All it took to get me hooked on the ‘Dear Sugar’ advice column on The Rumpus was reading one essay. In that one essay ‘Sugar’ (a.k.a. Cheryl Strayed) ripped me apart and drained my wounds and licked them clean again. I cried so hard I had to close my office door. By the end of the column, I felt like something trapped had been released, some fear had been faced. It sounds dramatic, but it really did go something like that. After that first column, I found a quiet corner of my world (preferably not my office) in which to read my weekly dose of Sugar. With the publication of Tiny Beautiful Things (Vintage Books) in July of 2012, you can now read the best of these columns (or essays, as I think of them) in your own happy place, preferably with a Kleenex handy. They aren’t always sad, just profoundly powerful.
Not only is Strayed one of the best writers out there (see my review for Wild, July 2012), her life experiences have honed her sense of compassion to a fine point. When she taps into those experiences, which she always does, it’s powerful stuff, indeed. Sugar takes you to the heart of her own hometown, (or schoolyard, or office cubicle, or marriage) and says: ‘Look, this is what happened to me, here is how it broke me, and this is how I healed. You can, too.’ She tends to take the scenic route to arrive at her point, but she does have a map and never lifts her foot from the gas. When we arrive at the door of her distinct brand of deliverance we are shaken and a little woozy, but clear eyed and transformed.
We all know that there are no black and white answers to the toughest questions, those of love, sex, infidelity, jealousy, pain, loss, and addiction, that’s why they are so tough. What Sugar is able to do so eloquently is to address the question behind the question, the question that muddies the water in the first place. Tiny Beautiful Things is a call to consciousness for an emotionally numb society. Sugar says, over and over and in many different ways: ‘Wake up! Take responsibility for your actions. You can change this. You can rise above your circumstances.’ This is a message that all of us who are trying to hold on to our humanity in this increasingly inhuman world need to hear again and again.
Cheryl Strayed knows what’s important. Tiny Beautiful Things lays it out for those of us who need to be reminded.