Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, visited and spoke at the Nashville Public Library on Thursday night. I enjoyed Wild, but thought it was somewhat overrated. Nevertheless, I knew it would be worthwhile to see Strayed speak, and it was. She spent most of her time telling us the background for the book, the story behind it, why she decided to hike the PCT. Much of the story was also in the book, but she was a good speaker and it’s a good story. She only wrote the book years after her journey, though, and her explanation for that delay was one of my favorite moments in the talk. She said she needed years to process that experience and to become skilled enough to be ready for it as a writer. Then, she connected that to the definition and purpose of memoir. She said that you don’t have to do some big, grand thing like hike the PCT or climb Mount Everest to write a memoir, which is a relief to aspiring writers with hopelessly mundane lives. Instead, memoir is about using one’s own story to help others and illuminate the human condition; in this way it has the same purpose as all literature.
Strayed’s poor physical preparation for her hike was a big part of the memoir, but she told us how she prepared mentally instead by deciding not to be afraid. The experience took her out of her head and placed her in her body in a way that grounded her and made her feel strong, in the end. And looking back, the grand thing about the trip was the accumulation of days and pains she endured, the fact that she was ultimately able to bear the unbearable physically, and that somehow translated into being mentally and emotionally capable of handling her overwhelming grief and regret. These are ideas I’m clinging to, and hopefully bringing into the delivery room with me next month.
Strayed concluded her talk with a letter/essay from the book that compiles her Dear Sugar advice columns, Tiny Beautiful Things. It was basically a letter to her younger self, which seemed fitting.