Cheryl Strayed is the author of WILD, TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, TORCH, and the just released collection of my quotes, BRAVE ENOUGH. She also co-hosts the podcast "Dear Sugar Radio" with Steve Almond.

My Proof: https://instagram.com/p/9eJ6RzS-VZ/?taken-by=cherylstrayed

Thanks for asking me things! I had so much fun answering your questions and I'm sorry I couldn't get to them all. I need to go take a walk now! If you have other questions you can always find me on my social media sites (yes, I do them all myself). I can't always respond but I do my best to keep up! Here are links:

https://twitter.com/CherylStrayed https://instagram.com/cherylstrayed/ https://www.facebook.com/CherylStrayed.Author https://www.goodreads.com/author/155717.Cheryl_Strayed/questions

Comments: 183 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

sonderous16 karma

Hi Cheryl! I've been following you since the Dear Sugar days. Thanks for reminding me about all the tiny, beautiful things and that I, too, should be writing like a motherfucker.

You've written a lot about your mother. How has the popularity of Wild and everything that's come from it affected the way you remember her? What's something you bring to your own role as a mother that comes from something she taught you?

CherylStrayed23 karma

That's such an interesting question. I don't think it has impacted the way I remember my mom, but it has made her presence in my life even bigger. Millions of people around the world know my mom through that book. They walk up to me at my events and say her name to me. They tell me they admire her. It's deeply moving to me that so many people know about her life, but it's surprising too. I never imagined this on the day of her death and in my deepest sorrow. It's a beautiful gift to me. As for how my mom is reflected in my own mothering? She's present in every way, but mostly in the way I love my children the way she loved hers: with wild abandon.

EleanorT13 karma

As a writer who writes a lot about very real and perhaps 'unflattering' moments in your own life, how do you get over the "oh God, if I write this, everyone will know that I did a bad thing" fear? Not so much with your audience, who presumably are supportive or they wouldn't read, but in your day-to-day life- kids' teachers, bosses at the day job, etc.? I feel panicked at the thought and I think it's holding back the good stuff, word-wise.

CherylStrayed19 karma

Hi Eleanor. One of the first things I learned about writing is that when you do it you have to give it all. You have to tell the truth about the human experience. I began as a fiction writer (and I still write fiction sometimes) and so the truths I was telling were about my characters--no matter what I wrote about them, I could hide behind the idea (whether true or not) that those characters were not me, they were my fictional creations. When I began writing nonfiction and putting my own life out there on the page I was terrified. I feared all the things people fear when they think about showing themselves fully--that people would judge or condemn me, that I would be disliked or mocked. But I also knew that I would not be doing my real work if I held back. Writing is about revealing. It's not about concealing. So I had to do the full reveal. What I've found is that yes some people hate me for it, they judge and condemn and mock me for it, but MOST people say "me too!" That's been the greatest experience. To see that the darkest parts of me are also the darkest parts of you (or if not you specifically, well then a whole lot of other people). Most people feel grateful when others tell the truth about themselves because it makes them brave too. I've found this extends to all the sorts of people you list--bosses, teachers, etc. They are human too!

lets_nap13 karma

Hi Cheryl! Thank you for doing this AMA. As fans, we really appreciate your candid responses, and being so willing to share yourself, just like in your writing.

Tiny Beautiful Things is my go-to when I need a little perspective. Somehow reading your answers to questions that in no way pertain to my life, give me the clarity I am seeking. It is my Bible. What are 2 or 3 of your absolute, go-to books that you have had forever and just keep returning to?

CherylStrayed17 karma

Thank you for making TBT your go-to book! Some books I return to again and again: Alice Munro's books, but especially "Lives of Girls and Women," Toni Morrison's "Beloved," Mary Oliver's poetry collections, Raymond Carver's short stories, Joan Didion's essays. There are so many more! It's hard to name them all. Books are my cure.

Jaimiejammers11 karma

Hi Cheryl! Thanks so much for doing this AMA. "Wild" spoke to me on multiple levels as well as your "Dear Sugar" columns. Its truly amazing how much beauty you've created from hardship. Your talent is a gift and it's helped me in some tough situations recently.

My question is how did you work through your selfish tendencies when it came to your relationship with your first husband etc. I am a big believer in therapy, and getting outside, but do you have any other rituals that help(ed) center you to make you the stronger woman you are today? I'm 30, very recently single, and need my own "Wild" moment!

Thank you,

Jaimie

CherylStrayed11 karma

Hi Jaime! Thanks for your kind words. If we're doing life right, we are always working to evolve into a better version of ourselves--it doesn't end at age 30 or beyond. (Which is both the good news and the bad news, depending on how you look at it!) I think there are two kinds of mistakes: those we make over and over again and those we learn from and don't repeat (or at least if we repeat it we handle it better). I try to have as many in the latter category as possible. I don't so much have rituals as consciousness about who I am and why I do the things I do. Reflecting upon your life with honestly will help you live it better. I try to make room for that contemplation--to do things that will require me to think, get perspective, question myself and my motivations. Those things are different for each person. For me they've always been walking or running, being in nature, reading books that challenge and deepen my ideas about what it means to be human, having long talks with friends and loved ones about real things (and not just the weather). I'm wishing you luck on your journey!

Frajer11 karma

do you still have Monster ?

CherylStrayed14 karma

I do! Monster is in my basement as I type this. In the Wild movie, Reese carried the same pack and it was packed just like mine was. It's so strange to watch the movie for many reasons, but one of them is the pack looks SO LIKE my Monster that it's almost spooky.

MerkinMuffintop6 karma

An unexpected bonus to the film was the nostalgia tour of 90s camping gear throughout.

CherylStrayed4 karma

Indeed!

flexjackson11 karma

What do you do when it's really hard to reach?

CherylStrayed18 karma

You crawl. You move in the direction of goodness inch by inch.

linzzzzz9 karma

Hi Cheryl. You have been an enormous inspiration to me during a rough couple of years. Tiny Beautiful Things has become a permanent beside table companion for me. Thank you (truly) for doing what you do. I feel far less alone now than I did before reading your work.

What made you decide to go back to answering letters/hosting the Dear Sugar podcast? I don't think you even realize how many lives you touch by doing this.

CherylStrayed10 karma

Thanks for your sweet words! I'm so glad I was helpful to you. I hope the years ahead are not so rough. I decided to do Dear Sugar Radio because it sounded fun, because I felt like my work as Dear Sugar wasn't finished and yet I wasn't ready to re-start the column, and because I love Steve Almond and it was an opportunity to work with him. I also liked the idea of trying something new. I'm eternally touched that others have been touched by my work. Thank you.

itwasanillusion8 karma

As a female considering walking the Pacific Crest Trail solo this summer, what advice would you give me?

Thanks!

CherylStrayed9 karma

Do it! The Pacific Crest Trail is an amazing place. You will have the experience of a lifetime.

etherealclarity8 karma

Hi Cheryl! I'm writing on behalf of myself and a good friend - we are both huge fans of your writing and advice!

We both wanted to know - what do you feel like the differences are between giving written advice in the column and giving verbal advice in the podcasts? Is there anything especially more challenging or rewarding about one or the other? Which format do you prefer?

CherylStrayed8 karma

Hi two friends! When it comes to the actual advice I give it's very much the same, but when it comes to HOW that advice is given it's entirely different. The column is essentially a literary exchange between me and the letter writer and in those columns I told stories from my life and crafted the narrative in a way that used all the things we use when we craft literature. The podcast is a conversation. It all happens in the moment of that exchange with Steve. The podcast is far less work! I love doing it. It's more of a social endeavor. The column is me being a writer. I sometimes miss writing my column. Maybe someday I'll pick it up again?

sabinatrand5 karma

What's your writing process like? What's a typical writing session like?

CherylStrayed5 karma

My favorite way to write is to be entirely alone for days on end writing without interruption (except to eat, sleep and take walks). I've done a lot of my writing like this--either at residencies before I had kids, or after I had kids I'd go away for a night or two just to do that immersive writing. I also write in a more practical way because I must--setting aside a block of time when I need to get some writing done. It's hard to do that because I'm often in the midst of something when I need to stop and go pick up the kids from school or whatnot. But that's life! I get the writing in however I can. Not every day, but regularly enough.

joyclark5 karma

Hi there! I teach at a community college where your book Wild is assigned for many composition classes. If you were to design a writing prompt based on the book, what might that look like? :)

CherylStrayed19 karma

Write about a time you realized you were mistaken. Write about a lesson you learned the hard way. Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. Write about something you lost that you will never get back. Write about a time when you knew you'd done the right thing. Write about something you don't remember. Write about your darkest teacher. Write about a memory of a physical injury. Write about when you knew it was over. Write about a time when you knew you were loved. Write about what you were really thinking. Write about how you found your way back. Write about the kindness of strangers. Write about why you could not do it. Write about why you did.

addctd2badideas4 karma

Hi Cheryl, I came to listen to Dear Sugar through your appearance on the Savage Lovecast. I was hoping you could expand on your feelings on monogamy? As I recall, you indicated you couldn't do an open relationship yourself, but you seemed like you were accepting of others in that situation. Do you think it's a viable relationship model?

CherylStrayed5 karma

I think relationships are particular to the people in it, so if all parties involved agree that they want to do XYZ (be monogamous, not be monogamous, be both at different times) it's utterly viable. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy! But what is easy? Most things that matter deeply to us take a lot of communication, thought and work. I have never been interested in having an open relationship. I know for certain that it would not work for me. Why? Because I don't want to do it! I want an exclusive sexual partnership. I have friends who are in open relationships and they feel the same way--they choose that relationship model because that's the model they want. The great thing about navigating sex and love as an adult is that it's all up to you. You get to make your life. What are your thoughts about open relationships and monogamy?

ParnsipPeartree4 karma

What was the most important thing you brought on some of your long treks?

CherylStrayed5 karma

Books! Books. Always great books.

ljevan044 karma

Hi Cheryl,

Thank you so much for the light you put in the world. It's so refreshing to see someone so down-to-earth gain time in the limelight and I know that many people have benefited greatly from reading your books - myself included - so thank you!

I am an avid backpacker and I'm curious as to how you view the controversy around Wild in the backpacking community. There is a lot of judgment against women who have been inspired to hike because they've read Wild, and a concern that these women will overrun the PCT this year and ruin the experience for more seasoned hikers. What do you say to people who think your story will have (or is already having) a negative impact on the PCT and other long-distance trails?

CherylStrayed6 karma

Thanks for your sweet words! I appreciate them a lot. Nothing could make me happier than knowing WILD inspired people to go backpacking. I don't know the ins and outs of the controversy you mention (I tend to steer clear of mean internet comments), but I do think it's hilarious that anyone would believe they have more a right to be on the trail simply because they've gone backpacking before. We were all beginners at one point! We all learned how to backpack by backpacking. The trail belongs to all of us. It seems to me that those who think the trail will be "ruined" if they have to share it with hikers who do not meet their standards of previous experience would do well to remember that.

herearemyquestions3 karma

Do you consider your sexually abusive grandfather a 'dark teacher' and if so what did you learn?

CherylStrayed5 karma

I do. From him I learned about the ways that weakness and unhealed wounds can be brought to bear on the lives of others. (I assume my grandfather was a victim long before he victimized me.) He taught me about contradiction and cruelty. The experience I had with him forced me to see too early how complicated we humans are, but that I saw it so early also deepened my understanding of myself and of the world. It would be best if the dark teachers didn't teach us anything. I never mean to diminish the awfulness of those experiences by expressing gratitude for them. But the fact is when you do have a dark teacher one way to heal the wound they made is to find strength in it. I don't own what he did to me, but rather I recognize the positive power I have made manifest from my pain.

iloena3 karma

Hi Cheryl!

First, I'd like to thank you for sharing your story through 'Wild'. It is such a beautifully-written book. I loved how you were able to break down your feelings into words - your way of explain exactly what you were being through, what might have caused it, and where were you going, made me think carefully and deeply about myself.

I discovered Adrienne Rich thanks to you (also, thank you SO MUCH for that!). So my question is: what are your favourite authors or books? Anything that has completely changed the way you looked at the world?

Have an awesome day! :)

CherylStrayed12 karma

Thanks so much for your kind words! I have so many authors to recommend. My favorite writer is Alice Munro. Every one of her books touches me to my core. Other writers I love who are coming to mind a the moment: Mary Gaitskill, Toni Morrison, Rebecca Solnit, Lidia Yuknavitch, Pam Houston, Roxane Gay, Edna O'Brien, Alan Heathcock, Steve Almond (my podcast co-host), Meghan Daum, George Saunders. The list goes on, but there's a start. As for books that changed my life, I would say Alice Munro's work fits that bill.

WuTangSooDo3 karma

Just picked up my signed copy of Brave Enough. I love it so far.

When I was a teenager I lost a parent and really struggled with finding myself afterwards. Did you set out on your hike because you knew it would help clarify things for you? When did you know you were ready to share your story? Also thank you, for showing me there's no need to be ashamed of struggle.

CherylStrayed6 karma

I'm sorry you lost a parent so young. Yes, as I wrote in WILD, I went on the hike because I knew I needed to do something positive and difficult that would bring me back to my strength. I didn't begin to write about my hike until years later, after I'd apprenticed myself to the craft of writing and felt that I had something to say about the experience that wasn't just about me. I began writing Wild as an essay but it grew and grew and became a book.

MPHike4Fun3 karma

After you get done speaking in Seattle on Nov 8th, will you be signing "Brave Enough" books for people attending the event?

CherylStrayed3 karma

Yes! I hope to see you there.

serialee3 karma

Hi Cheryl!

Thank you for Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things. I just bought Brave Enough and I know it will soon join your other books with their broken spines from being read and re-read so often. My dad died two years ago and I still have trouble coping with it. We didn't have the best relationship, so my grief is mixed with guilt and regret. Your words have always been a place I go to for comfort, strength, and healing. So I was wondering if you have any advice on how to forgive myself and deal with my dad's death? I could just really use some lately.

Thank you,

Leanne

CherylStrayed5 karma

I'm sorry you lost your dad, Leanne. There is nothing to forgive yourself for. You and your dad may have had an imperfect bond, but you both did the best you could do at the time. That's all we can ever do. Hold onto that truth. Remember the love you shared and carry that with you.

lila_rose3 karma

Hi Cheryl! First of all, I am a huge fan. I've read all your books and remember bawling like a child through the last page of Wild. I am so happy for your success.

My question has to do with the reality most artists face - how did you support yourself prior to your success? I am a writer and a dancer, but feel like I have so little to give to these practices because my career is what puts food on the table. Many of the artists I know personally seem to have significant support from family or partners that allows them to pursue passions without worrying how to pay the rent. I don't have either of those luxuries (which is fine), but sometimes I question the possibility of ever getting anywhere with my creative work, when 80% of my day is focused elsewhere. Your thoughts and insight would be very much appreciated.

Hope you're having a lovely day! <3

CherylStrayed7 karma

I so feel your pain! I was in your situation until just a few years ago. It's hard. I, too, had no family support, no secret trust fund, no spouse who had a job that took care of all the bills (though he's an awesome spouse, he too is an artist/freelancer so neither of us had a "regular job"). It was stressful and even scary at times. How I did it in practical terms is I made sure to dedicate time to doing my creative work even if it was only a small amount of time each week and the rest was spent working for money. I did this even when I had two children (who are only 18 months apart). Sometimes I felt incredibly despairing because it was almost impossible to find that time and even when I did I often felt like I was writing crap. But I persisted and I kept persisting. Persistence has its own momentum. The pages began accumulating and those pages grew into a book (and another book, and another one). Long story short? I'm sorry 80% of your day is focused elsewhere, but the best thing you can do is give yourself the rest in the 20% of time you have. Only good will come of it. Good luck!

Saraashraf3 karma

If you have one thing to say about fear , what would it be ?

CherylStrayed8 karma

Acknowledge its existence and then tell it to step aside. Fear is part of life. Don't let it rule you.

KalteenBar3 karma

I know that Minneapolis carries some heavy memories for you, but where were your "haunts"? What did you ENJOY about living there?

Similarly, where are your favorite places in Portland? I'm a recent transplant from MN to the PNW :)

Edit: just to say thank you for being so wise and open with your words!

CherylStrayed10 karma

I love Minneapolis! Some of my old haunts no longer exist, I'm sad to say. When I'm in Minneapolis I always love walking around the lakes--Calhoun, etc. So pretty! And even better if it's with an old friend from back in the day. As for Portland, there are so many great spots. If we're sticking to the walking theme: a hike to the top of Mt. Tabor is always great.

ARAinPortland2 karma

Hi Cheryl! First, thank you so much for all the beauty you bring to our lives with your writing! Tiny, Beautiful Things and your column in Dear Sugar is something I turn to regularly, and I'm not sure I can think of just one question for you, but I will try...

I live in Portland, and I find myself often thinking, "Hey! I wonder if this is the place Cheryl Strayed was talking about in this column/story etc." You wrote one time that you met your husband in the doorway of a Tex Mex restaurant in Portland. Was it by chance, Esparza's? I think of you every time I go past the old building! Thank you again for all you do.

CherylStrayed8 karma

It was indeed Esparza's! I'm so sad it's no longer in business, after all those years. That corner will always be special to me. I met my husband in the doorway of what used to be Esparza's.

deathstardollface2 karma

What are some things you plan on or find necessary to teach your children about dating?

CherylStrayed7 karma

Never date anyone who is mean to you or others. Kindness matters.

girldaryl2 karma

What does your day look like, in terms of your process, of being disciplined as a writer. Do you write religiously every day? A certain time of day? How much do you set out to write in one day? Also, any words of wisdom on choosing the best producer to turn your story into a screenplay.

CherylStrayed7 karma

I call myself a binge writer, by which I mean I write for intense periods of time. During those periods I write every day, often all day long. During other times I hardly write at all. I know a lot of writers will tell you that you must write every day, but I don't and never have. To be a writer all you have to do it write. You don't have to do it in any sort of prescribed way. When asked for advice on this I always tell people to find time to write in a way that fits into your life. For some people that's an hour a day, for others it's one entire day a month. Both are great!

bikemonkey2 karma

Cheryl, I would love to hear a bit about your inbetween period as an author - when you were thinking about / writing your first book, Torch, but didn't have a publisher yet. What were your fears during that time and how did you deal with them?

CherylStrayed6 karma

I was terrified I'd never be able to finish Torch. When it seemed clear I would finish it I was terrified it was awful and no one would want to publish it. Then once it was slated to be published I was terrified no one would like it. Do you see a theme here? :) Writing is terrifying, but totally worth it.

Topsey_Turvey1 karma

Hi Cheryl, I loved your book, Wild. You're such an inspiration to me. Have you ever gone back to hike the PCT since your first journey?

CherylStrayed2 karma

I have. I love hiking and I do it regularly!