and I don’t want to hurt her” + [I am a caring person and fucking The Foxy Fellow would compel me to question the sort of person I believe myself to be] + fucked The Foxy Fellow anyway = eek/ugh^2 x [but perhaps, when I really think about it, my friendship with this woman is “not that important”] x and yet there was that time I sat with her in downtown San Francisco while she bawled unabashedly > so – fuck this shit! + how dare she be made at me! + I was a good friend to her in every other way! + The Foxy Fellow has not even been her boyfriend for, like, EVER! + I am attracted to him! + he is attracted to me! + I’m not even thirty and my vagina is growing cobwebs! + who the hell is she to say who The Foxy Fellow and I get to have sex with in the first place? < I am a terrible person and a selfish sex fiend [will the damning ex-girlfriend please present her testimony to the court?] x cheater, yes + lied, yes + to ever be trusted or forgiven, no, never, not by any woman in any time for any reason whatsoever = you know what? Fuck those bitches! + I’d totally do The Foxy Fellow again! ≠ Except. Well. [Damn}

Triangled: “The Foxy Fellow is a wonderful person” + [we “broke up,” though we were never really together, never monogamous, even though he crushed my heart in this really hard-to-exactly-define-way for which I do not fault him because I didn’t have expectations—why would I have expectations? etc.] x it’s pretty clear to me that he wants to fuck my lovely woman friend who watched me bawl unabashedly over him in downtown San Francisco and this makes me feel like puking^2 + [what is the meaning of monogamy? What is love? Do we owe anyone anything when it comes to sex? Why do I feel like puking if The Foxy Fellow is “only my friend”?] = accept adamant and profuse promises from my lovely woman friend regarding her plans to not fuck The Foxy Fellow x [sisterhood!] – allow The Foxy Fellow to brush me off when I express my wish he not fuck my lovely woman friend = cry/rage when they fail to not fuck + [how could they? She promised! I though she was my friend! He never listened to me!] < long, difficult, ultimately satisfying conversation with The Foxy Fellow that makes me feel oddly closer to him [and worse about my puny, insecure, control freak, jealous, uncool, dumbass, competitive, needy self^2] x short, unproductive decidedly cool conversation with my lovely woman friend [doesn’t it seem like she should be sorrier than this?/what right do I have to an apology? Since when do I get to say who fucks whom?/but she promised!] x fantasize that my lovely woman friend will take a long-term job in Korea + listen to my generation’s equivalent of Lisa Germano’s “Cancer of Everything” repeatedly while huddled into the pathetic ball of myself + [alternate with trying to cheerfully compose the phrase “to share some sexy fun” in relation to those two selfish assholes] ≠ Except. Well. [Damn.]

This probably makes no sense to you. But I died laughing.

But seriously, some of her most legit, practical advice: “You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.”

I think that sums up why I live in Ethiopia.

And finally: “Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.”

  1. “Me thinks” you need to go back to the school library and go back to reading An American Tail, Little Mermaid, and Black Beauty, maybe even the Macaulay Culkin book. Review the newest editions to the school library of Scooby Doo, he would be saying “Rutro, Raggy”, he was a good doggy.

    1. Haha I knew you wouldn’t “approve” of the language she uses in this book, but she really is an incredible author, and after I finish Ted Dekker’s new book Eyes Wide Open, I’m going to read her first novel Torch. And she really does give people great advice : )

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