Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed

The Tiny beautiful ThingsCheryl Strayed is an American writer who became famous writing under the pseudonym of “Sugar” for the blog The Rumpus. Following the popularity of her posts, she kind of became an online advisor on life and love, and engaged a large number of followers who, in addition to astonishingly beautiful and on spot responses to their letters, found a special motivation in the mystery of not knowing who was actually behind the such “Sugar”.

People would write a short note with a question, a comment or a reflection, and Sugar would react extensively, with a pen absolutely free from inhibitions or prejudices, leveraging her own hard vital experience.

A collection of her columns was published as Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar – a set of true inspirational gems.

Here are a couple of examples from the book.

The first one is a letter from a girl in her 20’s who asks Sugar for advice on how to face her youth.

Dear Sugar,

I read your column religiously. I’m 22. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early 40s. My question is short and sweet: what would you tell your 20-something self if you could talk to her now?

Love, Seeking Wisdom

The then unknown Cheryl Strayed responded in an implacable and impeccable way.

Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

(…) You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

(…) Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.

(…) Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

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 skeptically 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.

Yours,

Sugar

Another interesting piece is Sugar’s response to this person, who charged with weariness and hopelessness, signs her letter as WTF (“what the fuck”).

Dear Sugar,

WTF, WTF, WTF? I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day.

Best,

WTF

Sugar’s response is tough. She brings out some of the worst experiences from her childhood to put things in perspective and urges her writer to wake up, and ask better questions.

Dear WTF,

My father’s father made me jack him off when I was three and four and five. I wasn’t any good at it. My hands were too small and I couldn’t get the rhythm right and I didn’t understand what I was doing. I only knew I didn’t want to do it. Knew that it made me feel miserable and anxious in a way so sickeningly particular that I can feel that same particular sickness rising this very minute in my throat. I hated having to rub my grandfather’s cock, but there was nothing I could do. I had to do it. My grandfather babysat my sister and me a couple times a week in that era of my life and most of the days that I was trapped in his house with him he would pull his already-getting-hard penis out of his pants and say come here and that was that.

I moved far away from him when I was nearly six and soon after that my parents split up and my father left my life and I never saw my grandfather again. He died of black lung disease when he was 66 and I was 15. When I learned he died, I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t happy either. He was no one to me and yet he was always there, the force of him and what he’d made me do moving through me like a dark river. For years, I didn’t say a word about it to anyone. I hoped silence would make it disappear or turn it into nothing more than an ugly invention of my nasty little mind. But it didn’t. It was there, this thing about which I’d wonder what the fuck was up with that?

There was nothing the fuck up with that and there never will be. I will die with there never being anything the fuck up with my grandfather making my hands do the things he made my hands do with his cock. But it took me years to figure that out. To hold the truth within me that some things are so sad and wrong and unanswerable that the question must simply stand alone like a spear in the mud.

So I railed against it, in search of the answer to what the fuck was up with my grandfather doing that to me. What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck?

But I could never shake it. That particular fuck would not be shook. Asking what the fuck only brought it around. Around and around it went, my grandfather’s cock in my hands, the memory if it so vivid, so palpable, so very much a part of me. It came to me during sex and not during sex. It came to me in flashes and it came to me in dreams. It came to me one day when I found a baby bird, fallen from a tree.

I’d always heard that you’re not supposed to pick up baby birds; that once you touch them their mama won’t come back and get them, but it doesn’t matter if that’s true or not—this bird was a goner anyway. Its neck was broken. Its head lolling treacherously to the side. I cradled it as delicately as I could in my palms, cooing to soothe it, but each time I cooed, it only struggled piteously to get away, terrified by my voice.

The bird’s suffering would’ve been unbearable for me to witness at any time, but it was particularly unbearable at that moment in my life because my mother had just died. And because she was dead I was pretty much dead too. I was dead but alive. And I had a baby bird in my palms that was dead but alive as well. I knew there was only one humane thing to do, though it took me the better part of an hour to work up the courage to do it: I put the baby bird in a paper bag and smothered it with my hands.

Nothing that has died in my life has ever died easily and this bird was no exception. This bird did not go down without a fight. I could feel it through the paper bag, pulsing against my hand and rearing up, simultaneously flaccid and ferocious beneath its translucent sheen of skin, precisely as my grandfather’s cock had been.

There it was! There it was again. Right there in the paper bag. The ghost of that old man’s cock would always be in my hands. But I understood what I was doing this time. I understood that I had to press against it harder than I could bear. It had to die. Pressing harder was murder. It was mercy.

That’s what the fuck it was. The fuck was mine.

And the fuck is yours too, WTF. That question does not apply “to everything every day.” If it does, you’re wasting your life. If it does, you’re a lazy coward and you are not a lazy coward.

Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.

Yours,

Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things is worth reading in its entirety. If you want to read some more of Sugar’s letters right now, check them out at The Rumpus.

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