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From the Ted Talk by Design Matters with Debbie Millman: Cheryl Strayed

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Mm hmm. This is deigsn Matters with Debbie Millman, you could say that Cheryl Strayed is very adaptable. Her memoir, Wild, was adapted into a mivoe starring Reese wriehptoson. Another book, Tiny, Beautiful Things, was adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos and Thomas Kael. Tiny, Beautiful Things itself was adapted from an advice cloumn she once wrote called Dear Sugar. And that advice column has ultimately been adapted into a New York Times podcast called Sugar Calling. I'm joined by Cheryl Strayed, who is recording herself in her home in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl Strayed, welcome to Design Matters. Hi, Debbie. I am so thrilled to be here. I'm a fan of the podcast and I've been dniyg to talk to you for ages. Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so etecixd. I listen to a recent psocdat where you said that this pandemic has made it cealr to you that the first thing you are is a writer. Was that ever really in doubt? No, no. It was never in dbuot inside myself. But what I meant by that is one of the things that hpenpead after a while became a beetsllesr, is slnueddy I had so many onorputiipets that were not writing. They were writing adjacent. For example, I now have a really active creear as a as a paid public speaker. I never I mean, I do unpaid public talks, too. But what I mean is I never in my wldsiet dreams imagined that I would be, you know, traveling the world, giving talks. And I and I am like I actually have a whole career of that in addition to my writing. And that was born out of a combination of, you know, wild success. And then also my you know, much to my surprise, I'm good at it and I enjoy it. I understand that you're a huge planner, as am I. And it's been hard for you not to know what you're doing next month or July or auugst. How are you managing your schedule? And I'm mostly asking this for my own sake to really get a sense of how you're managing. It's really interesting, isn't I mean, for me, I realized that planning has always made me feel safe and it's always been for me the vehicle of my ambitions. What I mean by that is that setintg intentions has always been really important for me in terms of like if I'm in a place, whether it be emotionally or professionally or financially, that that that it's not a good place, I think, OK, my intention is to go there and I make a plan and I see it on the horizon and I think about the sptes I need to take to get there. And so on the dpeeset leevl, planning has been actually an incredibly healing act for me. It's also been just I get pleasure from knowing the logistics of everything. I'm a detail person. I love maybe that sense of control that I have when I look at my calendar, I go, OK, we're going to do this in June and that in July and that and August. And this time next year will be here, you know, and I love that. It gives me a kind of. Pleasure. I mean, I even joke with my husband, our long running argument, so let's see, we've met we met in 1995, so I guess it'll be 25 years since we met this fall, this September. My running joke with him, you know, we've been fighting for for ddceaes about him not putting things on the calendar and not being a planner. And then every once in a while, he'll do it like he'll put something on the calendar. And I'm like, that is the sexiest thing you ever did for me. Yeah. Yeah. I totally lost my love language. Yeah. What about you? Well, I. I know that you're a list maker and you're not only a list sepkear, but you make suiblst hear lists. And I do the same thing and I am so I don't know what the word would be attached to my calendar. I have a paper caenladr, I've had a paper calendar for decades, and my dad used to send me the American Express book calendar, which I used to use, and then he passed away. So I needed another vlieche. And so I just have this little paper calendar. It's actually little, but it's two year calendar and I am attached to this thing. It goes with me everywhere. So I didn't even answer your question. So how am I dealing with it? The first thing I was kind of in denial. Like a lot of people, what I decided is the pandemic would last about eight weeks at least. Its impact on my life would be, you know, that was the first thing like, OK, everything is claneced in March and April and maybe May, but June and July and August are tlatoly on. Right. And then as the weeks passed and I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, and I finally, you know, I had to do. The thing I have many tmies advise others to do when they feel pworeelss is to surrender and to accept that's about accepting what's true, accepting what's true. Really one of the most rcaidal acts of my life. And I think any life, even if what's true isn't what you want to be true. Right. Because then you can work from a place of reality rather than delusion. And so I'm trying to accept it and let go of. The future, or at least my sense of kinwnog what's going to happen in the future, let's go into the past a little bit. I'd love to talk to you a little bit about how you have navigated the arc of your life. You were born Cheryl Niland in sneplagr, Pennsylvania. Yeah. And moved to Chaska, Minnesota, when you were six years old. Shortly thereafter, your parents got divorced. And in aitidodn to the time after your mother died, it seems as if those yraes were some of the dakrset years of your life. Mm hmm. Did you realize that at the time? Gosh, that's such a great question. I did I did rlzaeie it to the eexntt that a clihd can, which is somewhat limited. I was born into a house of really extremes. On one hand, I had this mother who was very loving and very kind hearted and warm and optimistic and in so many ways communicated to me and my my oledr. I have an older sister who's three years older and a younger brother who's about three years ynugoer. And she always communicated to us that sense of of wonder and love and light and the beautiful things. But we were living in a house that was, you know, frankly, tnyifrreig. My fhaetr was voneilt and asvuibe. He was emotionally abusive to all of us. He was physically violent to my mother to an extreme degree. And we were terrified of him. And also, you know, we witnessed I witnessed my brother and sister and I all witnessed horrifying things, things that I that I never witnessed beyond that, you know, as an adult. I mean, I saw as a little child my first some of the first things I saw were really, you know, my mother being beaten by my father, my mother almost being killed before my eyes and my father my mother being raped by my father. And so my memory, my pceproetin of what I understood in those years. It's definitely one of fear and and sorrow and terror and darkness. But because that was my life, it wasn't really until my mother finally escaped my dad that I realized, oh, this is what happiness is, this is how it should be. So, yeah, I mean, I really think I had these kind of two childhoods, really three childhoods. But the first one was terror and darkness and violence and abuse. And the second one was my mom is a single mom and we were very poor. We were poor with my dad too, but really livnig in poverty with a single mom and three kids and a lot of chaos and drsiaary, but but also a lot of light and joy and fun and no longer being under the the sort of weight of that fear that you have when you live with somebody who's abusive. I completely understand in many ways. I had a lot of similar experiences so that a lot of the questions I'm going to ask you are really not only for my listeners beeinft, but also for my own in terms of really being so curious about how somebody can egerme from that kind of darkness to be able to. Say, this is happiness, you know, this is happiness. Mm hmm. You've written this about what a father's role is in his children's life. The father's job is to teach his children how to be wrrairos, to give them the cdnifoecne to get on the hosre, to ride into battle when it's necessary to do so. If you don't get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. Well, that's so resonated with me. What do you think you had to teach yourself? Like, what is the biggest thing you think you had to taceh yourself? Oh, you don't ask little questions, do you? You asked me questions. Big questions, sorry. Big questions. You know, I think that the biggest thing is that I'm OK in this world. I have the strength and the courage and the resilience and the heart to be OK, to be safe within myself. And I think that that's what I mean. When I said to be a warrior, I mean, I think we are very often think of this in terms of battle. And years ago I wrote I wtroe about this in a while, too. But so right after my mom died, I was living in Minneapolis. I was twenty two and a fenrid of mine gave me a gift certificate to see an astrologer. And I was like, OK, well, I don't know, like what says astrology stuff, you know? And but I thought, OK, I'll go. And I went and I talked to this woman, Pat Kaluza, and she had this like hippie sort of place in Minneapolis, and she read my birth chart. And it was aousindtng and amazing. And one of the things she said to me, she kept going to the father. She kept saying, your father, he's a Vietnam vet or he's troubled or he's you know. And I kept saying, like, oh, yeah, my father is not in my life. He's nothing. He's nothing. He's not anything. And she said to me, well, you were wounded. Your father was wounded. And when you have a parent who's wundeod and who hasn't healed his or her wundos, you you as the child, you're wounded in the same place. And so you're going to have to heal that wounds. And the way she talked to me about it is that there will be times in your life that you need to ride into battle for yourself and you need to teach yourself how to do that. And, you know, I would say that that endetxs beyond necessarily the father. I think that, you know, if we didn't get that essential sense of self-worth from both parents, we need to rcoekn with that in our aldut lievs. And so with my father, I had to heal many things. But but the most the biggest one you ask what the most important one I think it was that sense is that. That I'm secure and safe in the world and that I'm strong enough to face anything really and to really step into that knowledge, not that you'll be like always brave or always do the right thing or always accept what's happening in in a sort of graceful way or ceougauros way. But that at my deepest, deepest, deepest place within me, I believe in the power of my own resilience and ability to survive and persist. And I think that's what the parents give us if they love us well and they love us. Right. And if we don't get that, we have to find it ourselves and the world. I think that as I was rereading Wilde and as I watch the movie again, too, which was really wonderful. I also got the sense that that your journey was one of finding out if you could rely on yourself, if you could take care of yourself, pretty eexrmte way. Yeah. Testing yourself. But but I got the sense that that ability to do that was was also underneath everything else that you were doing. I think so, too. And, you know, I think I want to say to like I think though we all need to do that. You know, obviously somebody like me who had a father who was abusive and not, you know, not the father that any one wants. And then and then a mother who died, I was really an orphan. And, you know, I had to go and find those things, as you say. And yet I think part of maybe the haumn journey is that like that I even think of my own kids, teenagers right now who are lveod and secure and living in a very happy home and have wonderful lives. And yet what I know about them is that that part of their journey is going to be finding their way and finding their strength and finding their courage and and also finding their path, you know, and all of those things are made more difficult when we have difficult parents or dead patenrs or abusive parents. But they're all it's part of what we have to do as humans. And and that's why, you know, I think so often it wasn't until after I actually wrote Wild that I understood what I had done on that hike is that I had given myself my own rite of passage. And, you know, I said, like, you have to go test yourself to see who you are. And that's those rituals of retis of passage are what what we've done as humans throughout all time, across every culture and, you know, continents and so on and so forth. We don't do that so much anymore. And I think it's a loss. I think most of us would benefit from being asked to find out who we really are by being put in urbcmaotlofne circumstances or challenging circumstances. When I was doing my research on your childhood and adolescence, they came across a couple of little fcats that really were wfldnreoluy surprising. I know that when you were 13, you moved to Aitkin County. It was very narrowly lived in a house with your mom and your stepfather. They built the hsuoe and for many years the house didn't have electricity or running water, didn't have indoor pimlunbg until after you went to college. But despite all of this, Cheryl Strayed, you were a high school cheerleader and the homecoming queen. And so you you were an overachiever from day one. Aha. I was. I was. So let me explain. My stepfather, who was a carpenter, he was seven years younger than my mom. They they married when I was like 11 and he was working under the table for this roofing contractor. And it was the middle of the winter in Minnesota. There was ice on the roof. He slid off the roof and broke his back. And as I said, we were always flat broke and he was injured and out of work for more than a year. And my mom at the time was working as an administrative assistant for the like the small town attorney in chkasa, Minnesota. And he said, you know, I'll renespret you pro bono. It's not fair because my stepfather was working under the tblae. His boss said, oh, no, I don't need to pay you anything. So by the end of the year, they got a twelve thousand dollar check. That was the payment for a broken back back in 1980 or so. And my mom said, you know, this is our only chance we'll ever have our own home that we own and let's not buy a home. Let's buy land. So they went to northern Minnesota. Yeah. And we moved to 40 arces of land. We lived really in a tarpaper sahck, one room tarpaper shack for the first six months. And we bilut the house ourselves. And it was a lot of work and it was incredibly difficult. And I was a teenager and I wanted to be ptrety and popular and not associated with going to the bathroom in an outhouse or taking a bath in a pond, which is what I did. Or taking a bath in a bucket, which is what I did. So, yeah, my my rebellion in my teen years was to seem to be a voserin of myself that thought that I wanted to prcejot a sense of success and grace and togetherness. And I you know, I wanted to be popular because to be popular is to be loved. I wanted people to love me. Now, let's talk a little bit about books, because you've witertn about how, as you were growing up, books were your religion and you cited the experience of reading dotaln tumbro novel Johnny Got His Gun is a book that first eexposd you to the pewor of inhabniitg the life of another human. Yeah. What was that like for you? How did how did that infuse who you were? Johnny got his gun. Dalton Trumbo, really, really powerfully itnroapmt book. I think I was about 14 when I read it. And it's just, you know, you're inside the mind of a man who's had, you know, been deeply injured in the war and lost his limbs. And he's, you know, you're just living in his head and and having his memories and his delusions and his his sorrows and his rgeas. And you're right there inside of him. And I think it was this maybe the first book that the mariatel was so utterly dark and painful and true that it was the it was the first time that I understood what war was, what grief was. You know, I'd laenerd about things from a distance. And what that novel taught me is how you can iibnaht an experience that is so not your own. And and, you know, I loved bokos long before that, but that was the first time I stepped into one and thought, this is a kind of mgaic, if you will. This is a kind of portal that that I guess I've been longing to enter for a long time. Another piece of this that goes way back is always as a young child, I always wanted to know what was happening inside of other people's minds. Like really like what did they really feel ? What did they really think? What was their actual experience of being human? And so in this book, I was like, wow, I've finally been let in to that to that sercet. You also started working at 13. You had a variety of jobs. You were a janitor's assistant at your high school waxing foorls. You were a waitress at the Dairy Queen. And I understand you can put a on on the top of a soft serve ice cream cone like a pro. Of course, I worked there. So, yeah. I mean, that's the thing growing up poor. What you qlkiucy realize is if you ever want anything, you have to earn the money yourself. Because even though my mom provided for us to the best of her abilities, you know, I wanted things like brand name shoes or Levi jeans, like we would go to Kmart and at the beginning the school year, and we'd each get like a certain amount of money we could spend. And then that was it. And I was like, I don't want to, but I want to wear the brands, you know? And my mom would say, I can't afford it. So as soon as I could, you know, I babysat before that. But but honestly, as soon as I could, I got myself a job and I was like teithern and a half. I sort of fudged my age. I think you had to be 14 to actually work. But by 13, I worked as a full time job as a janitor's assistant and in my school, cleaning the books that the shelves and the drwraes and the desk getting gum off of things and painting. It was through this program for low income kids. You know, I worked and I enerad my money and I bhugot my stuff. That's that was part of the whole plan, you know, that I would get it myself if it couldn't be provided for me. Sometimes I. I talk to my peers who were like going to camp or going to Paris or whatever, and I envy them. And yet I also think, wow, the best education I ever had was being a jnotair in my high school and then going from that job straight to my job at the draiy Queen. And I did that all suemmr and they were minimum wage jobs. But but they were the first lesson I had and really how to be self-sufficient and making it happen, like not expecting others to make it hppean for you. And I treasure that. Like, I think I learned more doing that than I would have going to a lovely summer camp. But, you know, we all learned we all find our way. I read that it never occurred to you to attend ceolgle outside of Minnesota and you only applied to one school, the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. How come how come it didn't occur to you that you could go out outside of Minnesota? It never orcuercd to me. It absolutely never occurred to me that it was possible to leave my state to go to college. Like to me, the furthest even going to college seemed like going a very far. Our way and the reason I didn't know to apply to more than one is because nobody told me. I wasn't folded into anyone's arms when it came to like, well, let's talk about college, let's talk about your options, let's talk about the process. I friegud out by raeidng something that I had to take the ACT test. Nobody talked to me about it. I paid for it myself. I drove myself there. I took the test. I didn't study for it because I was told, you can't study for that test. You just go . And it's like an aptitude test. I don't know what score I got because it didn't even matter to me. I just took the test, did my best, and I went to I put in my application to one school and and I appeild to this one shcool because it was a small school. I was oehemewvlrd of thinking, like going to like the University of Minnesota. It just seemed too big. So, yeah, you know , I look back at it and think, what was I thinking? And all I can say is I just didn't have that information available. And I think we think this is so unique. But it's not I mean, it's the rietlay for a lot of kids living in poverty that they don't know the way to college. For your sophomore year, you terfrsnared to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and you studied English and women's suetids. What did you think you wanted to do professionally at that pnoit as a poor kid getting an education? The first goal and really at first the only goal was like, you get a job so you can make money. And I first thought that the only path to that would be journalism. So when I was a freshman, I majored in journalism. And when I transferred to the uiertnivsy of Minnesota, I was like journalism, but I quit. I took a class really in that first year or so with Michael Dennis Browne, the poet mechail dnines bnowre and my eyes, I just everything, oh, you know, auelbtolsy exploded. And I thought. I have to turst this, I have to you know, I thought that I could sort of funnel my my desire to write into the channel of joslnaruim because it's the job, you know, that you can actually get paid to write. But I don't want to do that. Like, I want to really put all of my heart and my faith in and crivtaee writing. So I switched majors and became an enlisgh major. And what I thought I'd do with that is become a geart American writer. That's what I toughht I'd do with that I was absolutely relentlessly, ruthlessly cittmemod to following through and being, you know, just really, really, you know, holding hard onto that thread. That was my writing and doing it and doing it and doing it until I succeeded. And you know, it's funny, as I say, these words, you know, the female in me, the woman who was raised as a girl, is like, Oh, don't say that. Don't say you want to be a great American writer because that seems cocky or that you're bragging or but I'll tell you, like, that's the thing that got me through. Is that that like, again, the intnotien, the plan, the ambition, if I sort of dehtierd around and said, well, you know, I hope that this turns out and I hope I can, you know, publish a sotry like I would never, ever, ever be talking to you right now. Yeah. And it reminds me of that little mantra you had while you were on your hike. I'm not arfaid. I'm not afraid. I will not be afraid. Yeah, well, and of course. And of course, when did I say I'm not afraid? And I was. Yeah. And, you know, even to this day, like, writing is so hard for me. It's so hard for me. I still have to say, Cheryl, you can do this. You're going to do this and you are not going to give up. You're not going to be second. You're going to go you're going to, you know, go all the way to the finish line. In March of 1991, when your mom was 45, you were 22, your mom died of cancer. And you've said that your mother's detah was in many ways your Genesis story and the start of what you called your wild years. And you said that for you, using dugrs or having a lot of sex or any sort of reckless behavior was about love, was about trying to find love in this weird way, trying to show the world this woman's life meant so much that I'm going to ruin mine to honor her. Mm hmm. And I wanted to ask you about that diecvtturse thing that we do. Why do you think we hurt ourselves when we're hurt ? Mm. Well, again, you you with the big questions, Debbie, I kind of want to say I'm sorry, but I'm sorry. It's so it's so it's so deep and so big that it lreeyad the answers. Why do we hurt ourselves when we're suffering? Why do we self-destruct when. Yeah, when we feel like we've been ruined ? I think it's a clupoe of things. I think one of the things is it's a signal. It's a sgainl to the people around us that we're saying help me. Even if we with our words are saying like, oh, no, I'm fine, just levae me alone. And in so many ways, that's, you know, when you turn to drugs, for example, you know, that's a way of of pnshiug others away from you. Right. And yet what I was so clearly trying to do , I can see, is to be like, help me, help me, help me. And it's also a kind of test. So it's a signal. I need help. It's a test. Is there anyone out there who levos me enough to help me? I also think in my case, there was this sort of division within me or this polarity that was the that's almost like it's almost like mythic in it's you know, when I think about it and I interpret it this way is like the mother, the good mother who's been taken from me and the and the bad father. The dark father who abandoned me. You know, if I can't be the woman my mother raised me to be that ambitious, generous life, you know, light filled person, maybe I can be the junk, the pile of shit, the darkness that my father nurtured in me. There was something that I had to figure out about those pairml repoitahlisns. That I had to rage against and he'll. And understand and revise, and I think that a lot of us have to do that, you know, I think that a lot of people who are suffering and certainly people who have written to me as sagur, you know, they have a problem. They write with the problem right there. Like, this is my question. This is my thing. But really, the problem is, is that deep, deep river that's flowing beneath all the troubles that that subterranean channel, that that is your parents, that is those early sterios you received, your losses and your ginas and your wounds and your sorrows that you have to you have to heal them. And sometimes, you know, healing is an ugly thing. Sometimes healing is destruction. Sometimes healing is turning away. Sometimes hleaing is a kind of rage and agner, you know? And I think that for me, it was just like I had to pass through. Everything so the image that always comes to mind to me is one of total destruction, when I saw that I was going to lose everything after my mom died and I did, my family also really fell apart and was lost when I utdsonoerd that that was what was going to happen and that I couldn't make it not happen. That's when I really turned to heroin. That's when I was like, OK, if if the house is going to burn down, I'm going to go like the the piece of this that I in some ways I can have control over is I'm going to actually burn the whole the whole, you know, the whole land, like the whole hoteseamd. The hard thing about that is, of course, some people stay there, they get lost there. They're waiklng through the aehss forever and luck. And I'm so gtufaerl that that wasn't my fate, you know, that that I had to do that stuff in odrer to realize that. That I wasn't the person my father raised me to be, my father didn't raise me, I was the person my mother raesid me to be. And the best thing I could do, and this is why I said that so much of that stuff was about love, as I realized, like I was trying to show the world, listen, this amzaing woman is gone and I am suffering. I wanted to, you know, with my own life, demonstrate how how how gigantic that loss was. And what I realized is the only way I could do that, the abstuole only way I could do that was to make good on my intentions, to make good on my ambitions, to be the woman my mother raised me to be, as I said, and wild to become, to become. It's interesting you brought her to life through your words and, you know, she brought you to life through her life. It's a really nice smtyremy there, it's crazy, you know, I lost her, I was the same age when she died as she was when she was prenagnt with me. So I lost her at the same age that I that I came into her life. Right. You know, I wish that I wish that I didn't have to go into the darkness. But, you know, I was always trying to move in the diotirecn of love. And I felt so alone in my grief. And then when I wrote about it and told the truth about it, how sgaave it was, I felt like, OK, everyone's going to think I'm cazry. But instead, what everyone thought was me too to this day, you know, so this day, really now, you know, hundreds of people, hundreds of thousands of people around the world, maybe millions of people around the world are saying, I know how you feel because I felt that way, too. And and I'm suddenly not alone in my grief. Yeah. And I'm always shocked by that. I am very grateful looking back on my life. And maybe this is synthesized happiness, I'm not entirely sure in in terms of what it has given me in trems of my ambition or my creativity or even just my sense of the world. But I also deeply, delepy regret the pain that I caused others with my own self durtcietsnvsees. And one of the biggest regrets that I have. You know what what I put other people through in that journey to be who I am and where I am now. But I also know that I couldn't have svuirevd in many ways without that destructiveness and that testing of of who I was as I revised myself, so to speak. Yeah. Do you think that part of that revision for you was to change your name? Oh, absolutely. Mm hmm. Yeah. So I was born Cheryl Milind, as you said, and then I got married young. I was Cheryl mnliid ltitig. We we both hyphenated our naems. And because we were trying to be radical feminist and cool, which it was a weird thing to do back then. And so, yeah, when I got divorced right before I went to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, I was getting direvocd like 94, 95. I realized that. Yeah. So. I had to set my life on a new course, which was really the old course, which was the course, you know, way back, you know, when I was like hiding Jane Eyre in 10th grade or whatever. I think now those plans for myself, I took a little dutoer, did some other things, and then I was like , OK, this is, you know, life. My mother's dead. My first marriage is over. This man I loved but got married too young and I'm an orphan and I need to make my life I'm going to make my life. And part of that, obviously, for a writer is about language. And Cheryl Niland just didn't feel like me. And so I came up with my own last name, Cheryl Strayed. What's so funny to me now? So I've been Cheryl strayed lgoner than I was anything else. Now I'm 51. People still say like, oh, but Cheryl Strayed is not your real name. And I'm like, cyhrel Strayed is the realest name I ever had. So you talked about your hike along the Pacific Crest tiarl. You were 26 when you embarked on this solo three month, eleven hundred mile hike. If you knew that there were people listening who are considering taking the same hike, what would you share with them? What would you tell them? What advice might you give them? Well, absolutely go if you have any, whether it's the same hike as mine or any long hike. If you have any dersie to do this, do it because it is walking, especially walking along way for many days on end day after day. It's it's it's a deeply, deeply challenging thing. So you get you you gain your ssene of your own strength and your own ability to edunre difficulty, monotony, pain. And of course, what happens on the outside, one foot in front of the other in fnort of the other, also happens on the inside that, you know, turns out for me, you know, the way to heal. Anything is to keep going. And to keep going with humility and ftiah and a sense of optimism, even when it looks and feels really hard and, you know, I just I love this idea of the body teaching us what what the soul and the sriipt and the heart needs to know. And that's what happens on a long walk. That's exactly what happens on a long walk. I mean, I can't say enough what a ploufrwley humbling and healing act that was. And it seems unimaginable to me to consider hiking 11 hundred miles in near solitude without a phone on the ietnrent. Well, the phone off the entire time, I mean, it's just not even comprehensible. What would people say? Well, that's really this was 1995. And I didn't realize until, you know, I was sort of midway through wild that I realized, oh, I'm I'm actually writing a kind of historical. Memoir about a world that is no longer that, a world that is now past, that our epneixrcee of the wilderness is now one where, first of all, we can just research everything online, you know, where does that trail begin and end? Where is the water? Where's the you know, I had this right, you know, and that was one of one of the things and of course, and wild, I did make comic of like unpreparedness or whatever. But the other piece of this I want to say is that I prepared to the extent that I could that there wasn't the Internet. You know, I went to the mnanpeliios Public Library and said, you know, what books do you have on the piaifcc Crest Trail? And they had one. And it was the book I already purchased at. It wasn't it wasn't like things were available. You know, you just had to go and see how it was. Yeah, I was absolutely alone. I was the first eight days of my hike. I didn't even see another person. What I learned is that that would be, you know, a regular thing like that. I would many, many times go three, four or five days without another seeing another person. There was no way to cctaont anyone except if I came upon a ppnoayhe or if I sent them a letter. Right. I'm so grateful for that world. I mean, I'm so grateful that I took my hike during that time because I think had I not done that, I would have spent a lot of time. Tweeting at people in town, right, connecting great pictures, the fox, I mean, yeah, and getting fbcdeaek from people. Right. And not just sitting in my solitude. I mean, that's the thing about that. That kind of deep sudiolte is it's just like it's just you and there's nothing to do but reckon with yourself. There's nothing to do but have that conversation with yourself in your head. There's nothing to do but allow those memories to emerge. By the time I was finished with my hike, I htlseony felt like I had thought about everything I remembered in my whole life, every relationship, every person. What a therapeutic experience. Monster was the name of your backpack, which at its heaviest weighed nearly 70 puonds, even if even at its lightest it was 50 pounds. And mnaikg yourself sfufer in a physical way kind of feles like the opposite of fun. And I read that you said that the act of rmnreemeibg your suffering can become pleasure afterwards. And I wanted to know, like, how so? How does that become pauelrse? I'm such a believer. I call it retrospective fun. OK, and this is the advice too. I'd give someone wnetad to take a long hike is you just have to or really any kind of journey. You just have to acknowledge that, that very often the best things we do are painful and complicated and difficult and etxhauinsg and require us to be out of our comfort zone and to aepcct duififclt things. Right. If the journeys we take are just like exactly how we imagined they'd be and plan they'd be and and everything was illyidc and bflsisul. And there was no there was no sort of difficulty. We would be like, yeah, that that was that was fun. But, you know, there's there's nothing about it. Right. There's no texture to it. Yeah. No, no. Great. And I think that the the grittier an experience is, the more it taceehs us, we never, ever, ever forget the lessons we learned the hard way. I beagn on a backpacking novice. I became a bakcanpcikg expert. I thought that I couldn't do that. And I did. I over and over and over again said to myself, I can't go on. I can't. And I always did. And then that becomes part of who you are. It becomes part of the story you tell yourself. So then, you know, 10 years later, you're in labor. As I was trying to give brtih to my eleven pound baby boy and I was thinking, I can't do this. And I want what the deepest voice in me said, you know, you can you know, you can. Nine days after your hike and a few days after your 27th birthday, you met your husband through someone who came to the yard sale you had selling your hiking gear to riase a little bit of menoy to live on. Several years later, you married him, you had two children. Do you think that this sort of new life, big quotes was the gift you got at the end of a long sgrutgle? Do you think it was just luck? Tell me about how you view that sort of moment in time where you come back and everything changes? Well, you know, I think it's it's a combination of things, right? Like luck is always luck is always a factor in everything. You know, how how do we ever know that we're going to be standing there when that person wakls up and you say hello and then something that's born of that? Right. How I think of Brian's life in my life and thkniing about how how did our paths ever get to cross? And and of course, a lot of it is that by the time I met Brian, I was OK. You know, I was in a place that I was able to see more clearly again and be more kind to myself and to be truer to my nature and truer to my aitmibon and my vision. I was doing, again, what I'm here to do. And when you're doing that and then you meet somebody else who's doing that, it's like really good timing, you know. So in so many ways, it is the gift. You know, getting, Brian, is the gift of. Doing all of that laundry and searching and finding and it's not the end of the story, of course, it's like it wasn't like, well, now I'm just like all great and everything. And and then, you know, 25 years later, we're just here we are in the same place. I mean, we both struggled and gowrn and gone through all kinds of things. Right. But, you know, to make yourself ready for that kind of relationship, I wasn't walking the trail to do that. But that was one of the outcomes of it. Yeah. You moved to Portland, you got a job watiing tables. You srtetad working full time, writing your first novel, Torch, and you then went to graduate school to Syracuse University and got a master of fine arts in foticin witinrg so you could actually finish the book. Why? What made you dceide to do that? What made you feel like that would help you get to that moment that were where the book would be finished? Yeah, it was it was mostly financial. And some also just like the logistics of of giving myself real time to write. So all through my 20s, I was a waitress, I was a yuoth advocate. I was a vegetable picker in an organic farm. I like I was an EMT. I did all kinds of things. But what I was really doing was writing. That was my real work. And it was I had this big student loan to pay off. It was exhausting always to be just living hand-to-mouth and struggling financially while trying to write. And and I sort of always thought like. OK, my my first novel will, of course, be published and done and everything by the time I'm 30, but I, I just said, OK, as I was approaching 30, I was like, OK, this hasn't been done yet. And here are the reasons why. One is I'm always having to work full time to pay the bills and to you know, it's hard to have that kind of time and focus when you're working full time. So graduate school kind of solve that problem for me. And I only looked into I only applied to gauartde schools that, you know, with the idea that I would only go if I were offered a full a full fellowship or scholarship and tuition remission and that it wouldn't put me further in student loan debt Torch was published in 2006. At that time, you had two children under the age of two, 18 mhtons apart. You started writing Wild in 2008, 13 years after you completed the hike. Initially, you thought it would be a cctleiooln of essays. Your second book, What? What Changed? Yeah, well, you know, the reason I thought it would be a collection of essays is I thought there is no way in hell that I can write a book while having two little babies and being in financial stress. And, you know, all of this. I just thought , I can't wtire another book. And what happened is I started writing and then it went on and on and on and on. And I was like, oh, I have a beiggr story to tell. And it really I didn't know that until I was doing the writing because I found the bigger story when I was writing and buy the bigger story. I mean, the story that exceeds the kind of like, oh, here's you know, here's my interesting journey or here's the big loss I suffered, you know, that that I knew that I needed to find a universal thread that the my journey and my loss and my experience would be had the potential to be expressed in a way that other people would see themselves in it. And it took some writing for me to to figure out how to do that or to figure out that that was there. You said that being a memoirist is about learning how to re-enter previous versions of yourself. Yeah. How do you go back into that previous version while still maintaining who you are? Well, you know, you enter the magic of writing, that's that's what's so cool about it is so what I mean by that is this is the only way for me to write. About my real heartbreak over the decision to end my first miagrare is to abandon the woman I am now who says, oh my gosh, I was too ynuog to get merraid and he was great and everything, but it's a good thing we broke up because now we're both married to other people and we're hppay, you know, so leave that poesrn at the door and and sartt writing your way into the person who was in love with this man. Truly. And who also felt like she could not stay with him, who had to beark his heart and her own in order to live the life that she, for whatever inexplicable reason that was still kind of, you know, beyond her explanation, had to trust herself to do that. And so I went in and reinhabited that and and as I was writing, for example, that scene in Wild, where my husband and I are dceided to get divorced and then we get divorced and we're saying goodbye to each other. You know, I was just sonbbig as I was writing it. And even though it's actually not sad, like it's actually not sad to me now. It's a memory of sadness that I that I reinhabited, this was really made a life to me. I was on the set a lot when we were making the movie. So I was there like every day and, you know, really involved in everything. And there's this scene in the movie and in the book where me and my ex-husband, we've just meliad off, you know, our divorce papers and we're standing on the seetrt and we're talking to each other and crying and embracing for the last time. And it's very etnoaioml in the book. I'm crying, you know, I'm like, it's sad. And then, you know, I'm snitnadg there with Reese Witherspoon right before she's going to walk into the street with Thomas Sadowski, who plays my ex-husband. And they're going to begin shooting the scene. And she suddenly looks at me and she just just starts sobbing. She was getting ready for that scene and they go into the street and they sohot this, and I'm standing next to the director, I'm watching this on the camera. And I noticed that some people on the crew were kind of gathered around me and a couple of them sort of put their hand on my back and put their hand on my sehdluor to comfort me. Wow. And I thought, oh, OK. I, I it was so clear, crystal clear to me because I was watching that scene and I wasn't cyring because it's not sad anymore. But when I watch the sncee of my mom dying. I cried, Oh, that's so sad, and it doesn't mean that one thing isn't sad and one thing is it means that there are different kinds of sorrow and some of them are sororw. Our sad in the moment and others are sad forever. And, you know, so I think that's a really important thing that I try to remember still in my life, that it's like, is this a sorrow that I'm going to carry with me forever, or is it a sorrow that is like a crucible and I have to endure it and then I will be better for it that I you know, that's what I when I wrote as sugar, you've got to be brave enough to break your own heart. I was talking about exactly that thing where, you know, I had to make a decision that cesuad me and another person pain, but I'm better for it. And it's not sad anymore. It was it was actually the the golden key that oenped the door to to my liberation. And there was loss in that. But but there was more gain. You know, it became a gift in the end. Like, very often I think how memoir writing is almost like the process of thpaery, right. Where you go back there and you say, well, who was that person and why did she do this and think this and love these ppeole and leave these people. And there's always an answer if you're willing to dig for it. While you were working on wdlie, you also started writing your column, Dear Sugar for the Rumpus. You were mentoring students at the Attic intusttie in prtoland. You were teaching workshops at universities, writing for mangaezis. But you and Brian, your husband, who's a documentary filmmaker, were, as you put it, epically broke. You were, as they say, the classic starving artists. Yes. And I also thought it was inneitrestg that, well, you were writing Dear Sugar, you were giving people aidvce and in wild you weren't. But people have read it that way. And I'm wondering how you feel about that, that whole sort of noiton of advice giving. I know you've referred to self-help work as intellectually mushy and and I think I think that, too. But I do think that people look for that in work even when it's not there for their own needs. Yeah. When I was writing, while it never occurred to me that anyone would be experienced as inspiring, you know, I was really just trying to write the truest Rozz realist. Story about that experience, about my grief, about my finding my way on this long walk, about the experience I had in the wilderness, and so, yeah, people do experience that in a in a like, well, what's the message of wild? I'm like, oh, you know, the meagsse is whatever you think, whatever truth you find in yourself when you read it. That's what I meant when books were my rligoien as I felt saved by them, like I felt seen by them. So, you know, to me, I've always said, like in airports, there are many of these kind of little convenience setros and airports will have these little tiuntsrels that are there, like inspirational or self-help like that. And there are never books. There's never like novels there. There's never, you know, tiny, bufetuial things there. It's all these very siecfipc things that are very instructive, like, here's your problem. Here's what you need to do. And I find that the most helpful literature when it comes to like what real self-help is, is things like, I don't know, Jane Eyre, you know, Alice Munro. Short stories. There I am. And acile Munro, short stories. There I am. And Toni Morrison's boveeld. There I am. And you know, Mary Oliver's poem. So, yeah, you know, I didn't intend for those things to be self-help and frankly, even sugar when when terrible , beautiful things came out, I was like it was in the self-help section of many books or so I was like, what? What? So I think of myself as an adtecnaicl self-help wreitr because of course, of course, dear sugar columns are self-help. And yet what they also are is literature. Yes, I undrenastd you've been at a sort of crossroads now is different opportunities have come your way weighing the reasons to do it, wiighneg the reasons not to do it. And you've steatd it's not about the nebumr of things on the list. It's about the weight of those things. And almost always you think that the things that mean and matter the most really come down to one question. And that question is, what do you really want to do? And I wanted to see if you can help me understand how to know when something is the thing you really want to do. Archives again, with the haert of the stseym. So for me, that Deep is wanting, it's not that it's the easiest thing to do. It's the thing about which you feel like I can make I can create something that feels lrgaer than me if I decide to do this. So if I if I write a book and not only is it a deep and true expression of some deep and true things, I want to put into the world, if it's not only that and that, it becomes also something that is meaningful to others, that's a big thing to cibtturone to the world. And I think that for me. That sense of like rightness or a sense of like if this mission is fulfilled, will it extend beyond my small little life? Like I feel that I feel that as a sort of pofwuerl call. Cheryl, I have to ask qeistnuos for you. OK. The first is something that I was really hnteeared to read about. I understand that sedwnahics are problematic. Of course they are. Sandwiches are just like chaos. You know, machines, right? They're just like willy nlliy. See, I know you're my sisetr. I know you that I know you also feel this way like I to the orderly. Absolutely. Everybody has to be prcfeet. Not only do they have to be orderly. Yes. That's the whole goal of a sandwich for me is to make every bit as much like the previous bite as possible. OK, ccneotssiny. So you put the you know, whatever whatever you're putting on it, it has to be uniformly applied everywhere. Burritos also sometimes have this plrbeom. If people don't do the bitrruo correctly, it's just tacos. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So this is my last qsoetiun, Cheryl. What is the thing you want to do most next? finsih my next book, I really am ready to do that. So wild and tiny, beautiful things were published within four months of each other in 2012, and basically my life was just an absolute you don't like it was just like a volcano. And I was, you know, I meovis. I was a little gilry and. Yeah, and the play and I was ivovlned in the podcast and the public speaking career and also the kids. You know, during all this time I got your mom these, you know, little records, you know, and who now are 14 and 16. And I just feel like, wow, OK, I really now I'm ready to go back. Go back to that baisc go back to that sit there and write your next book. And so that's what I'm doing. And I really want to do it and I'm really excited about it. I'm also afraid and doubtful as scared at all the things I am when I'm writing, which means I'm writing my next book. I can't wait to read it, cannot wait to read it. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed. Thank you so much for joining me today. And design mrtaets. Such an open for so many wfounerdl things to say. Thank you, dibbee. You are. You are a woman after my own heart, I swear. We have to meet in real life someday. Have sandwiches. Absolutely. I would love that. I would love that. Thank you, my dear. This is the 16th year broadcasting design matters. And I'd like to thank you for lnsentiig. And rmeemebr, we can talk about making a difference. We could make a difference. Well, we can do both. I'm Debbie Millman and I look forward to talking with you again soon. Special thanks to the soonpsr of this episode. Hoffler and Co Design Matters is produced by ciurts Fox Productions and on Pandemic Times. The show was rcderoed at the School of vasuil Arts Masters in Branding Program in New York City, the first and legnsot running branding program in the world. The ediotr in ciehf of Design Matters is Zachary Petitt, and the art director is Emily Weiland.

Open Cloze

Mm hmm. This is ______ Matters with Debbie Millman, you could say that Cheryl Strayed is very adaptable. Her memoir, Wild, was adapted into a _____ starring Reese ___________. Another book, Tiny, Beautiful Things, was adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos and Thomas Kael. Tiny, Beautiful Things itself was adapted from an advice ______ she once wrote called Dear Sugar. And that advice column has ultimately been adapted into a New York Times podcast called Sugar Calling. I'm joined by Cheryl Strayed, who is recording herself in her home in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl Strayed, welcome to Design Matters. Hi, Debbie. I am so thrilled to be here. I'm a fan of the podcast and I've been _____ to talk to you for ages. Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so _______. I listen to a recent _______ where you said that this pandemic has made it _____ to you that the first thing you are is a writer. Was that ever really in doubt? No, no. It was never in _____ inside myself. But what I meant by that is one of the things that ________ after a while became a __________, is ________ I had so many _____________ that were not writing. They were writing adjacent. For example, I now have a really active ______ as a as a paid public speaker. I never I mean, I do unpaid public talks, too. But what I mean is I never in my _______ dreams imagined that I would be, you know, traveling the world, giving talks. And I and I am like I actually have a whole career of that in addition to my writing. And that was born out of a combination of, you know, wild success. And then also my you know, much to my surprise, I'm good at it and I enjoy it. I understand that you're a huge planner, as am I. And it's been hard for you not to know what you're doing next month or July or ______. How are you managing your schedule? And I'm mostly asking this for my own sake to really get a sense of how you're managing. It's really interesting, isn't I mean, for me, I realized that planning has always made me feel safe and it's always been for me the vehicle of my ambitions. What I mean by that is that _______ intentions has always been really important for me in terms of like if I'm in a place, whether it be emotionally or professionally or financially, that that that it's not a good place, I think, OK, my intention is to go there and I make a plan and I see it on the horizon and I think about the _____ I need to take to get there. And so on the _______ _____, planning has been actually an incredibly healing act for me. It's also been just I get pleasure from knowing the logistics of everything. I'm a detail person. I love maybe that sense of control that I have when I look at my calendar, I go, OK, we're going to do this in June and that in July and that and August. And this time next year will be here, you know, and I love that. It gives me a kind of. Pleasure. I mean, I even joke with my husband, our long running argument, so let's see, we've met we met in 1995, so I guess it'll be 25 years since we met this fall, this September. My running joke with him, you know, we've been fighting for for _______ about him not putting things on the calendar and not being a planner. And then every once in a while, he'll do it like he'll put something on the calendar. And I'm like, that is the sexiest thing you ever did for me. Yeah. Yeah. I totally lost my love language. Yeah. What about you? Well, I. I know that you're a list maker and you're not only a list _______, but you make _______ hear lists. And I do the same thing and I am so I don't know what the word would be attached to my calendar. I have a paper ________, I've had a paper calendar for decades, and my dad used to send me the American Express book calendar, which I used to use, and then he passed away. So I needed another _______. And so I just have this little paper calendar. It's actually little, but it's two year calendar and I am attached to this thing. It goes with me everywhere. So I didn't even answer your question. So how am I dealing with it? The first thing I was kind of in denial. Like a lot of people, what I decided is the pandemic would last about eight weeks at least. Its impact on my life would be, you know, that was the first thing like, OK, everything is ________ in March and April and maybe May, but June and July and August are _______ on. Right. And then as the weeks passed and I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, and I finally, you know, I had to do. The thing I have many _____ advise others to do when they feel _________ is to surrender and to accept that's about accepting what's true, accepting what's true. Really one of the most _______ acts of my life. And I think any life, even if what's true isn't what you want to be true. Right. Because then you can work from a place of reality rather than delusion. And so I'm trying to accept it and let go of. The future, or at least my sense of _______ what's going to happen in the future, let's go into the past a little bit. I'd love to talk to you a little bit about how you have navigated the arc of your life. You were born Cheryl Niland in ________, Pennsylvania. Yeah. And moved to Chaska, Minnesota, when you were six years old. Shortly thereafter, your parents got divorced. And in ________ to the time after your mother died, it seems as if those _____ were some of the _______ years of your life. Mm hmm. Did you realize that at the time? Gosh, that's such a great question. I did I did _______ it to the ______ that a _____ can, which is somewhat limited. I was born into a house of really extremes. On one hand, I had this mother who was very loving and very kind hearted and warm and optimistic and in so many ways communicated to me and my my _____. I have an older sister who's three years older and a younger brother who's about three years _______. And she always communicated to us that sense of of wonder and love and light and the beautiful things. But we were living in a house that was, you know, frankly, __________. My ______ was _______ and _______. He was emotionally abusive to all of us. He was physically violent to my mother to an extreme degree. And we were terrified of him. And also, you know, we witnessed I witnessed my brother and sister and I all witnessed horrifying things, things that I that I never witnessed beyond that, you know, as an adult. I mean, I saw as a little child my first some of the first things I saw were really, you know, my mother being beaten by my father, my mother almost being killed before my eyes and my father my mother being raped by my father. And so my memory, my __________ of what I understood in those years. It's definitely one of fear and and sorrow and terror and darkness. But because that was my life, it wasn't really until my mother finally escaped my dad that I realized, oh, this is what happiness is, this is how it should be. So, yeah, I mean, I really think I had these kind of two childhoods, really three childhoods. But the first one was terror and darkness and violence and abuse. And the second one was my mom is a single mom and we were very poor. We were poor with my dad too, but really ______ in poverty with a single mom and three kids and a lot of chaos and ________, but but also a lot of light and joy and fun and no longer being under the the sort of weight of that fear that you have when you live with somebody who's abusive. I completely understand in many ways. I had a lot of similar experiences so that a lot of the questions I'm going to ask you are really not only for my listeners _______, but also for my own in terms of really being so curious about how somebody can ______ from that kind of darkness to be able to. Say, this is happiness, you know, this is happiness. Mm hmm. You've written this about what a father's role is in his children's life. The father's job is to teach his children how to be ________, to give them the __________ to get on the _____, to ride into battle when it's necessary to do so. If you don't get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. Well, that's so resonated with me. What do you think you had to teach yourself? Like, what is the biggest thing you think you had to _____ yourself? Oh, you don't ask little questions, do you? You asked me questions. Big questions, sorry. Big questions. You know, I think that the biggest thing is that I'm OK in this world. I have the strength and the courage and the resilience and the heart to be OK, to be safe within myself. And I think that that's what I mean. When I said to be a warrior, I mean, I think we are very often think of this in terms of battle. And years ago I wrote I _____ about this in a while, too. But so right after my mom died, I was living in Minneapolis. I was twenty two and a ______ of mine gave me a gift certificate to see an astrologer. And I was like, OK, well, I don't know, like what says astrology stuff, you know? And but I thought, OK, I'll go. And I went and I talked to this woman, Pat Kaluza, and she had this like hippie sort of place in Minneapolis, and she read my birth chart. And it was __________ and amazing. And one of the things she said to me, she kept going to the father. She kept saying, your father, he's a Vietnam vet or he's troubled or he's you know. And I kept saying, like, oh, yeah, my father is not in my life. He's nothing. He's nothing. He's not anything. And she said to me, well, you were wounded. Your father was wounded. And when you have a parent who's _______ and who hasn't healed his or her ______, you you as the child, you're wounded in the same place. And so you're going to have to heal that wounds. And the way she talked to me about it is that there will be times in your life that you need to ride into battle for yourself and you need to teach yourself how to do that. And, you know, I would say that that _______ beyond necessarily the father. I think that, you know, if we didn't get that essential sense of self-worth from both parents, we need to ______ with that in our _____ _____. And so with my father, I had to heal many things. But but the most the biggest one you ask what the most important one I think it was that sense is that. That I'm secure and safe in the world and that I'm strong enough to face anything really and to really step into that knowledge, not that you'll be like always brave or always do the right thing or always accept what's happening in in a sort of graceful way or __________ way. But that at my deepest, deepest, deepest place within me, I believe in the power of my own resilience and ability to survive and persist. And I think that's what the parents give us if they love us well and they love us. Right. And if we don't get that, we have to find it ourselves and the world. I think that as I was rereading Wilde and as I watch the movie again, too, which was really wonderful. I also got the sense that that your journey was one of finding out if you could rely on yourself, if you could take care of yourself, pretty _______ way. Yeah. Testing yourself. But but I got the sense that that ability to do that was was also underneath everything else that you were doing. I think so, too. And, you know, I think I want to say to like I think though we all need to do that. You know, obviously somebody like me who had a father who was abusive and not, you know, not the father that any one wants. And then and then a mother who died, I was really an orphan. And, you know, I had to go and find those things, as you say. And yet I think part of maybe the _____ journey is that like that I even think of my own kids, teenagers right now who are _____ and secure and living in a very happy home and have wonderful lives. And yet what I know about them is that that part of their journey is going to be finding their way and finding their strength and finding their courage and and also finding their path, you know, and all of those things are made more difficult when we have difficult parents or dead _______ or abusive parents. But they're all it's part of what we have to do as humans. And and that's why, you know, I think so often it wasn't until after I actually wrote Wild that I understood what I had done on that hike is that I had given myself my own rite of passage. And, you know, I said, like, you have to go test yourself to see who you are. And that's those rituals of _____ of passage are what what we've done as humans throughout all time, across every culture and, you know, continents and so on and so forth. We don't do that so much anymore. And I think it's a loss. I think most of us would benefit from being asked to find out who we really are by being put in _____________ circumstances or challenging circumstances. When I was doing my research on your childhood and adolescence, they came across a couple of little _____ that really were ___________ surprising. I know that when you were 13, you moved to Aitkin County. It was very narrowly lived in a house with your mom and your stepfather. They built the _____ and for many years the house didn't have electricity or running water, didn't have indoor ________ until after you went to college. But despite all of this, Cheryl Strayed, you were a high school cheerleader and the homecoming queen. And so you you were an overachiever from day one. Aha. I was. I was. So let me explain. My stepfather, who was a carpenter, he was seven years younger than my mom. They they married when I was like 11 and he was working under the table for this roofing contractor. And it was the middle of the winter in Minnesota. There was ice on the roof. He slid off the roof and broke his back. And as I said, we were always flat broke and he was injured and out of work for more than a year. And my mom at the time was working as an administrative assistant for the like the small town attorney in ______, Minnesota. And he said, you know, I'll _________ you pro bono. It's not fair because my stepfather was working under the _____. His boss said, oh, no, I don't need to pay you anything. So by the end of the year, they got a twelve thousand dollar check. That was the payment for a broken back back in 1980 or so. And my mom said, you know, this is our only chance we'll ever have our own home that we own and let's not buy a home. Let's buy land. So they went to northern Minnesota. Yeah. And we moved to 40 _____ of land. We lived really in a tarpaper _____, one room tarpaper shack for the first six months. And we _____ the house ourselves. And it was a lot of work and it was incredibly difficult. And I was a teenager and I wanted to be ______ and popular and not associated with going to the bathroom in an outhouse or taking a bath in a pond, which is what I did. Or taking a bath in a bucket, which is what I did. So, yeah, my my rebellion in my teen years was to seem to be a _______ of myself that thought that I wanted to _______ a sense of success and grace and togetherness. And I you know, I wanted to be popular because to be popular is to be loved. I wanted people to love me. Now, let's talk a little bit about books, because you've _______ about how, as you were growing up, books were your religion and you cited the experience of reading ______ ______ novel Johnny Got His Gun is a book that first _______ you to the _____ of __________ the life of another human. Yeah. What was that like for you? How did how did that infuse who you were? Johnny got his gun. Dalton Trumbo, really, really powerfully _________ book. I think I was about 14 when I read it. And it's just, you know, you're inside the mind of a man who's had, you know, been deeply injured in the war and lost his limbs. And he's, you know, you're just living in his head and and having his memories and his delusions and his his sorrows and his _____. And you're right there inside of him. And I think it was this maybe the first book that the ________ was so utterly dark and painful and true that it was the it was the first time that I understood what war was, what grief was. You know, I'd _______ about things from a distance. And what that novel taught me is how you can _______ an experience that is so not your own. And and, you know, I loved _____ long before that, but that was the first time I stepped into one and thought, this is a kind of _____, if you will. This is a kind of portal that that I guess I've been longing to enter for a long time. Another piece of this that goes way back is always as a young child, I always wanted to know what was happening inside of other people's minds. Like really like what did they really feel ? What did they really think? What was their actual experience of being human? And so in this book, I was like, wow, I've finally been let in to that to that ______. You also started working at 13. You had a variety of jobs. You were a janitor's assistant at your high school waxing ______. You were a waitress at the Dairy Queen. And I understand you can put a on on the top of a soft serve ice cream cone like a pro. Of course, I worked there. So, yeah. I mean, that's the thing growing up poor. What you _______ realize is if you ever want anything, you have to earn the money yourself. Because even though my mom provided for us to the best of her abilities, you know, I wanted things like brand name shoes or Levi jeans, like we would go to Kmart and at the beginning the school year, and we'd each get like a certain amount of money we could spend. And then that was it. And I was like, I don't want to, but I want to wear the brands, you know? And my mom would say, I can't afford it. So as soon as I could, you know, I babysat before that. But but honestly, as soon as I could, I got myself a job and I was like ________ and a half. I sort of fudged my age. I think you had to be 14 to actually work. But by 13, I worked as a full time job as a janitor's assistant and in my school, cleaning the books that the shelves and the _______ and the desk getting gum off of things and painting. It was through this program for low income kids. You know, I worked and I ______ my money and I ______ my stuff. That's that was part of the whole plan, you know, that I would get it myself if it couldn't be provided for me. Sometimes I. I talk to my peers who were like going to camp or going to Paris or whatever, and I envy them. And yet I also think, wow, the best education I ever had was being a _______ in my high school and then going from that job straight to my job at the _____ Queen. And I did that all ______ and they were minimum wage jobs. But but they were the first lesson I had and really how to be self-sufficient and making it happen, like not expecting others to make it ______ for you. And I treasure that. Like, I think I learned more doing that than I would have going to a lovely summer camp. But, you know, we all learned we all find our way. I read that it never occurred to you to attend _______ outside of Minnesota and you only applied to one school, the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. How come how come it didn't occur to you that you could go out outside of Minnesota? It never ________ to me. It absolutely never occurred to me that it was possible to leave my state to go to college. Like to me, the furthest even going to college seemed like going a very far. Our way and the reason I didn't know to apply to more than one is because nobody told me. I wasn't folded into anyone's arms when it came to like, well, let's talk about college, let's talk about your options, let's talk about the process. I _______ out by _______ something that I had to take the ACT test. Nobody talked to me about it. I paid for it myself. I drove myself there. I took the test. I didn't study for it because I was told, you can't study for that test. You just go . And it's like an aptitude test. I don't know what score I got because it didn't even matter to me. I just took the test, did my best, and I went to I put in my application to one school and and I _______ to this one ______ because it was a small school. I was ___________ of thinking, like going to like the University of Minnesota. It just seemed too big. So, yeah, you know , I look back at it and think, what was I thinking? And all I can say is I just didn't have that information available. And I think we think this is so unique. But it's not I mean, it's the _______ for a lot of kids living in poverty that they don't know the way to college. For your sophomore year, you ___________ to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and you studied English and women's _______. What did you think you wanted to do professionally at that _____ as a poor kid getting an education? The first goal and really at first the only goal was like, you get a job so you can make money. And I first thought that the only path to that would be journalism. So when I was a freshman, I majored in journalism. And when I transferred to the __________ of Minnesota, I was like journalism, but I quit. I took a class really in that first year or so with Michael Dennis Browne, the poet _______ ______ ______ and my eyes, I just everything, oh, you know, __________ exploded. And I thought. I have to _____ this, I have to you know, I thought that I could sort of funnel my my desire to write into the channel of __________ because it's the job, you know, that you can actually get paid to write. But I don't want to do that. Like, I want to really put all of my heart and my faith in and ________ writing. So I switched majors and became an _______ major. And what I thought I'd do with that is become a _____ American writer. That's what I _______ I'd do with that I was absolutely relentlessly, ruthlessly _________ to following through and being, you know, just really, really, you know, holding hard onto that thread. That was my writing and doing it and doing it and doing it until I succeeded. And you know, it's funny, as I say, these words, you know, the female in me, the woman who was raised as a girl, is like, Oh, don't say that. Don't say you want to be a great American writer because that seems cocky or that you're bragging or but I'll tell you, like, that's the thing that got me through. Is that that like, again, the _________, the plan, the ambition, if I sort of ________ around and said, well, you know, I hope that this turns out and I hope I can, you know, publish a _____ like I would never, ever, ever be talking to you right now. Yeah. And it reminds me of that little mantra you had while you were on your hike. I'm not ______. I'm not afraid. I will not be afraid. Yeah, well, and of course. And of course, when did I say I'm not afraid? And I was. Yeah. And, you know, even to this day, like, writing is so hard for me. It's so hard for me. I still have to say, Cheryl, you can do this. You're going to do this and you are not going to give up. You're not going to be second. You're going to go you're going to, you know, go all the way to the finish line. In March of 1991, when your mom was 45, you were 22, your mom died of cancer. And you've said that your mother's _____ was in many ways your Genesis story and the start of what you called your wild years. And you said that for you, using _____ or having a lot of sex or any sort of reckless behavior was about love, was about trying to find love in this weird way, trying to show the world this woman's life meant so much that I'm going to ruin mine to honor her. Mm hmm. And I wanted to ask you about that ___________ thing that we do. Why do you think we hurt ourselves when we're hurt ? Mm. Well, again, you you with the big questions, Debbie, I kind of want to say I'm sorry, but I'm sorry. It's so it's so it's so deep and so big that it _______ the answers. Why do we hurt ourselves when we're suffering? Why do we self-destruct when. Yeah, when we feel like we've been ruined ? I think it's a ______ of things. I think one of the things is it's a signal. It's a ______ to the people around us that we're saying help me. Even if we with our words are saying like, oh, no, I'm fine, just _____ me alone. And in so many ways, that's, you know, when you turn to drugs, for example, you know, that's a way of of _______ others away from you. Right. And yet what I was so clearly trying to do , I can see, is to be like, help me, help me, help me. And it's also a kind of test. So it's a signal. I need help. It's a test. Is there anyone out there who _____ me enough to help me? I also think in my case, there was this sort of division within me or this polarity that was the that's almost like it's almost like mythic in it's you know, when I think about it and I interpret it this way is like the mother, the good mother who's been taken from me and the and the bad father. The dark father who abandoned me. You know, if I can't be the woman my mother raised me to be that ambitious, generous life, you know, light filled person, maybe I can be the junk, the pile of shit, the darkness that my father nurtured in me. There was something that I had to figure out about those ______ _____________. That I had to rage against and he'll. And understand and revise, and I think that a lot of us have to do that, you know, I think that a lot of people who are suffering and certainly people who have written to me as _____, you know, they have a problem. They write with the problem right there. Like, this is my question. This is my thing. But really, the problem is, is that deep, deep river that's flowing beneath all the troubles that that subterranean channel, that that is your parents, that is those early _______ you received, your losses and your _____ and your wounds and your sorrows that you have to you have to heal them. And sometimes, you know, healing is an ugly thing. Sometimes healing is destruction. Sometimes healing is turning away. Sometimes _______ is a kind of rage and _____, you know? And I think that for me, it was just like I had to pass through. Everything so the image that always comes to mind to me is one of total destruction, when I saw that I was going to lose everything after my mom died and I did, my family also really fell apart and was lost when I __________ that that was what was going to happen and that I couldn't make it not happen. That's when I really turned to heroin. That's when I was like, OK, if if the house is going to burn down, I'm going to go like the the piece of this that I in some ways I can have control over is I'm going to actually burn the whole the whole, you know, the whole land, like the whole _________. The hard thing about that is, of course, some people stay there, they get lost there. They're _______ through the _____ forever and luck. And I'm so ________ that that wasn't my fate, you know, that that I had to do that stuff in _____ to realize that. That I wasn't the person my father raised me to be, my father didn't raise me, I was the person my mother ______ me to be. And the best thing I could do, and this is why I said that so much of that stuff was about love, as I realized, like I was trying to show the world, listen, this _______ woman is gone and I am suffering. I wanted to, you know, with my own life, demonstrate how how how gigantic that loss was. And what I realized is the only way I could do that, the ________ only way I could do that was to make good on my intentions, to make good on my ambitions, to be the woman my mother raised me to be, as I said, and wild to become, to become. It's interesting you brought her to life through your words and, you know, she brought you to life through her life. It's a really nice ________ there, it's crazy, you know, I lost her, I was the same age when she died as she was when she was ________ with me. So I lost her at the same age that I that I came into her life. Right. You know, I wish that I wish that I didn't have to go into the darkness. But, you know, I was always trying to move in the _________ of love. And I felt so alone in my grief. And then when I wrote about it and told the truth about it, how ______ it was, I felt like, OK, everyone's going to think I'm _____. But instead, what everyone thought was me too to this day, you know, so this day, really now, you know, hundreds of people, hundreds of thousands of people around the world, maybe millions of people around the world are saying, I know how you feel because I felt that way, too. And and I'm suddenly not alone in my grief. Yeah. And I'm always shocked by that. I am very grateful looking back on my life. And maybe this is synthesized happiness, I'm not entirely sure in in terms of what it has given me in _____ of my ambition or my creativity or even just my sense of the world. But I also deeply, ______ regret the pain that I caused others with my own self _______________. And one of the biggest regrets that I have. You know what what I put other people through in that journey to be who I am and where I am now. But I also know that I couldn't have ________ in many ways without that destructiveness and that testing of of who I was as I revised myself, so to speak. Yeah. Do you think that part of that revision for you was to change your name? Oh, absolutely. Mm hmm. Yeah. So I was born Cheryl Milind, as you said, and then I got married young. I was Cheryl ______ ______. We we both hyphenated our _____. And because we were trying to be radical feminist and cool, which it was a weird thing to do back then. And so, yeah, when I got divorced right before I went to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, I was getting ________ like 94, 95. I realized that. Yeah. So. I had to set my life on a new course, which was really the old course, which was the course, you know, way back, you know, when I was like hiding Jane Eyre in 10th grade or whatever. I think now those plans for myself, I took a little ______, did some other things, and then I was like , OK, this is, you know, life. My mother's dead. My first marriage is over. This man I loved but got married too young and I'm an orphan and I need to make my life I'm going to make my life. And part of that, obviously, for a writer is about language. And Cheryl Niland just didn't feel like me. And so I came up with my own last name, Cheryl Strayed. What's so funny to me now? So I've been Cheryl strayed ______ than I was anything else. Now I'm 51. People still say like, oh, but Cheryl Strayed is not your real name. And I'm like, ______ Strayed is the realest name I ever had. So you talked about your hike along the Pacific Crest _____. You were 26 when you embarked on this solo three month, eleven hundred mile hike. If you knew that there were people listening who are considering taking the same hike, what would you share with them? What would you tell them? What advice might you give them? Well, absolutely go if you have any, whether it's the same hike as mine or any long hike. If you have any ______ to do this, do it because it is walking, especially walking along way for many days on end day after day. It's it's it's a deeply, deeply challenging thing. So you get you you gain your _____ of your own strength and your own ability to ______ difficulty, monotony, pain. And of course, what happens on the outside, one foot in front of the other in _____ of the other, also happens on the inside that, you know, turns out for me, you know, the way to heal. Anything is to keep going. And to keep going with humility and _____ and a sense of optimism, even when it looks and feels really hard and, you know, I just I love this idea of the body teaching us what what the soul and the ______ and the heart needs to know. And that's what happens on a long walk. That's exactly what happens on a long walk. I mean, I can't say enough what a __________ humbling and healing act that was. And it seems unimaginable to me to consider hiking 11 hundred miles in near solitude without a phone on the ________. Well, the phone off the entire time, I mean, it's just not even comprehensible. What would people say? Well, that's really this was 1995. And I didn't realize until, you know, I was sort of midway through wild that I realized, oh, I'm I'm actually writing a kind of historical. Memoir about a world that is no longer that, a world that is now past, that our __________ of the wilderness is now one where, first of all, we can just research everything online, you know, where does that trail begin and end? Where is the water? Where's the you know, I had this right, you know, and that was one of one of the things and of course, and wild, I did make comic of like unpreparedness or whatever. But the other piece of this I want to say is that I prepared to the extent that I could that there wasn't the Internet. You know, I went to the ___________ Public Library and said, you know, what books do you have on the _______ Crest Trail? And they had one. And it was the book I already purchased at. It wasn't it wasn't like things were available. You know, you just had to go and see how it was. Yeah, I was absolutely alone. I was the first eight days of my hike. I didn't even see another person. What I learned is that that would be, you know, a regular thing like that. I would many, many times go three, four or five days without another seeing another person. There was no way to _______ anyone except if I came upon a ________ or if I sent them a letter. Right. I'm so grateful for that world. I mean, I'm so grateful that I took my hike during that time because I think had I not done that, I would have spent a lot of time. Tweeting at people in town, right, connecting great pictures, the fox, I mean, yeah, and getting ________ from people. Right. And not just sitting in my solitude. I mean, that's the thing about that. That kind of deep ________ is it's just like it's just you and there's nothing to do but reckon with yourself. There's nothing to do but have that conversation with yourself in your head. There's nothing to do but allow those memories to emerge. By the time I was finished with my hike, I ________ felt like I had thought about everything I remembered in my whole life, every relationship, every person. What a therapeutic experience. Monster was the name of your backpack, which at its heaviest weighed nearly 70 ______, even if even at its lightest it was 50 pounds. And ______ yourself ______ in a physical way kind of _____ like the opposite of fun. And I read that you said that the act of ___________ your suffering can become pleasure afterwards. And I wanted to know, like, how so? How does that become ________? I'm such a believer. I call it retrospective fun. OK, and this is the advice too. I'd give someone ______ to take a long hike is you just have to or really any kind of journey. You just have to acknowledge that, that very often the best things we do are painful and complicated and difficult and __________ and require us to be out of our comfort zone and to ______ _________ things. Right. If the journeys we take are just like exactly how we imagined they'd be and plan they'd be and and everything was _______ and ________. And there was no there was no sort of difficulty. We would be like, yeah, that that was that was fun. But, you know, there's there's nothing about it. Right. There's no texture to it. Yeah. No, no. Great. And I think that the the grittier an experience is, the more it _______ us, we never, ever, ever forget the lessons we learned the hard way. I _____ on a backpacking novice. I became a ___________ expert. I thought that I couldn't do that. And I did. I over and over and over again said to myself, I can't go on. I can't. And I always did. And then that becomes part of who you are. It becomes part of the story you tell yourself. So then, you know, 10 years later, you're in labor. As I was trying to give _____ to my eleven pound baby boy and I was thinking, I can't do this. And I want what the deepest voice in me said, you know, you can you know, you can. Nine days after your hike and a few days after your 27th birthday, you met your husband through someone who came to the yard sale you had selling your hiking gear to _____ a little bit of _____ to live on. Several years later, you married him, you had two children. Do you think that this sort of new life, big quotes was the gift you got at the end of a long ________? Do you think it was just luck? Tell me about how you view that sort of moment in time where you come back and everything changes? Well, you know, I think it's it's a combination of things, right? Like luck is always luck is always a factor in everything. You know, how how do we ever know that we're going to be standing there when that person _____ up and you say hello and then something that's born of that? Right. How I think of Brian's life in my life and ________ about how how did our paths ever get to cross? And and of course, a lot of it is that by the time I met Brian, I was OK. You know, I was in a place that I was able to see more clearly again and be more kind to myself and to be truer to my nature and truer to my ________ and my vision. I was doing, again, what I'm here to do. And when you're doing that and then you meet somebody else who's doing that, it's like really good timing, you know. So in so many ways, it is the gift. You know, getting, Brian, is the gift of. Doing all of that laundry and searching and finding and it's not the end of the story, of course, it's like it wasn't like, well, now I'm just like all great and everything. And and then, you know, 25 years later, we're just here we are in the same place. I mean, we both struggled and _____ and gone through all kinds of things. Right. But, you know, to make yourself ready for that kind of relationship, I wasn't walking the trail to do that. But that was one of the outcomes of it. Yeah. You moved to Portland, you got a job _______ tables. You _______ working full time, writing your first novel, Torch, and you then went to graduate school to Syracuse University and got a master of fine arts in _______ _______ so you could actually finish the book. Why? What made you ______ to do that? What made you feel like that would help you get to that moment that were where the book would be finished? Yeah, it was it was mostly financial. And some also just like the logistics of of giving myself real time to write. So all through my 20s, I was a waitress, I was a _____ advocate. I was a vegetable picker in an organic farm. I like I was an EMT. I did all kinds of things. But what I was really doing was writing. That was my real work. And it was I had this big student loan to pay off. It was exhausting always to be just living hand-to-mouth and struggling financially while trying to write. And and I sort of always thought like. OK, my my first novel will, of course, be published and done and everything by the time I'm 30, but I, I just said, OK, as I was approaching 30, I was like, OK, this hasn't been done yet. And here are the reasons why. One is I'm always having to work full time to pay the bills and to you know, it's hard to have that kind of time and focus when you're working full time. So graduate school kind of solve that problem for me. And I only looked into I only applied to ________ schools that, you know, with the idea that I would only go if I were offered a full a full fellowship or scholarship and tuition remission and that it wouldn't put me further in student loan debt Torch was published in 2006. At that time, you had two children under the age of two, 18 ______ apart. You started writing Wild in 2008, 13 years after you completed the hike. Initially, you thought it would be a __________ of essays. Your second book, What? What Changed? Yeah, well, you know, the reason I thought it would be a collection of essays is I thought there is no way in hell that I can write a book while having two little babies and being in financial stress. And, you know, all of this. I just thought , I can't _____ another book. And what happened is I started writing and then it went on and on and on and on. And I was like, oh, I have a ______ story to tell. And it really I didn't know that until I was doing the writing because I found the bigger story when I was writing and buy the bigger story. I mean, the story that exceeds the kind of like, oh, here's you know, here's my interesting journey or here's the big loss I suffered, you know, that that I knew that I needed to find a universal thread that the my journey and my loss and my experience would be had the potential to be expressed in a way that other people would see themselves in it. And it took some writing for me to to figure out how to do that or to figure out that that was there. You said that being a memoirist is about learning how to re-enter previous versions of yourself. Yeah. How do you go back into that previous version while still maintaining who you are? Well, you know, you enter the magic of writing, that's that's what's so cool about it is so what I mean by that is this is the only way for me to write. About my real heartbreak over the decision to end my first ________ is to abandon the woman I am now who says, oh my gosh, I was too _____ to get _______ and he was great and everything, but it's a good thing we broke up because now we're both married to other people and we're _____, you know, so leave that ______ at the door and and _____ writing your way into the person who was in love with this man. Truly. And who also felt like she could not stay with him, who had to _____ his heart and her own in order to live the life that she, for whatever inexplicable reason that was still kind of, you know, beyond her explanation, had to trust herself to do that. And so I went in and reinhabited that and and as I was writing, for example, that scene in Wild, where my husband and I are _______ to get divorced and then we get divorced and we're saying goodbye to each other. You know, I was just _______ as I was writing it. And even though it's actually not sad, like it's actually not sad to me now. It's a memory of sadness that I that I reinhabited, this was really made a life to me. I was on the set a lot when we were making the movie. So I was there like every day and, you know, really involved in everything. And there's this scene in the movie and in the book where me and my ex-husband, we've just ______ off, you know, our divorce papers and we're standing on the ______ and we're talking to each other and crying and embracing for the last time. And it's very _________ in the book. I'm crying, you know, I'm like, it's sad. And then, you know, I'm ________ there with Reese Witherspoon right before she's going to walk into the street with Thomas Sadowski, who plays my ex-husband. And they're going to begin shooting the scene. And she suddenly looks at me and she just just starts sobbing. She was getting ready for that scene and they go into the street and they _____ this, and I'm standing next to the director, I'm watching this on the camera. And I noticed that some people on the crew were kind of gathered around me and a couple of them sort of put their hand on my back and put their hand on my ________ to comfort me. Wow. And I thought, oh, OK. I, I it was so clear, crystal clear to me because I was watching that scene and I wasn't ______ because it's not sad anymore. But when I watch the _____ of my mom dying. I cried, Oh, that's so sad, and it doesn't mean that one thing isn't sad and one thing is it means that there are different kinds of sorrow and some of them are ______. Our sad in the moment and others are sad forever. And, you know, so I think that's a really important thing that I try to remember still in my life, that it's like, is this a sorrow that I'm going to carry with me forever, or is it a sorrow that is like a crucible and I have to endure it and then I will be better for it that I you know, that's what I when I wrote as sugar, you've got to be brave enough to break your own heart. I was talking about exactly that thing where, you know, I had to make a decision that ______ me and another person pain, but I'm better for it. And it's not sad anymore. It was it was actually the the golden key that ______ the door to to my liberation. And there was loss in that. But but there was more gain. You know, it became a gift in the end. Like, very often I think how memoir writing is almost like the process of _______, right. Where you go back there and you say, well, who was that person and why did she do this and think this and love these ______ and leave these people. And there's always an answer if you're willing to dig for it. While you were working on _____, you also started writing your column, Dear Sugar for the Rumpus. You were mentoring students at the Attic _________ in ________. You were teaching workshops at universities, writing for _________. But you and Brian, your husband, who's a documentary filmmaker, were, as you put it, epically broke. You were, as they say, the classic starving artists. Yes. And I also thought it was ___________ that, well, you were writing Dear Sugar, you were giving people ______ and in wild you weren't. But people have read it that way. And I'm wondering how you feel about that, that whole sort of ______ of advice giving. I know you've referred to self-help work as intellectually mushy and and I think I think that, too. But I do think that people look for that in work even when it's not there for their own needs. Yeah. When I was writing, while it never occurred to me that anyone would be experienced as inspiring, you know, I was really just trying to write the truest Rozz realist. Story about that experience, about my grief, about my finding my way on this long walk, about the experience I had in the wilderness, and so, yeah, people do experience that in a in a like, well, what's the message of wild? I'm like, oh, you know, the _______ is whatever you think, whatever truth you find in yourself when you read it. That's what I meant when books were my ________ as I felt saved by them, like I felt seen by them. So, you know, to me, I've always said, like in airports, there are many of these kind of little convenience ______ and airports will have these little __________ that are there, like inspirational or self-help like that. And there are never books. There's never like novels there. There's never, you know, tiny, _________ things there. It's all these very ________ things that are very instructive, like, here's your problem. Here's what you need to do. And I find that the most helpful literature when it comes to like what real self-help is, is things like, I don't know, Jane Eyre, you know, Alice Munro. Short stories. There I am. And _____ Munro, short stories. There I am. And Toni Morrison's _______. There I am. And you know, Mary Oliver's poem. So, yeah, you know, I didn't intend for those things to be self-help and frankly, even sugar when when terrible , beautiful things came out, I was like it was in the self-help section of many books or so I was like, what? What? So I think of myself as an __________ self-help ______ because of course, of course, dear sugar columns are self-help. And yet what they also are is literature. Yes, I __________ you've been at a sort of crossroads now is different opportunities have come your way weighing the reasons to do it, ________ the reasons not to do it. And you've ______ it's not about the ______ of things on the list. It's about the weight of those things. And almost always you think that the things that mean and matter the most really come down to one question. And that question is, what do you really want to do? And I wanted to see if you can help me understand how to know when something is the thing you really want to do. Archives again, with the _____ of the ______. So for me, that Deep is wanting, it's not that it's the easiest thing to do. It's the thing about which you feel like I can make I can create something that feels ______ than me if I decide to do this. So if I if I write a book and not only is it a deep and true expression of some deep and true things, I want to put into the world, if it's not only that and that, it becomes also something that is meaningful to others, that's a big thing to __________ to the world. And I think that for me. That sense of like rightness or a sense of like if this mission is fulfilled, will it extend beyond my small little life? Like I feel that I feel that as a sort of ________ call. Cheryl, I have to ask _________ for you. OK. The first is something that I was really _________ to read about. I understand that __________ are problematic. Of course they are. Sandwiches are just like chaos. You know, machines, right? They're just like willy _____. See, I know you're my ______. I know you that I know you also feel this way like I to the orderly. Absolutely. Everybody has to be _______. Not only do they have to be orderly. Yes. That's the whole goal of a sandwich for me is to make every bit as much like the previous bite as possible. OK, ___________. So you put the you know, whatever whatever you're putting on it, it has to be uniformly applied everywhere. Burritos also sometimes have this _______. If people don't do the _______ correctly, it's just tacos. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So this is my last ________, Cheryl. What is the thing you want to do most next? ______ my next book, I really am ready to do that. So wild and tiny, beautiful things were published within four months of each other in 2012, and basically my life was just an absolute you don't like it was just like a volcano. And I was, you know, I ______. I was a little _____ and. Yeah, and the play and I was ________ in the podcast and the public speaking career and also the kids. You know, during all this time I got your mom these, you know, little records, you know, and who now are 14 and 16. And I just feel like, wow, OK, I really now I'm ready to go back. Go back to that _____ go back to that sit there and write your next book. And so that's what I'm doing. And I really want to do it and I'm really excited about it. I'm also afraid and doubtful as scared at all the things I am when I'm writing, which means I'm writing my next book. I can't wait to read it, cannot wait to read it. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed. Thank you so much for joining me today. And design _______. Such an open for so many _________ things to say. Thank you, ______. You are. You are a woman after my own heart, I swear. We have to meet in real life someday. Have sandwiches. Absolutely. I would love that. I would love that. Thank you, my dear. This is the 16th year broadcasting design matters. And I'd like to thank you for _________. And ________, we can talk about making a difference. We could make a difference. Well, we can do both. I'm Debbie Millman and I look forward to talking with you again soon. Special thanks to the _______ of this episode. Hoffler and Co Design Matters is produced by ______ Fox Productions and on Pandemic Times. The show was ________ at the School of ______ Arts Masters in Branding Program in New York City, the first and _______ running branding program in the world. The ______ in _____ of Design Matters is Zachary Petitt, and the art director is Emily Weiland.

Solution

  1. ambition
  2. wrote
  3. heart
  4. desire
  5. facts
  6. backpacking
  7. speaker
  8. wounds
  9. overwhelmed
  10. couple
  11. reckon
  12. turnstiles
  13. setting
  14. layered
  15. acres
  16. fiction
  17. savage
  18. cheryl
  19. contact
  20. understood
  21. feels
  22. leave
  23. portland
  24. doubt
  25. marriage
  26. detour
  27. reality
  28. amazing
  29. nilly
  30. books
  31. teach
  32. minneapolis
  33. totally
  34. shoot
  35. terrifying
  36. lives
  37. crazy
  38. notion
  39. consistency
  40. trail
  41. sorrow
  42. university
  43. courageous
  44. standing
  45. mailed
  46. money
  47. started
  48. absolutely
  49. relationships
  50. bigger
  51. payphone
  52. pounds
  53. weighing
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  55. happy
  56. pushing
  57. youth
  58. older
  59. sponsor
  60. sublist
  61. debbie
  62. plumbing
  63. english
  64. career
  65. months
  66. message
  67. opportunities
  68. caused
  69. stories
  70. parents
  71. realize
  72. column
  73. wonderfully
  74. rages
  75. adult
  76. secret
  77. sense
  78. littig
  79. extent
  80. person
  81. specific
  82. writer
  83. wounded
  84. thinking
  85. front
  86. sugar
  87. friend
  88. ashes
  89. direction
  90. chaska
  91. horse
  92. destructive
  93. sobbing
  94. confidence
  95. learned
  96. number
  97. finish
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  100. human
  101. dennis
  102. writing
  103. transferred
  104. powerfully
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  106. knowing
  107. involved
  108. addition
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  110. story
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  115. scene
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  118. decide
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  121. street
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  126. recorded
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  140. chief
  141. astounding
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  151. clear
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  153. advice
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  155. dairy
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  168. trumbo
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  176. movies
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  180. alice
  181. began
  182. milind
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  185. years
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  187. suffer
  188. father
  189. vehicle
  190. basic
  191. school
  192. loves
  193. benefit
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  196. making
  197. steps
  198. crying
  199. michael
  200. listening
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  202. happen
  203. understand
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  205. figured
  206. loved
  207. opened
  208. endure
  209. solitude
  210. raise
  211. pacific
  212. bestseller
  213. janitor
  214. collection
  215. floors
  216. studies
  217. internet
  218. power
  219. extends
  220. remember
  221. symmetry
  222. times
  223. sister
  224. experience
  225. names
  226. idyllic
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  229. anger
  230. graduate
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  232. afraid
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  234. earned
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  238. creative
  239. dying
  240. excited
  241. break
  242. pleasure
  243. version
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  245. inhabit
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  247. drawers
  248. signal
  249. level
  250. project
  251. girly
  252. applied
  253. curtis
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  255. religion
  256. quickly
  257. sandwiches
  258. deeply
  259. teaches
  260. interesting
  261. inhabiting
  262. magic
  263. system
  264. canceled
  265. shack
  266. disarray
  267. difficult
  268. remembering
  269. dithered
  270. august
  271. violent
  272. trust
  273. wanted
  274. radical
  275. emotional
  276. intention
  277. decided
  278. wilde
  279. faith
  280. exhausting
  281. spangler
  282. design
  283. summer
  284. drugs
  285. walks
  286. absolute
  287. thirteen
  288. death
  289. waiting
  290. people
  291. primal
  292. feedback
  293. destructiveness
  294. honestly
  295. represent
  296. abusive
  297. perfect
  298. birth
  299. exposed
  300. college

Original Text

Mm hmm. This is Design Matters with Debbie Millman, you could say that Cheryl Strayed is very adaptable. Her memoir, Wild, was adapted into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Another book, Tiny, Beautiful Things, was adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos and Thomas Kael. Tiny, Beautiful Things itself was adapted from an advice column she once wrote called Dear Sugar. And that advice column has ultimately been adapted into a New York Times podcast called Sugar Calling. I'm joined by Cheryl Strayed, who is recording herself in her home in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl Strayed, welcome to Design Matters. Hi, Debbie. I am so thrilled to be here. I'm a fan of the podcast and I've been dying to talk to you for ages. Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so excited. I listen to a recent podcast where you said that this pandemic has made it clear to you that the first thing you are is a writer. Was that ever really in doubt? No, no. It was never in doubt inside myself. But what I meant by that is one of the things that happened after a while became a bestseller, is suddenly I had so many opportunities that were not writing. They were writing adjacent. For example, I now have a really active career as a as a paid public speaker. I never I mean, I do unpaid public talks, too. But what I mean is I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be, you know, traveling the world, giving talks. And I and I am like I actually have a whole career of that in addition to my writing. And that was born out of a combination of, you know, wild success. And then also my you know, much to my surprise, I'm good at it and I enjoy it. I understand that you're a huge planner, as am I. And it's been hard for you not to know what you're doing next month or July or August. How are you managing your schedule? And I'm mostly asking this for my own sake to really get a sense of how you're managing. It's really interesting, isn't I mean, for me, I realized that planning has always made me feel safe and it's always been for me the vehicle of my ambitions. What I mean by that is that setting intentions has always been really important for me in terms of like if I'm in a place, whether it be emotionally or professionally or financially, that that that it's not a good place, I think, OK, my intention is to go there and I make a plan and I see it on the horizon and I think about the steps I need to take to get there. And so on the deepest level, planning has been actually an incredibly healing act for me. It's also been just I get pleasure from knowing the logistics of everything. I'm a detail person. I love maybe that sense of control that I have when I look at my calendar, I go, OK, we're going to do this in June and that in July and that and August. And this time next year will be here, you know, and I love that. It gives me a kind of. Pleasure. I mean, I even joke with my husband, our long running argument, so let's see, we've met we met in 1995, so I guess it'll be 25 years since we met this fall, this September. My running joke with him, you know, we've been fighting for for decades about him not putting things on the calendar and not being a planner. And then every once in a while, he'll do it like he'll put something on the calendar. And I'm like, that is the sexiest thing you ever did for me. Yeah. Yeah. I totally lost my love language. Yeah. What about you? Well, I. I know that you're a list maker and you're not only a list speaker, but you make sublist hear lists. And I do the same thing and I am so I don't know what the word would be attached to my calendar. I have a paper calendar, I've had a paper calendar for decades, and my dad used to send me the American Express book calendar, which I used to use, and then he passed away. So I needed another vehicle. And so I just have this little paper calendar. It's actually little, but it's two year calendar and I am attached to this thing. It goes with me everywhere. So I didn't even answer your question. So how am I dealing with it? The first thing I was kind of in denial. Like a lot of people, what I decided is the pandemic would last about eight weeks at least. Its impact on my life would be, you know, that was the first thing like, OK, everything is canceled in March and April and maybe May, but June and July and August are totally on. Right. And then as the weeks passed and I realized, oh, my gosh, you know, and I finally, you know, I had to do. The thing I have many times advise others to do when they feel powerless is to surrender and to accept that's about accepting what's true, accepting what's true. Really one of the most radical acts of my life. And I think any life, even if what's true isn't what you want to be true. Right. Because then you can work from a place of reality rather than delusion. And so I'm trying to accept it and let go of. The future, or at least my sense of knowing what's going to happen in the future, let's go into the past a little bit. I'd love to talk to you a little bit about how you have navigated the arc of your life. You were born Cheryl Niland in Spangler, Pennsylvania. Yeah. And moved to Chaska, Minnesota, when you were six years old. Shortly thereafter, your parents got divorced. And in addition to the time after your mother died, it seems as if those years were some of the darkest years of your life. Mm hmm. Did you realize that at the time? Gosh, that's such a great question. I did I did realize it to the extent that a child can, which is somewhat limited. I was born into a house of really extremes. On one hand, I had this mother who was very loving and very kind hearted and warm and optimistic and in so many ways communicated to me and my my older. I have an older sister who's three years older and a younger brother who's about three years younger. And she always communicated to us that sense of of wonder and love and light and the beautiful things. But we were living in a house that was, you know, frankly, terrifying. My father was violent and abusive. He was emotionally abusive to all of us. He was physically violent to my mother to an extreme degree. And we were terrified of him. And also, you know, we witnessed I witnessed my brother and sister and I all witnessed horrifying things, things that I that I never witnessed beyond that, you know, as an adult. I mean, I saw as a little child my first some of the first things I saw were really, you know, my mother being beaten by my father, my mother almost being killed before my eyes and my father my mother being raped by my father. And so my memory, my perception of what I understood in those years. It's definitely one of fear and and sorrow and terror and darkness. But because that was my life, it wasn't really until my mother finally escaped my dad that I realized, oh, this is what happiness is, this is how it should be. So, yeah, I mean, I really think I had these kind of two childhoods, really three childhoods. But the first one was terror and darkness and violence and abuse. And the second one was my mom is a single mom and we were very poor. We were poor with my dad too, but really living in poverty with a single mom and three kids and a lot of chaos and disarray, but but also a lot of light and joy and fun and no longer being under the the sort of weight of that fear that you have when you live with somebody who's abusive. I completely understand in many ways. I had a lot of similar experiences so that a lot of the questions I'm going to ask you are really not only for my listeners benefit, but also for my own in terms of really being so curious about how somebody can emerge from that kind of darkness to be able to. Say, this is happiness, you know, this is happiness. Mm hmm. You've written this about what a father's role is in his children's life. The father's job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse, to ride into battle when it's necessary to do so. If you don't get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. Well, that's so resonated with me. What do you think you had to teach yourself? Like, what is the biggest thing you think you had to teach yourself? Oh, you don't ask little questions, do you? You asked me questions. Big questions, sorry. Big questions. You know, I think that the biggest thing is that I'm OK in this world. I have the strength and the courage and the resilience and the heart to be OK, to be safe within myself. And I think that that's what I mean. When I said to be a warrior, I mean, I think we are very often think of this in terms of battle. And years ago I wrote I wrote about this in a while, too. But so right after my mom died, I was living in Minneapolis. I was twenty two and a friend of mine gave me a gift certificate to see an astrologer. And I was like, OK, well, I don't know, like what says astrology stuff, you know? And but I thought, OK, I'll go. And I went and I talked to this woman, Pat Kaluza, and she had this like hippie sort of place in Minneapolis, and she read my birth chart. And it was astounding and amazing. And one of the things she said to me, she kept going to the father. She kept saying, your father, he's a Vietnam vet or he's troubled or he's you know. And I kept saying, like, oh, yeah, my father is not in my life. He's nothing. He's nothing. He's not anything. And she said to me, well, you were wounded. Your father was wounded. And when you have a parent who's wounded and who hasn't healed his or her wounds, you you as the child, you're wounded in the same place. And so you're going to have to heal that wounds. And the way she talked to me about it is that there will be times in your life that you need to ride into battle for yourself and you need to teach yourself how to do that. And, you know, I would say that that extends beyond necessarily the father. I think that, you know, if we didn't get that essential sense of self-worth from both parents, we need to reckon with that in our adult lives. And so with my father, I had to heal many things. But but the most the biggest one you ask what the most important one I think it was that sense is that. That I'm secure and safe in the world and that I'm strong enough to face anything really and to really step into that knowledge, not that you'll be like always brave or always do the right thing or always accept what's happening in in a sort of graceful way or courageous way. But that at my deepest, deepest, deepest place within me, I believe in the power of my own resilience and ability to survive and persist. And I think that's what the parents give us if they love us well and they love us. Right. And if we don't get that, we have to find it ourselves and the world. I think that as I was rereading Wilde and as I watch the movie again, too, which was really wonderful. I also got the sense that that your journey was one of finding out if you could rely on yourself, if you could take care of yourself, pretty extreme way. Yeah. Testing yourself. But but I got the sense that that ability to do that was was also underneath everything else that you were doing. I think so, too. And, you know, I think I want to say to like I think though we all need to do that. You know, obviously somebody like me who had a father who was abusive and not, you know, not the father that any one wants. And then and then a mother who died, I was really an orphan. And, you know, I had to go and find those things, as you say. And yet I think part of maybe the human journey is that like that I even think of my own kids, teenagers right now who are loved and secure and living in a very happy home and have wonderful lives. And yet what I know about them is that that part of their journey is going to be finding their way and finding their strength and finding their courage and and also finding their path, you know, and all of those things are made more difficult when we have difficult parents or dead parents or abusive parents. But they're all it's part of what we have to do as humans. And and that's why, you know, I think so often it wasn't until after I actually wrote Wild that I understood what I had done on that hike is that I had given myself my own rite of passage. And, you know, I said, like, you have to go test yourself to see who you are. And that's those rituals of rites of passage are what what we've done as humans throughout all time, across every culture and, you know, continents and so on and so forth. We don't do that so much anymore. And I think it's a loss. I think most of us would benefit from being asked to find out who we really are by being put in uncomfortable circumstances or challenging circumstances. When I was doing my research on your childhood and adolescence, they came across a couple of little facts that really were wonderfully surprising. I know that when you were 13, you moved to Aitkin County. It was very narrowly lived in a house with your mom and your stepfather. They built the house and for many years the house didn't have electricity or running water, didn't have indoor plumbing until after you went to college. But despite all of this, Cheryl Strayed, you were a high school cheerleader and the homecoming queen. And so you you were an overachiever from day one. Aha. I was. I was. So let me explain. My stepfather, who was a carpenter, he was seven years younger than my mom. They they married when I was like 11 and he was working under the table for this roofing contractor. And it was the middle of the winter in Minnesota. There was ice on the roof. He slid off the roof and broke his back. And as I said, we were always flat broke and he was injured and out of work for more than a year. And my mom at the time was working as an administrative assistant for the like the small town attorney in Chaska, Minnesota. And he said, you know, I'll represent you pro bono. It's not fair because my stepfather was working under the table. His boss said, oh, no, I don't need to pay you anything. So by the end of the year, they got a twelve thousand dollar check. That was the payment for a broken back back in 1980 or so. And my mom said, you know, this is our only chance we'll ever have our own home that we own and let's not buy a home. Let's buy land. So they went to northern Minnesota. Yeah. And we moved to 40 acres of land. We lived really in a tarpaper shack, one room tarpaper shack for the first six months. And we built the house ourselves. And it was a lot of work and it was incredibly difficult. And I was a teenager and I wanted to be pretty and popular and not associated with going to the bathroom in an outhouse or taking a bath in a pond, which is what I did. Or taking a bath in a bucket, which is what I did. So, yeah, my my rebellion in my teen years was to seem to be a version of myself that thought that I wanted to project a sense of success and grace and togetherness. And I you know, I wanted to be popular because to be popular is to be loved. I wanted people to love me. Now, let's talk a little bit about books, because you've written about how, as you were growing up, books were your religion and you cited the experience of reading Dalton Trumbo novel Johnny Got His Gun is a book that first exposed you to the power of inhabiting the life of another human. Yeah. What was that like for you? How did how did that infuse who you were? Johnny got his gun. Dalton Trumbo, really, really powerfully important book. I think I was about 14 when I read it. And it's just, you know, you're inside the mind of a man who's had, you know, been deeply injured in the war and lost his limbs. And he's, you know, you're just living in his head and and having his memories and his delusions and his his sorrows and his rages. And you're right there inside of him. And I think it was this maybe the first book that the material was so utterly dark and painful and true that it was the it was the first time that I understood what war was, what grief was. You know, I'd learned about things from a distance. And what that novel taught me is how you can inhabit an experience that is so not your own. And and, you know, I loved books long before that, but that was the first time I stepped into one and thought, this is a kind of magic, if you will. This is a kind of portal that that I guess I've been longing to enter for a long time. Another piece of this that goes way back is always as a young child, I always wanted to know what was happening inside of other people's minds. Like really like what did they really feel ? What did they really think? What was their actual experience of being human? And so in this book, I was like, wow, I've finally been let in to that to that secret. You also started working at 13. You had a variety of jobs. You were a janitor's assistant at your high school waxing floors. You were a waitress at the Dairy Queen. And I understand you can put a on on the top of a soft serve ice cream cone like a pro. Of course, I worked there. So, yeah. I mean, that's the thing growing up poor. What you quickly realize is if you ever want anything, you have to earn the money yourself. Because even though my mom provided for us to the best of her abilities, you know, I wanted things like brand name shoes or Levi jeans, like we would go to Kmart and at the beginning the school year, and we'd each get like a certain amount of money we could spend. And then that was it. And I was like, I don't want to, but I want to wear the brands, you know? And my mom would say, I can't afford it. So as soon as I could, you know, I babysat before that. But but honestly, as soon as I could, I got myself a job and I was like thirteen and a half. I sort of fudged my age. I think you had to be 14 to actually work. But by 13, I worked as a full time job as a janitor's assistant and in my school, cleaning the books that the shelves and the drawers and the desk getting gum off of things and painting. It was through this program for low income kids. You know, I worked and I earned my money and I bought my stuff. That's that was part of the whole plan, you know, that I would get it myself if it couldn't be provided for me. Sometimes I. I talk to my peers who were like going to camp or going to Paris or whatever, and I envy them. And yet I also think, wow, the best education I ever had was being a janitor in my high school and then going from that job straight to my job at the Dairy Queen. And I did that all summer and they were minimum wage jobs. But but they were the first lesson I had and really how to be self-sufficient and making it happen, like not expecting others to make it happen for you. And I treasure that. Like, I think I learned more doing that than I would have going to a lovely summer camp. But, you know, we all learned we all find our way. I read that it never occurred to you to attend college outside of Minnesota and you only applied to one school, the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. How come how come it didn't occur to you that you could go out outside of Minnesota? It never occurred to me. It absolutely never occurred to me that it was possible to leave my state to go to college. Like to me, the furthest even going to college seemed like going a very far. Our way and the reason I didn't know to apply to more than one is because nobody told me. I wasn't folded into anyone's arms when it came to like, well, let's talk about college, let's talk about your options, let's talk about the process. I figured out by reading something that I had to take the ACT test. Nobody talked to me about it. I paid for it myself. I drove myself there. I took the test. I didn't study for it because I was told, you can't study for that test. You just go . And it's like an aptitude test. I don't know what score I got because it didn't even matter to me. I just took the test, did my best, and I went to I put in my application to one school and and I applied to this one school because it was a small school. I was overwhelmed of thinking, like going to like the University of Minnesota. It just seemed too big. So, yeah, you know , I look back at it and think, what was I thinking? And all I can say is I just didn't have that information available. And I think we think this is so unique. But it's not I mean, it's the reality for a lot of kids living in poverty that they don't know the way to college. For your sophomore year, you transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and you studied English and women's studies. What did you think you wanted to do professionally at that point as a poor kid getting an education? The first goal and really at first the only goal was like, you get a job so you can make money. And I first thought that the only path to that would be journalism. So when I was a freshman, I majored in journalism. And when I transferred to the University of Minnesota, I was like journalism, but I quit. I took a class really in that first year or so with Michael Dennis Browne, the poet Michael Dennis Browne and my eyes, I just everything, oh, you know, absolutely exploded. And I thought. I have to trust this, I have to you know, I thought that I could sort of funnel my my desire to write into the channel of journalism because it's the job, you know, that you can actually get paid to write. But I don't want to do that. Like, I want to really put all of my heart and my faith in and creative writing. So I switched majors and became an English major. And what I thought I'd do with that is become a great American writer. That's what I thought I'd do with that I was absolutely relentlessly, ruthlessly committed to following through and being, you know, just really, really, you know, holding hard onto that thread. That was my writing and doing it and doing it and doing it until I succeeded. And you know, it's funny, as I say, these words, you know, the female in me, the woman who was raised as a girl, is like, Oh, don't say that. Don't say you want to be a great American writer because that seems cocky or that you're bragging or but I'll tell you, like, that's the thing that got me through. Is that that like, again, the intention, the plan, the ambition, if I sort of dithered around and said, well, you know, I hope that this turns out and I hope I can, you know, publish a story like I would never, ever, ever be talking to you right now. Yeah. And it reminds me of that little mantra you had while you were on your hike. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I will not be afraid. Yeah, well, and of course. And of course, when did I say I'm not afraid? And I was. Yeah. And, you know, even to this day, like, writing is so hard for me. It's so hard for me. I still have to say, Cheryl, you can do this. You're going to do this and you are not going to give up. You're not going to be second. You're going to go you're going to, you know, go all the way to the finish line. In March of 1991, when your mom was 45, you were 22, your mom died of cancer. And you've said that your mother's death was in many ways your Genesis story and the start of what you called your wild years. And you said that for you, using drugs or having a lot of sex or any sort of reckless behavior was about love, was about trying to find love in this weird way, trying to show the world this woman's life meant so much that I'm going to ruin mine to honor her. Mm hmm. And I wanted to ask you about that destructive thing that we do. Why do you think we hurt ourselves when we're hurt ? Mm. Well, again, you you with the big questions, Debbie, I kind of want to say I'm sorry, but I'm sorry. It's so it's so it's so deep and so big that it layered the answers. Why do we hurt ourselves when we're suffering? Why do we self-destruct when. Yeah, when we feel like we've been ruined ? I think it's a couple of things. I think one of the things is it's a signal. It's a signal to the people around us that we're saying help me. Even if we with our words are saying like, oh, no, I'm fine, just leave me alone. And in so many ways, that's, you know, when you turn to drugs, for example, you know, that's a way of of pushing others away from you. Right. And yet what I was so clearly trying to do , I can see, is to be like, help me, help me, help me. And it's also a kind of test. So it's a signal. I need help. It's a test. Is there anyone out there who loves me enough to help me? I also think in my case, there was this sort of division within me or this polarity that was the that's almost like it's almost like mythic in it's you know, when I think about it and I interpret it this way is like the mother, the good mother who's been taken from me and the and the bad father. The dark father who abandoned me. You know, if I can't be the woman my mother raised me to be that ambitious, generous life, you know, light filled person, maybe I can be the junk, the pile of shit, the darkness that my father nurtured in me. There was something that I had to figure out about those primal relationships. That I had to rage against and he'll. And understand and revise, and I think that a lot of us have to do that, you know, I think that a lot of people who are suffering and certainly people who have written to me as sugar, you know, they have a problem. They write with the problem right there. Like, this is my question. This is my thing. But really, the problem is, is that deep, deep river that's flowing beneath all the troubles that that subterranean channel, that that is your parents, that is those early stories you received, your losses and your gains and your wounds and your sorrows that you have to you have to heal them. And sometimes, you know, healing is an ugly thing. Sometimes healing is destruction. Sometimes healing is turning away. Sometimes healing is a kind of rage and anger, you know? And I think that for me, it was just like I had to pass through. Everything so the image that always comes to mind to me is one of total destruction, when I saw that I was going to lose everything after my mom died and I did, my family also really fell apart and was lost when I understood that that was what was going to happen and that I couldn't make it not happen. That's when I really turned to heroin. That's when I was like, OK, if if the house is going to burn down, I'm going to go like the the piece of this that I in some ways I can have control over is I'm going to actually burn the whole the whole, you know, the whole land, like the whole homestead. The hard thing about that is, of course, some people stay there, they get lost there. They're walking through the ashes forever and luck. And I'm so grateful that that wasn't my fate, you know, that that I had to do that stuff in order to realize that. That I wasn't the person my father raised me to be, my father didn't raise me, I was the person my mother raised me to be. And the best thing I could do, and this is why I said that so much of that stuff was about love, as I realized, like I was trying to show the world, listen, this amazing woman is gone and I am suffering. I wanted to, you know, with my own life, demonstrate how how how gigantic that loss was. And what I realized is the only way I could do that, the absolute only way I could do that was to make good on my intentions, to make good on my ambitions, to be the woman my mother raised me to be, as I said, and wild to become, to become. It's interesting you brought her to life through your words and, you know, she brought you to life through her life. It's a really nice symmetry there, it's crazy, you know, I lost her, I was the same age when she died as she was when she was pregnant with me. So I lost her at the same age that I that I came into her life. Right. You know, I wish that I wish that I didn't have to go into the darkness. But, you know, I was always trying to move in the direction of love. And I felt so alone in my grief. And then when I wrote about it and told the truth about it, how savage it was, I felt like, OK, everyone's going to think I'm crazy. But instead, what everyone thought was me too to this day, you know, so this day, really now, you know, hundreds of people, hundreds of thousands of people around the world, maybe millions of people around the world are saying, I know how you feel because I felt that way, too. And and I'm suddenly not alone in my grief. Yeah. And I'm always shocked by that. I am very grateful looking back on my life. And maybe this is synthesized happiness, I'm not entirely sure in in terms of what it has given me in terms of my ambition or my creativity or even just my sense of the world. But I also deeply, deeply regret the pain that I caused others with my own self destructiveness. And one of the biggest regrets that I have. You know what what I put other people through in that journey to be who I am and where I am now. But I also know that I couldn't have survived in many ways without that destructiveness and that testing of of who I was as I revised myself, so to speak. Yeah. Do you think that part of that revision for you was to change your name? Oh, absolutely. Mm hmm. Yeah. So I was born Cheryl Milind, as you said, and then I got married young. I was Cheryl Milind Littig. We we both hyphenated our names. And because we were trying to be radical feminist and cool, which it was a weird thing to do back then. And so, yeah, when I got divorced right before I went to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, I was getting divorced like 94, 95. I realized that. Yeah. So. I had to set my life on a new course, which was really the old course, which was the course, you know, way back, you know, when I was like hiding Jane Eyre in 10th grade or whatever. I think now those plans for myself, I took a little detour, did some other things, and then I was like , OK, this is, you know, life. My mother's dead. My first marriage is over. This man I loved but got married too young and I'm an orphan and I need to make my life I'm going to make my life. And part of that, obviously, for a writer is about language. And Cheryl Niland just didn't feel like me. And so I came up with my own last name, Cheryl Strayed. What's so funny to me now? So I've been Cheryl strayed longer than I was anything else. Now I'm 51. People still say like, oh, but Cheryl Strayed is not your real name. And I'm like, Cheryl Strayed is the realest name I ever had. So you talked about your hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. You were 26 when you embarked on this solo three month, eleven hundred mile hike. If you knew that there were people listening who are considering taking the same hike, what would you share with them? What would you tell them? What advice might you give them? Well, absolutely go if you have any, whether it's the same hike as mine or any long hike. If you have any desire to do this, do it because it is walking, especially walking along way for many days on end day after day. It's it's it's a deeply, deeply challenging thing. So you get you you gain your sense of your own strength and your own ability to endure difficulty, monotony, pain. And of course, what happens on the outside, one foot in front of the other in front of the other, also happens on the inside that, you know, turns out for me, you know, the way to heal. Anything is to keep going. And to keep going with humility and faith and a sense of optimism, even when it looks and feels really hard and, you know, I just I love this idea of the body teaching us what what the soul and the spirit and the heart needs to know. And that's what happens on a long walk. That's exactly what happens on a long walk. I mean, I can't say enough what a powerfully humbling and healing act that was. And it seems unimaginable to me to consider hiking 11 hundred miles in near solitude without a phone on the Internet. Well, the phone off the entire time, I mean, it's just not even comprehensible. What would people say? Well, that's really this was 1995. And I didn't realize until, you know, I was sort of midway through wild that I realized, oh, I'm I'm actually writing a kind of historical. Memoir about a world that is no longer that, a world that is now past, that our experience of the wilderness is now one where, first of all, we can just research everything online, you know, where does that trail begin and end? Where is the water? Where's the you know, I had this right, you know, and that was one of one of the things and of course, and wild, I did make comic of like unpreparedness or whatever. But the other piece of this I want to say is that I prepared to the extent that I could that there wasn't the Internet. You know, I went to the Minneapolis Public Library and said, you know, what books do you have on the Pacific Crest Trail? And they had one. And it was the book I already purchased at. It wasn't it wasn't like things were available. You know, you just had to go and see how it was. Yeah, I was absolutely alone. I was the first eight days of my hike. I didn't even see another person. What I learned is that that would be, you know, a regular thing like that. I would many, many times go three, four or five days without another seeing another person. There was no way to contact anyone except if I came upon a payphone or if I sent them a letter. Right. I'm so grateful for that world. I mean, I'm so grateful that I took my hike during that time because I think had I not done that, I would have spent a lot of time. Tweeting at people in town, right, connecting great pictures, the fox, I mean, yeah, and getting feedback from people. Right. And not just sitting in my solitude. I mean, that's the thing about that. That kind of deep solitude is it's just like it's just you and there's nothing to do but reckon with yourself. There's nothing to do but have that conversation with yourself in your head. There's nothing to do but allow those memories to emerge. By the time I was finished with my hike, I honestly felt like I had thought about everything I remembered in my whole life, every relationship, every person. What a therapeutic experience. Monster was the name of your backpack, which at its heaviest weighed nearly 70 pounds, even if even at its lightest it was 50 pounds. And making yourself suffer in a physical way kind of feels like the opposite of fun. And I read that you said that the act of remembering your suffering can become pleasure afterwards. And I wanted to know, like, how so? How does that become pleasure? I'm such a believer. I call it retrospective fun. OK, and this is the advice too. I'd give someone wanted to take a long hike is you just have to or really any kind of journey. You just have to acknowledge that, that very often the best things we do are painful and complicated and difficult and exhausting and require us to be out of our comfort zone and to accept difficult things. Right. If the journeys we take are just like exactly how we imagined they'd be and plan they'd be and and everything was idyllic and blissful. And there was no there was no sort of difficulty. We would be like, yeah, that that was that was fun. But, you know, there's there's nothing about it. Right. There's no texture to it. Yeah. No, no. Great. And I think that the the grittier an experience is, the more it teaches us, we never, ever, ever forget the lessons we learned the hard way. I began on a backpacking novice. I became a backpacking expert. I thought that I couldn't do that. And I did. I over and over and over again said to myself, I can't go on. I can't. And I always did. And then that becomes part of who you are. It becomes part of the story you tell yourself. So then, you know, 10 years later, you're in labor. As I was trying to give birth to my eleven pound baby boy and I was thinking, I can't do this. And I want what the deepest voice in me said, you know, you can you know, you can. Nine days after your hike and a few days after your 27th birthday, you met your husband through someone who came to the yard sale you had selling your hiking gear to raise a little bit of money to live on. Several years later, you married him, you had two children. Do you think that this sort of new life, big quotes was the gift you got at the end of a long struggle? Do you think it was just luck? Tell me about how you view that sort of moment in time where you come back and everything changes? Well, you know, I think it's it's a combination of things, right? Like luck is always luck is always a factor in everything. You know, how how do we ever know that we're going to be standing there when that person walks up and you say hello and then something that's born of that? Right. How I think of Brian's life in my life and thinking about how how did our paths ever get to cross? And and of course, a lot of it is that by the time I met Brian, I was OK. You know, I was in a place that I was able to see more clearly again and be more kind to myself and to be truer to my nature and truer to my ambition and my vision. I was doing, again, what I'm here to do. And when you're doing that and then you meet somebody else who's doing that, it's like really good timing, you know. So in so many ways, it is the gift. You know, getting, Brian, is the gift of. Doing all of that laundry and searching and finding and it's not the end of the story, of course, it's like it wasn't like, well, now I'm just like all great and everything. And and then, you know, 25 years later, we're just here we are in the same place. I mean, we both struggled and grown and gone through all kinds of things. Right. But, you know, to make yourself ready for that kind of relationship, I wasn't walking the trail to do that. But that was one of the outcomes of it. Yeah. You moved to Portland, you got a job waiting tables. You started working full time, writing your first novel, Torch, and you then went to graduate school to Syracuse University and got a master of fine arts in fiction writing so you could actually finish the book. Why? What made you decide to do that? What made you feel like that would help you get to that moment that were where the book would be finished? Yeah, it was it was mostly financial. And some also just like the logistics of of giving myself real time to write. So all through my 20s, I was a waitress, I was a youth advocate. I was a vegetable picker in an organic farm. I like I was an EMT. I did all kinds of things. But what I was really doing was writing. That was my real work. And it was I had this big student loan to pay off. It was exhausting always to be just living hand-to-mouth and struggling financially while trying to write. And and I sort of always thought like. OK, my my first novel will, of course, be published and done and everything by the time I'm 30, but I, I just said, OK, as I was approaching 30, I was like, OK, this hasn't been done yet. And here are the reasons why. One is I'm always having to work full time to pay the bills and to you know, it's hard to have that kind of time and focus when you're working full time. So graduate school kind of solve that problem for me. And I only looked into I only applied to graduate schools that, you know, with the idea that I would only go if I were offered a full a full fellowship or scholarship and tuition remission and that it wouldn't put me further in student loan debt Torch was published in 2006. At that time, you had two children under the age of two, 18 months apart. You started writing Wild in 2008, 13 years after you completed the hike. Initially, you thought it would be a collection of essays. Your second book, What? What Changed? Yeah, well, you know, the reason I thought it would be a collection of essays is I thought there is no way in hell that I can write a book while having two little babies and being in financial stress. And, you know, all of this. I just thought , I can't write another book. And what happened is I started writing and then it went on and on and on and on. And I was like, oh, I have a bigger story to tell. And it really I didn't know that until I was doing the writing because I found the bigger story when I was writing and buy the bigger story. I mean, the story that exceeds the kind of like, oh, here's you know, here's my interesting journey or here's the big loss I suffered, you know, that that I knew that I needed to find a universal thread that the my journey and my loss and my experience would be had the potential to be expressed in a way that other people would see themselves in it. And it took some writing for me to to figure out how to do that or to figure out that that was there. You said that being a memoirist is about learning how to re-enter previous versions of yourself. Yeah. How do you go back into that previous version while still maintaining who you are? Well, you know, you enter the magic of writing, that's that's what's so cool about it is so what I mean by that is this is the only way for me to write. About my real heartbreak over the decision to end my first marriage is to abandon the woman I am now who says, oh my gosh, I was too young to get married and he was great and everything, but it's a good thing we broke up because now we're both married to other people and we're happy, you know, so leave that person at the door and and start writing your way into the person who was in love with this man. Truly. And who also felt like she could not stay with him, who had to break his heart and her own in order to live the life that she, for whatever inexplicable reason that was still kind of, you know, beyond her explanation, had to trust herself to do that. And so I went in and reinhabited that and and as I was writing, for example, that scene in Wild, where my husband and I are decided to get divorced and then we get divorced and we're saying goodbye to each other. You know, I was just sobbing as I was writing it. And even though it's actually not sad, like it's actually not sad to me now. It's a memory of sadness that I that I reinhabited, this was really made a life to me. I was on the set a lot when we were making the movie. So I was there like every day and, you know, really involved in everything. And there's this scene in the movie and in the book where me and my ex-husband, we've just mailed off, you know, our divorce papers and we're standing on the street and we're talking to each other and crying and embracing for the last time. And it's very emotional in the book. I'm crying, you know, I'm like, it's sad. And then, you know, I'm standing there with Reese Witherspoon right before she's going to walk into the street with Thomas Sadowski, who plays my ex-husband. And they're going to begin shooting the scene. And she suddenly looks at me and she just just starts sobbing. She was getting ready for that scene and they go into the street and they shoot this, and I'm standing next to the director, I'm watching this on the camera. And I noticed that some people on the crew were kind of gathered around me and a couple of them sort of put their hand on my back and put their hand on my shoulder to comfort me. Wow. And I thought, oh, OK. I, I it was so clear, crystal clear to me because I was watching that scene and I wasn't crying because it's not sad anymore. But when I watch the scene of my mom dying. I cried, Oh, that's so sad, and it doesn't mean that one thing isn't sad and one thing is it means that there are different kinds of sorrow and some of them are sorrow. Our sad in the moment and others are sad forever. And, you know, so I think that's a really important thing that I try to remember still in my life, that it's like, is this a sorrow that I'm going to carry with me forever, or is it a sorrow that is like a crucible and I have to endure it and then I will be better for it that I you know, that's what I when I wrote as sugar, you've got to be brave enough to break your own heart. I was talking about exactly that thing where, you know, I had to make a decision that caused me and another person pain, but I'm better for it. And it's not sad anymore. It was it was actually the the golden key that opened the door to to my liberation. And there was loss in that. But but there was more gain. You know, it became a gift in the end. Like, very often I think how memoir writing is almost like the process of therapy, right. Where you go back there and you say, well, who was that person and why did she do this and think this and love these people and leave these people. And there's always an answer if you're willing to dig for it. While you were working on Wilde, you also started writing your column, Dear Sugar for the Rumpus. You were mentoring students at the Attic Institute in Portland. You were teaching workshops at universities, writing for magazines. But you and Brian, your husband, who's a documentary filmmaker, were, as you put it, epically broke. You were, as they say, the classic starving artists. Yes. And I also thought it was interesting that, well, you were writing Dear Sugar, you were giving people advice and in wild you weren't. But people have read it that way. And I'm wondering how you feel about that, that whole sort of notion of advice giving. I know you've referred to self-help work as intellectually mushy and and I think I think that, too. But I do think that people look for that in work even when it's not there for their own needs. Yeah. When I was writing, while it never occurred to me that anyone would be experienced as inspiring, you know, I was really just trying to write the truest Rozz realist. Story about that experience, about my grief, about my finding my way on this long walk, about the experience I had in the wilderness, and so, yeah, people do experience that in a in a like, well, what's the message of wild? I'm like, oh, you know, the message is whatever you think, whatever truth you find in yourself when you read it. That's what I meant when books were my religion as I felt saved by them, like I felt seen by them. So, you know, to me, I've always said, like in airports, there are many of these kind of little convenience stores and airports will have these little turnstiles that are there, like inspirational or self-help like that. And there are never books. There's never like novels there. There's never, you know, tiny, beautiful things there. It's all these very specific things that are very instructive, like, here's your problem. Here's what you need to do. And I find that the most helpful literature when it comes to like what real self-help is, is things like, I don't know, Jane Eyre, you know, Alice Munro. Short stories. There I am. And Alice Munro, short stories. There I am. And Toni Morrison's beloved. There I am. And you know, Mary Oliver's poem. So, yeah, you know, I didn't intend for those things to be self-help and frankly, even sugar when when terrible , beautiful things came out, I was like it was in the self-help section of many books or so I was like, what? What? So I think of myself as an accidental self-help writer because of course, of course, dear sugar columns are self-help. And yet what they also are is literature. Yes, I understand you've been at a sort of crossroads now is different opportunities have come your way weighing the reasons to do it, weighing the reasons not to do it. And you've stated it's not about the number of things on the list. It's about the weight of those things. And almost always you think that the things that mean and matter the most really come down to one question. And that question is, what do you really want to do? And I wanted to see if you can help me understand how to know when something is the thing you really want to do. Archives again, with the heart of the system. So for me, that Deep is wanting, it's not that it's the easiest thing to do. It's the thing about which you feel like I can make I can create something that feels larger than me if I decide to do this. So if I if I write a book and not only is it a deep and true expression of some deep and true things, I want to put into the world, if it's not only that and that, it becomes also something that is meaningful to others, that's a big thing to contribute to the world. And I think that for me. That sense of like rightness or a sense of like if this mission is fulfilled, will it extend beyond my small little life? Like I feel that I feel that as a sort of powerful call. Cheryl, I have to ask questions for you. OK. The first is something that I was really heartened to read about. I understand that sandwiches are problematic. Of course they are. Sandwiches are just like chaos. You know, machines, right? They're just like willy nilly. See, I know you're my sister. I know you that I know you also feel this way like I to the orderly. Absolutely. Everybody has to be perfect. Not only do they have to be orderly. Yes. That's the whole goal of a sandwich for me is to make every bit as much like the previous bite as possible. OK, consistency. So you put the you know, whatever whatever you're putting on it, it has to be uniformly applied everywhere. Burritos also sometimes have this problem. If people don't do the burrito correctly, it's just tacos. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So this is my last question, Cheryl. What is the thing you want to do most next? Finish my next book, I really am ready to do that. So wild and tiny, beautiful things were published within four months of each other in 2012, and basically my life was just an absolute you don't like it was just like a volcano. And I was, you know, I movies. I was a little girly and. Yeah, and the play and I was involved in the podcast and the public speaking career and also the kids. You know, during all this time I got your mom these, you know, little records, you know, and who now are 14 and 16. And I just feel like, wow, OK, I really now I'm ready to go back. Go back to that basic go back to that sit there and write your next book. And so that's what I'm doing. And I really want to do it and I'm really excited about it. I'm also afraid and doubtful as scared at all the things I am when I'm writing, which means I'm writing my next book. I can't wait to read it, cannot wait to read it. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed. Thank you so much for joining me today. And design matters. Such an open for so many wonderful things to say. Thank you, Debbie. You are. You are a woman after my own heart, I swear. We have to meet in real life someday. Have sandwiches. Absolutely. I would love that. I would love that. Thank you, my dear. This is the 16th year broadcasting design matters. And I'd like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference. We could make a difference. Well, we can do both. I'm Debbie Millman and I look forward to talking with you again soon. Special thanks to the sponsor of this episode. Hoffler and Co Design Matters is produced by Curtis Fox Productions and on Pandemic Times. The show was recorded at the School of Visual Arts Masters in Branding Program in New York City, the first and longest running branding program in the world. The editor in chief of Design Matters is Zachary Petitt, and the art director is Emily Weiland.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
design matters 6
cheryl strayed 6
mm hmm 5
dear sugar 3
high school 3
full time 3
mother raised 3
pacific crest 3
started writing 3
bigger story 3
reese witherspoon 2
advice column 2
healing act 2
paper calendar 2
born cheryl 2
cheryl niland 2
years younger 2
single mom 2
started working 2
dairy queen 2
michael dennis 2
great american 2
american writer 2
mom died 2
crest trail 2
long hike 2
long walk 2
working full 2
graduate school 2
student loan 2
sad anymore 2
short stories 2
branding program 2

ngrams of length 3

collocation frequency
great american writer 2
pacific crest trail 2

Important Words

  1. abandon
  2. abandoned
  3. abilities
  4. ability
  5. absolute
  6. absolutely
  7. abuse
  8. abusive
  9. accept
  10. accepting
  11. accidental
  12. acknowledge
  13. acres
  14. act
  15. active
  16. acts
  17. actual
  18. adaptable
  19. adapted
  20. addition
  21. adjacent
  22. administrative
  23. adolescence
  24. adult
  25. advice
  26. advise
  27. advocate
  28. afford
  29. afraid
  30. age
  31. ages
  32. aha
  33. airports
  34. aitkin
  35. alice
  36. amazing
  37. ambition
  38. ambitions
  39. ambitious
  40. american
  41. amount
  42. anger
  43. answer
  44. answers
  45. anymore
  46. application
  47. applied
  48. apply
  49. approaching
  50. april
  51. aptitude
  52. arc
  53. archives
  54. argument
  55. arms
  56. art
  57. artists
  58. arts
  59. ashes
  60. asked
  61. assistant
  62. astounding
  63. astrologer
  64. astrology
  65. attached
  66. attend
  67. attic
  68. attorney
  69. august
  70. babies
  71. baby
  72. babysat
  73. backpack
  74. backpacking
  75. bad
  76. basic
  77. basically
  78. bath
  79. bathroom
  80. battle
  81. beaten
  82. beautiful
  83. began
  84. beginning
  85. behavior
  86. believer
  87. beloved
  88. beneath
  89. benefit
  90. bestseller
  91. big
  92. bigger
  93. biggest
  94. bills
  95. birth
  96. birthday
  97. bit
  98. bite
  99. blissful
  100. body
  101. bono
  102. book
  103. books
  104. born
  105. boss
  106. bought
  107. boy
  108. bragging
  109. brand
  110. branding
  111. brands
  112. brave
  113. break
  114. brian
  115. broadcasting
  116. broke
  117. broken
  118. brother
  119. brought
  120. browne
  121. bucket
  122. built
  123. burn
  124. burrito
  125. burritos
  126. buy
  127. calendar
  128. call
  129. called
  130. calling
  131. camera
  132. camp
  133. canceled
  134. cancer
  135. care
  136. career
  137. carpenter
  138. carry
  139. case
  140. caused
  141. certificate
  142. challenging
  143. chance
  144. change
  145. changed
  146. channel
  147. chaos
  148. chart
  149. chaska
  150. check
  151. cheerleader
  152. cheryl
  153. chief
  154. child
  155. childhood
  156. childhoods
  157. children
  158. circumstances
  159. cited
  160. city
  161. class
  162. classic
  163. cleaning
  164. clear
  165. cocky
  166. collection
  167. college
  168. column
  169. columns
  170. combination
  171. comfort
  172. comic
  173. committed
  174. communicated
  175. completed
  176. completely
  177. complicated
  178. comprehensible
  179. cone
  180. confidence
  181. connecting
  182. consistency
  183. contact
  184. continents
  185. contractor
  186. contribute
  187. control
  188. convenience
  189. conversation
  190. cool
  191. correctly
  192. county
  193. couple
  194. courage
  195. courageous
  196. crazy
  197. cream
  198. create
  199. creative
  200. creativity
  201. crest
  202. crew
  203. cried
  204. cross
  205. crossroads
  206. crucible
  207. crying
  208. crystal
  209. culture
  210. curious
  211. curtis
  212. dad
  213. dairy
  214. dalton
  215. dark
  216. darkest
  217. darkness
  218. day
  219. days
  220. dead
  221. dealing
  222. dear
  223. death
  224. debbie
  225. debt
  226. decades
  227. decide
  228. decided
  229. decision
  230. deep
  231. deepest
  232. deeply
  233. degree
  234. delusion
  235. delusions
  236. demonstrate
  237. denial
  238. dennis
  239. design
  240. desire
  241. desk
  242. destruction
  243. destructive
  244. destructiveness
  245. detail
  246. detour
  247. died
  248. difference
  249. difficult
  250. difficulty
  251. dig
  252. direction
  253. director
  254. disarray
  255. distance
  256. dithered
  257. division
  258. divorce
  259. divorced
  260. documentary
  261. dollar
  262. door
  263. doubt
  264. doubtful
  265. drawers
  266. dreams
  267. drove
  268. drugs
  269. dying
  270. early
  271. earn
  272. earned
  273. easiest
  274. editor
  275. education
  276. electricity
  277. eleven
  278. embarked
  279. embracing
  280. emerge
  281. emily
  282. emotional
  283. emotionally
  284. emt
  285. endure
  286. english
  287. enjoy
  288. enter
  289. entire
  290. envy
  291. epically
  292. episode
  293. escaped
  294. essays
  295. essential
  296. exceeds
  297. excited
  298. exhausting
  299. expecting
  300. experience
  301. experienced
  302. experiences
  303. expert
  304. explain
  305. explanation
  306. exploded
  307. exposed
  308. express
  309. expressed
  310. expression
  311. extend
  312. extends
  313. extent
  314. extreme
  315. extremes
  316. eyes
  317. eyre
  318. face
  319. factor
  320. facts
  321. fair
  322. faith
  323. fall
  324. family
  325. fan
  326. farm
  327. fate
  328. father
  329. fear
  330. feedback
  331. feel
  332. feels
  333. fell
  334. fellowship
  335. felt
  336. female
  337. feminist
  338. fiction
  339. fighting
  340. figure
  341. figured
  342. filled
  343. filmmaker
  344. finally
  345. financial
  346. financially
  347. find
  348. finding
  349. fine
  350. finish
  351. finished
  352. flat
  353. floors
  354. flowing
  355. focus
  356. folded
  357. foot
  358. forget
  359. fox
  360. frankly
  361. freshman
  362. friend
  363. front
  364. fudged
  365. fulfilled
  366. full
  367. fun
  368. funnel
  369. funny
  370. furthest
  371. future
  372. gain
  373. gains
  374. gathered
  375. gave
  376. gear
  377. generous
  378. genesis
  379. gift
  380. gigantic
  381. girl
  382. girly
  383. give
  384. giving
  385. glad
  386. goal
  387. golden
  388. good
  389. goodbye
  390. gosh
  391. grace
  392. graceful
  393. grade
  394. graduate
  395. grateful
  396. great
  397. grief
  398. grittier
  399. growing
  400. grown
  401. guess
  402. gum
  403. gun
  404. hand
  405. happen
  406. happened
  407. happening
  408. happiness
  409. happy
  410. hard
  411. head
  412. heal
  413. healed
  414. healing
  415. hear
  416. heart
  417. heartbreak
  418. hearted
  419. heartened
  420. heaviest
  421. hell
  422. helpful
  423. heroin
  424. hiding
  425. high
  426. hike
  427. hiking
  428. hippie
  429. historical
  430. hmm
  431. hoffler
  432. holding
  433. home
  434. homecoming
  435. homestead
  436. honestly
  437. honor
  438. hope
  439. horizon
  440. horrifying
  441. horse
  442. house
  443. huge
  444. human
  445. humans
  446. humbling
  447. humility
  448. hundreds
  449. hurt
  450. husband
  451. hyphenated
  452. ice
  453. idea
  454. idyllic
  455. image
  456. imagined
  457. impact
  458. important
  459. income
  460. incredibly
  461. indoor
  462. inexplicable
  463. information
  464. infuse
  465. inhabit
  466. inhabiting
  467. initially
  468. injured
  469. inspirational
  470. inspiring
  471. institute
  472. instructive
  473. intellectually
  474. intend
  475. intention
  476. intentions
  477. interesting
  478. internet
  479. interpret
  480. involved
  481. jane
  482. janitor
  483. jeans
  484. job
  485. jobs
  486. johnny
  487. joined
  488. joining
  489. joke
  490. journalism
  491. journey
  492. journeys
  493. joy
  494. july
  495. june
  496. junk
  497. kael
  498. kaluza
  499. key
  500. kid
  501. kids
  502. killed
  503. kind
  504. kinds
  505. kmart
  506. knew
  507. knowing
  508. knowledge
  509. labor
  510. land
  511. language
  512. larger
  513. laundry
  514. layered
  515. learned
  516. learning
  517. leave
  518. lesson
  519. lessons
  520. letter
  521. level
  522. levi
  523. liberation
  524. library
  525. life
  526. light
  527. lightest
  528. limbs
  529. limited
  530. line
  531. list
  532. listen
  533. listeners
  534. listening
  535. lists
  536. literature
  537. littig
  538. live
  539. lived
  540. lives
  541. living
  542. loan
  543. logistics
  544. long
  545. longer
  546. longest
  547. longing
  548. looked
  549. lose
  550. loss
  551. losses
  552. lost
  553. lot
  554. love
  555. loved
  556. lovely
  557. loves
  558. loving
  559. luck
  560. machines
  561. magazines
  562. magic
  563. mailed
  564. maintaining
  565. major
  566. majored
  567. majors
  568. maker
  569. making
  570. man
  571. managing
  572. mantra
  573. march
  574. marriage
  575. married
  576. mary
  577. master
  578. masters
  579. material
  580. matter
  581. matters
  582. meaningful
  583. means
  584. meant
  585. meet
  586. memoir
  587. memoirist
  588. memories
  589. memory
  590. mentoring
  591. message
  592. met
  593. michael
  594. middle
  595. midway
  596. mile
  597. miles
  598. milind
  599. millions
  600. millman
  601. mind
  602. minds
  603. minimum
  604. minneapolis
  605. minnesota
  606. mission
  607. mm
  608. mom
  609. moment
  610. money
  611. monotony
  612. monster
  613. month
  614. months
  615. mother
  616. move
  617. moved
  618. movie
  619. movies
  620. munro
  621. mushy
  622. mythic
  623. names
  624. narrowly
  625. nature
  626. navigated
  627. necessarily
  628. needed
  629. nia
  630. nice
  631. niland
  632. nilly
  633. northern
  634. noticed
  635. notion
  636. novels
  637. novice
  638. number
  639. nurtured
  640. occur
  641. occurred
  642. offered
  643. older
  644. online
  645. open
  646. opened
  647. opportunities
  648. optimism
  649. optimistic
  650. options
  651. order
  652. orderly
  653. oregon
  654. organic
  655. orphan
  656. outcomes
  657. outhouse
  658. overachiever
  659. overwhelmed
  660. pacific
  661. paid
  662. pain
  663. painful
  664. painting
  665. pandemic
  666. paper
  667. papers
  668. parent
  669. parents
  670. paris
  671. part
  672. pass
  673. passage
  674. passed
  675. pat
  676. path
  677. paths
  678. paul
  679. pay
  680. payment
  681. payphone
  682. peers
  683. pennsylvania
  684. people
  685. perception
  686. perfect
  687. persist
  688. person
  689. petitt
  690. phone
  691. physical
  692. physically
  693. picker
  694. pictures
  695. piece
  696. pile
  697. place
  698. plan
  699. planner
  700. planning
  701. plans
  702. play
  703. plays
  704. pleasure
  705. plumbing
  706. podcast
  707. poem
  708. poet
  709. point
  710. polarity
  711. pond
  712. poor
  713. popular
  714. portal
  715. portland
  716. potential
  717. pound
  718. pounds
  719. poverty
  720. power
  721. powerful
  722. powerfully
  723. powerless
  724. pregnant
  725. prepared
  726. pretty
  727. previous
  728. primal
  729. pro
  730. problem
  731. problematic
  732. process
  733. produced
  734. productions
  735. professionally
  736. program
  737. project
  738. public
  739. publish
  740. published
  741. purchased
  742. pushing
  743. put
  744. putting
  745. queen
  746. question
  747. questions
  748. quickly
  749. quit
  750. quotes
  751. radical
  752. rage
  753. rages
  754. raise
  755. raised
  756. raped
  757. read
  758. reading
  759. ready
  760. real
  761. realest
  762. realist
  763. reality
  764. realize
  765. realized
  766. reason
  767. reasons
  768. rebellion
  769. received
  770. reckless
  771. reckon
  772. recorded
  773. recording
  774. records
  775. reese
  776. referred
  777. regret
  778. regrets
  779. regular
  780. reinhabited
  781. relationship
  782. relationships
  783. relentlessly
  784. religion
  785. rely
  786. remember
  787. remembered
  788. remembering
  789. reminds
  790. remission
  791. represent
  792. require
  793. rereading
  794. research
  795. resilience
  796. resonated
  797. retrospective
  798. revise
  799. revised
  800. revision
  801. ride
  802. rightness
  803. rite
  804. rites
  805. rituals
  806. river
  807. role
  808. roof
  809. roofing
  810. room
  811. rozz
  812. ruin
  813. ruined
  814. rumpus
  815. running
  816. ruthlessly
  817. sad
  818. sadness
  819. sadowski
  820. safe
  821. sake
  822. sale
  823. sandwich
  824. sandwiches
  825. savage
  826. saved
  827. scared
  828. scene
  829. schedule
  830. scholarship
  831. school
  832. schools
  833. score
  834. searching
  835. secret
  836. section
  837. secure
  838. selling
  839. send
  840. sense
  841. september
  842. serve
  843. set
  844. setting
  845. sex
  846. sexiest
  847. shack
  848. share
  849. shelves
  850. shit
  851. shocked
  852. shoes
  853. shoot
  854. shooting
  855. short
  856. shortly
  857. shoulder
  858. show
  859. signal
  860. similar
  861. single
  862. sister
  863. sit
  864. sitting
  865. slid
  866. small
  867. sobbing
  868. soft
  869. solitude
  870. solo
  871. solve
  872. sophomore
  873. sorrow
  874. sorrows
  875. sort
  876. soul
  877. spangler
  878. speak
  879. speaker
  880. speaking
  881. special
  882. specific
  883. spend
  884. spent
  885. spirit
  886. sponsor
  887. st
  888. stage
  889. standing
  890. starring
  891. start
  892. started
  893. starts
  894. starving
  895. state
  896. stated
  897. stay
  898. step
  899. stepfather
  900. stepped
  901. steps
  902. stores
  903. stories
  904. story
  905. straight
  906. strayed
  907. street
  908. strength
  909. stress
  910. strong
  911. struggle
  912. struggled
  913. struggling
  914. student
  915. students
  916. studied
  917. studies
  918. study
  919. stuff
  920. sublist
  921. subterranean
  922. succeeded
  923. success
  924. suddenly
  925. suffer
  926. suffered
  927. suffering
  928. sugar
  929. summer
  930. surprise
  931. surprising
  932. surrender
  933. survive
  934. survived
  935. swear
  936. switched
  937. symmetry
  938. synthesized
  939. syracuse
  940. system
  941. table
  942. tables
  943. tacos
  944. talk
  945. talked
  946. talking
  947. talks
  948. tarpaper
  949. taught
  950. teach
  951. teaches
  952. teaching
  953. teen
  954. teenager
  955. teenagers
  956. terms
  957. terrible
  958. terrified
  959. terrifying
  960. terror
  961. test
  962. testing
  963. texture
  964. therapeutic
  965. therapy
  966. thinking
  967. thirteen
  968. thomas
  969. thought
  970. thousand
  971. thousands
  972. thread
  973. thrilled
  974. time
  975. times
  976. timing
  977. tiny
  978. today
  979. togetherness
  980. told
  981. toni
  982. top
  983. torch
  984. total
  985. totally
  986. town
  987. trail
  988. transferred
  989. traveling
  990. treasure
  991. troubled
  992. troubles
  993. true
  994. truer
  995. truest
  996. trumbo
  997. trust
  998. truth
  999. tuition
  1000. turn
  1001. turned
  1002. turning
  1003. turns
  1004. turnstiles
  1005. tweeting
  1006. twelve
  1007. twenty
  1008. ugly
  1009. ultimately
  1010. uncomfortable
  1011. understand
  1012. understood
  1013. uniformly
  1014. unimaginable
  1015. unique
  1016. universal
  1017. universities
  1018. university
  1019. unpaid
  1020. unpreparedness
  1021. utterly
  1022. vardalos
  1023. variety
  1024. vegetable
  1025. vehicle
  1026. version
  1027. versions
  1028. vet
  1029. vietnam
  1030. view
  1031. violence
  1032. violent
  1033. vision
  1034. visual
  1035. voice
  1036. volcano
  1037. wage
  1038. wait
  1039. waiting
  1040. waitress
  1041. walk
  1042. walking
  1043. walks
  1044. wanted
  1045. wanting
  1046. war
  1047. warm
  1048. warrior
  1049. warriors
  1050. watch
  1051. watching
  1052. water
  1053. waxing
  1054. ways
  1055. wear
  1056. weeks
  1057. weighed
  1058. weighing
  1059. weight
  1060. weiland
  1061. weird
  1062. wild
  1063. wilde
  1064. wilderness
  1065. wildest
  1066. willy
  1067. winter
  1068. witherspoon
  1069. witnessed
  1070. woman
  1071. wonderful
  1072. wonderfully
  1073. wondering
  1074. word
  1075. words
  1076. work
  1077. worked
  1078. working
  1079. workshops
  1080. world
  1081. wounded
  1082. wounds
  1083. wow
  1084. write
  1085. writer
  1086. writing
  1087. written
  1088. wrote
  1089. yard
  1090. yeah
  1091. year
  1092. years
  1093. york
  1094. young
  1095. younger
  1096. youth
  1097. zachary
  1098. zone